The best headphone amplifiers in 2016 [Desktop and portable amps]
The best Headphone amplifiers which are also known as ” headphone amps” are not just for music professionals, gadget maniacs or serious audiophiles. They could also be useful to those who listen to music regular, and want to enjoy their favorite songs in superior audio quality.
A headphone amplifier (amp) is simply an accessory or additional equipment that can help boost the sound quality of output coming from your headphones. The cables of your headphones alone may not have the capability to give you sufficient volume or low levels of distortion. You know that you found the best headphone amplifiers if you got that certain punch to your music that regular headphones or speakers cannot give you on their own. You can spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of headphones and you might think that it is already good enough; but once you try it out with a headphone amp, you’ll be surprised and impressed with the amazing sound quality you can get.
The two types of headphone amplifiers
There are two basic types of headphone amps – desktop headphone amp and portable headphone amp. When shopping for the best headphone amps, you need to determine what exactly you need as a user. Do you intend to use it at home or in the office or do you need one that you can take along with you?
The desktop headphone amp is simply the type you would use at home or in your office. It is usually kept in just one place. Though stereo amplifiers are more common for portable headphone amps, for the desktop, you would usually find tube amplifiers. There are full-size best headphone amplifiers in the market today but many prefer compact ones so that it won’t take much desk space. A portable headphone amp is usually smaller in size but not necessarily less powerful than the desktop headphone amp. These are usually battery-operated and rechargeable so you can use it even when you’re on-the-go.
What to Consider When Shopping for the Best Headphone Amps
Searching for the best headphone amp isn’t just about making a purchase of the first product you discover. More than its appearance and its price tag, there are more characteristics and factors that you must consider. After all, you are making this purchase to boost the sound quality of your headphones. You might as well find a great amplifier that does its job well. Here are a few of the essential qualities or characteristics a great headphone amp must have:
- Power Output
Power output is a very important point to consider when choosing an amplifier as the maximum volume your headphone can reach is dependent on this. Ideally, an amplifier should have at least 50 to more than 200mW per channel.
Choosing an amplifier based solely on its brand is not very ideal; however, giving consideration to the brand is just right. Just like any other product, it is advisable to get the best headphone amplifiers from a trusted and reliable brand.
Especially if you are shopping for a portable headphone amp, you need to check on the product’s build and quality. It needs to be durable enough to withstand wear and tear so that you can use it for many years to come.
- Multiple Stereo Channels
If you intend to use the headphone amp when recording or mixing music, multiple channels allow you to hear the tiniest details so you can fully customize when mixing. Whether you should choose mono or stereo headphone amplifiers, stereo is the more ideal choice since there are two ear cups to your headphones. Mono simply means getting just one signal on both your ears which isn’t bad either because this has been the practice in most studios for decades.
- Additional Features
More than just a regular 3.5mm input, headphone amplifiers can also have a bass booster, RCA jacks, Bluetooth connectivity and more. For the portable headphone amp, a rechargeable battery will also be ideal.
- Customer Feedback
Relying on advertisements and hoping for the best isn’t the best trait one should have when shopping for headphone amplifiers. It is best to check on product reviews, customer ratings and feedback of those who have already experienced using the headphone amp.
The Top 5 Desktop Headphone Amplifiers
|1. Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amplifier||$$||4.3|
|2. Behringer HA400 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier||$$||4.2|
|3. Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier||$$||4.2|
|4. Audioengine N22 Desktop Audio Amplifier||$$||4.2|
|5. MonoPrice 113194 25 Watt AB Power Amplifier Hybrid Tube Amp||$$||3.7|
The Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amplifier is a rather interesting looking desktop headphone amplifier. If you put it side by side along with other similar products, this one definitely stands out. First of all, you have to appreciate its size. Considering it is meant to be a desktop amp, the makers could easily turn this into a bigger device; however, all that power is squeezed in to a 1.7 x 3.1-inch little gadget. Its open design is what actually makes this desktop amp a looker—you can see through all the screws, bolts and the nice blue light coming from its high-quality Shuguang 12AU7 tube. The open design also makes the headphone amp less prone to heat.
More than just its attractive look though, the Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amplifier is actually a powerful amplifier that allows you to control the way you listen to your music with its Japan-made ALPS potentiometer. While you can easily shell out a couple of hundred dollars for a bigger desktop amplifier, this one will only cost you under $70. It features RCA stereo inputs and parallel 3.5mm.
