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2/1/21. Article/link cleanup.
2/6/21. Article overhaul. Removed HA-2 as it’s been discontinued. Still a great product, and certainly one of my all-time favorites, but very expensive nowadays being that new ones aren’t manufactured anymore.
2,323-word post, approx. 5 min. read
Hi friend and Welcome aboard!!
Before we go over the best headphone amp for the money, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
Until someone shows me something more versatile than this, it’s the best thing smokin’. #2 on this list was my previous do all Amp/DAC, but the G6 has replaced it even though I still enjoy listening to both.
The G6 is incredibly valuable because it’s cheap and can do basically anything via its line/optical input and output. Add to that the Scout Mode feature, SBX, mic input, EQ feature via a downloadable app, gain feature with the ability to drive up to 600 Ohm headphones, plus a fantastic sound, and it’s easy to see why I recommend it first.
I can even plug it into my turntable! It’s an incredible product at a dirt-cheap price, and what more could you ask for than that?
The K5 Pro was my previous go-to all in one Amp/DAC solution and still has a place in my studio. It’s capable of almost as much as the G6 and does do a couple of things that the G6 doesn’t – namely DSD, MQA, and up to 32-bit/768kHz decoding.
If you’re more of a budding audiophile snob who is working on being able to hear the grass grow, the K5 Pro is just what you’re looking for.
The iFi Zen is a great way to get started in the audiophile hobby without forking over an arm and a leg. I think it set a standard for what an entry-level Amp/DAC was capable of when it came out in 2019.
It isn’t quite as versatile as our above 2 options in terms of features, but as the K5 Pro, it’s more suited to budding audiophiles rather than gamers or casual consumers. You can game with it on PC, but it doesn’t have an optical input like the others.
Still, this is a great option for someone looking to get their feet wet and see what all the hubbub is about.
This is simply the most portable Amp/DAC combo out there and is perhaps all you will ever need if you’re less of an audiophile and more of a casual listener. That said, it bridges the gap between the two, as both will enjoy this offering from Audioquest immensely. An outstanding Amp that’s roughly the size of your thumb? What more could you possibly ask for? It powers my HD600 with relative ease, although I wouldn’t try to power anything over 300 Ohms. This provides just enough power to drive an HD600. You can use it with your laptop or phone as well!
Before I discovered the K5 Pro, this was the do-all Amp/DAC. For less than $200, you can power your studio monitors, use it as a headphone amp, or even hook it up to a PS4! It improves the sound of the gaming environment so well that I was simply astonished. Like I didn’t want to leave my couch astonished. Go ahead, fire up that Fallout 4, and be taken away. Connections include RCA/Analog outs, Optical input, as well as USB input.
The K3 is just hare over $100 normally, but the E10K hovers around $75 most of the time. It’s still one of the best portable budget Amp/DAC combos. With an output impedance of less than 1.04, it will also power most headphones without issue. I would steer clear of trying to use it with 600 Ohm headphones, as well as power-hungry planar magnetics with their weird drivers. 😛 What is a headphone driver? However, these will work with cans like the HD600, and the amp is more capable than some give it credit for. I love the crisp and neutral sound these provide. Comes with coaxial out, line out, and USB. Very clean signal, lots of detail. Currently, I’m listening to an E10K and HD650 paired with the gain switch and bass boost on. It’s good! You like!
Video Comparison to the K3
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Designed and built by NwAvGuy (Northwest Audio Video Guy), this baby has been praised the world over, with an output impedance of 0.54 ohms. Sound-wise, it slightly edges a Magni 2 but this is when I paired it with the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100. I have yet to test it with a Modi, but I would still say the Amp provides a cleaner and more resolving sound than the Magni. Looking back, I can say without a doubt that the Magni 2 really wasn’t a great amp. It sounded brash and kind of harsh. Objective 2 is a much better product.
There’s a reason why they call this thing a DAC Magic. the A/D conversion is pristine, and music, as well as the gaming environment, takes on an added dimension of clarity that must be heard to believe. I used the Magic with an Objective 2 as well as a Magni 2, and the results were impressive, to say the least. Every intricate detail is heard, and even the PS4’s Dashboard music sounded interesting and was also revealing to an astonishing degree. I heard little nuances to the song that I never dreamed were there. Learn more:The Best Headphones for Gaming
Also extremely versatile, this baby has RCA inputs, a Toslink/Optical input for use with Consoles/Receivers, two S/PDIF inputs, and a USB input.
The other end of the optical cable plugs into the back of the D1.
Use a USB cable from the back of the D1 into the front of the PS4 or Xbox One. I’m not familiar with the SexBox because I don’t have one, but there are USB inputs on it so don’t fret!
Plug your headphones in.
Go to Settings > Sound & Screen on your PS4.
Go to Audio Output Settings.
Click Primary Output Port
Change it to “Digital Out”
The Input format should be Linear PCM.
Go back to Settings > Devices > Audio Devices.
The Output Device should be the name of your DAC, i.e Audioengine D1.
Note: With the DAC Magic 100 I had no issues. With the D1 I ended up having to change the output device from “Audioengine D1” to “TV/Amplifier.” Your mileage may vary. Switching it to TV/Amplifier allowed the sound to come through the headphones. I’m not sure why it was being difficult, or why the sound wouldn’t come through even though the settings were right. If you have any insight into this, let me know!
Amp with Standalone DAC
(Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100 or Modi 2 Uber/Multibit)
The PS4/Xbox receives an optical cable in the rear.
The other end of the optical cable plugs into the back of the DAC Magic, Modi 2 Uber or Multibit.
Use a USB cable from the back of the Modi 2 Uber into the front of the PS4 or Xbox One.
If you’re using the Modi 2 Uber with an Objective 2, run RCA to 3.5mm from the back of the Uber into the front of the 02. If you’re using the Modi 2 Uber with a Magni 3, use these RCA to RCA cables. Two ends plug into the back of the Uber and the other ends run into the back of the Magni.
Your headphones plug into the front of a Magni 3 Amp via 1/4″ termination. Make sure you have a 1/4″ adapter. 99% of headphones come with one so no worries. I have like 9 laying around. Lol. If you’re using the 02, it’s a standard 3.5mm jack with no need for an adapter.
Use the same settings as above, only this time the name of the DAC will read “Cambridge Audio DAC Magic 100.” As mentioned above, I had no issues with the sound coming through the 02 paired with the Magic with these settings.
So what’s the final word?
Out of all these, the G6 is my current go-to. It can hook up to basically anything, has plenty of power, and sounds great. What sets it apart for me is the EQ feature with the app, Scout mode, SBX, and the mic input.
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.