Home Amp/DAC Guides The Best Headphone Amps & DACS

The Best Headphone Amps & DACS

Amps and DACS may come and go, but these selections left a profound impact on me and will always be remembered

by Stuart Charles Black
The Best Headphone Amps & DACS

Don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

All designs copyright HomeStudioBasics.

Many Amps & DACS have come through here over the last few years.

Join me as I set out to determine which out of the 55+ sound the absolute best and how they can help you on your own journey.

Video Discussion

Don’t forget to leave me some love and subscribe! <3

Imagine you’re in your room with 15 amps and dacs at your disposal. They all pretty much do the same things, but yet, there’s still 15 of them.

The first question you may be wondering to yourself as you look at all of them is,

Why.

Why.

Why have I become such a dirty, disgusting, audio whore.

How.

How am I in my underwear, day after day, gazing at inanimate objects with unabashed, unbridled, shameless lust. Running my fingers over their shells. Petting and pampering them.

Why have I let this hobby ruin my life? At night, I’m working the corners for more audio. More amps. More dacs. I can’t get enough. Every paycheck I receive goes straight to audio.

My wife is threatening to leave me.

The measurements, the science, the wanking, the circle jerks. Those sweet, sweet graphs that don’t mean much when I’m actually listening to music, but make me feel better about dropping thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest flavor of the month dac.

The way the anodized aluminum chassis feels as I touch it in all of its dirty places. Its dusty places. It needs cleaning.

The big, round, sometimes wide knob.

*heavy breathing bordering on a moan*

“I love turning it.”

The way the light snaps on when I power everything up in the darkest of night. I need more. I want all of them!

I want all of the DAC/amps.

Well, here it is. My Top 5 Best Sounding Headphone Amps & DACS Regardless Of Price.

Keep in mind this list can and will change depending on what I listen to in the future, but if you’re familiar with my YouTube channel, you’ll know I’m taking a giant step back from Amps & DACS for a variety of reasons.

Regardless, this list may still shift from time to time, so keep checking back for updates!

For this list, I only included the Amps and DACS that had the most profound impact on me, regardless of whether they’re still available now.

The problem with this hobby is that companies are constantly coming out with new ones in order to keep the desire to buy high.

You could in fact argue that it’s no different from anything else under the umbrella of Capitalism, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In reality, the new DAC is not really much different than the old one. Aside from the aesthetic, it does the same thing and in the majority of cases, sounds nearly identical.

This is something that the vast majority of YouTubers won’t tell you, but it’s the truth. This is generally why my recommendations for DACS stay about the same at any given point. The more I hear, the fewer new ones I’m recommending.

After demoing 55+ at this point, I’m making the conscious effort in choosing not to perpetuate the lie that you need to drop everything and buy whatever it is that just came out. Because the cycle never ends and constantly feeling like you need something new is completely unnecessary.

Contrary to popular belief, you CAN be perfectly happy and content with what you have.

And that’s always been my message to you.

#5

iFi Micro iDSD Black Label

  • Price: Check Amazon! Note: This is the updated version if you’d like something similar to the original.
  • Official Review: Here!

The Black label was certainly a huge step forward for iFi when it came out around 2018. What I remember most was how clean and smooth everything sounded and how well it paired with an Audeze LCD-2.

The Black Label is one of the cleanest and most punchy sounding amp/dacs without so much as a single hint of distortion.

With its Xbass, SPDIF out, 3.5mm line out, Eco, Normal, Turbo modes, plenty of power, RCA outs for use as a preamp, and an optical adapter for your console, it’s most certainly still worth a look today.

#4

Bottlehead Crack

What more can be said about this DIY beast? Though it requires you to assemble yourself, everything I’ve read says it’s super easy and intuitive even for people who know nothing about soldering.

Add to that it pairs perfectly with the HD600 series and was pretty much made for Sennheiser homies.

The Crack is one of the few tube amps that I thoroughly enjoyed when I demoed it at a friend’s house, and it should be required listening for each and every up-and-coming audiophile snob.

In stark contrast to something neutral, clean, and/or sterile with a low output impedance, the sound of the Crack is warm and inviting.

I’ll be the first to say that this type of sound isn’t for everyone. But if it sounds like you, Bottlehead’s popular amp is an investment you’ll keep for years and years to come!

Do keep in mind you’ll need some sort of DAC to pair with it. I’d go for something simple like JDS’ ATOM DAC to start.

