The desktop headphone amplifier is usually a small and relatively inexpensive piece of equipment. It is a simple concept – it will take a low-level signal and amplify it, making it obviously louder and clearly audible.
Depending on the type, it may either be a single-channel version, which can be used to provide a better quality signal to your headphones from, for example, a computer. Or it could be used in a recording set-up where it will split the input signal into several channels, with each channel having its own volume control.
The users can then adjust the volume for each channel to suit how much of the signal they want to hear over what they are recording.
So, let’s take a look at the Best Desktop Headphone Amplifiers currently on the market and find the perfect one for you…
Top 8 Best Desktop Headphone Amplifiers To Consider In 2021 Review
1 Monolith 124459 Desktop Headphone Amplifier – Best Professional Desktop Headphone Amplifier
If you happen to be looking for bells and whistles on your headphone amp, you won’t find them here. In fact, it would be harder to find a more basic headphone amp in its design. But that said, it will be a good choice for those who want a simple basic option.
The build quality…
It is well-made of aluminum and has a centrally-placed LCD screen. At 7.8 by 2 by 8.7 inches, it is a decent size, and it feels quite substantial in the hand. And one interesting build feature is the volume control, which rises in steps indicated by a slight click. In our opinion, this is a nice idea and certainly helps you adjust in increments.
Other than the screen and the volume control, there is a standard ¼ inch and a balanced XLR output. Also, push-button controls for menu operations.
We are certainly given plenty of options. To connect to a DAC, there is a USB-B, and there are optical and balanced XLR 3 pin connections. Also, an AES3.
Two sets of RCA connections complete a busy rear of the Monolith. These outputs allow you to connect a variety of options without having to keep removing others.
Balance the sound…
A nice built-in option is the ability to manipulate the sound to ensure you get it to your liking.
Dual THX AAA 788’s give you great amplification, and the musical experience is enhanced by the AKM 4493 Digital to Analog Converter.
Packed with quality…
It offers plenty of quality in its performance level, but it comes at a price. You could say it is not one of the cheaper options.
- Well-made with good connections.
- Plenty of built-in sound management.
- Very expensive and not really for the amateur.
2 Nobsound NS-08E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier – Best Budget Desktop Headphone Amplifier
Here is a rather different idea from Douk Audio. They are a Chinese company that were established in 2013 and seem to enjoy the ‘fun’ aspect of music, as we can see from this design.
You won’t find many more headphones amps that have a more compact design than this. At 5.83 by 4.57 by 3.31 inches and weighing only 12 ounces, it sits neatly out of the way.
It is well-made with its aluminum casing and simple controls that include in and out sockets and a volume. On the rear are just the power on button and mains input. All very simple and uncomplicated. The brass colored front plate is also a nice addition. They have obviously thought about how to make this an attractive unit and succeeded.
Sitting very visibly and in some ways with a certain vulnerability, are two tubes emerging from the top of the chassis. An interesting design idea. And one we have to say is a bit of fun providing you don’t give them a whack, of course.
This amp is a bit of a hybrid. The tubes are actually used for the preamp, and it uses transistor amplification. There is a wide range of replacement tubes available as and when you need them. Certainly, the blue glow of the tubes adds something to the overall aesthetic and mood.
This is quite good when you consider the price point. The bass and treble are prominent, and there is very little background noise. It has a frequency response of 20 Hz – 30 kHz. Overall, it performs quite well. The addition of the tubes to power the preamp adds a degree of warmth to the sound besides being quite nice to look at.
If you are on a budget, then this is a great little headphone amp. Certainly, one we would consider as the Best Desktop Headphone Amplifier if you don’t want to spend too much.
- Well-made with an attractive visual look.
- Produces a good sound at a very attractive price.
- Some will want more features.
3 S.M.S.L SD-793II Headphone Amplifier – Most Versatile Desktop Headphone Amplifier
This is another budget headphone amplifier, this time from S.M.S.L. As is often the case with cost-effective systems, this amp is not over-endowed with extra features.
But that will suit people who just want a basic amp to do a simple job. Therefore, if you want an easy-to-use headphone amp at a reasonable price, this will be of interest.
It has been built with an aluminum casing. The single control on the front, for the volume, is also made from aluminum, which gives it a strong feel. Also on the front panel is the power-up button, a select option, and the jack input socket for the phones.
It has quite a modest size measuring just 8.9 by 6.7 by 2.5 inches and weighing only 14 ounces. It isn’t, therefore, going to take up too much room in your workspace.
These are also quite basic but include most things you will need, including a built-in decoder.
This will operate with optical and coaxial plugs that connect to TVs, DVD players, and CD players. On the rear are RCA connections.
The sound is best described as a bit better than average at this price point. However, it does lack a little in the bottom end. It has a frequency response of 20Hz to 20KHz (- 0.2dB), and the output is 8 watts.
But you really can’t complain. The mids and highs are clear, sharp, and well-defined. And the volume allows it adequate headroom to work with.
