If you’re an audiophile like I am, you’ve probably spent a good amount of money on getting yourself a really nice pair of headphones to listen to some music with high quality sound. However, if you’re not well versed in the audio technology universe, you may find that the volume and quality of your 500$ headphones is lackluster. The problem isn’t your headphones, it’s likely that you don’t have an amp connected to them.
Headphone amplifiers basically modify and enhance the sound signal coming through the source to bring amazing sound quality to your ears. Most mid to high end headphones have high impedance levels, which means that they need more power to run their drivers and produce the quality of sound that they’re capable of, along with decent volume as well. Not only do they help with powering the drivers, but they also increase sound quality. They make your audio signal sound clearer and true with the least amount of distortion.
While some devices have a decent DAC and headphone amp built-in, to provide mediocre (but not great) sound, the amps in most devices don’t cut it. Even if you have a separate audio interface, you definitely need an amp with it. That’s why if you’re an audiophile and want to get the most out of your headphones, you should get yourself a dedicated headphone amp. Since there’s a wide variety of headphone amps available in the market, with different features and characteristics, it can be quite difficult to choose which one suits your needs the best. Therefore we’ve curated a list of the best headphone amps available.
1. Schiit Magni 3 Heresy
Best Dedicated Amp
In-built DAC: No | Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHzz | Sample Rate: N/A | Bit Rate: N/A | Output Power at 300Ω: 410mW RMS per channel | Output Power at 600Ω: 215mW RMS per channel
Last Update on 2020-06-11 using Amazon Product Advertising API
If you’re an audiophile and you’ve spent some time looking for a headphone amp yourself, you’ve definitely come across Shiit. They’re one of the best headphone amp manufacturers out there which specialize in providing absolutely incredible sound quality in astonishingly affordable prices. The new Magni 3 Heresy continues the legacy of the Magni 3. It provides incredible audio quality in a very affordable price. The sound is even better now. It provides more depth in the sound stage while still retaining its clarity and pure notes while staying clear of any distortion with an extremely low noise floor. It’s less flat and has a little more oomph to it. It’s cased in a black and red, two toned desktop design with a sturdy build. It does have an annoyingly large wall wart adapter which provides its power, which is slightly unsettling to plug in, in this day and age.
The Magni 3 Heresy is an upgrade from the Magni 3 in a number of ways. It has better specs and a utilization of a 100% op-amps to further improve its sound. It provides astonishing quality, natural feeling sound with good depth and clarity. The Heresy has an extremely low noise floor so you can’t hear background distortion even in premium, studio quality headphones. It also provides a ton of output power which is impressive.
It has good build quality with a two-tone, red and black color scheme running through it, giving it a slightly hip outlook. It has a desktop build, since it’s a dedicated amp it needs other equipment for it to be part of a full setup, the portability doesn’t pose much of an issue in that regard. One problem some mainstream users may have is that it doesn’t have a built-in DAC, so if you want premium audio quality to match this headphone amp, you’ll need to spend some bucks on getting a DAC to complete your setup.
In conclusion, if you’re willing to get yourself a DAC along with the Magni 3 Heresy, it’s the best option available to take the sound output to your headphones to an almost professional level. It has great depth and quality of sound, along with very low distortion and extremely low noise floor. All of that, given its price, is well worth it for the right audiophile who wants a dedicated amp.
2. CHORD Mojo
Affordable Premium Quality
In-built DAC: Yes | Frequency Response: N/A | Sample Rate: upto 768 kHz | Bit Rate: 32-bit | Output Power at 8Ω: 720mW | Output Power at 600Ω: 35mW
Last Update on 2020-06-11 using Amazon Product Advertising API
CHORD Mojo is a portable, pocket sized headphone amplifier with a built-in DAC. It produces amazing sound quality, nearing the quality of some of the premium, professional level headphone amps out there, which cost above a thousand dollars. Some say its quality matches that of the CHORD Hugo, which is priced just under 2000$. This credit card sized, super portable amp has a max sample rate of a whopping 768 kHz. No one in their right mind actually really needs that high of a sample rate but it’s still pretty nice to have that sort of a spec in a relatively medium-range amp. Its aluminum build is sturdy and feels solid in the hands, so you don’t have to worry about it being fragile in use. One thing that may cause concern is that it tends to heat up after long hours of use.
The Mojo is a winner in this price bracket for the quality and resolution of sound it can help your headphones produce. With a max sample rate of up to an astonishing 768 kHz and a 32-bit bit rate, the resolution is spectacular. It has amazing depth and quality of sound, with clear tones, moderate richness which never feels overdone and pureness in sound. You’ll never be left wanting more out of a headphone amp in this regard. Moreover, it also has a built-in DAC so you won’t need to get one separately for optimal performance. It has multiple input methods covered and can easily be used with a smartphone, laptop or PC.
It’s got an aircraft grade aluminum casing which adds a ton of sturdiness and strength to the device, so you don’t have to worry about damaging it in any way if you keep it in your pocket or place it on your desk. Speaking of pockets, the Mojo is super portable and provides an ease of which other desktop headphone amps simply cannot. Its battery powered and can last more than 8 hours, depending on the headphones used, which is quite a lot in the case of headphone amps.
