How to Listen to Vinyl with Headphones
Using headphones for vinyl listening can be a very good option. It is even a popular choice among audiophiles as the sound quality from headphones can be amazing.
There are several benefits from using headphones instead of speakers when spinning vinyl. We’ll discuss those later in this article.
But first, let’s review the 4 ways to properly connect headphones to a turntable. As we will see, it is not ideal to plug the headphones directly into the turntable.
Option 1: Headphone amplifier
This will be the go-to option for most people that want to connect headphones to a turntable.
The output signal from regular turntables (and phono preamps) is not strong enough to drive most headphones directly. Headphones have higher impedance than the inputs on receivers and powered speakers and therefore need to be driven by a stronger amplifier. We also need an option to adjust the volume.
This is solved by using a headphone amp.
A headphone amp is a small amplifier that is designed to perfectly power the drivers in the headphone and make the headphones sound as good as possible. It provides more power at the output than turntables and preamps and perfectly drives higher impedance headphones. It also provides a volume control.
The headphone amp is connected between the turntable and the headphones if you have a turntable with a built-in phono preamp.
If your turntable does not have a built-in phono preamp, and you are using a standalone phono preamp, you connect the headphone amp between the phono preamp and the headphones.
A headphone amplifier that will make your headphones sound good doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
A very good and popular option is the Schiit Magni 3 Headphone Amp. This headphone amp is widely known to over-perform for its price.
If you are looking for excellent audiophile sound quality, there are much higher-end options on the market. The Marantz HD-DAC1 is a versatile, timeless bestseller that might be worth reviewing if you are prepared to spend some money.
But for most vinyl spinners, the Schiit Magni 3 Headphone Amp will be a great starting point.
Have a look at our updated guide of 7 best headphone amplifiers for vinyl if you want to see what we think are the best options right now.
Try this headphone amps with a proper set of headphones and be amazed of how good vinyl can sound with headphones.
Option 2: Stereo receiver with headphones output
Another great option is to to use a stereo receiver with a built-in headphone amplifier and a dedicated headphone output.
A popular and affordable option is the Sony STRDH190 Stereo Receiver with Phono Inputs. It is a great package that features a built-in phono preamp and a headphone amplifier and a 2 x 100 watts stereo amplifier to drive conventional speakers.
Click here to check price on Amazon.
Option 3: Turntable with headphones output
A third option is to buy a turntable that features a built-in headphone amplifier and a dedicated headphones output.
These are rare, but one example is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60XHP.
The Audio-Technica AT-LP60XHP is an entry level turntable, and might not give the sound quality most of us are looking for. But if you are starting with vinyl from scratch and want to get into listening to vinyl with headphones as cheap as possible, this might be an option to consider. Just don’t expect audiophile sound quality.
Option 4: Turntable with wireless Bluetooth
The last option on my list is to use a turntable with Bluetooth. This will, of course, require headphones with wireless Bluetooth capability.
A budget option is the Audio-Technica AT-LP60BT.
It is however difficult to find higher quality turntables that offer Bluetooth capability, so this will probably not be an option to consider if you are looking for higher quality sound.
Which option is best?
For most people, buying a headphone amplifier (option 1) as is the best option. It can be used with any turntable and therefore is the most versatile option. And it is likely the best option if high quality sound is a priority.
Second on my list is to buy a stereo receiver with a built in headphone amplifier (option 2). Just as a with a headphone amplifier, it can connect to any turntable. But the headphone amplifier that is built in to affordable stereo receivers might not have exactly the same quality as the standalone headphone amp recommended in option 1.
What about option 3 and 4?
The downside with buying a turntable with a built-in headphone amplifier (option 3) and wireless Bluetooth (option 4) is that the turntables to choose from is limited to super affordable budget options only. So, the sound quality will unfortunately be compromised to a certain degree with these options. To enjoy high quality sound when listening to vinyl, a turntable that is of slightly higher quality than the ones mentioned in option 3 and option 4 will be required.
Benefits of using headphones for vinyl
Now, let us look at the benefits of using headphones instead of speakers to listen to vinyl. As we will see, there are some real upsides.
