In this review we feature the top 10 best portable headphone amps that will greatly enhance the sound performance and bass output from your headphones, all at a fraction of the cost and selling at very good prices. Headphone amps are necessary if you are using high quality headphones or IEMs that require a more powerful source to drive them apart from your PC or mobile device outputs. These quality headphone amps are designed to enhance your listening experience by bypassing your mobile device or laptop’s internal sound circuitry and acts as a standalone digital soundcard to process audio signals and boost sound output. If you are looking to upgrade your listening experience from conventional headphones, purchasing a dedicated headphone amp is a definite must in order to get the most out of your headphones. Furthermore, some of these amps are powerful enough to drive high impedance audiophile-grade headphones (>200 ohms) and will literally transform your listening experience, making your music sound richer, smoother and more impactful with deeper separation and soundstage. At the time of writing, some of these best portable headphone amps are now selling at discounted prices, so don’t forget to check them out!
#1 FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier
The FiiO A3 is hands down one of the best portable headphone amps you can find. It features a stunning all aluminium body and sturdy chassis which provides shielding against electro-magnetic interference. It has a fully discrete bass boost circuit to increase output by 3.5dB at 60Hz, and produces superb sound quality through its OPA1642 preamp and AD8397 amp section. This headphone amp is specially made for headphones ranging from 16 to 150 Ohms – you can also use the gain switch for matching output to headphone power needs. The A3 has excellent layering, midrange resolution and high frequency extension with very good bass control. The bass boost circuit is completely bypass when turned off to ensure low noise floor and purity of sound quality.
Straight out of the box, we found the A3 very small and portable, and easily pairs with your headphones from your mobile device or laptop. The sound performance boost of the A3 makes an extremely huge difference – if you listen to a lot of bass heavy music, this best portable headphone amp is definitely the one for you. The amp also features a little bass switch on the front by the volume knob (gain switch on the other side) and gives a good boost the bass without leaking into the higher frequencies unlike most software EQs tend to do.
When we tested the A3 together with the Ultrasone Pro 900, the bass output was phenomenal – when the gain was turned up to high, the mids were much nicer, cleaner and prominent. The vocals also sound much better than before- you can listen to how smooth and pure the sound actually is. The highs also sounded much more clear – the highs are crisp and clean and yet not overbearing or harsh. The amp takes care not to muddle up the frequencies so you are really getting very clean sound from your headphones with the A3 output.
As to the volume, the A3 packs a loud punch. If you listen to Spotify, you can amplify the volume by turning the volume knob and it will go louder than ever before. At full volume, the headphones will rock your mind with no distortion and deep solid bass. If you are searching for a headphone amplifier to make music sound louder on your headphones, you will be in for a treat with the FiiO A3s and be further rewarded with better sound quality and improvements in details and soundstage. The A3 will easily drive most mid-range audiophile headphones without any issues.
The FiiO A3 comes with a charging USB cable, a basic 3.5mm audio cable, a pair of silicone bands, 6 pieces of rubber feet, instruction manual and a warranty cord. The unit itself is very compact, measuring about 91mm x 56mm x 13.5mm, and weighs around 92g. The power turns on by turning the dial of the knob past zero with the blue LED indicator. There is also a micro-USB port, headphone output and aux input (3.5mm ports).
The Verdict? The FiiO A3 is hands down one of the best portable headphone amp you can find on a budget. The A3 is very value for money and built with high quality components which enhance sound quality and bass output to your headphone setup. The A3 has the power to enhance the bass response and increase volume output of your headphone, and provides a perfect balance of clarity and transparency with a touch of warmth without adding color or distortion. In short, the A3 provides one of the best sound performance enhancements at low cost, and its small size and lightweight design makes it one of the best portable headphone amps on the go.