A decent headphone amplifier that is worth looking at if you are on a tight budget.
- Well-made with simple controls.
- Sounds quite good in the mid and high frequencies.
- Some will need higher levels of performance, especially in the bottom end.
4 Syba USB Digital to Analog Headphone Amplifier – Most Durable Desktop Headphone Amplifier
This is another budget range headphone amplifier that operates in a slightly different way. However, this is a cheap option and not for those seeking a higher performance level. Having said that, for the price point, it is reasonable value.
It is made in China, which will automatically make some think it is inferior. But it is quite well-made, although it might have been better if it had an all-metal build. But then that would have made it more expensive. The large control knob providing various options is sturdy enough, as is the rest of the chassis.
It is a compact 4 by 4 by 3.75 inches, and it weighs just 14 ounces. It isn’t, therefore, not going to take up much desk space.
It actually performs at an impressive level and will give you an impressive 24-bit rate and 96kHz sample rate for high-definition audio; this makes it better than CD quality (16bit/44.1kHz).
This is used via USB with your computer. Computers rely on their sound card for outputting the sound, and these are usually far lower quality. If you have the right source, this will bypass the soundcard, giving you a higher level of audio quality.
It has ⅛ inch and ¼ inch headphone sockets and analog stereo RCA’s. Also, a mic input and additional input for optical output. All the connections are placed on the rear of the unit with headphones and mic inputs on the front.
It is a simple plug-in-and-play amp that requires no driver downloads. Set at a very attractive price point, it is a great option for anyone looking for quality sound on a budget.
- Decent build quality at an attractive price point.
- Capable of 24-bit/96kHz quality audio.
- Some will need a more standardized operation.
5 XtremPro Desktop USB DAC Headphone Amplifiers – Best USB Desktop Headphone Amplifier
This is a headphone amplifier that is designed for personal use to improve the quality of your music when listening through headphones.
As they have a high current output, they can work with headphones of a range of impedances. Therefore, whatever the impedance of your headphones, you will get a suitable volume.
It connects via the supplied USB to your computer. The front features a jack socket for headphones and a large control dial. However, we have to say that we are not particularly impressed with the rather poor quality graphics around the dial. It is a budget amp, but there is no point emphasizing it.
There is also an LED with a rather bright blue light; some may find it a bit too much. Round the back, there are plenty of RCA connections. It has a decent quality of build measuring 4.45 by 3.6 by 1.16 inches.
Does it perform?
Despite its rather cheap look and its cost-effective price point, it works quite well. The sound is good, and if you want a late night volume blast, it will give you that.
Not the best you will find and a bit more expensive than the competition, but still worth a look.
- Reasonable build quality and compact size.
- Decent sound at an attractive price point.
- Some will need better quality.
6 Audioengine D1 Headphone Amplifier – Best Compact Desktop Headphone Amplifier
Audioengine is an independent business based in Texas. They make quality audio equipment, and this headphone amplifier is a good example.
This is a 24-bit headphone amp and DAC. It allows you to bypass the sound card on either your computer or TV to give you an improved quality sound. You can use it with a Mac or PC, and you do not need to install a driver.
Connections and controls…
It has USB and optical inputs. It also has a 3.5mm socket for the headphones but, rather surprisingly, no ¼ inch jack socket.
The volume is adjusted via the single control knob on the front. The only other features on the front are the 3.5mm socket and a power-on button. It comes with a two-meter USB cable, which powers the amp once connected. On the rear RCA analog input and output, the USB and Optical ports.
Is it compact?
Probably fair to say it might be the most compact unit around. Measuring 1.48 by 1.38 by 0.39 inches, it is minuscule. The only question is, how do they pack enough into it to make it produce such a great sound? But they do, and it does.
It will operate with any computer, or anything that has optical connections, and also powered speakers. In fact, any system that has RCA or mini-jack inputs. A neat little system with some good features. It does seem a little expensive, though.
- Compact little unit with some good connections.
- 24-bit quality.
- Some may be put off by its size.
7 Little Dot MK2 Headphone Amp – Best Value for the Money Desktop Headphone Amplifier
Next, we have another headphone amp where the valves form an important part of the overall look, the Little Dot from Aimpire.
Ghosts from the past…
To some, that is what valve tubes are. Something from an age long gone. But they haven’t gone at all.
They still carry with them magical qualities for producing distinct sounds that transistors can not match. Therefore they are always worth looking at and especially listening to.
It is quite a sturdy built little amp, measuring only 8.66 by 4.33 by 4.21 inches, but it weighs a chunky 4.4 pounds. Therefore, it feels quite strong in the hand. Featuring a metal chassis with the volume knob, a blue LED light, and the headphone socket. The housing for the transformer is also metal, and on top are the exposed valves.
Round the back are the RCA inputs and outputs and the off/on button. Both input and output sockets are gold-plated to ensure a good connection and to avoid corrosion.
With its Driver and Power tubes, the sound is, as you might imagine, warm and powerful. It has a frequency response of 20Hz – 50KHz (-1dB).
