Review of the best according to the editors. About the selection criteria. The the material is subjective, is not advertising and is not serves as a guide to the purchase. Before purchase is needed consultation with a specialist.
The richest variety in retail sales of various headphones in the complete absence of even a hint of a deficit limits the consumer in choosing only the cost of each particular model. But acquiring even the most high-quality and expensive headphones, we can not suspect that they will fully realize their full potential may not be on every device. Often in order to hear all the richness of the musical composition, headphones need “help” through a special device – an amplifier. Special this applies to headphones with high impedance (impedance).
Editorial staff, based on the results of our market research specialized specialists, prepared for you a brief overview of the most interesting and noteworthy amplifiers as of the beginning 2020 year.
- How to choose a headphone amplifier
- Amplifier class
- Combination of amplifier parameters with characteristics headphone
- Rating of the best headphone amplifiers
- Best stationary headphone amplifiers
- Fiio Olympus 2-E10K
- Sennheiser GSX 1000
- Fostex HP-A3
- Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2
- Best portable headphone amplifiers
- Fiio BTR3
- Fiio Q1 Mark II
- OPPO HA-2
- Chord mojo
How to choose a headphone amplifier
First, let’s clarify the most important points that should be take into account when choosing a headphone amplifier.
The main task of any headphone amplifier is, in fact, amplify the signal without introducing additional “random” or “intentional” distortions. That is, to give the opportunity to hear everything what is inherent in the listening track initially. All the rest – surround sound, emphasizing highs or lows, creating a scene, noise reduction – all these are bonuses that may not even be always appropriate.
Amplifier ability combined with a specific headphone model transmit sound as it should be “as intended”, or variously embellish it, characterized by a number of indicators.
The most common feature that makes it possible to quickly narrow your search. Two approaches have been established here. More or less objective – division into classes A, B, AB, C, D and others; and purely marketing – division into classes Hi Fi and Hi End.
It is conventionally assumed that Hi Fi is a basic level truly high-quality sound, and Hi End – the highest level. On the in fact, no objective and, especially, documentary base there is no such classification. Therefore, if we generalize strongly, we can say that Hi-Fi solutions are mostly good and tolerable price, and Hi End – are often overrated in every way, and their the real benefits are too subtle, and appreciate them only narrow-profile specialists can.
As for the letter classification, the situation here is more transparent. Class A – these are really capable amplifiers. provide the best sound quality. But they do it to the detriment amplification itself, since they have a relatively low efficiency – 15-30%. They also have the most pronounced side effects in the form of strong heating, gluttony in terms of energy consumption and highest upper bar in terms of weight – weight can be calculated tens of kilograms.
Classes B, AB, and C are trade-offs where held balance between efficiency and permissible distortion. Class D Amplifiers – digital, while the previous ones are analog. The difference is more or less obvious – analog amplifiers “try” to convey sound the track “as is”, that is, as it is without embellishment and distortion, while the digital D-class is more inclined to simulate good sound, broadcasting the output albeit excellently sounding, but actually a completely different audio material.
Combination of amplifier parameters with characteristics headphone
Finally, the main criterion for choosing an amplifier is compatibility its characteristics with the characteristics of the headphones themselves, paired with with which he will work. The amplifier must be selected for a specific model of headphones, or at least for a specific range.
The main indicator here is consistency in power and resistance. Self-respecting manufacturer, this parameter is known indicates in the product description. The most “claimed” by the majority consumer combination – 120-200mW per channel for a given resistance with distortion no more than 0.01%. So, for example, if manufacturer indicates power per channel 180mW with resistance 250 Ohm, this means that the amplifier without problems “shakes” the headphones with with an impedance of 250 ohms or more, providing not only impressive volume, but also decent quality.
In any case, the most important thing is that the minimum working the resistance of the amplifier is at least equal, and it is better that lower impedance of headphones.
The listed criteria are the most important, those that really affect to the result. Other characteristics, such as frequency range and other, more auxiliary, and rarely have principal value for the mass consumer.
