Moon Audio's Top Picks for Portable and Desktop Amps
Amplifiers come in many different shapes and sizes. Portable, desktop, tube, single-ended, balanced: the variations are about as numerous as the stars it seems. Each amplifier also has its own distinct sonic properties that will affect your music, making it warmer, more defined, etc. You can also find units that combine elements like the digital-to-analog converter and amplifier, together in one unit. Varying input and output connections make amplifiers a versatile but necessary item in your system, providing the necessary juice to power your favorite headphones or speakers. It is important to know how much power your speakers or headphones are rated, to know if a particular amplifier’s specifications are compatible. Too little power in an amplifier will have poor sonic response and your music will sound less than desirable. Too much power and you could manage to damage your speakers or headphones if used improperly. Finding the right amplifier can make all the difference for your listening needs.
Table of Contents
Portable Headphone Amps
Desktop Headphone Amps
Top Portable Headphone Amps
Sometimes you just want to bring your headphones with you. For most people this is never an issue. But for audiophiles, well, sometimes plugging into your phone or DAP just doesn't cut it. If you have a set of power-hungry headphones you need to be ready to feed them with portable power, and these portable headphone amplifiers are some of the best on the market to make sure your headphones always have enough juice to sound great no matter where you are.
Aroma A100TB Portable Headphone Amplifier - Make it your own with custom op amps!
The A100TB is Aroma's update to the A100, featuring a revised circuit design. The amplifier circuit of A100TB is designed as a symmetrical and fully-balanced amplifier circuit that has four channels. The overall circuit architecture maintains the two-stage inverting amplifying structure. The first-stage inverting amplifier circuit is responsible for signal gain switching. Gain switches are set internally, with better quality switches and shorter traces to achieve the best possible performance. After first-stage amplification, signals travel to the post-stage inverting power amplifier circuit through the four-channel digital potentiometer, then being output to the headphones. Compared to A100, the circuit of A100TB is less complicated and more refined, only for the purest and most authentic sound. The overall circuit design of A100TB and its selection of components underwent substantial optimization and upgrading.
The A100TB supports a 4.4mm balanced connection, which is a great option in our book. It's a much more durable connector than a 2.5mm and is much more stable for a variety of cable types. The power putput is impressive for an amp of this size, and with the option to switch out op-amps easily for personal preference, it makes for a very appealing and easy upgrade to any portable setup. Learn more about the Aroma Audio's A100TB Portable Headphone Amplifier. We like to pair the Aroma A100TB with the Black Dragon USB Cable to add more warmth and musicality.
Sound Signature: Analytical
4.4.mm balanced connection a plus
Ability to easily change op-amps
Chord Mojo 2 DAC Headphone Amp - Lots of power in a small package
The Chord Mojo 2 is one of the most popular portable headphone amplifiers on the market and a favorite at Moon Audio. Mojo stands for "Mobile Joy" and is a true reference-quality mobile DAC and a high-level headphone amplifier. The reason it's so popular is that the Chord Mojo 2 produces some of the cleanest quality sound and power equal to a product twenty times the price. its compact size makes it the perfect accessory to all your devices, but powerful enough to drive even some of the more power-hungry headphones out there. The Mojo 2 can even drive two headphones simultaneously. Chord DACs are typically characterized as being more on the forward side, providing plenty of detail and a good option for all listeners, but great for analytical listeners in particular.
Chord Mojo 2 is also fully equipped to play the highest resolution files - from 32kHz to 768kHz and even DSD512. Battery life in the device is certainly capable of multiple listening sessions on the go, and what's even better is that the Mojo 2 can charge and play music at the same time if you want to connect it to a power source. It's a compact device that can be used with almost any source out there - and you can't beat the price. The Mojo 2 should be in everyone's audiophile arsenal. Check out the Chord Electronics Mojo 2 DAC Headphone Amp. We like to pair the Mojo 2 with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for added clarity and resolution.
