10 Best Headphone Amps 2020 – Reviews and Expert Guide
If you are a diehard audiophile, the chances are that you understand the primary duty of a sound amplifier. Well, this is a simple device that exponentially improves the performance of speaker systems.
In the same respect, a headphone amp enhances the dynamic range, clarity, and sound details when listening to music or podcasts using your headphones.
A quality device will boost the signal level, making any performance impressively realistic. This will come in handy not only when you are listening to music, but also when you are monitoring audio files for editing.
So, here we are, and you want to start shopping for a commonplace item. Relax because we have done the legwork for you to compile a well-researched list of the 10 best headphone amplifiers 2019.
Does a Headphone Amp Improve Sound Quality?
To understand how a headphone amp works and whether or not it improves sound quality, there are several crucial facts you must first understand. Headphones, to begin with, are similar to small speakers, and as we all know, speakers need amplifiers to produce better sound.
The majority of gadgets, including radios, computers, smartphones, and even your headphones have an in-built amplifier. The amp, in this case, has limited power, size, and space. This, in return, compromises the performance of your headphones.
With an external headphone amplifier, you can bridge this gap and enjoy better sound. The external device has more space, greater power, and of course, enhanced circuitry. This ensures that the audio delivered to your ears is more controlled and cleaner even when you choose to crank up the volume.
So now you’re wondering whether you need an external amp and your headphones already contain an in-built one. Well, think of it this way. An external amplifier will compensate for the limitations of the internal amp. This will do justice to the quality of sounds you get from your headphones.
Our 10 Best Headphone Amp Reviews
From the jungles of fairly good headphone amplifiers that we tested, we concluded that these are the finest models available. It took time, dedication, and sourcing both professional and user opinions to come up with this list.
1. Fiio E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The first product on our headphone amp review is the Fiio E10k. Before we get started, allow me to clarify one thing. The most crucial attribute I was looking for in the most exquisite products is their ability to enhance sound quality. This is a brand that met and exceeded my expectations.
To many people, nothing is as refreshing as having a headphone amp that genuinely amplifies sound and even enhances the clarity of the details when listening to music.
It is safe to say that this is one of those brands that have changed the markets completely by introducing affordable amplifiers that produce impressive audios.
This product is made of aluminum, and this makes it sturdy and long-lasting. It is lightweight and generally smaller than most portable headphone amplifiers.
Also, this model also has the added benefit of having an in-built DAC chip (PCM102) that can handle over 24-bit/96 kHz PCM files while enhancing the quality of audios through a linear filter.
Another perk of using this brand is that there are no phase shifts when changing tracks. The transition is remarkably swift because the DAC chip helps in reducing delays. The optimized selectable bass boost signal path and low-pass filter are designed to ensure a low noise floor.
2. Pyle 4-Channel Portable Stereo Headphone Amplifier
This is an outstanding budget headphone amp, capable of giving you whole new listening experience. It can power just about any headphone type. Better still, it is ideal for audiophiles because it allows at least four people to tune into the central mix at the same time during recording.
Furthermore, this is an impressive feature that makes it one of the best models available in the markets today.
Additionally, the Pyle-Pro PHA40 4-Channel amp offers independent volume controls. Each of the four listeners can adjust their volume levels via the dedicated output volume controls.
On the other hand, the ¼ inch TRS output jacks make it possible for an audiophile to control the four headphones at the same go.
Even though this device is compact size and portable, it is designed for professional use. It comes with a carry case to make it easier to travel with it, perhaps when preparing for applications or performances in a studio or even a live event.
Another perk that cannot go without mentioning is the outstanding audio quality delivered by the amp. The four, high powered stereo amplifiers are designed to maintain top sonic audio quality even if you decide to blast the volume levels.
These are ultra-low noise amps ensure you enjoy an unparalleled sound performance.
3. Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier
This is yet another superb product with two headphone jacks for smartphones and computers as well as an integrated microphone. In case you love the flexibility of having a device that pairs well with both your smartphone and your PC, this is one of the best ones you can find.
With the 600 Ohm current overloading protection, this device supports studio-grade audio performance.
