Ride The Waves
Best Portable Headphone Amplifier - Top 10

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier – Top 10 of 2018

 

Most likely, you already have a good, quality pair of headphones and now you want to take the next step. The logical thing to do would be to find a similarly quality device that can make both your ‘phones and playback device sound even better. 

The best portable headphone amplifier is somewhere on this list. You will be able to see each of their specific features and which features set them apart from the others.  These amps are listed in order of the least expensive to the most expensive models. 

Some of the models on this list double as both an amp and a DAC, some do not. I’ll be sure to add that information in the “Product Specifications” section for each one that does feature DAC capabilities. 

For some of you, the DAC feature might be a key deciding factor. For those of you that can live without it, your need will be covered as well. The bottom line is that you’ll be satisfied with at least one of the models listed below, and whichever one you decide to go with will definitely enhance the quality of your audio. 

 

Here’s a short video explaining why and when you’ll need an amp:

 

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier – Top 10 of 2018 From Least to Most Expensive

By the time you finish reading through this list, you’ll be able to make a more educated decision on which one will be perfect for you and your needs.

Here are the Top 10 of 2018:

 

  1. FiiO A1
  2. FiiO K1 Amp and USB DAC
  3. Creative Sound Blaster E1
  4. FiiO Q1 Portable USB DAC
  5. FiiO A3
  6. FiiO E10K
  7. Creative Sound Blaster E3 Portable USB DAC
  8. Topping NX4
  9. FiiO E12A Mont Blanc IEM Special Edition
  10. FiiO E17 Alpen Portable w/ USB DAC (Our Winner)

1. FiiO A1

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

Product Specifications:

  • Self-powered
  • Ability to listen with device while charging
  • Listen for up to 13 hours on a single charge
  • Outside chassis made of anodized aluminum (to prevent corrosion/wear and tear)
  • Available in either black or silver
  • Standard 3.5mm port
  • Volume control and EQ buttons (featured on top of the device)
  • Weight: 0.64 oz.
  • Dimensions: 1.6 x 0.4 x 1.6 in.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The FiiO A1 is a great choice for you if you’re looking for an amplification device that’s compact and pretty easy to use. The battery life allows you to listen for up to 13 hours on a single charge, you get the choice between two different colors, and the sound quality enhancement is undeniable. 

You’ll get 3 separate boost features that allow you to choose the level that sounds the best to you. Overall, it’s a simple, easy-to-use device that’s perfect if this is your first experience adding an external device to your personal audio setup. 

 

Here’s a short review of the FiiO A1 for you to watch: 

 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

From a satisfied owner of the silver model, “This thing takes your sound to a different level… I highly recommend checking it out”. Another wrote, “This works well for my Macbook Pro, but does very little for my iPhone. Given that, it’s still a good device to own.” Just like anything, there are differing opinions based on personal experience. For the most part, the A1 has gotten mostly positive reviews, especially for use as an entry-level option. 

Someone referencing this not being the best fit for their iPhone 5S wrote, “Works as advertised, just didn’t quite fit my needs”. Another critical opinion was regarding a similar issue with the volume not being capable of going as loud as they would’ve hoped. Keep in mind that some of the critical reviews could be related to a faulty model or an old phone. It’s safe to assume that this model will work well for most portable devices. The bottom line is that your music/media will be significantly elevated. 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info for the FiiO A1 use the button below

 

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


2. FiiO K1 Amp and USB DAC

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications: 

  • Micro USB audio input 
  • Standard 3.5mm port 
  • Thumb-sized design
  • DAC and amp features
  • Removable clip (for your pocket or shirt)
  • Built-in Savitechs SA9023A USB receiver (for decoding USB audio)
  • High fidelity, low noise distortion
  • Driver Ability: 16-100 Ohms
  • Weight: 1.44 oz. 
  • Dimensions: 2 x 0.3 x 2 in.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The FiiO K1 doubles as both a USB DAC, as well as a personal amp for your audio setup. If you’re interested in increasing the sound quality of your laptop, this would be the perfect choice for you. You’ll see (in the section below) that some users have reported this model working better as a laptop/PC DAC than as a good addition to their mobile setup. This could change depending on each specific device and user expectation. 

 

Take a look at this short review of the K1: 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

One important thing to keep in mind is that some people have reported that this won’t work with their smartphone or mobile device. While some devices may be compatible, some may not. It works well with most portable devices, but it’s a good idea to double check and make sure it’s compatible with yours. I would recommend taking a look at this thread to see some examples of which ones have and haven’t worked. 

Overall, this is a great entry-level device. It’s ultra compact, comes attached with a pocket clip (great for use on-the-go), can be used as a DAC, and has enough power to boost most ‘phones. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info for the FiiO K1 amp and USB DAC use the button below

 

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


3. Creative Sound Blaster E1

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications: 

  • Features 2 separate 3.5mm ports (if you want to share your amplified music with someone)
  • Built-in microphone
  • Can be connected to PCs and Macs via micro USB cable
  • High fidelity audio reproduction
  • Listen for up to 25 hours on a single charge
  • CrystalVoice Technology (for clearer conversation quality)
  • Built-in pocket clip (for easy carrying portability) 
  • Weight: 2.56 oz.
  • Dimensions: 4.1 x 1.5 x 5.5 in.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The Sound Blaster E1 is an impressive, feature-stacked, and very affordable option. The fact that you can plug to separate pairs of ‘phones at the same time is a great feature that most models don’t offer. Since you can use this with your PC, Mac, or mp3 player/iPod, it gives you much more versatility and user value. It has a battery life that outperforms some of the more expensive models below.

 

Here’s a quick review video for you to watch: 

 

 

 

What Do The Owners To Say?

Owners of this device say things like “Highly recommended… use with my Galaxy S5 and is a huge improvement in volume and sound quality.” Another satisfied customer says “I’ve been blown away… I wasn’t prepared for how this unit was going to sound”. The star ratings and customer reviews speak for themselves but there are a few downsides. The volume dial is a little bit smaller than some devices, and if you have bigger hands/fingers that could be a minor issue. Also worth noting is that a few people have reported that this device works better with laptops/PCs than it does with your smartphone. 

Overall, the E1 has gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews. This would be the perfect choice for you if you like having the ability to have your phone paired at the same time as your laptop. You’ll also love this for it’s high fidelity audio reproduction and approximately 20% volume and sound quality enhancement. 

The Creative Sound Blaster E1 comes ready to use out of the box, you can listen for up to 25 hours on a single charge, can be used with your laptop (to improve sound quality), and allows you to share your music with another person while you’re listening. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


4. FiiO Q1 Portable USB DAC

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications:

  • Can be used with your computer or portable listening device
  • Features both DAC and amp functions
  • Built-in rechargeable battery
  • Can be used for listening while charging the battery
  • Listen for up to 30 hours on a single charge
  • Features both Gain and Bass Boost switches 
  • Headphone Impedance Recommended: 16-150 ohms
  • Weight: 3.52 oz.
  • Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.5 in.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The FiiO Q1 allows you to listen to your music/media for up to 30 hours (enough for 3 full work days) on a single charge. It also allows you to keep listening even when your device is charging. (Some amps don’t offer this feature, it’s an extra bonus.) 

Even if you don’t utilize the Gain/Boost features, your music’s sound fidelity will be significantly elevated. This device will boost your bass, increase the dynamic range, and make your music sound more crisp and full. The DAC feature does a great job processing the audio files being transmitted from your laptop to your ‘phones. Since it has a volume control knob right on the device, you can perfectly tune the sound to fit your preferences. 

 

Here’s a short review video for you to watch: 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

The Q1 has gotten almost a completely 5-star rating out of almost 200 satisfied owners of this device. One happy owner says it’s “A low priced amplifier worth twice the price”. It’s also gotten positive results from use with the Sony XBN5091, which is a solid set of wireless noise-cancelling cans. 

One important thing to keep in mind is that it will not power down automatically when the music stops. In order to preserve your battery life, always remember to manually turn the device off. (There’s nothing worse than grabbing a pair of headphones or amp and realizing that it’s completely dead when you press play.)

There have been some minor complaints, but most of them revolve around recieving a faulty product. Also, keep in mind that these amps work best with quality headphones. You’ll be able to hear a mind-blowing difference with a solid pair of on-ears, over-ears, or IEMs. If you plan on using the older iPhone stock earbuds, you might be disappointed. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info for the FiiO Q1 portable USB DAC, use the button below

 

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


5. FiiO A3

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications:

  • Built-in, rechargeable battery (charged via Micro USB cable)
  • Listen for up to 16 hours on a single charge
  • Uses OPA1642 preamp (for low distortion levels)
  • All-aluminum body and chassis (helps prevent EM interference)
  • Features Bass Boost and Gain Switch
  • Headphone Impedance Recommended: 16-150 Ohms
  • Weight: 3.2 oz
  • Dimensions: 2.2 x 3.58 x 0.51 in.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The FiiO A3 is another great option to enhance your listening experience. It’s lightweight, has both gain and boost features, works well with most ‘phones, and allows you to listen for up to 16 hours on a single charge. The LED light let’s you know when your device is either on or off. Like the Q1 above, always remember to manually power your device down when you’re done listening. 