Sound Signature: Forward
Portable Battery Power
Dual Headphone Connectors
Chord Hugo 2 DAC Headphone Amp - An icon of sound and power
The Hugo 2 is a staple headphone amplifier in the audiophile industry, and one of the most popular DAC/Amps in the Chord Electronics lineup. The nice thing about the Hugo 2 is that it can do double duty as a portable DAC/Headphone Amp or fit right at home on your desk/shelf as a console unit integrated into your system. With plenty of input and output options, the Chord Hugo 2 is capable of file playback up to 768kHz and DSD512 (Octa DSD). The device is also equipped with crossfeed for headphones, meaning that it cross-feeds a 400-millisecond delay in shaping music from left and right output to different channels based on advanced binaural audio research to emulate the effects of listening to music in a room with a stereo and speakers. Sound signature is on the forward side, and the Hugo 2 provides amazing depth to your music especially on higher resolutions.
Battery life will get you about 7 hours on one charge, which considering the size and power of the Hugo 2, is pretty great. On top of that, Chord has developed a number of products that integrate seamlessly with the Hugo 2, providing even more functionality than ever before. The Chord 2GO will turn your Hugo 2 into a high-performance streamer and server via a wi-fi or ethernet-enabled device. The Chord M Scaler is also a great way to easily enhance the performance of the Hugo 2, as it has the ability to upgrade your standard definition digital input signals and output the resolution to 705.6 or 768kHz via the M Scaler dual BNC SPDIF outputs. The Hugo 2 is simply one of the best DAC and amp combos on the market. Check out the Chord Electronics Hugo 2 DAC Headphone Amp. We like to pair the Hugo 2 with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for added clarity and resolution.
Sound Signature: Forward
Versatile for portable or desktop applications
Amazing top-of-class sound
Astell&Kern ACRO CA-1000 Music Player - A DAP and headphone amp in one
The ACRO CA1000 is a DAP & headphone amplifier combo that allows you to have the functionality of a premium Astell&Kern music player with a high-end beefy headphone amplifier and a terrific selection of ports. The ACRO has a whopping 15Vrms maximum output, putting it (currently) as one of the most powerful portable devices on the market. Like the Hugo 2 from Chord, the ACRO will fit right in either on the go or at a designated place on your desk. Astell&Kern calls it a "Carryable Headphone Amp."
The ACRO supports four levels of gain settings so that almost any existing headphones can be driven to an optimal state. The ACRO CA1000 is equipped with four ES9068AS DACs, providing perfect decoding capabilities with Astell&Kern's amplifier circuit technology. The clear and overwhelming output expresses the original sound without distortion. 2.5mm, 3.5mm, 4.4mm and 6.35mm output circuits are physically separated by applying tiny, independent relay components. If the signal from each output stage of a high-power headphone amplifier is not blocked properly, this can cause noise interference. ACRO CA1000 boasts a noise-free output with an independent circuit structure by using relays to completely block connectors that are not in use. Check out the Astell&Kern ACRO CA-1000 Portable Amp DAC. We like to pair the ACRO CA-100 with the Black Dragon USB Cable to help balance the forward signature of the ACRO and provide more musicality and clarity.
Sound Signature: Balanced/Forward-leaning
Great selection of I/O
Lots of power in a portable package
Top Desktop Headphone Amps
If portability isn't a concern for you then you'll find that a desktop headphone amplifier with come with a lot more options and much more power. These headphone amps are some of the best on the market, featuring plenty of juice for some of the most power-hungry headphones and featuring both solid state or tube circuitry. If you're looking for an all-in-one unit you can have access to music streaming, top-of-the-line DACs, amplification, and a varied assortment of I/O to meet almost any need and configuration. Look no further: these are some of the best desktop headphone amplifiers for audiophiles.
TEAC UD-505-X Headphone Amplifier - No frills, all function
The TEAC UD-505-X is the latest model of the UD-505 amplifier, a class-leading dual monaural USB DAC with an integrated fully-balanced headphone amplifier, that fuses high-end audio design concepts and TEAC’s decades of audio design experience, in an A4-sized footprint. The dual mono structure processes stereo signals with higher purity, and the D/A converter section uses one ESS Technology ES9038 Q2M in each of the left and right channels. The I/O is basic: RCA line in and RCA and XLR line out, USB, coaxial, optical, and a jack for clock sync.
