Headphone Class-A Power Amplifier

Posted on Sep 22, 2012

Class-A is ideal for this application, since headphones are such an intimate way of listening. An amplifier for 'phones should be as clean and free from crossover distortion as possible, and must also be quiet. A background of hiss and hum does nothing to enhance the listening experience. Headphone amps are somewhat misunderstood, but in reality there are few points that need to be made. Most 'phones are designed to be operated with a source resistance of 120 ohms, and damping factor (as applied to conventional loudspeakers) is largely irrelevant. The actual source impedance should have very little (if any) effect on the frequency response or dynamic behaviour, since there is no cavernous enclosure and no heavy cones to try to control.

Headphone Class-A Power Amplifier
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The IEC 61938 international standard recommends that headphones should expect a 120 ohm source (5V RMS maximum) - regardless of the headphone's own impedance. If the manufacturer followed this standard, the 120 ohm resistor used in this circuit will not affect sound. Power requirements are usually in the 10 to 100mW range, and this is quite sufficient to cause permanent hearing damage. With the current set for 330 mA as suggested, this amp will be able to drive a minimum of 2 (but probably 3) sets of headphones at once. With 40 Ohm 'phones, it can give a maximum power of over 150 mW, so caution is needed to prevent hearing (and headphone) damage. Even with 8 ohm 'phones, power will be about 110mW - more than enough to have you asking people to repeat everything they say! Caution! Just in case you missed it, headphones are easily capable of causing permanent irreparable hearing damage. Modern dynamic headphones are very efficient (typically well over 90dB SPL per milliwatt) and will reach full volume with just a few milliwatts of input. A mere 100 mW will therefore provide a peak SPL of around 110dB SPL. The recommended maximum exposure to this sound level is less than 5 minutes in any 24 hour period ! The final circuit for the DoZ headphone amp is shown in Figure 1. It is almost identical to the original (well, apart from the output transistors and size of C3, it is identical), and there is no longer the need for...

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