Technically, a headphone amplifier is a modification device. It is a device that supplies more power to your existing amplifier to enhance the sound quality. It may make the sound louder, dynamic, and of course, richer.
Although you will find these already incorporated in your smartphone, tablet, laptop, MP3 player, or any other music device that you use, they are also available separately for the consumer market.
The latter means that these devices are also available for separate purchase and use for enthusiasts who wouldn’t compromise on sound quality, even if they’re listening to music to keep them from sleeping during boring work. You know what we mean.
But the point of dispute in the market is the price. Some companies market these tiny and generally low-powered devices (at least in comparison to speaker amplifiers) at unreasonably high prices. They go as far as demanding 20,000 dollars for one. Believe it or not, amps under 100$ are capable enough to provide a competent performance.
That is exactly why we bring this list of the best headphone amp under 100 to you. Trying these couldn’t hurt much. Right?
So, brace yourself! You’re about to meet your first or perhaps next best headphone amplifier! The phenomenal models below will cost you within 100 dollars.
Also, if you are starting from scratch, then scroll down. Below the top 10 headphone amp reviews, you will find a complete and comprehensive guide about how to choose the best headphone amplifiers. So, let’s get started!
AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5
FiiO Q1 Mark
Little Bear B4-X
Earstudio ES100 Portable Headphone Amp
FX Audio DAC-X6
Sabaj Audio PHA2
SONICAKE Pocket Guitar
Behringer Powerplay P1
- Top 10 Best Headphone Amp Under $100
- 1. AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5
- 2. FiiO Q1 Mark
- 3. Little Bear B4-X
- 4. Earstudio ES100 Portable Headphone Amp
- 5. FX Audio DAC-X6 USB Digital Audio Amplifier
- 6. Nobsound NS-02E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier
- 7. Sabaj Audio PHA2
- 8. SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier
- 9. SONICAKE Pocket Guitar Bass Headphone Amplifier
- 10. Behringer Powerplay P1
- How to Choose the Best Headphone Amp Under 100?
- Things to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Words!
Top 10 Best Headphone Amp Under $100
The world saw its very first version of AudioQuest DragonFly back in 2012. Back in the day, it became the product of the year with its super-compact design and unrivaled capabilities. Even today, its upgraded version holds a reputable position in the market, thanks to the functionality it provides at an unbelievably low price.
Externally, this headphone amplifier features a sturdy casing with a soft-black finish. The lettering is in gold color, which in turn gives it a classy and sleek look. The manufacturer also provides a leatherette travel pouch to make carrying around this portable device safer.
The major improvement in version 1.5 is the enhanced signal-to-noise ratio that provides a cleaner sound. Plus, it operates more efficiently by drawing much less power from the source.
It features a 3.5 mm jack. And has a resolution of 24bit/96kHz, which makes listening to HD tracks even more fun. The audio quality is better than that of a CD. Moreover, it comes with 64-position analog volume control. You can control this digitally through your computer or mobile.
However, the price tag is also low because it does not come with any cables. You will have to purchase a compatible one separately. Plus, the playback is a bit limited to 96kHz.
2. FiiO Q1 Mark
If you possess an iPhone and want to take the performance of your headphones to the next level but have a limited budget, then the FiiO Q1 Mark II is your best cheap headphone amp option. Durable and innovative, this headphone amplifier is entry-level access to a better listening experience. How? Let’s find out!
With the dimensions of 3.9 x 0.47 x 2.32-inches, the FiiO Q1 Mark II is quite thinner than most of the amplifiers in the market. Its sturdy one-toned black body also adds a touch of glamour to the overall look. Plus, it has a lightweight construction of 100g, which enhances its portability.
Upon examination, you’ll notice a stylish volume dial on the right side where the lid was present in the previous model. On the left side, there are conventional balanced headphone outputs of 3.5mm and 2.5mm. Also, there is an in/out port, gain adjusting switch and a bass increasing switch. While this upgrade certainly makes room for other connectivity options, its large diameter makes it difficult to place it on the surface flatly.
The FiiO Q1 Mark II features a massive 1800mA battery that allows a ten-hours long usage on average. As for the performance, the Q1 Mark II delivers a vivid and accurate sound, though a bit boomy.