 

Here’s a short video explaining the key features of this device: 

 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

Some of the things that owners of this device have said include: “The difference in sound is night and day“, “I’m no music aficionado by any means but I’m impressed”. This compact, sleek-looking device is compatible with your smartphone, iPod, and other MP3 players. Although it’s not recommended, you can use this for listening on your laptop. Again, it’s not recommended but if you can’t help yourself, it will give your music/media an extra boost. If you’re looking for a device to use mostly with your laptop, I would recommend one of the models that have a built-in DAC. 

The A3 comes with two separate elastic bands so you can hold the device and your smartphone or mp3 player in one nice package. Since smartphones (and some mp3 players) have touch screens, the bands tend to get in the way of your screen navigation. You don’t have to use the elastic bands, you can simply plug it into your setup and keep it in your pocket without any trouble. 

If you’d like to see a more in-depth breakdown of the FiiO A3 click here. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 



6. FiiO E10K

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications:

  • Features internal PCM5102 DAC chip (enables high-quality PC/Mac audio playback)
  • Connections available via USB, 3.5mm port, coaxial out, and standard aux output 
  • Specifically designed to enhance your laptop’s audio quality 
  • Can be used as a “pass-through” while charging
  • Features both Gain and Bass Boost switches
  • Headphone Impedance Recommended: 16-150 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 3.1 x 0.8 x 1.9 in.
  • Weight: 2.72 oz.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The FiiO E10K weighs only 2.72 ounces and is a little bit bigger than your average Zippo lighter. It features a built-in DAC for enhanced sound quality from your laptop/PC. You have the ability to connect this device through several different types of inputs/outputs. The charging cable is a standard USB cord and you can keep listening to your favorite album or podcast while it’s charging. This is a huge bonus feature because when you have to stop listening in order to let a battery re-charge, it disrupts up the flow. You can have your laptop/PC/Mac powered on, the E10K plugged in (and charging), AND your favorite pair of ‘phones plugged in all at the same time. 

 

Here’s a short review of the E10K for you to watch: 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

This model has gotten almost five star ratings across the board out of close to 750 customer reviews. You can use this to make your movies, music, favorite Netflix series, and podcasts sound better. The built-in PCM5102 DAC chip allows you to experience high-fidelity audio playback. It’s extremely easy to take with you on-the-go, gives you 

Here’s some of the positive feedback this device has gotten: “Considerably better than the audio on my Macbook”, “Great starter DAC“, and “Sounds good, cheap”.

I would recommend taking a closer look at the FiiO E10K if you’ve been thinking about investing in the quality of your audio by adding a nice, quality DAC to your collection. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


7. Creative Sound Blaster E3 Portable USB DAC

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications:

  • Features Bluetooth NFC pairing (for NFC-compatible devices)
  • Listen for up to 8 hours (Bluetooth) and up to 17 hours (without Bluetooth)
  • Connections available via 3.5 mm port, USB, standard aux output, and mic in
  • Features 2 separate 3.5mm ports (if you want to share your amplified music with someone)
  • Control volume, skip tracks, enable Bluetooth, play/pause music, and answer calls (directly from device)
  • High-fidelity audio playback
  • Supports headphone impedance of up to 600 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 4.1 x 1.9 x 5.5 in.
  • Weight: 4.8 oz.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

Creative took the already-impressive features from the E1 (the #3 on this list) and improved everything. They even added a Bluetooth function with NFC pairing. That means if you use wireless ‘phones and your smartphone (or other Bluetooth-compatible device) plus this amp, you’re entire listening experience will be wire-free from top to bottom. 

Similar to the E1, you can listen and one other person can plug their setup into the other 3.5 mm port. If you use this for wireless listening, it’ll give you up to 8 hours of sonic elevation. If you prefer listening the good ol’ fashioned way, you’ll get up to 17 hours of battery life. 17 hours is enough time to listen all the way through close to 15 full albums. 17 hours is also enough to binge-watch almost 2 full seasons of your favorite series on Netflix or Hulu. The USB DAC feature allows you to stream movies or music wirelessly and with high-fidelity audio playback.

