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?


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.

  • 2
    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): amazon.com/FiiO-E11-Portable-Headphone-Amplifier/dp/B0053KWDES/… – Mohamad Jul 23 '12 at 18:55
  • 3
    It should also be noted that choosing a lower impedance headphones pair, albeit resulting in a better power transfer efficiency, will also result in an increased significance of any frequency-based impedance variation of the headphones, most commonly a low frequency roll-off. So choosing low impedance headphones with hard-to-drive low range will result in better overall volume, but a weak low end of the listening spectrum. See nwavguy.blogspot.it/2011/02/headphone-amp-impedance.html for reference. – Michele De Pascalis Nov 19 '17 at 11:49

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 don't have the dough to buy a $500 headphone amp, it's not worth it! A $150 set of headphones would have better quality than an $800 dollar set without an amp.


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.

  • 3
    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. – Josh Hibschman Nov 18 '14 at 21:57
  • I have these headphones, and the bass sounds awful compared to a real amp that can drive them – neaumusic Jun 22 '18 at 3:33

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

Both are simply fantastic.



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:





"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.

  • 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

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.


This is an old question, but this does still come up from time to time.

For portable use you want a low impedance headphone. On the one you quoted the 16 or 32 ohm impedance is the one you want. Lower impedance will be a little more bassy, 32 Ohm might be a smidge better quality but a little bit quieter. The high impedance headphones are for amplified studio use. I'd get the 32 Ohm unit.

This site says a lot, probably enough to confuse you more. https://www.headphonesty.com/2019/04/headphone-impedance-demystified/ The table at the end says the Air has an output impedance of 1.6 Ohms. I don't think it matters much for you, however.

You see, while I don't have a MacBook Pro Retina, the Sony MDRZX110 sounds great on a Mac Mini. 24 Ohms, 98dB/mW sensitivity. Output from the Mac Mini at 1/3 full scale is fine, full scale would induce hearing loss type loud over time. $14 on Amazon. Audio quite clear. Ear covering style. In addition, it works great with the USB-C to 3.5 mm adapter for airplane trip use, and works fine on my iPhone SE with the same adapter. All those devices have a wide range of low impedance.

The power output on these differing machines is similar. It probably qualifies as line-out, which is at least 1V p-p. Headphones or a speaker that is powered will do fine. The headphones I described above are fine.


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.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .