If you are in a hurry and just want to find out what our best cheap headphone amps are, then our recommendation is the AudioQuest DragonFly!
Have you ever bought a new pair of headphones but they’re just too quiet? Chances are you need a headphone amp. Amplifiers are often useful for gaming headsets or high-impedance bass headphones used for producing and mixing in a studio setup. You may hear the bass boom punches on your way!
The best budget headphone amps vary in size, price, and quality. It can be hard to choose the one that will work with your headphones. But I’ve found quite good portable headphone amps that might be useful for everyone.
I’ve also covered some questions you may ask about the best headphone amps under budget before choosing the right one. Read on to learn more!
- What is a Headphone Amp?
- Why Do I Need a Headphone Amp?
- How to Use the Headphone Amp?
- Do Budge Headphone Amps Improve Sound Quality?
- The Best Budget Headphone Amps Reviewed
- How to Choose Budget Headphone Amps
- Final Thoughts
What is a Headphone Amp?
A headphone amp is a low-powered amplifier that raises the voltage of the device you’re using. It brings it to a level that can be converted into sound ways to the speakers in your headphones. It works the same as an amp does for regular speakers.
It’s just on a much smaller scale. This doesn’t mean that the sound won’t still pack a punch despite the amp being smaller than traditional speaker amps. Keep reading if you aren’t sure whether you should get an amp for your headphones and what you should look out for before buying.
Why Do I Need a Headphone Amp?
You need a headphone amp to allow your headphones to work properly and have enough power to be able to get a decent volume and explore their maximum potential.
Basically, if you have them plugged into your mobile and can’t hear much even at the maximum volume, this means you need an amplifier. Why does it happen? Because of the impedance.
If the impedance of your headphones is between 1 and 32 ohms, it will give them enough power to work. But If the impedance is between 33 and 100 ohms, it is a little tricky.
Some models will still work properly without an amplifier while some not. Basically, if you cannot hear them loud enough, it means that they are short of electrical impulses and so an external amp is necessary. For headphones above 100 ohms, you definitely need an amplifier.
- *1 – 32 ohms: You do not need an amplifier.
- *33 – 100 ohms: It would be better to use a portable amp to give them an extra boost.
- *Over 100 ohms: You need an amplifier.
How to Use the Headphone Amp?
Using the best cheap headphone amps won’t require you to do anything at least anything on the technical side. That part is taken care of. All you have to do is plug it in for the most part.
Each amp is specific in how it will work with your device. Most of them require you to plug it in through an output or input jack. If you are looking to use it with a phone or computer, the setup may be different.
It could make you get an adaptor or work with a USB for the amp to function. It should be noted that some amps will let you change the bass or control the volume.
Do Budge Headphone Amps Improve Sound Quality?
The short answer is both yes and no. Sound quality can improve but only with the right kind of headphones. If you have decent headphones and buy a higher quality amp, there’s a chance it will not only enhance the sound but let you make changes (i.e. bass boosting).
However, if you have a low-quality pair, the sound isn’t going to improve by much if at all. Unfortunately, this goes for amps too. A low-quality amp (not to be confused with price) isn’t going to do much for your sound quality.
Most amps will just make the sound louder and not enhance it, so if you have lower-quality products it won’t make it better.
The Best Budget Headphone Amps Reviewed
Here is a list of our top recommendations, along with a quick review of each budget option so you understand its pros and cons.
1. AudioQuest DragonFly
- USB compatible
- Plays all types of music files
- 32-bit ESS 9010 DAC
The AudioQuest DragonFly is unique in that it’s a simple USB DAC preamp. It can be used with laptops, phones, speakers, and headphones when paired with an adaptor.
It plays all types of music files regardless of their resolution from MP3 to Hi-Res. It has a 1.2volts output that’s compatible with most headphones. It also has a 32-bit ESS 9010 DAC with a minimum-phase filter.
We like the AudioQuest DragonFly because of its amazing sound quality. The bonuses are the size and compatibility with other devices like your phone and computer.
Since it’s USB, it can be used with almost anything. The ability to play various music files also makes it a selling point.
One thing to note before buying is that sound quality will depend on your headphones. If they aren’t the best, it won’t enhance the sound. Keep in mind to use with other devices you’ll need an adaptor.
- Superb sound
- Compatible with many devices
- Sound quality depends on your headphones
2. Schiit SYS
- Works with line-level sources
- Switch between DAC and phono preamp
- Can control the volume yourself
The Schiit SYS is a two-input passive preamp. You can control the volume yourself with the knob and can switch between DAC and a phono preamp. It’s versatile in the sense that it can be used with any line-level source. The components and designs are made in the US.
We like the Schiit SYS for being the best affordable headphone amp DAC, and it does do what it promises. The two inputs let you switch between speakers and headphones without having to unplug one for it to work.
You also have control of the volume levels for each one independently. There’s also no leakage between the outputs. The only issue is the volume knob can sometimes be hard to use.
- Sound is transparent
- No sound leakage between the two inputs
- The volume knob can be difficult to use
3. ART HeadAMP4
- Individual channel volume control
- Eight outputs
- Custom metal stackable case
The ART HeadAMP4 is an eight-output (four-channel) stereo headphone amp. It has various size of inputs and outputs at 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch.
This allows you to add extra connections to laptops, iPods, and any mixer, and control the individual volumes without creating more load on the headphone source. It comes with a stackable metal case.
We like the ARTHead for its multiple outputs and inputs. Out of all the preamps we reviewed, this was the only one that had more than two inputs/outputs. We love that it eliminates the need for adaptors and does produce clean and clear sound while enhancing the bass.
The one potential drawback is the lack of mono-to-stereo conversion. For most, this won’t be an issue but if you’re in a studio or need mono conversion you won’t find it useful. The other problem we found was if you plug in more than one headphone, you can experience static.
- No adaptors needed
- Clean and clear sound
- Enhances bass
- No mono/stereo conversion
- Can experience static if multiple headphones
4. FiiO A3
- 16-hour battery life
- Gain switch
- Preamp and amp section components
The Fiio A3 has a sleek wooden look to it but is made of aluminum with a sturdy chassis and shielding against EM interference. It works with headphones that range from 16 to 150 ohms. It comes with a gain switch so it can match the output to the headphone power.
It has superior sound quality with its internal design. It uses an OPA 1642 preamp and an AD8397 amp section. The bass boost circuit increases the output by 3.5dB at 60Hz.
We like Fiio for a few reasons. It’s aesthetically pleasing to the eye while being durable. The battery life is super long, so you can listen all day for a long time. The sound quality is the best part. The bass is punchy, and the sound is clear and dynamic. But the only issue that makes us dislike using it, is there’s a hissing/static noise when in use at any volume level.
- Great dynamic and clean sound
- Punchy bass
- May hear some hissing/static noise
5. Neoteck HIFI
- 16-150 ohms resistance
- 8-hour battery life
The Neoteck HIFI headphone amplifier is compact, portable, and lightweight with its aluminum design. It has a real stereo sound without distortion with the inputs and output jacks.
It has a chargeable battery that lasts up to 8 hours on a single charge. It also has a wide range of compatibility with your phone, mp3s, mp4s, and computers.
We like the HIFI Portable headphone amplifier for compatibility. It offers most devices like your phone or computer along with your headphones.
One problem you may run into is that it doesn’t cover a wide range of headphones, so an upgrade may be necessary. There’s not any humming or static when using this amplifier unless your phone is too close to it. Otherwise, it produces excellent sound quality!
- No humming/static
- Sturdy construction
- Excellent sound
- Static when the phone is close to the device
6. FiiO E10K USB Headphone Amplifier DAC
- Linear audio filter/low-pass filter
- DAC PCM102
- Multiple outputs
The FiiO E10k uses a micro USB connection to power and connect to your laptop. The front panel of the amp has a 1/8-inch headphone jack. The rear has a 1/8-inch output and coaxial digital output to send your digital audio elsewhere.
It has a DAC chip that’s PCM102 and can handle PCM files up to 24 bit/96kHz. The linear audio filter reduces delay, and internal silence when changing tracks, and improves quality.
It also has a low-pass filter and bass boost circuit for the low-noise floor. It’s made of an aluminum shell and chassis for durability and portability.
We like the FiiO E10k for the sound quality it produces. It has a linear filter, bass boost, and low-pass filter for improved sound quality. Your tracks won’t experience delay or have silence between tracks.
