6 Best Headphones that don’t need an Amp in 2020


While researching for good quality headphones, you must have observed that many headphones require an amp to work at their full potential. Typically, these are premium headphones that are used by audiophiles or professionals in the music industry such as a music composer or sound designer. That doesn’t mean all good headphones require an amp

If you use a good quality headphone that doesn’t have a high impedance and good sound sensitivity, you can plug them into any portable sound source (smartphones, mp3 player, laptop) and still have a great music listening experience. To understand why that is the case, let us discuss a few details about headphone amps and why people use them. After that, we will review some of the best headphones available today that don’t require an amp.

What is a headphone amp and why is it necessary to use them?

An audio amplifier is an electronic device that boosts the electrical signal (current, power, and voltage) coming from a power source to a level that is sufficient to drive loudspeakers. A headphone amplifier commonly called an amp is just a mini audio amplifier that is more power-efficient and designed to drive headphones.

Smartphones, mp3 players, laptops, and other such portable sound sources can only supply a limited amount of power to any electronic device that is connected to it. Normally, it is sufficient enough to drive earphones and most headphones. However, some headphones are designed to consume more power than normal as they are built with better specifications. These types of headphones require a headphone amp as portable sound sources cannot meet their power requirements. 

Generally, there are 2 main headphone specifications that decide whether it requires an amp:

1. Impedance – When an electrical current is applied to any object, it experiences a resistance. The degree to which the flow of electrical current experiences a resistance when applied to an electronic device or material is known as its impedance. It is measured in ohms (Ω).

Typically, headphones that have an impedance of less than 35 ohms don’t require an amp to function. However, using a suitable headphone amp can make some of them sound a little better. Headphones that have an impedance between 35-100 ohms can still function when connected to a portable sound source. However, an amp can breathe a new life into the music quality produced by them. 

For any headphones with above 100 ohms, you need to use an amp.

2. Sound sensitivity – The Sound Pressure Level (SPL) a.k.a sensitivity of a headphone determines how loud it will be when a certain level of current is applied to it. It is measured in decibel level (dB). The typical SPL of most headphones is between 95-100 dB. Any headphone with an SPL below 90 dB requires a suitable headphone amp to function properly.

Another thing to note is that wireless headphones don’t require external headphone amps as they have built-in digital-to-analog converters (DAC) with amps inside them. Some wireless headphone models also support wired connection but they may not sound well if the firmware of the product is not properly optimized.

Here is a summary table of the 6 best headphones that don’t need an amp.

NameV-MODA Crossfade M-100
Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II WirelessSony WH-1000XM3 Wireless
Bose 700 Wireless Headphones
Audio-Technica ATH-M50xBeyerdynamic DT770 Pro 32-Ohm
TypeOver-ear Closed backOver-ear Closed backOver-ear Closed backOver-ear Closed backOver-ear Closed backOver-ear Closed back
Impedance32 ohms47 ohms38 ohms32 ohms
Weight9.88 oz8.46 oz8.99 oz8.8 oz10 oz9.52 oz
WirelessNoYesYesYesNoNo

Now, let’s review the 6 best headphones that don’t need an amp in more detail.

#1 V-MODA Crossfade M-100

V-MODA Crossfade M-100
StyleOver-ear Closed back
Weight9.88 oz
Frequency Response5Hz-30kHz
Sensitivity103 dB @ 1kHz 1mW
Impedance32 ohms

There is a reason why the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 is consistently included in many ‘best headphones’ lists. They provide great sound quality, durability, and good comfort for the price. In fact, the V-MODA Crossfade M-100 can be considered the most versatile headphone in this list. Plus, they also sport a great design. And, the foldable design makes it easy to carry them around when traveling.

The sound quality and immersive soundstage of the product will satisfy casual listeners as well as audiophiles, hi-fi enthusiasts, and people who like to mix and master music. The 50mm dual-diaphragms ensure a deep bass response that doesn’t bleed into the mids and highs.

The highlight of this pair of headphones is their superior build quality. They are made with a steel frame and Ergosoft Foam Cushions that help them withstand minor falls, extreme temperatures, and humidity.