This model achieves a high signal-to-noise ratio by using each DAC in mono mode. Moreover, TEAC upgraded it with high specifications that enable native playback of 22.5MHz DSD and 768kHz/32bit PCM formats. In the analog processing section, which can be considered the key to audio quality. For headphone output using the newly-adopted diamond buffer circuit, in addition to two standard 6.3mm connectors, one 4.4mm 5-pole headphone connector is available, enabling balanced connection and active ground connection with a single plug. TEAC also utilizes Bluetooth for high-resolution audio streaming and playback via LDAC and aptX HD codecs (and aptX, AAC and SBC codecs for standard resolution). Learn more about the TEAC UD-505-X Headphone Amplifier. We like to pair the TEAC UD-505-X with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Balanced
Fully-balanced headphone amp
Plenty of I/O and Features
Moon Audio Dragon Inspire IHA-1 Tube Headphone Amp - Like cozying up to a bonfire of music
Drew Baird (P.E. and President of Moon Audio) and Dennis Had (Founder of Cary Audio) spent over a year perfecting this exclusive Dragon version of the Inspire IHA-1 tube headphone amplifier. Listen with various headphones seamlessly by means of the numerous output options that come as standard upgrades. The Dragon Inspire IHA-1 Tube headphone Amplifier now includes Preamp RCA Outputs as a standard option. No expense has been spared in this Dragon Version by Moon Audio. Endless tube upgrade options are available to purchase to suit the most critical of listeners.
Drew Baird (P.E. and President of Moon Audio) and Dennis Had (Founder of Cary Audio) spent over a year perfecting this exclusive Dragon version of the Inspire IHA-1 tube headphone amplifier. Listen with various headphones seamlessly by means of the numerous output options that come as standard upgrades. The Dragon Inspire IHA-1 Tube headphone Amplifier now includes Preamp RCA Outputs as a standard option. No expense has been spared in this Dragon Version by Moon Audio. Endless tube upgrade options are available to purchase to suit the most critical of listeners. Learn more about the Dragon Inspire IHA-1 Tube Headphone Amplifier. We like to pair the Dragon Inspire amplifer with the Silver Dragon Interconnects for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Warm
Hand-built with point-to-point wiring
Tube tone - customizable
SPL Phonitor XE Headphone Amplifier - Old school looks, new school features
The Phonitor xe is the ultimate standalone device for headphone enthusiasts who want the perfect solution without any compromises. The Phonitor xe is the first Phonitor headphone amplifier which can be equipped with the brand-new DAC768. This optional internal Uber-DAC qualifies the Phonitor xe to convert with outstanding sonic performance. It's a handsome looking headphone amp, and the old school mechanical vu meters are a nice touch that you wont find on many modern headphone amplifiers today. With the VU switch your can also optimize the display for different signal levels.
Up to six stereo sources can be connected to the Phonitor xe: XLR, RCA, USB, Coax, Optical, and AES/EB. The highly acclaimed AKM AK4490 Velvet Sound™ premium DAC chip is used as the converter chip in the optional digital-to-analogue converter, which thanks to its new architecture reproduces the finest sound details. It converts PCM audio with a resolution of 32 bits and a sampling rate of up to 768kHz, which is equivalent to 16 times CD resolution. The Phonitor xe also has crossfeed control, allowing you to adjust your headphones as if you were listening to speakers. Learn more about the SPL Phonitor xe Headphone Amplifier. We like to pair the SPL Phonitor xe with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Balanced/warm-leaning
Manual laterality control
Matrix Audio Element X Music Streamer - The legend, the myth, the headphone amplifier
The Element X from Matrix Audio is a staple all-in-one unit that audiophiles around the world know and respect. It's a preamp, headphone amplifier, DAC, Streamer, clock, and more. The Element X has all the I/O you need and enough power for just about every headphone on the market. Matrix Audio just released their latest version of the flagship unit, the Element X2, but we're going to wait to update our list until the new units are officially Roon Ready.