If you look at other valve amp alternatives that are a bit cheaper, there is a difference. The circuits for the driver contain tubes, but the power amp section is solid state (uses transistors). These can be recognized because they usually only have one or two tubes on display.
With the Little Dot, it is an all-tube design, and the circuits for the left and right channels are independent of each other. Also, this little amp will support headphones with up to 300 ohms impedance. Great for those with more expensive, audiophile-quality phones.
Do we like it?
You may or may not like the aesthetics; that is a personal thing. But you won’t be able to argue about the quality of sound it produces.
For the price point, even though it isn’t cheap, you won’t find a much better valve-driven headphone amp very easily. This has to be considered as the Best Desktop Headphone Amplifier for that reason alone.
- A basic design with good connections.
- Great sounds with plenty of depth and crisp highs with a strong build.
- Tube preamp and power amp sections.
- Some may not like the exposed valves.
8 Fostex Desktop HP-A4BL Headphone Amplifier – Best Premium Desktop Headphone Amplifier
Fostex is a company with a proud name in audio. They might not be the largest or most well-known, but this Japanese company produces quality products. Originally founded in 1949, the audio equipment division was created in 1973.
This is a step up in quality to most of the headphone amps. But also a step up in cost. For those seeking more than just an amp for occasional use at home, this will be of interest.
Variety of uses…
The Fostex HP-A4BL is a balanced headphone amp that can also be used as a powered speaker preamp. As a High-Resolution Digital to Analog converter, it is suited for audio engineers and those involved in mastering.
It will support audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz.
Controls and connections…
The panel on the front has a 4-pin XLR socket for output to headphones. It also has a ¼ inch stereo output. There are also controls for Volume, Gain with a staging level that lets you boost 10dB to the output at the push of a button. It also features a high-pass filter that will let you remove some of the lower frequencies if you need to.
Also, a push-button control for a choice of USB or optical input. Round the back, you will find the sockets for a USB 2.0 connection, stereo RCA outputs, and the optical connections.
The quality of the build is good, with a strong chassis and four rubber feet. It measures 6.20 x 5.90 x 1.30 inches, so it doesn’t take up too much room. It comes with a USB cable and a power cord.
A high-quality amp that produces a great sound but at a cost.
- Good construction with easy to use controls.
- Produces a great sound and has a variety of uses.
- Quite expensive for some.
Best Desktop Headphone Amplifier Buying Guide
There might be a couple of reasons why you are thinking of buying a dedicated headphone amp. In a studio, whether a fully commercial facility or a basic one at home, you will definitely need a quality headphone feed as well as the ability to send it to different performers.
But at home you could also benefit, for example, do you get enough volume from your headphones? Is there plenty of headroom available? If the answer to either is no, then you need a dedicated headphone amp.
Different headphones require different levels of power and impedance to drive them. If they don’t have enough, they will be quiet, and well, boring. Too much, and they will create distortion and possibly damage your hearing.
What does a quality headphone amp do?
For a start, it will power any set of headphones. Secondly, as mentioned, it will control the volume you use and ensure no damage is done, either to the phones or your ears.
Most people could certainly use one. But the choice will depend on what you want to use it for?
The singer will want to hear what they are doing while they are recording. But the engineer will also want to monitor what they are doing and listen to the results. That means at least two sets of headphones. A headphone amp, as we mentioned, will split the sound into channels and allow you to control the volume for each channel.
It is fair to say you could not make a recording properly without an amp with at least two channels, or some other solution. Obviously, if you intend to record, for example, a full band at the same time, you will need a far more complicated multi-channel system with possibly different monitor mixes for the players, plus more headphones, cables, etc.
This all considerably adds to the cost understandably.
Use at home…
No doubt, using a headphone amp at home is going to improve what you are hearing. For this, you only need one input and one channel. Many can be connected straight to a computer using a USB socket.
These will replace what is probably a poorly performing sound card in your laptop or tower. Depending on the quality of your sound card, the improvement in sound quality could be substantial.
Designs are varied for home use, and some look great, in our opinion, with wonderfully glowing tubes.
The price range…
This is going to vary. If you want to buy an amp to work at a very high level. The price will also be significant.
But, for use at home, there are some great affordable options to choose from. As with most things, the quality you need will determine what you have to spend.
Need a new set of headphones for your amplifier?
If you do, then check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones Under $200, the Best Bluetooth Headphones for Commuting, the Most Comfortable Headphones, the Best Bluetooth Headphones Under $200, and the Best Lightweight Headphones currently on the market.
What is the Best Desktop Headphone Amplifier?
We have decided on a simple amplifier, just for use at home. As it can be kept in a secure place where it is unlikely to be damaged, we can get adventurous with the design.
We love the idea of the glowing valves but also want them to be driving everything, so we are not interested in buying a hybrid design that uses transistors to drive the power amp section.
We would therefore go for the…
The glowing tubes produce a great all-tube sound and look fantastic, just what we like.
Until next, happy listening!