There are also multiple outputs for more headphones and for sending digital audio to another destination. The major problem is the USB always needs to be plugged into work. This can be a problem when on the go and you’re not near a computer or USB port.
- Warm and detailed sound quality
- Sturdy yet lightweight
- Low gain/high gain modes can be switched
- Needs to be plugged in at all times
7. Sabaj Audio PHA2
- Compatible with 80ohm to 600ohms
- Has 85dB channel separation
- RCA analog signal input
The Sabaj Audio PHA2 uses TPA61 20A2 headphone amplifier chips from TI and a built-in Sabaj patented power module that drives high-resistance headphones. It has both an input for micro USB and 5V power supplies so either will power it.
It’s designed with a high and low-resistance headphone jack to serve all types. The RCA analog signal input allows for amplifying sound or active speech connection.
We like the Sabaj for its overall compatibility. It not only works with all types of headphones but has two different power sources. The design is made with durability and is easily portable.
However, the volume knob feels cheap compared to the rest of the amp. The sound quality is transparent and clear making it one of the best affordable headphone amp DAC.
- Two power sources
- Sound is clear and transparent
- Solid device
- Volume knob feels cheap
8. AIMPIRE AX50
- Gain Switch/Bass Boost
- Compatible with many devices
- 10-hour battery life
The AIMPIRE AX50 comes fully compatible with devices like your phone, headphones, and laptop. The design is lightweight, durable, and portable because it’s made of aluminum. It has a battery life of up to 10 hours and shields against EM interference.
The Gain Switch and Bass Boost match your headphone’s power needs and utilize the OPA2140*2 preamp and the BUF634*2 amp buffer for natural sound quality.
We like the AIMPIRE AX50 for a variety of reasons. It’s compatible with other devices aside from your headphones. It has EM interference shielding, Gain Switch, and Bass Boost to increase sound quality. It handles most headphones.
The portability with the lightweight design and long battery life is an added plus. The only downside is the cable it comes with. It sometimes will produce static, so a 3rd party cable may be needed.
- Bass isn’t muddy
- Clear highs/mids
- Feels solid yet lightweight
- The cable sometimes produces static
How to Choose Budget Headphone Amps
Take the following factors into account, your decision-making will be much easier.
Portable or Desktop
This will depend on your preferences and needs. There are many kinds of headphone amps you can purchase. The type you’ll want to buy will vary on what you need.
Some important questions to ask yourself before purchasing an amp: Are you wanting portability from your headphone amp? Are you looking to use it for your computer or game console?
You’ll also want to take size into account. Portable ones are often small and can fit in your pocket. The sound quality won’t suffer based on the size chosen.
The same goes for bigger ones designed for your desktop. Some smaller amps can even perform better than larger ones. Therefore, it’s imperative to know the type you’re wanting before you purchase.
First, we start with the basics. Impedance is measured in ohms. It stands for the opposition to the flow of alternating current through a circuit.
Some headphones will need an amp to function properly. These are referred to as “high-impedance” headphones. The higher the impedance, the more resistance to an electrical signal. Headphones range from around 33 ohms to 600 ohms. Many of the headphones that come higher than 600 ohms often include their amps, depending.
In-ear headphones generally have smaller drivers in them requiring less voltage and work well with portable devices. Less voltage usually doesn’t need to have a headphone amp and those with 33 ohms or higher should consider using a headphone amp for better sound.
Gain Switch options on headphones allow for a proper power match-up of power being used and these are usually more flexible with all types of headphones.
DAC (digital-to-analog converter) converts digital audio information to a low-voltage signal that amplifiers can amplify. DACs are common among most headphones today.
Turntables or tape decks don’t require a DAC since they put out analog low-voltage signals. However, computers, phones, and other digital audio devices need both the best headphone amps and a DAC so you can hear the sound.
Our top pick for the “best headphone amps under budget” goes to AudioQuest DragonFly Portable. The overall design is unique in that it’s a USB compared to the other brands that are more like mini stereos in size or are powered by a battery.
It has compatibility with other devices with an adaptor and can play various music files. The sound quality is amazing for the price. The only major hang-up you’ll run into is if you have lower-quality headphones. The sound might not be the best, so you might have to invest in a better pair.