buying guide to the best headphone amplifiers: welcome to the summary of what hi-fi? of the best headphone amps you can buy in 2022.
If you’re spending big on a premium pair of headphones, a dedicated headphone amp will make them sing a lot louder than simply plugging them into a computer, phone, or even, depending on their build quality. in headphone amplifier, a hi-fi component. An external headphone amplifier is designed to sit between your source/amplifier and a pair of headphones, and can form the basis of a compact and efficient desktop hi-fi system.
Reading: Best headphone amplifier 2022
We’ve rounded up the best headphone amps money can buy, including top budget, mid-range and high-end options.
how to choose the best headphone amplifier for you
So what should you look for in a headphone amp? analog inputs are the most common and means you can connect any source that has analog outputs (which are most). These days, however, most headphone amps also feature built-in DACs (digital-to-analog converters) that feed the digital inputs for wider compatibility – ideal if, say, you’re listening to music stored on a computer. . this means that many headphone amps are also dacs (and can be called that), although you can get dacs without headphone jacks.
Size and portability are also key considerations. Some of the headphone amps below will happily slip into a jeans pocket and, with the right cables and connectors, can be paired with a phone. the larger models, whether battery- or mains-powered, command you to clear your desk or make some space on your hi-fi shelf. so decide whether you’ll listen to your headphones on the go or just at home.
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It’s certainly not cheap, but audioquest’s newest dragonfly packs a punch. award-winning cobalt enhances the already talented red by delivering even better sound clarity and accuracy. its excellent transparency means cobalt reveals deficiencies in the source and recordings that others in the family don’t, so you may need to view those lower quality recordings. but give it a good signal and it’s capable enough to give powerful chord mojo a hard time, and that’s something not many headphone amps can claim.
Shares many of the features of the award-winning Dragonfly Red, including 2.1V headphone output, bit-perfect digital volume control, and MQA renderer. But there are also plenty of upgrades, like a more advanced DAC chip that delivers clearer, more natural sound, and a new microprocessor that increases processing speed by 33 percent. Plus improved power supply filtering (increasing immunity to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular noise), a 10% smaller case, and includes a Dragontail USB-A (female) to USB-C (male) adapter. for use with the growing number of electronics with connectivity for the latter.
suddenly it doesn’t seem so expensive after all…
read the full audioquest dragonfly cobalt review
The aptly named mojo 2 is the long-awaited, redesigned replacement for the original released in 2015, which burst onto the scene as a true benchmark in the then-fledgling world of portable dacs/headphones. amps and while those familiar with chord’s more affordable product will see from the images accompanying this review that the aesthetic hasn’t exactly been revised for the sequel, significant progress has been made elsewhere to protect its position as the pinnacle of dacs portable.
while from a performance standpoint the mojo 2 can also up the game of a hi-fi system with equal confidence, some looking for a system booster might reasonably prefer a dedicated system alternative with more suitable connections, such as cambridge. dacmagic audio 200m (below). but for those looking for a primarily portable or desktop dac solution in this price region (and can’t triple their budget to hit hugo 2 territory), we think the decision to mojo 2 or not mojo 2 is a much easier one. And what about existing mojo owners? honestly, chord has left us no choice but to recommend the update.
read the full chord mojo 2 review
The saying “if it ain’t broke…” is not lost on us. but at the same time we realize that in an industry as competitive as hi-fi, making the best even better with your own back is not necessarily a bad idea. is what ifi has done with its budget home dac and headphone amp offering, with the original zen dac now giving way to a ‘v2’ model that offers improvements in terms of processing, mqa decoding and circuitry.
they pay. This budget dac, which can be USB or mains powered, is excellent in both the feature department and the performance for the money.
Offering a significant improvement over computer sound quality in an era when people need it most, the Zen DAC v2 is another feather in the cap of ifi’s budget-friendly Zen series.
Read the full review:ifi zen dac v2
hugo 2 is strange. it’s small enough to carry with you (although this is clearly the intention, as it has its own built-in battery), but a bit too big to fit in a pocket. so it’s not ideal for listening on the go. It’s also not the easiest device to use at times, mainly thanks to its colored light system, which can be confusing.
oh, and it’s expensive too.
so what is he doing on this list, you might ask. two words for you: sound quality. In fact, it’s very hard to fault the way Hugo 2 converts and delivers your digital audio files. And not just the brilliant high-res ones, but the lower-quality files too – whatever you feed it, hugo 2 delivers detailed, dynamic and punchy performance.
There are plenty of inputs to take advantage of, plus bluetooth aptx too. look beyond its outrageous looks and you’ll be rewarded with elegantly detailed, dynamic and hard-hitting performance. no wonder hifi has won it? rewards for your efforts.
read the chord hugo 2 full review
If you’re looking for a dac that combines all kinds of useful features in an attractive and sonically savvy package, the dacmagic 200m is a bot you don’t have to think twice about, especially at this price.
it’s well-appointed enough to fit effortlessly into any desktop or hi-fi system. A wide selection of digital inputs accommodates a variety of sources and there’s also Bluetooth APTX on board. add balanced and unbalanced outputs to the mix, plus a headphone output and hi-res audio support, and that pretty much covers all the bases.
sonically, it has that recognizable ‘cambridge’ sound which means a full, smooth tone associated with an open, expressive and authoritative delivery. ignore this talented all-rounder at your peril.
read the full review: cambridge audio dacmagic 200m