Rating of the best headphone amplifiers
|Nomination||a place||Name of product||price|
|Best stationary headphone amplifiers||1||Fiio Olympus 2-E10K||5 380 rub.|
|2||Sennheiser GSX 1000||13 990 rub.|
|3||Fostex HP-A3||19 790 rub.|
|4||Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2||47 920 rub.|
|Best portable headphone amplifiers||1||Fiio BTR3||4 590 rub.|
|2||Fiio Q1 Mark II||7 900 rub.|
|3||OPPO HA-2||24 990 rub.|
|4||Chord mojo||35 000 rub.|
Best stationary headphone amplifiers
We go directly to the review and analysis of specific models, and start with stationary amplifiers. We clarify that in the framework of this review, we will consider, though not the cheapest, but still very affordable solutions, which for the most part also quite compact. Large and heavy models that even work on lamps (modern) and costing more than one thousand US dollars – topic of a separate conversation.
Fiio Olympus 2-E10K
Let’s start traditionally with the most inexpensive option, and further on increasing value. Olympus 2-E10K is a comparative product a young Chinese company Fiio. One of the most successful models on market for a combination of characteristics and value.
The first thing that catches your eye as soon as the Fiio Olympus 2-E10K falls into the hands, this is its size – 49x21x80mm. Miniature the amplifier is actually pocket, but only in terms of transportation, as the power source and controls are not make it possible to use it as a portable. Weigh 82g device
We list the main technical characteristics. Amplifier provides an output power of 150mW with a resistance of 32 ohms. It contains a built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The claimed compatibility with headphone impedance is from 16 to 300 Ohms. Hereinafter, you need to understand that the upper bar of the specified manufacturer range can be significantly overpriced. Then there is, at the maximum impedance of the headphones, of course, there will be some sound, but the actual amplification of the signal and its quality can leave much to be desired. Operating frequency range – from 20 to 20 thousand Hz.
On the front edge of the amplifier is the control wheel volume, standard mini-jack 3.5 for headphones and a switch bass boost mode. At the trailing edge is a mini-USB line input output and S-PDIF output. At the bottom is a mechanical 2-position gain switch. All connectors with gilding.
The presence of a line output is a separate advantage, giving the ability to connect an external active speaker to the amplifier system bypassing the volume control.
This model is powered only through the USB port, which makes it stationary, despite the miniature size. In delivery includes a USB cable, an instruction manual and eight rubber feet, which Can be glued to bottom surface for stability.
This amplifier does not claim to be a Hi Fi class, but is intended to replace by far any, even the highest quality integrated or even a discrete but internal sound card for a PC or a laptop. With this task, the device copes with 100%. The only bottleneck is shielding that’s not very effective, which easily punch a working mobile phone.
- anodized aluminum housing;
- miniature sizes;
- does not require special drivers;
- integrated DAC;
- line output;
- attractive appearance.
- weak shielding of the analog part.
Sennheiser GSX 1000
The second issue will consider an interesting solution to the famous trading Sennheiser brands. This model is interesting for its gaming orientation, both in terms of functionality, and in terms of external kind of. In some places this is done to the detriment of the direct function – amplification signal – but not too much, but in the context of a game station such a device can serve as a spectacular logical conclusion the most complete set.
Even during the announcement, as well as at the presentation and after the proceeds of this model for sale, the manufacturer stored in secretly subtle technical details of the device. The potential only the most key information is known to buyers. But for her conscious choice is enough.
So, the Sennheiser GSX 1000 is an external DAC with amplifier, semiconductor circuitry. Working range frequencies – from a few units to 48 thousand Hz. Declared manufacturer compatibility with headphones by impedance – from 16 up to 150ohm. The coefficient of nonlinear distortion is 0.005%. Eats device from sound source via USB cable.
Like the previous model, the Sennheiser GSX 1000 connects to computer (PC or Mac) without any drivers – all you need for interaction with a computer, the amplifier contains in its own memory. The set of interfaces is minimalistic, but sufficient: standard 3.5mm mini-jack for headphones, AUX 3.5mm line-out; Micro-USB Type B input
The dimensions of the amplifier are 99x99x27mm, if on a standard stand, then height will be 46mm. It weighs about 150g. The most remarkable detail is The LCD screen, in which the bright red color of the dial prevails. IN combined with other futuristic design elements The device looks extremely impressive. Even full-time The bright red USB cable directly points to the gaming device affiliation. The screen, by the way, is touch-sensitive and supports multitouch.
Sennheiser GSX 1000 performs volume control aluminum ring around the screen. Engineers managed to make a move the rings are incredibly soft, airy and unusually tactile enjoyable. The proximity sensor will track when it reaches the amplifier operator’s hand and turn on the circular illumination and the screen itself.
