Buying a new pair of headphones is supposed to be exciting, where you get to upgrade your hardware and increase the quality of your listening experience. But it’s not uncommon for more expensive headphones to sometimes offer volume levels that are lower than your previous, more affordable version.
This can often lead you to feel regret about your purchase. But don’t worry, there are ways to overcome this problem, at least to a certain degree. We’ll look at the various methods you can use to make your headphones louder and discuss any additional costs involved in the process, but first, let’s just briefly look at why your headphones may not have as much volume.
Just show me how to make my headphones louder.
Why Are My Headphones So Quiet?
There are a few different factors that influence how loud your headphones are going to be. The first reason is that as with traditional speakers, headphones contain something called a driver (also known as a transducer), that converts the electrical signals into audible sound.
Volume can be influenced by a driver’s:
All these factors work together to determine just how loud a pair of headphones are. A larger driver doesn’t automatically ensure that your headphones will be louder than a model with smaller drivers, after all, just look at some earbuds on the market which can easily outperform cheaper headphones that still have much larger drivers in them.
But we don’t need to dig too deep into the mechanics to be able to get an idea of how loud headphones will be prior to plugging them in. Instead, with a basic understanding of impedance and sensitivity, we’ll be able to get an idea of how the headphone is intended to be used and give you a general idea of what you can expect from them.
For instance, many high-end headphones will require an amplifier to be paired with them in order to get the most out of the device. This can often be a shock for those who have invested a hefty amount of money without doing the relevant research.
Because the sound profiles of headphones are so different depending on their construction and design, you may find that bass-heavy headphones may feel like they’re lacking volume in the mids and highs, this is often due to the bass peak making the mids and highs feel less distinct for instance.
So What is Headphone Impedance?
Headphone impedance is determined by the design of the driver and will heavily impact the volume capabilities of any pair of headphones. Higher impedance is typically considered better in terms of potential output, but the word potential is important because while headphones with a high impedance typically have the ability to offer louder volume, they are also more difficult to drive.
Drivers are pretty complex in design and everything from the materials used, the magnets, diaphragm size, voice coils, and more all play a role in how the driver is tuned. Impedance is primarily determined by the voice coils of the driver and even the amount of windings within the voice coil will impact the impedance.
Headphone impedance typically ranges from 8 ohms all the way through to 600 ohms. Headphones with lower impedance (around 16-64 ohms) will be compatible with more consumer-grade products (such as smartphones and computer outputs) because they don’t need a lot of power to drive. On the other hand, headphones with higher impedance will typically require an amplifier in order to drive them to their full potential.
If you use a higher impedance headphone (typically above around 100ohms) without an amplifier, you are likely to experience a loss in audio quality due to the lack of power. While a lack of power is directly linked to a loss in loudness, it will even affect some of the clarity, especially on the low end.
Remember, volume can be thought of as similar to car speed. It’s not just a strong motor that’s going to give you speed, there are going to be things like tire thickness, weight, aerodynamics, etc that will all play a role in just how fast your car can reach. Trying to drive a 250-ohm pair of headphones without an amp is a bit like sticking a Lamborghini engine to a brick wall.
Headphone Sensitivity Explained
Sensitivity is another useful number to look at but can be a little confusing. Sensitivity is measured in two forms dB/mW or dB/V, the former of which is more related to efficiency than actual sensitivity. The measurement of dB/mW requires one to take the impedance into account since dB/V is the loudness at a product’s output voltage and is written as a whole number, while dB/mV is expressed as a percent and relates to the efficiency. This still allows you to work out the sensitivity – though requires a little math (or you can just use an online converter).
To make things simple, this is often considered to be an accurate guideline to work with:
32 Ohm / >99dB/mW: Easy to drive. Can be used with most consumer electronics.
32-80 Ohm / >96dB/mW: Fairly easy to drive, should still work with most electronic devices. Some lower-quality devices with low power output may cause problems with audio volume or clarity.
32-80 Ohm / <96db/mw: 96db/mw:>Headphones with this sensitivity and impedance will typically benefit from a headphone amplifier. While your headphones will still work when plugged into some devices, here’s where you will start to hear a degradation in volume or clarity more apparently.
80-300+ Ohm / <99db/mw: 99db/mw:>In this range, your impedance becomes nearly impossible to drive correctly from most devices. You should look into purchasing a headphone amplifier that fits your headphone’s impedance.
How To Make Headphones Louder
Now that you know what determines the volume of your headphones, you can look at finding ways to fix the problem.
1. You May Need an Amplifier (Check Your Impedance and Sensitivity).
We talked about how impedance and sensitivity correlate to loudness, so the first step we recommend is to open your headphone manual or find these specs on your relevant manufacturer’s website. You can use the guidelines listed above to see whether your issue may be related to this.
If your impedance appears to be too high for your devices, you’ll need to look at getting a headphone amplifier that can power your cans properly.
Cost to Resolve: High
2. Check Wires & Connections
It may seem obvious, but an aux jack that isn’t connected correctly can cause issues in both the volume and integrity of your audio. If you find that the volume comes and goes, it can be a faulty wire connection. Some headphone models have removable aux cables which can be replaced, but if you have wired headphones without removable cables your options here are limited.
Cost to Resolve: Low to Moderate
3. Check Source Device’s Audio Settings
If you’re using a computer, make sure that all your audio settings are correct, there may be a master volume control that is turned down and impacting your volume. If you’re on a cellphone, check your volume settings – many new phones come with an audio volume limiter, this can be toggled on and off to increase the volume you can get.
Cost to Resolve: Free
4. Use EQ Software
If your issues aren’t related to the above, it’s possible that you simply have a pair of headphones that don’t offer as much volume as you’d like. Thankfully there are still ways to push your headphones using third-party equalizer apps.
EQ software will allow you to add gain to your audio, as well as adjust your frequency response by adding or reducing gain within specific frequency ranges. For instance, you may find your headphones offer enough volume on the highs and mids but you may feel the bass is lacking – you can then go into your software and adjust the gain for the bass frequencies to add some more punch to your headphones.
Cost to Resolve: Free / Low Cost