Which headphone amplifier is the best? Which headphone amp do I need? Us audiophiles know that without a proper additive amplifier, you just aren’t on top of your sound game. If you’re planning on being above the crowd with your specially designed headphones that you’ve most likely dropped a pretty penny on, you need the proper headphone amplifier to power the impedance and every single count of those ohm‘s it allows. Let’s get down to business and talk about the best headphone amps available today. We made sure to cover most ranges of price points to give you some options.
Why use a headphone amplifier?
To give you a bit of background, and please continue reading if you’re already aware, a headphone amplifier helps optimize your pair of cans to give you more power and sometimes better sound quality. If you’ve invested in a solid pair of studio headphones or noise-cancelling headphones in hopes of taking your listening a step further than most, you’re most likely going to need to power that baby up because the driver size and impedance cannot be transferred through just the cable and the headphones: the overall power is just too high and it needs some external boosting. If headphones were to be made to support all of the power, especially those with very high impedance, the headphones would be way too big and clunky. That’s why the stereotypical after-market models don’t necessarily need an amp — they’re specs aren’t magnified like professional headphones. They can also help produce a stronger signal without any clipping or distortion. Although, I’ve even heard of the most simple earbuds being powered by headphone amps — they ultimately work with everything. We like to frequent the Reddit audiophile community every now and then if you’re looking for some more advice.
In terms of alternatives, you can also look into buying an audio interface if you need a piece of equipment for an amp and other features, such as if you’re using the headphones mainly in a studio and also have a mic, keyboard, etc to hook up to your rig. These are typically stated to work well with studio headphones, although not quite as specific as a headphone amp. It’s more of an all-around phantom power amplifier for your studio monitors, microphone, headphones, etc. But that option is always something to look into.
How to choose your headphone amp
- What is your budget? To our avail, there are some pretty affordable amps available in the market that give you exactly what you need — more power and better quality for your headphones. However, like most music equipment, there are also others that cost a lot more that give advanced features. We covered all of the basic price points in this article to give you some options.
- Do you need portability? Or a desktop amp? We’ve found some very solid headphone amps that fit into your pocket for the ultimate convenient listening experience. Our best portable headphone amplifier article may also help, although a lot in here are portable as well. Otherwise, if you’re planning on doing most of your listening on a PC or with a gaming console, you’ll need a desktop amp. We listed both in here just in case.
- Headphone type you use. Closed, open, or semi-open? Open-back design, typically the best headphones for mixing and mastering, need a bit more power than closed-back. So the type of headphones you foresee yourself having (or have already invested in) may determine which route you go as well.
- Preferred music you listen to. This isn’t too big of a deal, but if you listen to let’s say classical, grabbing an amp that is known for the bass isn’t too ideal, and vice versa: you should grab an amp that has a bass boost if you’re into that.
The top 10 best headphone amplifiers
The following is our list of the top 10 best headphone amps we’ve been able to find through vigorous research around the net and speaking with a bunch of my audiophile friends. Notice that the FiiO models really dominate the headphone amp game in general as of late (especially in Lifehacker’s headphone amp article), and although they’re listed a few times with us, we found some alternatives that you may like. We also provide if they’re portable or desktop for some more help.
Creative Sound Blaster E3
- Amp type: Portable
- Impedance support: Up to 600 Ohms
- Amp type: Portable
- Impedance support: 600 ohm and 112dB DAC
- Up to 8 hours of Bluetooth audio streaming
- Up to 17 hours of analog audio playback
- Built-in microphone
- Numerous controls: Power/Bluetooth, volume, call answer, play/pause, next track/forward, previous track rewind
- NFC compatible
- Connects via USB
To start off our list as one of the best portable headphone amps, this one gives us some very solid technology. Creative always has their solutions in tact, as their Sound Blaster series also made it in our best wireless speaker article. A standout feature from the rest of our list is the E3 gives us some Bluetooth connectivity, great impedance support, and a built-in microphone if you ever feel like answering calls on it (although, you have your phone right there…). But besides that, it gives us a very high battery life of about a day, so if you’re traveling this thing is perfect. You’ve got up to 600 Ohms which is plenty for most pairs of headphones out there (double-check yours to make sure!), and the SBX Pro Studio (which is basically their name for having a super clear sound driver). The Creative Sound Blaster E3 is a great portable headphone amp coming in at a decent price as well. If you wanted an immediate answer and needed portability, grab this one and don’t look back.