Overall, CHORD’s Mojo, (which stands for More-Joy) provides amazing sound quality, a decent battery backup in a small, portable form factor with a solid build, which leaves the user fully satisfied. The portable, compact build, attractive LED lights and black aluminum outlook add to its charm. All in all, the Mojo is a great choice for anyone looking to buy a great, portable headphone amp in under 500$.
The successor to the AudioQuest DragonFly Black and Red, the DragonFly Cobalt is a new addition in AudioQuest’s line of ultra-portable, USB-shaped headphone amplifiers. It’s got crisp, clear, natural sound which provides clean insights. The cobalt color is attractive and the overall build of the amp is modeled to mimic the shape of a USB. It’s got a built-in DAC so there’s no further equipment needed to get your headphones to sound their best. It has a simple USB input and a 3.5mm headphone jack. It can be used with your phone with the DragonTail adapter, which is a little loose when used with most phones and can disconnect at times, which is slightly annoying. It has an LED which switches color based on sampling rates, and turns purple when decoding MQA.
The real value of the DragonFly Cobalt, and true upgrades come into play when you plug it in and start listening to music. Whether you’re streaming music from YouTube, Spotify or listening to high-res music from any other platform, you’ll experience fuzz-free, precise, clean sound which just feels natural. There’s quite a lot of granular detail around each instrument when listened through a good pair of cans. It features an open soundstage and wide dynamic range, so it doesn’t sound isolated and closed off either.
It has an aesthetically pleasing build and is super portable. You can easily use it with your PC, laptop or even your smartphone. To connect it with your smartphone you’ll need the DragonTail adapter which tends to be slightly loose when connected, resulting in frequent disconnection. This can get slightly annoying if you’re listening to music while having a brisk walk.
In conclusion, the DragonFly Cobalt provides great sound quality with clean, natural sound output through your headphones. It’s ultra-portable with its cobalt colored USB shaped build. All in all, the Cobalt is definitely worth its price and is a great buy for music lovers who tend to enjoy listening to high quality music on the go.
FiiO is one of the top players in the headphone amplifier industry, manufacturing high quality, affordable equipment. The K3 is the company’s upgrade to the E10K, and it’s a significant upgrade after all. It’s now a more portable, compact design with a strong, machined aluminum body. It provides a balanced, neutral high quality sound. It can decode high quality music and high-res files of up to 384 kHz and 32-bit bit rate. It does have a slight failing with highly sensitive headphones, in which you can notice slight noise which is undesirable.
The FiiO K3 is another affordable, portable headphone amp with a built-in DAC. It’s got surprisingly good audio quality given its price and overall specifications. It comes with a number of connectivity options on the device, including coaxial, optical and USB-C, so there’s plenty of choices in that department, depending on what you’re playing your music through. When connected, it provides neutral, balanced sound output which can be adjusted through the knobs on the device itself. It has a textured volume knob with LED lights around its bottom, signaling what kind of digital audio is being input to the device.
For power users and audiophiles, the K3 is capable of decoding up to 384 kHz/DSD 256 decoding, using the 2.0 mode. In most instances, you can use the 1.0 mode for 96kHz/24-bit decoding. The K3 provides deep bass even though it’s not the most powerful amp out there, making it an even better buy. The mid ranges have significant detail, with noticeable separation between instruments and vocals.
All in all, the sonic performance of the K3 is fantastic for its price range. It has a compelling, portable design with extensive connectivity features and high-res decoding for detailed, natural sound quality. As is usual with FiiO’s products, it’s a fantastic buy for anyone on a budget looking for a headphone amp with a built-in DAC to use with their laptop, PC or smartphone and mid to high range headphones.
The Nobsound NS-08E is the cheapest amp in this list. It’s a hybrid amp, which means it has vacuum tubes which are used to power the pre-amp, whereas the solid-state/transistor part is used to power the amp output of the audio signal. It’s a standalone amp and requires a separate DAC to be fully operational, which can be taxing for some users who want a headphone amp and DAC in one device. However, the NS-08E makes up for the lack of DAC with its powerful sound output, flashy, attractive design and overall warm sound quality. One issue that is common with tube amps is that it has noticeable distortion and noise in the signal which can be slightly annoying for those who like pure sound output.
Tube amps are classic. Even though most amps these days are solid state, tube amps have their own place due to the unique sound signal they put out. The NS-08E is just a hybrid, but it still gives out that unique, smooth sound signal that we all love to hear from tube amps. It provides a nice, warm signal in the midranges while retaining detail and separation between instruments quite well too.
Since the NS-08E is super powerful, it can drive headphones which its competitors may struggle with, with ease. It belches out a lively, full of bass signal even with high impedance, power demanding headphones. Plus, it’s the perfect size for a desktop amp. Not too big, and not too small. It retains the charm of a tube amp with two vacuum tubes sticking out the top of the aluminum casing, giving its aesthetics a boost.
Overall, the Nobsound NS-08E is a budget, hybrid amp which provides a powerful signal for even the most demanding headphones. It has unique, lively and warm sound output with slight distortion, which may or may not be wanted, given the users’ preference. It also looks great sitting on a desk, so for anyone who wants a cheap hybrid amp and doesn’t mind the unique, slightly noisy distortion, the NS-08E is a great choice.