12 Best Headphone Amps Under $100 in 2017
Headphones come in dozens of styles, and you can even purchase ones with volume limiting features to keep you from blowing out an eardrum. Well, there are times in life when you need more power, but you may not get it with a pair of earbuds you purchased off the rack. That’s where a great headphone amp comes in handy as it can boost your volume while taking your tunes to all new levels.
Like many types of audio gear, amps built specifically for headphone usage are not cheap. Pro level boosters can cost a small fortune, although that is not what we will focus on today.
We are going to take a look at the best headphone amp under 100 bucks, and have compiled a list of 12 noteworthy models that our experts recommend.
Table of Contents
- Top 12 Headphone Amps Under $100 Chart
- Are You Traveling or Listening from Home?
- Power – AC or Battery?
- Type of Amp
- Top 5 Best Headphone Amp Under $100 Reviews
Top 12 Headphone Amps Under $100 Chart
|Design||Name||Size||Battery Powered||Rating (1-5)|
|1. SMSL T2 2X6J9 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier||2.9” x 3.5” x 1.02”||No||4.7|
|2. FiiO E17K (E17) Alpen 2 Portable Headphone Amplifier||4” x 1” x 6”||Yes||4.5|
|3. rolls HA43PRO 4 CH Headphone Amp||5”x 5” x 5”||No||4.4|
|4. FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier||2.2” x 3.5” x .51”||Yes||4.4|
|5. ART Pro Audio HeadAmp 4 Four Channel Headphone Amplifier||4.6” x 4.1” x 1.9”||No||4.3|
|6. FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier||3.1” x 0.8” x 1.9”||No||4.3|
|7. Bravo Audio Ocean Mini Valve Class A Tube Headphone Amplifier||5.4” x 5.7” x 4.5”||No||4.2|
|8. BEHRINGER POWERPLAY P1||3.3” x 4.9” x 1.7”||Yes||4.2|
|9. Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Integrated Amplifier||6.1” x 4.9” x 3.7”||No||4.1|
|10. Behringer AMP800 Four Channel Headphone Amp||6.8” x 15” x 4”||No||4.1|
|11. Bravo Audio V2 Class A 12AU7 Tube Multi-Hybrid Headphone Amplifier||3.1” x 1.7” x 3”||No||4.0|
|12.Creative Sound Blaster E1 Portable Headphone Amplifier||1.5” x 4” x 5.4”||Yes||3.7|
Are You Traveling or Listening from Home?
Headphones can be used for all types of occasions, but are known for allowing you to take your music on the go. They also ensure you don’t “share” your favorite tracks with the outside world, as not everyone may like your taste in music and some tracks may not be appropriate for public consumption. Before looking for the best headphone amp under $100, ask yourself where you will use it the most.
If you plan to take your tunes on the road, you will want something small that can easily fit into your pocket, backpack or purse. You can find amps in this class that is slightly larger than a deck of playing cards, it really just depends on what you need. For home use, the sky is the limit when it comes to size although you will find most of our picks are desktop friendly and don’t require much space.
Power – AC or Battery?
This area ties into the portability theme. Some models of headphone amp allow you to go truly wireless as they sport rechargeable batteries that allow your show to hit the road. If you are trying to up your wattage on the subway, a unit needing an AC jack isn’t going to do you much good. If an amp says it is battery powered, you will still want to see the types of batteries it takes as some may require regular AA’s while others go the rechargeable route.
While it may seem minor, some AC adapters are better than others. It’s not something we would usually address, but with this type of tech, it’s not uncommon to get a bad plug out of the box as those are generally bought in bulk by the company from other manufacturers. If you are lucky enough to find a unit that gives you the option between AC or battery power, make sure it still comes with an adapter out of the box, or you may have to order one soon after.
Type of Amp
Our list consists of a mix of solid-state and tube amps with a few hybrids thrown in for good measure. It all comes down to what you need out of an amp and the type of sound you want to produce for the most part. Portability, battery life, and other factors should weigh into your buying decision, but only after you’ve considered our main two styles of amp.
- Tube Amps – You will recognize these from a mile away as tube amplifiers have small glass tubes up top and are best suited for analog lovers. They provide a warm sound you won’t get on digital setups but are far more fragile to deal with due to the tubes.
- Solid State – Solid-state amplifiers are where the action is if you are a techie. They offer up more features than a tube amp and are more reliable in the long run. You will not get the same “sound” but won’t have to worry about busted tubes either.