Concisely, this amp is pretty good for both iOS and Android phones. However, its iPhone-based design does limit the usage of some Android devices.
Although it does not have a DAC functionality, it’s capable of delivering warm and rich sound. Being a tube headphone amp, it purposely brings a degree of pleasant distortion to the sound, which makes the music 10x better.
On the outside, the amplifier has a black-grey exterior with a cuboidal body and round curves. The front side features a transparent panel to give away the beautiful tube circuit inside. Its top side has a rotator for volume control along with a 2.5 and 3.5 mm jack. On the opposite panel, you will find a port for the charging cable and a power switch. Collectively, the amp has a rather cool and impressive look with an edge of DIY products.
As for the battery time, it provides a listening time of 2-2.5 hours upon a charge of 4-4.5 hours, which is fairly good enough. You may notice a slight ringing or disturbing sound when the device falls from a small height or when you connect the headphones. And this indicates that it is slightly sensitive.
At a glance, you won’t believe the Ear Studio ES100 is a headphone amplifier. With the dimensions of 1 x 2 x 0.5-inches, it has a low-profile small black body that offers enhanced portability. Unlike other similar headphones, the engineers of this product have emphasized on quality more than looks.
This particular cheap headphone amplifier features a lot of connectivity options, including a 3.5mm unbalanced output and 2.5mm balanced output. Plus, it does not require batteries. The Ear Studio ES100 has a USB-chargeable design, which allows you to listen for consecutive 5-hours on one charge. Don’t worry because the product comes with a dedicated USB-charging cable.
The delivered sound has minimal distortion and great noise cancellation. Plus, the Ear Studio ES100 can drive headphones on both high and low impedances. Perhaps, the mere drawback is the plastic-dominant construction of the amplifier that raises concerns about durability.
5. FX Audio DAC-X6 USB Digital Audio Amplifier
FX Audio DAC-X6 has a fancy edge to its build. It comes in an all-metal case that feels reasonably heavy and sturdy in hands. The aluminum finish, classy, black exterior further adds to its premium feel. On the other hand, the connector comes with a gold-plating.
It comes with several inputs, including USB, optical input, coaxial input, DAC, and RCA outputs. Therefore, they make usage convenient. It’s only the power button that this device lacks. The volume rotator also troubles slightly. It’s not smooth and makes slight clicking sounds upon rotation.
In terms of sound, it’s both loud and clean. The frequency range is good, and it will noticeably amplify the tunes.
6. Nobsound NS-02E Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier
If you are in hunt of a classy, good-quality headphone amplifier in a budget, then the NoSound NS-02E exceeds all the expectations. It has an aesthetically-pleasing aluminum exterior with a shiny blue changeable vacuum tube on the top. The amplifier has a quite sturdy build for the price.
It has dimensions of 7.1 x 4.8 x 3.9-inches and weighs 13.4-ounces. One glance at these measurements is sufficient to indicate these amplifiers are not portable. You may as well as take them anywhere, but the build does not support it.
However, do not get disheartened because it delivers a dynamic sound quality. Soft and warm, the delivered sound is amazingly clear. Moreover, the amplifier is compatible with multiple gadgets than only headphones. You can connect it with a computer, phone, preamp, stereo system, and other audio devices.
Sabaj Audio PHA 2 is a perfect fit for those who already have plans for upgrading this purchase shortly. That’s because it has phenomenal performance, but a relatively short lifespan in comparison to others.
Unlike most others, it will last at most for one and a half years, according to user experience. Careful handling can add to its life, but still, one can’t overlook a complaint reported by several.
But then why to purchase it in the first place? What’s so special about it?
The performance, of course! Sabaj Audio PHA 2 gives an undeniably crystal clear and clean sound. It’s soundstage, depth, bass, and overall richness is truly breath-taking. Although it’s compatible with both low-impedance and high-impedance headphones, we particularly recommend it for low-impedance ones.
Moreover, it comes with an admirably minimalistic black-colored glossy exterior. The dimensions are roughly four by four, and it’s compact enough to fit your hands or occupies minimal space on the desktop surface. However, when carrying, your hand may feel fatigued. Hence, we advise you to carry a pouch to avoid holding it all the time.
8. SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier
The SMSL T2 Vacuum Tube Headphone Amplifier is a feature-rich and budget-friendly product. With the dimensions of 2.87x 1.02x 3.36-inches, the amplifier has a compact and small body, which makes it quite portable. However, the 1.25 pounds weight might be discouraging.
Also, it features a scratch-resistant body crafted from high-quality aluminum. Plus, it has a semi-set tube design that boosts the overall performance. When in operation, a portion of this tube design gets heated up quickly. Hence, the manufacturers of this product have strategically placed that portion inside the amplifier as a safety precaution.
Moreover, the amplifier’s special low ground noise features any sort of buzzing or ringing that may affect the listening experience. Also, the high drive current increases its compatibility. In terms of performance, the product performs fairly well with good details and accuracy. However, it is not ideal for intense music.
For those of you who are just as passionate about guitars as the music itself, this is your pick! Or perhaps, if you wish to play your guitar listening to your favorite song, then we’d tell you to avoid wasting even a second more!
The compact device will conveniently fit in your pocket. It also weighs only around 4.2 ounces, which means you won’t feel its presence. And despite the fact, this headphone amplifier is super sturdy, designed to last for years.
The highlight of this headphone amp is the fact that you can use it for both guitars and headphones. You can amplify the sound of both. Thus, it reduces the need to purchase separate devices, making this cheap headphone amp even more economical.
In terms of sound, it makes the bass and guitar tunes more pronounced. Other than that, the sound is good. Also, this USB-chargeable device gives a good battery time of 5-hours.
If you are hunting for the best headphone amp for mixing that too under $50, then the Behringer PowerPlay P1 is the ultimate solution. With the dimensions of 4.92 x 3.35 x 1.77 inches, the device is quite compact and small. You can easily carry it to any concert or music session. Plus, it has a lightweight construction of a mere 9.6 ounces, which makes it portable.
The Behringer PowerPlay P1 features a massive 9V battery that lasts for consecutive 12-hours. Upon use, you’ll come to know that this little amplifier can boost the sound quality significantly. It delivers a balanced and tight sound. There is also great clarity and details in the delivered sounds.
How to Choose the Best Headphone Amp Under 100?
Most aspiring audiophiles are almost always hesitant when purchasing newer components for their audio systems. Having little knowledge of what would be the best, or what to look for, keeps them from pursuing their passion to its fullest.
If you find yourself fitting perfectly in the frame mentioned above, we would advise you to take a deep breath and embrace the sound-loving freak that lives inside of you. It is your domain, and this is where you should vibe unapologetically. So, say goodbye to hesitance!
Just spend a couple of hours researching the internet, and you shall know all that you need to know. Or better, spend two minutes, or so, reading the guide below, and you will know most of the stuff that you ought to, especially about the headphone amplifiers.
Things to Consider
The following are a few key specifications to consider when buying the best budget headphone amp:
Generally, there are two types of connections, both in terms of cables and jacks. Let’s have a look at the jack-options first:
- 3.5 mm
- 6.3 mm
Usually, you will find most headphones compatible with 3.5 mm. And hence, most portable and even the best desktop headphone amp offers a 3.5mm connection.
However, some headphones amplifiers do provide a 6.3mm jack for high-end headphones. But there’s no noticeable impact of these connections on sound quality. So, choose one based on convenience.
Second, let’s look at the cable connection difference. There are two types of cable options:
The balanced cables have three conductors. You will find these dedicated to positive, negative, and ground signals, respectively. On the contrary, unbalanced have only two conductors. One for positive and the other for the ground, which also serves for negative signals.
Needless to say, balanced performs well as it comes with dedicated conductors, which carry out their job efficiently. In the unbalanced cables, the ground one is unable to filter sound, leaving a bit of electrical hum in the background.
But then again, if you can’t spend on a balanced one, don’t fret yourself out. The difference exists, but it’s negligible.
Types based on Technology
The market currently has three popular types of technologies that manufacturers incorporate in headphone amplifiers. These are:
- Solid-State Technology
- Tube Technology
- Hybrid Technology
While tube technology is older than solid-state, it is much less popular in portable headphone amps due to their sensitive nature. Although they deliver warmer and more pleasant sounds, they are susceptible to damage more than the solid-state ones. Plus, tube-tech is way much more expensive.