#2 TEAC Portable Headphone Amplifier HA-P50
The TEAC HA-P50 is a high-end audio reference quality headphone amp that’s designed for high-performance headphones. It’s a highly portable headphone amp for audiophile listening on the go with its lightweight and compact size. It packs a high-performance digital-to-analog adaptor and high specification power amplifier circuit into a compact body to bring out the very best in your headphones. It fetches high-quality sound from your iPhone or Android via USB digital output and processed through the HA-50’s high-performance built-in DAC converter with minimal sound degradation and maximum fidelity. The HA-P50 uses a BurrBrown PCM5012 DAC converter which is capable of processing digital audio signals up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution with a high 160mW + 160mW output gain (dual setting gain for use with high-impedance headphones), which means that you can drive 600 ohm-class headphones at full power. It also features a low distortion OPA 1652 operational amplifier to process music with maximum purity. The discrete push-pull circuit achieves a very low distortion rate of 0.001% which is very hard to beat. In short, if you are looking for one of the best portable headphone amps to power your ultra-high end headphone with high impedance (i.e., HD800s), this amp is probably the one you are looking for.
The HA-P50s produce high resolution audio on the go and works great with Android or iPhone devices and will bypass your phone’s (lower quality) internal DAC and amp. It also works as an external DAC and really enhances the experience of listening to music or watching movies on an iPad Air. The amp also works very well with analog audio sources, and is ruggedly built and runs at least 8 hours on a full battery charge. On analog audio, the HA-P50 takes input from non-digital audio players and passes it through its sophisticated amplifier circuits, providing a high quality headphone listening experience on the go. The HA-P50s also accepts USB input from a PC/Mac, and contains an optical digital input terminal that can be connected to a home audio system. This headphone amp is really something to be reckoned with in terms of versatility.
In terms of audio quality, this unit is superior in every respect to other conventional headphone amps in terms of sound, size, versatility, reliability and ease of use. If you are only playing compressed mp3s the sound will still be noticeably better than what you will hear straight from most audio players. Where this amp really shines is with high quality audio files – you can really hear the difference through your headphones with using the HA-P50s – the mids, highs, lows and bass response are given a layer of sophistication and depth that you seldom come across in portable headphone amps. It was also really nice to hear less distortions from some songs and that some details were enhanced. This is something that we certainly did not expect from such a small and compact headphone DAC amp. It works with PC, Mac, iPhone, iPod, Android and Apple devices in general.
The HA-P50s come in a compact and robust full aluminium body with a flat body that measures just 21.7mm thick, which is ideal for mobile environments where toughness, small size and lightweight portability are essential. It features a beautifully designed aluminium knob that has enough torque to allow fine volume adjustment, with raised guards on both sides to prevent accidental volume changes when the HA-50 is carried in a pocket or bag, as well as protecting the headphone amp from bumps or sudden movements. It also features an integrated auto-power save function, which makes the unit go into sleep mode after 30 minutes if there is no connection to a source.
The Verdict? We highly recommend the HA-P50s if you are looking for a high-end DAC and headphone amplifier to pair with your headphones. Although these headphone amps aren’t exactly cheap, the sophisticated layering and difference in sound quality makes the HA-P50s one of the best portable headphone amps you can find which will literally transform your headphone listening experience. This is definitely one of the best value for money devices that you can buy and is meant to compete with higher-end and more expensive headphone amplifiers or DACs in the market. In our view, it is much better to spend a little more cash to get the best portable headphone amp and be satisfied for the next few years instead of getting an inferior amp only to regret it. For those who are on a quest for one the world’s best portable headphone amps, the search ends here.
#3 Peachtree Audio SHIFT Portable Headphone Amplifier and USB DAC
The Peachtree Audio SHIFT is a specially designed headphone amp created for audiophiles. It is by far one of the most powerful, portable and compact amps with integrated ultra-low noise amplifiers to power the most demanding headphones to sensitive in-ear monitors. The hi/lo gain settings will match low impedance or high impedance headphones, depending on what you choose. The SHIFT provides high-resolution asynchronous USB DAC for playback of music files up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and 5.6 MHz DSD. It features a ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC with a Hyper Stream Modulator and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator to create natural, life-like sound. This amp is designed to completely bypass the headphone output on your smartphone, tablet or PC/MAC and provide exceptional sound quality. The built-in 4100 mAH battery provides up to 8 hours of playback on a single charge, making it the perfect audiophile headphone amp on the go. It also features a stunning and durable leather and aluminium enclosure. It is truly is one of the best portable headphone amps designed for high-end headphones.
