Headphone amps are portable; mini amplifiers that are designed to power high impedance headphones. To enjoy listening to the best quality of music, you have to buy a pair of premium headphones. Unlike regular pairs of headphones that have an impedance range between 16-32 ohms, high-quality headphones can support impedance ranges starting from 200 ohms all the way up to 600 ohms.
To drive premium headphones with high impedance, you need more power as higher impedance equals more electrical resistance. Connecting them directly to smartphones, mp3 players, and laptops are not enough as the integrated amplifier built into these devices cannot meet the power requirements of headphones that need above 32 ohms to function properly. You may be able to power a headphone featuring 35-100 ohms but it would be inefficient and a bad music listening experience. Instead, using a headphone amp can breathe a new life into the sound. To power anything above 100 ohms, you must use a dedicated headphone amp.
A battery-powered or portable headphone amp works on the same principle of a regular amplifier that drives loudspeakers. Headphone amps are just incredibly power-efficient and output far less power as they are designed to power headphones. Basically, they boost or amplify the power, current, and voltage of the input electrical signal. Battery-powered headphone amps run on battery and don’t need to be plugged to an external power source. However, you need to charge them like any other electronic device.
A comparison table of the 5 best battery-powered headphone Amps that you can buy in 2020 is listed below:
|Model Name||FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier||Proster Headphone Amplifier 3.5mm||EarStudio ES100 MK2-24bit||Topping NX1s||M-Audio Bass Traveler|
|Impedance Range||16 to 150 Ohm.||16 to 150 Ohm.||8 to 600 Ohm||16 to 300 Ohm||16 to 100 Ohm|
|Battery Life||Up to 16 Hours||Up to 8 Hours||Up to 14 Hours||Up to 40 hours||Up to 8 hours|
|Price||View Price on Amazon||View Price on Amazon||View Price on Amazon||View Price on Amazon||View Price on Amazon|
Now, let’s get started with the review below.
#1 FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier
The FiiO A3 Portable Headphone Amplifier is one of the most popular headphone amps in this price range and for good reason. The look and feel of this curved rectangular product with beveled edges inspire confidence in its owners. The build quality of the product is good due to the aluminum alloy body casting and it is easy to carry around due to its low weight of 92 grams. The device features 3 main controls on top – Alps potentiometer (volume knob) on the center, a low/high gain switch, and a bass-boost switch.
The gain switch can be used to boost the overall volume of the music while the bass boost can be turned on to boost the sound frequencies on the lower end. The input and outputs of the product feature a 3.5 mm headphone out port, micro-USB charging port, and a line-in port. The FiiO A3 utilizes an OPA1642 as a preamp and an AD8397 as a power amp.
People like this amp especially because of its ability to produce natural and clean sound without any distortion even when the volume is turned to the max. There is no presence of any artificial highs or lows aside from the pure amplified sound. The battery life of this device is another selling point. You can enjoy up to 16 hours of listening time by charging the device for 4 hours.
Some people complain that the product produces a hum/hiss sound when used while charging. Also, the cord that it comes with is not the best quality. Overall, the product delivers a neutral, clean, and clear sound but the soundstage and imaging are average. In this price range, it is one of the best headphone amps that you can buy.
- Good build quality
- Good battery life
- Produces neutral sound
- Not suitable for stacking due to the curved shape
- Produces a loud pop sound on IEMs when you turn on/off the device
#2 Proster Headphone Amplifier 3.5mm
The Proster Headphone Amplifier 3.5mm is the most affordable product in this list of headphone amps. It features an old rectangular design but is durable due to its aluminum alloy shell which also acts as a shield to reduce signal interference and improve heat resistance. On top, the product features a headphone jack, connection for the sound source, and volume control that also acts as an on-off switch. At the bottom, it includes a micro-USB port for charging. After a full charge, the device can be used for up to 8 hours which is enough for normal users.
This compact Hi-Fi headphone amplifier is universally compatible with digital devices such as Personal Media Players/MP3/MP4/PC/Mobile phone/laptops/IPods/CD players/Notebooks and also supports most headphones with high impedance in the range of 16-150Ω. According to users, this product is great for watching movies as it allows you to enjoy theatre level audio without any distortion which results in a great listening experience. At this price point, you cannot get a better product if you want to enjoy high-quality audio.
However, some users have complained about the quality of the product as they didn’t like the sound quality when compared to the FiiO A1. But this is to be expected as the FiiO A1 is costlier and supports better features and components. Overall, this product is good for people with partial hearing loss who want to enjoy listening to music without spending much money. If you can ignore the plain design, this is a good buy.