But solid-state tech isn’t a compromise either. This robust tech delivers sharp and clean sound at a reasonable price. The models featuring this tech will last longer. But may lack the warmth of certain tracks and sounds.
Hybrid technology in amplifiers fundamentally refers to a mix of the two-parent technologies mentioned above. With this, there’s both warmth and durability. But again, it may cost more.
Types based on Design
When considering amplifiers of all sorts, there are three types of amps based on design. These include:
- Rackmount Amplifiers
- Desktop Amplifiers
- Portable Amplifiers
Rackmount Amps feature more input options, and they best serve studio needs. As the name suggests, they require a separate rack or place for permanent placement. They are heavy, power about six pairs of headphones, and are difficult to carry.
Desktop amplifiers, on the other hand, can sit easily on your desk or desktop. They offer as many as four outputs to power 1 or 2 pairs of heavy or light headphones. They can even power studio monitors.
Portable amplifiers are perhaps the ones you seek. They are the smallest of all and can even fit in your pocket. They can power one pair of headphones and acquire power via battery or electrical charge.
Impedance & Wattage
Impedance, measured in ohms, refers to the resistance provided by the electrical circuit of the amplifier to the flow of current. You will find both low-impedance and high-impedance models in the list above.
But which one should you choose? Well, to determine that you need to have a look at the wattage specifications too. Fundamentally, wattage is the power generated by the amplifier, given in Watts.
Suppose that an amp has specs saying 32 ohms and 2 Watts. Now, this means that the amplifier is producing 2 Watts of power upon 32 ohms of resistance.
Generally, the impedance of the headphone amplifier ranges from 0.5-50 ohms. That classifies as a low impedance headphone amplifier, and they will best serve your needs, as they are capable of producing louder sounds. Although they consume more battery, they are highly likely to be compatible with your headphone specs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use a stereo amplifier instead of a headphone amplifier?
To put it straight and honest, you better not. Why? Well, mostly because you’re on a budget buy here. Be it, headphone amp or stereo amp, you’re probably searching for something within your mid-range budget. And the term budget amp applies to amps costing $500 or more even. The premium models are huge investments.
With that said, only premium stereo or integrated amps can offer a high-quality headphone output, which compares to the output of a dedicated headphone amp. The models costing lower usually perform only the best in their specific functions. Such as the dedicated headphone amplifiers give their best for headphones while integrated stereo amps give their best for speakers.
What is a DAC?
DAC, a short for Digital Analogue Converter, is that magician in your playback device that converts all those and zeros into actual analog sound. Without it, digital sound information may never convert into analog signals. Hence, it’s one of the fundamentals of audio devices. Plus, it gives a cleaner sound and deeper soundstage.
Usually, almost all playback devices come equipped with their very own custom DACs. But in today’s world, almost all of us, along with diehard audiophiles, have developed quite an ornate and elaborate taste when it comes to music. The performance of company-installed DAC devices or chips does not seem to satisfy our demands. And hence, external or separate DACs have become common. You can get an additional one and boost your listening experience.
However, if you are purchasing any of the headphone amps listed above, you might not need to. That’s because most of them already come equipped with additional DAC.
Do headphone amps under 100 have fixed frequency response?
Frequency response technically refers to the range of audio frequencies that an amplifier is capable of reproducing. And that mainly depends on the technology used in the amplifier as well as its construction.
As you can see above, different amplifiers have different combos of quality and technology. Thus, there can’t be a fixed frequency response of all amplifiers under 100 dollars.
However, the frequency response fact that’s common in all is that they cannot provide a high-level frequency response of speaker amplifiers.
Summing up, let’s get one thing clear: shop once and shop wisely. Sure, purchasing an electronic device under a hundred dollars cannot harm much. If not anything, it will provide you with valuable experience. But why waste even one penny of your hard-earned money when you have better and safer alternatives?
For this very reason, give yourself a couple of hours before clicking on the add to cart button. Research thoroughly on what you need and what you want. Determine which of the two can your pocket cater to currently. And only then, pick your next best headphone amp under 100. With this approach, chances are you’ll settle for something that’s going to feel rewarding for a long, long time. Thus, saving resources and fueling your interest. Happy shopping!
Last Updated on January 27, 2021