Headphone amplifiers often confused as sound systems or musical instruments of some sort. But for those who know, they have become the need for this musically obsessed era. Whether you are a musician or a music loving human, you would be sure to know the importance of an amplifier. An amplifier takes you on a completely different musical journey, one you cannot achieve solely through an average speaker system.
So why do you need to purchase one? What can you do with it? What are your options? Well, this review tells you all about amplifiers.
An amplifier is connected to your headphones and of course also the source from where the sound is coming from. This can include your iPhone, android smartphone, PC or laptop. Directly connecting your headphones to these gadgets like you usually do, does bring quality music to your ears. But not as great as with the amplifier aid. Your phones and PCs do have in built amplifiers. However, they don’t have the robust, developed and power stocked features that are enough to give you the audio experience you need.
Some laptops and gadgets such as the Mac book Pro have great inbuilt DACs (digital to analogue converter). But some laptops such as Dell and others produce a poor-quality sound and the headphones really do not have impressive inbuilt amplifiers to offer. This is where your urge to get an amplifier begins.
Amplifiers function to remodify and enhance your sound quality to bring some amazing music to your ears. They take in the sound input and add more power, current or voltage to the sound signals as a result the sound coming out from your headphones is much more energetic in terms of quality and sound clarity. Basically, amplifiers just play with some notes and frequencies to give you the ideal musical moments.
An average amplifier can range from a USB sized one to a box similar to the size of mini speakers you use at home. But all headphones do not require amplifiers, specifically those with built in ones. You can find the ones most suited to your needs. Chances show that the pricier the headphones are the more the possibility there is of needing an amplifier.
Although the options we have given you here are wide ranges, some might not like them at all. Maybe a bulky box would be too hard to carry and manage or a USB driven amplifier too small for your needs. Or maybe you are in favour of a standard solid state amp as you find it more accessible than a sophisticated tube amplifier. After that comes affordability and need based decisions. Specifications should be studied first to know what you are purchasing. Here’s how we can help with it.
How We Choose The Best Headphone Amplifiers
Choosing your perfect headphone amplifiers is a smart task. Few things should be noted. Firstly, the latest most advanced version of amplifiers don’t always qualify as the best. Secondly, the amplifiers are not only bought by techno professionals. So keeping in mind easy to use features, the amps were chosen. Affordability is essential, but so is durability. You can not compromise on quality at any cost. The amplifier range is according to the size, price, type and requirements. So the top ten options given are not only targeted for one section of the customers.
How We Tested Headphone Amplifiers
A little research goes a long way. It tells you what you’re looking for and where can you look.
To test out the best amplifiers for you, we did a little research on headphone and amplifier matchmaking. The conclusion? Well, it all comes down to the impedance of your headphones. Impedance is basically how music is transitioning between the two. If an amplifier gives out 1 watt at 32 ohms then a headphone with 32 ohms can take up 1 watt of power. Though impedance is not much of an issue with headphones as it is with speakers, knowledge of such is vital. Better to be safe than sorry, no?
The headphones within the given impedance rate were considered ideal. Specifications can be checked on the given manuals. The match making process through impedance is not that difficult since most headphones between 16-300 ohm easily fall in that category.
Now coming to comparisons based on sensitivity. The head phones need the perfect amp to provide the best quality sound. Not too loud or not very high frequency response amplifiers were selected.
Headphone Amp Types: Tube Vs Solid State Vs Hybrid
Let us tell you a little about the types. Whatever type of amplifier you are choosing, will highly depend on your preference and needs basically. For that you need to know this.
These are glass made valves found in most amps you’ll see. These tube shaped valves burn off electrons inside their circuitry system to produce better sound effects. One great example of this type of amplifier is Feliks Elise. Getting one will inform you of its unique properties of how tubes function in making music and how the glass valves should be maintained and what might go wrong in them.
