On this page you’ll find the amplifier recommendations of this moment. This is an ever evolving list.
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.
The Fiio E12A (now named the Fiio A5) for sure is my favourite Fiio amplifier. While it isn’t the smallest, its size is perfect for stacking it to your mobile phone. It’s well built, it features Fiio’s excellent Bass Boost (+5dB) and best of all, it is dead silent with sensitive inear monitors. At the same time the A5/E12A has more than enough power to drive normal full sized headphones as well. This isn’t really the portable amplifier for high end equipment but this is an amplifier that will improve the sound quality from your normal MP3 players and phones, or power your headphones when your normal source isn’t up to it. I certainly liked it with a whole range of head- and earphones and this amp is great value for money.
iFi Audio xCan
iFi Audio delivered another great device with the iFi xCAN. This is an option for the folks who don’t need the DAC section of the xDSD. Actually when I received the xDSD last year, I thought that device would make it as a standalone portable amplifier because of its form factor and lightness. A couple of months later iFi announced the xCAN as their new portable amp. The iFi xCAN provides you a big power, a BAL setup for your BAL system, a great BT DAC/Amp performance with good quality, very nice build quality and a design which is very portable and light.
Cypher Labs Picollo
If you’re looking for a top level portable IEM amplifier, there is no way around the sublime Cypher Labs Picollo. This small sized analog amplifier has an excellent build quality but most of all it sounds extremely good. The Picollo is an incredibly good and musical amp, especially for IEMs. The Piccolo has extremely low floor noise, features a dead quiet volume pot with a wide range and a completely black background. It has more than enough detail and clarity with an always nicely present bass. On top of that it – when needed – has enough power to drive full size headphones, from 35Ohm orthodynamics to 600Ohm Beyerdynamics.
Cypher Labs Duet
The same company also makes the excellent sounding DUET. The special thing about the duet is that it is a fully analog amplifier with both a balanced input and output. I love using it in combination with the AK380 DAP as it has a balanced line out. The Duet is an amplifier that does it all: from inears to the TOTL full sized headphones, the Duet does it all. My personal favorite is the LCD2 but it’s also stunning sounding with the HD800 and LCD-XC. The Duet is a high end portable amp with a desktop sound.
Vorzuge Vorzamp Duo II
This amplifier is in the same high end category as the Duet is. They’re very comparable but the Vorzuge doesn’t have the full balanced circuit the Duet has. On the other hand it does have an EQ system. Nathan stated: “no amp I’ve reviewed, and no amp I’ve tested, packages the DUO II’s performance with such a badass EQ system. And no amp company I’ve dealt with is so demonstrably dedicated to a platform.”
Schiit Audio Asgard 3 (AMP only) [Added 11/05/2020]
The Asgard 3 gives-off all the vibes of an American muscle car: it’s big, brash and burly and you feel like you’re getting a lot of metal for your money. It has an easy-to-love utilitarian design, and like the muscle cars of today, the Asgard has actually gone and gotten itself better at handling and packs a bunch more features in than it used to.
The Asgard 3 impressed me with how versatile it’s proven to be with a range of headphones, and it ought to be able to power all but the most obscure of insensitive headphones well into the future. At $199, it’s a stone-cold bargain and absolutely worth the step-up from the tier of entry-level amplifiers that sit below it. If you already have a DAC in your system and you’re happy with its performance, then simply add that to the bare-bones amplifier-only Asgard 3.
SMSL SP200 THX 888 (Added 13/01/2020)
It’s never been a better time to be a personal audio enthusiast when THX certification and technology is available at an attainable price-point like the $289.99 S200. While ‘SMSL SP200 THX 888 headphone amplifier’ might not be the easiest name to roll off your tongue, it’s a name you ought to remember it because arguably it has become THE new benchmark in terms of value and performance for desktop headphone amplifiers, and you’ll no doubt be hearing much more about it. At $289.99 it’s an absolute no-brainer recommendation for anyone looking for a high-performance, versatile amp to throw at any set of headphones and extract maximum performance from them. Sure, it’s not fancy in its appearance or feature set, and it does forgo a few luxuries. This is a stripped-back, dynamite little amplifier that is focused on performance, and perform it does!
The little Crack doesn’t need the fancy tubes to sound good. It – for a low amount of money – makes your high impedance headphones such as the 300Ohm Sennheiser HD650, HD800 and 250Ohm Beyerdynamic units sound very good. For the money it’s still going for today, the Crack probably still is the best value tube amp on the market. And not only do you get a wonderful amplifier, you get to learn about audio, DIY and soldering all in one. If you’re into higher impedance headphones, the Bottlehead crack still is THE recommended amplifier to get. In fact I don’t think you can find an amp with a better technicality than the Crack for less than $500. If you build one yourself, that means only $299, and the Crack is a steal for that price. We ordered the amp before the price increase, but even today you’re practically robbing Bottlehead for the sound you get for that little money.
