Ask Different is a question and answer site for power users of Apple hardware and software. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I want to buy headphones that I will primarily use on my MacBook Pro Retina. I read that I should not buy headphones with high impedance because the volume will be really low. I want something I can use with my MacBook and my iPad. I looked at these headphones, but I'm afraid they will not work well for my purposes:

Does anyone have experience with this stuff?

share|improve this question
Mohamad, feel free to answer your own question with your solution, the Headphone Amplifier... – MrDaniel Jul 23 '12 at 19:14

I couldn't find the specific details for the new MacBook Pro Retina machine, but these specs are pretty universal across the whole MBP lineup and should help you match a pair of headphones:

Line/Headphone Output

The line/headphone output is automatically selected for audio output if no external device is detected at the S/PDIF optical digital output port. The line/headphone output supports a stereo data stream at bit depths of 16, 20, or 24 bits per sample and at sample rates of 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, or 96 kHz. The line/headphone output volume can be adjusted from 0.0 dB to -95.25 dB.

During playback of a 1 kHz, full-scale sine wave (44.1 kHz output sample rate, 24-bit sample depth, 100 kΩ load, unless otherwise specified) the audio line output has the following nominal specifications:

Jack type: 3.5 mm stereo Maximum output voltage: 2 VRMS (+8.24 dBu) Output impedance: < 24 Ω Frequency response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz, +0.5 dB/-3 dB Signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): > 90 dB Total harmonic distortion + noise (THD+N): < -80 dB (0.01%) Channel separation: > 75 dB

Note: For best results, equipment plugged into the line/headphone output jack should not connect the audio ground to other grounds, such as the chassis or “green-wire” ground.

The answer to that post doesn't contain a reference link I'm afraid.

I did find a link on the Apple Support page that says the Mac Mini's headphone jack is 10 Ohms.

All this is to say: yes, you're correct. Those headphones are far too high a load for the limited-power amplifiers in your iDevices and your MacBook Pro.

You want a lower impedance headphones. They're more efficient at converting the electrical signal they're passed in to sound you can hear. More efficient means, for the same power electrical signal, higher volume reproduction.

Aim for something the less-than-or-equal to 64 Ohm range if you can.

share|improve this answer
Thanks Ian, after some research on my end too I found that a Headphone's amplifier could get the job done (at the expense of some portability):… – Mohamad Jul 23 '12 at 18:55

The thing is, The higher impedance headphones will be much lower quality on a low impedance output such as the macbook. Coming from an audiophile, If you only have a macbook and you dont have the dough to buy a $500 headphone amp, its not worth it! a $150 set of headphones would be better quality than an $800 dollar set without an amp.

share|improve this answer

I have a pair of Beyerdynamic 990 PRO 250 Ohm which supposedly use the same drivers as the 770 Pro 250 Ohm. I use these with a MacBook Air (early 2011) and have no trouble driving them at levels beyond what I would think of as comfortable or even healthy (but others may have a different definition of "loud").

On the positive side, if the output impedance of the MacBook is rated at <24 Ohm, then the 250 Ohm input impedance of the Beyerdynamics gives you a damping factor above 10 which helps keep distortion low.

Beyerdynamic have versions with lower impedance to deliver higher volume with portable equipment but I have found that even my Samsung Galaxy Note drives the 250 Ohm versions loud enough for my (almost 40 year old) ears.

share|improve this answer
I would venture a guess that you don't care much for low end (bass) frequencies. For low frequencies it has a very high impedance and for mids and treble it has a much lower impedance. So, yes it will get loud, but you'll have low end roll-off. – y3sh Nov 18 '14 at 21:57

I have tried both the Marshal Major and the Urban Ears headphones through the Macbook Pro Retina.

Both are simply fantastic.


share|improve this answer
Thanks. I'll check them out. – Mohamad Feb 10 '14 at 23:34

If you are concerned about the volume level, try headphones that have between about 16 and about 32 ohm impedance and with a high sensitivity (dB/mW), say more than about 90 or 100. There are headphones with over 110dB/mW sensitivity with impedance in that range.

If the output impedance of the device is a bit lower than the input impedance of the headphones, you trade a little bit of loudness for a bit of quality.

This will make sure you can use your headphones with many different devices, if one day you upgrade your sound sources.

More details about line level and headphones can be found on the Wikipedia:

share|improve this answer
up vote 0 down vote accepted

It turns out higher impedance headphones will produce very low sound on MacBooks. For this reason headphones with an ohms rating above 80 may not be suitable, and would require a headphone amplifier to function properly.

Something like the FiiO E11 could get the job done at the expense of some portability, although it would allow such headphones to be used with most portable devices too like iPods, iPhones, and iPads.

share|improve this answer

"THE SHORT VERSION: All you really need to know is most headphones work best when the output impedance is less than 1/8th the headphone impedance. So, for example, with 32 ohm Grados the output impedance can be, at most, 32/8 = 4 ohms. The Etymotic HF5s are 16 ohms so the max output impedance is 16/8 = 2 ohms. If you want to be assured a source will work well with just about any headphone, simply make sure the output impedance is under 2 ohms."

So if the mac is 10 ohm output, you want headphones with >80ohm impedance.

share|improve this answer
Its true that they will be less loud than lower impedance headphones, but they will be loud enough for most sane people.... – thetoolman Mar 18 '15 at 0:36

Geeez ... Why make a simple question hard ... Almost all analog audio devices have an output of between 4 and 20 ohms. So, the closer to that range your headphones the better they will perform. 10 ohms is good.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.