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Top 10 Headphone Amplifier Recommendations

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Getting the best listening experience out of a pair of headphones isn’t as simple as buying a high-end pair of cans and slapping them on your ears. A good pair of studio or noise-cancelling headphones certainly aren’t cheap, but if you really want to get the most out of them you’ll likely need to boost the power.

That’s where a good headphone amplifier comes in.

But, like virtually every other piece of audio equipment, there are a ton of options on the market when it comes to headphone amplifiers, so how do you know which one will work the best for you? Serious audiophiles have done their homework, and the list below will provide the lowdown on which headphone amplifiers will power the impedance and maximize the ohm counts. The products vary in price range and options, so you should have plenty of features to weigh before making a decision on which amplifier works best for you.

But first, here’s a little more background on what a headphone amplifier actually is.

A headphone amplifier will boost the power of your headphones and maximize the sound quality they produce. The reason they’re needed by serious audiophiles is that even the most expensive pair of headphones usually cannot provide maximum power due to the driver size and the fact that the impedance cannot be maximized through a simple cable and the headphones alone. Simply put, headphones just need more power, and that power has to come from an external source. If headphone manufacturers were to actually build-in the power needed into the headphones themselves, the finished product would likely be a massive monstrosity of a contraption that you’d then have to strap to your head. Now, some of the really high-end options achieve optimization via some built in amps, but for the average consumer that’s not a price point, we’ll likely ever look at. With a quality amp, even simple earbuds can achieve insanely good audio quality.

Now, most of the amps listed below are relatively small and portable. If you’re looking to use your headphones in primarily a studio setting you may also be interested in looking at an audio interface, which will include an amp but also some studio-specific features. An audio interface can be especially useful if you’ll be using your headphones along with a microphone, keyboard and other equipment. While this option provides more of a “one stop shop” fix for amplifier needs, and isn’t necessarily as specific a tool as a headphone amp, it would still work well for the purposes of boosting headphone power and delivering better sound quality.

So, what elements should you take into consideration when choosing your headphone amp?

First, off consider the price you’re willing to pay. Like most pieces of audio equipment, there are certainly some pricy models out there, and most of these will come with some pretty advanced options. The good news is that there are also plenty of affordable amps out there that will deliver more power and better quality. If that’s all you’re looking for in an amplifier you’ll see plenty of options with lower price points below.

Just how mobile do you need your headphone amplifier to be? There are some great portable options below that will slide right into your pocket or backpack if you’re going to be listening on the go quite a bit. However, if you’re a gamer or you prefer to listen to the tunes from your desktop PC, you might consider purchasing one of the desktop amplifier options.

What type of headphones do you use? They come in varying options: closed, open, semi-open. As a rule of thumb, open-backed headphones require more power than those with closed backs. Your headphone style could definitely play a part in which amplifier you choose.

While most amplifiers will work for just about any style of music, you may find that some are better suited for certain styles than others. For example, amps that deliver wicked bass boost aren’t necessarily ideal for someone that listens to a lot of smooth jazz or classical music. It’s not the most vital element to consider, but it’s certainly something to ponder.

OUR TOP 10 HEADPHONE AMPLIFIER LIST

What follows is a list of 10 headphone amplifier recommendations and their respective features to help it easy to check off which options make the most sense for you:

1/ Schiit Asgard 2

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Desktop
  • Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 2.25 inches
  • Weight: 5 pounds
  • Features: Muting relay protection. Two rear decibel settings--15.5dB and 3.5dB. Impedance power up to 600 Ohms. Pre-outs to support desktop speakers, JFET gain stage and a Class A MOSFET output section.

More than just a clever name, the Schiit Asgard 2 is one of the best desktop amps you can get for your headphones. The Asgard 2 will provide impedance power for headphones up to 600 Ohms and it comes built in a sturdy metal frame. Another great feature is the ability to switch between higher and lower gains, although the switches are a bit inconvenient, located in the back of the machine. The front of the amp is very clean, aesthetically, as you’ll only find a headphone jack and the volume control knob. This amp fits decoratively well with just about any desktop computer setup and if you’re looking for a high quality, high power and sturdy desktop amplifier for your headphones, the Schiit Asgard 2 is a worthy contender.

