With so many portable devices in our lives, it’s crucial to have a great set of headphones. If you’re a true audiophile but have a smaller budget for your audio equipment, the best budget headphone amps can help you drastically improve the sound quality of your headphones.
A budget headphone amp is a small, portable device that is connected on one end to a computer, tablet, or phone, and on the other to your headphones. Budget headphone amps raise low voltage audio signals so that they’re able to be played by the speakers in your headphones (Source).
Headphone amps are particularly useful when playing music out of a source with a low-quality DAC (digital to analog converter) like a laptop. They’re often as simple as plugging in and pressing play. Budget headphone amps, in particular, are cost-effective, lightweight and portable.
You might require a budget headphone amp if you have higher impedance headphones that require higher amplification (Source). You might also require a budget headphone amp if you’re in the music industry. But it’s just as useful for someone who appreciates amazing sound quality.
Prior to purchasing a budget headphone amp, you’ll want to make sure that it is compatible with your brand of headphones. You’ll also want to consider its battery life, EQ modes like a bass booster, and if it’s able to work with both wireless and wired connections.
Your music-listening experience will never be the same once you use any of these top-rated budget headphone amps.
Are Headphone Amps Worth It?
Table of Contents
- 1 Are Headphone Amps Worth It?
- 2 What Are Headphone Amps Used For?
- 3 Comparing The Best Budget Headphone Amps
- 4 1. FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amp – Best Overall
- 5 2. Creative Sound Blaster E3 Headphone Amp – Best Multifunctional Headphone Amp
- 6 3. FiiO E11K Headphone Amp – Best Cheap Headphone Amp Under $100
- 7 4. FiiO A1 Headphone Amp – Best Headphone Amp for Travelers
- 8 5. Creative Sound Blaster E5 Headphone Amp – Best Feature-Packed Headphone Amp
- 9 What Headphone Amp Should I Get?
- 10 Which Headphone Amp For Mixing?
- 11 Which Headphone Amplifier Is The Best?
- 12 Why Use a Headphone Amp?
- 13 What Does a Headphone Amp Do?
- 14 What Is Gain on a Headphone Amp?
- 15 Best Headphone Amp Brands
- 16 Things to Consider Before Buying Headphone Amps
- 17 Ready To Buy The Best Budget Headphone Amps?
Headphone amplifiers are well worth purchasing if you have high quality headphones, but you’re playing audio from a source that has a low-quality DAC (digital to analog converter). Headphone amps raise audio signals from these sources to deliver great quality audio to your headphone speakers.
What Are Headphone Amps Used For?
Headphone amps are used for raising low voltage audio signals coming from sources like a laptop, phone, or tablet. These audio sources often have a low-quality DAC (digital to analog converter). People with high-impedance headphones require the higher amplification that headphone amps deliver.
Comparing The Best Budget Headphone Amps
|FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amp|
|Creative Sound Blaster E3 Headphone Amp|
|FiiO E11K Headphone Amp|
|FiiO A1 Headphone Amp|
|Creative Sound Blaster E5 Headphone Amp|
1. FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amp – Best Overall
This modern design is complemented by the high-quality production, perhaps the reason why the amp works with nearly all the gadgets. With only 96grms, carrying the amp around wouldn’t be an issue.
Ergonomics and ease of use is something crucial for any electronic device. Nonetheless, worry not as the FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amp’s quality of sound is good. It eliminates nearly all the external noise, giving you ample time to enjoy your music.
The FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amp can be a great addition to simple players. It works great with the FiiO X1 and all other smartphones. It produces enough power, backed by the lithium-ion battery, for most existing headphones, including on-ear models.
The amp comes with a mini-jack that develops output power of up to 450mW. The headphone’s impedance 16 ohms when working with 32ohm models makes it compatible with most headphones models available on the market.
For accurate matching of low and high impedance, the FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amp has a gain switch with a special scheme for bass enhancing. With such activation, you will enjoy accurate and energetic low-frequency sounds, which are good for most genres of music.
2. Creative Sound Blaster E3 Headphone Amp – Best Multifunctional Headphone Amp
Similarly, it can be used as a Bluetooth AMP. With this, any speaker lacking Bluetooth capabilities connected to the E cable can be connected to any reproducing device. Thirdly, the Creative Sound Blaster E3 Headphone Amp supports a wired connection.
The impedance value for both wired and wireless connection for this device is the same. The amp can magnify signals from almost any headphone with high or low resistance value. This makes listening to music or watching movies much more enjoyable.
It comes with an on-the-go cable that helps in connecting the Creative Sound Blaster E3 Headphone Amp to a tablet or smartphone. Apple devices are recognized via AirPlay. The reason behind this amp’s quality sound is the ASIO technology. This is a low-latency audio transmission formula that supports sound processing software in real-time.
The Creative Sound Blaster E3 Headphone Amp’s built-in lithium-ion battery supports one-hour continuous usage. However, the discharge time depends on its usage. The battery lasts 17 hours when connected through the cable and 8 hours if connected via Bluetooth.
3. FiiO E11K Headphone Amp – Best Cheap Headphone Amp Under $100
It comes with a switchable built-in 3dB boosting circuit superior to the EQ software that backs up high-frequency recordings, making the sounds livelier without being overly obstructive. The additional bass boost makes it easier to change sound profiles for various audios and tracks of various songs.
The amp’s volume potentiometer with barrier-free design makes it easy to operate. The fixed volume full-scale line level output maximizes signal quality. It also has the ability to convert USB digital audio to coaxial digital audio output. The modern OS automatically supports this without requiring drivers.
4. FiiO A1 Headphone Amp – Best Headphone Amp for Travelers
However, FiiO decided to return the all-metal case to give the device its desired strength. FiiO also decided to strengthen its bass, making the A1 a better version of the A series.
To many who know about FiiO’s products, this is an improvement of the previous A1 amplifier for class D acoustics. Besides the features, its main advantage is that it is available at an affordable price. Well, here are some of the basic features of this model.
To begin, it is FiiO’s tradition to package its products in transparent plastics. This model is no exception. Except for the AMP, the box contains a charging cable, 3.5mm connectors, spare clip and a plastic bezel without clips. So to say, its delivery is pretty good for the price.
FiiO A1 Headphone Amp’s design is simple. Apart from the compact aluminum case, the lower and upper sides are plastic. It has an audio input and micro-USB socket for charging on the sides. Working with the device is also simple, with two buttons for volume adjustments next to the LED control button.
When fully charged, the amp can work for 12 hours. Unfortunately, there is no auto-power down function that can switch the amp off automatically. Therefore, if you forget to switch off the amp, its battery can discharge.
5. Creative Sound Blaster E5 Headphone Amp – Best Feature-Packed Headphone Amp
This high resolution and overly portable headphone amp is built with precision for audiophile components. It is the best in the class of 600-ohm amplifier and aptX technology that supports Bluetooth and perfect audio component for music aficionados, whether they are listening from PC, smartphones or tablets.
Designed for the audiophile in you
The Creative Sound Blaster E5 Headphone Amp is designed to produce high-fidelity sound quality/audio that minimizes noise and distortion. Its impressive cirrus logic digital to analog converter with an impressive 120dB supports sample rates of up to 24-bit resolution.
Stream music via Bluetooth
Being a modern headphone amp, this device allows music lovers to stream music wirelessly via Bluetooth. Its updated version, Bluetooth 4.1 allows for a one-touch and fuss-free Bluetooth pairing. It has a wide range of Bluetooth codecs including AAC, SBC and aptX low latency, all which enhance audio quality wirelessly.
Long battery life
This device comes with 3200mAh battery that offers up to 8hours of continues music playback, even when using Bluetooth connectivity. With the USB port, android users of the Creative Sound Blaster E5 Headphone Amp can charge their smartphones while using. The actual battery life of this device varies with usage, environmental settings, and settings.
What Headphone Amp Should I Get?
A headphone amplifier will help your headphones reach their top potential. Good headphone amps will produce deeper bass and more natural sound, giving you a more pleasant listening experience.
If you live in an apartment or dorm, headphones are often your only option for enjoying music. To achieve the quality of sound you would experience from a surround sound or large speakers, a headphone amp is an excellent option.
The price of your headphone amp should be 25-50% of the cost of your headphones. This involves much less cost in comparison to purchasing speakers and a sound system.
Because there is a variety in price and selection, you should choose a headphone amp that will best suit your needs.