 

Here’s a short unboxing a feature rundown for you to watch: 

 

 

What Do the Owners Say?

Some common words of praise include: “Great little device, functions perfectly as intended”, “The sound quality even when Bluetooth streaming is excellent”, and “…great software, I would recommend the E3… to anyone”.

Overall the Creative Sound Blaster E3 portable USB DAC would be the perfect choice for you if you can’t live without Bluetooth but you also want high-fidelity audio. If you like to share your music (one of my favorite pastimes) and a multi-functional, NFC-ready, amplification device is on your wishlist, you’ll love the E3. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


8. Topping NX4

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

Product Specifications:

  • Supports both Apple and Android smartphone decoding (hi-res is best played on Android devices)
  • High-fidelity audio playback (on mobile devices and laptop or PC)
  • Connections available via Micro USB and standard 3.5 mm port
  • Features both Gain and Bass Boost switches
  • Listen for up to 36 hours on a single charge
  • Can be used as a “pass through” while charging
  • All-metal shell (for extra durability)
  • Dimensions: 6.1 x 4.2 x 2.1 in.
  • Weight: 1 lb.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

As some of you might already know, Android smartphones tend to have a better audio codec. What the NX4 offers, is the ablility to decode both Android and Apple audio files for an ultra-elevated listening experience. (That means you won’t need a new phone to get the best out of this device.) The NX4 features an extended battery life and you can listen for up to 36 hours on a single charge. When you use the gain and bass boost functions, the palpable difference in sound quality will put you back on your heels (in the best way possible). 

In addition to the versatile decoding feature, the NX4 will plug into PCs, laptops, and Macs. It’s DAC ability is pretty powerful and this little piece of hardware can be used as a pass-through while charging. One possible downside is that it weighs about one pound. It’s a little bit taller than some of the other models on this list but it fits nicely with your average smartphone/mp3 player. 

 

Here’s a short video showing the NX4 in action as a PC DAC: 

 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

One happy customer kept it short and to the point: “Excellence“. Another satisfied listener said, “I went out on a limb and ordered the Topping NX4… and long story short, it delivers!”. 

Overall, I would recommend taking a closer look at this device if you live an active lifestyle and value an extra long-lasting battery life. If you absolutely need some of the best sound quality possible at this level, this would make for a great addition to your audio gear collection. 

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 


9. FiiO E12A Mont Blanc IEM Special Edition

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

Product Specifications:

  • Features a combo OP AMP (for extra low distortion)
  • Features metal film resistors (to handle higher-powered IEMs or ‘phones)
  • 1-level Bass Boost Feature
  • Listen for up to 20 hours on a single charge
  • Connections available via aux output and standard 3.5 mm port
  • Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16-150 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 4.9 x 2.6 x 0.6 in.
  • Weight: 5.9 oz.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

Since the E12A has a built-in OP AMP, it will reproduce a low-distortion, high-quality sound profile. This is especially important for those FLAC, AAC, and WAV files. If you obsess over the sound quality of your audio files, the E12A would be a good choice for you. In order to hear the music, soundtrack, or combination of dialogue and music (especially for movies), you need quality gear that can handle the wide range of frequencies. Although it is a bit heavier than some, the extra weight will be worth it. 

 

Here’s a short review of this device for you to watch: 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

It “gave life to my Bose over-ears as one satisfied consumer wrote. Another states: “It sounds very nice. More drive and clarity…”

“First headphone amp I’ve tried but so impressed I hope they don’t discontinue this exact model, it is really good”. As you can see from those two reviews, this device will work for you whether it’s your first time trying an amp, or even if you’re more experienced.

Overall, I would recommend the FiiO E12A Mont Blanc for you if you’re ears are begging you for better sound. The bass boost feature coupled with the special OP AMP and 20-hour battery life make this a nice little package for audio enhancement. 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 


And The Winner Is…

10. FiiO E17 Alpen Portable w/ USB DAC

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

Product Specifications:

  • Glass digital display screen
  • Able to receive PCM signals (for hi-res audio)
  • Doubles as a DAC 
  • Connections available via USB, 3.5 mm port, aux, and SPDIF input
  • Features Bass, Treble, Gain, and Volume Controls
  • Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16-150 Ohms
  • Dimensions: 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.6 in.
  • Weight: 4 oz.

 

Who Is This Perfect For?