Schiit Audio Lyr 3
The Lyr 3 to me is a highly musical sounding device that really gets you into the music again, where you lose all sight of critical listening and just enjoy what is in front of you. Sure, the DAC could be more resolved or create a bigger venue, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you enjoy the music you like, and the Lyr 3 gets you as close as possible for that price.
Take into account the immense elasticity of the product, letting you configure it to your needs, and the extreme output power you will be faced with one tough decision not to get the Lyr 3 when you’re looking for a new affordable desktop amplifier.
Topping A90 [Added 07/07/2020]
The Topping A90 is an absolute no-brainer recommendation as a balance solid-state amplifier. At $499 its performance will embarrass far more expensive offerings, and if you’re looking for future-proof power, connectivity and usability then there isn’t another option under $500 that comes even close – especially if you need pre-amp facilities. Come to think of it, there probably aren’t many options under $1000 that can match the value and performance of the new Topping flagship amp.
Consider me impressed with the A90’s build, overall quality and excellent form-factor – it’s confidence-inspiring and ought to provide versatile and future-proof service for virtually any sort of headphones that you can throw at it (minus electrostatics, of course). But that’s nothing with sounding great and allowing you to have an emotional connection to your music. The A90 simply removes itself from the playback experience and provides absolute fidelity from the musical source to your transducers. It’ll give you the truth, and then some. The A90 + D90 stack ought to be absolute ‘end-game’ material for most listeners at $1,198 for the standard version, or $1,298 if MQA is an option that you’d like to tick. But as an analogue-unit alone at $499, the Topping A90 makes gets our recommendation without any hesitation.
Lehmann Audio Drachenfels
The Lehmann Audio Drachenfels is an amplifier which is easy to like. For the very correct price you get a nice looking, well built and upgradable amplifier that sounds good. The Drachenfels is musical like many other amps in its class but to us its resolution, separation and spaciousness is of a higher level. As said, one of its strongest selling points is how well it performs with everything you throw at it. No matter if it’s an orthodynamic, dynamic or other technology head- or earphone, the Drachenfels makes it work effortlessly and in a musical way. I can see the Drachenfels being an end-game amplifier for many desktop setups both at home and at work. And because of the digital update possibility, it has a lot offer in the future as well.
Lake People HPA RS 02
Lake People is the PRO side of the very popular German Violectric brand. It might not look as sexy as the Violectric amps but the HPA RS02 is an excellent sounding amplifier. It probably comes as close to a neutral sweet spot as is possible. It is very linear from top to bottom. The bass is tight and hits hard. The mids are clear and detailed. The treble is extended and sparkles. The width and depth of the soundstage are good. It isn’t really forward in its sound, but it also isn’t laid back. It isn’t warm, but no one would call it cool either. It just is. Natural is a good word for it.
The LaFigaro 339 is my favorite OTL amplifier together with the Botlehead Crack. The 339 depending on the version bought and the tubes uses can go from powerful and neutral, to soft, warm and romantic. The 339 is especially good with high impedance Sennheiser and Beyerdynamic headphones, but it plays very nice as well with a whole series of orthodynamic headphones such as the Audeze LCD-2. Compared to when we did the review, the price has cone up with about $200USD, but it still is an amplifier with great value for money. If you like rolling tubes and appreciate good design, than the 339 is the amp you want. Even though I still hardly use it today, I’ve never regretted buying it and I won’t be selling it either.
Flux Lab Acoustics – FA-10 [added: 21.04.2020]
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from the FA-10. I knew Lieven is a fan of their very expensive Atlas DAC/Amp. But that didn’t mean much to me for this amp. When I took the FA-10 out of its box, I liked what I saw, but once I listened to it, I loved the entire thing.
Its biggest strength is probably the control, the dark background and the superb imaging. All that paired with a very transparent and full bodied sound makes the FA-10 a great proposition in today’s market and certainly a hard option to pass up in the sub $1,000 USD range.
I can only tip my head to the people behind Flux Lab Acoustics for this marvel. It is well engineered, robustly made and sounds bloody wonderful.
To my ears, the FA-10 is a sensational amplifier. It plays well with pretty much any headphone I throw at it and has become one of my absolute favorites.
