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the biggest problem here is that a lot of companies create additional gain in different ways.

However, gain itself is simply a measure of the number of times the signal is multiplied.

The primary function is to raise the base volume, so that the volume control spans a more
suitable range for your headphones. For many headphone amplifiers, there is a "suitable range"
on the volume control where the amp performs best. Usually this is towards the middle of the
dial. On the low end, many amps have a lot of trouble getting channel balance between the left
and right sides. On the high ends, some run into clipping. Clipping will usually be noticeable as
bass that sounds distorted, very weak and uncontrolled. It is most noticeable in the bass, as bass
takes the most power to reproduce. Also, if you're at one of the extreme ends of the dial on an
amp, it may be difficult to get the exact volume you want, as relatively small changes in the dial
can correspond to huge jumps (or the inverse, where relatively large changes in the volume dial
have little discernible effect).

An amp essentially serves two main purposes: providing correct output impedance and enough
power/volume. The first issue has to do with dampening and the amount of current being sent,
the later just the raw power/amplification. Some people also use an amp to essentially EQ their
headphones (ie getting a warm or bright amp to offset things they don't like about their
headphones), but this isn't really the purpose of an amp, and is technically speaking a flaw.

Beware that some amps increase gain simply by increasing output impedance, in which case the
higher output impedance from high gain would no longer be a good match for your headphones.

There are some amps (my Grace m9XX) that have none of these problems, and thus don't need
a gain switch. If an amp has no issues with channel imbalance, lack of power, clipping at the high
end, a gain switch wouldn't be needed.

I don't want to really argue this with others on here, but my personal belief on amps is that as
long as it hits these criteria, your amp is fine:

1) it makes your headphone loud enough without clipping. People talk about headroom like it's
some mystical thing and you need gobs and gobs of it. If no song you own causes clipping at the
loudest volume you'd ever want to listen, then you have enough headroom.
2) output impedance is less than 1/10 of the output impedance of your headphones. This will
allow enough current to basically any headphone I've ever seen. This isn't a hard and fast rule,
and some amps and some headphones can get away with a little bit higher output impedance than
this rule would suggest, but you essentially can't go wrong with this rule.

to give an example, with a 32 ohm Grado, you want output impedance to be 3 ohms or less. For
a 300 ohm HD650, you want output impedance to be 30 ohms or less. If the amp provides enough
power, you can't go wrong with lower output impedance. However, most very low output
impedance amps are a bit shy on power, unless it's a very good amp. Essentially you can't go
wrong with the lowest output impedance amp that gets your headphones loud enough with
sufficient head room.

3) Is linear (ie amplifies the bass and treble the same amount), unless you don't want it to be
linear (ie you want a warm amp, or an amp with rolled treble). I personally think using an amp to
EQ is silly, but some people like it. To me things work best when they do what they're designed to
do. Amps are designed to appropriately amplify, not change frequency response. A good EQ unit
(or program) will much more cleanly, flexibly and precisely change frequency response.

4) doesn't introduce excessive noise. Some amps aren't particularly noise free, and this, well,
it's not good.

Gain switches solve problems, but really, I believe, shouldn't be necessary these days, at least on
any amp costing more than $400. I think tech is to the point where we shouldn't still have these
stupid issues with channel imbalance and clipping on amps in that range. I get having a gain switch
on an O2. It's a $150 amp, and we cant really expect perfection, and the gain switch, when at
appropriate values, can solve a lot of its issues (noise at too high gain, channel imbalance on the
low end; clipping in the bass at the high end).

DAC/Amp: Cayin iDAC 6 / ECP-Beezar Torpedo III / Grace m9XX / Schiit Modi Multibit / HiFiMan
EF2C (amp only) / Dragonfly Red

Headphones: Sennheiser HD800 / HiFiMan HE400i / Fostex THX00 Ebony cups, Lawton Stage 1 /
Shure SRH840 / E-MU Walnut / Grado SR80e / Koss KSC75 / HiFiMan RE00