- many settings, including special ones for games with the ability to write to presets;
- effective touch LCD screen with multi-touch support;
- proximity sensor;
- colorful appearance;
- tactile comfort;
- flawless technical implementation as a whole.
- not too outstanding power (conscious decision manufacturer for the sake of minimizing the price);
- random click problem, especially on touch buttons saving presets on the side edge;
- only works on obsolete generation USB ports 2.0 (can be treated via firmware update).
The third number in the review of the best headphone amplifiers for versions, consider an even more expensive model, this time without gaming charm and gloss, but with significantly wider opportunities. Manufacturer – Japanese of the same name specialized company.
Fostex HP-A3 is a transistor amplifier with a built-in DAC – 32-bit AKM AK4390. Dimensions are very modest – 108x36x140mm with relatively impressive weight of 450g. The case is plain – plain black metal box with controls.
Consider the most important technical characteristics of the device. Declared by the manufacturer, the combination of output power on resistance – 100mW / 32ohm. The minimum resistance is 16Ω. The operating frequency range is from 20 to 20 thousand Hz. Coefficient nonlinear distortion – 0.01%. Audio playback quality – up to 96kHz / 24bit.
Like both previous models, this model, despite being miniature dimensions, can only be considered portable with a big stretch. The amplifier is also powered via the USB port and its own battery does not have. Of course, it can be easily used on a trip, by connecting to a laptop, but a fully autonomous device from this will not.
S / PDIF, USB inputs / outputs are located on the amplifier B-type, RCA and 6.3mm gold-plated headphone jack.
The amplifier copes with its immediate task completely, without problems, fitting into the manufacturer’s headphone compatibility options. Power is far from record but there are no complaints about the quality. The output is clean natural sound with high detail, and a bonus – moderately wide and well-drawn virtual scene.
Dissatisfaction of a significant part of users is already very “simple” appearance of the device. To its intended purpose it is has no relationship, but the feedback is noticeable, and our experts included this point in the flaws.
- clear sound;
- high detail;
- moderate but clear scene;
- reliability and durability;
- strong assembly;
- Useful I / O ports
- not too impressive power;
- “clumsy” appearance.
Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2
Finishes the selection of the best stationary headphone amplifiers according to the magazine, the most expensive model, the closest to stationary form factor. It is logical and actual continuation of the previous Burson Audio Soloist SL model, which also had significant commercial success.
Compared to the previous generation, the Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2 received an increase in already high power by almost fourth. Actually, in terms of gain power, this model leaves far behind all three of the above options.
We list the key technical specifications. Power frontal channels is 2500mW per channel with a resistance of 16ohm. Circuitry – semiconductor. Harmonic coefficient distortion – 0.03%. The signal to noise ratio is 96dB. Inbox resistance at the linear input – 30kOhm. Channel Separation – 73dB
The dimensions of the Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2 are 140x80x210mm, weight – 2.5kg. This already indicates the applicability of the amplifier only in home or studio conditions, but puts the final point power supply. And this model is powered only from an outlet or any comparable in voltage and current alternatives. Consumes at this is a little – only 23W. The power supply is built-in.
On the front of the amplifier housing are located organs control: gain switch button, input switch button, volume control wheel. On the back parts – on / off switch, power socket (form factor, like desktop PCs, so if something happens, replace the power cord make up problems) and interfaces.
This model has two stereo inputs – this is a plus, and only one output Is a minus. One way out is that in its purest form you can use only headphones for listening. If it will be necessary give out sound to another speaker system or other receiving device, you need to think about the options for correct switching in advance and buy the appropriate accessories.
A few words about the technical features of this model. FROM The technical point of view of the Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2 is something to be proud – toroidal transformer with a highly efficient system Filtration, Elna Silmic II Condensers, High Precision Regulator ALPS volume, quality Dale resistors. Assembly and installation impeccable.
- exceptional power output;
- accurate and controlled bass;
- neutral tonal balance;
- whole and rhythmic sound;
- professional appearance;
- high-quality electronics;
- flawless assembly.
- no line output;
- no end-to-end connectivity between sound source and preamplifier.
Best portable headphone amplifiers
The second selection in the review of the best headphone amplifiers represents not just miniature models, but truly portable that you can use for quality listening to audio is literally on the go. Unifying characteristics – the presence of a built-in battery and optimal compatibility for most with not too “heavy” headphones. For the rest the presented models are no worse than the above stationary and not cheaper at all.