After testing the SHIFT with various headphones, we were highly impressed with its styling, build quality, ease of use and most important of all, the sound quality. The SHIFT is fairly compact and has a very high quality amp and DAC that vastly outperforms the phone’s built-in amplifier and DAC. It comes with cables to charge its rechargeable battery as well as short cables for iPhone and Android devices. The unit features a very slick nice leather top and a large leather pouch to hold both your phone and unit together.
The SHIFT is extremely use to use – you simply plug it into the audio source, turn it on and it sounds great immediately. In terms of sound performance, the SHIFT performs exceptionally well and we were able to get very good sound from them on high-impedance headphones such as the Beyerdynamic DT-770 at 250 ohms and HD800s. Till this day we could not find a portable headphone amp powerful enough to drive 250 ohms headphones with the loudness, clarity and detail as the SHIFT. The Peachtree SHIFT managed to push the 250 ohm 770s well and produce nice clean sound at high volumes with any distortion whatsoever.
Where the SHIFT amp really shines is with lower impedance headphones – the sound will come out loud, crisp, clear and clean with superb separation and soundstage. You will be able to hear instruments and sounds that you don’t hear without an amplifier. It simply sounds amazing when you find new life into old music favorites. We also tested this with the Audio-Technical ATH-M50s and Grado SR60s and they both sounded much better than plugging straight from the audio source. The SHIFT’s 32 bit and 384 kHz PCM is quite impressive – the sound is high quality throughout, and the amplifier has enough power to push even high impedance headphones well without any issues.
The only issue we had with the Peach SHIFT is that the headphone amp is kind of big but is still portable especially if you have a backpack to carry around the USB cables. Most people will probably use the SHIFT amp at their desk and it works very well if you intend it to be this way. The SHIFT headphone amp is designed to decode high quality audio, so you may also face issues if you are streaming low quality music from Pandora or Spotify – there may be unwanted audio compression considerably more on cheaper headphones on the built in phone amp. If you have 320kbps MP3 music, the sound would be fine but it’s important to note that you are getting an audiophile grade amp with the SHIFT so be sure not to stream low quality stuff through this amp or it will not sound as intended.
The Verdict? The Peachtree SHIFT is an audiophile grade and one of the best portable headphone amps available that can power high impedance headphones with its high end soundcard. The SHIFT will smooth out your digital signals and give you a much richer, robust sound. This amp bypasses any DAC on your device and uses the one inside the amp to produce a higher quality sound. Not only does the SHIFT work great for high quality music files, it also works wonders on the audio portion of your favorite movies you might also have on your mobile device. The bottom line is if you are looking for an unforgettable sound experience and have good enough headphones to match the SHIFT, you will be in for a treat.
#4 Fiio E17K ALPEN 2 USB DAC Headphone Amplifier
The FiiO E17K ALPEN 2 USB DAC Headphone Amplifier is a solid, portable headphone amplifier with USB audio decoding and can be used as an external sound card (the E17K utilises the SA 9027 USB receiver). This supports up to 96 kHz/32bit and supporting DSD decoding, providing high quality digital to analog conversion and op-amp from Texas Instruments. This headphone amp has fewer buttons on the front than its predecessor E17. It also features a new multi-functional wheel that responds to both turns and clicks, providing an intuitive agile control. Furthermore, the FiiO E17K uses the Texas Instruments’ new PCM5102, which adds higher processing power, lower distortion and linear DAC characteristics. You can basically connect the E17K with your PC for digital audio transfer and recharge the battery at the same time. All in all, the E17K is among the very best portable headphone amps ever made and is basically all you need for a superb listening experience.
