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Best Headphone Amps Reviewed
As any audiophile will know, sound quality is a hugely important, and often underrated, part of any media experience.
Have you ever tried watching an action film on your phone using cheap, tiny earbuds?
If so, you’ll soon have come to realize the importance of good quality sound, from sweeping scores to the sounds of battle.
It’s one of the main reasons why cinemas are a better experience than watching a movie on your little old TV, and why people love going to live gigs so much.
There’s something simply incredible about the full-on audio experience one can achieve through the best headphone amps.
Unfortunately, many manufacturers have simply failed to understand this, and the quality of the DAC (digital-to-analog converter), and therefore the sound quality itself, is often one of the first elements to be lost in cost-cutting exercises.
This is true of devices including phones, laptops, and gaming systems; the quality simply isn’t good enough – and once you start noticing it, it’s impossible to forget.
Headphone amps are the solution to this problem, as they can convert low-voltage audio signals into better-quality sound waves that play through your headphones, giving you a much better audio experience.
They work in much the same way as the amplifiers used for loudspeakers, except at a lower scale, and people across the world are starting to realize the huge benefits they bring.
Sadly, this has led to a proliferation of poor quality headphone amps, operating a lackluster performance that barely functions to do the advertised task.
Rather than falling into the trap of a lackluster headphone amplifier, it’s absolutely worth investing in a reliable, quality product.
Your music, media, and gaming – or anything else you use your devices for – will benefit from being heard with greater depth, detail, and quality of sound.
Once you’ve found the perfect headphone amp, you soon won’t be able to live without it.
Check out our favorite Headphone Amp
Top Headphone Amp Comparison Chart
Best Headphone Amp
If you’re looking for a top-quality headphone amplifier at the highest end of the market, the Rupert Neve Designs amp should be top of your list.
The product has been designed and manufactured with a strong ethos in mind; to maximize the quality of any headphone attached to it.
“How does it achieve this impressive feat?”, you may ask. It does this through a calibrated +4dBu balanced line, which improves the depth and clarity of the sound to near-perfect levels.
The model (RNHP for short) uses a 3.5mm jack, meaning it’s suitable for most commercial headphones, though it will work at its best with a similarly good-quality set of headphones attached.
The RNHP also scores highly with users, and it has attracted a plethora of 5-star reviews online, with users complimenting its acoustically excellent output and “stunning audio quality”.
Furthermore, the casing is attractive and sleek, protecting the inner workings with a steel chassis able to withstand almost anything.
As a top-of-the-range option, the RNHP will appeal to any dedicated audiophile, but particularly anyone who works with mixing or creating sound.
The sound it produces has been praised for being ‘studio quality’, and the makers have paid particular attention to the output technology to ensure this quality remains consistent across the board.
With the ability to process three separate inputs, the RNHP should be the amp of choice for music professionals working in any location.
When it comes to gadgets, the FiiO Q5 amp is a joy to behold. This is the perfect amp for any audiophile who simply loves playing music, films, audiobooks and more from multiple different sources, and in multiple locations.
If you’re someone who’s constantly out on the go, switching devices, and multi-tasking, it’s worth taking a look at this little device.
One of the main draws for the FiiO Q5 is its ability to connect to multiple sources, from iPhones and iPads to computers. It can receive input from USB, coaxial, optical, line and even Bluetooth connections, giving it the edge over many competitors where the input is relatively limited.
It even has a clever colored light system, so you can quickly tell which connection you’re currently using.
It does all of this without sacrificing on sound quality, being Hi-Res audio certified with a great bass boost.
Furthermore, the Q5 comes equipped with a 3800 mAh battery, able to sustain playback for between 10-20 hours, alongside a host of accessories including straps, cables, adaptors, and a carrying pouch.
This amp has clearly been designed to suit those who like to listen on the go, and every feature has been customized to make it the ideal portable, multi-functional gadget for anyone who loves listening to great quality sound wherever they are.
- Dual AK4490EN DAC chips for the ultimate in decoding performance, supporting up to 384kHz/32bit and native DSD 256; Audiophile-grade components designed for a wonderful, melodious sound that is just pure ecstasy for your ears.
