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The Best Headphone Amp For Listening To Vinyl

by Stuart Charles Black
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Greetings comrade and Welcome aboard!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music .. all over again, so…

In this article, we’ll go over some great Amps that will knock your socks off when it comes to sitting down and listening to vinyl through headphones.

These same amps and dacs also happen to make companions for a plethora of other uses as well.

Let’s first briefly touch on some considerations that must be made beforehand!

Inputs

If you decide on a combo Amp/DAC, you won’t have to worry about this, but if you’re going to stack an Amp + DAC, make sure the amp has at least 2 input options.

One is something like a 3.5mm input that will connect to the DAC, and the other will be RCA (usually) that connects to the turntable.

Determine if you need a phono preamp

This takes the low-level analog signal and boosts it to line level.

Some turntables (mine for instance) have built-in phono preamps. Because of this, I don’t have to worry about purchasing something separate.

If your turntable does not, you will need one.

I would recommend something like the Zen Phono from iFi.

So instead of just having a turntable and Amp in your chain, you’ll have turntable > phono preamp, then phono preamp > your amp.

The Zen Phono is a perfect way to bridge that gap between your audio equipment and would make a great pair with some of these options.

Speaking of, let’s dive in!


Option #4

iFi Zen CAN

Pricing: Check Amazon!

iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX Stack

Here the Zen CAN (top) is paired with the original Zen DAC (bottom)

iFi Zen DAC/Amp + Zen CAN Amp (Stack) vs. iFi Zen CAN Signature 6XX StackIf you’re a regular reader or subscriber, you may have seen my iFi Zen Amp/DAC vs. Zen CAN Signature 6XX comparison.

I won’t get into specifics here, but the Zen CAN Signature 6XX and regular Zen CAN are 2 separate products.

One is tailored specifically for use with the 6XX (hence its midnight blue/black color scheme), and the other bears the original dark grey/silver combo that originally appeared in the first-gen Zen Amp/DAC Combo.

While I wouldn’t fork over the money for what is essentially a button (read: the 6XX signature is overpriced in my opinion), I do think the more sensibly priced regular Zen CAN is a fantastic investment for vinyl lovers.

Why?

It’s because like the ATOM, Zen CAN is also very versatile and sounds clean like Windex.

It has RCA inputs, a line input, and a balanced 4.4mm input.

For our purposes, we’ll again be utilizing its RCA inputs.

Right now I’m using the E10K’s line out into the Zen CAN’s 3.5mm input, and I have my turntable’s RCA jacks into the back of the Zen CAN’s inputs.

Great setup!


Option #3

JDS Labs ATOM 2

Pricing: Check JDS Labs! | Official Review: Here!

JDS Labs ATOM 2 Review

 

At roughly 0.7 Ohm output impedance, the ATOM is very clean, neutral, and will portray your vinyl records exactly as they were recorded. ATOM 2 also provides even more power than previous iterations, this time coming in at an astonishing 2.65W @ 32 Ohm.

If you’ll recall, the OG ATOM and ATOM HEVI versions only supplied 1W. This was more than enough, but people whined and thus JDS took action. 

The beauty of a more neutral setup with an Amp like the ATOM is that it will provide plenty of clean power and gain for even the most demanding of tasks.

Getting vinyl to sound loud enough through an Amp is of the utmost importance, which is exactly why I’m recommending the amps in this article; they all have a ton of power and you’ll have no issues getting music really cranking.

Let’s take a look at the setup.

It’s a tad more involved than the K5 Pro, but don’t fret.

Because the ATOM is just an amp, it will need some sort of DAC to connect to.

With the K5 Pro, that isn’t the case as it’s a combo all-in-one Amp/DAC.

With just amps like the ATOM, the process is a bit more involved because you need inputs for both the connection from the DAC, as well as the connection from the turntable.

We’ll use FiiO’s E10K combo Amp/DAC as an example, using its line-out feature.

The E10K has long since been a top recommendation from me and continues to be to this day because of its excellent versatility.

Just use a 3.5mm interconnect from the back of the E10K (line out), and plug it into the line in on the ATOM or Objective 2.

In your PC’s sound settings, you’ll simply use E10K as your listening device.

Now that some sort of DAC is paired to the Amp, you can connect the turntable via RCA to the inputs on the ATOM.

It’s important to note that any DAC with a line out or RCA outs will work, as long as the Amp in question also has a line input.

JDS Labs ATOM 2 Review

Realistically, most Amps will only have one set of RCA inputs and perhaps a line input.

The ATOM and Objective 2 both happen to have line inputs, which is in part what makes them so versatile for many different types of scenarios and applications.

The important thing to remember is to always make sure whatever amp you have has an input that can realistically be used in conjunction with your turntable.

