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The 11 Best Headphone Amplifiers for High-Quality Monitoring

27/12/2023

For high-quality audio monitoring, headphone amplifiers are essential. They boost the signal from your audio source to deliver an exceptional, detailed sound through your headphones, making them indispensable for audiophiles and professionals alike.

If you’re on the hunt for one of these useful little tools – fret not, we’ve put together a list of the 11 best headphone amplifiers. There’s something for everyone here, and after reading, you’ll be well-equipped to choose the right headphone amp that caters to your needs.

In a hurry?

Want the best of the best? Here are our three favourites and why we like them:

iFi xDSD Gryphon Pro Pack DAC AmplifierExcellent audio quality with PureWave and OptimaLoop technologies.Check the current price
SubZero Passive Personal Headphone ControllerWith a compact design and a signal-to-noise ratio of -95dB, this is great for on-the-go listening. Check the current price
LD Systems HPA1 Headphone and Wired IEM AmplifierPerfect for live shows with Peak LED indicator and convenient belt clip.Check the current price

The best headphone amps

1. iFi xDSD Gryphon Pro Pack DAC Amplifier

iFi xDSD Gryphon Pro Pack DAC AmplifierKey features

  • 5.1 Bluetooth receiver with up to 24-bit/96kHz aptX HD codec
  • Multiple sonic enhancement tools, including XSpace and XbassII
  • Supports up to 24-bit/196kHz digital audio quality

Pros

  • Immaculate, audiophile audio fidelity on the go
  • Multiple inputs to connect different equipment
  • Simple usage with a multi-functional rotary encoder

Cons

  • Expensive for a solid-state DAC and headphone amp

The iFi xDSD Gryphon Pro Pack DAC Amplifier delivers unparalleled transparency and sound quality, making it one of the best in the market. Thanks to its PureWave circuit design and OptimaLoop technology, audio signals are kept pure and distortion-free, ensuring an immaculate listening experience.

This DAC amplifier is incredibly versatile with various inputs and outputs, including coaxial, USB-C, and analog. Its state-of-the-art Bluetooth connectivity also allows for seamless wireless connection to your devices. Plus, there are dual analog headphone outputs, offering extensive monitoring options and precise control over your audio.

Its rotary multi-function knob provides intuitive control over volume, power, muting, and menu browsing. And with such a user-friendly design, the amp is perfect for professional monitoring applications, delivering accurate audio representation and high-quality sound reproduction.

Better still, it’s great for on-the-go use thanks to the compact size and long-life lithium polymer battery charged by a separate USB-C port.


2. SubZero Passive Personal Headphone Controller

SubZero Passive Personal Headphone ControllerKey features

  • Passive design eliminates batteries
  • Extremely compact size with belt clip
  • 1/4” input with 3.5mm output

Pros

  • Incredibly easy operation with one large volume dial
  • Perfect for on-the-go audio
  • Eliminates the need for batteries for unrestricted listening

Cons

  • Limited in functionality

With transparency and sound quality, the SubZero Passive Personal Headphone Controller is an excellent on-the-go solution. It’s compact, easy to use, and entirely passive, meaning there are no batteries or powering to worry about. The addition of a belt pack clip is a nice touch to keep it secure.

Not only is it convenient, but it also performs well. Featuring a signal-to-noise ratio of -95dB, you can be sure that your audio will be accurate and clear at all times.

However, it does only come with a single 3.5mm headphone output – though this is great if you want the basics with no extra fuss. It’s also worth bearing in mind that any addition of Bluetooth or other connectivity would likely mean it will no longer be passive, therefore reducing the portability and convenience.

All in all, the SubZero passive Personal Headphone Controller is ideal for the music lover on the go, in the office, or at home.


3. PreSonus HP4 4 Channel Distribution Amplifier

PreSonus HP4 4 Channel Distribution AmplifierKey features

  • Four channels of high-quality headphone amplification
  • Can drive headphones up to 50 Ohms
  • Compact in size to keep your desktop uncluttered

Pros

  • Independent headphone output and global Monitor Level output
  • Daisy chain multiple units together via Monitor Outputs
  • 130mW per channel output delivers extremely high dynamic range

Cons

  • Only includes stereo inputs from one sound source

A small and compact unit that delivers a good punch, the PreSonus HP4 Headphone Amplifier boasts a lot of power under the hood. Four headphone outputs each feature their own volume controls, with a global Mute and Mono control to tailor the listening needs quickly.