#3

NAIM DAC V-1

If it’s discontinued, some Asynchronous alternatives include the DragonFly Red, Centrance DACport HD, and Burson Playmate 2.

Perhaps the King of neutrality in the DAC space, this Class A, A-Synchronous, DSD compatible, just a shade under 10lbs. Super Mutant Behemoth DAC + Amp + Preamp rolled into one sounds incredibly eye-opening and boasts plenty of features.

In short, ASynchronous basically improves timing (and thereby eradicating what’s known as jitter) by NOT using your PC’s internal clock for the data transfer, but rather the DAC’s own internal clock.

In addition to the above, a free firmware update now enables you to run 384kHz, and it uses a digitally controlled analog system with a 40-bit SHARC DSP internal processor; viewed by many to be one of the best chips in the world.

Besides all that, being a Class A amp enables it to stand head and shoulders above most stuff I’ve tried.

In other words, it sounds exemplary and does represent a true upgrade from all gear that inhabits the jumbled and overcrowded entry to mid-fi landscape.

It’s smooth, controlled, and galloping. Resolution, speed, separation, and timbre are all incredible. A headphone like the Utopia or LCD-4 paired with a NAIM sounds absolutely sublime, and just as you’d expect, perfect in every way.

In fact, I’ve demoed dozens of headphones on this product dating back to around 2017 and it comes out smelling like a rose nearly every time.

Do keep in mind that the V-1 is brutally honest, so tailor your recordings appropriately!

#2

Chord Mojo

Ah, the Mojo.

One of the most controversial products to ever hit the audiophile market, this rather odd-looking DAC represents one of the few moments in audio that will stand out in my mind until the day that I die.

That’s right you heard me correctly.

I’ve talked about the experience quite a bit, but it was as if the artist was in front of my face and singing to me. As if I could give her a Lil kiss.

MWAH!

Paired with an Aeon flow, I was taken to heaven for a little while. It was one of the few times I legitimately thought to myself that the experience of listening to recorded music couldn’t get much better.

The Mojo provides what is perhaps the most realistic, natural experience you will ever encounter and almost makes you forget that the sound is coming through headphone drivers rather than outside of you.

This illusory quality in audio is really, really hard to even come close to achieving, but the Mojo gives it every last ounce of effort.

In short, it kind of does rival some speakers. Yeah, I said it. Sue me.

This is why, at its price point, I tend to still recommend it a lot It has plenty of power, supports up to 768kHz, and even boasts an optical input for use with a PS4 which was a blast.

And even despite some potential flaws including the battery not keeping a charge, a dead/malfunctioning unit, etc. I still think it’s worth a gamble if you can get it at the right price (i.e. around $300-400)

#1

Bryston BHA-1

Imagine a song you’ve heard a thousand times or more. A song or album you know like the back of your hand. A song that you may even be able to play on your guitar, piano, drums, or other instruments. A song you could recite the words to without thinking.

Now imagine a headphone amp that plays a part in making you realize that you never actually heard the song.

In all of your years listening to music, it now sounds different. Foreign. As if you’re listening to it for the first time in the way the artists intended. This is what I experienced the first time I heard an HE400i with the Bryston at Audio Advice here in my hometown.

Audiophiles love to talk about this phenomenon, and it’s one of the few things that brings us all together, even despite the overwhelming snobbery in this hobby.

The Class A, convection cooled BHA-1 containing six fully discrete operational amplifiers, 3 stereo inputs (RCA, XLR, and 3.5mm TRS), up to 2W of power, balanced output for your headphones, switchable gain, machined and anodized aluminum enclosure and dress panel, and legendary Bryston 20 year warranty represents the true pinnacle of music listening.

A perfect sound that represents all the food groups.

An amp that looks feels, and sounds perfect in every way.

An amp, like the Mojo, that I will always remember and look back on fondly.

An amp truly worthy of prostituting yourself on street corners in order to buy.

In fact, I’d like to own this one someday and never, ever buy or demo another amp ever again.

In the meantime, you buy it now.

Oh, you’re on a budget?

Click the article below and learn which amps and dacs $200 and below are most worthy of your hard-earned dollar.

I’ll see you there.

 

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on the Best Headphone Amps & DACS and came away with some valuable insight.

Which of these sounds appealing? Do you have a personal favorite amp? Be sure to let me know!!

If you have any other questions or feel I’ve missed the mark on something, leave a comment down below or Contact me!

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.

I very much look forward to speaking with you…

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!

Don't forget to share if you found it helpful!

You may also like

Leave a Comment