JDS Labs Objective2
- Amp type: Portable\Stationary
- Weight: 11 ounces
- Dimensions: 4.5 x 3.5 x 1.5
- Impedance support: 33, 150 and 600 Ohms
- Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
- Available with most country power adapters
Here’s a very popular headphone amp among the “audiophiles” out there — and for good reason at that. The Objective2 has a reputation due to it’s clean and powerful sound. For one, you have a very low THD (standing for total harmonic distortion, which is basically the ratio of distortion as you turn that volume up. Typical amps and other electronics have a high THD which is why we hear distortion as it increases in volume) and output impedance (aids in the transparency of the frequency response for super clear sound), and 600mW of power to power up just about any of your high-end headphones out there. In terms of inputs, you have both 3.5mm or RCA and outs include a 3.5mm or 6.35mm. It’s both battery-powered as well as external using your 14-20 VAC in. The JDS Labs Objective2 is famous for a reason — this thing is power and clean, coming in as another one of the best headphone amplifiers out there.
- Amp type: Desktop
- Total power: 22 watts per channel
- Weight: 3.5 lbs
- Dimensions: 11.5″(H) x 7.5″(W) x 9.5″(D)
- Inputs: RCA & 1/8″
- Headphone output on front
- Variable preamp output
- Detachable power cord
- Modes: Power saving idle
- Wood cabinet finish
- USB powered
- Comes with: N22 amp, power supply, AC cord, 1/8″ and RCA cables, speaker wire, cloth amp, power and cable bag
This is one of our favorite desktop amplifiers in the market. Audioengine made it into our best studio monitor speaker article as their audio solutions are of very high quality in our opinion. The N22’s give us some great power at a peak 80 watt performance and a 10K ohms unbalanced input impedance to cover the whole ground of your speakers or headphones. First and foremost the compact size is great for fitting on a desk — not too bulky and the built-in vertical stand is very convenient. You can connect anything to this thing — iPods, speakers, headphones, TV’s, etc. The high-finished MDF wood cabinet is great for overall protection and stability. It also has a convenient power-saving idle mode if you’re like me and forget almost everyday to turn your gear off! Quite powerful at a decent price considering the quality, the Audioengine N22 headphone amp is something to look at for your desktop amplifier needs.
- Amp type: Portable
- Weight: .6 ounces
- Dimensions: 1.6 x 1.6 x 0.35″
- Impedance support: 16 to 300 ohms
- 3.5 mm input and output jacks
- Electronic volume control
- Power switch/EQ control (with key lock)
- Rechargeable lithium battery (via mini USB)
- Integrated LED for EQ status
- Around 10 hours of operation time
- Removable transparent back clip built-in
This is one of our favorite portable headphone amps that comes at a very low cost. It is compact, lightweight and is compatible with any audio playing device with a 3.5 mm. A nice little touch is the EQ control: you can add a slight bass boost if you’re in the mood for it. Although the specs stated by FiiO say 10 hours of use, a full charge and when you actually use it to listen to music is around 5 hours. The transparent clip is perfect for fitting it onto wherever you feel like if you’re traveling, otherwise this thing will most definitely fit in your pocket. One of our favorite portable headphone amps in the market, the FiiO E6 is a great choice if you’re on a budget and need only one thing: amplification of your headphones (and even a bass boost too). It was also rated highly in Head-Fi’s FiiO E6 review.
Bravo Audio V2
- Amp type: Desktop
- Weight: 1 lb.
- Impedance support: 20-600 Ohms
- Shu Guang 12AU7 TUBE (Class A)
- Gain up to 30dB
- Inputs: Stereo RCA and 3.5 mm
- Outputs: Stereo 6.335 mm
Here’s a little different spin on headphone amps by Bravo Audio. This here is a tube amp, which means that it has a higher harmonic distortion and sounds less harsh. They also have this “tube-like” sound a lot of audiophiles prefer over the standard “solid state” amp (most of the ones we list in this article). Regardless, and firstly, this thing just looks super cool and if it’s sitting on your desktop you’ll get some comments. As you can see there are no crazy features in the bullet points, but what you’re getting with this is a solid-performing tube amp that gets the job done. The sound quality is great and it powers up any headphones up to 600 Ohms. You can also replace the stock tube if you’re into that. Grab the Bravo Audio V2 if you want that tube sound and want something to look sweet on your desk. Head-fi also reviewed the V2 highly.
- Amp type: Desktop
- Weight: 13 ounces
- Dimensions: 130 x 100 x 65mm
- Impedance support: 30 to 300 Ohms
- Voltage range: 100 – 240V
- Dedicated volume knob and headphones input on front
- LED status on front
- Compatible with any line level source
- Only available in black
Creek Audio actually has quite a few models in their OBH collection. Check those out if you want some alternatives. This is best used for headphones with low to medium impedance, from around 30-300 Ohms. It’s been around for more than 10 years so there’s a lot more positive reviews backed up by long-term use; this thing is stable and will be a great investment for years to come. A nice, stable metal build, it’s rather smaller in size so it fits neatly on your desk without taking up a lot of room. Won’t interfere with high gain circuits and gives you that clarity you need. Works with any music device; CD player (who really uses this anymore?), headphones, speakers, you name it. If you’re looking for a sense of security knowing that it’ll stand the test of time and has been proven numerous times of its quality, grab the Creek OBH-11.
