Top rated portable headphone amplifiers (amps)

Portable headphone amplifiers, which are also known as “Amps”, have become as popular as headphones because of the effect they delivers to audio performance. For novice users, there is always a little bit of confusion about the need for headphone amps. To clarify, all headphones, tablets, smartphones and computers come with in-built amps, and this is what gives them out the sound that users hear. However, these amps tend to be small because they have to fit into the small size of the device. As a result, the effect of these built-in amps also becomes limited.

Good reasons to use portable headphone amplifiers

To truly enjoy music, users need an external portable amp,  as it can take greater space and larger circuitry to provide higher sounds for users. It also has a more robust powerful supply that helps to better controlled sound to listeners. When the amp is designed specifically for headphones, it is called headphone amp, and this am will have the ability to deliver more power to the output. In other words, a headphone amp helps to amplify the sound from headphones in a big way because it has larger circuitry.

It is important for users to choose the right portable headphone amp that will greatly enhance the output at peak volumes without distorting the notes. The idea of an amp is not to blare music into the users’ ears, rather they should be able to enjoy music that is clean and controlled even at the highest volumes. In this sense, it is important for users to take some precautions while using headphone amps. They should practice safe listening by keeping the volumes at comfortable levels. The idea behind portable headphone amps is to not to let the whole world know that someone is listening to music, rather it is for the user to enjoy the finer details and intricacies of a note that is possible at volumes higher than what the headphone can offer.

Key features and characteristics of Portable Headphone Amplifiers

Before buying a headphone amp, it is important for users to have an idea of its different properties as this would help them to make informed decisions. Some of the most important aspects are explained below.


The sensitivity factor of a headphone amp determines how loud it will play when a certain wattage of power is inputted to it. Also known as efficiency, this value will be stated at the top of the package as a certain decibel level that is achieved with one milliwatt of power. Most efficient headphone amps will provide more than 100dB for every one mV of power.

Sometimes, it makes sense for users to know the efficiency or sensitivity of a headphone before deciding whether it needs an amp at all. Typically, powerful headphones that output more than 100 dB themselves may not need an amp at all. Hence, users should check both the headphone as well as the headphone amp before determining the right fit.


Another aspect that users should consider before buying headphone amp is the relationship between headphone impedance and the output impedance of the amp. As a general, the output impedance of the amp should be much lower than that of the impedance of the headphones to get clear and tight sound. It is a good idea to have an output impedance that is at least ten times less than that of headphone impedance.

After taking into account the above factors, users should buy an appropriate headphone amp. Below are the top portable headphone amplifiers in the marketplace.

The top five portable headphone amplifiers in 2015

1. FiiO E11 Portable Headphone amp

FiiO is one of the well-known brands when it comes to headphone amplifiers. This company has a popular fan base because of its high quality and affordability, and the E11 is another product that is in tune with the company’s objectives of providing a good quality amp for all users.

To start with, these amps are small and lightweight, and yet very sturdy. It is made of a combination of plastic and metal, and this is what gives it a nice finish. It also comes with many unique features that include a plastic guard for the volume pot to prevent the accidental knob slipping to increase volumes. Also, it protects users’ ears from accidental volume changes that take place when a user is running or is involved in any form of physical activity. In this sense, this amp is good for the ears as it protects from accidental volume increases.

Another salient aspect of these headphone amps is its battery life. Compared to many other models, this amp’s battery life is excellent as it lasts anywhere from ten to twenty hours, depending on the configuration and usage. Users also have the option to replace their BL-5B battery when it wears out. All that users have to do is simply remove the panel at the back, remove the battery and put a new one in. It is similar to changing the battery of the button style Nokia cell phones.

In terms of controls, there are a slew of buttons, some of which are legacy buttons inherited from its previous versions. One such button is the equalizer that will be rarely used, but is still present as a choice. Sound quality of these amps are powerful to say the least. Sound is stable and powerful to make for a wonderful listening experience.

2. FiiO E17 Alpen Portable Amplifier USB DAC

FiiO E17 Alpen portable amplifier is a solid amp that is built to last. Its look and feels good, and more importantly, it sound quality is also top-class.

The body consists of three metal sections, a slab at the front and back and a single strip that curves all the way through the edges of the amp. This metal is a combination of gloss and matte finish, and this gives a rich look to the amp. Due to this design, it it solid and is designed for harsh use. For all this build and capability, it is surprisingly small, thereby making it easy to carry it wherever users go.