For a mid-range, basic headphone amp, the FiiO A 1 Headphone amp provides a cost-effective option. It offers high power and superior output. It is a sensible and reliable option for better sound quality.
Which Headphone Amp For Mixing?
Some headphone amps give you the capability to adjust the sound quality in detail.
With the Creative Sound Blaster E3, you have access to the SBX Pro Studio Audio Suite. This computer program enhances your audio experience by providing virtual sound that is next to none.
By connecting your Sound Blaster E3 to your PC or Mac, you can make adjustments via the SBX control panel. This program allows you to adjust the immersion level of surround sound to your specifications.
The SBX audio suite also allows you to increase the bass, adjust the level and crossover frequency. This technology provides the opportunity to adjust what you listen to, to your individual taste.
Which Headphone Amplifier Is The Best?
When choosing the headphone amp that will best meet your needs, price, flexibility, and sound quality are among the best factors in helping decide which product works for you. There are also desktop and portable options that offer different features.
The FiiO A3 headphone amplifier is easy-to-use, portable, and outperforms all of the competition.
It features an aluminum build and sleek black finish. This headphone amp has an extra-long battery life of 16 hours of continuous use. This allows you to use it for almost the entire day without charging. It can return to full charge within only four hours.
The FiiO A3 headphone amp is known for its adaptability with multiple devices. Because it’s small and portable, you can take it with you, where ever you go.
With these headphones, everything will sound significantly fuller and richer.
Why Use a Headphone Amp?
Over the years, how we listen to music has become increasingly high-tech. People care about the quality of sound their devices can produce. They are willing to invest in technology that will improve the quality of music they are listening to.
By increasing the volume of sound coming for your headphones, it’s possible that you will experience crackling and distortion. However, you will get these results from a headphone amp. It will increase the voltage sent to the headphones, and make the signal they receive stronger. This improves the quality of sound.
Quality headphones are essential, but headphone amps are the second part of the equation that equals excellent sound production.
Noise-canceling headphones already include a headphone amp that does the job. These headphones prevent an amp from adding a significant contribution to sound.
With gaming on the rise, many have found that headphone amps make the game-playing experience better. This amplification can allow you to hear footsteps of an approaching enemy and allow you to play a cut above the rest.
Otherwise, adding an amp can improve the clarity and dynamics, and thus, the enjoyment of using headphones.
What Does a Headphone Amp Do?
Headphones serve as mini speakers. All speakers need an amplifier. A headphone amp works like the amps that power large speakers but on a much lower scale.
A headphone amp raises the low-voltage signal from a device to a level that your speakers can convert into soundwaves. Some devices have a DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, already built-in.
However, you can still benefit from using a separate component. Often, an integrated amp produces terrible to only fair quality.
It should be noted that impedance plays an important role in the quality of sound. Impedance is the resistance of electrical current. The greater the impedance output, the bigger the change in frequency that will occur. This can sometimes be audible and interfere with the listening experience.
Ideally, you want to keep the output impedance about 1/8 less that the headphone impedance to minimize any issues. This will maximize the quality of sound.
Using a separate amp can drastically increase the sound quality your headphones produce. An amp affects your signal chain. This refers to all of the components that make contact with the audio signal, from the device to the amp to your headphones. High signal chain quality will result in higher sound quality. And that’s what you are looking for.
What Is Gain on a Headphone Amp?
Voltage gain is the amount an amplifier can increase its signal. Higher gain means always means higher noise. Amps produce a brighter sound at low gain. That means at a low gain level, you will experience a less congested sound where instruments sound more distinct.
Low gain requires that your volume control will need to be at a high range.
If you prefer high gain, the bass will be punchier, but the background will be busier. It’s a less clean sound, but it is often the only option with some types of headphones.
Just remember: Low gain gives a better separation of sound. With high gain, you will experience more bass and more highs in the sound. It’s your preference.
Best Headphone Amp Brands
FiiO Electronics Technology Company, Ltd. is based in Guangzhou, China. It was founded in 2007. They primarily manufacture audio equipment, cables, and accessories. FiiO stands for F (Fidelity from HiFi) and iO (the number 1 & 0). Their motto is “HiFi with style.”
This company has one of the lowest repair-related returns rates. They focus on quality management and strive to raise the reputation of “Made in China.”
FiiO focuses on creating innovative and high-quality products at excellent prices. They place importance on product design to create the best audio products available.
