Most people don’t think twice about where they plug in their headphones. They simply stick them into their computer, iPod, or smartphone and take whatever comes out of the speakers. The truth is that just like any other speaker system, your headphones make use of amplification. Your electronics all have tiny amplifiers built into them. Unfortunately, these have to be built for size and power specs suited to the inside of a phone. That’s a fine compromise when you’re away from home, but when you are sitting in your lounge or music room you can do better.
If you want to know more about headphone amplifiers, be sure to check out my buyer’s guide. Here I’ve brought together some of the most promising desktop headphone amplifiers. These are also some of the best selling units in this category.
I’ve listed my best headphone amp choices at the top and the rest are in no particular order. So I hope you’re amped up, because here we go!
Top Pick: Monolith Liquid Spark Headphone Amplifier – by Alex Cavalli
Monolith offers a much more expensive headphone amplifier in the form of the Liquid Platinum. How much more expensive? You could buy almost five of the Sparks for the price of one Platinum! It would be easy for me to pick an amp like the Platinum, call it the best and go on with my day. Truthfully, if you have an unlimited budget and don’t care about the price tag on the Platinum or one of its market equivalents, go ahead and buy it. There’s no need to nitpick with flagship products.
What makes a more affordable unit like the Spark interesting is what the company has to do when offering a premium listening experience at a fifth of the price. What are you sacrificing? Is it worth paying so much more?
What makes the Spark such a great choice is the fact that Monolith has got the fundamentals right. There are no capacitors on the signal path, small mosfets and a simple, clean approach overall.
The signal to noise ratio is excellent and based on what people who’ve spent a lot of time with it have to say, you’re getting much more than you’re paying for when it comes to the listening experience.
Pyle-Pro PHA40 Headphone Amplifier
If you are the type that prefers having lots of controls instead of a single volume knob, the Pyle-Pro may be for you. It’s also for you if you are low on cash, since this is a very, very cheap amplifier. This fact does not fill me with confidence, especially since it also has the word “pro” in the name.
The looks of the Pyle put me in mind of a lot of professional sound gear. It looks like a lot of stuff I’ve worked with behind the scenes at music festivals and band performances. I quite like the upwards-facing controls. For home use it may be less than practical, given that all the controls on home systems usually face forward from inside a cabinet. How much of a problem or useful feature this is to you will depend on your setup.
Should you consider this amp? Based on the experience people have had, the answer should be “No”. This is just too cheaply made. The jacks are dodgy, the amplification is too low, and there are better ways to spend your money.
Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier
There are quite a few tube headphone amplifier options on the market these days, and many of them are simply trading on the fact that people associate tube amps with quality. At first I thought the Nobsound was one of these cash-in products, but after looking at the reviews of people who’ve bought it, there’s clearly something special about it.
I do really appreciate how good the amp looks. Simple, with a beautiful copper finish, this is going to look pretty awesome on any desk. It’s a CNC-made chassis and it shows.
You can drive headphones up to 600 ohm, so it will work a treat with high-end cans, but the one thing that, ironically, seems to elicit complaints are the valves the Nobsound ships with. The fix, it turns you, is just spending five to ten dollars on some better ones, pop them in and any lingering sound quality issues are sorted. Even with that small additional cost, this is a great deal.
CHORD Electronics Mojo Headphone Amp
A hundred dollars may seem like a lot of money for a tiny little headphone amp, but how about $600? Yes, this headphone amp from CHORD doesn’t mess around when it comes to the asking price, but then it’s a bit more than just a headphone amplifier.
The look of this device is not something I particularly like. It looks a little like a cheap PC accessory from the 90s; not something I’d like if I were putting down this much money.
In the end, that may not matter if it has the right performance and features. So what justifies the price?
In addition to being an amp, this is also a DAC or digital-to-analog converter. So it can play digital sources directly. This is also a portable model with a built-in battery.
It’s a pretty impressive piece of kit that delivers (according to buyers) amazing sound. If all you want to do is listen to vinyls on headphones, this is definitely overkill and you’ll waste most of the value on offer. If you want one amp to do it all, then the Mojo may actually be worth it.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.