2/ Audioengine N22

Audioengine N22

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Desktop
  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 7.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Input: RCA and 1/8 inch
  • Output: Headphone on the front and variable preamp on the back
  • Features: 22 watts per channel. Power cords included, as well as 1/8 inch and RCA cables, cables bag, speaker wire and an N22 amp.

Audioengine makes one of the best desktop headphone amplifiers on the market. Bursting with quality audio, the N22 makes a LOT of power, to the tune of 80-watt max performance and unbalanced input impedance at 10K ohms. That’s plenty to power your speakers and your headphones. The small size of the amp makes it a great and convenient package for leaving right on your desk. The multiple input options allow you to connect speakers, headphones, iPods, even TVs. The amp itself is housed in a wood cabinet so it’s well-protected and sturdy, and the amp itself features a power-saving mode should you forget to turn it off when you’re done for the day. High quality and affordable, the Audioengine N22 is definitely something you should look at if you’re in the market for a desktop amp.

3/ V-Moda VAMP Verza

V-Moda VAMP Verza

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Desktop & Portable
  • Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 2.25 inches
  • Weight: 8 ounces
  • Output: 3.5 mm and digital port
  • Features: Impedance support of 16 Ohms and up. Hi/Lo gain switches. Two dedicated DAC chips built-in. USB charging port. Up to 7 hours of run time (about 5 hours to fully charge). Stylish machine brushed metal design.

The V-Moda VAMP Verza is one of the most powerful headphone amplifiers you can find. It’s one of the most expensive amps on the list but it’s for good reason. The sheer power and quality of sound makes it worth the price. The Verza has a built in analog battery pack so you can actually charge your device while you’re using the amp, making this an extremely convenient and functional option. You only get about 7 hours of play time, so long day trips could be a bit of a challenge if you don’t have someplace you can charge up, but the sheer power more than makes up for the shorter run time. Another cool feature of the Verza is that it uses a VERZADOCK so it actually docks with your device, making it extremely convenient to transport. The high/low gain selector is another awesome feature, allowing you to switch between 80 or 150 mW. But be warned, the higher the power, the more battery you’ll chew up. The V-Moda Verza is probably the best headphone amplifier on the market, so if you don’t mind the price tag this one takes the cake.

4/ FiiO E17

FiiO E17

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Portable
  • Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Weight: 4 ounces
  • Input: 3.5 mm analog and 18 pin multi-function
  • Output: 3.5 mm jack
  • Features: Mini USB interface. Up to 15 hours of operating time on a rechargeable Li-ion battery (3.5 hours to full charge). OLED display. Multiple controls including balance, bass, treble, gain, volume and tone. Impedance power up to 150 Ohms.

The FiiO E17 is the second FiiO on the list, but it’s also different from the other amps we’ve listed so far. That’s because the FiiO E17 comes with a LOT of additional features you don’t really see in the others. The E17 has controls for bass, treble, gain and balance--not something you see with many of the other headphone amplifiers. The large LCD display is larger than most of the other options on this list as well. Coming in at only 4 ounces, the FiiO E17 is small enough to fit into even the tightest of pockets. However, that small frame comes with a price, as it’s only capable of supporting headphones up to 150 Ohms. That might not be enough to power some of the higher end headphone models on the market, so you’ll definitely want to make sure you’ve got enough power to boost your cans. With 15 hours of potential operating time, you should be good to go all day, but if you find yourself running low you can easily charge the E17 via a USB port. The E17 is affordable, and the sheer number of features makes it a viable option for anyone looking for a compact, portable headphone amplifier.

5/ Bravo Audio V2

Bravo Audio V2

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Desktop
  • Weight: 1 pound
  • Input: Stereo RCA and 3.5 mm jack
  • Output: Stereo 6.335 mm
  • Features: Tube amp, impedance support up to 600 Ohms and gains up to 30 dB.

What sets the Bravo Audio V2 apart from many other headphone amps is that it is a tube amp. That means that the V2 has a higher harmonic distortion and produces a cleaner sound. Tube amps are popular with many audiophiles because of this tube-like sound. Aesthetically, this is one of the coolest looking amps on the list. The features are fairly lean, but don’t let that fool you--you’re getting a very good amplifier here. The sound quality is tremendous and the V2 will power any headphones up to 600 Ohms. You can upgrade the tube if you so choose, making the Bravo Audio V2 a cool looking and amazing sounding desktop amplifier.

