If you’ve spent a lot of money on a set of high-end headphones, a dedicated headphone amplifier will make them sound considerably better than if you just connect them into a computer, phone, or even a hi-fi component, depending on the quality of the built-in headphone amp. A headphone amp is a device that sits between your source/amplifier and a set of headphones, and it can serve as the foundation of a small but powerful desktop hi-fi system.
So, how should you choose a headphone amplifier? Modern headphone amps have digital inputs and a built-in DAC for broader compatibility – ideal if you’re listening to music stored on a computer, for example. Analogue inputs allow you to connect a traditional source, such as a CD player, but more modern amps have digital inputs and a built-in DAC for broader compatibility.
Size, build quality, audio quality and portability are other important factors to consider. Some of the items listed below can easily fit into a pants pocket and, with the correct cables and connectors, can even be used to connect to a smartphone. Other models may require you to clear your desk. Decide whether you’ll use your pair of headphones when out and about or only at home. We’ve compiled a list of the best headphone amplifiers available, including budget, mid-range, and high-end models.
Chord Hugo 2 Transportable DAC Headphone Amplifier
- Chipset: Chord Electronics custom coded Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA
- Play time: In excess of seven (7) hours
- PCM support: 44.1k Hz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192kHz, 358.8kHz, 384kHz, 717.6kHz, and
Hugo 2 is one of the best dac amp combo. It’s just about small enough to carry around with you (though it has its own built-in battery), but it’s a little too big to fit in a pocket. As a result, it’s not ideal for listening on the go. It’s also not always the most intuitive device to use, thanks to its complicated system of colored lights. Oh, and it’s also pricey.
So, what does it have to do with this list? For you, two words: sound quality. It’s tough to criticize Hugo 2’s conversion and delivery of digital audio files. Hugo 2 can handle not only high-resolution files, but also lower-resolution ones, and it delivers a detailed, dynamic, and punchy performance no matter what you give it. There are numerous inputs to choose from, as well as aptX Bluetooth. If you can get beyond its odd appearance, you’ll be rewarded with a richly detailed, energetic, and punchy performance. This is one of the best headphone amps in 2023.
Schiit Magni Heresy 100% Op-Amp-Based Headphone Amp and Preamp
- Utilizes super high quality parts, including a multiple paralleled output stage with feedforward. Made in USA.
On the surface, the Schiit Magni Heresy is the best headphone amp. With a smooth surface and limited controls, it has a laid-back design that helps it appear as unassuming as possible. The Magni Heresy, on the other hand, contains one of the best headphone amplifiers on the market. Despite its apparent simplicity, many pros consider it to be one of the best elements of their arsenal.
The Magni Heresy can be used as a preamp or a headphone amp, depending on your sound system. According to Schiit, their amp “raises the bar even higher,” boasting about its exceptional output power for its pricing class. This is a wonderful component to add to your audio setup today because of its clean performance. For added value and security, it also comes with a two-year limited warranty. This is one of the best portable headphone amp in 2023.
iFi ZEN CAN Balanced Desktop Headphone Amp and Preamp with 4.4mm Outputs
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Do you want a headphone amplifier that is a little more stylized than the basic options? If that’s the case, the iFi ZEN CAN has a distinctive appearance that stands out from the rest of your sound system, providing vitality to your stack. However, there’s more going on here than just aesthetics. To match your score, superior engineering provides startlingly low distortion and noise via a dedicated input stage.
You can also expect to get the most out of your preferred headphones. From the softest vocals to the most thunderous percussion, the ZEN CAN will help you experience the dynamic range of your headphones. The characteristic analog signal processing creates an immersive soundstage without the need for a full sound system.
The iFi ZEN CAN is, in general, one of the top selections on this list. It is, however, one of the most expensive items on the list. Users that are familiar with headphone amplifiers will most likely get the most out of this choice. However, if you’re just getting started with audiophilia, there may be more appealing solutions.
