If you already own a great pair of headphones you know how amazing the sound can be. You put them on, you plug them into your phone or computer, and the world changes! You hear new notes and, if you close your eyes, it’s like you can see where each piece of music is coming from.
It can’t get any better than this, right?
Well, if you pair the greatest headphones with the best headphone AMP, then yes, it can! These are specially created to enhance the details that are usually overlooked even by the best sound equipment. Not to mention that an amplifier can increase the volume of your headphones without any distortions!
Now, we know you already invested quite a lot in your headphones, so it’s not that tempting to spend more on another piece of equipment. But modern amplifiers come in a wide array of sizes, features, and prices.
So, to make sure anyone knows how to choose one, we reviewed some of the best products on the market and put together a comprehensive buying guide to use it whenever you feel in doubt.
How to Choose the Best Headphone AMP
The obvious main feature in any amplifier is sound quality. Your device must improve the way the headphones sound by providing extra detail, better volume, and studio-grade clarity.
But besides this, there are other features that can be used to differentiate a basic amplifier from a really great one. If you look at the reviews below, you’ll notice that some of the best models come with extra connectivity options such as EQ functionality or balanced outputs.
Furthermore, some amplifiers are equipped with two sets of outputs, so users can share the audio experience with a friend. Also, customization options are quite popular among users, since these allow you to fine-tune the bass and gain to your liking.
Finally, it’s important to select a product that features a solid build. As you can see below, many of these amplifiers come with an aluminum or metallic case. They are also highly portable and feature controls that are easy to use. Finally, they come with high-quality accessories (cables, cloth clips, and more).
To summarize, when you’re choosing a headphone AMP, in addition to sound quality and price, it’s best to also consider portability, design, durability, and accessories.
8 Best Headphone AMPs
FiiO Q1 Mark II
The Best Budget Headphone AMP for Apple Devices
The Q1 Mark II has an official Apple MFi certification (Made for iPod/iPhone/iPad) and comes with dual outputs (single-ended and balanced). Since it is a DAC (digital to analog converter) and Amplifier, it can decode up to 384kHz/32-bit PCM (pulse-code modulation) and up to DSD256.
All these numbers and terms mean that the Q1 Mark II is capable of high audio resolution, delivering realistic and authentic sounds to the user. The amplifier is designed to be used with smartphones (especially iPhones) but it also works with laptops and PCs, Sony Walkman players, and other devices.
The good news is that the USB interface automatically determines the settings for the device it is paired with. This way, you don’t have to worry about manually making the switch between settings. But, if you want to customize the experience, you can. The Q1 Mark II comes with two switches: one for gain and one for bass levels. By playing with them, you fine-tune the audio experience to your personal liking.
Overall, the Q1 Mark II can be used with a wide array of headphones and is easy to carry it around. It also comes with several useful accessories, from cables to the carrying pouch.
- Single-ended & balanced headphone output
- Switches to customize bass and gain
- Automatically applies settings for specific devices
- Apple MFi certification
- DAC and amplifier
- Works with a wide array of devices
- Portable & stylish
- The micro USB cable may fail in time
- A bit underpowered
- PC drivers may create some conflicts
The Best Portable Headphone AMP for Wired Headphones
The ES100 is compact and comes with a clothes clip, so you can use it on the go. It supports both USB and Bluetooth 5.0 connections and sends the improved audio signal to a wired pair of headphones. This is a 16-bit DAC that works in a plug-and-play system and doesn’t have any device-related preferences.
As such, you can connect it with both iOS and Android devices, laptops and PCs, tablets, and even speakers. Furthermore, the Bluetooth connection supports advanced codecs such as Sony LDAC, Qualcomm aptX audio, aptX HD, AAC, and SBC.
The ES100 works with both balanced and unbalanced headphones and is equipped with two AK4375a, one for each channel. Also, using the Android/iOS companion application, you get a 10-band built-in equalizer that lets you fully customize the experience.
As you can see, with this little guy, you don’t need studio headphones to enjoy a customized and high-res audio experience!
- Audiophile sound quality
- Compact & portable
- Supports both USB & Bluetooth 5.0
- Works with balanced & unbalanced headphones
- 14 hours of battery life
- Easy to connect with any devices
- Transforms wired headphones into BT ones
- A bit difficult to use the companion software
- Battery life is a bit disappointing
- The clip is weak
Schiit Magni 3
The Ideal AMP for any Headphones
Whether you have a pair of the most advanced headphones or you’re using a pair of headphones under $100, the Magni 3 from Schiit can accommodate any design and level of power. In fact, this is the main selling point for this compact yet capable amplifier!
The Magni 3 is designed to have low distortion, switchable gain, and low noise floor, which make it incredibly versatile when it comes to the devices it can connect with. In fact, this is easily the best desktop headphone AMP at this price and level of quality!
The Magni 3 also features a solid build which guarantees a long-term relationship with your headphones and speakers. Furthermore, due to its built-in time-delayed startup and instant shut down, the amplifier keeps any distortions far away from your audio experience!
- Impressive audio quality
- Incredibly versatile
- Fantastic value for the price
- Low-level of distortions
- Durable build
- The power switch is at the back of the unit
- Some users report a background hiss at high volumes
- Wall wart is too big
The Best Headphone AMP Under $200
Compact and portable, the A5 creates an enormous sound for any type of headphones. Furthermore, it features near-zero distortion due to the MUSES02 & LME49600 op AMPs, which means you can get the volume as high as you want it.