6/ FiiO E6

FiiO E6

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Portable
  • Dimensions: 1.6 x 1.6 x .35 inches
  • Weight: 6 ounces
  • Input: 3.5 mm jacks
  • Output: 3.55 mm jacks
  • Features: Electronic volume control, rechargeable lithium battery, integrated LED for EQ status, 10 hour run time on a full charge, built in clip

This affordable headphone amplifier is small and compatible with any music device that can be plugged in using a 3.5 mm jack. The digital EQ control allows you to boost the bass if so choose, and although the box might say “10 hours of usage,” a full charge is likely only to get you around 5 hours of actual usage. The removable clip and small size make it easy to store the FiiO E6 just about anywhere, and this little amplifier makes a great choice for those that are on a budget and are just looking for simple headphone amplification.

7/ SMSL Audio Sap-II PRO

SMSL Audio Sap-II PRO

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Desktop
  • Dimensions: 126 mm x 74 mm x 30 mm
  • Weight: 1 pound
  • Input: 3.5 mm jack and RCA stereo
  • Output: 6.35 mm
  • Features: 2-way input. Power divided circuit. DC24V power supply

The sApII Pro SMSL provides tremendous quality sound. However, don’t expect a lot of gain or bass boost with this one, as it’s really just designed to amplify your headphones. It’s still a great product for the price, despite its simplistic features. Design is pretty simple, with the master volume and other switches front and center on the device. The housing a is a bare bones black metal design, so this amplifier makes a great option if you’re just looking for a simple desktop amp without any extra bells and whistles. It also comes in at a lower price point for those that are looking for affordability in addition to function.

8/ Creek OBH-11

Creek OBH-11

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Desktop
  • Dimensions: 130mm x 100mm x 65mm
  • Weight: 13 ounces
  • Features: Compatibility with any line level source. Impedance support up to 300 Ohms. LED status indicator. Voltage range up to 240V. Easy to use controls front and center on the device.

Creek Audio provides a lot of headphone amplifier options as part of their OBH line, but the OBH-11 is the best choice for headphones with low to medium impedance. This specific model will support impedance up to 300 Ohms. The OBH-11 is also a veteran among headphone amplifiers, as it’s been on the market for over 10 years. That means that from an investment standpoint this a great option as well. The amp is constructed from sturdy metal, but dimensionally it’s fairly compact so it should fit on your desk nicely, without cluttering up your workstation. The sound quality is very clear and the OBH-11 won’t interfere with any higher gain circuits. You can plug in just about any device you want, including headphones, iPod, speakers, etc. If you’re looking for a desktop amp that’s future proof and ready to stand the test of time, the OBH-11 from Creek Audio is definitely an option you should take a look at.

9/ Creative Sound Blaster E3

Creative Sound Blaster E3

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Portable
  • Features: Up to 8 hours of streaming via Bluetooth and up to 17 hours of analog streaming. Built in microphone. A variety of controls including call answer, volume, play/pause, track advance, rewind, etc.

The Creative Sound Blaster E3 is one of the best possible options for a headphone amplifier. The feature that really sets this amp apart from the others on the list is the Bluetooth compatibility, as well as the insane impedance support and built in microphone, should you need to take a phone call while you’re listening to your tunes. The battery life is also among the highest offered, so the E3 is a great option for travelers. The E3 boasts an impedance support of up to 600 Ohms, making it plenty powerful most headphones on the market, and the SBX Pro Studio is one of the best sound drivers you can get with a headphone amplifier. The Creative Sound Blaster E3 brings you the best in portability and affordability.

10/ JDS Labs Objective2

JDS Labs Objective2

PRODUCT RATE

Specification:

  • Portable/Desktop: Portable
  • Dimensions: 4.5 x 3.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Weight: 11 ounces
  • Features: Impedance support up to 600 Ohms and it comes with power adapters for most countries.

The Objective2 from JDS Labs produces an extremely clean and powerful sound. Traditionally, the louder you turn up your music the higher your THD (total harmonic distortion). The Objective2 has a very low THD, meaning you can get quality audio no matter how loud you want to crank your tunes. The 600 Ohms of power capability combined with your high-end headphones is what makes this possible. The Objective2 has both 3.5 mm jack and RCA inputs, and the output options include both a 3.5mm and 6.35 mm jack. It runs off batteries and you can also plug into external power using a variety of power adapters in multiple countries. Clean and powerful, the JDS Labs Objective2 is a solid choice in a headphone amplifier.

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