If you are an audiophile that loves clear, smooth music that does not cause fatigue from extended periods of listening from your headphones, the E17K does an excellent job and makes a portable addition to your music. The moment you plug in this DAC into the laptop through the USB port, it will trigger the sound to divert through the DAC to your headphones instead of the built-in laptop speakers. The built in equalizer allows you to balance out the sound performance in the headphones for a smooth, clear and rich sound performance. You can also adjust the bass output which is very nice – the bass is punchy and compact, and stays where it needs to be without flooding into the mids. You can also adjust the treble and volume controls to suit your listening preferences.
The E17K acts as an external sound card connected to your computer via USB. This means that the FiiO device is acting as a DAC converter and amplifier at the same time to your headphones. The E17K charges simultaneously while plugged into the USB ports. We found the sound quality to be crisp, defined and full, and bass and treble are just right although you have the option to adjust them. The E17K does not leave anything to be desired and we really enjoyed the overall listening experience.
The quality construction of the E17K and easy-to-use design is also apparent from the moment you lay your eyes on it. The ALPEN E17K features a brushed finish with a small LED screen, multiple jacks and two buttons, and feels extremely durable. You can use a micro-USB for the primary audio connection with the E17K, and there is also a line in/out combo jack which can allow the device to be used as an amplifier or DAC, a headphone out, and a S/PDIF coaxial input. Do note that there is no optical port input on this device – only a S/PDIF coaxial input. It also comes with useful accessories such as rubber feet for desk use, screen protectors, and a pouch which comes in handy for portability.
The Verdict? The E17K is one of the very best portable headphone amps you can get at a budget with superb sound performance. When combined with good quality headphones, the E17K truly shines and you will notice the difference in audio quality almost immediately. The only downside is that the E17K does not have an optical input, and unless you require an optical input we feel that the E17K really does the job well (you can use USB to connect to your laptops or an OTG cable for your mobile devices if required). Overall, the E17K pumps out crisp, clear and detailed sound and delivers impressive audio performance as an external sound card. We were truly satisfied with the sound quality from the E17Ks and we highly recommend them.
#5 OPPO HA-2 Portable Headphone Amplifier & DAC
The OPPO HA-2 is a high quality portable headphone amplifier that deserves special mention. While on the slightly more expensive range, the OPPO-HA 2 excels terms of sound quality and produces clear, well-defined and crisp sound and feels very premium – we were just totally stunned how much difference this amplifier enhanced the sound performance of the headphones as compared to other normal headphone amps. The OPPO HA-2 features a high-end resolution USB DAC that supports Apple/Android/PC/Mac with an ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018-K2M DAC chip. It has two gain settings for optimal headphone matching, and comes with a mobile power bank for charging your phone. If you are a serious audiophile looking for one of the best portable headphone amps in the market and don’t mind the extra cost, the OPPO HA-2 should be right on your list.
The aesthetic appearance of the OPPO HA-2 was stunning straight out of the box. If we could describe it we would use the term “luxurious” – the fit and finish are as first class as anything we have ever seen or tested, with a sleek and smooth design that feels very premium. The black leather on the headphone amp gives it a highly refined feel and makes it nice to carry around. It’s also highly portable – you can pack it away in your pockets or bag and easily bring it around wherever you seen. It’s built to be durable from start to finish and you can really feel that you are getting a quality product with the OPPO HA-2s.
The sound quality of the OPPO HA-2s is simply phenomenal, and redefines everything you thought you knew about quality sound. We were very impressed with the sound performance when paired with our Ultrasone Pro 900 headphones – the soundstage dramatically opens up and the little details you never heard before come out clearly and quite spectacularly – it’s as though you are listening to new editions of your music. The mids and highs are very well defined, crisp and stays exactly where it needs to be. The bass is punchy, powerful and does not bleed at all into the mids. Although part of the sound listening experience is definitely attributable to the headphone itself, these best portable headphone amps make a world of difference. Every track, no matter the genre, sounded exponentially better on the HA-2s. It truly is a game-changer in terms of letting you experience phenomenal sound.
