Without a doubt, headphones have made leaps and bounds over the last few years. They are more mobile and, more importantly, deliver better sound than the models of the past. Which may prompt some people to ask: Why would I need headphone amps if mine already sound amazing? Well, the answer to that question is quite simple. Your earphones could sound even better.
The best headphone AMP can not only transform the generally poor quality sound of many laptops and personal computers but can also greatly enhance the music from your smartphone. Many users are blown away when they realize that their music can sound even better. So, with that in mind, here are ten of the best models currently available.
Best Headphone AMPS of 2018
10Syba Sonic SD-DAC63057 24-Bit Stereo Amplifier
This digital to analog audio converter lets users go around their headphone’s output or PC’s sound card and send digital audio directly through a USB interface. This model is packed with a number of features which make it easy-to-use and allow the end user to get the most out of their music. Some of these features include true plug & play operation, a TI LM4562 USB-powered amplifier, support for a headphone’s 1/4″ or 3.5mm jack, 24-bit (maximum 96KHz), and a “de-pop” function to suppress the popping sound that comes through a computer’s audio output. This unit is designed for individuals who don’t need to do studio-quality work but really want to bring their music up a few notches and get the most out of it.
9Behringer Powerplay P1
This amplifier is ideal for individuals who are looking to jazz up their music a bit for either their own personal enjoyment or for their studio recordings. It has a powerful headphone output which ensures that sounds don’t dominate each other and the musical sound maintains its sense of nuance. This unit also has a number of features which make it really useful for the average person to use and ensures they get the most out of all of their audio. These features include inputs which allow mono, stereo or 2-channel operation; the ability to run up to 12-hours on a single 9-volt battery; a volume knob and a knob for L/1 and L/2 balance.
8FiiO A3 Headphone Portable Amplifier
This portable and nice looking unit is designed for individuals who need a little bit of extra power for their earbuds or headphones. It can be used on 16 to 150-Ohms headphones and has an easy-to-use gain switch which can be used to match output to the headphones. Made with an aluminum body and a chassis that is shielded against unwanted electromagnetic interference, this model is not only durable but will keep doing its job as long as you need it to. And since it uses components that were specifically designed for use in an AMP, users can expect high-quality performance every single time it’s used.
7Fiio E17K 2-USB DAC Amplifier
This FiiO E17K is not only durable and made of high-quality materials but it also has a look that anyone would be happy to take with them on the go. However, looks and durability aren’t the only two things which can be found on this device. It also has a number of important features which allow users to take control of their music and deliver it directly to their headphones. These features include a TI DAC, USB audio-decoding, coaxial digital input and a dual-function line in/out port and a standard micro-USB interface. It also has a scroll wheel menu navigation and supports up to 96kHz/32-bit audio and DSD decoding.
6SMSL T2 2X6J9 Vacuum Tube Amplifier for Headphones
This AMP is small and compact, 2.9-inches by 5-inches by 1.02-inches, which makes it perfect to take it wherever you need to take it so you always have the option of high-quality sound available to you. This model uses two 6J9 J-grade vacuum tubes and two NJM5532D low-noise amplifiers which allows this unit to have low-ground noise, which really just means that it gets rid of ringing or buzzing users often have to put up with lesser quality Amps. Another great feature of this unit is that it’s made from scratch-resistant CNC aluminum, so it not only looks nice but is also fairly durable. All of this comes together in a unit that can drive current so headphone user’s always get the audio quality they need.
5Cayin C5 Portable Audio Amplifier
This sleek and nice looking AMP is made from brushed black metal and can be used as not only an amplifier for the user’s headphones but can also be used as a mobile charging source when devices are plugged into it. This unit has a frequency response of 20Hz to 100kHZ and has a 1000mAh lithium-battery which takes about 4-hours to charge but allows the unit to be used for approximately 12-hours at a time. This low-noise amplifier drives a strong current and uses a performance OP Amp OPA134. These features make this unit ideal for individuals looking to get more out of their audio.
4FiiO E10K USB DAC & Earphone Amplifier
Originally designed to improve a user’s laptop audio output quality, this unit is ideal for just about anyone who needs to optimize their audio or deal with PCM files. It uses a PCM5102 DAC that can handle files up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution, optimized circuitry which keeps the noise floor low and connects to the user’s laptop using a micro-USB connection. Another interesting fact about this unit is that the micro-USB connection not only allows it to connect to the laptop but also powers the unit as well. Other features which can be found in this model include a 1/8th-inch front-panel headphone jack, a 1/8th-inch rear-panel line output and a coaxial digital output on the rear panel. And since this unit is encased in a beautiful brushed aluminum shell, it will make itself at home on just about anyone’s computer desk.