Most turntables nowadays have that in the form of RCA, and there’s a reason for that.

They’re extremely versatile and can be theoretically used with almost anything.

By now you may be wondering about option 2.

Option #2

FiiO K5 Pro

Pricing: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Check Apos Audio! | Official Review: Here!

FiiO K5 Pro Review

Note: Also check out the newer FiiO K7 if you plan to also listen balanced.

I’ve talked ad-nausea about this combo Amp/DAC and everything it can do, but just in case you’re new, here’s a laundry list for you:

  • Hook it up to studio monitors/speakers and use it as a preamp. What are Studio Monitors?
  • Use it as a dedicated Amp/DAC on your desktop for music or gaming.
  • Output it to a separate Amp via its RCA Analog Outs.
  • Hook it up to your PS4 via its optical input.
  • Hook it up to anything in your home theater via its Coaxial input.
  • Use it in conjunction with pretty much any DAC via its RCA inputs. Just make sure the DAC in question has RCA Analog Outputs. Nearly all of them do.
  • Finally, and most important for you, use it with your turntable via its RCA Analog Inputs.

Like the G6, the possibilities are also pretty endless.

Check out this helpful image that I grabbed from one of my YouTube videos!

The process is rather simple.

For a turntable like the AT LP60 that I have, just plug the RCA Red and White from the unit into the INPUTS on the K5 Pro.

Now switch the input selector knob on the front left to the middle (#2 – L) and you’re set.

It’s really that simple.

No separate DAC is needed.

Everything is right there, and the Amp/DAC itself has a boatload of power – in reality, more than you would ever need (1.5W @ 32 Ohm).

Important note:

Again, always, always make sure to set the switch on the back of the turntable to line!

Also keep in mind that you will need a phono preamp, whether that be standalone or built-in to the turntable.

In my case,

the LP60 I own has one built-in so I don’t have to worry about it.

There are Amplifiers out there that have built-in phono preamps, but they are very rare.

L refers to LINE obviously.

What’s cool about the K5 Pro is that I can easily switch back to listening through Spotify or Tidal with the flick of a switch back down to #1 – U (U for USB).

What you’ll love about listening with this setup is that there’s a touch of warmth with the K5 Pro.

At 1.2 Output Impedance, it’s not quite as neutral as something like a JDS Objective 2, ATOM, Topping NX4, or Schiit Magni, but it’s also not completely warm and gooey like a tube amp.

It strikes a nice balance between the 2 and sounds marvelous.

Out of all the options today,

the K5 Pro is most certainly the easiest to get set up and playing music through your turntable.

Simply plug the RCA red and whites into the back of the K5 Pro’s inputs.

With that, let’s take a look at my #1 option.

Option #1

Creative’s SoundBlasterX G6

Pricing: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here!

Creative SoundBlasterX G6

You may be wondering why an Amp/DAC geared toward gamers occupies the top spot on this list. Well, in short…

BECAUSE I SAID SO!!

Haha, just kidding. There is a reason.

For a while, our #2 option (K5 Pro) was my go-to for pretty much everything: Gaming, Vinyl, Music, Film, etc.

That is until the G6 came along.

#2 is like the woman you could have sworn was the one.

Everything about her was right.

You genuinely desired to be with her.

She was beautiful and intelligent, and you really had a deep connection with her. But for whatever reason, it wasn’t meant to be.

Perhaps you couldn’t see it with your natural eyes, but God saw it in the spiritual realm.

The G6 to me represents the one. It’s the complete package.

If it were a girl, it would combine everything about a woman that I desire: an emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual connection. The G6 is everything and can do anything.

When I say anything, I mean ANYTHING.

The reason is that it has both a line/optical input and a line/optical output.

On the surface,

the back panel looks incredibly simplistic.

You’d never really think to yourself that it does much at first glance.

There’s a USB jack on the right and the 2 jacks on the left, but check out this graphic I did:

Creative SoundBlasterX G6

It can connect to basically anything. Use your imagination!

The reason the G6 slightly edges out option #2 is not that it can necessarily do more, but that it’s a bit more convenient to use and does have some extra software features that set it apart from your average product.

When price meets convenience meets incredible sound, well, you’ve got something special on your hands.

Once you’re done listening to vinyl for the day, simply press play to resume the music from wherever on your PC: Spotify, Tidal, etc.

That’s right; you don’t even have to move a muscle.

Your turntable connects to the back of the unit’s line in, but the DAC itself is connected through USB.

With the K5 Pro, I have to tick a switch.

Simple turntable setup with the G6.

The same applies to listening to vinyl and gaming in your living room.

Because the DAC is connected via USB to your PS4, and your turntable is connected through the line input, you don’t have to do anything.

