The very best headphone amps for 2023

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Up to date Apr 28, 2023 5:30 PM

For those who’re studying this, you’re a music lover—the kind that loves listening in one of the best ways doable—and also you’re on a quest to verify your headphones get as amped as you do when it’s time to placed on a favourite album. The worst feeling is whenever you hit play and there’s nonetheless one thing lacking—the tempo and placement of every instrument simply isn’t as energetic as you anticipated it to be. Boxy low finish, harsh mids, fatiguing highs … a boomy blur is just not an expertise you signed on for. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be this manner. With a devoted headphone amplifier—one crafted by specialists with the specific function of delivering a extra luxurious sound—issues might be very completely different. Consider the amp like your audio chain’s mitochondria: feed it compelling music and clear energy and it could actually generate a full, fleshy frequency response inside an lively, agile soundstage. The very best headphone amps can scale up the readability on virtually any headphone, so listed below are our picks for gear to deliver your ears rapid enjoyment.

How we selected the most effective headphone amps

There are many headphone amplifiers out there in the marketplace. To slender down our selections, we checked out a wide range of elements: construct high quality, value efficiency, further options, and, after all, sound high quality. We additionally checked out items by way of their place out there. Are they geared toward dwelling or on-the-go listening? Are they priced on the price range finish or the highest of the spectrum? After choosing various doable candidates, we mixed our personal expertise with essential consensus and person impressions to give you this record of the most effective headphone amps.

The very best headphone amps: Evaluations & Suggestions

There are a selection of issues to contemplate when shopping for a headphone amp. As you learn via the record, take into accout whether or not you’re assembling a listening station or a cell rig. Decide in case you’ll want a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), and whether or not you desire a DAC/amp combo. Think about your headphones’ energy necessities (the extra audiophile the extra demanding, historically), but in addition your gear’s aesthetics. Lots of the objects right here have distinctive designs that will or could not line up together with your tastes. Perhaps what you really need is a high-powered digital audio participant (DAP). We’re not right here to evaluate! We’re, nevertheless, right here to assist, so that you might be sure that any of the amplifiers beneath are among the many greatest at school.

Greatest total: Chord Mojo

 Why it made the reduce: Mojo places out quite a lot of energy with a really small footprint.


  • DAC: Sure
  • Inputs: Micro USB, 3.5mm jack, Optical TOSLINK, Micro USB charging port
  • Dimensions: 82 x 60 x 22 millimeters


  • Musical and detailed audio replica
  • Stable construct high quality
  • Bank card-sized


It says loads about its stage of bespoke engineering in our greatest total headphone amp/DAC combo, the Mojo, that it additionally occurs to be imminently transportable. At solely 82 mm x 60 mm x 22 mm, it doesn’t demand any extra space than a pockets and but it’s nonetheless able to delivering among the greatest sound in its class due to the purpose-built FPGA circuitry that has trickled down from British producer Chord Electronics’ multi-thousand-dollar Hugo line of merchandise. Audio replica is impressively musical and detailed; you normally need to pay much more than $700 for this caliber of sound. You’ll surprise how they managed to squeeze such fantastic sound out of such a small bundle. Outstanding.

Housed in a CNC-milled aluminum shell, Mojo’s construct high quality can be top-notch. Regardless of the diminutive dimension it manages to incorporate inputs for optical, coax, and Micro USB, plus a Micro USB charging port for the 8-hour battery. By way of outputs, it presents two 3.5mm jacks, making it as preferrred for audiophile dates as it’s for solo listening (although quantity is not impartial on these outputs). There’s energy to spare: output is 35mW into 600 ohms and 720mW into 8 ohms supporting headphones of as much as 800 ohms. The DAC’s specs are additionally ridiculously spectacular, with sampling fee of 32 to 768 kHz and even that includes DSD256 assist. Whilst you could not love the three LED globes (indicators for quantity management and file decision), they’re distinctive.

