Modern headphones are designed to get the very best of audio performance from your music player or smartphone and are thus tailored towards the demands that MP3 playback involves and will improve performance more than a conventional pair of headphones.
Headphone amplifiers are not something that is found so commonly in most gadget stores. They are made especially for music enthusiasts, who are willing to invest in high-quality music.
They are small audio amplifiers, designed for headphones and not speakers that allow for higher volumes, better current capacity, high input impedance, low output impedance, and a greater range of output voltages.
Generally, headphones amplifiers are found embedded in electronic devices that have a headphones jack, like integrated amps, TVs, and portable music players.
There are a number of headphone amplifiers available on the market today:
- Studio Headphone Amps: These were the first ever headphone amplifiers to come on the market. They are typically combined with studio headphones and are AC powered. Some also run on batteries.
- Tube Headphone Amps: Tube headphone amplifiers use one or more vacuum tubes to improve the signal. Due to their unusual design, they are quite popular.
- Portable headphone amps: These headphone amplifiers are powered by batteries and best suited for traveling.
- Desktop Headphone Amplifiers: while the name may suggest computer use, these headphone amps can be used with home theater systems, stereo systems, and also computers.
Headphone Amplifier Buying Guide
When buying a headphone amplifier, you will need to pay special attention to the following factors:
What is Headphone Impedance?
Headphone impedance figures are generally provided in the user manual or on the packaging of the headphones.
There should also be a conforming figure for an amp as well as and both these figures are listed in a value of ohms.
The best way to find a pairing on the basis of impedance is to pair a headphone that comes with at least 10 times the ohm value of the amp being used.
For instance, a 3000-ohm headphone would pair best with a 30-ohm amp.
What is the Ideal Headphone Sensitivity?
The second most important factor is headphone sensitivity, which will help you determine if your earphones or headphones will actually benefit from amping. Sensitivity ratings are typically shown as decibels (DB) levels per Milliwatts (mW) of supplied power.
In general, anything over 100 decibels at 1mW will be driven adequately to full volume without the need for an external amplifier.
It is also a good idea to ask yourself:
How Will You Use The Headphone Amplifier?
It is important to consider how you intend on using the amplifier; if you need something that will be best for listening on-the-go, or if you want something that will add to fixed desktop arrangement. For on-the-go listening, portable amps are the way to go and for a desktop setup, desktop headphones amps work best.
Do You Want A Headphone Amp Only, Or An Amp Combined With A Digital-To-Analogue Convertor?
Headphone amps are only responsible for processing analog audio signals, but in today’s advanced technological era, streaming services and digital music, there is another important component in audio setups, known as DAC or digital to analog converter.
DACs are responsible for taking a digital music file and convert it into an analog music signal.
Just like with amps, the DAC quality in non-audio specific devices such as PCs, laptops, tablets, phones, is a low priority for producers.
For this reason, it is best to pair headphone amps with dedicated, quality DAC chips to provide a full audio processing solution for enhanced sound quality.
Other important factors to consider
What is Digital Sound Processing (DSP)?
DSP allows headphone amps to deliver a surround sound experience using only standard headphones. An example of DSP is Dolby headphone format. DSP allows for the signal to be improved and modified.
How many Number of Channels does it Offer?
Another thing to look for in a headphone amplifier is the number of channels it offers.
Headphone amps typically come with 1 to 8 channels. More channels are better as they deliver multiple signal distribution options for keeping the flexibility in check.
Every channel arranges individual stereo line distribution in a one-rack package.
What is the Signal-to-Noise Rating?
The signal-to-noise rating is a measurement of the headphone amp’s noise in comparison with its original source, which is measured in decibels.
The higher the ratio, the less noise compared to the signal. This is to keep that strange noise you have to bear when listening to your favorite music, a sort of white noise.
An optimal signal to noise rating means you will not have to worry about this little annoyance anymore.
What is Root-mean-squared (RMS) Power?
The Root-mean-squared power is the extent of real power that is delivered to the load. The amount shows how loud the headphones will get at their peak.
This factor allows for the headphone amps to multifunction as either a loud amplifier or a pre-amplifier. A pre-amp readies a small amount of electrical signal for additional processing or amplification and decreases interruption. While offering the headphone amp added flexibility, this option is also rather expensive.
How to choose?
A basic amplifier simply substantiates the strength of audio from the source and that alone fills in the gaps. However, exemplary headphones generate a precise reproduction, making the most of the audio they receive. Here we will be looking at the best headphone amplifiers under $100. You can expect these sets to offer the following:
- Small size – A lot of the headphones amplifiers under $100 are small and thus, extremely portable. They can be clipped easily wound.
- Audio amplification – If you own a pair of headphones that are not as loud or powerful-sounding as you would like them to be then a headphone amp can make your life easier. However, it is important to keep in mind that bad audio quality will not be miraculously transformed because headphone amps will function to improve the sound. So, if your headphones are really bad, you can’t expect a lot from an amp.