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
- Native Resolution up to 24-bit / 96kHz
- DAC Chip ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound
- Plays All Music Files: MP3 to MQA and Hi-Res
Although it isn’t inexpensive, Audioquest’s newest Dragonfly is a fantastic performer. The award-winning Cobalt enhances the already exceptional Red by providing even more clarity and acoustic precision. Because of its exceptional transparency, the Cobalt discloses flaws in the source and recordings that other members of the family do not, therefore you may have to view lower-quality recordings. But give it a solid signal, and it’ll give Chord’s formidable Mojo a run for its money — something not many headphone amplifiers can say.
Many of the features, such as the 2.1v headphone output options, bit-perfect digital volume control, and MQA renderer, are shared with the multi-award-winning DragonFly Red. However, there are numerous improvements, such as a more modern DAC chip that produces a better, more natural sound, and a new CPU that boosts processing speed by 33%. Additionally, better power supply filtering (improving tolerance to wi-fi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise), a 10% smaller enclosure, and a DragonTail USB-A (female) to USB-C (male) adaptor are included for use with the rising variety of products with USB-C connectivity.
Creative Sound BlasterX G5
- Country Of Origin : China
- Immersive 3D Pc Gaming Audio
- Best-In-Class Console Gaming Audio
This amplifier has everything you need to start listening to sound signature right away, including native 7.1 surround sound capability and immersive 3D PC gaming audio. This “audiophile-grade” amplifier, according to Creative, has the best-in-class console gaming audio. It also works with Windows and Mac computers, as well as the PS4 and a variety of other consoles.
The Sound BlasterX is best described as “standard.” It essentially accomplishes what you need without being overly complicated. This headphone amplifier is exceptionally easy to operate, even in the dark, thanks to its lighted volume controls and volume indication.
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M Stereo Digital to Analogue Converter DAC Preamp
- ✓ AMAZING SOUND CONVERSION. DacMagic 200M performs the digital-to-analogue conversion perfectly every time, letting all kinds of digital audio...
- ✓ ARTIST APPROVED AUDIO. DacMagic 200M is Cambridge Audio’s first product to support MQA. MQA is an award-winning British technology that delivers...
- ✓ POWERFUL PROCESSING. Inside is a pair of extremely high-quality ESS Sabre DAC converters. They handle digital audio files up to 32bit/768kHz or...
The DacMagic 200M is a no-brainer if you’re searching for a DAC that packs all sorts of essential functionality into an appealing and acoustically astute package, especially at this pricing.
The tube headphone amplifier well-equipped enough to fit into any hi-fi or desktop setup with ease. A variety of digital inputs accommodate a variety of sources, and aptX Bluetooth is also included. Add in balanced and unbalanced outputs, as well as a headphone output and high-resolution audio support, and you’ve pretty much covered all the basics. It has that distinct ‘Cambridge’ sound, which consists of a full, silky tone paired with an open, expressive, and authoritative delivery. At your peril, ignore this gifted all-rounder.
Chord Mojo 2
- 1x Micro USB 768kHz/32-bit Capable Input
- 1x 3.5mm Jack Coaxial 768kHz/32-bit Capable Input
- 1x Optical TOSLINK 96kHz/24-bit Capable Input
The aptly called Mojo 2 is the much awaited, redesigned successor to the original, which was introduced in 2015 and quickly established new standards in the still-emerging field of portable DACs and headphone amps. While those who are familiar with Chord’s most entry-level device will notice from this review’s accompanying photographs that the appearance hasn’t exactly been revamped for the sequel, major advancements have been made elsewhere to maintain its status as the best portable DAC.
While the Mojo 2 can confidently improve the performance of a hi-fi system, some people seeking a system boost may logically prefer a dedicated system option with better connections, such as the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M (below). However, we believe the choice to buy a Mojo 2 or not to buy a Mojo 2 is much simpler for those looking for a portable or desktop DAC solution in this price range (and who cannot triple their budget to Chord Hugo 2 territory). How about current Mojo owners? Since Chord has given us no other option, we must advise the update.
The “UHD DSP,” billed as the first lossless digital signal processor in the world, is located inside the aluminum casework and is the main advancement. The term “lossless” is being used more frequently than ever in today’s digitally savvy world as more hardware and software companies work to reproduce digital music bits-perfectly. In this case, the lofty promise is customizable digital-to-analog conversion that doesn’t degrade sound quality along the way.