The Element X has up to +10dB of analog gain, making the need for adding a preamp to the device redundant when using active speakers. It is also a dual-mode headphone amplifier based on the LME49600 and consisting of four independent amplifier units - being able to drive a pair of balanced headphones in balanced mode or in single-ended mode, it can drive two single-ended pairs of headphones each having its own independent stereo amplifier. The construction of the Element X is also a point of pride for Matrix Audio, not just aesthetically but functionally, too -- eliminating the fixed resonant frequency of the materials. It's one of our favorite all-in-one desktop DAC and headphone amplifier at the office and it should be for your home, too! Check out the Matrix Audio Element X Music Streamer. We like to pair the Element X with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for some top-end sizzle and a clean, open sound.
Sound Signature: Balanced
Flagship-level Quality & Features
Pass Labs HPA-1 Headphone Amp - Pass Lab's first headphone amp might be your last
The Pass Labs HPA-1 is a Class A headphone amp that was designed to amplify headphones with impedances of 15 ohms to 600 ohms. It can deliver full-range dynamics across the entire frequency range. The HPA-1 can even drive headphones that present difficult loads in terms of impedance, power consumption or both.
In order to stand out from the crowd, Pass Labs conceptually designed the HPA-1 as a real Class-A power amplifier, not as an accessory offering only incremental performance gains. The HPA-1 cuts no corners in the circuit design and spares no necessary expense in execution. The foundation of the HPA-1's engineering is a custom, low-noise shielded toroidal power transformer feeding a discreet low noise regulated power supply for the audio circuits. The importance of the power supply is often overlooked and plays a large part in the overall performance of the amplifier. The HPA-1's amplifier circuits are low-feedback, wide-bandwidth discreet designs employing J-Fet input stages and Class A-biased direct-coupled MOSFET output stages. The HPA-1 easily drives headphones presenting loads from 15 to 600 ohms, particularly excelling on planar headphone designs. The sound is rich and detailed. Learn more about the Pass Labs HPA-1 Headphone Amp. We like to pair the HPA-1 amplfier to the Silver Dragon Interconnect for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Musical/warm-leaning
Great build quality and sound
Naim Uniti Atom Streamer Amplifier - Style and beauty meets performance
The Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is a box that can do it all. Apart from the sleek design aesthetics (a favorite here at Moon Audio), the streaming integration and overall user experience is like no other. The device is premium, and the power and headphone connections make it a unit is that is perfect as the centerpiece of your sound system. You're not going to want to hide this away on your shelf.
Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is a headphone-optimized version of the award-winning Uniti Atom music streaming system, designed to be the ultimate solo listening source. Unlike traditional headphone amplifiers and DACs, which require a separate computer or streaming device, Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is a fully formed streaming system: just add headphones. It is also a superb streaming pre-amplifier: simply add a power amp and speakers, or active speakers. Uniti Atom Headphone Edition is fully re-engineered to offer the optimal personal listening performance. Using trickle-down technology from its flagship Statement amplifier, Naim has engineered a new discrete headphone amplifier, capable of powering even the most premium headphones with ease, via your choice of 6.35mm jack, Balanced XLR or Pentaconn outputs. Learn more about the Naim Uniti Atom Headphone Edition. We like to pair the Naim Uniti Atom with the Black Dragon USB Cable for more bass presence, warmth, and musicality.
Sound Signature: Analytical
Amazing styling and UI
Lots of streaming and connection options
TEAC UD-701N Music Player - A flagship streamer with premium Delta Sigma sound
The design of the TEAC UD-701N is sleek, and is a great option for a Roon Ready endpoint or for those who rely heavily on streaming services - and it will especially help you get the most out of your higher-resolution streaming audio. One of the biggest draws to the unit however is the fully balanced circuitry combined with the Delta Sigma discrete DAC. The sound is superb, and combined with a resolute headphone, makes for an outstanding standalone system. Of course, you can configure it as a single element in your system as well, either a designated streamer source, an analog preamp, a USB DAC, etc; it's an incredibly versatile device that excels at each individual component, not just the unit as a whole. If you’re looking for a music player that does it all, then the TEAC UD-701N is a solid choice that we give a big thumbs up to.