- Hi-Res Audio and aptX certified, supporting decoding for MobilePhones, PC, WM-PORT Sony Walman players and many other players with digital audio output.
- Interchangeable amp modules, fully compatible with any FiiO amp modules; The default AM3A module supports both single-ended and Balanced outputs.
- Unique RGB status lights with different colors to help quickly identify the input modes and working status.
- A wealth of accessories for a premium experience: Lightning-Micro USB cable, 3.5mm audio cable, coaxial adapter, optical adapter, carrying pouch, etc.
If you get into tube amplifiers, you can easily become obsessed with them. Tube amps work essentially by creating a vacuum for electrons to burn off in, forming part of the audio circuitry.
One of the delights of tube amplifiers is the amount of experimentation they allow. You can replace the tubes themselves with alternative options, thereby changing the sound quality and giving you complete control over the output.
Tube amplifiers also tend to produce a gorgeous, rich analog sound with a warmth it’s difficult to replicate.
When it comes to tube amplifiers, the Little Dot MK III is a great option for beginners, or for tube amp enthusiasts. It combines the fun, unique aspects of a tube amp with practical additions such as two gain switches, which allow compatibility with a wider range of headphones.
The amp is also well-designed to deliver sound without any of the fuzz or dynamic compression that can sometimes occur with tube amps, giving you the best sound quality possible.
If you’re someone technically minded, who loves getting up close and personal with your sound devices, this could be the amp for you – your main concern might be about not getting carried away!
The Little Dot tube headphone amplifier offers high-quality sound with wide compatibility and the chance for unique customization, making it perfect for the experimental audiophile, or anyone who wants to try something a little bit different.
- Delivers a smooth, non-fatiguing sound with no hint of dynamic compression or imaging fuzz
- Adds in user-tweaking options such as two gain switches to delivery maximum compatibility with all headphones, regardless of impedance or sensitivity
- Wider range of driver tube-rolling, including the EF92, CV131, WE403A/B, 5654, M8100, CV4010, EF95, 6JI as well as all equivalents to these vacuum tubes
- Power Tubes: 2x Soviet 6H6N
This amplifier is actually a collaboration between the brand Drop and the company THX Ltd. The result of this teamwork is a powerful amplifier with some of the cleanest output sounds on the market.
THX have developed a groundbreaking piece of technology used in this amplifier, which they have dubbed Achromatic Audio Amplifier (or AAA). Essentially, it uses feed-forward error correction to reduce distortion by between 20-40dB, even when playing at high volumes and power levels.
This has resulted in an amp that delivers what it promises; a clean, transparent sound that remains unaffected by any coloration provided by the amp itself. It’s something many listeners have been begging for, for years, and Drop has finally delivered.
The technology also means that it has eliminated ‘crossover distortion’ which tends to fatigue listeners.
If you’ve ever become tired of listening to music on your headphones, it’s started to feel exhausting against your ears, this is probably why.
For anyone who needs to listen to audio for many hours at a time, either for work or pleasure, this is therefore a brilliant option.
The Drop+THX linear headphone amplifier provides high quality, clean sound without fatigue, meaning you can use it to listen to your favorite tracks all day, safe in the knowledge you’ll be hearing them free of any distortion, exactly as they were intended to be received.
- THE WORLD’S MOST LINEAR AMPLIFIER — Announced at CES 2018, the Drop + THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier (THX AAA) 789 is a linear bipolar amplifier with feed-forward error correction
- FATIGUE-FREE LISTENING — Made in collaboration with THX Ltd. , it features the company’s groundbreaking THX AAA and feed-forward topology, which reduce distortion by 20 to 40 dB for realistic, fatigue-free listening.
- THX AAA TECHNOLOGY — Capable of driving any headphones, including high-impedance, high-current, and high-sensitivity types, the THX AAA 789 amp transmits the original audio in its purest possible form.
- ADDITIONAL FEATURES — Each channel of the THX AAA 789 amp is equipped with a low-bias class-AB main amplifier and an auxiliary error-correction amplifier, the former providing the majority of the power and the latter providing a realtime low-power error-correction signal.