From regular audio, this amplifier enhances sound quality into a studio-grade listening mode. You will enjoy a better listening experience, even when using your regular headphones.
The in-built mono mic, on the other hand, offers the convenience of being able to take your calls when you are connected to your smartphone.
Another impressive feature is the USB port capable of delivering 106dB SNR output. You can listen to music and audio files throughout the day without worrying about power issues because the device has an in-built lithium battery that supports about 25 hours of nonstop audio playback.
Have you tried using a headphone amp with an SBX Pro audio suite? If you have not, you have no idea what you are missing. This is a feature that boosts the audio for your Mac or PC with unparalleled bass expansion, dynamic range enhancement, and a significant improvement in the virtual surround.
This is one of those devices that serve as a great amplifier and an equally impressive headphone splitter. You can listen to audios with your friends at the same time without suffering from audio distortions.
4. Neoteck Headphone Amplifier Portable 3.5mm
This is yet another best budget headphone amp on our list. It is a lightweight, yet compact mini amplifier that you can carry on the go without much hassle. What makes it exceptional is that it has an AUX output and input, designed to deliver a sharper stereo sound that is free of distortion.
One of the features we liked is the aluminum matte surface. It gives the device an upscale appearance and gives it a comfortable feel when handheld. This finish also plays a role in making the headphone amplifier more durable.
With a rechargeable lithium battery, you do not have to switch off your music when you are not close to a power source. This batter has a 2,000mAh capacity, allowing you to play your audios for about 8 uninterrupted hours.
In case you are on the go, this means enjoying long hours of pure and perfect stereo sound effects.
Unlike a decent number of headphone amplifier models that are only compatible with particular devices, this pairs well with numerous digital devices. Some of the devices compatible with this model include smartphones, MP4, MP3, PC, laptop.
There is one downside we noted, although it is also common with numerous other headphone amp models. Well, this device produces noise caused by the disturbance of regular current flow if you use it while it is charging.
5. Proster Headphone Amplifier 3.5mm HiFi Audio Amp
Considering the price of this amp, it surely delivers more than users expect. It is compact and portable and pairs well with iPod, iPhone, MP4, MP3, PC, and other digital players. This HiFi headphone amplifier supports the majority of headphones of impedance 16-150Ω.
It does a brilliant job of filtering the noise to allow you to enjoy a generally enhanced listening experience.
On the panel, this amp has a 3.5mm output/input jack that delivers realistic stereo audio quality. You will notice that the sound quality is clear and transparent, and the bass comes with an added kick to the low notes.
There are zero fluctuations in the quality of the audio even when you pair the amp with different headphones.
Certain visual features make it apparent that this is a correctly machined device. First, the output jack has a top-quality cable with a gold-coated interface.
You will also not fail to notice the aluminum alloy construction of the amp that helps to arrest the risk of signal interference and enhances heat resistance. This amp has an aluminum matte finish for that comfy handheld feel.
The headphone amplifier has a lithium battery with a cool 2000mA capacity. It can run nonstop for 8 hours, and you also get a 1.1m USB cable to help you recharge this battery after use. The LED charging indicator allows you to check the power.
6. Neewer Super Compact 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier
Another four-channel design is the Neewer stereo headphone amp. Its performance is better than a good number of models within its price range. The best part is that it is designed to pair well with nearly all kinds of headphones.
The four independent amp sections can power four headphones. Each user can control volume for the best listening experience conveniently.
In case you are handling an application that involves tracking more than a single musician at a time, or if you want to listen to audios as a group, the monitor distribution system will prove beneficial.
This stereo amplifier for headphones is carefully crafted to reinforce the sound and serve as a useful tool during a stage, studio, or personal recording. It features a full frequency response, top-notch sonic audio quality and ultra-low noise at all times, even when the volume levels are high.
I must insist that the audio output of this amp is fantastic, and that is why our review mainly emphasizes on performance. The sound delivered is not just effectively amplified but also fluent and clear.
Also, I am compelled to say that this is likely one of the finest headphone amplifiers you can find in the current markets that can even work with a turntable!
7. Schiit Magni 3 Headphone Amp and Preamp
It is impossible to find another third-generation headphone amp at this price that can match up to the Magni 3. At first, I honestly thought I would be getting a starter amp, but that was not the case.
