If you own a set of headphones, there are high chances you have never heard of headphone sensitivity or impedance. Furthermore, websites do not state the sensitivity of their headphones. However, knowing the sensitivity of the headphones might improve your audio experience. To start, what is headphone sensitivity?
Headphone sensitivity measures how loud your headphones can get when playing audio at a given power level. Headphones with greater sensitivity are louder than those with lower sensitivity when playing audio from the same device as a smartphone or a laptop. Headphone sensitivity is not an aspect you can know by just looking at the headphones. To know the sensitivity of the headphones, you will have to know the impedance first.
Impedance means how well the headphones can resist an electric current. It is measured in ohms and can help you know how much power your headphones need to play music at a certain volume. Knowing your headphones’ sensitivity could save you a ton of money. How, you ask? This article will help you know all about headphones sensitivity. Let’s get started.
What Is the common range of headphones sensitivity?
Since you know what headphone sensitivity and impedance are, it is important to know what sensitivity range is recommended for your ears.
To start, various companies use different metrics to measure headphones sensitivity. However, the standard measurement is fine in decibels (dB).
75dB sensitivity Is on the lower side of the sensitivity scale, while 110dB is on the upper side of the scale. Most smartphone and audio devices will detect the sensitivity of headphones and warn you when you are going further than your ears can handle.
Headphones with a sensitivity of 110dB are too loud, requiring high power to use such headphones.
Different manufacturers’ websites report headphones sensitivity differently. Some report in dB/v and others dB/mW. This is what the two measures mean.
Most companies are using this measure to indicate the sensitivity of their headphones. Generally, this shows how loud your headphones can get with a given output voltage.
Manufacturers rarely use this measure anymore. However, you will not miss one or two who still show sensitivity using this measure.
This measure might be complicated to understand as you might have to do some calculations to know the sensitivity of the headphones. Basically, it tells you how much voltage is needed to achieve 1mW of power.
If your headphones are given in dB/mW, you can easily convert them into dB/V easily using the following formulas.
SV = SP + 20•Log(sqrt(1000/Z))
SV is the voltage sensitivity in dB SPL/V(RMS)
SP is the power sensitivity (efficiency) in dB SPL/mW
Z is the impedance of the headphones in Ω
You can use the same formulae in reverse to find the efficiency of the headphones given the sensitivity used
SP = SV − 20•Log(sqrt(1000/Z))
Using this formula might not always be needed. I have seen different manufacturers adopting the standard sensitivity measure of dB/V. Below are a few of the common headphones with their reporting sensitivity either in dB SPL/mW or SPL/V.
|104.5 dB SPL/mW (unit on)
101 dB SPL/mW (unit off)
|91 dB SPL/V
|112 dB SPL/V
|Audio Technica ATH-M30x
|95.5dB (dB SPL/mW)
|99dB (dB SPL/mW)
|104 dB SPL/ 1mW @1kHz
|105 dB SPL/ 1mW @1kHz
|107 dB SPL/mW
|107 dB SPL/mW
Importance of headphones sensitivity
Knowing the sensitivity of the headphones you are about to buy will help you save tones of coins. You might buy headphones unsuitable for the purpose you intend to fulfill when you don’t check their sensitivity.
- Headphones with 32-99dB/mW or more sensitivity have a moderate sound. They are suitable for listening to podcasts or casual music. They are quite affordable.
- Headphones with 32-96dB/mW or more can be used with computers and laptops.
- Headphones with a sensitivity of 32-96db/mW or less are quite slow. You might need an amplifier to listen to some type of music.
- Headphones with a sensitivity of 110dB are quite loud. They might sound like a live house music concert. These headphones are quite expensive.
This guide shows that headphones with a higher sensitivity are the loudest and most expensive. On the other hand, those with low sensitivity are so low; you might need to use enhancers while using these headphones.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can the headphone’s sensitivity rating be changed?
The inbuilt drivers determine the sensitivity of the headphones. Although you can apply more voltage to your headphones to increase the sound pressure, altering their sensitivity cannot be possible without physically altering the headphones.
You can, however, enjoy loud music by adjusting the amount of power reaching your headphones. Other alternatives that could work include;
- Using an amplifier
- Changing the headphone drivers
- Implanting active noise-cancellation circuits in the headphones.
How can you tell the quality of the headphones?
Apart from checking the manufacturer’s specifications, such as sensitivity, impedance, and frequency, you can audition the headphones before buying.If you like how balanced the sound is when listening to music, then the headphones are of high quality. If the bass, highs, and mids sound horrible or unnatural, then the headphones are just like the sound: Horrible.
On rare occasions do, customers check the sensitivity of the headphones they are buying. As a result, they end up buying the wrong headphones.
Most manufacturers indicate the sensitivity of the headphones on their websites. So you can use the sensitivity to tell the quality of the headphones.
In this guide, you have learned how to calculate the sensitivity, convert efficiency into sensitivity and vice versa, and learned the—importance of knowing the sensitivity of your headphones.
I hope the next time you go shopping for headphones, sensitivity is one of the things you will check before committing.
Graduated with a Bachelor of Audio Engineering and Sound Production. He has worked with a number of studios as a Recording Engineer, with over 10 years of servicing experience in both re-recording mixing and sound editing.