For an much more top-tier transportable listening expertise, there’s Chord Poly, a high-quality music streamer/participant attachment designed to deliver Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, DLNA, and Micro SD card playback to Mojo. And, whenever you’re able to improve, check out the Mojo’s higher-end sibling, the Hugo 2, a not-as-svelte however still-transportable headphone amp that works at dwelling or on the highway.

Editor’s notice: An up to date mannequin, the Mojo 2, was introduced the day this publish was scheduled. Whereas sharing the identical type issue as the unique, the brand new Mojo 2 has elevated recharging capability/effectivity, redesigned filter/DSP cores, an built-in EQ characteristic to tailor the impartial sign to style, and an added USB-C port. Whereas the Mojo 2 is an prompt advice, the unique Mojo remains to be a greatest purchase.

Greatest solid-state: Rupert Neve Designs RNHP

Rupert Neves Headphone Amplifier on a white background

Why it made the reduce: Very good, reference-grade sound makes this a transparent winner for the most effective solid-state headphone amp.


  • DAC: No
  • Inputs: +4dBu balanced combo jack, unbalanced RCA, 3.5mm
  • Dimensions: 6.5 x 4.6 x 1.9 inches


  • Number of enter choices
  • Exact sound
  • Handles high-impedance headphones


  • Design could flip some off
  • No DAC

Rupert Neve Designs is a relative newcomer to the hi-fi world however the firm is just not with out audio expertise. The corporate’s namesake and its engineers have been making combine consoles, mic preamps, dynamics shaping modules and extra for recording studios because the late Sixties. The RNHP is a 24-volt reference-quality headphone amp based mostly on the circuit in its 5060 Centrepiece Desktop Mixer, filled with circuitry praised for its constancy. The unit comes housed in a VESA-mountable metal chassis, letting you connect it to a mic stand, below studio furnishings, and different locations with a suitable mount. The spartan entrance panel options A, B, and C buttons for the rear panel’s three selectable channels: a pair of balanced Neutrik mixture jacks able to taking XLR and TRS (6.35mm) inputs (the boot-up default); two unbalanced RCA jacks calibrated for -10dBV indicators; and a single 3.5mm port for cell units. Output is a 6.5mm jack, so be sure to have an adapter in case your headphones use a 3.5mm connector, and quantity is managed by an old-school dial.

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As you’d anticipate from one of many prime channel strip producers identified for transparency, the sound high quality is completely beautiful. Providing an uncompromised spectrum from 10 Hz to 120 kHz, the RNHP is a surprise to listen to. It has excellent punch and imaging, with outstanding stereo separation and little or no crosstalk. Additionally value gushing over is the $699 worth, which is available in decrease than many items that don’t have comparable pedigrees.

Some customers could take challenge with the design; it was made, in spite of everything, for studios first—producing the sort of high-power, high-headroom output for demanding mixing headphones and engineers that want to listen to clearly, cleanly throughout monitoring and playback periods. And it displays this purpose-built aesthetic—completely poised to sit down amongst interfaces, converters, and studio displays. However that additionally means it’s inherently suited to provide essentially the most genuine playback of well-recorded materials. Output is 230mW RMS @ 16 ohms and headphones with impedances as much as 600 ohms are not any drawback. It lacks a DAC, so that you’ll want one in case you plan to make use of it with digital media, nevertheless it’s onerous to beat Neve’s RNHP in case you’re a listener who calls for an trustworthy, high-quality sound.

Greatest tube: Monolith Liquid Platinum

Monolith Headphone Amplifier on a white background.

Why it made the reduce: Twin tubes deliver further heat within the lows and mids.