Just simply start playing a record through your turntable and sound will come through.

Important note:

I mention this again a few paragraphs down, but it’s worth it to re-iterate.

Always, always make sure your turntable is set to line and not phono, or you won’t hear jack sh** and wonder if you’re going crazy.

For use with your receiver and speakers, you’ll obviously set it to “phono.”

You could theoretically just listen to music all day and not even move, only slightly extending your arm to switch the record out.

For your turntable, you will need an adapter like this one, and a 3.5mm interconnect, but most turntables come with the adapter and everyone should have an interconnect lying around.

For instance, my Audio Technica AT LP60 came with an adapter and it’s super simple to connect to various components in a home theater or home studio environment.

On the software side, you can download Creative’s “SoundBlaster Connect”, a fantastic app for tweaking the sound to your liking along with a bevy of other cool features.

SoundBlaster Connect

The other important distinction between the G6 and K5 Pro is convenience.

If I wanted to move the K5 Pro from my studio to the living room, I’d have to unplug a power cable/brick, a USB cable, and potentially RCA cables from the back of the unit.

This takes up valuable time that I could be using to listen to music.

In short, it’s a pain to move the other DAC around.

With the G6,

I have 2 USB cables: one in the living room connected to my PS4, and one on my desk.

Moving the unit takes less than 30 seconds.

Creative SoundBlasterX G6 Amp/DAC Review

Game or vinyl-ready, all the time.

What’s also great about the SoundBlasterX G6 is its Scout Mode feature, which not only works incredibly well for gaming and film but also for vinyl listening.

Using my AKG K702’s with John Coltrane’s Love Supreme was a blast using Scout Mode.

The sound opens up even more, with better separation and detail. It’s a match made in heaven!

This is great for the subtle drum hits and sounds that accompany a great jazz piece.

There’s really nothing like it.

With all that said, the K5 Pro is still amazing and you’d be super happy with either.

Still, if I’m being technical about it, the G6 does slightly edge the K5 when taking into consideration the points above.

Learn More:

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion on the Best Headphone Amp For Listening To Vinyl, and are better equipped to make a purchasing decision!

If you love what I do here and want to support the blog and channel in a more personal way, check me out on Patreon and discover all the value I have to offer you.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

Which of these options sounds best to YOU? I would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

 

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8 comments

marcus oakley March 31, 2021 - 2:12 pm

hii want to buy the k5 pro amp ill be using a panasonic ub 820 4k player
a playstation 5
xbox x latest version and two jbl 305 mk2 monitor speakers to conect as well
plus what is the best cables to use with this setup
i want to use a sub or even two subs
i want to use 2 headphones if possible
one gaming headset i want a 7.1 gaming headset desighned with the latest specs for heavy gun totting bass heavy games and films
and for music as well

i also want a audiophile headphones for top sound quality for music
main use pop rock heavy metal r&b hip hop rave techno house classical orchestra in that order
i want extremley good effect with drums electronic guitar guitar piano trumpet cymbals chello clarinet zillaphone

and i want to use a turntable i have a audio technica 60 usb turntable
a rega planar 1 and rega planar 3 turntable which would be best to use with this setup
or can you recommend a nother turntable instead
and also i want 2 subs that go extremly low in hz for blockbuster action movies i want bone shattering impact top notch sound effects
i want music to sound incredible with very good bass effect what do you recommend
and also can you recommend another amp to compliment that can be combined with k5 pro amp as well

or can you recommend another amp/dac combi headphone system that would work better than the comination above
please let me no thanks marcus
need to no asap i want to buy the k5 pro amp ill be using a panasonic ub 820 4k player
a playstation 5
xbox x latest version and two jbl 305 mk2 monitor speakers to conect as well
plus what is the best cables to use with this setup
i want to use a sub or even two subs
i want to use 2 headphones if possible
one gaming headset i want a 7.1 gaming headset desighned with the latest specs for heavy gun totting bass heavy games and films
and for music as well

i also want a audiophile headphones for top sound quality for music
main use pop rock heavy metal r&b hip hop rave techno house classical orchestra in that order
i want extremley good effect with drums electronic guitar guitar piano trumpet cymbals chello clarinet zillaphone

and i want to use a turntable i have a audio technica 60 usb turntable
a rega planar 1 and rega planar 3 turntable which would be best to use with this setup
or can you recommend a nother turntable instead
and also i want 2 subs that go extremly low in hz for blockbuster action movies i want bone shattering impact top notch sound effects
i want music to sound incredible with very good bass effect what do you recommend
and also can you recommend another amp to compliment that can be combined with k5 pro amp as well

or can you recommend another amp/dac combi headphone system that would work better than the comination above
please let me no thanks marcus
need to no asap

Reply
Stuart Charles Black April 1, 2021 - 2:37 pm

Hey man!