The performance, resolution, versatility, and power of this model are outstanding, irrespective of the headphones you use.
Another feature that caught my attention is the 2000mW capacity of the reserves for power. This should keep the device adequately powered for hours. Now this, coupled with other features such as a switchable gain, low noise floor, and ultra-low distortion makes this a model you want to purchase.
The majority of headphones, comparable to this one in terms of price and design use an integrated chip for both gain and power output. This headphone amplifier is different because it gains stage in DC-coupled, fully discrete, high-speed, current feedback-design.
This makes it an upscale model that has an edge above most first and second-generation headphone amplifiers.
If you are like most users, you will have more faith in US-made products. This one is designed and assembled in the USA. It has an inbuilt instant power down and time-delayed power up to ensure no pops or glitches via the speakers or the headphones.
Another feature you will love is the preamp outputs. They allow you to connect the amp to your monitors to enjoy a complete system. You can also plug the outputs into a speaker amp.
8. Fiio Q5 Bluetooth Aptx and DSD-Capable DAC Amplifier
Are you interested in reaping the perks of owning the best headphone amp DAC? If you are, I will bother to explain why this is a model that should have your full attention.
When in DAC mode, this device can support up to DSD 256 and 384kHz/32-bit PCM audio. In case you are using a Mac, no drivers are needed.
It is normal to be a little cautious when big money changes hands. Well, this is an upscale headphone amp that attracts an equally upmarket price, although you are promised the best value for your money.
Moreover, it is one of the few models that are certified by an impressive number of accredited bodies, including MFi, Hi-Res Audio, and aptX.
The dual DAC chips (AK4490EN) deliver unmatched decoding performance making this the ultimate device for serious audiophiles. It transforms regular audios into melodious sounds that produce untainted delight for your ears.
This device supports decoding for players that have digital audio outputs, including WM-PORT Sony Walman players, iPads, and iPhones.
The Q5 is the latest culmination of Fiio headphone amplifiers. It is sleek, portable and comes with a range of accessories including 3.5mm audio cable, optical adapter, lightning-Micro USB cable, coaxial adapter and of course a carrying pouch for that all-rounded premium experience.
A fabulous trick this model has is the interchangeable amplifier modules. You could swap them out if you desire to alter the sound. The process of doing this is intuitive and exciting, especially for the serious audiophile.
9. Topping 4330354362 NX1s Digital HiFi Headphone Amplifier
This budget headphone amp delivers way more than anyone would expect at its price. With a low budget, you can get yourself this portable, compact device that works perfectly for smartphone users. This is an upgrade of the original design, and it is smaller in size and has front panel projections.
The front panel has 3.5mm headphones and input jack ports as well as the volume knob. On the other hand, the back panel has a micro USB port for getting the device charged and two switches for gain and bass boost.
Also, the aluminum casing gives the amp a good build and weight. This amp with an appealing and practical design can provide quite impressive battery life, and it can manage over 40 hours of nonstop audio playback. This means you can use it for a whole week in case you only use it for several hours each day.
If you use a low impedance headphone, this amp has adequate power to drive it. You may also try using it on headphones with higher impedance although the output may not be as good.
There is no denying that the quality of sound is clear and the bass boost gives low tones an extra kick. Even so, you may feel a drop in the quality of audios once you set the high gain when testing the amp with a range of headphone models.
10. Sony Portable Hi-Res DAC/Headphone Amplifier
Last but not least is the Sony Hi-Res. This device connects to PCs and portable digital music gadgets with remarkable ease through a USB input.
It qualifies as one of the best DAC amp models because it delivers a powerful Hi-Res performance and has a PHA-1A driver that supports up to 192kHz/24-bit audio file formats.
Apart from the fact that this headphone DAC/amplifier delivers high-resolution listening experience, it also provides options for multi-connections. For digital interconnectivity with iOs, you can use the standard USB port type A.
The micro USB port, on the other hand, is compatible with Xperia or Walkman devices. There is another micro USB connector designed for charging the device with a USB AC adaptor.
This device is crafted to produce pure ecstasy sounds. It accurately converts digital signals to clear analog sounds without any timing inaccuracies. As a result, you can enjoy an unmatched audio performance that is noise and distortion-free.
