Dec 14, 2016

Do I need an amp?

I currently have a Sound Blaster Z PCIe card installed into my computer (https://www.amazon.com/Blaster-Performance-Headphone-Forming-Microphone/dp/B009ISU33E/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1481734197&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=sound+blaster+z), would I still need an amp in order to get the best sound quality out of my headphones, or would that provide it with enough power?
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Without having listened to it, I'm guessing that sound card will probably be as good as a $20-30 DAC/AMP. So it's better than just running your headphones off of your PC's regular headphone out.

If you have a nice set of headphones, they may sound better with something more expensive. If you have to crank the volume up really high to drive your headphones, then they will definitely sound better with a nicer Amp.
Yes, you need an amp.

Your amp is a critical component of your audio chain. Amp topology and components will account for a large share of your audio quality. A Class-A amp on clean power (using a power conditioner, noise-filtering cable or you happen to have a clean circuit in a new build home etc) and outputing through quality FETs driven by a low-noise transformer will sound vastly more dimensional, dynamic, and resolving than your sound card's trashy op-amps running off your PC's noisy PCI power rail. A pair of 300B tube monoblocks using exotic paper caps, custom-wound transformers and point-to-point silver wiring is going to sound even better.

Weight and size tend to go up in proportion with amp quality. Class-A is best, but those need fat transformers and lots of heatsinks to dissipate the waste heat that is inherent to them. Class-AB are a common trade-off but they still need good transformers, quality capacitor banks and cooling. Class-D is junk, unless you are willing to drop big dollars on a ICE, NC400 or similar. Good amps have loads of big audio-grade capacitors in order to drive extended bass notes with quality and control, and also to smooth out power delivery to all these FETs. Volume is the LEAST important concern of an amp; what's hard is making a clean, low-distortion, highly dynamic and resolving output.

Depends on the headphones. What are you listening to?
Since the manuf. doesn't specify their output specs anywhere it's hard to say. In general though, I'm more a fan of plug it in and see if you're happy rather than spending they money on new equipment before you even know.

I have this same argument with my 5yo a couple times a week at dinner:
5yo: I won't eat this, I don't like it!
Me: You haven't tried it yet. Of course you don't like it.
etc.
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