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Audio Files: Headphone Amps to Kick Your Cans

Do you really need a dedicated amp to get the best sound from your headphones?

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.

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Brent Butterworth

Brent Butterworth has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has evaluated and measured thousands of audio products. He is currently a writer at Wirecutter and editor of the SoundStage Solo headphone site; served as an editor at such magazines as Sound & Vision and Home Theater; and worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He also plays double bass with several jazz groups in Los Angeles.