Headphones sound better on a computer than on a smartphone

Everyone has a pair of headphones that they use with their smartphone. Many people argue that headphones sound better on a computer than on a phone. But is that so?

Bluetooth headphones sound the same on both the computer and the phone as the amplifier and DAC are built into the headphones. On the other hand, wired headphones may sound better on a computer as you may have a more powerful amplifier that can drive high-quality, high-impedance headphones.

That being said, there are excellent portable, battery-powered headphones that deliver great results. Modern smartphones also support the best Bluetooth codecs, so if you have a pair of older headphones, quality may suffer.

When measuring quality between devices, you need to compare parameters. We'll look at this in more detail below.

What is the audio path?

The audio signal path refers to the various hardware components and application software that the audio signal passes through before reaching your ears. When someone speaks to you, there is nothing between the source - their mouth and your ears.

But for multimedia devices, since the sound has been digitized for easy storage and distribution, it has to go through several stages before you can hear it. When you select an audio file to play on a smart device, the digital file is converted to an analog signal. It is then amplified and sent to the device speaker or headphones, if connected.

Below is a more detailed explanation of the steps or parts of this process. Audio file formats can be grouped into three groups:

  • uncompressed files (AIFF, WAV)
  • compressed and lossy (MP3, AAC, OGG)
  • compressed and not loss (ALAC, FLAC)

The same music encoded in two different file format may sound different due to factors such as lossy or lossless compression of the file, or a sufficiently fast playback / streaming speed.

DAC (Digital to Analog Converters): The DAC is one of the most important components along the way. It converts digital audio files on your device into audio signals that can be sent to a speaker (although the signal is still too weak to feed it). When the DAC converts a digital signal to analog, the resulting signal is usually very low. This is why media players like the ones mentioned above require an amplifier.

Speaker Amplifier: As we mentioned earlier, speaker amplifiers are needed due to the low voltage analog signal coming from the DAC. To generate enough power for the speakers in a multimedia device, a weak analog signal is sent to an amplifier, which then amplifies it to a level sufficient for the speaker.

Equalizers: Equalizers are software filters that allow you to adjust the frequencies of your sound. There are hardware equalizers, but they are not as common as their software counterparts. The human ear can hear sound in the frequency range from 20 Hz to 20 kHz.

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