Vacuum tubes are forever entertaining. They require the special facilities to give you the best sound. Tube amps will bring to you the most soothing and warm musical experience that you needn’t find anywhere else. One downside is that tubes generally tend to burst due to short circuit or other reasons. It is very rare though. But always observe precautions and you’ll be fine without having to spend a lot of money.
Using a tube amplifier would let you know how tubes work. Sometimes changing and replacing of tubes take place to give different frequencies and changes to sounds. It does sound time consuming and lengthy but its worth the work. Those of you who love to test how far you can go with altering a great sound, then tube amps provide that for you. Tubing let’s you do a little twisting and turning here and there to enjoy a personalized version of your music. For that, however you need to know all the specifics and knowledge about amplifier technology in order to take that risk. Once you begin, you would not be able to stop yourself as it gets really addictive over time. All in all, tube amps are great.
Solid state amps don’t have the same tube like structured circuitry but rather the conventional system. The solid state might not cater like the tube amps, giving the similar balmy sound but they are known to be durable and static. The amplifier produces a clear and crisp sound effect, eliminating all low quality distortion.
Hybrid amplifiers are the amalgamation of both the tube and solid state types. The double effect amps rely on both systems, catering accordingly to your needs. A variety of options are available, although all depend on your preference but one amp that we would want you to check out is the School Mjolnir 2. An ideal hybrid amp choice if you would want to go for a test run.
There’s a lot more to amplifier categories than just types. But no significant details you need to know further. It takes a hefty amount of time and effort to find the ideal headphone amplifier for yourself. The perfect combination of all the specifics along with quality and money value. After a lengthy process of selection now let us reveal the much anticipated top ten amplifiers best for you.
10. Auris HA2 SE – A Versatile Headphone Amplifier
The Auris HA2 SE is a typical vacuum type amplifier. But not as average as it looks. The amplifier has an inbuilt DAC system so no such expense on a separate DAC is required. An impedance of 50-600 ohm is required for ideal compatibility.
The Auris tends to be found mostly at audio shows, as you might have observed. These amps go extremely well with the headphones from HiFiman or AUDEZE. This tube amp giant is a must have for those looking for a professional music effect.
Built within a huge box, this desktop type amplifier brings incredibility and detail together all at once. The absolutely amazing sound effects it produces through the ultra efficient tube system, are a blessing to the ears.
The Auris takes up a good amount of your space. But it’s worth all that we assure you. Audio effects are beyond your imagination of what a good sound effect feels like. It takes you away literally. The tube amplifier does have its downs though. The most notable being the tendency of tubes to break down. It’s rare but it’s there.
Here’s a sum up of why is Auris HA2 the best choice, yet not the most ideal one.
- Amazingly detailed, pure and clear amplification
- Outstanding audio effects
- Bulky and huge. Will consume a good amount of space at your table.
- Lacks mobility.
- Not found easily in the tech market. So good luck looking for one.
Though the Auris is quite unique among its range, your preference says the most about it. The price $ 1,999 sounds a bit too much, but is valid due to the physical features and great effects offered.
9. Pathos Aurium – Best Portable Headphone Amplifier
Pathos Aurium is another great creation from the same tube amp category. The amplifier has a lot to offer. The amplifier requires DAC and demands a headphone impedance of 16-1000 ohm.
Pathos is known for making the most weirdly outrageous amplifiers. The design and outlook speak out that these amps are from a completely different time. The Autism however is better known for its mediocrity as compared to others in the Pathos range. It’s the better and more economical version. That’s the reason it has made to the top ten.
We found it impressively efficient. Pathos Aurium is a Class A amplifier that holds two twin tubes. The sound produced is mesmerising. The Aurium retains the same kind of sound quality and frequencies in all kinds of headphones. Whether they are costly high end ones or budget friendly headphones. The unique features include easy to handle control options. So most of you newbies will not mess up their first try at amplifiers. The simple yet stylish external representation gives a super look to the Aurium. Easy to use and handle, Pathos’ finest invention; the Aurium Amplifier is every buyer’s dream.