- Supports various input devices
- Produces clean and distortion-free sound
- Mediocre battery life
- Unattractive design
#3 EarStudio ES100 MK2-24bit
The EarStudio ES100 MK2-24bit is a portable Bluetooth DAC that is the most feature-packed headphone amp in this list. It boasts a small and elegant design that is extremely lightweight weighing at just 20 grams. Although the body is made of plastic, the better button finish and scratch-resistant coating allow it some degree of durability. The side contains two output ports; 3.5mm for unbalanced sound and 2.5 mm for balanced sound output. It also contains a power button that doubles as a play/pause button, next/previous rocker, a micro-USB connector for charging, and a microphone.
The device includes a Qualcomm CSR8675 chipset which allows it to support the latest Bluetooth software stack and high-quality codecs including Sony LDAC, Qualcomm aptX, Qualcomm aptX HD, and MPEG AAC on top of standard SBC. Users can enjoy high-fidelity audio as the product is equipped with two AK4375a for each channel. The proprietary DualDrive technology allows you to enjoy music in up to 48 kHz/16 bit.
Many users love the in-built microphone quality and the ability to control various settings such as 10-band equalizer, DAC filter and oversampling, codec, battery, and volume control, channel trim, and max volume limit using the companion iOS/Android remote control application.
However, the main reason why people love this product is its ability to power 300+ ohm headphones effortlessly for up to 14 hours. The sound quality produced is second to none at this price range and it is superior to every other product mentioned in this list. According to a few people, the only problem that you may face when using the amp is connection problems which cannot be fixed without repairing the device. Overall, if you want a Bluetooth DAC that comes with a lot of appealing features and offers good sound quality, you cannot go wrong with the EarStudio ES100.
- Support for many codecs
- Includes a microphone
- Good battery life
- Can suffer from connection problems
#4 Topping NX1s
The Topping NX1s is a budget-friend headphone amp that features an exceptional battery life and good sound output. The design of the product is surprisingly thoughtful. The two ‘horns’ on the upper side of the product acts as protection for the cables and volume knob. The input and output 3.5 mm jack connectors are also located on this end. The opposite or bottom end of the device features a micro-USB port for charging, a gain switch, and a bass boost switch; both with low/high settings. The build-quality of the device is also good although it is an entry-level device.
There is a noticeable difference when turning on the bass boost switch and the gain switch. People especially love its amplification effect as it is relatively good at this price-point. However, the most attractive selling point of this product is its super 40 hours battery life which is great for burning new headphones at one go. The sound quality offered is neutral and transparent but you may notice a slight coloration in the sub-bass frequencies. However, it is only noticeable if you use bass-heavy headphones and the difference may not even bother you as it is negligible.
Despite all the positive reviews, a few people have faced issues with amplification and bass control. However, it is likely that the issues were a result of defective product units. Overall, the Topping NX1s offers superior sound quality to any smartphone and is recommended for people who want to experience the magic of headphone amps for the first time. Although it is a budget-friendly entry-level product, it will not disappoint you as many people love it.
- Exceptional battery life
- Clean and neutral sound output
- The sound quality of the sub-bass section would be better
- Higher impedance output compared to similar products
#5 M-Audio Bass Traveler
The M-Audio Bass Traveler is an ultraportable amp that features two 1/8 inch or 3.5 mm headphone jacks and supports two output audio sources. It also features a micro-USB port for charging. Initially, the device has to be charged for 2 hours. After that, a single hour of charge can yield a battery life of 6-8 hours. The design of the device is not modern but doesn’t look bad either. It has a volume knob on top which also acts as the power on/off switch along with the two output ports. At the bottom, it contains a 2 level bass boost switch, the input port, and the micro USB port.
The bass boost can be switched to (M) for a slight amplification and to (H) for the maximum amplification according to the pre-set bass boost EQ. According to users, it works great at mid-volume but distorts the sound at high volume levels. Some people have reported that the device is not shielded properly and suffers from sound quality as it sometimes picks up RF transmission interference from the phone if it is too close.
Overall, the product is okay for people who just want to buy an affordable amp to use with their smartphones and power headphones with an impedance rating lower than 100 ohms. So, it is sufficient to power a lot of high-quality headphones. However, to experience the best sound quality and power premium headphones, you have to invest in a better product.
- Ultraportable amp
- Dual output
- 2 level boost
- Average battery life
- Low impedance range
To bring out the full potential of high-quality and premium headphones, you need to power them with an amp. Battery-powered headphone amps are smaller, portable, and sufficient to power most power-hungry headphones. They can also improve the sound quality as they include high-quality DAC (digital to analog converter) inside them which allows them to convert the digital information of an audio file (mp3, FLAC, wav) into an analog signal much more efficiently. It is much more superior to the DACs present in portable sound sources such as an mp3 player or smartphone.
When choosing a battery-powered headphone amp, make sure it can power your headphones by reading the specifications of both the products carefully. In general, the impedance of your headsets should be 2.5-8 times higher compared to the impedance of your headphone amp. You can also use a tool like digizoid to calculate the power-requirement of your headphones.