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What is a gain switch?

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Hi everyone, I just got my new Sennheiser 6XX! (Thanks massdrop)! And I have a little dac/amp combo and it's pretty good.. so it sounds great... but, I wish it was a little louder. The unit has a extra bass switch and a gain switch. I think that would for sure make it louder.. but DOES A GAIN SWITCH ADD DISTORTION ? Thanks everyone !
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LuckyLuke575
549
Sep 2, 2019
@yardleyjeff Welcome to the club man!! I had the same question in the beginning so I can relate. If you have decent equipment, then using the high gain option should not produce any audible distortion, but it will make your 6XXs sound better (and play louder). Because of the higher impedance rating on the 6XXs, they need more power to work properly, so using high gain will get you there. Think of the gain as a party switch lol
A gain switch is there to adjust for the varying output levels of upstream sources. Every piece of the audio chain has voltage at play. Go with the lowest gain that still allows you to get enough volume out of your device. Excessive gain can cause clipping and distortion if you boost the voltage beyond the downstream gears maximum input voltage.
dcha12
445
Sep 2, 2019
The caveat to this is that some devices really sound like a** with reduced gain (I experienced this with Liquid Carbon, not the Drop Liquid Carbon X mind. I also found Schiit Magni 3 to sound better on high gain). This has to do with how reduction in volume is achieved; some amps run feedback loops to reduce gain, which sometimes makes the sound bad. That being said, clipping is really awful. Just try high gain/low gain and see if you hear a difference. If not, great!
(Edited)
Good call out as all gain structures are not created equal. I do attribute some examples of "it sounds better on high gain" to people not properly volume matching but the methodology employed in the gain switch can affect sound.