In terms of input, E17 accepts four types. There is a miniUSM port at the bottom that allows users to connect to a computer, a 3.5 mm jack that acts as an input for analog devices, a SPDIF for coaxial use and a FiiO dock socket that plugs into the E9 desktop amp. Such options give greater flexibility for users.

Other than solid design, sound delivery is also excellent. At an impedance of 300hm, this amp delivers 30 mW, which is much higher than its previous versions. Its battery life is also long at 80 hours with a single charge. Due to the above features, FiiO E17 is a highly popular choice amongst users.

3. Topping NX1 Portable amplifier

For those who are looking for a good amp with the right synergy, Topping NX1 Portable amplifier is the right choice.

The design of this amp is fairly simple. There is nothing unique about this all-black amp, but its simple looks hides behind it powerful sound that can comes in layers. In fact, this layering is the most unique aspect of these amps. Due to this layering, users can hear each note with the highest degree of clarity. All instrumental tracks and songs are layered, so it makes music a lot more lively than simply listening to it from one’s headphones.

Other than layered music, notes sound warm and excellent. Its versatility with any genre of music makes it ideal for all music lovers. Bass is a little punchy, and this is good too as the overall music becomes more lively. This bass punch makes it ideal for all bass lovers, especially those who love to listen to jazz, electronica and hip-hop genres. At the same time, it is good for other genres because this bass does not overpower other notes. Rather, it complements them to make music sound better.

4. FiiO E12 Mont Blanc Portable amplifier

E12 amplifier from FiiO is one of the beefiest amplifiers made from this company. Its design is much bigger than its predecessors, and this means more power and sound. For some people, this big size is a turn off because they like their headphone amplifiers to be small and easily portable. However, what they fail to understand is that small size comes with small power, so if they want high levels of power, the they should go in for a bigger sized amplifier.

This powerful driver defines sound quality as the bass is tight and punchy to make it the perfect choice for bass lovers. Tracks in the genre of hip hop, electronica and jazz soud powerful thereby making it an absolute pleasure to listen to these headphone amps. Besides bass, the mid range is full and this gives an extra touch to the output that comes from these amps. The depth of sound is decent enough to make other genres such as classical to sound pleasant. The only downside with these amps is the sound stage that feel narrow and closed. It does not have the open airy feel of many other amps.

These amps are best paired with Hifiman HE-6 and Hifiman HE-4, though it works well for other headphones too. In fact, the combination of FiiO E12 and HE6 generates the highest volume as these headphones have large output.

Overall, these amps are the best model from FiiO as they are made with the perfect control and articulation from top to bottom. Due to all these factors, this amp is a must buy for all those who own HE-6 and HE-4. For others who want big output, this amp will be the right pair for their headphones.

5. FiiO E6 Portable Amplifier

FiiO is known to offer unique functionality in its products, that are not available even in products from bigger companies. This product is affordable and effective, so it appeals to large sections of society and just to audiophiles who like to listen to every nuance in music.

To start with, the design is compact and comes as a medium sizes black square box with a handle on the right top side for easy portability. The outer casing is glossy with the FiiO on the front side while the handle is made of metal. The fact that it is not made of pure metal makes it lightweight and handy. Users also have the choice to wear in on their lapel, thanks to the hook-like attachment at the back. To take style and convenience to the next level, FiiO has a thick rubber band to tie it the MP3 player, so that it can be taken together as a single package. With such different carrying choices, FiiO’s E6 offers greater flexibility for users to use it the way they want.

The controls are on the side, where the left edge has volume buttons and right edge has the power button. This power switch also acts as a toggle button, and helps to turn on the EQ modes. There are four EQ settings, namely, off, EQ1,EQ2 and EQ3. On the bottom edge of the amp is the miniUSB charging port using which the product can be charged. There is also a 3.5 mm input socket beside the USB port.

This device does not have the same amount of power as home systems have, but that is understandable because it is meant to be an on-the-go device that is handy and portable. SO, its relatively smaller lithium battery produces the right power that is just enough for the ears while users are traveling. Too much noise can cause more harm than good for the body.

In short, FiiO E6 is an excellent power used to power portable headphone amplifiers when users are traveling. It is highly portable, offers good sound quality and above everything, it affordable.

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