Sometimes, a good pair of headphones just isn’t enough. Even the most casual music enthusiasts almost inevitably ask themselves the same question one day:
“How can I make my music sound even better?”
This simple question represents a never-ending quest that so-called “audiophiles” concern themselves with. There’s almost no limit to how far you can take this hobby, as there’s always another device or piece of equipment that can provide an almost imperceptible improvement to your audio quality.
Listening to music through your headphones can be a welcome escape from the world. Unlike speakers, headphones allow you to listen to music privately, and it can be a very intimate experience. If you’re looking for ways to make your headphones sound even better, here are a few ideas:
Get a Tube Amp
Tube amps are some of the most interesting devices you can get to improve the sound of your headphones. Many audiophiles love tube amps because of the way they “color” the sound. Connect your headphones via a tube amp, and you’ll discover warm, saturated, and rich effects on your favorite music.
The only downside is that they’re a little unreliable at times. Because they use tube technology, there are no microchips or computerized components in the device. It’s all analog. On the flip side, they can be a little expensive, and some listeners don’t really like the unique sound created by tube amps.
Get a Solid State Amp
If you don’t like the idea of tube amps, you can go with a solid-state headphone amp instead, like the Magni 3 from Schiit. These digital devices are more sturdy, and they also deliver a high level of accuracy and precision.
Although they don’t have that “rich” sound provided by tube amps, they’re generally sharper. Solid-state amps also tend to cheaper, which makes them a good choice if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to boost your sound quality.
Play With the EQ Settings
If you don’t feel like spending any money, you can still improve the sound quality of your headphones. Pretty much every smartphone has detailed EQ settings that you can play with to make your music sound more pleasant based on your personal tastes.
Most smartphones also have presets that might make certain genres sound better, especially if you’re one to prefer wireless earbuds like the Google Pixel 2. We recommend playing with the settings until you find a unique EQ balance that sounds right to you.
Get a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC)
Another external piece of equipment you might want to consider is a Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC). These devices convert a digital audio signal into an analog signal. Most DACs also feature an internal amp – especially the newer ones coming out today.
So why would you want your digital audio signal converted into analog? Well, a digital signal is composed of ones and zeros, whereas an analog signal propagates in waves. Computers find it easier to process binary, but humans can only listen to sound in analog form.
While it’s true that all headphones automatically convert sound into an analog format, DACs convert the sound before it reaches your headphones in a more efficient manner. DACs are extremely popular among audiophiles, and they’re designed for the specific purpose of improving sound quality.
Our pick is the Lehmann Audio Linear USB II.
Get an Audio Interface
An audio interface is yet another device that’ll improve the quality of your sound before it reaches your headphones. An audio interface is essentially an external sound card, although it’s geared towards audio recording and producing applications.
The cool thing about audio interfaces is that they’re a pretty convenient addition to a home computer setup. Many audio interfaces connect to your computer via USB. Then it’s just a matter of plugging your headphones in, and your sound should be improved. Audio interfaces are also pretty cheap, so it’s a quick and easy fix.
Stop Using MP3 File Formats
If you ask audio experts how to improve sound quality, most will tell you that you need to address the source of your music first. That all starts with the type of sound file you’re using. MP3 files are compressed, which means that you’re sacrificing almost imperceptible sounds in your music for a smaller file size.
In contrast, file formats like .FLAC or .Wav are not compressed, which means you’re listening to “lossless” music with nothing removed. If you’re trying to improve the way your music sounds, start by downloading music in higher quality file formats.
Photo credit: Brett Jordan
Although very few people listen to physical copies of music anymore, it’s definitely one of the best ways to hear extremely high-quality sound. CDs typically use WAV, which means that you probably won’t hear a difference between playing a CD through your computer and listening to the same file that has been downloaded onto your hard disk.
That being said, a high-end CD player will generally produce better sound compared to a computer – even if that computer has been upgraded with a DAC, an audio interface, or other related components. At the end of the day, CD players are designed solely to provide top-quality audio, while audio is only a peripheral priority for a computer.
Try Out Analog Formats
Photo credit: Luana De Marco
If you really want to get deep into the audiophile world, you might want to try listening to music in an analog format. Many analog enthusiasts consider vinyl to be the best audio format in existence, despite it being almost 100 years old. The only issue is that vinyl records are notoriously fragile and only suited to a home setup.
Cassettes (yes, cassettes) aren’t as high-quality as vinyl, but you can listen to them in compact players while you move about. You might be surprised at how good a cassette can sound, especially with the right equipment. At the end of the day, the unique “warmth” of analog sound isn’t for everyone – but it sure beats streaming music in an MP3 format.
Use an Improved RCA Cable
If you really want to go all-out, you may be able to (ever so slightly) improve the quality of your sound by upgrading your cables. Obviously, you will need to have additional components in place to make this worth it.
The only reason you would need an upgraded cable is if you were using multiple components like amps and DACs that are connected to a source device such as a CD player or preamp. Some say that cables don’t even make a difference, while others seem to think otherwise.
Use an App
Photo credit: Fixelgraphy
If all else fails, you can always just download an app. There are a number of options out there, and they all claim to improve the quality of your headphones when you’re listening via your smartphone. Many of these apps ask you what brand of headphones you’re using, and then they automatically alter the audio signal based on your headphones’ specifications.
Some apps focus on creating a “neutral” sound similar to that of a recording studio, while others focus on providing you with even more EQ settings than your phone provides by default. Either way, it’s definitely something to consider.