Amplifier Recommendations -

 

Amplifier Recommendations

The rule that I use is that the bigger the size of the headphone, the bigger the need for amplification. Of course factors like driver sensitivity and impedance will matter, but the general rule of thumb is, use a dedicated headphone amplifier for a full size headphone. Even a portable amplifier can be enough, depending on the type of the headphones. Also remember that open back headphones usually require more amplification power (from A Guide to Headphones).

 

Portable Amplifiers

JDSLabs Cmoy
This great sounding portable amp at a great price is becoming a very consistent recommendation for all sorts of headphone listeners. For $60, you can get into the portable amp bandwagon and see what the fuss is all about. The JDSLabs’ sound quality don’t disappoint either. Open and spacious with smooth mids and a very musical overall sound. It also comes with a bass boost feature that bumps up the bass significantly. If you decide to order, it’s recommended to ask if you can also have the recharging circuitry built into the amp.
$59.99 from JDSLabs | $60 Pack of Awesome: JDSLabs Cmoy

Electric Avenues PA2V2
One of the oldest portable amp in existence is also another great entry level portable amp. The sound signature is more forward and engaging than the JDSLabs Cmoy, making it a better choice for Rock. The PA2V2, however, doesn’t come with a bass boost switch. It’s also another highly recommended items, and if you ask me to choose between the PA2V2 and the JDSLabs, I really would just get both of them since they are so affordable. $60 including US shipping from Electric Avenues.
$60 from Electric Avenues (gary@electric-avenues.com) | Electric Avenues PA2V2 

RSA SR71A
Despite the advancement in portable amps with the newer digital volume control and balanced topologies, I still think that the SR-71a, with the signature dark and weighty lows of RSA is still one of the most desirable portable amps in the market, the only downside being non rechargeable batteries.
$450.00 from Ray Samuels Audio | The Usual Suspects

ALO Rx Mk2
Although there are a lot of portable amp in the market, the ALO Rx Mk2 is one of the most popular amp around with its thin form factor, digital volume control, clean, open, and spacious sound with great bass impact makes this an easy amplifier to like. Suitable for anything from IEMs to hard to drive full size headphones.
$449.00 from ALO Audio The Usual Suspects

 

Desktop Amplifiers

Schiit Asgard
Frankly, the initial hype surrounding the Asgard sort of puts me in a sceptic mode. Is this going to be another over-hyped item? After all, how good can a sub-$300 solid state amp sounds? After doing a review of the Asgard, Valhalla, and Lyr, I was truly impressed with the sound and performance of the Asgard that it deserves a spot in Headfonia’s recommendation list. So here it is, an entry level solid state amp with a slight warm sound and a superb musicality. Truly a high value/dollar product that I’d highly recommend to people without a desktop amp as well as those who already has a higher-dollar desktop amp.
$279 from Amazon.com (free shipping)| Triple Schiit: Asgard, Valhalla, and Lyr

Woo Audio WA6
The mid-level, single-ended-triode, class-A amp from Woo audio delivers a clean and grainless sound with good bass impact. One of the most popular mid-fi tube around, the WA6 is a lively and open sounding amp without the slightest hint of mellow or “tubey” sound. Best build quality in the business too. Output transformer coupled design means that it handles both low impedance and high impedance headphones.
$620.00 from Woo Audio | WooAudio6 Tube Amplifier

Burson HA-160
The Burson HA-160 is a mid-level solid state amplifier that offers all the good thing normally associated with solid states. Most notably is one of the best bass impact among any desktop amps, as well as a clear articulation, full midrange and a fast-paced warm sound signature.
$695.00 from Amazon.com | Burson HA-160 Review

Graham Slee Solo SRG II
These two solid sounding mid-hi level desktop amplifier from Graham Slee don’t quite have the buzz that the other components I listed has, but here are two very likable sounding amp for those of you looking for a mid-hi level desktop amplifier.
£434.00 with PSU1 power supply; £314.25 standard unit | Graham Slee Desktop Amps: Novo, Solo SRG II, Solo Ultra Linear

 

Only list the most popular products are listed here. If you feel it to be too limited, feel free to browse the reviews on the Amplifier Category:

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  • Matthew

    Hi, super helpful article/website. I’m looking to buy a good Amp/DAC to use with an iPhone and my HD600 headphones. Source files are usually compressed AAC. Two choices are the new Sony PHA-2 (can get sent from Japan via eBay) or the Versa VAMP. Both about $600. Any thoughts between the two? Other contenders I should consider? Thank you!

    • dalethorn

      I had the v-moda Verza for a few months, and sent it off to Marcus in the Philippines, so you could google him and see if he’s reported on it yet. I wrote a favorable review but it doesn’t say much about the sound except that it’s about as good as you’ll get with CD quality tracks (which isn’t bad). I’m not familiar with the Sony, but if I were looking beyond the Verza, I would take a very long look at the Theorem 720 (and then promptly buy it).

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The VAMP is better.

      The PHA-2 is still a hit and miss IMO.

      • Matthew

        Thanks for your response. I see others here recommend the Theorem, but that is way too big for my needs. The only other contender is the Fostex HP-P1, but that also is not as slim/sleek as the VAMP. Do you still recommend the VAMP over the Fostex?