For enhanced flexibility, each channel could feature independent Mono and Mute buttons, though this would add to the already affordable price tag, so it’s a delicate balance to strike.

Each headphone output can deliver up to 130mW per channel, making it ideal for studio and live situations rather than home listening, providing enough power to cut through loud performances – you can hear exactly what’s going on in your headphones. With enough dynamic range and up to 51 Ohms per output, the PreSonus does an amicable job of replicating the original signal with precision.

The HP4 also includes stereo-thru outputs. With this, you can chain multiple HP4 amplifiers together as part of a larger system to cater to more headphones for studio or live usage. Very handy!


4. Behringer HA6000 6-Channel Headphone Amplifier

Behringer HA6000 6-Channel Headphone AmplifierKey features

  • Powers twelve headphones for listening to up to six different mixes simultaneously
  • Clipping LED meter with Low and High EQ per output
  • Capable of driving from 8- to 100-Ohm headphones

Pros

  • Perfect for home studios with multiple musicians monitoring simultaneously
  • Flexible connectivity with XLR and 1/4” TRS inputs
  • Rack-mountable makes it ideal for studio or live storage

Cons

  • No “mute” function

Designed for studios and live performances, the Behringer HA6000 Headphone Amplifier offers six independently controllable outputs for multiple musicians simultaneously. There are even adjustable input/aux sections, so you can decide which mix you want to hear more of.

Though its strong point is the connectivity, it’s still a very capable headphone amp in the traditional sense. It can drive a huge range of headphones up to 100 Ohms and down to as low as 8 Ohms with very good results. It remains clean and precise, even at maximum volume and the clipping LED indicator on each headphone output is a nice touch to monitor levels.

Of course, this is a rack-mounted unit so it’s not suitable for an audiophile around the house as you’re tethered to a power cable, but that’s not how this is meant to be used. The power output has been designed to be entirely noise-free so even studios or venues with poor-quality electrics won’t suffer from any degradation in sound.


5. Mackie HM-800 Headphone Amp

Mackie HM-800 Headphone AmpKey features

  • Eight headphone outputs with two headphone outputs per channel
  • Independent Input Select and Stereo/Mono switches per headphone output
  • Clipping LEDs per each headphone output

Pros

  • Multiple inputs/outputs let you tailor the audio to your needs
  • High-quality analog audio components deliver excellent sound
  • Signature Mackie build quality

Cons

  • +19dB of gain could be a bit low for some headphones

Exceptional sound quality, versatile controls, and robust construction make the Mackie HM-800 Headphone Amp an excellent studio headphone amplifier. Twelve total headphone outputs and two main stereo inputs offer flexibility, allowing for customised mixes for multiple users.

If you’re after attention to detail, take a look at the seven-segment LED metering per channel. This ensures precise level control to avoid peaking. Additionally, there are independent input selection and stereo/mono switches for each channel.

With a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz coupled with low noise and distortion levels, the HM-800 promises high-fidelity playback. And for multi-musician setups, you have eight independent auxiliary inputs for up to eight individual stereo mixes.

Mackie’s celebrated “Built-Like-A-Tank” construction is presented with a solid steel chassis. It’s durable and extremely resilient, making the amp suitable for various contexts The HM-800’s resilience makes it suitable for various contexts, including recording studios, live performances, and rehearsal spaces.


6. Apogee Groove USB DAC and Headphone Amp

Apogee Groove USB DAC and Headphone Amp, BlackKey features

  • High-quality ESS Sabre DAC and Quad Sum DAC
  • Constant Current Drive Technology
  • USB compatibility with Mac and Windows devices

Pros

  • Four DACs per channel for the highest dynamic range and lowest distortion
  • Up to 24-bit/192kHz frequency response
  • Matches headphone impedance automatically for the best sound

Cons

  • Requires USB power

A fantastic solution to ultra-high quality audio, the Apogee Groove delivers audiophile quality conversion at a very reasonable price. It’s simple, streamlined, and does exactly what you need it to. And with some very clever technology under the hood, the Groove maintains precise recreation of the original signal, so you can get the best from your headphones.