With USB DAC functions as the foundation, a network player, an analog preamp, a headphone amplifier and various other functions have been combined at a high level. Using the newly-developed TEAC ΔΣ discrete DAC, all digital signals are converted to analog signals with high audio quality. Not only can this be used for all kinds of digital playback, from systems centered on a PC or Mac to audio server systems using NAS and streaming playback, it can also fulfill a core role in systems as a preamp with analog and digital inputs. The UD-701N is an all-around unit that flexibly supports new listening styles in a new age. Along with allowing listening through speakers in combination with a power amplifier, it also supports balanced headphone output. Learn more about the TEAC UD-701N Music Player. We like to pair the TEAC UD-701N with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Forward
Great-sounding Delta Sigma DAC
Fully balanced streaming powerhouse
Manley Labs Absolute Headphone Amplifier - Inspiration for the eyes and ears
The Absolute is just as much an art piece as it is a headphone amplifier. Manley has develeoped this amplifer over a period of three years, drawing from their 30 years experience as a company to create somethat that inspires the eyes and the ears. The Absolute is a line-level preamplifier as well as a tube headphone amplifier complete with all the necessary I/O. They included a designated mono switch for listening to records, switching topology options for various outputs for differing headphone impedances, and much more.
There are fifteen independent controls available, each of which was exhaustively developed for convenient adjustability and aural variety. Two selectable stereo RCA jack pairs receive the input signals. Even these RCA jacks are of their own design. Teflon® insulated and gold plated, Manley has been producing these jacks since the mid-1990s. The volume is controlled on the facia by the front thumbwheel and also by the included Radio Frequency remote control, both of which operate a precision stepped relay ladder matrix attenuator in half dB steps. The RF remote can be operated anywhere in the home, even through walls or cabinetry, especially useful when using the unit as a stand-alone preamplifier. Next to the front volume control wheel you’ll find the Mute switch to instantly kill the signal. Spinning the volume wheel all the way to minimum also mutes the signal. There is also a user-adjustable Headphone Overload Protection System which declares maximum output level to protect precious headphones and your ears! Learn about the Manley Labs Absolute Headphone Amplifier. We like to pair the Absolute amplfier to the Silver Dragon Interconnect for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Warm
Lush sound with tube customization
Stunning design with great controls
RAAL HSA-1b Headphone & Speaker Amp - MORE POWER!
The RAAL HSA-1B is the upgraded amplifier for the SR1a True-Ribbon Earfield Monitor headphones. You'll find that the HSA-1B will provide better depth and definition than the standard amplifier that comes packaged with the headphone. The 1B is also compatible with other headphone models, as it includes both XLR and quarter-inch headphone connections on the front of the unit.
The low impedance of the SR1a makes matching it to a suitable amp difficult. You cannot use a traditional headphone amplifier; the SR1a needs to be driven by a specially designed high-power headphone amp or a moderately powered speaker amp connected to the interface box that comes with the SR1a. According to RAAL-requisite, you can use an amplifier up to 500 watts, but care must be taken not to overdrive the ribbon. If this happens, you'll notice a slapping sound, which means the ribbon is reaching its excursion limits. For this to happen, you'd have to be listening to bass-heavy music with the volume cranked. Ultimately, if you have the SR1a then having this amp in your arsenal is a no-brainer. The benefits of the amp on the RAAL are not lost on other headphones however, as they will benefit from the high power output as well, specially planar-magnetic drivers. Learn more about the RAAL HSA-1b Headphone and Speaker Amp.
Sound Signature: Forward
Compatible with other headphones
Plenty of Power
Bricasti M3H DAC/Amplifier - Clarity like a mountain spring
Bricast M3 DAC features two fully differential conversion channels, separate conversion for PCM and native DSD, and a balanced analog level control circuit, making the M3 suitable for all applications. Internally the M3 utilizes two independent linear power supplies for the analog and digital processing to ensure low noise and superior isolation. The M3H adds a headphone amplifier option with balanced inputs for expanded utility in your audio system. The M3H utilizes a newly designed chassis made from robust CNC milled aluminum in sections ensures superior thermal characteristics, excellent vibrational damping, and shielding from RF.
