We are reader-supported. Links on our site may earn us a commission. More about us

The 7 best headphone amps to buy in 2024

If you’re serious about high fidelity, you know that listening to music through your smartphone or laptop can be like looking at a Van Gogh through a foggy window. You get the gist, but you miss the details: the texture, depth, and intricacies that make the experience unforgettable.

Instead, imagine suddenly hearing the faintest whisper of a brush on a cymbal, the subtle reverb in a singer’s voice, or the intricate layers of a complex electronic track. This isn’t about cranking up the volume; it’s about enriching sound quality. That’s the power of headphone amps!

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of headphone amps and identify which are the ones that can unlock a whole new world of sound for you.

Quick recommendations

The Schiit Audio Magni+ is an exceptional headphone amp that delivers professional results without breaking the bank, featuring exceptional sound quality, cutting-edge low THD+N and high SNR.

The AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt is a pocket-sized, plug-and-play amp that is perfect for those who need to carry their amp wherever they go. It’s compatible with a wide range of devices, supports high-res streaming, and uses battery efficiently.

Finally, for those willing to spend a bit more, the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is a high-end option with a luxurious all-in-one design. It has a highly advanced DAC, extensive connectivity options and delivers smooth, stable, and noise-free audio.

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Why you should trust me

I have solid experience as both an audiophile and an audio engineer, and as a result, I’ve spent years diving deep into the world of headphone amplifiers, analyzing their impact on sound quality.

Marco Sebastiano Alessi, author and contributor at Higher Hz

Whenever testing a new amp, I evaluate its influence on a headphone’s frequency response across the audio spectrum and ensure it can unlock the emotional essence of each track.

So, whether you’re an audiophile or a casual listener looking to up your audio game, I’m the right guy to help you upgrade your sound.

How I chose and tested

With this article, I want to provide a broad snapshot of the current market, from budget-friendly options to high-end investments.

As always, I try to recommend equipment that offers the best value for your money, regardless of price point.

This approach ensures that whether you’re on a budget or looking to invest in top-tier audio gear, you should be able to find an amp that exceeds your expectations in quality and performance.

  1. AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt
  2. Schiit Audio Magni+
  3. iFi Zen DAC V2
  4. Monoprice Monolith Liquid Spark
  5. Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition
  6. FiiO K3 V2
  7. Chord Hugo 2

AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt

  • Type: Portable
  • Inputs: USB-A
  • Outputs: 1/8-inch (3.5 mm) jack
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Streaming: MP3 to MQA and high-res
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC/amp
Image: AudioQuest

The DragonFly Cobalt is a pocket-sized amp designed to upgrade your audio experience, whether you’re using a phone, tablet, or computer. The Cobalt connects easily via USB and comes with a DragonTail USB-C adapter for newer devices.

For iPhones, a Lightning-to-USB adapter will be necessary, but it’s a small price to pay for the excellent sound quality it delivers.

Despite being roughly the size of a thumb drive, the Cobalt’s sound quality is expansive. The high-performance USB microcontroller increases processing speed by 33% compared to its predecessors, reducing extra noise but also minimizing distortion, delivering a clearer and more detailed sound profile.

Furthermore, the Cobalt draws minimal power from your device, so you can listen for extended periods without draining your battery.

The Cobalt is designed to make everything sound better, from compressed MP3s and YouTube videos to high-resolution files up to 24-bit/96 kHz. Its MQA support means you’re also ready for lossless streaming from services like Qobuz or Tidal.

Whether you’re plugging in headphones for private listening or connecting to powered speakers, the Cobalt delivers superior sound quality at a fair price.

What I like

  • Excellent audio fidelity.
  • Easy plug-and-play setup.
  • MQA support for high-res streaming.
  • Compact and portable.

What I don’t like

  • No Bluetooth.
Buy AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt at: AmazonCrutchfield

Schiit Audio Magni+

  • Type: Desktop
  • Inputs: RCA
  • Outputs: RCA, 1/4-inch (6.3 mm) jack
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Streaming: None
Schiit Audio Magni Plus headphone amp
Image: Schiit Audio

If something sounds like Schiit, you know you’re getting the finest aural experience for your hi-fi and headphones!

