Without an amplifier, your speakers and headphones could not produce sound. So needless to say, it’s a pretty important part of the audiophile equation. Like the plethora of headphone and speaker options on the market, so too are there just as many variations of amplifiers. Amplifiers can be designed specifically for headphones, or built for speakers; some variations even come in all-in-one chassis bundled with a DAC, streaming functionality and more.
Rather than focusing on how to match up an amplifier with a particular set of speakers (an important point, but far too many variables and specs to cover in a short intro. If you have specific questions on compatibility, feel free to get in touch with our support team.
Amplifiers come in many different shapes and sizes. Portable, desktop, tube, single-ended, balanced: the variations are about as numerous as the stars it seems. Each amplifier also has its own distinct sonic properties that will affect your music, making it warmer, more defined, etc. You can also find units that combine elements like the digital-to-analog converter and amplifier, together in one unit. Varying input and output connections make amplifiers a versatile but necessary item in your system, providing the necessary juice to power your favorite headphones or speakers. It is important to know how much power your speakers or headphones are rated, to know if a particular amplifier’s specifications are compatible. Too little power in an amplifier will have poor sonic response and your music will sound less than desirable. Too much power and you could manage to damage your speakers or headphones if used improperly. Finding the right amplifier can make all the difference for your listening needs.
Popular portable options that we recommend are the Chord Mojo or Shure SHA900 which is tuned and has EQ functions perfect for In Ear Monitors. And for those that need an Apple MFI certified device to work perfectly with an Apple iPhone or iPad the Sony PHA-3 is a powerful device.
Great options for desktop amps with a built in DAC include the Chord Hugo TT 2 and the MyTek Brooklyn Amp/Dac. For Amp only duties the Pass Labs HPA-1 is a wonderful Solid State design. For the Tube lover take a look at the Inspire Dragon IHA-1. And a hot new contender is the SparkoS Lab Aries amplifier.
The amp is a critical component in any audio system. It “amplifies” the analog signal and provides power to your audio output - headphones or speakers - to play your music. Without an amplifier, your speakers or headphones would not work.
The difference really lies in how the manufacturer designed the circuit for the connections. Balanced circuits between components can be done in two different ways: operational amplifiers and transformers. You can work with operational amplifiers (opamps) and split the single-ended circuitry into dual-operational amps to create a balanced connection, though doing so would not create a true balanced circuit. A true balanced connection would be balanced from input to output, without requiring operational amplifiers or transformers for signal conversion. To learn more about Single-Ended versus Balanced, feel free to read our guide “How to Choose: Balanced Versus Unbalanced Audio.”
It is difficult to say if one is better than the other. It really depends on the manufacturer and their circuit design for that connection. If it's not a true balanced design, most of the time we'll recommend using the single-ended outputs, because it's very possible that depending on how they manufactured the pseudo-balance, it can actually deteriorate the sound, even though there's a voltage increase on that output. Feel free to reach out to us about specific hardware you may be considering; we’ll be more than happy to take the time to determine if it is the right piece for your system.
The biggest difference between them is that a solid-state amp is driven by current throughout the output devices and a tube is driven by voltage. Voltage alone can’t drive a speaker, hence the reason for needing output transformers. Tubes can also go bad, so upkeep and maintenance are directly related to the overall performance of the amplifier. However, solid-state amplifiers can be trickier to troubleshoot if a problem arises. Each amplifier has a unique signature “sound” on colorizing the audio, but solid-states can also be designed to sound like tube amps and vice-versa.
Yes. Making sure your speakers are adequately powered can make all the difference in good or bad sound quality. If your speakers or headphones do not have enough power, they will tend to sound thin and weak, or provide subpar sound quality. Essentially, it is like trying to wash your car with no water pressure. On the other hand, if you provide too much power to a speaker (more than what it’s rated for), you risk the chance of damaging the speaker itself. It’s an important balancing act - pairing the right speaker with the right amp, not even considering the sonic considerations. Keep in mind that amplifiers are not magical devices that make bad speakers sound good.
Yes. It is common to replace the tubes in amplifiers. Many times users choose different tubes due to the fact that the factory tubes might not be preferable or “cheap”; this is common especially in lesser-priced consumer products. Tubes are often chosen for their sonic properties as well. Some tubes create a more forward sound signature and give a warmer presentation to the music. It depends on the genre of music you listen to as well as your speakers, materials, etc that will affect which kind of tubes will take your high-fidelity system to the next level. Feel free to contact us to get more information about upgrading the tubes in your amplifier.
It depends on what kind of amplifier you are looking for; tube, solid-state, balanced, unbalanced, etc. The other elements in your audio system will greatly affect “which amplifier is the best.” The question should be, “What is the best amplifier for me?” Feel free to get in touch with our support team at Moon Audio. We’ll be sure you get an amplifier that will be fully compatible with the other products in your audio system.