  • DAC: No
  • Inputs: XLR and RCA
  • Dimensions: 8.8 x 8.5 x 2.0 inches


  • Heat bass
  • Balanced design
  • Stunning look


  • No DAC
  • Highs might be cleaner

There’s one thing magical about tubes—glowing glass cylinders that direct present via a filament to excite and amplify a sign. Consider them as the sunshine bulbs of audio, however the dimmer controls the depth of tone. Whereas solid-state gear makes use of all-digital transistors, resistors, capacitors, and so on., for a extra crisp end result, vacuum tubes are famed for the sleek heat they bring about to audio. Reacting positively to overdrive, they’re excellent for including warmth and presence to your playback expertise. As the most effective tube headphone amp, Monolith’s Liquid Platinum embeds two replaceable Electro Harmonix 6922 tubes alongside solid-state amplification and people make all of the distinction. The bass and mids are heat and gooey with a plethora of presence, whereas transients—these brief bursts of power that accompany hitting a notice—shine via even in a wall of sound.

In fact, the remainder of this amp is not any slouch both, bringing collectively a candy bundle that makes this our choose for greatest tube headphone amp. For starters, it was designed by Alex Cavalli, a famend audio circuit designer targeted on headphone amps. He based mostly it on facets of his audiophile-adored, multi-thousand-dollar Cavalli Audio Liquid Crimson amplifier, launched in 2015 and now discontinued. Cavalli designed a totally balanced/differential amplification for the Crimson’s monoprice successor, targeted on conveying the open character of music, with dynamics and element all benefitting. And at half the price of the Crimson. The Liquid Platinum seems beautiful as nicely, with a beautiful design highlighted by these twin tubes peeking out of the highest. It pushes 3.6 watts per channel right into a 50-ohm load and may comfortably drive headphones of as much as 300 ohms. It options each three-pin XLR balanced inputs and RCA ins and outs within the again, in addition to four-pin XLR and 6.5mm TRS jacks across the entrance to accommodate balanced (a selected high-power, low-noise wiring scheme) and single-ended (inventory, commonplace) headphone cables. 

Whereas the high-end generally is a little crisp—it’s a contact on the dry, wild aspect, although this may be tweaked by rolling in new tubes—the positives far outweigh the negatives on this gem of an amp. Word that you simply’ll want to produce your individual DAC in case your plan is to make use of it with a digital listening machine.

Greatest transportable: AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt


Why it made the reduce: New DAC and microprocessor chips enable the Cobalt to provide music the nimble efficiency it must hover and dart.


  • DAC: Sure
  • Inputs: USB
  • Dimensions: 12 x 19 x 57 millimeters


  • Clear sound
  • Extraordinarily transportable
  • Machine compatibility


  • Reveals imperfections in low-quality audio

It was once that in case you needed a hi-fi listening expertise, you needed to keep at dwelling with a stationary headphone amp. Now, due to the rise of streaming and communication units, music is as shut as our fingertips. AudioQuest needs to make it possible for we’re listening to that music with as a lot readability as doable and the corporate’s line of lip balm-sized USB DragonFly DAC/amps designed for the computer-audio expertise does simply that.

The highest of the DragonFly line, Cobalt is the most effective transportable headphone amp as a result of it improves over the already excellent Purple mannequin in various methods. First up is the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip. Its minimum-phase gradual roll-off filter ensures clear and pure sound, though it may be a bit unforgiving in terms of revealing the shortcomings of low-quality audio sources. Its 64-position, 64-bit, bit-perfect presents uncompromising quantity management. The casing and circuitry are additionally nice at filtering out Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and mobile noise that may pollute and dilute a listening expertise. An improved processor runs sooner and extra energy-efficient. And, with a hefty 2.1-volt headphone amp, this minuscule machine will amaze you with its capability to energy virtually any set of cans you care to pair it with, from 16 to 300 ohms.

The Cobalt is suitable with Mac and Home windows PCs and may absolutely render recordsdata as much as 24-bit/96 kHz recordsdata, together with MQA-encoded ones. (MQA, of Grasp High quality Authenticated, recordsdata use a selected kind of compression to distribute larger decision with much less bandwidth, however require particular apps/DACs to decode.) As well as, it really works with sensible units. And It features a feminine USB-A to male USB-C adapter for many trendy Android telephones however requires a Lightning-to-USB adapter to work with Apple units.