Pros

  • Excellent sound quality and look
  • Great build quality and military-grade durability as every model is skillfully crafted from quality materials
  • Good separation of mids and highs from the bass due to the unique V-MODA dual-diaphragm design

Cons

  • Not that comfortable to wear it around the neck.

The V-MODA Crossfade M-100 is a popular choice among DJs. Their low impedance allows them to function properly even when you plug them inside a laptop or smartphone. However, pairing them with an amp can slightly improve their bass response. In short, they are the best value for money product on this list.

#2 Bose QuietComfort 35 II/QC35 II Wireless

Bose QuietComfort 35 II
TypeWireless Over-ear Closed back
Wireless RangeUp to 33 feet (10 meters)
Active Noise Cancellation SupportYes
Battery LifeUp to 20 hrs
Device Weight8.46 oz

If you want a premium wireless headphone with the best sound quality, there can be no better option than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless. It has a good stereo image that is fairly consistent no matter what type of song you play. The soundstage of the product is better than average as it optimizes sound according to the type of music.

The intuitive controls allow the user to adjust volume levels, answer/decline calls, and access virtual assistants like Alexa or Siri pretty easily. Plus, you won’t experience any discomfort when listening to music for long durations or during long calls.

It has 3 levels of active noise cancellation that allow you to enjoy music even in crowded environments. However, the noise isolation is not that great when compared to some other models at the same price-point. It has a battery life of up to 20 hours which is good.

Pros

  • Amazing sound quality
  • Comfortable fit
  • Good ANC

Cons

  • More latency than desired
  • High volume levels can leak sound

The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless is suitable for people who value sound quality above other features like noise isolation, ANC, design, and comfort. So, if you want to buy a premium wireless headset with support for virtual assistants and easy control buttons that boast better sound quality than its competitors, this pair will not disappoint you.

#3 Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless

Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless
TypeWireless Over-ear Closed back
Wireless RangeUp to 30 feet (10 meters)
Frequency Response4 Hz-40,000 Hz
Battery LifeUp to 38 hrs, 30 hrs (ANC)
Impedance47 ohms

If you like listening to music on the go or while commuting, the Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless can deliver a great music listening experience. It’s a premium wireless product that has the best Active Noise Cancellation support in this list. Plus, the exceptional battery life allows you to use it for up to 30 hours with ANC or up to 38 hours without ANC on. The only catch is that it takes 3 hours to charge it fully. However, you can use it for up to 5 hours with just 10 mins of charge.

Coming to the sound quality of the product, the overall sound can feel a little dark due to a slight lack of treble and more emphasis on the bass. Thus, the sound is not neutral but it is not by any means bad. So, if you prefer bass-heavy music, it can be a great purchase.

The product features intuitive touch controls that make it easy to make or take calls, control volume levels or activate voice assistants. 

Pros

  • Superb noise cancellation
  • Good support and intuitive controls
  • Exceptional battery life

Cons

  • Has latency issues
  • Can feel a little heavy for a few people

The Sony WH-1000XM3 can provide a virtually soundproof experience even when you listen to music in public transport or work in a noisy environment. So, it’s the best choice for people who prioritize active noise cancellation support over everything else. The high impedance of the product doesn’t matter as the in-built amp is powerful enough to power the headphone.

#4 Bose 700 Wireless Headphones

Bose 700 Wireless Headphones
TypeWireless Over-ear Closed back
Wireless RangeUp to 33 feet (10 meters)
Active Noise Cancellation SupportYes
Battery LifeUp to 20 hrs
Device Weight8.8 oz

Premium wireless headphones are known for their features, sound quality, design, style, and comfort. The Bose 700 wireless headphones excel in almost every department mentioned above. It supports the best range of features in this product list and also provides a good music listening experience. These headsets are designed to deliver a punchy, deep bass while maintaining a well-balanced mid-range. The treble is also quite good. 

It supports 11 different levels of ANC for adjusting the level of external noise that you can hear. However, the main highlight of this product is the adaptive 4 microphone system that provides exceptional call clarity.