The device itself is sturdy and durable enough to last for several years of regular usage. You have to realize though that its open design makes it meant for use in just one place. Portability is limited as the screws and parts inside might be damaged if you carry it around; however, it is meant to be used as a desktop amp so you shouldn’t have any problem if you keep it that way.
Customers who already purchased the Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amplifier are happy that this product is able to last for several years of use. While it is indeed a piece of art, it does its job well by giving you amazing sound quality while listening to any kind of music on your headphones—and for that reason, it rightfully deserves the top spot on this list.
>>Check Prices and Customer Reviews of Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amplifier<<
Another deserving item that goes next on our list is the Behringer HA400 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier. It is worth to mention that this small yet powerful device is just around the $25 price range so whether it’s your first time to purchase a desktop amp or you’re looking for a replacement, this is a great choice. It looks very simple in black yet it is packed with power and high quality amplification that only a Behringer can guarantee.
The Behringer HA400 features 4 stereo high-powered independent channels and you can expect very high audio quality even when you’re listening on the maximum volume level on any kind of headphones. A 12V DC adapter is already included in the package.
What stands out though about the Behringer HA400 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier is that it is an ultra-low-noise 4580 operational amplifier that allows you to get the best kind of sound quality. Though it is quite a tiny device, it has the same op amps and the kind of audio output you would expect from a full-size amp.
Some audiophiles claim that an amp doesn’t give such a great effect when you’re a headphone user. Unless you pay close attention to the tiniest sound details, you won’t notice the difference when you’re using an amp and you’re not. Well the Behringer HA400 does its job quite well because according to hundreds of customers who already made their purchase, they are quite impressed with what this headphone amp has to offer. In fact, the HA400 has received hundreds of reviews and ratings from very satisfied customers. What customers are very happy about though is that though it is such a small unity, it has all the power you need to drive 4 different headphones!
The Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier is a pretty little device in a lovely blue color. Don’t let its looks deceive you though as it is packed with the features an audiophile or even a music professional would need. It is indeed a much deserving device to get on this list not only because of its attractive appearance but also because this headphone amp does the job. It is indeed small but it’s packed with all the power you need to enjoy and make most out of your listening experience.
You can spend hours using the Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier as it is encased in an aluminum housing which is a good kind of material if you don’t want your amplifier to heat up so fast. Though it is made as a desktop headphone amplifier that you can use for your laptop or desktop computer, the two input ports of the Bravo Ocean allows you to connect to just about any audio source that supports 3.5mm/6.35mm cables or RCA jacks from your music players, CD players, iPad, smartphone, tablet, turntable, etc. Input impedance is at 100KOhm and output is at 20~600 Ohm.
Aside from its good looks though, customers who already purchased the Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier praised the great sound quality it can produce. There were comments about clear bass, good highs and treble. There were also customers who were very satisfied with the stock tube while others opt to replace it with an even more powerful tube. Though this headphone amp is priced at about $120 which is more expensive than the usual compact desktop amps that are found in the market today, its performance just goes to show that it is definitely worth the money.
>>Check Prices and Customer Reviews of Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier<<
The Audioengine N22 Desktop Audio Amplifier isn’t your typical desktop amp. In fact, at first look, you would think it is part of a set of speakers. This model was indeed designed for the Audioengine P4 passive speakers. This high quality Burr-Brown/TI headphone amp is powered via USB which eliminates another set of wires and a plug to your power outlet. It also has RCA and 1/8-inch inputs, as well as a variable line input. It peaks at 22W RMS/40W per channel with a total of 80W.
Priced competitively in its category, the Audioengine N22 Desktop Audio Amplifier isn’t a cheap desktop amp at all. However, for serious audiophiles and music professionals, this is the headphone amp that’s ideal. More than just a standard amplifier, this unit has many other purposes. In fact, you can plug it into your soundcard for your computer. You can also use it as your TV’s external amp. It can also connect directly to most music players.
Most customers are raving about the power that’s built in to such a little device. Many music enthusiasts who are using larger amplifiers are switching to this smaller Audioengine N22 Desktop Audio Amplifier because it doesn’t take much space and it has more functions than one. Customers are also appreciative of the absence of noise when the amp is turned on. Furthermore, many are vouching for the high quality built of this headphone amp.
While it isn’t at an ideal price if you’re not the type who would invest on expensive music equipment, it is still a good buy if you consider the longevity of this product. You can expect the Audioengine N22 Desktop Audio Amplifier to be of your service for many years to come and even if you eventually upgrade your headphones or your music players, the power of this amp will still be very useful for you.