Let’s start with the most affordable model in this collection the production is already familiar to us a young but authoritative Chinese companies headquartered in Guangzhou. It is multifunctional a device with a built-in DAC and a number of additional features, characteristic of wearable gadgets. This is one of the best-selling. portable headphone amplifiers as of the end of 2019, beginning of 2020.
Dimensions Fiio BTR3 pocket – 25x58x10mm, weight – 26g. Design concise, but quite presentable. Deep black body colors, rounded corners. The case is made of glass and metal, to assembly and quality of materials there are no questions. High level and the class is visible in everything, including packaging, holographic artifacts and even an erasable authentication layer. Easy to attach to clothes with a large clip over the entire back side.
Technically, the device is optimally designed for intra-channel low impedance headphones: power distribution – 0.033W resistance 16 Ohm and 0.025W at 32 Ohm. Harmonic coefficient distortions – 0.003%. The signal to noise ratio is 120dB. Channel allocation – 75dB.
This model has an unspoken priority towards interacting with sound source via Bluetooth4.2 on the CSR8675 chip. Built in support for many important and secondary codecs for wireless audio transmission, including the most important – AptX HD (others – AAC, LDAC, HWA, etc.). Actually, turning the numbers into The sound is implemented by a discrete DAC AK4376A. Also available here built-in microphone with noise reduction function, but very mediocre.
In addition to Bluetooth, there is another element of wireless technology – NFC module. The controls are spaced on the left side of the case. Fiio BTR3 has its own volume control, located in the same place. There are only two interfaces – USB Type C and standard 3.5mm MiniJack for connecting headphones.
Miniature device powered by built-in lithium 300 mAh battery. Full charge lasts 10-11 hours of continuous use. The amplifier can work simultaneously and charge via USB or, alternatively, connect to the source sound not wirelessly, but through the same standard USB cable.
- high-quality sound;
- flawless technical performance;
- reliability and reliability;
- Ergonomic weaknesses (the proximity of USB and MiniJack, difficult to control blindly);
- blocks the microphone of the smartphone.
Fiio Q1 Mark II
The review continues another model of the Fiio brand. She at two times more expensive than the previous one and can please noticeably wider features and more attractive overall features. it one of the best combinations of price, features and quality, as key elements of the electronic filling of the device are often found on much more expensive models.
In principle, the Fiio Q1 Mark II is the same “harvester” (DAC + amplifier), like the previous model. Similar to previous to the Q1 generation, the Mark II model is externally made in a fun way, resembling a miniature flask with dimensions of 59x99x13mm and weighing 101g. “Neck cap” – volume control. Technical performance impeccable. A gadget is nice to hold in your hands, and even just look at him.
The circuitry of this model is semiconductor. Ratio output power and resistance – 0.112 W at 16 Ohms or 0.075 W at 32ohm As you can see, the amplifier’s ability to “swing” the headphones Noticeably higher than the previous model. Unusually wide operating frequency range that goes far beyond limits of human hearing – from 5 to 55 thousand Hz. Low harmonic distortion coefficient – 0.002%. Channel allocation – 79dB.
The configuration of the model is truly flagship and when considering the price causes a pleasant surprise. So, there is a full balanced output 2.5mm with a ratio of 220mW to 32ohm load. DAC supports all resolutions up to 384 kHz / 32bit. There is even support DSD256. The device interacts with Apple gadgets without any adapters. There is also a linear output, and the operating frequency here even more impressive – from 6 to 80 thousand Hz.
Fiio Q1 Mark II works independently from the built-in lithium 1800 mAh batteries The battery lasts for 10 hours continuous DAC operation. Full charge time is less than 4 hours.
Among other things, the real flagship is also happy equipment: amplifier itself; puff on puffs; two pairs elastic rings to connect the amplifier and source in “a sandwich”; silicone gasket for a “sandwich”; cable with Lightning plug MicroUSB cable for charging and connecting to a PC; cable with 3.5mm plugs for direct connection as an amplifier; documentation.
- high enough power;
- wide operating frequency range;
- DSD support;
- flawless technical performance;
- linear and balanced output;
- correlation of price, characteristics and quality;
- flagship equipment;
- Substantial excess of user expectations in general.
- user complaints about the lack of a USB cable Type-C-MicroUSB (needed for Android devices).
