One thing I’ve gotten into is external headphone amplifiers. I do think if you’re going to invest $200+ in headphones, it’s worth investing a bit in the amplifier, too. There are two types:
- Standard headphone amps for listening only, traditional audiophile style.
- “Gamer” headphone amps, because they have a connection for the microphone attached to the headset, and thus two-way communication.
After extensive research, I have some recommendations. For the gamer amp, I’d say start with this great, inexpensive all-rounder at $43, the Syba Sonic:
If you want something a bit fancier, the Schiit Fulla 3 at $120
As with anything audiophile, the sky is the limit beyond this… but I feel these are reasonable starting points. You can make a credible case that fancier headphones do require additional power to drive, and keeping the driver outside the PC, which is full of all kinds of ambient electrical noise, is a smart move. I can’t prove it, but here’s one little experiment:
As a counterpoint,
- the difference between 1999 / 2010 era bargain bin, generic audio chips and today’s chips is … large. The built in motherboard audio has improved dramatically over the last 20 years. You could argue this matters less now than it used to.
- Some nicer, more expensive motherboards do pay more attention to the sound circuitry, and can offer near-amp performance. So if you opt for a fancy motherboard, you might be able to skip the amp.
Per Wikipedia, the variables here are:
- number of channels (mono, 2, 2.1, 4, 4.1, 5.1, 7.1, etc)
- sample rate (44.1 kHz, 48.0 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96.0 kHz)
- bit depth (16, 24, 32)
So it’s a question of how often you are sampling the sound, and at what bit depth.
I did a lot of reading and
there’s a lot of skepticism about sample rate because most audio you listen to probably wasn’t originally captured at a super high sample rate, therefore listening to it at a different sample rate involves conversion and that can lead to potential conversion artifacts creeping in.
there is no skepticism whatsoever about bit depth, the more the better. Zero represents absolute silence, and the loudest sound, is the highest number possible allowed by the bit depth:
- 16-bit → 65,536 values
- 24-bit → 16,777,216 values
- 32-bit → 4,294,967,296 values
Let’s take a look at our modest Syba:
For playback we get “studio quality” with up to 24 bit depth and 96 kHz sample rate. But to avoid potential conversion artifacts, most of the sites I read recommended sticking to the standard 44100 Hz or 48000 Hz sample rates, at the highest available bit rate, and 24-bit is … a lot.
For recording, this is clearly not the right gear for laying down a studio album… but since we’re only recording our voices on gaming headsets, I’d think 16-bit depth at 48000 Hz sample rate should be more than enough?
(It is kinda fun to set the recording levels really low, record yourself speaking, and then listen to it.)
Anyway, TL;DR – you want the greatest bit depth you can get away with, sample rate probably doesn’t matter too much beyond typical 44100 Hz CD quality, and, above all,
you can’t magically improve audio beyond the bit depth and sample rate it was originally recorded at!
If you want to get deep into audiophilia, look for those extra fancy recordings first … Super Audio CD is basically dead, but it was “comparable to a PCM format that has a bit depth of 24 bits and a sampling frequency of 88200 Hz”.