80 Ohm vs 250 Ohm – What’s Better for Studio & Gaming Headphones?

Author: Dedrich Schafer | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

So, you’re in the market for high-end headphones and you’ve been looking at different makes and models.

Apart from the usual specs like dB, type (closed or open back), etc, you’ve probably noticed that they also have an Ohm rating (Ω, measures impedance).

But what does that mean? And why do the same models have multiple Ohm ratings?

Let’s go over what Ohms are, what the differences in Ohm ratings are, and how they impact the sound.

What is Impedance?

The first thing to know is what Ohms are. Basically, Ohms are the amount of impedance the headphones have.

Impedance is the resistance and reactivity to an electrical current present in the headphones. A low impedance, or low Ohms, means less resistance, and high Ohms means high resistance.

There are three levels of impedance:

Low Impedance – 16 - 32 Ohm. Headphones in this range work well with devices that have weak built-in amplifiers like phones, laptops, etc.

High Impedance – 100 Ohm and above. High impedance headphones require more power, usually from an external amp, to work properly and can even benefit from higher voltages.

Gray Area – 32 – 100 Ohm. Headphones in this range will require power according to their sensitivity rating. A high sensitivity, 91dB for example, will mean that the headphones will need more power.

How Does the Ohm Rating Affect Sound Quality?

Now that you have a better understanding of Ohm, let’s look at how it influences the sound.

A good example of the same headphone model having different Ohm ratings are two extremely popular studio headphones from Beyerdynamic, the DT770 Pro and the DT990 Pro. They come in both 80 and 250 Ohm versions, so let’s use them as our reference.

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro

Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro

Generally, headphones with lower impedance (80 Ohm or even 32 Ohm) demand less power, effortlessly pairing with portable devices like smartphones and laptops.

At 80 Ohm, the headphones have more bass and less prominent treble. At higher volumes, 80 Ohm will produce even more bass.

Conversely, higher-impedance headphones (250 Ohm for instance) boast significantly higher headroom (AKA the amount of volume they can handle before distorting) yet crave more power. This makes them the ideal companions for dedicated amplifiers / high-end audio gear, especially for studio use.

The 250 Ohm version has a similar bass response but has more high-end to even the sound out more. It also has a bit more mid-bass and sub-bass roll-off.

What does this mean for your experience?

With its better bass output, the 80 Ohm version is better suited for listening for enjoyment. You’ll be getting more out of 80 Ohm while listening to music or gaming.

If you’re looking for headphones for studio work, the 250 Ohm pair will be better with its wider frequency response. This is important for the critical listening involved with recording and mixing audio.

So, which variant you choose depends mainly on how you plan to use your shiny new pair of headphones.

Amp and a DAC

While both 80 and 250 Ohm headphones will benefit from an amp, you’ll be able to get a lot more out of the 250 Ohm version with one. I’d recommend getting an amp for 250 Ohm headphones.

DACs (Digital to Analog Converter) are present in basically every device that plays audio. Your phone, laptop, iPad, they all have built-in DACs.

The DAC or soundcard in your device might not be powerful enough, however. In that case, you’ll need to get an external one.

If the headphones aren’t loud enough, the audio crackles or there’s noise, or the overall quality is just bad, then you’ll definitely need a DAC.

Something like the Fiio E10K is a great budget combo amp/DAC.

Fiio E10K

Typical Impedance Problems

Choosing between 80 and 250 Ohm headphones can be a tricky task due to the number of factors you need to consider before making this decision.

Let’s set the scene: you come back home after a long day of hard work, and you just want to unwind. So you grab your brand new pair of Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm headphones, plug them straight into your laptop, and… no sound at all? or it’s barely audible?

Sadly, this is a very realistic scenario.

Don’t get me wrong; you shouldn't blame the headphones if this has happened to you. You just haven’t considered that your headphones' impedance is too high.

If you were to use a similar pair of headphones, like the DT770 Pro 80 Ohm (my personal favorite), you wouldn’t have any problems at all. Therefore, your well-deserved relaxing listening time would be safe.

Let me paint a different picture: you just bought a brand-new audio interface and want to record a demo for your new hit song. It’s quite a mellow, intimate tune; you need to record guitar and vocals, possibly at the same time.

You get everything ready, but even if you set the monitor volume at the lowest possible value, your headphones are too loud, and the volume “bleeds” into your vocal mic.

In this scenario, you haven’t considered that your headphones’ impedance might be too low for your needs.

So, what’s best for you? The answer might be obvious by this point, but let’s get into a bit more details about the various possible use cases.

80 Ohm vs. 250 Ohm: User Profiles

Gamers

Thrill-seeking gamers usually opt for 80 Ohm headphones, effortlessly connecting them to gaming consoles or PCs without the need for added amplification.

It might be a good idea to consider even lower-impedance headphones (like the DT770 Pro 32 Ohm) to eliminate any chance of encountering audio issues.

Casual Listeners

For laid-back listeners wielding smartphones, tablets, or laptops, 80 Ohm headphones deliver excellent sound quality and volume, negating the need for supplementary gear.

On the other hand, if you have more “professional” listening gear that includes some form of headphone amplification (such as a dedicated external DAC), you might consider going the higher-impedance route to get a cleaner sound at louder volumes.

Audiophiles

Discerning audiophiles frequently gravitate towards 250 Ohm headphones, captivated by their unrivaled sound quality, especially when coupled with dedicated amplifiers or top-notch audio interfaces.

Professionals

Sound maestros, including mixing engineers and music producers, predominantly choose 250 Ohm headphones, being drawn to their heightened accuracy, crystal-clear clarity, and minimized distortion in studio environments.

Comfort and Price

Headphones must be comfortable, especially if you plan to use them for longer sessions (over 1 hour).

Luckily, comfort levels between 80 Ohm and 250 Ohm headphones remain strikingly similar, as impedance itself isn't the defining factor. However, the specific headphone model and its design can influence coziness.

Regarding price, headphones with higher impedance often come with heftier price tags, owing to their superior build quality and the inclusion of top-grade components.

Don't overlook the total expense when weighing the costs of headphones with varying impedance levels. This includes any indispensable amplifiers or audio interfaces needed to unlock the most sublime auditory escapade.

For instance, if you’re planning to invest in a pair of 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro (priced roughly at the $500 mark), consider that you need to spend extra cash pairing them with a decent external DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) as well, if you don’t already own one.

This will undoubtedly be a worthwhile investment if you seek the best listening experience. Still, it’s certainly something you need to be aware of before purchasing your new pair of 250 Ohm headphones.

Conclusion

If you’re just looking for good gaming or general listening experience, then 80 Ohm headphones are the way to go.

For the serious audio engineer or self-recording musician, 250 Ohm headphones are hands down better.

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About Dedrich Schafer

Dedrich is a guitar player, songwriter and sound engineer with extensive music production and studio experience. He mostly listens to classic rock and punk bands, but sometimes also likes listening to rap and acoustic songs.

3 thoughts on “80 Ohm vs 250 Ohm – What’s Better for Studio & Gaming Headphones?”

  1. What do you think is better the 80 Ohm or 250 Ohm headphones for use with an electric drum kit? I also put the music I am playing to through the headphones as well.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for putting out a simple to understand comment on how to understand the “Impedance & Ohm” terms. I’m not electronically gifted, but I’m starting to dig into it more these days. This definitely helped me on headphone selecting ohm type I need to get.

    Reply

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