InnerFidelity's "Wall of Fame" Headphone Amplifiers

Headphone Amplifiers
Headphone amplifiers are not needed to make headphones louder, but rather to drive them with more authority making them sound better. On this page we'll show you our favorite headphone amps in various categories and price points.

VACUUM TUBE AMPLIFIERS
HeadAmp Blue Hawaii Electrostatic Headphone Amp($4980)

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Often referred to as a "wire with gain" for electrostatic headphones, the Blue Hawaii is a perfectly splendid amp for your Stax and Sennheiser electrostatic headphones. The BHSE is a hybrid amp sporting a quad of EL34 output drive tubes in an OTL DC coupled configuration, fed by a solid-state input section and power supply. Both balanced and unbalanced inputs allow use with multiple sources.

"Every detail, every brush stroke on a drum skin, every fingernail tick on a guitar string, every chuff of air across the mouth of an organ pipe, was simply available to be heard in organic proportion." Can you tell I love this amp?

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Apex High-Fi Audio Teton ($5000)

Previously incarnate as the Wheatfield Audio HA-2, Pete Millett has breathed new life into his venerable design with subtle tweaks as only he can do and a drool-worth parts selection. This output-transformerless design uses a 6SN7 dual triode as the input tube, a 6AS7/6080/7236/5998 as the output tube (also a dual triode, but a much larger and more powerful one), and a 5U4GB as a rectifier tube. Output impedance is around 50 Ohm depending on the power tube used; this amp pairs best with high-impedance headphones.

Music played from the Teton flows in a remarkably effortless way. The beauty of the vocals, guitars, and keys, all of which like squarely in the all-important midrange, are a delight. The treble performance of the Teton is world-class—sweet, delicate, nuanced, clean, and not at all rolled off. This isn't that easy a trick for a tube amp that isn't both well designed and well implemented, but the Teton pulls it off well.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Eddie Current Balancing Act ($3850)

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The Eddie Current Balancing Act leaves nothing on the table, and is deserving of its title as a "statement" piece, offering the best design chops that Craig Uthus currently has to offer. Its price point of $3950 makes it competitive against its closest rival, which is the TTVJ Apex Pinnacle at $10,000, another fine sounding amp that offers similar functionality and sonic ability. The Balancing Act can accommodate all the inputs you would expect to have in a normal system, while offering excellent preamp functionality and pretty much will support any kind of termination that headphones are currently offered in. The soundstaging is spectacular and fits perfectly the core value of Craig's design philosophy that audio gear should strive to transport the listener inside the music itself. Detail and resolution are extraordinary and the amp is spot on tonally. Nothing else can be said other than saying the Eddie Current Balancing Act is one of the finest commercial headphone amps available, and owners will find themselves extremely happy with its sound.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Pathos Aurium ($1495)

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The Pathos Aurium is a hybrid tube amp using 6922 tubes as the input stage and a MOSFET output stage. With three unbalanced and one balanced input, and having rear panel continuously variable gain and balance controls, this is a very versatile amplifier.

The Aurium is very transparent, and is not "tubey sounding" in the colloquial sense of being super-buttery-smooth. It is smooth enough, and very pleasurable to listen to, but not in any way smoothed-over. There was a high degree of transparency and detail on tap, as well as a nice sense of liquidity.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

SOLID-STATE AMPLIFIERS

HeadAmp GS-X mk2 ($2795 w/Alpha pot; $2995 w/DACT stepped attenuator; blue and red color options +$200)

The HeadAmp GS-X mk2 is one of the most fairly priced high-end headphone amplifiers of which I'm aware. Build quality, and fit and finish may rarely be equaled, but I doubt ever surpassed. The price/performance ratio is outstanding—and that's something you'll rarely hear from me with high-end gear.

This is a purist amp; you will not get balanced drive unless you have a balanced source. The focus here is performance, not handy features.

Sound quality is ruthlessly articulate. If you've got headphones you consider a bit too bright, don't pair them with this amp, you'll just bring out the worst in your cans. EQ is a must if you'll be using headphones with a lean signature. But if you use EQ or pair the GS-X with warm cans you will be shocked with the detail retrieval and resolution to be found here.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Simaudio MOON Neo 430HA ($3500, $4300 w/DAC)

The Simaudio MOON Neo 430HA ($3500) is both brute and ballet dancer. It easily drives even the most stubborn of planar magnetic headphones with Adam's apple wobbling authority. And it's lithe articulation simply and cleanly draws out fine detail, without drawing undue attention or venturing into treble excesses of any kind.