If you’re new to the world of headphone amplifiers, and all the different specs and options feel a little overwhelming, the Monolith Liquid Spark amp could be the answer.
This amp is within an affordable price range, but it certainly doesn’t compromise on quality, and many reviewers have commented that it performs well above its listed price point. So while it may not be the most prestigious amp, it certainly competes with those that are worth 2-3x more than this budget friendly option.
Developed by Alex Cavelli for Monoprice, the amp offers very low distortion and an impressive 1300mW RMS power load, meaning it can pump up the audio to clean, high levels without compromising on fidelity.
Built as a desktop amp, the Monolith Liquid Spark is particularly good at converting audio from a laptop or computer, so it’s the perfect option if you’re looking to use it for gaming, listening while you work, or get into producing music digitally.
Reviewers have been impressed by this amplifier, with many noting its build quality.
It has been particularly praised for its discreet design, the warmth of its sound, and the simultaneous generosity and articulation of the bass levels.
The design uses laser matched, low noise, audio FJETs for its input stage, allowing it to produce a very clean, high-quality sound from a relatively small amplifier.
In short, the Monolith Liquid Spark headphone amp is an affordable, high-performing option for anyone looking for an entry-level amplifier to instantly improve the quality of their computer audio.
- Effortless sound: The design of the spark is a DC coupled topology from input to output, meaning it has no capacitors in the signal path to detract from the sound
- Exceptional design: the spark uses laser matched, low noise, audio jfets for its differential input stage and high performance, but very small mosfets for output power leading to super clean Amplification and high power from a small footprint
- Clean preamp output: The spark additionally has preamp output RCAs, controlled by the volume pot, for use with powered speakers. An ideal configuration for an entry level desktop set up which performs well above its price point
- If you want to be where the music wants you to be the liquid spark will effortlessly put you there at a very affordable price. THD+N (both channels)- 1 Vrms (20mW)- 0.007% THD+N @ 1kHz. 5 Vrms (530mW)- 0.035% THD+N @ 1kHz. 10 Vrms (2.12W)- 0.065% THD @ 1kHz
- Buy with confidence: Monoprice not only stands behind every product we sell with a 1 year repair warranty, we offer a 30-day money back guarantee as well
Top Headphone Amp Features To Consider
So, it should be clear by now that the benefits of a quality headphone amp are numerous.
But how do you know what to look for? What are the most important features of a headphone amplifier that prove its quality, and how will these benefit you as a listener?
This one’s a little technical, but it’s important to understand.
Essentially, every pair of headphones has an impedance rating, measured in ohm, which should be available to discover on its manufacturer’s website or spec sheet.
Whatever headphone amp you purchase will need to have an ‘impedance range’ (for example, 16-300ohm) that your headphones sit within.
The wider the impedance range for the headphone amp, the more headphones it will be compatible with.
DACs, or digital-to-analog converters, are the most important part of any sound device.
They are what convert the signals into sound waves that your ears can process. Checking the quality of the DAC is the biggest tell of a quality headphone amp.
Remember, although most inbuilt computer systems aren’t great, you can always outsource this job to an external DAC with the single job of converting the sound, giving you even higher quality audio.
This is one of the greatest deciding factors between different headphone amps; do you want to be able to travel with it, or not?
There are pros and cons to either option. Obviously, portable amps can be more convenient, and enable you to take your great quality sound with you wherever you go. Non-portable options tend to be bulkier and heavier.
Of course, they are bulkier and heavier because they contain more hardware, and therefore tend to perform at a slightly higher level.
In a nutshell, portability can mean compromising slightly on sound quality, so you’ll need to decide if that’s a sacrifice you’re willing to make.
Most headphone amps across the market will have one of two output connection types – a 3.5mm port, or a 6.3mm port – although some might have both!
A 3.5mm port is more common, as this tends to be the standard size for most headphones. However, some higher-end amps and headphones will tend towards the 6.3mm port.
This is because the greater surface area is more resilient, and it allows for a slightly more detailed communication of sound.
Of course, you can easily buy adaptors to change between the two, but it’s a difference that’s worth looking out for as a marker of quality and purpose.