The MonoPrice 113194 25 Watt AB Power Amplifier Hybrid Tube Amp is certainly a work of art. It has a piano black case and an aluminum front that looks vintage yet modern at the same time. The four exposed tubes up front make this look like you have a science experiment going on in your desk but only a real audiophile would know that those tubes mean absolute power that can’t be matched by other compact headphone amps.
The sound quality of the MonoPrice 113194 25 Watt AB Power Amplifier Hybrid Tube Amp isn’t surprising at all. With all the components and elements built in to this powerful little device, great sound quality will not be compromised. Now the good thing about this amp is that you can go old school by connecting a CD player to its stereo RCA jack or you can go wireless by connecting your music player, smartphone, laptop or tablet via Bluetooth. Using a 6.35mm headphone plug, you can enjoy countless hours of great music with this device.
Priced at just under $170 which is more than what one would usually spend on a headphone amp, the MonoPrice 113194 25 Watt AB Power Amplifier Hybrid Tube Amp makes it all worth it because of the features it offers. Sound quality alone will already give you more than your money’s worth. The only problem you might encounter is overheating because there are four tubes vs. 1 tube of other kinds of desktop headphone amps. With proper use though, you shouldn’t have any issues with this product.
Customers have mixed reactions on the MonoPrice 113194 25 Watt AB Power Amplifier Hybrid Tube Amp. While many appreciate its antique looks and bought it mainly for that reason, others were intrigued at what the four tubes can offer. Many were pleased though as they found this item superior compared to other brands and models at a similar price.
>>Check Prices and Customer Reviews of MonoPrice 113194 25 Watt AB Power Amplifier Hybrid Tube Amp<<
The Top 5 Portable Headphone Amplifiers
|1. FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier||$$||4.5|
|M-Audio Bass Traveler Portable Powered Headphone Amplifier with with Dual Outputs and 2-Level Boost||2. M-Audio Bass Traveler Portable Powered Headphone Amplifier with Dual Outputs and 2-Level Boost||$$||4.5|
|3. Pyle-Pro PHA40 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier||$$4||4.4|
|4. FiiO E12 Mont Blanc Portable Headphone Amplifier||$$||4.4|
|5. Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier||$$||3.8|
On top of our list is the FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier. Considering it is a portable headphone amp, this tiny device has more power packed to it than many desktop headphone amps a bit more than 100 dollars, you can already enjoy great music on-the-go. FiiO is a trusted and respected brand when it comes to audio amplifiers and it has been in the business long enough to understand the demands and needs of their market. They kept things simple and created the FiiO E10K to cater to most audiophiles’ request of having a small yet powerful device that will allow them to bring their best headphone amplifiers wherever they go.
Powered by a standard mini USB port, the output power of the FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier is at a super powerful 200mW(32Ω). Signal to noise is at >108dB and for those who intend to use this as a headphone amp, the suitable headphone impedance is at 16Ω~150Ω. Very lightweight at just 78g, you won’t mind having the FiiO E10K inside your bag at all times.
Operation is kept simple as well. The volume potentiometer features a barrier-free design and switching bass is easy too with the built-in 3dB bass boosting circuit. Without any need for drivers, the FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifieris supported automatically by most modern operating systems without a problem. The maximum audio format is at 96Khz/24Bit.
Those who purchased the FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier are quite happy with its performance and the sound quality it can help to produce. Many customers are actually impressed with the lightweight yet study built of this portable amp. Its durable all-aluminum shell is enhanced with anti-interference ability to ensure continuous uninterrupted play. While you can certainly find portable headphone amps that are much cheaper than this, there’s no doubt that FiiO created such an impressive product that’s way beyond your money’s worth. This is definitely worth your investment.
If you’re looking for a bargain, the M-Audio Bass Traveler Portable Powered Headphone Amplifier is a great choice. When it comes to quality and performance, you are getting a good deal with this product. It is great that it only costs under 30 dollars and what’s even more impressive is that this is made to be used for headphones and not for anything else. Thankfully, you don’t need any power outlets or USB ports to make it work. You can actually use this when you’re on-the-go which makes it truthfully portable as it has a built-in Lithium polymer battery that can let you enjoy up to 8 hours of continuous playback.
What’s even better about the M-Audio Bass Traveler Portable Powered Headphone Amplifier is that despite its small size, it can drive two headphones at the same time. Headphones from 16-100 ohms are supported by this device. This headphone amp seems to specialize on bass because despite the small package, it can boost bass pretty well. There’s no increase on volume and not much that you can do with other audio settings but if you’re a bass kind of music enthusiast, then this is the headphone amp that’s made for you. In fact, once you use this M-Audio headphone amp, you will not want to use your headphones again without it.
