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Not Just Another Headphone Amp

Not Just Another Headphone Amp

The ping of the cymbals, crack of the snare drum, thonk of the bass – none of these comes through on my low-budget speakers. Sometimes they sound so fuzzy I want to hide behind the couch until it’s over.
There are probably as many headphone amp designs as there are headphones, but all aren’t created equal. The cheesy headphone-amp circuits in most stereo gear aren’t up to the standards of the main amp components, and many CD players and cassette decks don’t even have them.

This do-it-yourself stereo headphone amp sounds clean and clear, and uses just two, inexpensive chips. It’s great for practice, multitrack monitoring, or just plain listening as a receiver/integrated-amp substitute.


The circuit gets its zip from two National Semiconductor LM386 Low Voltage Audio Power Amp ICs, one for each side of the stereo path. The left and right channels are identical. Refer to the schematic, Fig. 1, using the left channel as a guide. Dual potentiometer R1A serves as variable input-attenuator (the dual pot controls both channels); R2 isolates C2, which capacitively couples the input. Cl bypasses high-frequency input noise to ground; C3 bypasses the inverting input. R3 and C4 bypass the power supply. R6 and C7 bypass the output; C8 capacitively couples it.

Caution: This circuit can drive headphones to high sound-pressure levels that may damage hearing. Never use headphones at excessive volume levels. The reserve power can be safely used to drive a second pair of headphones, via a headphone Y-cable (Radio Shack catalog number 42-2448 or equivalent).

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