The Constant Current Drive technology dynamically alters the impedance of the output to match the headphones, delivering the appropriate power and smoothing the frequency response and non-linearity for a precise listening experience.

Suitable for a variety of listening experiences, it’s ideal for home mixing and mastering or getting lost in your favourite tunes. The downfall is, of course, that you will need to use USB power to get this up and running, meaning you won’t be able to enjoy it on the go.


7. SubZero 4 Channel Headphone Amp

SubZero 4 Channel Headphone AmpKey features

  • Split crossover circuit
  • All four outputs have independent volume control
  • Compact and lightweight design with robust materials

Pros

  • Ideal for studio or live applications for multiple musicians simultaneously
  • Up to 24-bit/192kHz frequency response
  • Uses high-quality split crossover circuitry to reduce background noise

Cons

  • Lack of level monitors to avoid unwanted clipping

The SubZero 4 Channel Headphone Amp offers an exceptional level of transparency and high-quality sound. Ideal choice for studio use, it boasts independent volume controls for each output, affording precise control over audio levels tailored to individual needs.

With stereo 1/4″ jack inputs and outputs and a compact, lightweight design, it can be easily integrated into any studio setup and connect with a diverse range of audio equipment. But one of its main features is the split crossover circuit. This guarantees a clean, interference-free audio signal, delivering a pristine listening experience.


8. PreSonus HP60 6 Channel Headphone Amp

PreSonus HP60 6 Channel Headphone AmpKey features

  • Six headphone outputs of high power, 150mW/Channel
  • Multiple stereo input options per channel
  • Mix, Mono, and Level controls per channel give you total control

Pros

  • Comprehensive connections let you integrate with any audio equipment
  • The rack-mounted design makes it convenient to store
  • Talkback connectivity

Cons

  • Not as powerful as other headphone amplifiers

An excellent monitoring solution, the PreSonus HP60 offers a huge amount of flexibility for routing inputs and outputs, giving you the exact mix you want. Boasting six headphone outputs, each with an AUX in and the main inputs, you can blend between each mix and adjust the volume to hear only what you need to hear.

Front-mounted controls for Mono and Mute make it easy to get hands-on with your mix and make adjustments as and when needed.

What sets the HP60 apart is the talkback microphone input. Perfect for live performing musicians in a studio, by using this input you can ensure that audio playback, monitoring, and talkback can be heard through headphones. This is great for a producer adding instruction to a musician or a band leader noting changes throughout a live performance.

Delivering a great amount of power with 150 mW per channel, it’s powerful enough to drive most headphones, though some headphones may struggle to cut above very loud performances to monitor in real-time.

Having access to this many inputs and outputs with flexible monitoring preferences over what you hear, independent per headphone out, is ideal for larger studios. The rack-mounted design then makes it easy to neatly store away without taking up too much room in your studio.


9. Behringer Powerplay P1 Personal In-Ear Monitor Amplifier

Behringer Powerplay P1 Personal In-Ear Monitor AmplifierKey features

  • Belt clip and compact design
  • Dual XLR inputs for either mono or stereo operation
  • Ultra-long 12-hour battery life

Pros

  • Switch between stereo and mono inputs instantly via the onboard switch
  • Integrated current limit keeps your ears and headphones protected
  • Designed for personal monitoring applications during live shows

Cons

  • A lack of controls means you can’t customise your sound

Primarily designed for a live performing musician, the Behringer Powerplay P1 places high-quality audio in a compact and convenient package. What’s immediately noticeable about the Powerplay P1 is the belt strap, making it incredibly easy to take with you on stage by attaching it to your instrument strap or pocket, effortlessly providing a high-quality feed of audio to monitor.

Powered by either a 9V mains source or, more appropriately, a 9V battery, the P1 is capable of running for up to 12 hours on a single battery, enough to get you through a handful of gigs with ease!

Although concise, there are enough features to make it a very handy unit to have in any situation where monitoring is essential, be that the studio, live, or rehearsal space. Its stereo inputs can be switched between seamlessly with the Stereo/Mono top-mounted button and can be blended between either fully Left or Right or a balance of both with the top-mounted Balance control.

The Battery Status and power LED are also nice touches to give you a quick visual representation when under the dark lights of a stage.