The Magni+ is all about delivering a powerful and immersive audio performance. The THD+N specs are extremely low, measuring less than 0.0007% on high gain and 0.0003% on low gain at reference 1 V RMS with a 300-ohm load, ensuring a clean and clear audio output.

Furthermore, the SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) is above 110 dB in high gain and 121 dB in low gain, both unweighted and relative to 2 V RMS, providing a quiet backdrop against which even subtle musical details can stand out.

Leaving the specs aside, the Schiit Audio Magni+ offers an incredible sound for the money, with an expansive and articulate soundstage that’ll enhance the quality of your listening sessions. If your budget is below $200, the Magni+ is your best bet to elevate your sound.

What I like

  • Powerful audio output.
  • RCA inputs for versatility.
  • Traditional 1/4-inch headphone jack.
  • Sturdy build quality.

What I don’t like

  • Not for those looking for modern features.
Buy Schiit Audio Magni+ at: AmazonSchiit Audio

iFi Zen DAC V2

  • Type: Desktop
  • Inputs: USB-B
  • Outputs: RCA, 1/4-inch jack, 4.4 mm Pentaconn
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Streaming: No native streaming
iFi Zen DAC V2
Image: iFi Audio

The iFi Zen DAC V2 is one of the finest amps in its price range, thanks to a powerful 16-core XMOS microcontroller, which works seamlessly with a high-grade “True Native” Burr-Brown 32-bit digital-to-analog converter (DAC) chip.

The DAC supports a wide array of audio formats, ranging from PCM and DXD up to 32-bit/384 kHz to DSD up to 11.2 MHz, and it even offers full decoding capabilities for MQA audio files.

The rear panel of the unit offers a range of connectivity options, including a Type B USB input and both unbalanced stereo RCA and balanced 4.4 mm Pentaconn outputs.

The Zen DAC V2 can function as a stereo preamplifier, allowing users to switch between fixed or variable output modes.

All in all, the iFi Zen DAC V2 provides a versatile and enriching audio experience packed into a compact, sturdy metal case.

What I like

  • Multiple inputs and outputs.
  • High-res MQA streaming.
  • Versatile and feature-rich.

What I don’t like

  • Not for people looking for a plug-and-play device.
Buy iFi Zen DAC V2 at: AmazonCrutchfield

Monoprice Monolith Liquid Spark

  • Type: Desktop
  • Inputs: RCA
  • Outputs: RCA, 1/4-inch jack
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Streaming: None
Monolith Liquid Spark amp with audiophile headphones
Image: Monoprice

The Monolith Liquid Spark is a formidable headphone amp featuring two filtered 18 V power rails, which can push up to 1300 mW RMS at 50 Ohm. Furthermore, the low distortion level and adjustable gain ensure an uncolored and dynamic sound reproduction at all times.

The Monolith features a DC topology from input to output, completely bypassing the need for capacitors in the signal path and reproducing audio that’s exceptionally transparent.

Unlike many amplifiers in this price range that rely on AOPs (operational amplifiers), the Liquid Spark utilizes laser-matched low-noise audio JFETs for its differential input stage and high-performance MOSFETs for the output stage.

Finally, the preamplifier output, offering a stereo RCA controlled by a volume knob, allows seamless integration with external amplifiers or active speakers. All these features are neatly packed in a robust aluminum casing, exuding a minimalist, professional vibe.

What I like

  • Clean, uncolored audio.
  • Budget-friendly.
  • Robust build quality.

What I don’t like

  • No Bluetooth or streaming features.
Buy Monoprice Monolith Liquid Spark at: AmazonMonoprice

Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition

  • Type: Desktop
  • Inputs: RCA, Coaxial, Optical, USB-A, Ethernet
  • Outputs: 1/4-inch jack, 4.4 mm Pentaconn, XLR
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Streaming: Spotify Connect, Tidal, Qobuz, Roon Ready
Naim Uniti Atom HE amp with Focal headphones
Image: Naim Audio

The Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is a luxurious, all-in-one solution for those who want the best in both features and audio quality. Designed to be more than just a headphone amplifier, it also includes a cutting-edge built-in DAC and network streaming capabilities.