The 430HA has a well fleshed out feature set with full complement of analog and digital inputs, and both single-ended and fully-balanced headphone outputs. It comes with a remote control, and has an optionally available built-in DAC.

The 430HA just wreaks of competence. It's going up on the Wall of Fame as an outstanding all-around, neutral-reference amplifier...and as my current personal reference here at InnerFidelity.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Cayin iHA-6 Balanced Headphone Amp ($999)

how does the iHA-6 sound? I could go on an on about it but I'm going to start by referring you to my review of the excellent Auralic TAURUS mkII. Why would I bring up that particular amp, which was formerly on the Wall of Fame and used as a reference by both Tyll and myself? Because the Cayin iHA-6 sounds nearly identical. Seriously. I knew I liked the Cayin right from the start but it took a while to come to the realization that I've heard this sound before. That neutral tone, the fast and clean treble, the tight, well-controlled bass response, the precision imaging... I actually had both amps running side by side for quite some time and I'm not sure I could reliably tell them apart. Keep in mind the Auralic unit sells for $1,899 which is nearly double the Cayin's price.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Resonessence Labs Concero HP ($850)

The Concero HP is good. But maybe good doesn't cover it. Great? No, that seems too cliche. Amazing? Superb? Preposterously capable? Now we're getting closer. How about this: I'm confident enough in the HP to bestow upon it the Wall of Fame award. That means it's among the absolute best I've encountered for anywhere near the price. Does that get my point across? For the modern user who doesn't have a lot of space, and doesn't need a dozen inputs, it really doesn't get much better than this. Doubly so if IEMs are your weapons of choice. Can you get more if you spend more? Always. But a lot of people won't need more and that's the whole point of this device. As sound quality goes, there is very little compromise involved—maximum power is about the only thing to watch out for. Aside from that, a brilliant device that I really can't recommend strongly enough.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

Arcam rHead ($599)

The Arcam rHead is an exciting product for several reasons. First, and most obvious, are its sonic properties, which I find quite satisfying across the board. It's a clean, neutral sound with excellent resolution that avoids any faux-HiFi shenanigans. This comes in a well built, attractive, and relatively compact presentation suitable for integration into most any system.

Second, it's a classic audio brand applying themselves successfully to a dedicated headphone amp. This lends credibility to the headphone world and, if all goes well, should encourage others to follow suite. More competition, more choice, more retail space carved out for headphone gear in dedicated audio shops and maybe even big-box stores like Best Buy.

Lastly, and probably key to the whole thing, is the price being very reasonable for such a competant amp. At $599, the Arcam is an excellent amp priced within reach of most buyers, while not being so cheap as to require compromise in quality. Is it on the level of the Pass Labs HPA-1, which I absolutely adore? No, but the Arcam might be a more "important" amp in the long run.

The rHead has a sound signature both neutral and natural, with a great balance between detail retrieval and musicality. I particularly like the way Arcam handles the critical upper midrange and high frequency spectrum—this is about as nuanced an amp as I've heard without spending crazy money. Imaging and soundstage, though obviously very different from what I normally experience from the speaker side of this system, are also top-of-class. This is a seriously satisfying headphone amp with no apologies needed for price or size.

Read full review here.

Meier Audio Corda Rock ($240)

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The Rock is based around the TDA2030 IC, and the relatively few parts it has are of nice quality. Being a non-portable amp, it sports a full-size 1/4" headphone jack, and one pair of RCA jacks on the back. The Rock's power supply is on-board, and it has an IEC power cord receptacle, although one cost-saving method is that it does not come with a power cord.

When fed the best, the little Rock provides a clean, smooth sound that isn't audibly flawed in any one dimension. Detail retrieval is admirable, and soundstage is reasonably deep and wide, if somewhat lacking in definition. Bass has good weight, though the very deep bass seems a tad truncated. Treble is smooth and clean, and the mids are also smooth and essentially transparent. Yes, I have heard better in just about every dimension--but for the relatively low price of admission, the show put on by the Rock is really very satisfying.

Read full InnerFidelity review here.

PORTABLE HEADPHONE AMPLIFIERS

CEntrance HiFi-M8 ($699)

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The CEntrance HiFi-M8 portable headphone amp/DAC is rather pricy and large, but boy you get bang for your buck with this gem. Input and output options are abundant; iOS users (30-pin cable only with current units, a Lightning cable version is in the works and will be available sometime in the future) should get the standard model; Android users might prefer the "XL" version with Toslink input. Output options are available for a variety of balanced and unbalanced connections; please see the the review for details.

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