The M3 was designed from the beginning to have a headphone buffer and driver amps to be added as options, so the chassis and dimensions remain the same on the M3H except for the front panel. There, you will find 2 connection points for an XLR and 1/4" inputs. There is no change in the DAC components of the device, but there are additional driver cards inside the unit. The M3 is a true balanced or differential DAC, and all its analog circuitry is fully balanced including the headphone driver amps. There are 4 amps in the M3H for headphone drive when using balanced out. It is unique in the market to have a full balanced path. Since the M3 is analog, there is no change in the UI of the unit or controlling level. Bricasti will be adds the ability to select the different outputs: Headphone or main outputs on the device. Learn about the Bricasti M3H DAC and Amplifier. We like to pair the Bricasti M3H DAC/Amp with the Silver Dragon USB Cable for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Balanced
Fully balanced signal path
M3 standalone DAC version available
Auris Audio Nirvana Tube Amplifier - Achieve enlightenment with style and amazing sound
As its name suggests, Nirvana is designed to take you to a state of absolute bliss. Boasting premium quality and sound neutrality, Nirvana enables you to choose any headphones you like. Nirvana is a stylish, full-sized headphone amplifier designed in a single-ended configuration. With 6.5 watts pure class-A per channel, it can drive a wide range of headphones, from easy-driving dynamics to more challenging planar magnetics. The Nirvana uses the iconic EL34 tubes, known for deep and tight bass, sweet mids, and extended and detailed highs. The robust and durable wood and leather chassis protects against vibrations.
Nirvana proves that bass performance from headphones can match the quality and the quantity of bass-via-massive-woofers. No loss of details, perfect clarity, precision and airiness with all the headphones plugged into it. In the matter of sound, Nirvana represents a blend of Auris Ha2 and Headonia amplifier, in the way that it takes the best of both. Balanced mode reveales many hidden layers of music and the reproduction becomes slightly more detailed. It sounds like you’re in heaven with a dynamic, wide and very well layered sound with a good amount of warmth and tube smoothness. The Nirvana gets sound (and looks) just right and it simply is impossible not to like. Learn more about the Auris Audio Nirvana Tube Amplifier. We like to pair the Nirvana amplfier to the Silver Dragon Interconnect for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Warm
Can drive a wide range of headphones
Chord Electronics Hugo TT 2 DAC & Headphone Amp - One headphone amplifier to rule them all
The Hugo TT 2 is bigger, better and more advanced in every way and it sets a new benchmark for tabletop DACs, eclipsed only by Chord’s flagship DAVE. The Chord Hugo TT 2 has been radically redesigned from the ground up. It features beautiful new casework by Chief Designer, John Franks, as well as 5 times the processing power of the original Hugo TT — double that of the multi-award-winning Hugo 2. Hugo TT 2 includes over 20 years of digital development by Rob Watts and takes advantage of the very latest technology. As expected, it delivers radically improved technical specifications and measurements across the board and exhibits drastic sonic benefits over its predecessor with 768kHz PCM and DSD 512 playback. This powerhouse DAC supports most headphones, including harder to drive ones like the Sennheiser HD800S and most planar magnetic headphones, such as the Audeze LCD-3 and LCD-4.
Hugo TT 2 also brings home the beloved four-stage user-selectable filter controls introduced with Hugo 2 and retains the three-stage user-selectable digital crossfeed function for headphone users who want to improve the perception of depth, similar to that of speakers. We recommend dual BNC connectors for maximum resolution. Our Silver Dragon Digital cables are available with Furutech FP-3-117 (R) connectors and will enable output of the full audio resolution to your Hugo M Scaler, DAVE, or other high resolution device. Learn more about the Chord TT 2 DAC & HEadphone Amplifier. We like to pair the Chord Hugo TT 2 to the Silver Dragon Interconnect for added clarity and detail.
Sound Signature: Analytical
Simply Amazing Sound
One of the most popular amps on the market
Best Headphone Amplifiers of 2022
Finding the right amplifier can make all the difference for your listening needs. Don't know where to start? Let us walk you through the process...
The Dragon Cable Experience
You’ve heard the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, right? Well, the same applies to your brand-new audiophile-grade headphone or other audio components. The weakest link, in this case, is your stock cable or the cheap interconnects the manufacturer threw in the box just to get you up and running. We customize cables for virtually every pair of headphones on the market. From connectors to sound signatures, the possibilities are endless. Each line of our Dragon Cables has been engineered to bring out the best in headphones with specific characteristics.