In fact, the Mojo 2 now supports a variety of new features thanks to Chord’s new proprietary 104-bit processor, including tonal adjustments across the frequency range (each of its lower bass, mid-bass, lower treble, and high treble bands now has 18 steps of adjustment), as well as a four-setting crossfeed that aims to replicate a more dimensional, loudspeaker-like soundstage.
Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum
- LUMINOUS TUBES. THE POWER OF SOLID STATE. SPECTACULAR SOUND. As an embedded tube/hybrid amplifier (DC coupled in to out, no coupling caps), the Liquid...
- SINGLE ENDED and BALANCED INPUTS and OUTPUTS: With multiple inputs and outputs for balanced and single ended operation and easy front panel input...
- KEEPS ITS COOL. The Platinum is ventilated with two long, screened slots on either side of the top and large screens on the bottom to ensure that it...
It’s not the match we were anticipating. Alex Cavalli and Monoprice, a maker of ultra-squares, are working together? Okay, men. The Monoprice Monolith Liquid Platinum, the end result, has a great sound in addition to a fantastic moniker. The amp is surprisingly forgiving, bringing out the best in even less expensive headphones. The twin tubes create bass that really makes an effect. The Liquid Platinum checks all the boxes for a tube amplifier: warm tone, easily swappable tubes, and contemporary features like balanced outputs.
If there is one thing we would change, it would be that we believe the highs could be a little better. The lows and mids are warm, gooey, and delicious, but they come at the expense of the highs, which can occasionally be a little brittle. The amp is still a great, albeit unappreciated, product at a reasonable price (far lower than it used to be), and it will definitely stay on our list for the foreseeable future. Beware: you’ll need to provide your own DAC since there is none provided.
Both the inputs and the outputs have positive and negative features. The small light on the front that turns white when the tubes have warmed to an appropriate operating temperature falls into the same type. The Liquid Platinum includes a delayed startup phase that lasts for roughly 40 seconds and ensures that the electronics and tubes are functioning properly. We appreciate how useful that is. The front of the device has a button that switches between line inputs, but it distinguishes between them by using a dot and a dash. Although it’s a minor issue, we found it to be incredibly, unreasonable aggravating.
Rupert Neve Designs RNHP Headphone Amplifier
We were blown away by the Rupert Neve Designs RNHP. We were astounded by how fantastic it made our headphones sound, with balanced and interesting audio. It truly seemed to get the best performance out of anything we connected into it. The music had significant weight to it because of the powerful tone. That’s not very unexpected, though. The renowned mixing console designer for recording studios is Rupert Neve. This is his company’s first headphone amplifier, and they really nailed the sound quality. Furthermore, this has a considerably higher sound quality per dollar spent than much more expensive solid-state amplifiers like the Burson Conductor 3R.
The RNHP, however, is about as straightforward an amp as you can find. Not even a gain switch is present. And it’s pretty nasty. The amp’s industrial appearance may make it robust, but it’s not exactly attractive. Super-bright input lights are another factor that makes things difficult. Additionally, it lacks a digital audio converter (DAC); if you’re searching for an amp in this price bracket with one, check out the JDS Labs The Element II below. The Element is a one-box solution even though its sound quality isn’t nearly as good as the RNHP’s. However, if sound quality is what you’re looking and you don’t mind the RNHP’s unappealing appearance, give it a try.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do I Need a Headphone Amp?
The problem is this. All headphones require them. Because they are speakers—albeit tiny ones that fit on your head—they need to be amplified in order to produce sound that you can actually hear. Most cans are not used with external amplifiers; instead, they are plugged directly into your iPhone, PC, Mac, iPad, or other device because most gadgets already have small amplifiers built in. These existing ones are a little bit underpowered, with stock components that aren’t really doing your music justice, which is why you’d choose an external one. They’ll do the job, but you’ll get far better results if you delegate the amplification work to a device that is made specifically for it.