1. Save money
The biggest benefit of using headphones for vinyl listening is probably the cost. A good headphone amp costs less than a good stereo receiver or power amplifier. And a good set of headphones costs less than a pair of Hi-Fi speakers. So there is a real cost saving opportunity in choosing headphones for your vinyl listening.
2. Sound quality
Good headphones paired with a good turntable and a dedicated headphone amplifier will sound great. And for the money the sound quality achieved might be impossible to beat with a conventional stereo receiver and speakers setup. So if listening to music alone is sometime you do often, don’t overlook this when choosing between headphones and speakers.
Feel free to check out our recommended gear page to find great options for turntables and phono preamps (if needed) to use with your headphone amp and headphones.
3. Save space
Headphones doesn’t require any space at all. Speakers need to be spaced symmetrically and ideally with a distance from the back and side walls to sound great. And as a result, require a decent sized room and lots of free space to sound their best.
4. No acoustic issues
The room acoustic is an often overlooked factor for good sound. The best high-end stereo in the world will not sound great in a room with lots of echo and poor acoustics. It can actually be a real struggle to get the acoustics to just ok in some rooms. And it often requires costly acoustic treatment products.
But with headphones, this problem is fully eliminated. Room acoustics is not a factor that impacts the sound at all.
5. Play as loud as you want
With headphones you can play as loud as you want every hour of the day without disturbing your neighbors or your loved ones.
Which headphones are good for vinyl listening?
All kinds of headphones can be used to listen to vinyl, but to get the most out of the experience, it is wise to be a bit selective.
I will recommend full size over-the-ear headphones in stead of in-ear headphones. Bigger headphones with bigger drivers will give richer sound with deeper and punchier bass.
I would also choose wired analog headphones without noise cancellation over wireless digital headphones with noise cancellation if there aren’t good reasons for you to go for wireless.
We will probably not spin vinyl in a very noise environment so it is better to put our money on quality drivers that will provide good sound and skip unnecessary (and costly) noise cancellation circuitry and wireless circuitry if we can.
Wireless headphones that use the Bluetooth protocol will reduce the sound quality. How much is however debatable. But the good old analog cable is for sure a safer bet. Analog all the way!
We want to choose wired and fully analog headphones that is designed with a singular focus on sound quality.
And not headphones that is designed to cancel noise perfectly, have long battery life and long wireless distance. We don’t want to pay for those features.
There are many good headphones that match those criteria to choose between. Your budget and dedication will probably play a big role in your choice.
A great option to start out with is the Sennheiser HD280PRO Headphones. They tick every box for good affordable headphones for vinyl. Good sound, fully analog, extremely popular and they include no costly features that we don’t need.
They have a relatively low impedance of 64 Ohms which make them suitable to pair with all headphone amps and receivers with headphones output.
Sennheiser is one of the biggest and most respected headphones manufacturers on the market. Their more expensive models are very popular choices among stereophiles.
What is the point of a phono preamp?
The phono preamp causes a bit of confusion for many vinyl spinners, so let me briefly explain what it is.
The phono preamps converts the tiny PHONO signal from the turntable cartridge to a standard LINE level signal.
It can be built into the turntable, built into the stereo receiver, or a standalone device that connects between the turntable and the receiver.
The phono preamp boosts the PHONO signal from around 5mV (for most cartridges) to around 300mV which is the standard voltage level of a LINE signal.
It also increases the bass and decreases the treble to achieve a neutral frequency response as the bass is decreased and the treble is increased when the record is carved (RIAA Equalization).
A vinyl playing stereo must include a phono preamp in one way or another. If skipped, the result will be very low music volume and no bass at all.
You can read more about the purpose and function of phono preamps in this article.
Can a phono preamp be used as a headphone amp?
A phono preamp has a completely different purpose than a headphone amplifier, so the two must not be confused.
A phono preamp converts the 5mV PHONO signal from a cartridge to a 300mV LINE level signal.
While a headphone amp takes a 300mV LINE level signal and boosts it so that is strong enough to drive headphones properly.
A phono preamp is built to work with a 5mV PHONO signal.
While a headphone amp is built to work with a 300mV LINE signal.
For a more detailed explanation of the difference between PHONO and LINE, please check out this article.