A portable headphone amplifier isn’t something you see many rocking every day. If you’ve ventured over here from our best headphone amplifier article or merely need an amp to grab to carry around to help with enhancing your listening experience, you’ve come to the right place. In case you weren’t aware, a portable headphone amplifier is simply a miniature power amp that is particularly designed to drive tiny speakers inside of your headphones. They’re usually paired up with studio headphones but any set of cans can work with one of these headphone amps. To our convenience, there are a lot of models out there that will not only fit in your bag but pocket as well, making your listening experience more enjoyable and less of a hassle, too. It wasn’t too hard finding the best portable headphone amps out there, and we made sure we covered some different price points, shapes and sizes to help fit the needs you may have.
How to choose your portable headphone amplifier
- Price range – How much cash do you have saved up? Fortunately for us, there are some very affordable portable amps out there. There are also higher priced models that may be what you’re looking for, too.
- Overall shape and size – We know you’re not in need of a desktop headphone amplifier, but the overall size will still different for portable models. Does it need to fit exactly into your pocket? Do you want it as big as your phone or audio player, or even smaller? Although portable, some of these vary in overall shape and size, so try to visualize how you’re going to want it to fit when you’re on the go.
- Additive features – USB connectivity for charging, overall connectivity to your cans, extra bass boost, bands to attach it to your music device, etc? Which are important to you? This may as well be the deciding factor for your choice, besides perhaps the price or hours of operation (listed next).
- Hours of operation – The higher this number is, the more likely the price will be higher, so at least keep that in mind. Your intended use will also come in to play here, because some of you may not even need an amp that will last more than 5+ hours since you’ll be near a charger before that. Others may be traveling for extremely longer periods of time that may call her a higher hours of operation count.
- Do you even need one? Well, we’d say yes. And most definitely yes if you’re using a pair of studio headphones or model that has more Ohms that can be supported without the need for extra amplification. Unless you’re using wireless earbuds or merely wireless headphones in general, you won’t be able to use your headphone amp, obviously — so we’d say it never hurts to grab one (especially because they’re pretty affordable). If you’re still on the fence, we like Sound on Sound’s Should I Buy a Headphone Amp? article for some more info on if you need one.
The best portable headphone amps
The E6 from FiiO is known as the one of the best ultra-compact portable headphone amplifiers in the market and the user reviews really don’t lie. The Fiio E6 has an advanced circuit that offers a wide dynamic range, a high signal to noise ratio and minimal distortion. It has standard 3.5 mm input/output connectors to provide the necessary compatibility with a variety of music players and headphones. This portable headphone amp has a super lightweight and compact design as well. It offers a built-in rechargeable lithium battery which can provide about 10 hours of operation. For more convenience, the battery can be charged with a mini USB connection in case you aren’t near an outlet and want to just use your computer or laptop. It made Lifehacker’s best headphone amplifier list, too.
Creative Sound Blaster E1
Here’s the second best portable headphone amp recommended and this one comes in a bit more expensive than the previous model listed. It is a powerful and portable headphone amplifier with the support for up to studio-quality 600 ohm headphones, so you can match pretty much any headphones with it. With the E1 by Creative, you can now listen to music and not the noise as its audio fidelity is 106 dB signal to noise ratio. It has a strong battery that can perform up to 25 hours in a single charge, so if you were specifically looking for day-long hours of operation, this is a better option than the previous FiiO amp listed. It is a very lightweight model that weighs only 25 grams, so it can be carried around in a pocket or a bag without hassle. You can also connect this gadget to your PC or Mac via USB and activate their ‘CrystalVoice Technology’ to reduce noise and make a clearer conversation since it has a mic input as well.
Here’s FiiO‘s second appearance in here and although we probably could’ve made an entire headphone amp article with their models alone, we’ll stick to just two for now. This one is also rated extremely high (both in terms of stars as well as how many actual reviews) and has been proven the perfect power source for your most favorite headphones, whether you’re wanting to enjoy the high-resolution recording or merely rock out to your favorite beats. This portable headphone amplifier is considered one of the best for headphones ranging from 16 – 150 Ohms. It has decently built components as well as design through which it provides great quality sound. The E11K construction has been created in a reliable manner with all aluminum body and chassis. In terms of additive features, the discrete bass boost circuit enhances the output by 3.5 dB at 60 HZ. It comes in a few colors, too. Just another budget-friendly pick as the best portable headphone amplifier to take into consideration, especially you’re one to like their purchase being backed up by a lot of user reviews.
You all know our love for Audio-Technica audio gear. This one is a compact gadget as its width and length are similar to a smartphone, but even so it packs a powerful punch when it comes to overall audio quality. To protect the circuitry, it is enclosed in all-aluminum casing for longevity. It is also provided with 2 rubber bands and 1 rubber mat to strap the unit to other portable devices like a smartphone or iPod audio player (do people still use MP3 players nowadays?) and it provides a 1.0 m USB cable and a 10 cm audio cable as well. This particular item is equipped with analog as well as digital inputs and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. It also offers a machined aluminum volume knob, a high/low gain switch and a 5 stage sampling indicator for digital input. Definitely one of the best portable headphone amplifiers in the market right now.
Here’s one listed last but not because it isn’t as solid as the others. This is one of the highest priced portable headphone amps out there, but if you’re wanting a top-of-the-line piece of electronics to enhance your music experience, check this one out. It is designed for mobile Hi-Fi music lovers and it uses a Wolfson USB DAC with a separate amplifier section in order to deliver a broad frequency response of 10 – 100,000 Hz. It is used to support the playback of high-resolution audio files. These files have a direct digital connection support for devices. If money didn’t exist, it’s one of the best portable headphone amplifiers that uses high quality components in order to present a well-balanced, natural 3D sound stage. The PHA – 1A portable headphone amplifier is available with 2 silicone bands to attach your mobile device with DAC/AMP and a protective sheet as well. Just check out the other specs — this thing is priced super high for some valid reasons.