Customers who purchased the M-Audio Bass Traveler Portable Powered Headphone Amplifier seem to agree that the best thing about this headphone amp is its ability to boost bass. Battery life was also impressive as it was able to work for 8 hours of continuous use for most customers which is exactly how it is advertised. The size and the appearance of the headphone amp are much appreciated as well. Finally, there’s no doubt that it is a superior quality product and for that very low price, you sure are getting way beyond what you paid for.
>>Check Prices and Customer Reviews of M-Audio Bass Traveler Portable Powered Headphone Amplifier with Dual Outputs and 2-Level Boost<<
Another super affordable portable headphone amp on our list that does its job quite well is the Pyle-Pro PHA40 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier. Priced at about $20, you can’t go wrong with this item if all you’re looking for is a better listening experience. While music enthusiasts will certainly enjoy the great sound quality brought by this headphone amp, even professionals and audiophiles will be impressed with what the Pyle-Pro PHA40 can offer.
The Pyle-Pro PHA40 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier is small and simple that’s why it’s portable and easy to bring wherever you go. Lightweight and built with a sturdy body, with proper use, you can expect this to deliver great performance for many years to come. It supports stereo headphones with 1/4-inch TRS output jacks and it has easy to operate knobs for output level controls. A 12V/150mA DC power supply is already included in the package.
Aside from the fact that it fits a tight budget, the Pyle-Pro PHA40 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier is impressive because it is very compact. Though you need to plug it into a power outlet in order for it to work, having the ability to bring something that’s smaller than most smartphones right in your bag is a great thing. The sound quality is great and you can easily control the headphone levels according to your preference.
Some customers say that it’s so powerful, you will have a hard time listening to your music in full volume just because it gets too loud—and this is actually a good thing, considering it’s such a small headphone amp. A lot of other customers simply bought it because of its very low price but upon receiving and using the item, they were surprised in a very good way with the great power and performance that the Pyle-Pro PHA40 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier brings.
Another much-deserving FiiO enters our list and it is probably one of the best choices you can make should you decide to purchase it. The FiiO E12 Mont Blanc Portable Headphone Amplifier is small and lightweight yet it is durable enough with it aluminum body which is resistant to wear and tear if you plan to bring it along with you at all times. It comes in a simple black color with a slim design which just looks and feels classy and stylish at the same time.
The E12 model is an upgrade from the previous E11 model and FiiO sure did listen to what their target market wants. Though this came out a few years back, it is still the headphone amp of choice for many audiophiles today. If you’ve tried or read about the E11 model and you were impressed, this one is even more impressive as it can produce an even more powerful sound. It works well with pretty much all kinds of music from classical to hip hop to heavy metal. It is rechargeable just like the E11 but this model allows you to use the headphone amp even while charging. If you charge using your laptop or desktop computer, it can take up to 3 hours to get a full charge but it’s worth the wait; or again, you can use it while charging.
With all the impressive features that the FiiO E12 Mont Blanc Portable Headphone Amplifier can offer, we are not even surprised how it’s rated perfectly by various audiophile websites. Sound quality, design, performance and durability-wise, many customers loved it and you will most likely do too.
Before Creative entered the audio equipment scene, they were into computers. This Singaporean-based brand is actually one of the most successful ones and has gained popularity around the world as early as the 1980’s. Before the iPod came along, Creative released a number of digital music players that received a positive welcome among music enthusiasts. Despite a decrease in their following and their market share because of the rise of many competitors, they continue to manufacture impressive consumer electronic products that are made affordable to the general population. The Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier is one of those bargain deals that Creative can offer with a guarantee of remarkable sound quality and great performance.
Priced very sensibly, you are getting a great deal out of the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier. It has pricier models, one with Bluetooth connectivity and another with Hardware Acceleration but this basic model does its job well. If you don’t mind having those other features, then this will definitely work for you. It is actually a very powerful gadget and can support high-performance headphones with its 600 Ohm power. You will definitely feel like you are listening straight from a professional studio with the help of this headphone amp.
It’s already cool enough that this has a rechargeable Lithium battery which makes the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Best Headphone Amplifiers fully portable but what’s even cooler is that itlets you enjoy continuous playback for up to 25 hours. Battery time truly is impressive and is way higher than many other portable amps. Customers who already own this love the fact that aside from being just a headphone amp, it has other functions too such as a built-in mono microphone so when you’re listening to music using your smartphone, you can still take calls, play games or receive Skype calls with clearer sound.