The device offers a plethora of streaming options, from high-res audio files to popular streaming services like Spotify, Qobuz, and Tidal. With the addition of a massive power transformer and Burr-Brown DACs, Naim ensures that the Uniti Atom HE delivers smooth, stable, and noise-free audio, regardless of the headphones used.

The amp is not just limited to headphone use, but can also function as a stereo preamplifier. It offers multiple output options, including unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR outputs, widening its compatibility with various power amplifiers.

The free Naim control app allows for an intuitive user interface, providing quick access to EQ settings, volume control, and a range of streaming services.

For those who can afford it, the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is the secret weapon to unlock the full potential of your headphones.

What I like

  • Extensive connectivity.
  • Integrated streaming services.
  • Bluetooth enabled.

What I don’t like

  • Premium pricing.
  • May be overkill for casual listeners.
Buy Naim Uniti Atom HE at: AmazonCrutchfield

FiiO K3 V2

  • Type: Desktop
  • Inputs: USB-C, Coaxial, Optical
  • Outputs: 1/8-inch (3.5 mm) jack, 2.5 mm jack, Line out
  • Bluetooth: No
  • Streaming: None
FiiO K3 V2 headphone amplifier
Image: FiiO

The FiiO K3 V2 is a compact and budget-friendly option that doesn’t sacrifice performance. The headphone amp comes with an ESS DAC, which provides a 14 dB increase in signal-to-noise ratio and a 13 dB reduction in distortion compared to its previous version.

This is complemented by its optimized circuit design aimed at delivering a low-noise floor and pure sound quality.

In terms of outputs, the K3 offers a range of options: a 3.5 mm single-ended connector for regular headphones, a 2.5 mm balanced connector for balanced headphones, and a 3.5 mm line output for connecting to speaker systems or home theaters. Digital connections are also possible through RCA coaxial and optical connectors.

The K3 V2 features a bass-boost switch and a high-/low-gain level switch, while the ADC volume control ensures smooth level adjustments, adding to its user-friendly interface.

If your budget is around $100, you can’t really get anything better than this tiny yet performing headphone amp.

What I like

  • Solid audio performance.
  • Versatile connectivity.
  • Budget-friendly.

What I don’t like

  • No separate power port.
  • Lacks streaming features.
Buy FiiO K3 V2 at: AmazonB&H

Chord Hugo 2

  • Type: Desktop
  • Inputs: Optical, Coaxial, HD USB
  • Outputs: RCA, 1/8-inch jack, 1/4-inch jack
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Streaming: High-res playback via HD USB input
Chord Hugo 2 DAC/headphone amp
Image: Chord

The Hugo 2 is a versatile DAC and headphone amplifier designed for both mobile and home use. It can be integrated into a full-size audio system or used independently, thanks to its line-level output and full-function remote control.

It comes with a plethora of digital inputs, including optical, coaxial, and HD USB, along with extended-range Bluetooth.

It supports high-resolution audio file playback up to a stunning 768 kHz and up to DSD512 (Octa DSD) via its HD USB input. This makes the Hugo 2 highly versatile and capable of satisfying the needs of audiophiles who demand the highest quality in sound reproduction.

Analog outputs include RCA for connecting to amplifiers and 1/8-inch (3.5 mm) and 1/4-inch (6.3 mm) headphone outputs for personal listening.

The Hugo 2 also offers a four-function switch filter, providing a customizable listening experience, and the digital crossfeed function, offering three operation modes that simulate the effect of listening to speakers based on advanced binaural audio research.

Ultimately, the Hugo 2 delivers a rich, customizable audio experience that truly stands out in a crowded market. However, its premium features come with a hefty price tag.

What I like

  • Exceptional audio fidelity.
  • Extensive input and output options.
  • Bluetooth connectivity.

What I don’t like

  • Expensive.
  • Complex interface.
Buy Chord Hugo 2 at: Amazon

Final thoughts

I hope this guide will help you find the perfect amp to take your audio experience to the next level. With the right headphone amp, you’ll be able to hear the nuances of your favorite tracks as never before, unlocking a whole new level of musical enjoyment.

Happy listening!

Share
Discussions