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.
Last update on 2022-01-10 // The links above are affiliate // Images from Amazon
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.
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 Heresy
Solid Amp for the Money
This amp comes with a toilet paper roll in the retail package, which reads: SCHIIT happens. This is as funny as it gets, and puts you in a good mood before trying out the amp. Speaking of which, for something like $100 give or take, you’ll end up with an US made 100% op amp based headphone amp and preamp, with enough power, performance, low noise and versatility to drive almost any pair of cans.
Needless to say, the Magni Heresy offers a lot of bang for the buck asked, and it basically works by improving your headphones’ soundstage, making the tone slightly clearer, offering great imaging, and amazing instrument separation.
Build quality is solid, and audiophiles will be happy to learn that this amp offers 20 bits of dynamic range which matches the best DACs out there at a fraction of the price. Frequency response is dead flat in both to 40 kHz, and the amp provides an incredible amount of drive and stellar response even in power hungry headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 650.
Bass detail and dynamic range are impressive for such an inexpensive amp, and bottom line, the Schiit Magni Heresy is a great little amp for the price, with great sound, great gain and virtually no noise.
- Amazing sound
- Bargain price
- Made in USA
- Sturdy construction
- Nothing really
Discover the True Potential of your Headphones
The BRR5 is a portable Bluetooth Dac Amp with LDAC that will put your headphones in beast mode. Equipped with Hi-fi DACs(ES9218P*2) for extremely detailed reproduction of sound and the Xmos XUF208 chip for the ultimate in decoding performance, this DAC supports up to 384kHz and native DSD.
It is also fitted with a Bluetooth 5.0 receiver that delivers studio-quality sound to headphones and even speakers. To make it easier to use, the BTR5 DAC has both balanced 2.5mm and single-ended 3.5mm outputs.
The device can be paired with the FiiO Music app (for both Android & iOS) in order to adjust the 10-band EQ, distortion compensation, and more.
- Good build quality & Design
- Portable & compact in size
- The sound quality is impressive
- The device has lots of power (despite its size)
- Battery life is quite good
- No BT transmitter
- The app could be better
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
Powerful, Portable, Affordable Amp
The improbably named XDUOO XD-05 (also impossible to pronounce) retails for something like $150, give or take, and it makes for an affordable and, most importantly, portable headphone amplifier.
The XS-05 offers strong game audio and video capabilities for peanuts money, in a compact form factor. The amp works great with virtually any type of device, ranging from smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops, and delivers HI-FI sound for gaming platforms such as PC, PS4, and XBOX.
The amp is built using high quality components and professional digital and analog audio circuits, with the end result being life-like surround sound effects on headphones and active speakers, which translates into an immersive audio experience.
The output is flexible, in such it will automatically match different impedance headsets, and needless to say, in terms of value for money, the XD-05 is hard to beat, as you will be hard pressed to find another DAC/amp combo that can be used on the desktop with a switch to use only power supply to drive the unit.
You can also go fully mobile by switching to battery, and, on top of that, you can upgrade the amp by adding Bluetooth modules that support LDAC, not to mention the fact that the XD-05 supports you swapping out the op amp to fine tune your listening experience, and you get all of this in a $150 device, which is kind of amazing.
- Runs on power/battery
- Works as external DAC
- Feature rich
- Well built
- Solid connectivity
- Not the best SQ
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
iFi DAC Portable DAC Headphone Amp
The Best DAC for Android or iPhone
This tiny DAC device fits in the palm of your hand and is so slim that you can put it in your pocket and forget about it. It’s also compatible with a multitude of platforms due to the USB input and inputs for balanced 4.4mm or S-Bal 3.5mm headphone plugs.
The sound it delivers is warm and musical, while the XBass feature truly boosts up the low end in a very well-executed manner. Furthermore, the sound is wide and spacious and users can customize it using the available controls.
Now, it may take a bit to understand all the settings (especially if you’re not experienced with sound customization) but it is worth the effort. Also, the device supports a wide range of high res audio formats and has native digital to analog conversion.
- Amazing sound quality
- Compatible with smartphones & other mobile devices
- Easy to setup & use
- Adjustable analog enhancements for easy customization
- Stylish & compact design
- The battery drains rather fast
- No power via the USB-A port
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.