- Easily compatible to almost all kinds of headphones
- Smart and accessible
- Expensive option when considered comparatively
- Bulky and hard to carry anywhere
The Pathos Aurium will cost you around $ 1495. Other than the price disadvantage, the Pathos amplifier is not a bad option to consider. What it offers will certainly be sounding appeasing to you.
8. HAFLER HA75 – Best Tube Headphone Amplifier
The HAFLER HA75 was released in the year 2015. But despite of its outdated features, it is still running well in the market. The reason? Let’s find out.
By the looks of it, the amp does not look flashy or what you call attractive. It’s a basic box full of fantastic properties. The HAFLER company goes back a long way from where they began manufacturing amplifiers. And they are still known for the best.
HAFLER’S HA75 is not as basic as it looks though. The amplifier is exceptionally easy to use, with basic controls and standard features. Note that it is a tube amplifier. So as long as you are enjoying sweet music be mindful of the heat venting. Tube rolling will not be a piece of cake here. Tubes go way down inside the HAFLER. So will need a bit of working before you start off.
Being a Class A amp type, you should be expecting some quality audio moments from HA75.
The box shaped amp is not too big in size to be deemed as ‘bulky’. It takes up adequate amount of space where needed.
The amp contains a big volume knob on the front along with the HAFLER logo in navy blue background. It also contains not one but two 63.3 mm headphone jacks. Great for partnering up.
But the Focus Control and Feedback meters were what have got us the most intrigued. These are the bonus features we had all been waiting for. Basically Focus control is what gives you the power to alter the sound output coming to you in the headphones. Turning left will let you enjoy the standard headphone composition with both ends having separate audio lines. But turning right gives you an environment close to what you get while listening to speakers. That’s the easiest way of putting it out for you.
The Feedback’s unique properties have also impressed us a great deal. The Feedback amp lets you decide how much tube affected audio you want to hear. Turning the knob on either side would give you the opposite results of each. Great for those who aren’t big fans of tube amps but want to try how they work without getting in to detail.
- One of a kind features such as Feedback and Focus Control. Makes the amp stand out from others
- Easy to use controls and quick to interpret usage methods
- Needs a bit of your attention and work to obtain effective results.
- Tube rolling could be a hassle.
Considering all aspects, we can not stop to tell you what a find this beauty is. With the price range of $ 1000, what more could you simply want.
7. FiiO Q5 – Best Bluetooth Headphone Amplifier
The Chinese based company FiiO has totally outdone itself with its range of amplifiers. The Q5 is no exception. Being one of the best portables in the market, the Q5 carries some astounding features. Even if carrying a portable amplifier along is a daunting activity, some of you might not regret it.
Portable amplifiers are not really popular for the best sound quality around. The mini amps as such, lack that capacity. That’s not too much of a problem with Q5. The amp can manage audio till 32 bit/ 384 kHz. And for DSD it runs best up to 256 at an average. Now they are some loud figures. This shows that the FiiO Q5 has absolutely no liability in carrying huge audio albums, at the same time retaining the original great quality. With a built in aptX Bluetooth and exclusive controls, you can now identify the excellent sound experience you will be getting.
Q5 should be lauded at how it ramps up the audio experience and improves the quality of sound that we get traditionally through our phones. The clarity and seamlessly articulated frequencies shows us what real music sounds like.
You can easily navigate all controls. One balanced headphone output is present while another regular 3.5 mm one. One USB port for connectivity and the other for charging. The balanced output can take upto 16-150 ohms of impedance. And the standard port is a bit limited. The Bluetooth aptX makes life easier for you through its smooth connectivity.
The light and small portable amp allows an impressive module swap too. Quite interesting isn’t it?
- Commendable sound quality
- Module swapping system included
- High price for market comparative performance.