All FiiO headphone amps come with a one-year warranty that covers any defects in materials and workmanship. Water damage is not covered by the warranty.
Creative Technology Ltd. is known as Creative Labs in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. It is a global technology company that manufactures digital entertainment products.
This worldwide company began in 1981 as a computer repair shop in Singapore that was founded by three childhood friends. Initially, they developed a cutting-edge multilingual computer, but after limited success, they shifted their focus to engineering a PC sound card.
This transition to music-focused developments led to the creation of the Sound Blaster sound card. It was among the first of its kind to be offered on the consumer market.
Creative has led the way in cutting-edge innovative technology. Their Sound Blaster audio enhancement devices are marketed to consumers and system integrators alike.
All of their products offer a 1-year Limited Hardware Warranty that covers the workmanship and any issues that would occur during normal use. They also feature extensive worldwide customer support for their products.
They now distribute their products to more than 80 countries all over the world. As they expand into the lifestyle digital entertainment market, they will continue to utilize the groundbreaking technology that has helped them launch the multimedia revolution.
Things to Consider Before Buying Headphone Amps
When it comes to entertainment, finding the best device is of utmost importance. Interestingly, finding the best headphone amp out in the market can be quite daunting.
This is due to the endless models available and various features to consider. Well, below are the three top things to consider before buying headphone amps.
Do you need it?
Many times, people are excited about buying a headphone amp that they forget if they need one. You should note that headphone amps are not an add-on accessory but rather a resolution that drives your headphones to full potential.
Below are three reasons why you don’t need a headphone amp:
- Low-impedance headphones – if your headphone impedance rating is less than 80 ohms, you don’t need one.
- In-ear headphones – on-ear headphones work well with headphone amps. However, don’t get an amp if you have in-ear headphones. This is because in-ear headphones have small drivers that don’t need external amplification.
- Active noise canceling headphone – there are high-end headphone models that have active noise canceling ability. If you have such, do not purchase headphone amp as they are already embedded with one.
If you are looking for a better option to use in the construction site or while working at an airport, consider buying a bluetooth hearing protection. Bluetooth connection allows you to pair it up with your phones, tablets, iPods, etc. Thus, you can use them simply as a set of headphones.
Where Do You Intend to Use the Amp?
If you are always on the move, consider getting extremely compact, lightweight and portable headphone amp. You can use it when clipped in your pocket or the shirt. On the other hand, if you need an amp for use with your smartphone and PC, consider headphone amps that come with DAC.
This means that you will connect the device through a USB cable and listen to music by connecting your favorite headphone to the amp.
How Much Do You Want to Spend?
The budget should be an important consideration when making your decision. Though our list contains amps under $100, it features amps of different price tags, ranging from $20 – $90.
Besides, a higher price doesn’t guarantee better sound quality. It just means better quality build and extra features.
Ready To Buy The Best Budget Headphone Amps?
Headphone amps are of immense importance if you want quality sound.
Some of the top benefits of having an amp include:
- Reduce distortion – average build headphones are plagued with noise distortion. This is why you should invest in headphone amps to reduce external distortion.
- Enhanced sound augmentation – if your headphones don’t deliver quality audio or the sound quality is not that detailed, you will benefit from a headphone amplifier. It magically transforms the audio quality of poorly formatted audio. It also enhances bass and track details.
- Wide impedance range – most headphones under $100 support a wide range of impedance. Note that impedance determines the type of headphones the amp can drive. The wider the range, the better.
- Pint-sized – most of the products mentioned above are compact and highly portable. They can be wound on your phone or clipped to clothes. They are certainly accommodative.
With such benefits, you would be missing out a lot if you don’t have a headphone amp for your average quality headphone. These devices come with diverse features that make them a must-buy item, especially for audiophiles.
Nonetheless, before settling for one, ensure that you consider the amp’s features. Find an item that is compatible with your headphones, compact and portable and of course, affordable. If you are an audiophile, check out our review of shallow mount subwoofers too.
Also, using music and sounds to communicate with other people online has become a widespread phenomenon. Check our step by step guide on playing music through a mic.
Apart from headphone amps, If you are speaking or performing in a crowded place, school audience or an outdoor event. Buying a quality voice amplifier is the best solution to avoid noise cancellation.