V-Moda VAMP Verza
- Amp type: Desktop\Portable
- Weight: 8 ounces
- Impedance support: 16 Ohms and up
- Two dedicated DAC chips built-in
- Hi/lo gain switches
- Charge via USB
- Machined brushed metal make
- Play time: 7 hours
- Full time charge: 5 hours
- 3.5mm and digital port output
- Available in white and black
Well, this thing is one of the most powerful and clear sounding headphone amplifiers we’ve heard of. V-MODA is a pretty popular headphone brand out there, and they’re usually on the higher-end of the price-point for most electronics they make. It first and foremost has a digital-to-analog built-in let alone is a battery pack within itself so you can charge your device if you ever need, super convenient. You get around 7 hours of play time (on low-gain as well) so it’s a bit of a drawback if you’re going for a day-long trip somewhere and can’t charge it up. Regardless, this thing is one of the most powerful headphone amps we’ve come across. What’s super cool about this is it actually docks to your device (with a VERZADOCK) so it literally becomes attached to it for some solid, convenient transportation. It comes with two V-MODA bands to attach it to your phone or audio playing device. Another cool feature is the high or low gain option, giving you the ability to switch between 80 or 150mW (the higher, the more battery you use). Grab the V-MODA VERZA if you want the best, top-of-the-line headphone amplifier out there.
sApII Pro SMSL
- Amp type: Desktop
- Weight: 1 lb
- Dimensions: 126mm x 74mm X30MM
- Output: 6.35mm (comes with adapter)
- Inputs: 3.5mm/RCA stereo
- 2-way switch input
- Power divided circuit
- DC24V power supply
This is a bit less available but made our ranks due to the flat quality of sound it provides. You won’t be getting a bass or gain boost here — it simply does what it’s told, and that’s amplify your headphones. The good build quality for the price is what makes this one stand out, although I’ve heard a few complaints with the 6.3mm adapter that comes with it — you may want to use your own or buy a new one (pretty cheap). You’ve got your dedicated volume knob on the front with the switches on the front. A nice metal build with a matte finish. Grab the sApII Pro SMSL if you want a solid desktop headphone amplifier without any of the extra features others come with. Great for being budget-friendly as well.
- Amp type: Portable
- Mini USB interface
- Weight: 4 ounces
- Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.6″
- Output: 3.5mm stereo headphone
- Input: 3.55mm analog, 18-pin multi-functional
- Impedance power: 16 to 150 Ohm
- Controls: Bass, treble, gain, volume, balance, and tone
- OLED Display
- Rechargeable Li-ion Battery (up to 15 hours of operating time)
- 3.5 hour charging time
The last FiiO headphone amp we’ll list here but this is for good measure. This is different from the other amps we’ve listed mainly because of the extra features you get along with it. The E17 has a lot of control options, with bass, treble and gain, not to mention a nice touch with tone and balance as well. As seen in the photos, we have a decent sized LCD display to give us a bit of visualization. Very light at only 4 ounces to fit in most pockets. The only downside we’d see here is supporting up to 150 Ohm, so if you have a more expensive and powerful pair of studio headphones make sure they impedance is supported, but a majority of them will be fine with this one here. 15 hours of operating time is more than enough unless you stay up all night doing homework, simply charge it up while you listen. We love the FiiO E17 amplifier as it’s got some extra features to increase the enjoyment of your sounds plus it’s pretty affordable.
Schiit Asgard 2
- Amp type: Desktop
- Weight: 5 lbs
- Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 2.25”
- Impedance power: 32 to 600 Ohms
- Two settings via rear switch: High (15.5db) to low (3.5db)
- Pre outs for desktop speakers
- JFET gain stage
- Class A MOSFET output section
- Muting relay protection
This tops off our list with a classic by Schiit amps, a name a lot of audiophile will recognize as their amps are pretty well-known among us. This is one of the best desktop amplifiers out there for your headphones, featuring the perfect 32 to 600 Ohms (keep note that anything lower than 32 impedance probably isn’t worth it), a 5 lb metal build for a very stable amp, and the option for a high or low gain switch (located on the back, although beggars can’t be choosers). A volume knob and headphone input in the front, this brushed aluminium amp looks slick right next to your monitor or wherever else you’ll place. Grab the Schiit Asgard 2 headphone amp if you want a high-quality, powerful and stable piece of machinery for your pair of cans.