- Limitations in some notable features and control options.
The price may not be likeable to some of you. But it is a fact that some of you would actually be willing to pay up to $ 350 for gaining the ultimate FiiO experience. Like we said, preference above all.
6. Wells Audio Headtrip – Best Solid State AMP
When looking for over the top and extraordinary properties, you would often find this very suggestion. Wells amplifier is what you call a ‘dollar amp’. The price may be outrageous but what it offers is much more than that. This amplifier is not what you will find in conventional house based setup but at huge sound exhibits and parties of the leisurely.
The solid state amplifier offers no DAC settings. It handles headphone impedance at the impeccable range of 4-2000 ohms. Talk about massive.
The out of this world sound quality is because of the following features. The Wells Audio Headtrip is a one of a kind Class A amp. The power packed black box contains full AC purifiers and amazing polarity control features. Some say it is the best you can get. Now its up to you.
- Outstanding sound efficiency and standard
- Static and trusted quality.
- Heavy-duty pricing range
- Size can create mobility and space issues.
Other alternates by Wells are offered too, if this becomes too anti budget for you.
Price range- $ 7000 only.
5. Sony TA-ZH1ES – One of The best Amplifires on Amazon
Sony’s hybrid amplifier is another great lookout for you. Obviously, it would go best with Sony Walkman and other gadgets under the Sony banner. But let’s not limit it quite yet. Anything affiliated with a high-end label as Sony, definitely has great things in store.
Don’t go for the bland name here. The TA-ZH1ES is the finest of its kind. The hefty black and gold intricately designed cuboid contains an admirable DAC. Catches upto 12-600 ohms of impedance. There is also much more to know.
TA-ZH1ES holds a smart circuitry system. The amp works by combining analogue and digital particles to produce best sound efficacy. The best is yet to come. Sony has advanced the amp system immensely. The final processing mode is supported by the Field-programmable gate array processor which functions to clear out any mistakes or errors before final output. Efficiency at its best.
The results are as ever satisfactory. You will find absolutely no distortion. None at all. Pure melodic pleasure is what you get.
Just as we started appreciating the transparency and smooth flow of sound through the Sony amp, we discovered the DSD audio feature. The DSD inclusion in a standard hybrid amplifier was a surprising yet awesome revelation. It is simply a high quality sound feature, which surely makes the Sony TA-ZH1ES stand out in all cases. The sound clarity is beyond comprehension. You wouldn’t know any better after trying.
The DSD Remastering Technology, that comes along too with the package wasn’t what we had expected. Its conversion of audio output to the highest quality through the DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) was just satisfactory. Testing showed no major changes one could remark for.
Externally, the Sony amp is no less amazing. The rear handle contains variable media components. The inputs have a USB-B, an optical, coax and a line level port. Very detailed and very helpful. These are easy to spot and inject with the given labels below each.
Output ports have great additional ports too. Other than two traditional ones of 3.6 mm and 6.5 mm, 3 balanced ones of 4.4 mm and a duo of mini plugs are present. Way to go Sony! You can not find a varied output as such in the market yet.
- Sound transparency and clarity
- Smooth and easily understandable usage methods
- Aesthetically pleasing external features
- Quality structure and strong build
- Highly priced
- Not easily available at most of the places
Sony TA-ZH1ES costs $ 2188. Pricey? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
4. Woo Audio WA7- Headphone AMP with Immersive Sound Quality
The Woo Audio 7 or ‘Fireflies’ is a wonderful amplifier and DAC system. The amp handles an impedance of 8-600 ohms. Structure wise the amp offers an eye-catching view. Glass roofed with a beautifully organised display of tubes the look attributes to its given nickname.
The internal engine is backed by the Class A system. Therefore, distortions are at a minimum and you get to feel the true clarified version of the audio. All this is powered by an external supply.
