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).
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) | Electric Avenues PA2V2
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
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
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: