If you decide to step up from mass-market headphones to serious audiophile cans, one thing’s for sure: You’ll be hit with online ads promoting headphone amps. Most jazz fans, who for years have simply plugged their headphones straight into a smartphone, will wonder why they suddenly “need” a headphone amp—or if someone’s just trying to sell them another unnecessary accessory.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple. A headphone amp probably won’t make a big difference when used with most mass-market headphones, because those are designed to deliver good sound from smartphones. But for listeners who’ve stepped up to audiophile headphones, the right amp can give your sound quality a kick—especially if you’re a big fan of Ron Carter and Christian McBride.