The third number in this collection, we present even brighter “harvester” produced by the prominent Chinese company OPPO Electronics Corporation. This is a device of this Hi-Fi class, and even by Compared to the more than worthy previous model, it looks higher an order of magnitude. The price, however, is also noteworthy – OPPO HA-2 in three times more expensive than Fiio Q1 Mark II.
Dimensions of the device – 68x157x12mm, weight – 175g. In this miniature case with a strict but cute design with a cover of genuine leather, powerful electronics capable of to qualitatively change the view of the user, on well-known and, seemingly heard musical compositions to the holes.
At the center of everything is the high-end discrete DAC ESS Sabre32 ES9018-2M. Optimal power-to-load ratios able to shame more than one stationary model: 220mW at 16ohm, 150mW at 32ohm and 17mW at 300ohm. As you can see, the amplifier is not afraid even very heavy full-size headphones. Working range frequencies starts at 20Hz, and the upper bar is absolutely beyond – 200 thousand Hz.
With interfaces, the manufacturer decided to proceed as follows. This model has on board digital inputs USB A and micro-USB; standard analog input minijack 3.5mm; same output connector for earphones; line output combined with analog.
A few words about the capabilities of the DAC and, in fact, the amplifier. The characteristics of the incoming signals are quite comparable with the DACs stationary devices – PCM – up to 384 thousand Hz at 32bit, there is Support for DSD – 2.8, 5.6 MHz and DSD256 – 11.2 MHz.
Foreign experts and specialists agree that this the model can be confidently ranked as AB. That means, that at low power output OPPO HA-2 is in conditional mode A without distortions such as “step”, and when exceeded a certain threshold automatically switches to more economy mode B. These subtleties suggest the conclusion that the headphones with increased sensitivity with OPPO HA-2 will definitely be sound cleaner than without it.
The device is powered by a Li-ion battery with a capacity of 3000 mAh. Nominal autonomy – up to 13 hours with analog connection and up to 7 hours via USB. Full charge time – about one and a half hours from the adapter, via USB – expected many times longer.
- full Hi-Fi level;
- extremely wide range of frequencies;
- the ability to “swing” high-impedance headphones;
- DSD256 support;
- premium class in technical and design execution.
- compatibility issues with Android (treated);
- user complaints about the volume control without a latch.
Completes the review of the best headphone amplifiers according to the version expensive solution in the selection – Chord Mojo. Lack of alphanumeric hints at device ownership to the premium class. And this is true, despite the fact that amid the rest of the Chord product range with absolutely no reasonably priced mojo looks quite to himself “budgetary.”
To make this model even more affordable for mass consumer, British company Chord even stepped on the throat own song, “and refused brand attention to detail. Therefore, the Mojo case (stands for “Mobile Joy”) looks extremely minimalistic.
The dimensions of the device are minimal – comparable to two match boxes or credit card. But at the same time, a set of interfaces not bad: micro-USB for connection; coaxial input with connector 3.5mm, not RCA or BNC, as is most often the case; separate USB to recharge; two outputs minijack 3.5mm.
The circuitry of this model is semiconductor. The ratio power of the front channels to the load: from 0.72W per 8Ω to 0.035W at 600 ohms. Harmonic distortion perfectly insignificant – 0.00017%. DAC Sampling Frequency – 768kHz at 32bit. In this case, it’s more likely marketing “mnogohodovochka”, since such a crazy meaning to anyone, actually not necessary. However, the fact of having a lot says a lot about device level. The signal to noise ratio is 120dB. The same the value is the indicator of separation of channels.
Chord Mojo is powered by a built-in battery, which is enough for 7-8 hours of full work, depending on the headphones and mode work. The first charge of the battery will require at least 10 hours and a side effect will be noticeable heat – this is not good, but inevitably.
In general, according to the findings of our experts and other independent testers, Chord Mojo is able to truly hit and challenge “wow effect” with striking persuasive sound character and confident study of dynamics. Fully pass on his shoulder the power and scale of legendary classic works without losing while the sophistication of quiet passages. In case of poor quality recording its flaws will inevitably appear, but the DAC will not strive to focus on them.
- premium class;
- impeccable technical performance, not devoid of original approaches;
- prohibitively small harmonic gain;
- high, even excessive sampling rate;
- clear, detailed sound;
- virtuoso work with rhythms and dynamics;
- set of interfaces;
- DSD format support;
- Heats up significantly when charging.
Attention! This rating is subjective, is not advertising and does not serve as a guide to the purchase. Before the purchase consultation with a specialist is necessary.