10. LD Systems HPA1 Headphone and Wired IEM Amplifier

LD Systems HPA1 Headphone and Wired IEM AmplifierKey features

  • Audio Limiter, Maximum Input Levelling, and Power-off protection circuits
  • 16-Ohm output to drive many low-powered headphones
  • Wide frequency response from 20Hz to 40kHz

Pros

  • Can be run off a 9V battery for up to 12 hours
  • Blend between stereo XLR inputs and stereo 3.5mm AUX input for the perfect balance
  • Designed for personal monitoring applications during live shows

Cons

  • A lack of controls means you can’t customise your sound

In a similar fashion to the Behringer Powerplay P1, the LD Systems HPA1 Headphone and Wired IEM Amplifier is many musicians’ go-to for personal monitoring on stage, in the studio, or during rehearsals.

Fitted with stereo XLR inputs with locking clamps and an additional stereo AUX input, you can connect to a variety of equipment. This means you can monitor yourself from a monitor mix on a console mixing desk, your personal amplifiers as a guitarist or keyboardist, or even take a feed from a microphone D.I box to monitor vocals.

Blending between the sources is made easy with the top-mounted Balance control, allowing you to hear exactly what you want.

With the HPA1, you have a few protection circuits integrated into the system to ensure that you’ll never experience distorted audio, even at louder volumes. A Maximum Input Levelling monitor means you can’t overdrive the input stage of the amplifier, while the Audio Limiter prevents you from dialling up the volume too much and stops distortion and clipping in your signal.

Attach to your instrument strap or pocket, get connected, and turn up the volume. It’s simple, sleek, and has enough built-in to make it an ideal solution for most musicians when monitoring yourself is essential.


11. iFi ZEN CAN Studio Analog Headphone Amplifier

iFi ZEN CAN Studio Analog Headphone AmplifierKey features

  • Four-stage gain control
  • Class-A design with high-quality analog components
  • Ultra-sonic frequency response from 10Hz to 200kHz

Pros

  • Ultra-low distortion delivers precise audio
  • Three input sources with switching between input
  • Input matching to ensure correct levels for all headphone types

Cons

  • Non-stepped gain controls would offer more flexibility

The iFi ZEN CAN is a balanced headphone amplifier celebrated for its premium build and exceptional performance. This compact powerhouse is lauded for its ability to outperform competitors at its price point, making it an unbeatable choice for audiophiles seeking quality sound without breaking the bank.

The iFi ZEN CAN’s sound quality stands out due to its accentuated soundstage. Large orchestral tracks and reverberating synth-based music are amplified to sound colossal, creating an auditory experience that’s truly larger than life.

This device boasts discrete balanced circuitry, a feature usually found in more expensive models. Derived from iFi Audio’s flagship Pro iCAN, the trickle-down Class A circuitry ensures a transparent and detailed sound reproduction that will surely satisfy even the most discerning ears.

With up to 1,600mW of power, the iFi ZEN CAN is essentially nitro for your headphones. This means it can drive high-impedance headphones with ease, delivering clear, powerful audio no matter what genre you’re listening to.

What does a headphone amp do?

Headphone amps are the power behind your headphones. All headphones are a form of compact speakers that require amplification to deliver sound. This amplification typically comes from the source device, such as a computer or mobile phone. However, these devices often lack the power to drive high-quality headphones to their full potential, which is where a headphone amp comes in.

A headphone amp is a dedicated device designed to boost the low-voltage audio signal from your source device. It doesn’t just increase the volume but enhances the overall sound quality, bringing out the detail, dynamics, and depth of the audio. The result is an immersive listening experience that lets you hear music as the artist intended, with all its nuances and subtleties.

The circuitry in a headphone amp is specifically tailored to the needs of headphones, which operate at lower signal levels compared to regular speakers. This specialised design ensures optimal performance and protects your headphones from potential damage due to overpowering.

So, why might you need a headphone amp? If you’re using high-end headphones, an amp can help unlock their full capabilities, providing the power they need to deliver superior audio quality. For musicians and audio engineers, a headphone amp enables you to accurately monitor the audio for precision mixing and mastering.

Even for casual listeners, a headphone amp can make a significant difference to your listening experience, revealing details in the music that you may have previously missed.

