If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you care about how your records sound. You probably also expect great value out of your audio equipment, and enjoy cranking up the volume once in a while. If this sounds like you, then you may want to consider pairing your turntable with a good pair of headphones.
Plenty of folks use headphones to listen on-the-go. But with the right equipment, they can also be a great fit for your home turntable setup. This list will put you together with 8 headphone amps for vinyl records that can change the way you are hearing your records.
Each amp will be critiqued on these five important points:
- Ease of Use
Please use the guide below to directly compare some of the best amps against each other that are available on the market:
|Cambridge Audio CXA81||$$$||80 Watts Per Channel|
|Project Tube Box S2||$$||Audiophile Phono Preamp with Tube Tech|
|Rega Brio||$$$||50 watts per channel at 8Ω|
|Schiit Mani||$||Great, affordable phono preamp|
|VPI Cliffwood||$$||Works with MM Cartridges|
|Vincent PHO 500||$$$||Built-in Analog-to-Digital Converter|
|Project Phono Box S2||$||Works with MC and MM Cartridges|
What is a Headphone Amplifier?
A headphone amp is a relatively low-powered amplifier that raises the low-voltage audio signal from a source device (be it a turntable, PC, or smartphone) to a sufficient level such that it can be converted (or transduced) into sound waves by the speakers inside your headphones. It works like the amps used to power full-sized speakers but operates at a lower scale. Most modern headphone amps also include an electronic component called a DAC (digital-to-analog converter).
A DAC’s job is to convert digital audio information into a low-voltage signal that an amplifier can, well, amplify. Analog components like a turntable or tape deck don’t need a DAC – they already put out analog low-voltage signals – but digital audio devices like PCs, smartphones, iPods, or tablets need both a DAC and headphone amp in order for you to hear sound through your headphones.
All those digital devices we just mentioned already have a DAC and headphone amp built right in – that’s why you can just plug your headphones in and hear sound. Why, then, would you need a separate component? Unfortunately, the quality of those built-in components varies greatly from device to device, and, therefore, so does the sound quality.
Frankly, if you don’t have a good-quality pair of headphones (read: better than a pair of $30 earbuds), you won’t benefit from a headphone amp. But as the quality of headphones increases, so does the potential benefit of using a headphone amp.
Does anyone need a headphone amp? That’s questionable. But might you want one? If you dig great sound, the answer is a resounding yes.
There are also certain kinds of headphones that really do need a headphone amp to function properly: We call these high-impedance headphones. Impedance refers to the resistance of an electrical signal, and is measured in ohms – the higher the impedance, the more resistance a pair of headphones or speakers will give to an electrical signal. For headphones, impedance can vary widely, from around 16 ohms on the low end to as high as around 600 ohms. (There are some headphones, like the insanely expensive Sennheiser HE1 Orpheus, with impedance far above that number but they usually come with a dedicated amp.)
Generally, the higher the impedance, the more amplification power is needed to drive the headphones, and the more likely a headphone amp would be beneficial. If you’re curious about the impedance on a pair of headphones, you’ll find it in the manual or specs section online.
Now that you’ve decided to buy a headphone amp, let’s get into th 8 best options you have for raising the game of your vinyl records.
Sterling Audio 4 Channel Amp
The Sterling SHA4 Headphone Amplifier is ideal for recordists and recording engineers who need a quality amplifier with an assortment of input/output configurations and versatile monitoring options. The flexible dual-source audio inputs provide two discrete headphone mixes per channel, which can be changed at the flip of a switch.
The stereo Link function allows for daisy chaining multiple SHA4 headphone amplifiers for easy scalability as your requirements grow or change. The SHA4 can also be used as a desktop device, or mounted on a mic stand with its integrated mic stand adapter. Its robust design and rubberized side caps provide superior durability, ensuring dependable audio-monitoring service for years to come.
Enjoy 4 Channels with 8 total headphone outputs (2 per channel) and individual switchable input monitoring. Plus, you get stereo TRS and 3.5mm mini connector (TRS) headphone outputs, balanced (TRS) line level and unbalanced (TS) line level inputs, plus stereo link connectors for daisy chaining and/or external processing. An integrated internal power supply eliminates obstructive wall-worts as well, making it easy to implement into your set-up.
The Behringer AMP800 MiniAMP Stereo Headphone Amplifier boasts 4 totally independent stereo high-power amplifier sections. You can use the phones level control plus the accurate 6-digit LED output meter per channel for easy level monitoring. There are 2 balanced stereo main inputs with independent Level and Balance controls for individual mixes, selectable for all 4 headphone amplifiers.
An accurate 6-digit LED main input meter is provided for precise level indication of both line inputs. Dual headphone outputs on each channel on front and rear panel allow for connecting a total of 8 headphones at the same time. A parallel Link Output enables cascading several headphone amplifiers. Long-term reliability is guaranteed with the high-quality potentiometers and illuminated switches, and ultra low-noise audio operational amplifiers offer outstanding sound performance.