Apart from the incredible sound performance, the HA-2s have great versatility – you can use it with your PC, AUX, headphones, and even acts as an iPhone charger. The entire headphone amp is designed to be very high quality – the power/volume switch has heft and balance. The OPPO HA-2 is particular good at tackling high resolution files and whatever that you send to it – do note that due to higher power consumption the HA-2s may heat up and use more battery the higher the resolution of the music. That said, you will have plenty of fun playing with high resolution recordings with the HA-2s and once you hear these modern recordings at high resolution through your ears with high quality conversion, you’ll be in for a treat with phenomenal clarity and realism.
The Verdict? The OPPO HA-2s are one of the best portable headphone amps designed specifically for serious audiophiles. Although on a slightly steeper price range, it is worth every penny if you want to hear phenomenal sound with extraordinary clarity and detail. The HA-2s are designed to be very stylistic with its leather finish, and comes with very high end specs together with the ability to provide high-quality conversion on the go. High resolution music played on these headphone amps will really make you appreciate sounds that you probably never thought existed in your soundtracks. If you are looking for a top of the line headphone amp that will deliver serious audiophile performance and are willing to pay for incredible sound, the OPPO HA-2s are definitely the ones to get.
#6 Creative Sound Blaster E5 High-Resolution USB DAC 600 ohm Headphone Amplifier
The Creative Sound Blaster E5 is a lightweight, durable and portable headphone amp designed to power entry level audiophile headphones. In a nutshell, the E5 is a 24-bit/192kHz high resolution USB DAC portable headphone amplifier with precision audio components. It is equipped with a quality 600 ohm headphone amplifier and aptX technology for Bluetooth with built-in NFC technology for one-touch pairing (if you get the Bluetooth version with hardware acceleration). The Bluetooth connectivity with mobile devices allows you to stream high quality, lossless audio from your mobile devices while on the go. It also features a fully customizable SBX Pro Studio suite of technologies which gives decent realism when playing back compressed audio, or can be configured off to lossless audio for you to enjoy bit-perfect audio. The E5 is definitely one of the best portable headphone amps if you are looking for a high performance amp with bluetooth steaming capabilities and is now selling at a good discount at the time of writing.
The E5 is designed from the ground up to reproduce high-fidelity audio with minimum distortion and good bass response. It is built on the Cirrus Logic CS4398 Digital-Analogue Converter (DAC) with a good 120dB signal to noise radio that supports music files up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution. The E5 also comes with a 3200mAh battery which offers up to 8 hours of playback even while using the Bluetooth connectivity option. It is also a MFi-approved amp, designed to work with iPod, iPhone or iPad, and is able to meet performance standards with Apple products. The E5 supports asynchronous mode which is superior to other USB data transfer modes because data is pulled directly from the computer under the control of the E5, not ‘pushed’ to the DAC. This effectively allows the DAC to process the digital signal at optimal timing to reduce distortion and produce good sound quality.
In terms of sound performance, the Sound Blaster E5 exceeded our expectations when tested with two inputs (Bluetooth from Android device and USB out from PC). The E5 gives crisp, pronounced sound and with the SBX turned on, we felt increased soundstage and improved realism which gave the sound an extra kick. The sound quality was very detailed with much emphasis on the mids and highs. The E5 does not give any ‘hissing’ or distortion even with headphones with high impedance, which makes this amp a pretty good driver for most entry-level audiophile headphones.
The construction and build of the E5 looks solid with a metallic-like hardened plastic casing with soft touch lighted buttons to navigate the controls. The buttons and controls are very simple and intuitive to use, although the E5 does not come with a display screen unlike the FiiO amps. The E5 comes with built-in dual microphones that automatically detect and react to landscape or portrait orientations, allowing high-quality recording to smartphones and mobile devices. The package comes with 2 x 3.5mm stereo jacks, 1×3.5mm (line-in /optical-in), audio-output 1 x 3.5mm (line-out/optical-out) and 1 micro USB for charging and streaming music.
