Can You Listen To A Phono With Headphones? A Comprehensive Guide

Are you a vinyl enthusiast looking for a more personal listening experience?

Do you want to enjoy your favorite records without disturbing your roommates or neighbors?

If so, you may be wondering if it’s possible to listen to your turntable with headphones.

The answer is yes, but there are a few things you need to know before diving in.

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits and drawbacks of using headphones for vinyl playback, as well as the equipment you’ll need to get started.

So grab your favorite record and let’s dive in!

Can You Listen To A Phono With Headphones

Yes, you can listen to a phono with headphones, but it’s not as simple as plugging them directly into your turntable.

Since turntables do not have a volume control, you will need to add an amplifier between the turntable and the headphones. This amplifier should have at least a volume control on it so that you can adjust the volume level of the music.

Additionally, some amplifiers offer tone adjustment, which can enhance your listening experience even further.

It’s important to note that the signal coming out of the turntable is only moderately loud, so adding an amplifier will not only provide volume control but also enable you to achieve a broader usable volume range.

Fortunately, many modern turntables come with a built-in RIAA phono preamplifier, which means you don’t have to connect your turntable to a stereo amplifier or receiver with PHONO jacks or use an outboard phono preamplifier installed between the turntable and the headphones.

All you need to do is set the preamp selector switch on the turntable to the ON or LINE position to turn on the built-in preamplifier. The RIAA equalization curve required to play back records will be applied to the signal, raising the signal level from phono level to line level.

This line level signal is what a headphone amplifier needs so that it can drive the connected headphones to adequate volume levels.

The Benefits Of Listening To Vinyl With Headphones

There are several benefits to listening to vinyl with headphones that make it a worthwhile experience.

Firstly, headphones offer a more intimate listening experience than speakers can. You are physically connected to the record itself, and the musical signal travels directly from the cartridge to your ears via a series of small conductive cables. This connection eliminates any potential interference from external factors, providing an accurate and detailed soundstage presentation.

Secondly, headphones are not affected by the acoustic properties of your room, so there are no reflections, echoes, or standing waves to deal with. This means you get to hear the full frequency response of your headphones 100% of the time, without worrying about room treatment or software correction.

Thirdly, headphones can be a cost-effective alternative to speakers. 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. This makes it an attractive option for those who want great sound quality without breaking the bank.

Finally, listening to vinyl with headphones provides a private listening experience that can be enjoyed at any time without disturbing others around you. You can enjoy your favorite albums at any volume level without worrying about your family or neighbors being disturbed.

The Drawbacks Of Listening To Vinyl With Headphones

While listening to vinyl with headphones can be an enjoyable experience, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind.

One of the biggest issues is the inherent distortion that comes with vinyl playback. Turntables with pivoting tonearms can only line up correctly with the grooves at two points across the record surface, which results in tracking errors that are heard as distortion. This problem is compounded further by the progressive reduction of linear resolution as a record progresses. The distortion heard at the end of each record side is referred to as end-of-side distortion or inner-groove distortion.

While a well-configured, high-quality turntable with a minimum 10-inch tonearm can reduce tracking errors significantly, some error will always remain – it’s the nature of the beast. It’s highly likely that much of this inherent distortion actually plays a part in the warm, natural sound that vinyl advocates often describe. However, this distortion can be more noticeable when listening through headphones since they provide a more direct and intimate listening experience.

Another drawback of listening to vinyl with headphones is the cost. While headphones themselves may be cheaper than a pair of Hi-Fi speakers, quality equipment is still required for optimal listening. In addition to headphones, a good headphone amplifier is necessary to properly drive the headphones and achieve adequate volume levels.

Finally, outside noise can also be an issue when listening to vinyl with headphones. Since headphones provide a closed listening environment, any outside noise can be more noticeable and distracting when listening through headphones compared to speakers. Additionally, anyone around you will be able to hear the sound coming from your headphones more clearly, so it’s important to keep this in mind when choosing where to listen.

What Equipment You Need To Listen To Vinyl With Headphones

To listen to vinyl records with headphones, you will need a few pieces of equipment. First and foremost, you will need a turntable capable of playing the type of records you have, whether they are standard 33+1/3 LPs, 45-RPM discs, or 78s.

Most modern turntables come with a built-in preamplifier that boosts the signal from the cartridge to line level. However, if your turntable doesn’t have a built-in preamp, you will need to purchase an external phono preamp to boost the signal and apply the RIAA equalization curve required for playback.

Next, you will need a headphone amplifier to drive your headphones. A dedicated headphone amplifier is designed specifically for this purpose and typically offers better sound quality for your dollar compared to integrated amps or stereo receivers.

Alternatively, many integrated amps or stereo receivers have a built-in headphone amp, which is a good option if you have multiple audio sources you want to listen to through headphones.

When choosing headphones, consider whether you want open-back or closed-back headphones. Open-back headphones offer a more natural soundstage but can leak sound and may not be suitable for listening in noisy environments. Closed-back headphones provide isolation and are better suited for listening in noisy environments but may not have as wide of a soundstage.

How To Connect Your Headphones To Your Turntable

To connect your headphones to your turntable, you will need a headphone amplifier. This amplifier will be connected between the turntable and the headphones.

If your turntable has a built-in phono preamp, you can simply connect the headphone amplifier to the RCA output of the turntable. If your turntable does not have a built-in preamp, you will need to connect the headphone amplifier between the turntable and an external phono preamp.

Once you have connected the headphone amplifier, you can plug in your headphones and adjust the volume to your liking.

It’s important to note that not all headphone amplifiers are created equal. Some are designed specifically for driving high-impedance headphones, while others are better suited for low-impedance headphones. Be sure to choose a headphone amplifier that is compatible with your specific headphones.

In addition, some headphone amplifiers offer additional features such as tone control or multiple inputs, which can enhance your listening experience even further.

Tips For Getting The Best Sound Quality With Headphones

If you want to get the best sound quality possible when listening to music with headphones, there are a few tips you can follow:

1. Choose high-quality audio files: The quality of your music files is the foundation of good sound quality. Make sure to choose files with good compression and avoid highly compressed formats that sacrifice audio quality.

2. Use a high-quality streaming service: If you prefer streaming music, consider subscribing to a service like Tidal or Spotify that offer high-quality playback options.

3. Adjust your headphone settings: Depending on your headphones, you may be able to adjust the bass, treble, and midrange frequencies for optimal sound quality. Experiment with different settings to find what works best for you.

4. Use an amplifier: If you’re listening to music from a turntable, adding an amplifier between the turntable and headphones can help enhance the sound quality and provide volume control.

5. Test your headphones: To ensure that your headphones are delivering optimal sound quality, test them with a track that reveals any high-frequency flaws. Tutu by Miles Davis is a great demo track for this purpose.

By following these tips, you can ensure that you’re getting the best possible sound quality when listening to music with headphones.

Conclusion: Is Listening To Vinyl With Headphones Right For You?

After considering the benefits and drawbacks of listening to vinyl with headphones, it ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you live in a shared space or want to avoid disturbing others, headphones are a great option. They also offer a more intimate listening experience, allowing you to pick up on subtle details in the music that you may not have noticed before.

However, if you enjoy sharing your music with others or prefer a more immersive sound experience, speakers may be the better choice. It’s also important to note that using headphones can reveal flaws in your records that may not be as noticeable when listening through speakers.

If you do decide to use headphones, make sure to invest in a quality headphone amplifier and consider whether you need a phono preamp. With the right equipment, listening to vinyl with headphones can be a truly enjoyable experience.