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Greatest high-end: Manley Labs Absolute

Manley Labs Headphone Amplifier on black background.

Why it made the reduce: Manley Labs makes top-of-the-line studio gear and has introduced that beautiful experience to Absolute.


  • DAC: No
  • Inputs: 2 RCA enter pairs
  • Dimensions: 11.5 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches


  • Jaw-dropping tube sound
  • Tonal controls
  • Attractive design


Manley Labs’ unbelievable equalizers and compressors might be present in most of the greatest studios on the earth. The corporate additionally makes audiophile gear and the aptly named Absolute is our selection for greatest high-end headphone amp.

Powered by six vacuum tubes—two 12AX7s and 4 6AQ5As—Absolute positively glows with heat. Wealthy, thick and highly effective, it’s a listening expertise like no different. Not like many headphone amps, which provide little by way of tonal management, Absolute goes the additional mile, offering person controls that make this into a really energetic listening expertise. Baxandall Tone Management bass and treble knobs place you answerable for the tonal character, whereas management over the quantity of detrimental suggestions within the sign places you accountable for harmonic distortion and thus the tightness of the audio playback. Uniquely, it additionally possesses switchable topology, permitting you to vary from odd-order to even-order harmonics and take cost of the saturation shade. There’s even a mono swap for having fun with pre-stereo music sources. It has a most output of 1W into 12 ohms, with headphones of as much as 600 ohms working comfortably with it.

Connectivity can be diversified, with two pairs of Manley-designed RCA ports on the enter aspect and a 6.5mm TRS and a four-pin XLR jack for headphones, plus an output RCA pair do you have to wish to use Absolute as a preamp to spice up/sculpt a supply sign previous to your favourite receiver, interface, or powered audio system. There’s a distant management and the amp is accessible in three stunning chassis colours: black, copper, and silver.

In fact, all this comes with a hefty price ticket of $4,499. You probably have the means and the sort of power-hungry dynamic and/or planar headphones that may profit, nevertheless, it’s an audiophile journey value taking.

Greatest wi-fi: iFi GO blu

iFi Go Blue Amplifier on a white background.

Why it made the reduce: The iFi GO Blu does the inconceivable and combines wonderful sound high quality with Bluetooth compatibility.


  • DAC: Sure
  • Inputs: USB-C, Bluetooth
  • Dimensions: 54 x 32 x 13 millimeters


  • Handles all Bluetooth codecs
  • Small and light-weight
  • Constructed-in mic


  • Inherent limitations of Bluetooth
  • No clip

Whereas there are a selection of fantastic transportable headphone amps with built-in DACs (see AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt above) they’re nonetheless wired. For those who’re seeking to untether your amp out of your music participant or smartphone, the Bluetooth 5.1-compatible iFi GO blu is the best way to go for each Apple and Android units.

Smaller than seemingly doable and solely 26 grams, iFi GO blu is so unobtrusive you would possibly even neglect it’s there. Nonetheless, you’ll actually discover the development it brings to audio high quality, regardless of the inherent limitations of Bluetooth. It presents a large soundstage, with clear and exact audio due to individually optimized circuit levels. It achieves this with a Cirrus Logic CS43131 superior DAC, in addition to balanced circuits for much less crosstalk and noise. Output is 245mW @ 32Ω; 5.6v @ 600Ω (balanced)/165mW @ 32Ω; 2.8v @ 600Ω (unbalanced) so—regardless of its small dimension—the GO blu will energy most headphones. Do you have to discover your supply sound missing, iFi GO blu additionally consists of analog XBass and XSpace enhancements for further low-end presence and soundstage width. The Swiss chronograph-inspired ChronoDial is a marvel of ingenuity and manages to pack various features into a really small house, dealing with analog quantity management, monitor choice and play, plus Bluetooth voice assistant activation.

