12 Best Portable Headphone Amps in 2018
Headphones are not hard to come by, but the sound quality varies depending on your choice of headphone and its musical source. Some gadgets put out more power than others, and it’s not uncommon to find your favorite song or show spoiled by underwhelming sound.
While having an actual “amp” for your headphones may sound extreme and something only reserved for pros, that isn’t the case anymore. There are plenty of portable solutions if you just need a boost from your iPod or smartphone while you are on the road. Obviously, there are plenty of professional models as well for aspiring DJs and audiophiles alike. Let’s take a quick look at our top picks for the best portable headphone amp.
Top 12 Portable Headphone Amps Table
Information for Audiophiles
Buying a headphone amp can be tricky for newcomers. It doesn’t have to be however if you follow these quick tips.
- Powered Portability – Audio amps come in a wide variety of sizes and are built for everything from guitars and mics to the lowly, but still important headphone. Many of the top portable headphone amps live up to that moniker by allowing you to plug up and get a boost while you’re on the go.
A portable amp with a built-in battery can be your best friend and is the only way to go if you need to kick up the sound a few levels while you are mobile or traveling. On the downside, some can require a considerable amount of time to charge up which could leave you on the sidelines for several hours with no tunes.
Alternatively, most of the headphone amps on our list have a corded option. It’s not always going to be ideal but ensures you will never be without juice or a dead set of headphones. Options without built-in batteries are generally cheaper as well.
- Design – If you have a slick headset from Beats or Bose, you will probably want a nice looking headphone amp as well. Let’s face it, a cheap hunk of plastic isn’t going to necessarily match up with some of the more luxurious headsets on the market.
When it comes to portable headphone amps, only a few manufacturers like FiiO and Presonus have managed to produce something with style and substance. As you’ll quickly see, most headphone amps are rather plain by comparison.
If you do want something different and don’t dig blocks of polished aluminum, a tube-based amp may be your best bet. These mini marvels are sure to draw plenty of attention but tend to be a little less pocket-friendly than their counterparts.
- Connectivity – This is probably going to be the most important area for beginners. Most headphones either have a 3.5mm jack that you’ll use for input. Any decent amp can accommodate the several sizes and has high-quality solid ports. If not, you can always buy an adapter although those can sometimes open up their own set of problems. If you already know what type of headset you plan to use, check the connecter before beginning your search for a portable headphone amp.
What About the Extras?
As with most tech, some portable headphone amps will have more bells & whistles than others. All will basically perform in the same fashion, but multi-channels, TRS adapters, and USB connectivity are all things to consider as well. It really depends on your needs. If you’re getting weak sound out of favorite audio gear, you won’t need all the extras while pros and music mixers will want something a little fancier.
Top 5 Best Portable Headphone Amp Reviews
For every niche tech or otherwise, you will find a manufacturer sitting high on the hill ruling the roost. In the smartphone world, it’s arguably Apple or Samsung, but when it comes to portable headphone amplifiers, FiiO is the only way to go for most. As you’d expect, that quality will come at a price.
While expensive, the FiiO A5 is our pick for the best portable headphone amp. It’s their top model and will leave a tiny footprint in your pocket or purse at only 2.58” x 4.88” x 0.57” with a weight of 5.9 ounces. It is also quite powerful despite its size with an output power of 800mW. Other tech specs of interest include a Bass Boost switch (+4dB), and the drive ability of 16~300 ohms.
The A5 offers up around 13 hours of battery life with normal usage at medium levels. You’ll also get some extras out of the box with stacking straps, spacers, and a carrying case. A 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable is also included, and the company has additional accessories (and models) available as well.
The HeadStreamer headphone amp isn’t going to be for everyone, but it is an awesome low-cost alternative for PC users. Many gamers already know how underwhelming a PC or laptop sound system can be, and HRT’s little box is guaranteed to help you pound out the sound while you game long into the night.
As the HeadStreamer is geared towards PCs, you’ll get a USB port that is of the asynchronous variety. It serves two purposes as it will provide your power, but also controls the data instead of letting your PC do it. There are no extras to speak of however as the little box only has a single input and a series of LED’s to show let you know what’s going on.
Despite its simple style and basic functionality, the HRT HeadStreamer is a fine choice for folks needing a boost from their laptop or PC. It is also one of the more portable solutions measuring 2.9” x 2.4” x 1.0” but still has an output power of 130mW.
Staying with our “bare bones” theme, the CAD Audio HA4 is next up on our best portable headphone amp list. It is another unpowered unit, meaning you won’t have to rely on an internal battery but will have to look for a wall jack. As for the tech specs, the frequency response is 20Hz to 50Khz while the power output is rated at 50 mW. It’s not nearly as powerful as our first two options but can do several things they can’t.
The HA4 is a 4-channel amp so you can jack in four sets of earphones that open things up considerably. Each channel allows you to just the volume individually as well so this one is good for studio use or groups needed to be jacked in. There’s a 1/4” input on the front, an LED light and a power jack for the 12V DC adapter, but that’s all she wrote. This one is solid, simple and affordable.
If you’re looking for an alternative for heavy studio use or something you can also use at home, the PreSonus HP4 Compact Headphone Amplifier is a fine choice for a portable amp. Whereas the H4 was a little sparse in regards to its style and features, the PreSonus HP4 is a solid step up. The two do share some similarities although the output power has been significantly raised to 130mW per channel. That should be more than enough for most but larger models are available if you need something with more oomph.
In addition to the four channels for your headphones, the HP4 also has a monitor level control and accepts balanced or unbalanced inputs and outputs. Still not impressed? How about a Monitor Mute button, mono summing and the fact it’s built to work with Max and Universal Rack Trays. While the HP4 is sleek with an Aluminum shell, it is larger than many on our list at 5.5” x 5.5” x 1.75” and weighs in at a whopping 5 pounds.
The HP4 isn’t as portable as some on our list, but it is what you would consider a “Pro” model and will perform like one. If you need something smaller but still just as solid the HP2 model may be a better option although the price difference is negligible.
Rounding things out is the FiiO E17K ALPEN 2 headphone amp. It’s one of the more “high-tech” models to make the cut and is truly portable thanks to a large 1,500mAh battery. For comparison’s sake, that is about half the size of a normal smartphone battery. Not too shabby. You will get USB audio decoding through this model and a new control setup to as well.
One of the major differences between the E17K and the rest of FiiO’s arsenal is the way it actually works. There are no switches on this model. Instead, you will get a couple of buttons on the front and a dial on the side. The dial acts as a scroll-wheel of sorts and allows you to zip through menus on the small display quickly. A few important tech specs include 200mW of power with a headphone impedance of 15 to 150 ohms. The battery is rated at 15 hours as well but will charge up fairly swiftly in a little under 4 hours.
Our Final Thoughts
It may be easier to find a good set of headphones than a solid portable amp for them. That is partly due to the selection as this is specialty item which makes your pool or products smaller. As always, keep your needs in mind while considering the cost along with the pros and cons.