The Verdict? The Creative Sound Blaster E5 is one of the best portable headphone amps for those looking for a high-performance amp with the advantage of Bluetooth streaming at a reasonable price. The E5 is incorporated with quality core processors and SBX Pro studio suite of technologies which are designed to improve audio performance and increase the depth and spatial width of the audio. We also found that the E5 has good soundstage and produces detailed sound when the SBX is enabled, making the music literally come to live. The E5 also has the ability to save all your audio EQ settings so that you can enjoy your personalized sound while connected to a computer or as a stand-alone headphone amplifier. All in all, the E5 is one of the best portable headphone amps you can find designed for sound performance and bluetooth functionality on the go, and we highly recommend them.
#7 FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The FiiO E10K is the updated version of the original E10 USB DAC headphone amp and is hands down one of the best portable headphone amps ever made in the FiiO series. The FiiO E10K is a portable amp that can be used at home or on the go with any desktop or notebook computer for high fidelity digital music playback. The E10K’s USB interface supports up to 96KHz/24Bit high resolution audio streams, and can output audio to headphones, line-out to an external amplifier, or digital coaxial output to an external DAC. The amplifier itself is clean and powerful, with enough punch to drive high impedance headphones. It also features a switchable built-in 3dB bass boosting circuit which is superior to software EQ effects, and a fixed volume full-scale line level output for maximum signal quality. All in all the E10K is a very neat package that comes at a very reasonable price which is really worth every cent you pay for.
Straight out of the box, the E10K comes with a stunning all-aluminium shell with enhanced anti-interferance ability which makes it more reliable and durable. The headphone amp is equipped with a volume potentiometer with barrier-free design for easy operation, and supports USB digital audio conversion to coaxial digital audio output. Apart from the excellent build quality and metallic finish, it also comes with four little rubber feet for you to attach the amp to the bottom so that it does not move on your desk.
When we tested the E10Ks with our headphones, we could notice that the output is considerably stronger with absolutely no noise or distortion. Everything sounded clean, flat and accurate with detailed highs and mids. We particularly liked the bass and gain switches – the bass boost is punchy and feels authoritative, and definitely sounds great without diluting the mids. The music that comes through the E10Ks feels really full and rich, and it adds to the experience to hear certain genres of music through the headphones to appreciate the difference in quality. The gain switch is also great, allowing for a much wider range on the amp. This feature is particularly useful if you plan on getting high-impedance audiophile headphones, like the HD800s.
When you compare the E10K to other quality DAC headphone amps desktop combinations that are in the upper price range, you will realize how good the E10K actually is for a fraction of the cost. The amp packs a huge punch and you will immediately notice a huge improvement over the generic computer audio or if you are using a low impedance headphone amp. Simply put, the difference in sound quality, detail, bass and the richness of the music is obvious with the E10Ks.
The Verdict? The E10K is one of the best portable headphone amps now selling at a very reasonable price at the time of writing. Not only does it match the expectations of an audiophile on a budget, you will immediately hear the difference in sound quality and how crisp and clean the sound actually is. You can really distinguish the mids and all the different instruments playing, and the bass can be boosted with the +3 dB bass boost switch if required, which enhances your overall headphone listening experience. The sound signature of the E10K is best described as warm overall and yet crisp. Furthermore, the E10K comes in a very small package and is rather lightweight which is great for portability – and coupled with superior build quality and its sleek volume knob makes the E10K truly one of the best portable headphone amps you can find.
#8 Sony PHA1A Portable Hi-Res DAC/Headphone Amplifier
The Sony PHA1A Hi-Res DAC headphone amplifier is a high-end, compact and lightweight amp that is powerful enough to support high impedance headphones and deliver incredible sound. It supports up to PCM 192kHz/24 bit, direct digital connection for smartphones, DMPs, iOS devices and PCs. It produces solid sound with its WM8740 Wolfson DAC with ultra-low distortion, low noise and high slew rate. Furthermore, the PHA1A comes with a high-bandwidth TPA6120 headphone amp which minimizes noise, delivering more than 120 dB of dynamic range to ensure music is heard with every detail. The PHA1A comes into a sleek and durable aluminium enclosure for dependable performance and built-in lithium-ion battery for up to 6 hours battery life which charges while listening. The selectable gain supports headphone impedance from 8 to 600 Ohm, is which way beyond what most headphone require. Overall, the PHA1A is one of the very best portable headphone amps in the Sony line and one of the most powerful amps on the market that can drive 600 ohm headphones.