The FiiO E17 Alpen is a DAC/amp combo that’s gotten a ton of great reviews. It has multitple output options for you to choose from. You can use it with your Mac, PC, laptop, smartphone, and mp3 player or iPod. It also features the most personal audio adjustment options (from this list). You can adjust the treble, digital bass, volume, and gain. This device will work wonders on ‘phones of a wide range of quality but is best-suited for a quality pair in the area of the Sennheiser HD650 or Beyerdynamic DT1350 models. 

If you pay attention to the recommended headphone impedance level, your listening experience will be maximized. 

 

Here’s a short unboxing and demonstration of this model: 

 

 

What Do The Owners Say?

We chose the FiiO E17 Alpen portable headphone amp/DAC as our winner. Since it can be used to enhance the music on your laptop (as a DAC) AND plugged into a smartphone – it tops our list as the best choice

This model is an awesome step up if you’re looking for an upgrade. Many customers have made the switch from a FiiO E6 and haven’t looked back since. One satisfied customer says it’s “a must-have for any audio setup”. The sound quality is pristine and the volume will go as loud as you can comfortably handle. I mentioned that this model works best with something like the HD650 open-airs and another owner said he paired his Audio Technica ATH-M50x and it “gives much more headroom and power than the built-in Macbook Pro headphone jack”. 

Many music producers use a Macbook Pro to mix, master, and create their music. The fact that the E17 significantly outperforms the “industry-standard” for music production should give you an idea of what to expect. Overall, the sound fidelity you’ll be able to hear is definitely at the top of this list. It’s perfect for you if you’ve tried some other models in the past but you’re ready to take it to the next level

You can expect an impressive battery life, hi-res audio playback, and a beautiful digital glass display screen.

 

To see more customer reviews, star ratings, and pricing info, use the button below

 

Best Portable Headphone Amplifier

 

 

 


Concluding The Countdown – Which One Did You Choose?

There’s a lot to choose from when it comes to finding a new addition to your audio gear setup. The main thing is that you feel satisfied with your choice and I hope I’ve been able to guide you in the right direction. 

No matter which of the best portable headphone amplifiers you decided to go with, you’re one step closer to elevating the audio you most enjoy. If you have any questions, feel free to ask below or leave a comment. I will be sure to respond as quickly as I can! 

Thanks for taking the time to read through this list, it’s much appreciated. 

 

Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves. 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinteresttumblr

6 Comments

  • Martin says:

    I love the FiiO Q1 Portable USB DAC. It’s useful for me when I’m at work, when I’m at the gym and it is very small and convenient in so many levels. I actually got it for a Christmas gift and couldn’t ask for a better gift. This is something I could purchase for many people I know that also listen to music on the go. Great work!

    • Dom says:

      I’m glad it’s exactly what you were looking for Martin. I agree, the FiiO Q1 would make for a perfect gift, whether for Christmas, a birthday, or just as a nice gesture to someone who loves elevating their audio. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and tuning in Martin,

      Dom

  • denney. says:

    TRULY AMAZING, THE FIIO E12 SOUNDS LIKE WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR , MY FATHER IS 94 AND HE HAS BEEN RECORDING MUSIC ALL HIS LIFE AND ALWAYS COMPLAINS ABOUT THE QUIALTY OF SOUND THAT COMES FROM HIS BOSE HEADPHONES, BUT THE E12 LOOKS LIKE THE ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION FOR HIM..THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHOWING ME THIS.

    • Dom says:

      No problem Denney, I’m glad I could help. 🙂 

      The E12 would be a great choice for your dad, especially since it has the OP AMP technology!

      It should work well to enhance his Bose headphones. Getting older is part of life but luckily for us, there’s helpful technology (like these amps) to help us out. I can’t imagine being a lifelong recorder/fan of music and not being able to fully experience the sound. 

      Hopefully he enjoys the E12, I think it’s a great choice. 

      Thanks for stopping by and tuning in. 🙂

  • Dragon says:

    The headphone amps look like they can really boost the output of the speakers. The self powered ones really look the best ticket since they can be used when traveling through busy spaces. Thats where your going to want to really block out the background noises and commotion of the environment. It looks like these are a really good idea and once again thank you for posting the information it was very helpful in trying to discern which direction to go with these.

    • Dom says:

      They will definitely boost the volume and quality of your headphones. Technically they’re all self-powered, but yes – portable headphone amplifiers are super convenient for use on-the-go. 

      Plus, if you plug your noise-cancelling headphones in with one of these amps, it’ll be a pretty sound-proof setup. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this Top 10 list, thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *