Last Updated on October, 27th 2020
So, you are finally happy with your headphones. They look great, and more importantly they sound great. Or so you think. Unless you are using an amplifier with enough power to drive them, you could be getting a lower quality sound than you are entitled to! Well, help is at hand!
We’ve read hundreds of reviews, talked to a load of musicians, and listened to hours of music through the latest and best headphone amps. It was fun. It was also so we can tell you that the SPL Phonitor 2 is the best headphone amp you can get at the moment. It offers incredible sound quality, unparalleled sound control, and professional quality audio at amateur prices. If you are looking for a headphone amp that will provide the very best listening experience, this is the one to go for.
Editor’s Pick – Top Pick
SPL Phonitor 2
Well, where to start? This is simply the best sounding headphone amp available at the moment. If you are looking ...
User Rating: ( votes)
Schiit Asgard 2
An absolute classic, re—imagined for the modern age. Schiit are a really amazing brand, and have become one of ...
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Woo Audio WA7
This is simply a great headphone amp, and represents amazing value. If our reviews were based on looks alone, ...
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Audeze are best known for their range of headphones, which have been favorites of musicians and audiophiles alike ...
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JDS Labs Objective 2
The Objective 2 has become something of a favorite of musicians and audiophiles over the past few years, packing ...
User Rating: ( votes)
Best Headphone Amps For the Money
|SPL Phonitor 2||21.4 x 15.4 x 7.9 inches||12.5 pounds||2.7 W @ 32 ohms
|Woo Audio WA7||4.8 x 4.8 x 5.1 inches||25 pounds||1 W @ 32 ohms
|Schiit Asgard 2||9 x 2.2 x 6 inches||5 pounds||1 W @ 32 ohms
|Audeze Deckard||19.1 x 13.7 x 7.9 inches||8.1 pounds||4 W @ 20 ohms
|JDS Labs Objective 2||4.2 x 3.1 x 1.1 inches||2 pounds||1.1 W @ 32 ohms
What is a Headphone Amp?
In the simplest possible terms, a headphone amp is an amp specifically designed to amplify music for your headphones
Why do you need this, you ask?
Well, if you have a good set of headphones, and are not using a dedicated headphone amp, you are simply not getting the best quality sound. If your headphones are plugged directly into your computer, you are using a substandard sound card.
Even if your laptop is really high-end, the environment inside your computer is electronically noisy, and results in all kinds of unwanted bleed and noise.
These headphone amps aim to provide the best quality sound for headphones. Professional musicians and producers always use headphone amps (1) such as these, as they allow them to really hear the music they are making, but their utility extends way beyond this.
If you are editing video, or simply an audiophile who wants to hear your music at the best possible quality, a headphone amp is a necessity.
In addition, getting a headphone amp typically adds a great deal of flexibility to your home audio set up. The headphone amps we are reviewing today come with extensive options to adjust the output passed to your headphones, ensuring that you always have crystal clear tones.
When talking about headphone amps, things get really technical really quick. If you already know the difference between a NOS 12ATC7 tube and a 6NT3 one, this review is not for you. Here, we’re prioritizing the sound that each headphone amp offers, in conjunction with its ease of use, and additional features.
Of course, no one amp can be right for everyone, and there is nothing like hearing these amps for yourself. A few things to look for in any headphone amp, though, are:
What to look for in a quality headphone amp:
- Power. A lot of people talk a lot about power, as though it was a measure of how good an amp is. This is simply a lie. Remember that these amps are designed to power headphones, so 1 watt per channel is more than adequate, and in any case way above what your laptop produces!
- Size. This depends, obviously, on how much space you have in your studio, but if you are already hemmed in by audio equipment, consider getting a headphone amp that is compact.
- Inputs and outputs. It might sound obvious, but make sure the amp you are looking at has the correct type of inputs, and enough of them, to accommodate all the gear you want to plug in.
Ultimately, there is no substitute for hearing these amps yourself. Everybody has different preferences when it comes to how they want their amp to sound. But you could do worse than checking out these ones:
1. Editor’s Pick: SPL Phonitor 2
Well, where to start? This is simply the best sounding headphone amp available at the moment. If you are looking for a headphone amp that will give you professional quality audio at amateur (ish!) prices, this is the one to get.
SPL, which stands for Sound Performance Labs (1), have been making professional audio equipment for some time now, and amps of this quality are normally seen in professional environments. This is SPL’s attempt to make an amp for amateurs, without compromising on the amazing sound quality their products offer.
It delivers this in spades. If you are get a chance to hear this amp in the flesh, we highly recommend that you do so. In comparison to listening through your computer’s sound card, or even in relation to the other amps we are reviewing today, the difference in audio quality is simply outstanding.
SPL, which stands for Sound Performance Labs, have been making professional audio equipment for some time now, and amps of this quality are normally seen in professional environments.
With this kind of amp, you get what you pay for, even at this level. Professionals would never compromise on a poor quality headphone amp, and so neither should you!
Really, that should be all we need to say. This amp sounds the best, period. But if you want lots of extra fancy features, it’s got those too:
- Let’s take our claims about the sound quality of this amp apart a bit. What really stands out with this amp is the vanishingly small level of noise it produces. Even at maximum volume, even with plenty of other equipment around it, you can hear virtually nothing.
- The level of control offered by this amp is unparalleled. Professional produces, in particular, really value these features, because it allows them to isolate particular tracks or monitor precisely what is going on with the track they are working on.
- These options include innovative features, including Crossfeed and Speaker Angle knobs. Even if you are just starting out with headphone amps, and don’t yet plan to make use of these features, knowing that your amp has enough options to grow with you as a musician or listener is great.
- The design is also great. Whilst this is one of the largest headphone amps we reviewed, in reality what this means is that all the controls are nicely spaced, and it is easy to see what you are doing without having to fiddle with tiny control dials. The styling of this headphone amp, which makes it look like an old-school mixing console, also looks great.
- We’re going to repeat ourselves here, but with good reason – this amp sounds amazing. Even without the added features it offers, the sheer level of the sound quality offered by the amp easily sets it apart from the competition. Seriously, just give it a listen.
- None, at the price. You get what you pay for with this kind of amp. If you are looking for the best sound quality available, short of spending five figures on a professional amp, this is the one to get.
2. Woo Audio WA7
This is simply a great headphone amp, and represents amazing value.
If our reviews were based on looks alone, this Woo Audio amp would win easily. I mean, just look at it. The glowing valves are encased in a glass housing, and when the lights are turned down in the studio its gentle glow looks amazing.
It has won the nickname “firefly” for itself, and it is not hard to see why!
Of course, if you are a serious audiophile, you will claim that you don’t care about such superficial things as how good a headphone amp looks. Don’t worry, this amp also sounds great.
The debate about whether tubes have a place in serious headphone amps is settled by this amp. Yes, it uses tubes, but in this device they are built into a Class A system (1), which results in stunning linearity. The amplification offered here lifts the sound, imparting warmth and clarity without unduly coloring it.
The debate about whether tubes have a place in serious headphone amps is settled by this amp. Yes, it uses tubes, but in this device they are built into a Class A system, which results in stunning linearity.
If you are looking for a tube headphone amp, you’ve found the best one.
In addition, is has these great features:
- This headphone amp is nicely compact. If your studio is already packed with gear, and you are already running out of desk space for your next gadget, this is a good option. And, as we already mentioned, it will look great, glowing amongst all your other kit.
- The USB input on this amp is really handy, and is a feature that some other headphone amps lack, to their detriment. This kind of connectivity is really handy if you are a musician, allowing you to use your other kit easily.
- If you play, or simply listen to, jazz, blues, or rock, this is the amp to get. The all-tube design used here gives a tone quality to these types of music which is hard to describe in words. Give it a listen, and we are sure that you’ll agree!
- Last but definitely not least, the sound of this amp is really impressive. It is deep and powerful, and the level of noise is stunningly low. This is undoubtedly helped by its separate power supply, which isolates any noise created by power cables that would otherwise color the amp’s sound.
- None, in truth. Some headphone amps at the same price offer a few more sound options, but if you are looking for a tube headphone amp which will really bring out the sound of classic tracks, this is it.
3. Schiit Asgard 2
An absolute classic, re—imagined for the modern age.
Schiit are a really amazing brand, and have become one of our favorite audio manufacturers over the past few years. All of their products are names after characters for Norse mythology, and the company is refreshingly candid about what they want to achieve with each product they lovingly design.
For this amp, they took what they learned from building the already classic “Mjolnir” headphone amp, and incorporated it into this compact design. Taking you through all the complex technical features of this amp would take pages, so we are not going to do that. Just trust us that this amp sounds incredible.
For this amp, they took what they learned from building the already classic “Mjolnir” headphone amp, and incorporated it into this compact design.
The sound is particularly suited to musicians or audiophiles who want bass. Maybe it’s a Scandi thing, but the bass on this amp sounds like rolling thunder. In fact, for this review, we spent many happy hours fiddling around with the amp’s settings, trying to reach the limits of its bass reproduction. We could not find them.
In addition, this amp comes with some great features:
- The amplification here is pure Class A, mixing JFET and MOSFET transistors to great effect. The MOSFET stage is powered by an 80 volt rail system, which allows this amplifier to significantly reduce distortion whilst retaining to no-feedback design of all of Schiit’s headphone amps.
- The Asgard 2 offers two gain settings – one designed for powering high-sensitivity IEMs, and one for most other headphones. If you use a few different pairs of headphones in your home studio, this is a great feature, and means that you do not need a separate headphone amp for each pair of cans you own!
- The pre-amp circuit can also be easily connect to desktop speakers, which adds another level of flexibility to this headphone amp. The people we talked to for this review praised this, as it saved lots of time in the studio!
- The amp is made in the USA, even the circuit boards. What this means is that you can be assured of the quality of each part of this amp, each of which has been rigorously quality controlled by the guys at Schiit. If you are spending this much on a headphone amp, you want to make sure that it is going to last the distance, and the build quality of this one assures that it will give many years of dedicated service.
- Very few. And, if you are having difficulties working your new amp, Schiit provide genuinely useful guides on using headphone amps like this!
4. Audeze Deckard
Audeze are best known for their range of headphones, which have been favorites of musicians and audiophiles alike for quite a few years now. So if you already own a pair, what could be better than getting an Audeze headphone amp to complete you setup?
Named after the principal character in Philip K. Dick’s cult novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this slab of sleek metal looks like it is from the future. Instead of cluttering the front panel with a plethora of options and switches, Audeze have gone for simplicity.
This is actually a great feature. In truth, if you are looking at buying a headphone amp, you are probably already listening through fancy software that will allow you to control every aspect of your sound.
Why duplicate exactly the same settings on a headphone amp, and give yourself something else to worry about?
Named after the principal character in Philip K. Dick’s cult novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, this slab of sleek metal looks like it is from the future
The amp sounds great, of course. As a solid-state device, some tube purists will complain that it doesn’t offer the warmth of vacuum tube amplification, but here you can be assured that the sound reproduction is totally accurate.
In addition, this amp has several big advantages:
- Not only can you use this headphone amp with your cans, it will also double as a pre-amp. There is a really useful switch on the front of the device which allows you to quickly swap between the modes, so when you are collaborating in the studio you can quickly let your colleagues know what that new track sounds like!
- The amp is really powerful, delivering more than enough oomph to power even high-impedance devices. In fact, the people we spoke to for this review recommended this amp for those of you who like to use vintage headphones, for which finding a suitable headphone amp can sometimes be difficult.
- We know it matters to some people, so we will mention that this headphone amp is totally made in the USA. Even if patriotism is not a driving force in your choice of headphone amps, it is nice to know that your device has been produced ethically, and to a high standard of quality.
- We know we are repeating ourselves, but just look at this amp! The clean lines and fully steel exterior make it look at home in any audio set up!
- Very few. The futuristic design of this amp may make the rest of your equipment look a but shabby, of course, but all that means is that you have an excuse for buying some upgrades!
5. JDS Labs Objective 2
The Objective 2 has become something of a favorite of musicians and audiophiles over the past few years, packing great quality sound and solid performance into a compact package.
Though this is not the most feature-packed device we are reviewing today, it really impresses where it matters – on sound quality. If you are in the market for this kind of headphone amp, of course, you are probably already listening through high-end audio software that allows you to design and change every aspect of what you are hearing, and so it is somewhat unnecessary to duplicate all these options on an amp!
If you are in the market for this kind of headphone amp, of course, you are probably already listening through high-end audio software that allows you to design and change every aspect of what you are hearing, and so it is somewhat unnecessary to duplicate all these options on an amp!
And in fact, this no-nonsense design has some advantages, allowing you to see what you are doing without worrying about whether your headphone amp is set up correctly.
Of course, this amp also has several more advantages:
- The build quality of this amp is second to none. It is, as you may of noticed already but will certainly notice when it turns up, really heavy. Whilst this may sound like a disadvantage, in fact this kind of headphone amp generally just sits on your desk, and so one installed the fact that it is a little cumbersome ceases to matter!
- The sound quality of this headphone amp is great. It delivers clean, crisp sound, even when pushed to the limit, and the larger casing seems to provide additional cooling properties, meaning that even when running at high power for extended periods, you can be sure that the amp will not fry!
- The sound options available on this amp, whilst not the most detailed of those we reviewed, are adequate, allowing you a nice level of control without burdening you with hundreds of options.
- Very few. At the price, this headphone amp offers some of the best sound quality we have heard. Whilst it is one of largest and heaviest headphone amps available, and is therefore not recommended for people who require their headphone amp to be portable, if you are looking for an affordable headphone amp for your home studio set up, you could do worse than considering this one!
Our Review of the Best Headphone Amps for the Money
So which to choose?
Well, your choice of headphone amp is yours alone, of course. Nothing can beat hearing these amps in the flesh, and finding one that perfectly matches the sound you want to achieve. All of the amps we reviewed today offer incredible sound that we are confident will please even the most discerning player.
Our choice, though, is the SPL Phonitor 2. It might be a bit pricey, but with this kind of amp you get what you pay for, and this is simply is the best headphone amp you can get at the moment. It offers incredible sound quality, unparalleled sound control, and professional quality audio at amateur prices. All the controls are well-spaced, and are a joy to use. If you are looking for a headphone amp that will provide the very best listening experience, this is the one to go for.
- 1 SPL Phonitor 2
- 2 Schiit Asgard 2
- 3 Woo Audio WA7
- 4 Audeze Deckard
- 5 JDS Labs Objective 2
- 6 Our Reviews
- 7 Our Review of the Best Headphone Amps for the Money
- 8 Additional Reading