Searching for a good headphone amp can be a daunting task. There’s a ridiculous amount of choices, but luckily for you I know about the ones that you absolutely should consider. How to choose a headphone amp!
I’m not going to mention only one, but I’m also not going to give you a laundry list either. I will instead go over the few that are really worth it. I’ve had experience with all of these, and have also done quite a bit of research over the last couple of years. I’ve come to the conclusion that the E10K is just about the best Amp/DAC combo for under $100. Likewise, the 02 is one of the most sought after models around the internet, and sounds absolutely fantastic with nearly any headphone.
Before we get started..
Why Should You Trust Me?
Because I know what I’m talking about. I haz an education!
Lol. I’m being funny but I’m also serious.
I don’t have fancy credentials like some people (and I don’t think that automatically means you’re legit by the way), but like Craig Boyles said about me on his website Mage Audio,
“Stu knows headphones. He’s reviewed over 70 of them on his website.”
I’ve been a headphone enthusiast for as long as I can remember, ever since I had a pair (or 8) of Sony MDR V150’s. I’ve loved music and everything about it for equally as long. I’ve been making and producing music for over 10 years, and have learned a lot about EQ and sound a long the way. I’ve sold beats, I’ve given them away, I’ve collaborated with a lot of people, and I’ve had a lot of fun.
I’ve had plenty of experience with high end amps, entry level ones, and anything in between. I don’t claim to know everything, but do I know what sounds good and what doesn’t. I know what’s worth your money and what can be glossed over and discarded.
Check out my Resources Page for more helpful information!!
The Main Reason
The biggest reason to trust me is that I’m just like you! I do an exhaustive amount of research before I purchase anything, and don’t stop searching just because I own a product. I keep up with trends, reviews, blogs, and stay immersed in this niche because I’m truly passionate about it and care a great deal about it as well.
My Goal is to Help You
In addition that, I receive emails, comments, and testimonials fairly frequently from people thanking me profusely for what I do here, and for making such great recommendations specific to their need. It’s refreshing to be able to connect with people from all over the world and help them make the best decisions possible with regards to studio equipment and anything music production related! I truly love and enjoy conversing with you all, because I’m passionate about this stuff!
Lastly, I’m truly a genuine person and have fostered relationships with a lot of the people that frequent my blog and YouTube channel. In other words, I’m not a faceless corporation or even a faceless blog. I respond to all emails and comments, and value true interaction with people. Peruse my YouTube channel, Instagram feed, Facebook page, Soundcloud page, or any comment thread on my blog and you’ll quickly come to realize that I’m truly here to help in any way I can.
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With that, let’s get into a couple of tried and true Desktop solutions..
A great amp that works wonderfully well on pretty much anything. With an output impedance of 0.1, you won’t have to worry if your headphones are compatible. I’ve used just about every headphone I can think of with the Magni over the last couple years, and have no complaints. I do have the Magni 2, but the 3 has since come out and it’s just as good, if not better, with more power! It’s a very neutral and clean signal, with no coloration whatsoever. I even used this amp to power a Focal Utopia and it sounded absolutely sublime! What is headphone impedance?
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 an ever so slightly cleaner and more resolving sound than the Magni. This may be my imagination though.
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.
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!
If you have a little more to blow on an amp, and want something that exudes elegance, the HA-2 is the solution. There’s not much this thing won’t do. It’s pretty much the barometer that I use to evaluate all headphones I come in contact with, because of how incredibly clean, accurate, transparent, and fun it sounds. When you put it in your hand you know where the money went for sure. I can take it with me wherever I go as well, as it’s very compact and portable. The volume knob feels extremely solid to turn/click on and off, and it has a gain switch and bass boost in case you’re feeling frisky. It even brewed me a cup of coffee the other day. Just kidding.
This is one of the most versatile little boxes money can buy. 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. What’s even cooler is that you can also use it to power your studio monitors. What are studio monitors? I personally use the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 because I tend to do some rapping from time to time. But let’s say you don’t have any use for a microphone and just want to listen to music. The D1 is perfect for such an affair, and leaves a minuscule footprint on your desk! Let’s not forget how high quality this beast is. Build is top notch, and the volume knob feels rugged and durable. Don’t forget to press that power button homie!
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!
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 sound coming through the 02 paired with the Magic with these settings.
So what’s the final word?
For a desktop solution:
I would probably purchase a DAC Magic 100 and pair it with the Objective 2. I used this RCA to 3.5mm going from the DAC Magic to the front of the 02, and it sounds absolutely pristine.
The Audioengine D1. An amazing Gaming rig and perfect as a headphone amp. Very portable. You can quickly unplug it from your desktop set up and transfer it to the living room for gaming if you want as well. Just make sure you have an optical cable!
Stu is determined to provide the truth about all things audio, and strives to deliver excellent content to you the reader! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, attend church, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His attention to detail and perfectionist attitude are what allow him to excel, but it can be both a blessing and a hindrance at times.