In addition, all Mini Series Behringer audio processors can be stacked on top of each other to create an ultra-compact signal processing solution.
The Rolls PM50S Personal Monitor Amp is a unique device for monitoring one’s self and program material at the same time. It has a monitor level control and a mic level control, mic pass through XLR jacks, 2 headphone-output jacks, and a 1/4″ monitor-input jack. The PM50S amplifier is great for drummers who need to hear a click track, singers who need to hear themselves, and your other live sound needs.
The PM50s mixes a stereo or mono line-level signal with a mic level XLR microphone signal to a set of headphones or earphones. It has a monitor level control, turntable level control, mic pass through XLR jacks, two headphone output jacks, and a stereo TRS 1/4″ monitor input jack. Possible users may be drummers who need to hear a click track, choir singers who need to hear themselves, etc. The power adapter is included.
Presonus HP4 Discrete 4-Channel Headphone Amp
The PreSonus HP4 Discrete 4-Channel Headphone Amp features 4 headphone outputs on the front panel, each with its own volume, and 150mW of amplification per channel-extremely loud output with a low -98dB noise floor. It also allows control over control room monitors with a separate volume knob that can be muted using the Monitor Mute button. 1/3 rackspace.
Accepts balanced/unbalanced inputs and outputs (1/4″ TRS). Input can either be set to stereo or mono (the mono selector button on the front channel simply copies both inputs to both sides). Powered by an external wall-mounted supply.
The HeadAmp4Pro has five stereo headphone outs, each with its own volume control. A separate footswitchable XLR input (with phantom power) allows instant talkback to any one or all of the connected headphones. Input matrix allows the listener to audition any or all auxiliary inputs for maximum versatility. Although designed for home listening, the HeadAmp4Pro may also easily be the ideal solution for teaching stations and conferencing communication networks.
Packing as many features as possible into the small format chassis, the HeadAmp4Pro has five stereo headphone outs, each with their own volume control. A separate footswitchable XLR input (with phantom power) allows instant talkback to any one, or all of the connected headphones. Input matrix allows the listener to audition any or all auxiliary inputs for maximum versatility.
The 19-inch rackmount HM-800 8-Channel Headphone Amplifier offers up to 10 available mixes with a total of 16 headphone outputs. Perfect for professional applications including studios, Houses of Worship, practice spaces, and more. Featuring 2 discrete main inputs with level control plus stereo outs, aux inputs per channel.
The HM-800 can endure a great deal of punishment, thanks to Mackie’s Built-Like-A-Tank construction. The HM-800 features a heavy-gauge steel chassis, along with long-wear potentiometers and switches. This is one piece of studio gear that’s clearly built to last.
TEAC’s HA-P90 is a high-resolution audio player and headphone amp for audiophiles on the go. A built-in microSD card slot can be loaded with high-resolution audio, up to 192kHz/24-bit or Direct Stream Digital (DSD) at 2.8MHz or 5.6MHz. A high-end Burr Brown PCM1795 converter plays audio from the card, USB input or from iOS or Android portable devices.
Audio electronics include Burr Brown OPA1602 SoundPLUS op amps, dual sample clocks for 44.1k and 48k multiples, discrete electronics and push-pull circuitry. A 170mW + 170mW headphone out is one of the highest-power amps available, and drives loads from 8 to 600 ohms. The HA-P90SD supports WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, DSF and DFF files, either from the internal card or using the free TEAC HR Audio Player app for iOS and Android devices.
All of this great-sounding audio is housed in a robust all-aluminum chassis, available in either red or black. With flexible audio format support – including DSD – and a powerful headphone amplifier, TEAC’s HA-P90SD is the ultimate portable player for discerning listeners.
The PreSonus HP60 is among the most flexible and advanced headphone amplifier systems available for professional and project recording studios as well as live sound in-ear monitoring systems. Loaded with six independent, loud and clear headphone amplifiers, the rackmountable HP60 features dual stereo inputs as well as external input, for each channel allowing you to mix between three stereo audio streams (mix A, mix B, and external input). Stereo output is also available on each channel to send line level headphone channel mixes to additional headphone amplifiers or monitor systems.
Each channel features headphone level, mix control between A and B inputs, external input volume, mute and mono. The HP60 also features talkback via external XLR microphone input.
A common set up for the Presonus HP60 Headphone Amplifier in a recording session is to send the main control room mix to input A. Send the click track to input B. Send each band member the direct output of their recording channel from the DAW to the external input of their headphone channel in the HP60 (more me). This will allow each band member to create a mix between the main mix, the click track, and themselves.
Headphone amps are vital to an improved listening experience. Check these out as you seek out a new headphone amplifier for turntable use, and as always you can’t go wrong with a single choice on this list!
- If you enjoyed this article, please “like” our new Devoted to Vinyl Facebook page!