What is headphone impedance?

If you’re making beats in a DAW, or with a hardware drum machine or synthesizer, chances are that sooner or later you’ll be using studio headphones of one kind or another.

Headphones are available in a range of impedances, rated in “ohms”. Typically ohms range from low 8-ohm to high 600-ohm plus, but what does the “ohm” rating of your headphones actually mean?

In headphones, the impedance is determined by the voice coil design. Headphones which use a voice coil with fewer windings will have lower impedance than those headphones which have voice coils with more windings.

High vs low impedance headphones:

As a general rule, higher impedance headphones – those headphones with the higher ohm ratings – tend to be aimed at audiophiles and industry pros, are more expensive and benefit from better reproduction in the bass region. They can achieve higher volumes than low impedance headphones but require more power – either from a headphone amp or audio interface – to drive them properly and do them justice.

Cheap(er) headphones with very low impedance ratings tend to be aimed at the consumer or “prosumer” market and can be driven by laptops, smartphones, MP3 player and tablets without the need for any additional headphone amp.

High impedance headphones:

  • Tend to be more “pro” quality overall and thus more expensive.
  • Can typically achieve higher volumes than lower impedance headphones.
  • Superior bass reproduction (although other design factors and manufacturing technologies come into play besides impedance).
  • Require a suitable headphone amp or audio interface to drive them properly.
  • Drain batteries quicker.

Low impedance headphones:

  • Tend to be more affordable
  • Easy to drive by any suitable consumer device, such as smartphones, even without an amp or audio interface.
  • Drain batteries slower than high impedance headphones.

Watch the video below in which Mitch Gallagher explains what exactly headphone impedance is, and how impedance impacts what you hear when producing music, mixing and mastering.

Are high impedance headphones best for mixing?

It’s perfectly possible to mix with low to medium impedance headphones and no headphone amp. Getting a good mix using headphones depends on so much more than just the impedance rating of your set of cans.

Your headphones impedance rating is not the most important factor when it comes to producing, mixing or mastering.

In the table below you can see a list of some of the most popular headphone for producing/mixing and DJing, with their ohm ratings listed for comparison.

Mackie MC-10032 ohms (low impedance)
Focal Listen Pro32 ohms (low impedance)
Audio-Technica ATH-M40x35 ohms (low impedance)
Audio-Technica ATH-M70x35-ohm (low impedance)
Pioneer DJ HDJ-X736 ohms (low impedance)
AKG K87236 ohms (low impedance)
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x38 ohms (low impedance)
Shure SRH44044 ohms (low impedance)
Beyerdynamic DT 900 Pro X48 ohms (low to medium impedance)
Yamaha HPH-MT551 ohms (low to medium impedance)
AKG K24055 ohms (low to medium impedance)
AKG K71262 ohms (low to medium impedance)
AKG K70162 ohms (low to medium impedance)
Sony MDR-750663 ohms (low to medium impedance)
Sennheiser HD 280 Pro64 ohms (low to medium impedance)
Sennheiser HD 2570 ohms (low to medium impedance)
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 80 ohm80 ohms (low to medium impedance)
Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 250 ohm250 ohms (high impedance)
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 ohm250 ohms (high impedance)
Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro 250250 ohms (high impedance)
Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro250 ohms (high impedance)
Sennheiser HD 650300 ohms (high impedance)
Sennheiser HD 800 S300 ohms (high impedance)
Popular headphone listed by their impedance

Do I need an audio interface to use high impedance headphones?

If you have high impedance headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 800 S, then you should consult the manufacturer’s guidance on how best to drive them. As a rule of thumb, the higher the impedance rating (‘ohm’) then the more you need to consider which audio interface or headphone amp to team them with.

Note that you can not actually damage your high impedance headphones by trying to use them without an audio interface or headphone amp but if you’re not driving them properly then you are not using them to their full potential.

Cheap low impedance headphones for mixing on a laptop:

If you’re mixing on a laptop and need to plug low impedance headphones straight into your laptop’s headphone jack socket then you’re looking at headphones in the 10 ohms to 150 ohms category (depending on your laptop and its internal soundchip).

Popular low impedance headphones for laptop mixing include the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (80 ohm) and the Focal Listen Pro.

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