- Decrease distortion– A lot of headphones get sibilant at high volumes, which is why headphone amps with an SNR are important to thoroughly reduce the distortion and give you a crispy clear audio output. This quality is best tested at loud volumes since normal volumes are generally protected from alteration in headphones too.
- Impedance– These under $100 headphones support a wide array of headphone impedance. This particular factor is crucial in deciding which set of headphones these amplifiers can drive. Broader the range, the greater number of headphones these amplifiers can boost.
Best Cheap Headphone Amp Under $100 – Our Top Favorites!
1. Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amp
Creative is a well-known brand when it comes to audio products, and the Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier is their best product in this category. It may come off as very compact, but don’t get fooled by its size because the powerful hardware inside is what counts.
It also comes with a battery life of 25 hours and supports 600 ohms of amplification. Furthermore, it also features an inbuilt mic, which can be used to take/end calls. For added user convenience, the amp also comes with a shirt clip at the back and can be easily taken anywhere since it weighs only 25 g.
The company also provided a USB cable and Orange Stereo inside the box, which is a quick attention grabber. The best part is, you can use the E1 as a DAC and connect it to your desktop as an external sound card.
Creative Sound Blaster E1 Features
- Powerful 600-ohm headphone amp that supports high-quality performance for a studio-level music listening experience.
- 106 decibels SNR output that is greatly superior in reliability to the motherboard, USB, regular smart device output, and laptop.
- Crystal voice brings advanced technologies that are particularly designed to offer the audio fidelity on your Mac and PC.
- High-quality powered headphone splitter allows you to share music with a friend without compromising the quality.
- Lithium battery that can give up to 25 hours of audio playback
- Mono mic allows users to get connected through calls and offers clear voice communications for Skype calls and games on Macs and PCs.
2. FiiO A1 Review
This headphone amp is a popular favorite, especially because it offers high-quality sound at a very low price. It is lightweight, compact and compatible with any audio device with a 3.5 mm cable. It features EQ control, which allows you to add a hint of bass boost if you feel like it.
Even though the claimed battery life is 10 hours, a lot of users reported that the headphone amp worked for approximately 5 hours with a full charge. The transparent clip is also ideal for fitting the device on to clothes while traveling; otherwise, it also fits perfectly in your pocket.
If you are on a budget ad are only looking for audio amplification, then FiiO A1 is your best bet.
FiiO A1 Features
- Designed for low sensitivity and high impedance headphones
- Compact, sleek and compact, with a removable clip for added convenience.
- Low distortion and noise, and advanced amplifier circuit with enhanced dynamics
- EQ with 2-level bass boost and volume control
3. Topping NX2 Headphone Amp
The Topping NX2 Headphone Amp is a very sleek amplifier that also works as a DAC having a length of 11 cm. It also provides a total music distortion of 0.0001% at 32 ohms and comes with a battery life of 100 hours thanks to its built-in mAh battery.
It is due to the battery that the NX2 is so big and not the best-looking headphone amplifier out in the market since it maintains that industrial design, which is what make it appear bigger than your average amplifier headphones. The amp supports up to 300 ohms, which is perfect. Even though it does not come with features such as a built-in microphone or dual headphones support, it certainly delivers what it promises.
Topping also added five Velcro pieces and 2 two silicone pieces so users can attach it behind their smartphones.
Topping NX2 Features
- Industrial-level headphone amplifier design
- Excellent amplification
- 300 ohms impedance
4. Bravo V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amp
This is not your regular headphone amp; the Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 is a tube amplifier, which means it offers a higher music distortion and sounds less tinny.
In addition to that, it looks super cool when sitting on the desktop and will surely fetch you some compliments. The quality of sound is also incredible and it powers up any headphones up to 600 ohms.
You also have the option to replace the stock tube if you wish to.
Bravo V2 Class A Features
- Comes with a Shuguang 12AU7 tube
- Gains control with Japanese ALPS potentiometer
- RCA stereo inputs and parallel 3.5 mm
5. Creative Sound Blaster E3 Portable DAC Headphone Amp with NFC and Bluetooth
The E3 Portable Headphone Amplifier brings users solid technology, with many impressive features. To start off, it gives Bluetooth connectivity, a built-in mic, and awesome impedance support.
In addition to that, the battery life can last up to 24 hours, which makes it perfect for traveling. You have also got around 600 ohms which are sufficient for most headphone pairs. The Creative Sound Blaster E3 is a great, portable option at a decent price.
Creative Sound Blaster E3 Features
- High-quality amplification for headphones with 112 decibels DAC and approximately ohm
- You can connect the amp to your device via USB for amazingly high streaming quality
- Built-in mic, dual-headphone-out, line in
- Can be easily connected to tablets or smartphones via Bluetooth
- Around eight hours of music streaming or seventeen hours of analog music playback