The product is as comfortable to wear as Bose QuietComfort 35 II despite having different designs and provides a battery life of up to 20 hours with ANC. The only downside of this product is its non-foldable design which makes its portability a little difficult

Pros

  • Good Bluetooth microphone
  • Good design that is also comfortable
  • The support for ANC is great

Cons

  • More expensive than products in the same category
  • Unoptimized motion-sensitive auto-off timer
  • Not foldable

The Bose 700 wireless headphones are good for people who enjoy listening to bass-heavy EDM or hip-hip, prefer a good microphone, and want a good balance between features and sound quality.

#5 Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
StyleWired Over-ear closed back
Weight10 oz
Frequency Response15Hz-28kHz
Sensitivity99 dB
Impedance38 ohms

The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is a product that is great for personal listening, as well as tracking and mixing. So, it’s popular among casual music lovers and audiophiles alike. At first glance, the impedance rating may confuse you but these work perfectly fine when connected to any smartphone or other portable sound source. But, connecting them to a headphone amp can lead to sound improvements in the low-end range. Still, they sound much better than any normal headphones with a low impedance.

This product can be described as having an impactful sound signature with powerful mids and extra weight to the bass. They are great for DJs due to being tuned for EDM. 

The build quality and comfort are not as great as V-MODA headphone models but considering the price of the product, there is nothing to complain about. Although it doesn’t support ANC, the noise isolation capability of the headphone is quite good.

Pros

  • Detachable cable system
  • Ideal for listening to EDM

Cons

  • Average build quality
  • Proprietary audio cable

If you mainly listen to EDM or want to become a DJ, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x can be a good choice for you. The detachable cable system at this price point makes it a good value for money for DJs who are just getting started.

#6 Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 32-Ohm

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 32-Ohm
StyleWired Over-ear closed back
Weight9.52 oz
Frequency Response5Hz-35kHz
Sensitivity96 dB
Impedance32 ohms

The Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 32-Ohm is another version of the popular Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro that is specifically designed to be used in smartphones and laptops. It sports a similar design as the 2 other models of the product with 80 ohms and 250 ohms. The differences in sound quality between the 32-ohm version and the other two versions are prominent but only apparent when using them for studio usage like mixing. The biggest difference is in the pads and cables used.

For casual listeners, they sound great since these pairs have the same tonal quality as their 2 different counterparts. The bass extends quite deep on the low-end but very precise. Plus, it never bleeds into the upper ranges. The mids are rendered with a good amount of clarity and detail but the vocals can sound a little withdrawn. The high-end is crisp and clean.

They are comfortable to wear for long music listening sessions as well. The noise isolation is top-notch due to the old-school design and leather pads.

Pros

  • Almost as good as the more pricer models of the product
  • Good noise isolation

Cons

  • The build quality is average
  • The sound signature is not neutral

The Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 32 ohm is good for people who want a product with good noise isolation, good bass response, and specifically created for use with smartphones. The product is basically a remake of a legendary headphone that is much more costly and proven to deliver exceptional sound quality.

Conclusion

Headphone amps can greatly improve the sound quality of headphones that are designed to be used with an amp. However, they are not suitable for use with every type of headphone. In fact, if you pair a headphone with low impedance with a sufficiently powerful amp, it can degrade the sound quality or even damage the product. 

Another thing to note is that most premium headphones that are designed to work with an amp are created to deliver an accurate representation of the soundstage. So, they are great for professionals who mix and master music. However, casual listeners can find them irritating as they bring out every flaw in the music which can negatively affect the music listening experience. 

Not to mention, studio-grade headphones generally have a neutral and flat sound signature which some people may not like if they prefer a V-shaped, bass-heavy, warm, or bright sound signature. So, if you cannot afford a headphone amp at the moment, there is nothing to feel sad about as you are not missing out. There are a lot of other factors that determine the quality of a headphone aside from their impedance rating and SPL. 

The V-MODA Crossfade M-100 is the best choice for people who want to have a blast listening to music without connecting their headphones to an external amp. The best part is that if you ever consider pairing them up with an amp, they will only sound better. 

For people who prefer wireless headphones and don’t mind paying a little extra for comfort and features, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless is a good choice.

Rune Bearson

As you can see, I love my headphones! I use them every day when commuting, watching YouTube videos, playing guitar/piano and doing chores. I'm a podcast addict and I like all kinds of music from metal to chillout ambient.

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