If you’re looking for a top class solid state amplifier that offers dual Single Ended headphone outs and one 4 pin XLR Balanced out, this could be just the amp for you. And there’s more: there’s an optional remote control and the V281 can serve as a pre-amp too. watch out, cause once you’ve listened to the superb balanced out, you’ll be hooked. Another advantage, besides excellent sound, is that the V281 can drive all of the headphones on the market and that Violectric offers 5 years of warranty. Simply a masterpiece
The Serbian made tube amp is a great all-round that outperforms its price by far. IT’s very well built with nothing but the best components and it’s very pretty. The HA2-SE sounds balanced and transparent with great clarity and precision. It handles all types of headphones: from planar magnetics to dynamics, from 32 to 600Ohm, the Auris always sounds great at all time. You’ll have this amp for the rest of your life.
XI Audio Broadway (added: June 2nd, 2020)
The Broadway is an amplifier that I enjoy hooking up to my full sized headphones. It sounds fantastic with the Susvara, HE1000se, Diana V2 but most of all with the Diana Phi. With the Phi it reaches a level of sonic bliss that is hard to find, especially since the Diana Phi is such a critical headphone to pair with.
For its outstanding sonic qualities and the ability to handle all my headphones with ease, I am putting the Broadway also on our Best Amplifier list. Absolutely deserved.
Feliks Audio Euforia Anniversary Edition (Added December 12 2019)
The AE Euforia is an amplifier which is playing with the big boys on the market, and if you’re in the market for a high end tube amp, the AE with its €2900 price, simply is a no-brainer. The AE offers a great sound stage, both in width and depth, combined with excellent layering, timbre, extension and speed. The detail retrieval is excellent and at the same time the AE sounds incredibly musical. The Eufoaria AE will immerse you in your music, it’s awesome.
The original €1900 Euforia still gives you great value, performance and musicality and if your budget doesn’t extend AE far, this still is a highly recommended amplifier. The AE however, blows it away on all front with improvements everywhere.
Waw, waw, waw. This amplifier impressed me in all possible ways. Sure you might not love the way it looks but that’s personal. The Audiovalve Solaris doesn’t come cheap but in return you get a reference headphone amp, with a large number of in -and outputs that can handle low impedance, high impedance and even electrostat headphones all in one. If that’s not enough for you then there’s also the perfect build quality, the integrated phono module and the fact that you can use it as a speaker amp. The Audiovalve Solaris is a prefect TOTL do-it-all amplifier, and yes, I love it.
Niimbus Audio US4+
Lake People set out to build a reference level amplifier and with Niimbus Audio and the US4+ unit they have done exactly that. When you think US4+ you have to think: Cleanness, silence, power, extension, tightness, speed, balance/linearity (SE) and musicality. To me the balanced output, just like with the V281 is the one to go for. It delivers the most musical, extended, spacious sound, with the best bass impact and body overall.
The Niimbus Audio US4+ is a great amp, with a reference/high end sound and price. If you’re looking for a well built and excellent sounding high end amplifier with both single ended as well as balanced in and outputs, then the US4+ will probably check all your boxes if you have the budget for it.
Auris Audio Nirvana
The Auris Audio Nirvana is one of those amps that performs great with every single headphone you throw at it. It seems to bring out the best of every headphone and especially the balanced output for me is really special. As said, the Auris Nirvana is the perfect mix of Auris’ previous models and it combines the best of both amps to bring you to Nirvana, a place of perfect peace and happiness. Apart from the fact that it’s maybe too powerful there absolutely isn’t a single thing I don’t like about the amplifier. It again looks stunning and the separate power supply gives it an extra classy look. It sounds like you’re in heaven with a dynamic, wide and very well layered sound with a good amount of warmth and tube smoothness. The Nirvana gets sound (and looks) just right and it simply is impossible not to like.
This is the kind of amplifier that wins awards, and I have no doubt it well get several distinctions in December when the audio world looks back at the units launched in 2018. If you’re in the market for a new headphone tube amp in this price range or if you just want one amp that does it all, then the Auris Audio Nirvana should be the first amp on your list to check out.
Auris Audio Headonia
The Auris Audio Headonia is exceptionally good and wonderful. It is a top level, reference tube amp that lets you use both your single ended as well as your balanced headphones at the same time and it gets the absolute best out of it without any effort. If you’re in the market for a high end headphone amplifier that does it all with heaps of control and want the perfect mix of resolution, transparency and musicality with a hint of tube warmth, then this is the amp for you. Yes, it comes with a rather heavy price tag but be warned, once you’ve seen it and listened to it with your collection of headphones, you’ll be putting down your signature on the order form before the first song is finished. The Headonia is the most expensive amp that has been added to our recommended buyers guide, but it really has a place in our guide.