The full DAC system along with the enhanced sound effects from the tubing makes listening to music all the more worthwhile. The static and durable properties are a hard miss. Tube rolling is easy and fun to do. The exclusivity of jamming up your audio moments makes the Woo Audio an exciting amp technology.
- Elegant outward display features.
- Mesmerising and immersive sound quality
- Unreliable stock tubes
- Limited options and controls
Woo Audio A7 can cost you up to $ 999. Not too bad for such a high standard amplifier technology.
3. Audio Quest Dragonfly Red – Best Compact AMP
The original 2012 Dragonfly was indeed a laudable creation. The Red follows steps and has undoubtedly become one of the most talked about DAC + solid state amplifiers. The miniature USB carries features far greater than its size. You just need to plug, connect and play!
Following the external build of the Dragonfly, the innards are bound to impress. You can not be fooled by the size because the sound quality is strikingly similar to all the high end overly pricey amplifiers. The portable feature also adds on to this. Even if the quality may not reach as high as of the high stocked amps around, it is totally justified within the given properties of Dragonfly Red.
- Miniature build
- Best audio output in the range
- Does not have mighty power features usually found
Pricing at $ 200 only, you wouldn’t want to wait to grab it as soon as possible.
2. Burson Audio PLAY – Best for Profeesionals
Burson has been in the market since long specially for its splendid range of amplifiers. Burson’s Soloist and Conductor are still considered top of the range amplifiers of this era. The Audio PLAY however carries distinctive properties that we will discuss below. This latest creation by Burson is bound to turn some heads around.
Amplifiers usually come up within two categories. One gives you a simplistic plug and play feature as keeps you at ease. While the other complicated the sound play gadget and gives you the independence to play with the music. Guess what? PLAY gives you both.
So if you are new and aspire to purchase an amplifier then PLAY is the one for you. And for those who know the real drill, you won’t get a better package than this. We can safely say that this is one of those amps, perfect for everyone. Let’s see how this works.
The amateur users have the leisurely feature to just plug in their headphones, kick back and play their favourite music. You have been given the targeted ports and controls right on the front. And a huge volume knob. Very accommodating in usage.
As for all the amplifier nerds here is the thing. You want to test your music? Simply remove the upper lid and land on the place where the magic takes place. The internal engine of the PLAY is open to your needs. You can work with op-amps. Switching, twisting or swapping them to create your desired sound. For those who don’t know, op-amps work as electronic elements of the amplifier that do the main thing of transitioning better sound quality to your ears. We’re telling this to you in the most non-technical way, so that you choose wisely.
Along with the incredible duo technology here are other facts. Did you know how well PLAY goes with a quality approved pair of headphones. You will only find out if you try. Which we suggest you should. High end headphones pricing above $ 800 will give you the experience of your life. One suggestion we would give is the AUDEZE LCD2C. The combination is one that you call made for each other.
- Best of both worlds. Newbies and professionals both can get the best out of it
- Sound testing features are highly appreciated
- Bass settings could improve.
The Burson Audio PLAY is the choice for the generation. The ideal concept is that you get to purchase from a range of prices from $299 to $549. You get your desired price and settings all together. And thus it makes up for the secondary level.
1. Schiit Audio Magni 3 – The Best headphone Amplifire of 2019 (Editors Pick)
Ah, there we are. It is exciting to share with you regarding the features of this beauty.
Schiit has created a class of its own by introducing the Magni series. The older versions that is the Magni, Magni 2 or the Magni 2 Uber had us all up for praise. But the amalgamated version of all of them; the Magni 3 is totally something else.
The shocking factor here for all of you must be the placement of a $ 99 standard amplifier on the top. A fact to wonder indeed is that what exactly can a $99 amplifier offer to be literally made the top choice. Believe us, this review will truly make you forget the price factor.
The loveliest of our imaginations still can not do justice to the moments spent hearing music with the Magni 3. The high definition sound effects will make you want to keep this amp with you forever.