With the inbuilt Lithium-ion battery, you can enjoy about 6 hours of high-resolution music playback when digitally connected through the USB input, and 17 hours via analog connections.
You are also likely to love the aluminum enclosure that gives this headphone amplifier a sturdy build while lowering the risk of external circuitry interferences.
For the price, you will get a wealth of accessories, including a micro-USB cable, two mounting bands, and digital connecting cables for Xperia and Walkman devices.
Here’s What to Look for before Buying a Headphone Amp
The technology used within different industries keeps advancing with each passing year, and the global earphones & headphones industry is not an exception. It has evolved to match up with the music demands of the 21st century.
Headphones were revolutionary when they were launched. Now, users want more and to meet their demands; the headphone amps were introduced. If you are ready to get a taste of what these groundbreaking devices have to offer, there are crucial factors you must take into account before making a purchase.
With jungles of headphone amps out there, the easiest way to narrow down your research is by considering your financial means. Of course, the financially endowed can choose to focus on high-end models, and this will also help to trim down their options.
For those with limited budgets, choose a price range and focus on finding the best headphone amp that will not cost you an arm and a leg. It is, however, vital to understand that more power and better sound quality will not come without some financial sacrifices.
Desktop or Portable Amplifier
This is yet another crucial aspect you must consider. Do you want a device that can revamp the sounds from your PC as you handle audiophile tasks, or do you want the liberty of being able to use the device on the go?
Amplifiers for headphones come in different sizes. Some are small and portable, and others are a little bulk. Usually, the size of the device, either the mobile or desktop variety, has nothing to do with the quality of the audio performance to expect.
Type of Headphones
Now, this is an aspect you must not overlook. The type of headphones you have or those that you intend to use with your new amp matters a lot. Are you using closed, open, or semi-open headphones? Answer this question before you decide on the headphone amp to purchase.
An open-back headphone needs more power than a closed-back one. This is mainly because of the differences in the applications these two varieties of wireless headphones can handle. Ensure that the amp you choose allows you to make the most out of your headphones.
The type of music you often listen too is the least important aspect to consider when purchasing a headphone amp. I highly recommend making your headphone type and budgets a priority.
However, you must still take note of your music preference to ensure that you do not get disappointed after money changes hands.
Here is the thing; your rock music will sound better if your headphone amp has some severe bass boost. In contrast, classical music will still sound great even without the bass boost. I'm confident that you now understand why the kind of music you love matters.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a DAC?
This is a fundamental component that enables your headphones to create sound. The DAC (digital to analog converter) as the name suggests, converts digital signals into analog signals. In the majority of cases, the DAC chip is installed on the tablet, smartphone, or whatever equipment that is producing the music.
2. Do I need a DAC with an AMP?
Modern headphone amps already have DAC that converts digital signals into analog signals that an amplifier can amplify. Analog components, however, such as tape decks and turntables do not need a DAC. This is because they are designed to put out analog signals.
For digital devices like iPods, tablets, computers, and smartphones, you need a headphone amp as well as a DAC for the headphones to work as intended.
3. What is a Headphone amp, and do I need one?
This is a power amplifier that drives the miniature speakers inside the headphones to enhance the sound produced. In case you are not satisfied with the quality of sounds and audios produced by your headphones, then you should consider investing in the best headphone amps.
They boost the clarity, details, and dynamic range of sounds produced by headphones.
4. Are there any benefits of using headphone amps?
What headphone amps do is that they give your headphones more power. This, in return, increases the signal quality received and automatically enhances the quality of sound you get from your headphones.
5. What is sound quality quotient?
This is often referred to as the signal chain, signal path, or audio circles. The sound quality quotient is any component that gets into contact with an audio signal. This could be your amp, DAC, digital source, and headphones.
When the signal path is of high quality, the sound quality that eventually gets to your ears will be better.
By now, choosing the best headphone amp should be a piece of cake. We have reviewed the best brands in the market and checked out their unique features, compatibility, pros, and cons.
There is something for you, irrespective of your budget or the reasons why you want to enjoy stage and studio-grade sounds.