Although the PHA1A doesn’t exactly come cheap, it is well worth the money if you are looking for a high end headphone amp to power your music. While testing this amp on our headphones, we felt that the headphones really came alive with added richness to the sound and more volume than you will ever need. To fully appreciate the PHA1A you would need a high end set of headphones that can bring out the true power of this amp. The amp adds a sense of space and a layer of detail to the music; you will notice minute details in your music that you might not have heard before. This is truly the kind of amp you would want to have to sit back, relax and enjoy music exactly as you would it to sound.
The amp doesn’t come with a wall charger (you need to purchase this separately) but you can charge the amp through the computer with the micro USB connection. The amp itself is equipped with an internal, asynchronous USB 2.0 clock supports which accurately converts digital signals to analog sounds. This precision clock signal generator also reduces timing inaccuracies when converting digital signals into analog waveform, which means that the amp produces superior audio performance with minimum noise and distortion.
In terms of design, a compact aluminium enclosure protects the delicate internal circuitry from outside interference and the alloy bumpers protect the volume knob from external impact (and accidental adjustment). The internal rechargeable battery provides approximately 6 hours of hi-res music playback when connected digitally via USB input. Overall, the PHA1A is very nicely built and designed and feels very high quality – the entire package comes with a micro-USB and digital cables for Walkman and Xperia.
The Verdict? The PHA1A is a high end, well made and one of the best portable headphone amps which is powerful enough to drive 600 ohm headphones. This amp is so powerful that we were surprised that it is actually portable with 6 hours of battery life. When we tested the amp with our headphones we could instantly feel the difference in sound quality. The improvement in quality is considerable – the soundstage, separation, balance and clarity and definition of instruments clearly make for a truly sublime listening experience. The extra gain also delivers excellent sound quality for headphones with higher impedance. If you are looking for a high-end headphone amp to take your music experience to a higher level sophistication and musical quality, the PHA1As should definitely be on your bucket list.
#9 FiiO Kunlun E18 Portable DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The FiiO Kunlun E18 is a professional high end headphone amp and one of the best portable headphone amps you can buy at an extremely good price. The E18 performs high quality digital-to-analog audio conversion for music played through compatible android and iphone devices, as well as laptop and desktop computers at up to 24-Bit and 96kHz bitrate high definition audio. The amp features a Tenor TE7022 USB audio streaming controller which supports OTG-capable android smartphones. The E18 bypasses the smartphone’s audio circuitry and delivers high quality audio by performing the DAC conversion via a Burr Brown PCM1798 DAC, and driving its audio outputs with OPA1642 and LMH6643 OP amps. Furthermore, its large 3500mAh battery provides up to 25 hours of use as an amp-only, or up to 12 hours as DAC + amp. The battery takes about 4 hours to charge with a 2A USB adaptor. In short, the E18 is one of the best portable headphone amps with a high-end amp audio output circuitry with ultra-low distortion and noise reduction.
We were very surprised with the audio performance of the E18 with our headphones. The E18 provides high end DAC capabilities (it works as a DAC with music apps including Spotify) with high quality digital audio files which are rendered faithfully by the E18. The music passing through the E18 had all the impact, dynamics and transparency of a desktop system – in addition the E18 can also be used with a laptop computer or a desktop should the need arise. We would say that this is a fantastic portable DAC + Amp, and very few headphone amps can come anything close to competing with the performance of the E18 at this price.
The E18 works flawlessly when connected to a PC by USB, which you can use as an external DAC sound card (Windows will detect the driver as “USB Audio Device” or “SPDIF Interface”). You can expect low distortion when connected with your PC, with rich mids and crisp highs, making the sound on your headphones feel unreal. There is a bass presence that doesn’t feel overwhelming but authoritative at the same time. When we set the amp to volume level 4 out of 9, the sound felt loud and crisp enough and that was on low gain. The E18s will really make your headphone sound exactly as it was intended to sound.