While it is slim and fits in almost any pocket, the A5 still comes with intuitive controls that are easy to use. For instance, it has a gain switch (from high to low and vice versa) and a bass boost that let the user customize the experience to their very own liking.
Finally, the A5 can be charged from USB ports on laptops, PCs, and even smartphones, so you’ll never have to return to hollow music ever again!
- Compact & portable
- Minimal design
- Impressive sound stage
- Easy to charge
- Good battery life
- Near-zero distortion
- Powers a wide array of headphones
- The 3.5mm cable is a bit short
- The volume knob is a bit difficult to reach
AudioQuest – Dragonfly Cobalt
Improve your Audio Experience
This tiny USB device can be used as a DAC, a preamplifier, and a headphone amplifier. Its job is to ignore the audio settings of the smartphone or computer that’s playing the music and replace it with its own high-end circuitry that delivers a natural sound and impressive quality.
As such, you can use the Dragonfly Cobalt with headphones, audio systems, or even powered speakers and you’ll feel the difference. Furthermore, it works with all music files and is compatible with Apple and iOS devices. However, keep in mind that mobile devices require a specific adaptor (Lightning for iOS and USB for Android).
Overall, this small device can completely transform your audio experience and you can take it everywhere you go!
- Native resolution up to 24-bit / 96kHz
- Works with all music files
- Drives a wide range of headphones
- With the right adapter, it works with computers and powered speakers
- Compatible with Apple devices
- It can be pretty loud
- The connection is not well secured with mobile devices
CHORD Electronics Mojo
The Ultimate Amplifier for your Phone
If you want the studio experience without the bulkiness of high-end equipment, the new AMP from CHORD may just do the trick.
This device is compact and was designed with portability in mind. As proof, it is the perfect way to transform your smartphone into a perfectly tuned audio system by simply plugging the Mojo DAC/AMP into your phone and your headphones into the Mojo.
The sound it delivers is crystal clear, well-balanced and incredibly spacious (almost like it would be in a recording studio). This is possible due to the built-in powerful headphone amplifier that can process almost any audio file. The Mojo supports up to 768kHz 32bit, and quad DSD 256.
Furthermore, the device has two 3.5mm analog outputs so you can share the experience with a friend!
Now, it’s natural to worry about the durability of such a device, especially considering the price. But the Mojo is built using a solid aluminum case that was precision machined to protect the inner elements. It also features a long-lasting LiPo battery that is designed to keep going for a long time.
- Delivers studio sound quality
- Works with most headphones & earbuds
- Designed for mobile devices
- Can be used with PCs & laptops
- Two 3.5mm outputs
- Solid build & long-lasting battery
- Quite pricey for the regular user
- Some interferences while charging
- Gets hot if you use it while charging
Sound BlasterX G6
The Best Gaming DAC
If you want to improve your gaming experience but you’re not ready to invest in an expensive gaming rig, the Sound BlasterX G6 is the perfect option! The device works with any gaming console and PCs and it can be connected using one of the three available ports: optical, USB, or line-in.
In terms of audio performance, the DAC has Dolby Digital decoding support and 7.1 virtual surround sound. As a result, you will be able to hear even the tiniest of sounds like the opponents’ footsteps and whispers in the background.
The main purpose of this DAC is to drive gaming headsets and it does so exemplarily due to the custom-designed Xamp discrete headphone amplifier. This way, both audio channels are being amplified individually, which leads to more detailed audio on highs, mids, and bass.
- It is a 32-bit 384kHz DAC
- It has an ultra-high dynamic range (130dB)
- It features an oversampled multi-bit modulator that eliminates distortion
- It supports hi-res PCM and DoP audio formats
- It can drive any headset without fail
- The front light can’t be turned off
- Microphone doesn’t work on Xbox One
- A bit expensive
Hi-Res Audio on the Go
The PHA1A DAC/Amplifier from Sony delivers hi-res audio performance with ultra-low distortion, low noise, and high slew rate. Moreover, the device uses high-end technology and materials to deliver 120+ dB of dynamic range and supports audio file formats up to 192kHz/24-bit. As a result, you get to hear details you never knew were part of your favorite tunes.
The amplifier is portable and compact, but it’s also versatile as it can be used with most digital music devices that feature a USB type A port. There is also a second possibility, due to the micro USB port which can be used with a Walkman or an Xperia device. Finally, there is a third micro USB port, but this one is used for charging the Lithium-Ion battery that keeps the amplifier going regardless of your location.
Finally, the volume knob is easy to use and adjust, and due to the gain switch, the amplifier can drive a wide array of headphones with impedance between 8 and 600 Ohm.
- Hi-res sound
- Compact & lightweight
- Decent battery life
- Works with a variety of headphones & devices
- Two USB ports
- Anodized steel frame for great durability
- Can’t use it while charging
- No DSD support
- No line out/line in
After reading our reviews, you’ll notice that all these amplifiers are highly portable and compact. Due to modern technologies, nowadays you no longer need a brick AMP to enjoy that sweet studio sound clarity!
Nowadays’ devices are small but pack a lot of power, which makes it all the way more interesting for audiophiles everywhere. After all, why would you want to buy a pair of high-end headphones if you can’t use them at full power wherever you are?
Our advice is to read our reviews and buying guide and start looking for an amplifier that can easily fit in your pocket or clipped on your clothes.