        • dalethorn

          I had the Verza. I wish I had the Theorem instead.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Ignoring size, the Theorem is currently my #1 preference. The Vamp is a close second.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I can’t say it enough: Cypher Labs Theorem!

  • Diego

    Hey Mike, great and informative website. I bought myself now the first expensive iem (westone 4r) and I search now a portable amp. I will use it also for my desk. So I read all your reviews and now I have the problem that I stay where I began. I searching something between around 400$. I listen any kind of music, but most hiphop. I hope you can help!

    Best regards from n’ keep it up!

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I can fully recommend the Duet as well

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Diego,
      With IEMs, a better source is what I’ll go for first.

  • Roey

    Mike, need your expertise on running the He-6 from an vintage amp via speaker taps. Which one would you recommend, Marantz or Pioneer? Also, where in Jakarta would you recommend I can get a vintage amp repaired or check-out before plugging in speakers/headphones into them.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      The HE6 does great with vintage gear. both are really good, give them both a listen.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Can’t say which brand.. Vintage Marantz tend to be warm and blindly that’s the brand I’d go for but ultimately you have to test and listen.

      Get in touch with this guy to get the amp checked and repaired:

      http://www.kaskus.co.id/thread/000000000000000001463781/jerusalem-audio/

  • STARSTERN

    which amp that been reviewed here would be closest to the quality sound wise of this amp HEADAMP GS-XMK2 ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry I have no idea.

  • Raskoln

    Hi, can you recommend an amp, desktop or portable, to pair with Senn 598s? Very wide listening tastes.

    • Raskoln

      Recommend Audinst HP or Fiio E12 for above?

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        The Audinst

        • Raskoln

          Thanks.

  • Gabriel

    Hello!
    I have a Sony MDR-X10 (among others), Sony Xperia Z Ultra and a FiiO E11. I do not need portability so I am looking into a better amp at no more than $150..maybe the Little Dot I+, or the Magni or maybe you have another suggestion?
    Thanks!

    One thing that concerns me is the Bass Boost of the FiiO as I like to use that since the sound from my phone seems to lack bass on some songs.

  • Vishal Singh

    I have read your several reviews and I know your are not a big fan of diymod. However, I have got one and I want your help in buying an amp which will complement my diymod well. I have Arrow 3G but it does not go well with the diymod. Help please.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I have no clue concerning the imod (diymod), sorry

      • Vishal Singh

        Its just an imod with blackgate capped lod. It has abundant bass in them as it is and adding arrow 3g with it just makes it to bass heavy and to dark for my taste.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Arrow 3G is a good amp though. In that case get a nice neutral amplifier? Or one with adjustable bass like the JDSlabs C5

          • Vishal Singh

            I was wondering that myself. Thanks.

  • Tommy

    Mike & Lieven, what do you think is the most neutral portable amp under $200? If possible it also have great technicalities as well..

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      do you consider the O2 to be portable?

      • Tommy

        Nope.. I prefer smaller size, pocket size.. Even better if it under $100..

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          under $100? I’m not very much familiar in that price range I’m afraid.

        • dalethorn

          FiiO E07k – excellent sound and under $100.

  • Giacomo

    hi there!im looking for an headphone (fidelio x1) amp to connect to my asus xonar dx (used as a dac)…any advise? around 100/150 $ thanks ;)

    • dalethorn

      For under $100 USD, the FiiO E07k (amp only) or the PA2V2 would be good. Above $100 but under $150 the O2 (assembled) is good. I don’t know of any amp only (no DAC) above $150 that’s better until it gets to almost $400.

      • Giacomo

        many thanks for reply! i already read only good things on the O2…but compared to schiit magni which is better? but you mean fiio e09k? i was thinking that 07 is a dac (sorry for my english anyway :) )

        • dalethorn

          I don’t know, but the Magni review on Headfonia describes it well, and the Amazon price is good, so maybe check the review and see what you think.

          • Alton Britt

            Dalethorn—recently received fiio e11 and fiio e07k, both of which sounded great, but each had a connection short or similar problem which shorted out sound in right ear-cup of HF. Jiggling the cords made sound on right come and go. Bothe can be returned, but what should I get? Should I get both replaced, get the fiio e17, or perhaps go with the schiit magni or vali/modi combination. Trying to stay under $250 or so! What advantage does a yube amp give?

            • Dave Ulrich

              sounds more like a headphone problem. You sure the problem was with the amp?

              • Alton Britt

                I was mainly using the Beyer DT 990Pro, but I’ll try it with others. When I jiggle the cords, the right-side sound is in and out. I really appreciate your response; you guys are awesome!!

                • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

                  Yeah, like Dave said – unlikely both amps would have the same very unusual problem.

  • Tsuneharu Renji

    Hello there! Recently i just bought a Sennheiser HD 8 DJ headphone and
    currently looking a better amp that gives a good detail sound or a
    little flat and portables from these brand like Fiio E17k or the Hippo
    cri cri + (Price range = $150<) . I couldn't decide on which one
    should i get and can you give a thought about it or suggest a better
    amp? Thnks..cheers~

    • http://dalethorn.com dalethorn

      I would choose the E17, to get the most power and flexibility.

      • Tsuneharu Renji

        thnks @dalethorn:disqus!! now i can buy with confidence~ cheers~

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