1) Best cables. for Monitors, I do use balanced XLR to TRS myself 🙂
2) Gaming Setup. See the interface I recommend below. Gaming headphones for what you want: Fidelio X2HR
3) Audiophile headphone: 6XX
4) I have the LP60 and it’s really the only one I’ve ever needed.
5) The G6 works with turntables and it’s my top recommendation 🙂 The diagram is in this article I believe.
6) You don’t need another amp with the K5 Pro.

You made a lot of comments on other articles mate, and they all say something a bit different lol. Saw your comment about PS5. I know the G6 works with the PS5, but I can’t be sure of other stuff as I don’t own one (I still have the 4). I read the G6 will connect though so you’re good on that.

Sub-woofer: LSR310S I wouldn’t worry about getting 2.

I see you’re trying to connect a lot of different stuff together. The problem is that you can’t really hook up the 305’s in the way that you’re looking to as you’d need an interface and they don’t really just hook up to consoles like that.

If you want to use monitors plus interface plus console plus mic plus headphones, you’ll need an interface that accepts S/PDIF IN. The regular Scarlett varieties won’t work for that as they only accept ADAT IN. If you want to go that route, the Focusrite Clarett is the way to go. With this, you can output to the 305’s.

7506: Great heapdhones. You may or may not need them. If you’re doing mixing/monitoring work, I’d get them. If not, 6XX is fine.

List of cables for everything:

RCA to RCA
3.5mm Interconnect (Always nice to have. I use this with the turntable but it’s good for many things)
Balanced XLR to TRS (From interface to monitors)
HDMI cables (TV to your 4k player)
Optical cable (Audio out from 4k player to Clarett or console to Clarett). The G6 comes with one so you don’t have to worry about that.

I think that’s everything, lol. Hopefully, this helps. Let me know and we’ll talk about a mic later. The only thing I’d caution you about is that, aside from the G6/PS5, I don’t know what exactly works with the newer gen consoles and what doesn’t.

And yes, the K5 Pro would be an all-in-one solution but the 305 only accepts balanced input and the K5 Pro’s RCA outs are unbalanced.

Reply
Jon April 28, 2021 - 8:53 pm

Hi,
I’m curious what you mean when you say you don’t need a phono preamp with the fiio k5 pro, but you still say the turntable must be set to ‘line’. Wouldn’t that be using the built-in preamp? I am considering buying a fiio k5 pro, but I already have an audio technica at-peq3 phono preamp attached to my turntable. Are you implying I could bypass the preamp and plug directly into the k5?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 3, 2021 - 6:30 pm

Hey man! Great question. Even though the K5 Pro does technically have a built-in preamp for use with separate speakers, it isn’t a phono preamp. So yeah, you will still need the one you already have as the middle man. I didn’t only because I have the LP-60. Again, great question.

I’m about 99% sure this is the case. There are headphone amps and dacs out there with built-in phono preamps, but they are pretty rare.

Thanks for the comment as I will have to edit the article to be more clear about this.

Let me know how that sounds. The K5 Pro is a fantastic investment regardless. At one point I had around 15 amps and dacs on my desk, and the only ones I’m keeping are K5 Pro for full-time desktop use and G6 for gaming and film in the living room with my PS4. What’s interesting is that the G6 is actually the most convenient and versatile, slightly edging the K5 Pro, but it’s still pretty close. Here’s an article I did that will help clarify as well: Audioengine D1 vs. FiiO K5 Pro vs. Creative SoundBlasterX G6 vs. Chord Mojo

Keep me posted!!

Reply
ed a December 3, 2023 - 8:59 am

Hi!

I have a pro-ject Debut carbon DC turntable and Project phono DC preamp. I would love to be able to listen to my vinyl with headphones. Would the creatives sound blaster be a good option? I also have an xbox series X which I guess I could hook it up to as well. If so I’m not entirely sure how I would hook it all up! thanks!

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 6, 2023 - 7:52 pm

Hey Ed!

My Dad’s name is Ed 🙂

What do the outputs look like on the Debut Carbon? I can’t comment on the Sex Box as I don’t have one, but it’s worth a try if it has a USB input or optical out.

Talk soon,

-Stu

Reply
David May 16, 2024 - 9:50 am

“This takes the low-level analog signal and boosts it to line level – not unlike what 48v phantom power does for a condenser microphone.”

It’s entirely unlike that. Phantom power has nothing to do with signal level. It provides the power to create the static field needed by the capacitor to create a signal. This line adds no useful information and should be removed from the article. At best it’ll mislead people.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black May 16, 2024 - 4:30 pm

Thanks David!

Reply

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