First of all, I should tell you that the headphone amp is the heart of your audio system. You should think about buying a headphone amp instead of an audio interface first.
There are some other reasons to buy it first:
- 1) If you have another listening device,
- 2) Your headphones already have an amplifier, or
- 3) You don’t want to spend too much on your initial purchase. (Seriously high-end amps cost more than good audio interfaces.)
So if you go with option 3, be sure to check out my next article on what you should know when buying a headphone amp.
headphone amp vs audio interface
In simple words, headphone amp vs audio interface means that you should have a separate AMP and an INPUT DEVICE to play your music.
headphone amps are usually used as a preamp by matching the output of your audio interface.
Although some headphone amps have “combo” jacks where you can plug your instrument, their main function is to amplify the signal from the interface so other people in another room could hear it too.
You may ask then why would anyone need an audio interface if all they want is just to listen to their favorite music?
In fact, there are lots of reasons why you need one:
- You might want to record your voice for vocals or instruments which more inputs
- You could have more than one device to play at the same time.
- You want to enjoy different kinds of music, not just recorded ones.
- Some audio interfaces allow you to make very customizable EQs (equalizers). 5) Audio interfaces usually offer inputs that can be used to connect external MIDI equipment like keyboards or DJ controllers
- Many audio interfaces come equipped with DSP effects like compressors and equalizers, which are ideal for re-amping your tracks during mixdown. There is another word that needs explanation here: re-amping.
Re-amping is a process where you record new tracks using an already recorded track as an input source (normally done through amp simulation software ). The term “re-amp” was originally coined by Chris Lord-Alge when he was working on a Bryan Adams record back when he was with Mercenary Digital.
Why would you need that?
Well, for example, you could add some different effects to your guitar tracks in your home studio which you normally wouldn’t have access to in a commercial studio. This is a very creative and effective method of achieving things in audio production.
Now back to the question: headphone amp vs audio interface, each has its own purpose even though they can do similar things. You should keep this in mind before making your final choice.
Headphone amps give you more flexibility because most models let you switch between phones out and line out only by using a toggle switch or knob on the front panel itself which makes it possible to use this device as a preamp.
Headphone amps’ prices range from $50 to 5,000 USD so it really depends on your budget and what you need it for.
You can get a decent headphone amp under 100 USD but models that cost more than 1,500 USD come with lots of features like “combo” jacks which work both as a headphone or line out connection and sometimes even surround sound processing.
Some studio-quality headphones require an external headphone amplifier because the built-in one found in most consumer devices isn’t enough to power them properly.
There are also hybrid amps that contain two separate preamps for high and low impedance devices attached directly to the output stage without any additional switches or knobs.
Audio interfaces on the other hand are smaller in size and they usually come bundled with the software.
They don’t have connectors for headphones but instead, they include line outputs which can be connected to your amplifier or studio monitors.
Audio interfaces range from $100 USD to thousands of dollars for high-end models.
Some users just connect their interface directly to their PC/Laptop USB port, check if everything is working properly and that’s all you really need to do.
Nowadays most laptops and iMacs feature a built-in sound card, however, audiophiles swear that this isn’t enough because it doesn’t provide low noise preamps which can degrade the sound quality while recording vocals or instruments.
The most popular audio interfaces used in home and professional studios are: ESI M8 USB, Tascam US-122mkII, MOTU Traveler mk3, FireWire 1814/1840 from PreSonus, Edirol FA101 (Toslink input), Lexicon Alpha Studio (that includes a built-in mixer). You can read more about them on Wikipedia or on their manufacturer’s web pages.