Having said that, we found that the E18 can produce a little static when powered on – there is some clicking and buzzing noise that can occur randomly when switching tracks. The good thing is that it the static goes away after a while and is not the constant static like you would hear from a radio. If such an issue does crop up, you could try changing the actual source of the music (i.e., try different android phones) because the noise could be coming from the actual source or outside interference. The static goes away at low to higher volumes and only seems to be present after a song ends or when nothing is playing at all.
Despite the ‘static’ limitations, the E18 headphone amp performs very well and sound so good that we were quite instantly hooked onto it. It will definitely make almost any headphones or earbuds sound much better, and the E18 is one of the few portable DACs that will actually work well with a smartphone. The E18 sounds fantastic and super easy to use, and works great with computers and laptops as well.
The Verdict/ The FiiO E18 is definitely one of the best portable headphone amps that you can get at an extremely affordable price. The sound performance of the E18 goes way beyond the price – which means you are really getting quality for every single dollar spent on this headphone amp. Not only did our headphones sound fantastic, the bass, the mids and highs and music had a presence, which seems as though the music suddenly came to live. Although the E18 does seem to have a little static, the static cannot be heard at low or high volumes while playing music. If you don’t mind this limitation, you simply cannot go wrong with the E18 if you are looking for a quality headphone amp.
#10 FiiO A1 Portable Headphone Amplifier
The FiiO A1 is a classic, tiny metallic portable headphone amp that is extremely portable and easy to use. FiiO brands the A1 as a “new generation of exquisite design and improved operation”, with its sandblasted aluminium alloy chassis, modern appearance and ergonomic contours. The A1 provides four EQ modes: one flat and three levels of bass boost. It also features micro switches for sensitive and reliable operation, with single-press step and press-hold fast adjustment functions. The A1 is designed for high power output and superior fidelity for better sound quality. It also features a rechargeable li-poly battery providing approximately 13 hours of pay time on a full charge.
Where the FiiO A1 shines is with its use with low-impedance headphones or IEMs on the cheaper range. The A1 would improve bass response and clarity to a certain extent. The first equalizer setting is straight and takes the existing signal and boosts the sound quality across the spectrum. The second equalizer setting on the amp takes the bass up a few notches and punches it way up, which has the potential to make it sound a little muddy. The third equalizer setting makes the bass feel pronounced and elevated, but the mids and highs are kept crisp and clean. The A1 also comes with a dedicated cable to attach to any headphone jack and it works effectively. You can also adjust the equalizer settings on your iPhone or Android devices to improve the sound output in addition to the settings on the A1.
You could definitely use the A1s with a set of low-end headphones or IEMs and the A1 will improve its sound to a certain extent. That said, we would recommend getting a set of higher quality headphones because such headphones have more ability to channel the higher quality sound that the A1 can deliver. This is not to say you shouldn’t get the A1 headphone amp – it’s just better cost wise to get a high quality headphone and start from there.
The A1 has a power switch and a volume gain and minus button. The power switch also controls the equalizer functions, and can be locked down to prevent unwanted toggles. Three-color status LEDs indicates EQ setting and battery status, allowing you to check them at a glance. In terms of portability, the A1 is quite unbeatable. It is barely larger than a 1.5 inch square and less than 10mm thick, which makes it the near perfect companion to carry around with your smartphone or laptop computers that require audio enhancing. The FiiO A1 comes with a clip at the back of the device for you to attach it to your pants pocket or shirt which is convenient.
The Verdict? The FiiO A1 is one of the very best portable headphone amps in terms of size and quality, and is now selling at a very good price way below the cost of other headphone amps. You can really crank a lot of volume out of this headphone amp and is very simple to use, especially with its integrated EQ settings that you can tweak to adjust the music output. That said, the A1 is not meant to power high-end headphones or headphones with high impedance, and is designed to help you get that extra boost and bass output if your mobile device DAC doesn’t quite push your headphones. We would recommend the FiiO A1s only if you are looking for a simple, cheap and lightweight headphone amp to give an extra boost to your headphones from your mobile device – the A1s provide a quick and easy fix to boost your listening experience.