With Qualcomm’s newest four-core QCC5100 Bluetooth processing chip, iFi GO blu helps all present Bluetooth codecs (SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, LHDC/HWA as much as 24-bit/192 kHz). It has outputs for each 3.5mm (single-ended, S-Balanced) and 4.4mm (balanced) headphone cables, and it makes use of USB-C for charging the 8-hour battery and for establishing a 24-bit/96 kHz reference to non-Bluetooth units. It even has a built-in microphone for hands-free phone calls. And if you end up needing much more energy and/or versatility, on the expense of some portability and disposable earnings, the $599 flask-sized iFi xDSD Gryphon is an improve path for these with extra demanding headphones/connectivity wants—nice for a compact desktop set-up and comparatively pocketable for on-the-go.

Greatest price range: Schiit Magni Heretic

Schiit Magni Headphone Amplifier on a white background

Why it made the reduce: Sound that punches method above its weight class.


  • DAC: No
  • Inputs: RCA
  • Dimensions: 5 x 3.5 x 1.5 inches



Everybody has to start out someplace. And, due to Schiit’s twin Magni headphone amps, that place is a contented place. The 2 fashions, Magni+ and Magni Heretic, are enjoyable and wallet-pleasingly inexpensive strategy to get into the audiophile world and mind-set about customizable sound. They’re the identical worth and really comparable in connectivity, though the tone differs between them. As for which one is the most effective price range headphone amp for you—the roughly $150 every asking worth is best for you to strive them each.

Magni+ is an all-discrete circuit headphone amp, with particular person parts relatively than chips. This ends in a sound that’s well-balanced and weighty from prime to backside. It is available in a brushed aluminum case. Magni Heretic, then again, makes use of trendy op-amp chips in its circuitry and delivers clear and crisp audio. Its casing is black with crimson accents. Each have a most output of two.8W RMS into 16 ohms and supply excellent sound for the worth. The excessive/low acquire swap ensures that even 600-ohm power-hungry headphones gained’t break these.  

Each have a single 6.5mm headphone out within the entrance, with RCA ins and outs within the again (sure, you should use it as a preamp). Neither has a DAC although, which might be a difficulty for these with digital listening habits. Nonetheless, at this worth, you possibly can actually afford to purchase a separate digital to audio converter (like Schiit’s personal Modi+). 

For those who’re seeking to stage up your house listening sport, that is the place to start out your headphone amp journey.

Issues to contemplate when looking for the most effective headphone amps

Headphones are simply two audio system strapped to your head, and audio system want electrical present to translate a sign into vibrations, in the end producing the sound waves you understand as music. A headphone amplifier does simply what it guarantees in its title: amplifies the low-voltage sign that the headphones convert. In case your first query is whether or not that simply means you’ll hear one thing louder, the reply is sure and no. A headphone amp is much less about simply amount and extra about high quality, much less about pushing pure abundance, and extra about addressing the transducer’s resistance. Headphone amps aren’t simply attempting to make your headphones louder, pushing them to distort; they’re attempting to provide them the voltage or present they should be extra environment friendly, letting them sound dynamic at decrease decibels. A easy rule of thumb: The upper the “impedance score” of your headphones, the extra they’ll profit from and even require an amp (although even a $100 headphone can obtain extra steadiness with the right energy).

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Hear at the moment, gone tomorrow?

When attempting to resolve on the most effective headphone amp in your wants, you’ll first want to decide on whether or not you’ll do extra at dwelling or on-the-go listening. Desktop items have a really completely different characteristic set than transportable ones, making the most of the elevated house and energy sources out there for a bigger element to be able to improve inputs and outputs. If a much less juiced, one-in-one-out system is all you want as a result of portability is the precedence, you’ll nonetheless wish to take into consideration connectivity. Though all the headphone amps listed right here energy wired headphones, you might want to reduce the wire from a wireless-enabled audio supply (suppose any smartphone) to the amp. If that’s the case, it’ll want one thing that’s Bluetooth suitable.

