The 10 Best Headphone Amplifiers
10. Cyrus Soundkey
- great for hi-fi streaming services
- digital analog converter is built in
- difficult to use with ios devices
|Rating||3.6 / 5.0|
9. FiiO A1 Portable
- simple controls
- 13 hours of battery life
- plastic clip is fragile
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
8. Bravo Audio Ocean Mini
- no crossover distortion
- fits easily into a bag or purse
- still runs slightly hot
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
7. AudioQuest DragonFly
- easy to use with mobile devices
- usb end cap included
- very occasional distortion
|Rating||3.9 / 5.0|
6. FiiO E10K USB
- very simple to operate
- small footprint
- driver support is lacking
|Rating||3.7 / 5.0|
5. Apogee Groove Portable
- superior quad sum dac design
- ultra low distortion
- connects to any mac or pc
|Rating||4.4 / 5.0|
4. Behringer HA400
- independent volume knobs per channel
- 12v dc adapter included
- backed by a 3-year warranty
|Rating||4.2 / 5.0|
3. Marantz HD
- connects to power amps or speakers
- includes a jitter remover
- retro-style side panels
|Rating||5.0 / 5.0|
2. BoomCloud 360 BoomStick
- increases bass response
- two easy volume settings
- outputted sound is slightly fuller
|Rating||4.6 / 5.0|
1. Beyerdynamic A20 Silver
- reliable hard-wired design
- high-grade alps potentiometer
- attractive yet robust construction
|Rating||4.5 / 5.0|
Do You Even Need A Headphone Amplifier?
A headphone amplifier takes the amplifier idea and condenses it. Headphone amplifiers vary in size from fitting in the palm of your hand to taking up the same amount of space as a portable DVD player.
If you listen to the majority of your music on your mobile devices, then you already know that they lack the power and capabilities to produce the intense sound you want. A headphone amplifier will add the necessary power to turn your average headphones into high quality speakers. Most mobile devices already have an amplifier built into the system. But these are rarely sufficient to produce the level of sound a dedicated audiophile wants.
The headphone amplifiers on the market today are compatible with most mobile devices, laptops, and desktop computers. Some are specifically designed to be used with mobile devices while others work better with computers and their specific audio equipment. The higher-end amplifiers can accommodate up to four sets of headphones. You will also find that some of these amplifiers come with USB ports that are helpful for streaming and file transfers. A huge advantage to using a headphone amplifier is that it allows for precise adjustments so you can customize your audio experience.
Most of the headphone amplifiers that you are going to encounter in your search are solid state amplifiers. These amps come complete with a digital to analog converter and reproduce music with accuracy.
How To Buy A Headphone Amplifier
The simplest reason for purchasing a headphone amplifier is to produce a higher quality sound than what you would have otherwise. Most average headphones on the market are not designed with the best quality sound in mind and will not help you to fully enjoy the intricacies of your audio files. A headphone amplifier is going to improve your sound while taking the pressure off of your sound system.
While you are going to run into many types of headphone amplifiers, choosing the right one is usually as simple as considering your needs and how you plan to use it. If you are hitting the gym, you might just need to get a decent set of headphones. If you want an all-around, portable experience while on frequent flights and business trips, a portable amp is a safe bet. If you frequently work on studio recordings or are adamant about high-quality sound at all times no matter if you are using a mobile device or your laptop, consider an amp that sits on your desktop.
Here are a few additional factors to consider if you are in the market for a headphone amplifier.
Find out your headphone impedance. This is generally indicated by an ohm symbol on the product packaging or description. If the impedance is below 100, you might not need to worry about an amplifier, although it can still enhance the audio experience. Low impedance headphones are specifically designed for low power devices such as MP3 players. If it is above 100, start shopping for that amplifier because high impedance headphones need more power to produce a quality sound.
Consider your headphone sensitivity. Let’s face it: some headphones just don’t get loud enough. Or they get loud, but the sound quality drops dramatically when the volume is boosted. If your headphones sensitivity is shown to be under 100DB (decibels) at 1mw (Milliwat) of power, you probably need a headphone amplifier to reach the volume level and sound quality that you want.
Once you have established that you are going to buy a headphone amplifier, consider the type you want. Do you want a portable amp or one that will spend most of its time on your desktop? If you spend a lot of time at home or in the studio, you need a desktop amplifier. Don’t worry - these are usually small enough to transport from place to place if necessary. However, if you find yourself on the go a lot, go ahead and invest in the portable amp. It can still function as a desktop amplifier when necessary, but you can leave your desk whenever you need to without having to worry about unplugging a bunch of cords.
A Brief History of the Headphone Amplifier
The invention of the amplifier dates back as far as Thomas Edison. While it was not his intention, he inadvertently discovered an electrical current that could be used to transfer radio waves and produce sound. While he did not continue the work to bring this invention to fruition, others such as British physicist Joseph John Thomson and British scientist John Ambrose Fleming built on his work and created an “oscillation valve” that made this possible.
Not long after, American scientist Lee de Forest added an element to the tube Fleming created and made a direct-current grid that he dubbed the “Audion.” Edwin Howard Armstrong linked two circuits between a stronger and weaker current ultimately creating the Amplifier.
The first headphones were marketed to the public in the 1930s. Beyerdynamic claims the world’s “first dynamic headphones” that were sold in 1937. This company’s headphones are still widely used by video and sound professionals today. John C. Koss, a popular Jazz musician, invented stereo headphones in the late 1950s that gained instant popularity with music lovers and musicians.
In 1998, Bluetooth technology hit the scene and revolutionized the way people listen to music. The increased use of mobile devices and electronics in the production and enjoyment of video and audio files has made things like headphone amplifiers a regular staple in the world of musicians, producers, audiophiles, and average music lovers alike.