Top 5 Best Headphone Amp Under $100 Reviews
We’re going to start by saying these will not be for everyone, especially if you want a “pocket-friendly” solution to boost your sound. The SMSL T2 2X6J9 uses two vacuum tubes to increase the sound while still managing to keep things extremely compact.
The SMSSL T2 may not fit in your pocket with the tubes connected, but it’s by far one of the smallest amps you’ll find on our list. Measuring only 2.9” x 3.5” x 1.02”, it leaves a small profile wherever it sits and is easily stored in a case when you need travel.
The tubes are designed to be safe against temperatures although you will still want to be careful as they can shatter. On that note, you can replace the included tubes with others to alter your sound. There is also a handy little microprocessor under the hood to ensure your amp is “warmed up” before it pumps out the sound.
If you’re looking for that warm, fuzzy feeling for your favorite tracks, you can’t go wrong with the SMSL T2 tube amp. It’s a powerful little mini that’s an excellent choice for home use or allows you to go portable if you keep it cased.
We love the sound a great tube-based headphone amp can provide, but there is something to be said for going digital. When looking for the best headphone amp under $100, FiiO came up more often than not, and their E17K Alpen 2 is our top option if you want to go with a solid-state amp.
We have already extolled the virtues of solid-state headphone amps, so we’re just going tell you what this one brings to the table. The FiiO E17K is a dual-purpose unit with the ability to work as a headphone amp or as a coaxial digital to analog converter. A special chip lets it be used as an external sound card for laptops that are lacking in that department as well.
Tech specs include a frequency response of 20 – 20,000Hz and a headphone impedance of 16 to 150 ohms. The sample rate varies between 95kHz/32-bit to 192kHz/24-bit depending on whether it’s a USB or Coaxial input.
This little box is small enough to take it anywhere and can go for up to 15 hours before needing to be recharged. It’s incredibly easy to use as well given its high-tech nature, and while it won’t provide the glow of a tube amp, it’s an outstanding digital option for consumers on the go.
Sometimes simple is more. Not everyone needs USB outputs or digital decoding when all you are looking for is a boost. That’s exactly what you will receive from the Rolls HA43 PRO, a simple solution that gives you a boost across the board.
The Rolls HA43 PRO is not going to win any beauty contests due to its stunning design nor will it wow you with its bells & whistles. Where it will win you over is with its performance, reliability, and ease of use – the price isn’t bad either.
It’s a 4-channel booster built for studio use, but small enough to be used on your home audio system or taken on the road. It has the classic connections set on the back and four simple sliders on the front which allows for volume control across different channels. We don’t have the full run of tech specs, but it has an impedance of 51 ohms on each channel.
This unit is ideal for a multitude of uses including folks that want to throw listening parties or gamers that need something offering up independent volume controls. Movie lovers who don’t enjoy the same volume levels as the Rolls HA43 PRO will appreciate this one as well considering it can kill those arguments before they start.
Our second pick from FiiO doesn’t quite have as many features as our first, but still comes packed to the brim with outstanding tech and cool perks. The main difference between it and the E17K would be the fact this one doesn’t have DAC, which makes it a true headphone amp built for power.
Looking to boost your levels or feel that your fancy new headphones are a little underpowered? Well, that problem is solved with the FiiO A3 as it will rattle your incus if you’re not careful. It provides more than enough power for most headphones with a maximum output of 450mW at 16 ohms or 270mW at 32 ohms.
The battery life is rated at over 13 hours, and we feel the controls are worth pointing out as well. There is a volume knob on the top along with a Gain switch and Bass Boost toggle with the bottom handles the input and output – very easy to use.
There is really no drawback to the A3 unless you want DAC or need something with a bit more power for high-end or specialized headphones. The FiiO A3 is an amazing portable option with enough battery life to get you through the day, and it’s a good looking unit to boot.
Four channel headphone amps can be a godsend when you need to adjust multiple channels for individual listeners. ART Pro’s Audio Headphone Amp is a four-channel machine that’s easy on the eyes and your bank account rolling in at under 100 bucks.
The ART Pro Amp is a low distortion unit comparable to the Rolls when it comes to functionality but offers up more control. The front has four control knobs which let you dial in the volume on each channel individually and has a little green light to let you know there is power rolling in through the wall jack. The backside has an array of ports with your primary output and the rest of the jacks wired in parallel in 1/4” and 1/8” size for a total of 8 outputs. This opens things up in the connectivity department and makes the little box suitable for DIY projects as well.
This style of headphone amp will certainly give you a boost and control but is far from a technological marvel like the digital devices on our list. It is one of the more attractive models of this nature, however and built to be stackable if you are limited on space or working on a rack-style project.