Do I want a DAC?

Nowadays, we frequently take heed to music from digital sources—suppose streaming through a smartphone or devoted participant. To transform these 1s and 0s into an analog sign for wired headphones you want a DAC, or digital-to-analog converter. The DAC might be circuitry constructed into the headphone amp (just like the AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt, Chord Mojo, or iFi GO Blu, amongst others) or a standalone unit. And whereas all of them carry out an identical perform, not all DACs go about it equally. For those who plan to pay attention completely to previous data and cassettes, a DAC is probably not needed. But when digital is in your life, a DAC might be needed.

Can’t I simply use the amplifier in my telephone or pc?

Certain, your most popular listening machine could have a headphone port, and it’ll get the job executed. Nevertheless it gained’t blow your thoughts. Except it’s working on a tool like a 2021 or later MacBook Professional M1 or an ASUS ROG Cellphone 5s or later that options an adaptive, audio-focused design, that headphone jack’s inner DAC and amplifier are doubtless missing. It’s actually not going to provide you a tremendous listening expertise. If you’d like extra than simply OK, it’s time to improve to a devoted headphone amp. That is doubly true in case you’ve invested in an honest pair of headphones.


Q: Is it value shopping for a headphone amp?

You probably have spent cash, or plan to spend cash, on a superb pair of headphones, then a top quality headphone amp is a worthwhile buy. The advance in sound high quality might be obvious. Some headphones have a excessive impedance score and really require the extra energy that an amp gives to correctly drive them (see beneath). Most in-ear displays and noise-canceling headphones is not going to profit from being paired with a headphone amp although.

Q: What’s impedance?

Impedance refers back to the resistance of {an electrical} sign. The upper the impedance score of a pair of headphones, the extra voltage  is required to realize a listening stage with excessive readability, low distortion, and minimal coloration. Most headphones have a score of 16 (low impedance) to 600 (excessive impedance). Energy-hungry high-impedance headphones want quite a lot of juice to sound good and put out correct quantity. These headphones doubtless is not going to perform correctly with out a strong headphone amp.

Q: What are tubes?

Some headphone amplifiers use vacuum tubes as a part of the amplification circuit, such because the Monolith Liquid Platinum and Manley Labs Absolute. This can be a expertise that was largely changed in shopper items when strong state transistor circuits got here on-line within the Sixties. Fans, nevertheless, could choose the sound of tube amplification to strong state as a consequence of its “optimistic distortion,” a perceived heat tone. Tubes burn out after a time period like a lightbulb, however can normally get replaced simply by the proprietor.

Closing ideas on the most effective headphone amps

When taking the plunge and increasing your plugs, understanding that you simply don’t need to shell out some huge cash to get began might be comforting. Yow will discover among the greatest headphone amps at remarkably inexpensive costs. In fact, whenever you’re able to step it up a notch, there’s an entire world of ever-more costly (and great-sounding) amplifiers out there.

Why belief us

Well-liked Science began writing about expertise greater than 150 years in the past. There was no such factor as “gadget writing” once we printed our first challenge in 1872, but when there was, our mission to demystify the world of innovation for on a regular basis readers means we’d have been throughout it. Right here within the current, PopSci is absolutely dedicated to serving to readers navigate the more and more intimidating array of units in the marketplace proper now.

Our writers and editors have mixed a long time of expertise overlaying and reviewing shopper electronics. We every have our personal obsessive specialties—from high-end audio to video video games to cameras and past—however once we’re reviewing units exterior of our rapid wheelhouses, we do our greatest to hunt out reliable voices and opinions to assist information individuals to the perfect suggestions. We all know we don’t know the whole lot, however we’re excited to dwell via the evaluation paralysis that web purchasing can spur so readers don’t need to.