Headphone amp types

With several types of headphone amps to choose from, what are the differences? Each type has its unique characteristics and advantages, influencing the overall sound quality and listening experience.

Tube Headphone Amps: These are often revered by audiophiles for their warm, natural, and smooth sound. The tubes in the amplifier add a touch of harmonic distortion, which some users find to be quite musical, and this makes it an excellent choice for genres like jazz and blues. However, tube amps tend to be more expensive and require more maintenance than other types.

Solid-State Headphone Amps: In contrast to tube amps, solid-state amps use transistors to amplify the audio signal. They’re known for their accuracy, power, and reliability, and they deliver a clean and neutral sound, with excellent detail retrieval and tight control over the drivers.

They’re more durable, compact, and require less maintenance than tube amps. This makes them a popular choice for various applications, including studio work and casual listening.

Hybrid Headphone Amps: Combining the best features of the previous two types, hybrid amps use tubes in the preamp stage for warmth and richness, and transistors in the power stage for precision and dependability. This results in a balanced sound that captures the musicality of tubes and the precision of solid-state technology, offering a balanced and versatile solution for just about any audio application.

PreSonus HP60 6 Channel Headphone Amp

How to choose the right amp for your headphones

So now you know the differences between each headphone amp type, which amp is right for you? Here are some things to consider:


Choose the amp type

As discussed earlier, headphone amps come in different types: tube, solid-state, and hybrid. Tube amps are known for delivering warm and natural sound, while solid-state amps offer accuracy and power. Hybrid amps combine the best of both worlds. Your preference for sound quality should guide your choice.


Headphone impedance

The impedance of your headphones is a critical factor. Your headphones must fall within the given headphone impedance spec of the amp. High-impedance headphones (over 100 ohms) require more power to deliver the best audio performance and, thus, need an amplifier with a higher output impedance.

On the other hand, low-impedance headphones (below 50 ohms) can be driven effectively by most portable devices and do not necessarily require high-powered amps as too much power and you could risk damaging your headphones.


Portability

If you’re a music enthusiast who enjoys high-quality sound on the go, a portable headphone amp would be a good fit. These devices are compact and lightweight, making them easy to carry around. However, if your listening is mostly stationary, like at home, in an office, or in a studio for music production, a desktop model may suit you better as they often provide more power and features.


Connectivity

Consider the connectivity options of the headphone amp. Look for an amp that supports the connections you plan to use, whether it’s USB for a digital audio source, RCA for analog sources, or a 3.5mm jack for portable devices. Some amps also provide Bluetooth connectivity for wireless convenience.


Budget

Headphone amps range from affordable entry-level models to high-end ones that can cost several thousand dollars. It’s crucial to find a balance between cost and quality, ensuring you get a reliable amp that delivers excellent sound without breaking the bank.

FAQs

Are headphone amps worth it?

Headphone amplifiers are an essential part of enhancing your headphone sound quality. They boost the low-voltage audio from sound sources such as PCs and mobiles to provide a fuller, richer, and more accurate sound to the original, allowing you to hear all the subtle nuances of the music.


Do 32-ohm headphones need an amp?

Headphones with 32-ohm impedance don’t need an amp. They’re designed to work well with most devices. An amp could enhance sound quality but could cause damage without proper impedance matching. For professional mixing and mastering headphones, an amp could be beneficial for accurate monitoring.


Can headphone amps damage headphones?

A headphone amp can damage headphones if not used correctly. Using an overpowered amplifier with a higher impedance rating than your headphones can lead to damage. It’s crucial to match impedances to ensure you get the best performance and avoid distortion in your headphones.

Final thoughts

An essential part of getting the best sound quality from your headphones, these clever devices are the unsung heroes of mixing/mastering engineers and audiophiles looking for the most accurate sound possible. Hopefully, you’ve found the right one for you on our list of the best headphone amplifiers!

For more information on the subject to help build your understanding, we recommend taking a look at our in-depth articles on headphones and speaker amplifiers.

 

Content Writer - High Tech

I'm an experienced content editor and copywriter with a passion for music and technology. When I'm not writing engaging blogs or comprehensive product descriptions, I spend my time working with bands and musicians as a producer and mixing/mastering engineer.

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