The feature that got us driven away with awe and admiration is the adequate sound amplification. The balance between the high to low notes, the open, clear and crisp sounds won our hearts over and over.
It was not even what you call exemplary but gave a statically strong feel to the music. Moreover we enjoyed what we were listening. The Magni 3 is not occupied with the analogue to digital converter like the Fulla 2 amp, but satisfies us anyway.
A single downside was the Magni’s lack of capacity to give power. We tried and tasted all kinds of headphones but no significant improvement was felt. With impedance range 250 ohms the Beyer Dynamic Amiron home was tested. Good sound was produced but there was an issue with achieving the ideal volume. Turning the volume all the way round did not really solve the situation. But this is not something to go berserk over. A few alterations here and there will fix the dilemma.
Being an advanced version of the Magni 2, the latest Magni has too much to offer. Remaining price resistant, this amp has an addition OF RCA outputs. Better more durable than the conventional, the 3rd generation Magni includes instant shutdown facility and a new gain stage.
The outlook is also quite appeasing. Silver themed and curved along the ends, this amplifier has most basic controls. The front area is levelled up with a much likeable volume knob. Also a 6.3 mm headphone jack. At the back rear you will find a simplistic view of the Schiit logo along with 2 RCA inputs and outputs. A power jack and two clearly navigable switches are found.
- Suitable and likeable to all kinds of customers
- Tops in the amp range for best sound enhancement
- Not that power driven
- No digital to analogue conversion system available
- Requires a DAC
The Magni 3 tops the race by becoming the most popular amplifier preference around. And also at just $ 99! You might agree with us by now for how useful this miniature sized gadget could be for all you music lovers out there.
That’s what we could vouch out for you from the hundreds of favourable options. After vigorous selections and testing methods, the top ten were finalized. We made sure to keep the range as diverse as we could. So catering to all of you would be possible.
But at the end of the day, the choice would be dependent upon you. We may have given you a very clear idea of where you are and what you might be interested in. But the final decision lies with you.
We suggest however that you don’t limit yourself to one type. Explore your options and find the amplifier made for you.
Whether it’s the strength of a solid state amp or the variation in a tube amp or maybe the mixture effects of both. You should be sure to risk out yourself for wider options.
If portable is what you are looking for, then don’t forget to be mindful of all properties. Some maybe limited to your basic requirements. And if you have the urge to get a desktop amplifier, one of a kind robust and reliable, then you should know well enough where to spend your green notes rightly.
Not just the amp types, we have also discussed the customer types. This is to ensure that you have been imparted with enough statistical and analytical knowledge from our side.
One thing never to compromise on, and you know that well enough, is the quality. An average looking desktop amp doesn’t cost any less than 200 dollars on the market. The highest price can go up to $ 7000. Be sure to avail the best value for your money.
Some say that the greater the price of the headphones the more it has the chances of being compatible with an amplifier. This is because the quality of the sound output should be qualified enough to produce the completely amplified or transformed version of it. This applies on many cases however the sound quality mostly relies on what amplifier you are using. Some great amps are known to work best with all kinds of headphone impedance ranges.
Another important thing to know is your affordability range for a DAC. If you can not for instance manage to buy one, then be sure to get an amplifier that has an inbuilt DAC technology.
We could go into details about the internal functioning of an amplifier and give you a comparative analysis. But we know you’d only be more confused about all the technicalities involved. That job should remain with the concerned engineers. No need to worry about in-depth details when choosing an amplifier. And after all we are just concerned with getting a great audio experience. The information contained here is more than needed to know the basic details of purchasing the ideal headphone amplifier for yourself.
Amplifiers are the need of today’s fast paced demands. You can not come close to feeling quality music without the assistance of one. So it is better that you invest in one immediately. Keep this guide as your faithful accomplice and you will be sure to buy the amp you need.
Hope this article was helpful for you all. Happy listening everyone!