3Behringer Microamp HA400
At first glance, some people would mistake this unit as a compact unit that may not handle their audio needs, but that would be completely wrong. While this unit is small, it has big features which allow it to handle audio quite well. It has 4 high-power stereo amplifiers that can really drive sound and mimics what some of the large studio Amps can do as well. Up to 4-headphones may be plugged into this unit and it can not only power them but also handle independent volumes for each one. No matter what headphones are used with this unit, this amplifier system can handle them, even if they are at full volume.
2VOX amPlug Bass AP2BS G2 Guitar Headset Amplifier
This unit has been specifically designed with bass guitars in mind and is able to better handle really low frequencies across a wide-response range better than many competing Amps. Its analog circuit has been redesigned from previous iterations and now provides the user with 3-different gain modes and 9-selectable rhythm patterns which include 3-chorus, 3-reverb, and 3-delay modes. Other features of this unit include a foldable plug that can rotate 180-degrees, an automatic power-off function, and an AUX input. It may be an ideal solution for bassists and guitarists who need to hit those low frequencies and do it without unwanted distortion.
1Audio Quest Dragon Fly DAC USB Amplifier
This device is not only able to drive just about any headphones on the market but also works with a variety of equipment, including personal computers, laptops, tablets and even smartphones. No matter what sound it’s driving, it does it with authority and often transforms the audio source from boring to extraordinary. It features a 32-Bit Sabre DAC, MQA decoding ability and can play everything from MP3 files to 24-bit/96 kHz high-resolution audio files. It’s an amplifier that has won several industry awards and is know for being a device that can improve the richness, detail, and tone of any music. This makes it ideal for everything from audio enthusiasts to studio professionals.
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Picking the Best Headphone AMP
Many audio enthusiasts have a bit of trepidation when they dip their toe into the waters of headphone amplification. Which isn’t surprising because in the Amp market there are not a whole lot of very technical terms being thrown around by manufacturers and sellers, but there are a ton of different products out there. There are models that have different technologies from one another and ones that support either DAC, headphone or are a combination model.
The kind of amplifier that a person needs also depends on what they intend to use it for, so that plays a part in the decision as well. And that’s why the following guide was created. It will allow the beginner or intermediate audiophile to find the best headphones amplifier for their particular needs. While it’s not completely comprehensive, it’s enough information to allow individuals to begin an educated search.
Headphone Specific or DAC Enabled
The first thing that a person has to consider is whether they need an amp that’s only going to be used for headphones or you need one that can handle digital to analog audio conversion. If you need the former, then you can go on to the next section of this guide, but if you need the latter, then let’s take a few moments to talk about the technology you are going to need: the DAC. A DAC takes digital audio sources, such as MP3 files and CD rips, and converts them into an analog signal.
However, not all DAC chips accomplish this in the same manner, especially when they are found on devices like tablets, smartphones and personal computers. That’s because there are other functions considered more important for these manufacturers than the integrated DAC chips they threw in as an extra feature. They tend to bottleneck or choke when they are used to process large files because they are also doing other tasks at the same time.
Of course, mobile and computing devices aren’t the only devices using integrated DAC chips. Some headphone amplification models also use them. Which usually isn’t a big deal for the casual user, but if a person wants to process audio files which are data-rich, then they may want to get a model that has a dedicated DAC. However, some of these models can cost a bit more than models with integrated DAC, so it’s important for a person to do their homework and choose the one that’s the best combination of function and price.
Different Types of Amps
Headphone amplification models generally come in one of two different types nowadays. There are solid-state amps and vacuum tube amps. While both of them are commonly used, there are differences between the two. Here are some basics:
While vacuum tubes have disappeared from most consumer electronics in the early 70s, tube amps are still being used. Although a lot of people would say that they are inferior to solid-state models, there are some people who insist that audio processed with these tube amps have more character than solid-state models. Many of the models manufactured today use a hybrid design that allows both solid-state and tube-technology is processing the audio file at different levels of the audio processing. The drawbacks of this technology are that they are less reliable, use more power and are more expensive than their solid-state cousins.
These type of amps are cheaper, a lot more reliable and use a lot less power than vacuum-tube models. They are also usually smaller. While all of these are good reasons for using one of these amps, some purists complain that they produce an audio file that’s sterile and homogeneous and doesn’t have depth and character. While I haven’t found that to be the case, it is something to consider.
To make sure that your amplifier works with your headphones it’s important to match impedance. Every amp manufactured has an impedance rating that tells the user how much power is sent out through the headphone connection. To figure out if your headphones match the impedance of your amp, then do the following:
- Look up the headphone’s impedance
- Divide the headphone’s impedance by 8
- The resulting number is the max ohms that should be pushed by your amp
For example, if you have a pair of headphones that have an impedance of 40 ohms, then you will want an amplifier that has a maximum impedance of 5 ohms.