Headphone amps enrich the sound and performance of your headphones. This piece of equipment will change the way you hear sound altogether, especially If you are an established audiophile.
If you are looking for a headphone amp but not ready to spend a small fortune for it, we have got you covered. Do not assume that budget equates with low-quality; after all, the costlier is not always better. The good news is, there are some excellent units out there for well below $100!
In this article, we will be listing some of the best headphone amps under $100, including a buyer’s guide to get you started.
The Best Headphone Amp You Can Buy Under $100: Comprehensive Reviews
In each of the following reviews, I will dive deeper into each amplifier to give you an idea about its input, output, circuit, overall performance, and more. I will also highlight the most significant shortcomings that bothered users.
FX-Audio DAC-X6 Headphone Amplifier : Best Overall
The FX-Audio X6 has everything you will ever need in a headphone amp and more. It has a dead-simple operation, impressively smooth sound quality, and enough power to support just about anything — from your $30 earbuds to your $1000 premium headphones.
This amp comes in two colors: silver, and black. It features a three-stage switch that allows you to select either fiber, coaxial, or USB. It also has a 6.3mm headphone port and a volume knob just beside the coaxial inputs.
When plugged in with headphones, expect a noticeable improvement in clarity, soundstage, and overall sound. With an impressive 520 mW, the FX-Audio X6 pumps enough power to drive even the most power-demanding headphones.
For an amp under $100, the audio performance this unit provides is quite phenomenal.
- ✓ Has an expansive sound quality
- ✓ Impressive bass reproduction
- ✓ Various input ports
- ✗ Higher volumes produce a slight hiss
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier : Best Value
FiiO is a popular audio brand that is well-known for making products that produce excellent audio performances. The E010K is one of their most sought-after designs.
Made with a sleek, brushed aluminum shell, the E10K allows you to connect your PC/laptop via its micro USB connection. It is smaller compared to most desktop headphone amps, but it is packed with enough power to drive your headphones to their full potential.
On the amp’s front panel, you will find a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume knob, and an off/on bass switch. It also comes with a built-in DAC, which allows it to further improve your headphones’ audio quality.
The E10K delivers a warm, yet clear sound. Its bass boost and low-pass filter allow for optimal customization to your taste.
With an output of 200 mW, this amp can power most premium headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650 with absolutely no difficulties.
- ✓ Built with high-quality materials and comes with no sharp edges
- ✓ Offers excellent features only found in amps three times its cost
- ✓ Superb sound quality
- ✓ Great bass power
- ✗ Doesn’t support 3.5mm connectors for mobile phones
Douk Audio P1 Bluetooth 5.0 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier : Best Tube Amplifier
Tube amps have been around since 1906. They are considered a long-time favorite among many audiophiles. Despite that, many people steer clear of tube amps due to their maintenance and price.
Enter the P1 5.0 Vacuum Tube Preamplifier; a brilliant unit for those who are looking to experience the classic, warm sounds produced by tube amps without investing hundreds of dollars.
As many users say, the P1 Tube Preamplifier is “simply outstanding.” And that is not an exaggeration.
This amp comes with three audio inputs: Bluetooth, USB, and RCA. For the output, it has RCA and 3.5mm ports. Its classic 6J5 vacuum and valve tube provides a warm, retro tube sound, and can be easily replaced by 6J1, 6J4, GE5654, 6AK5, 6Ж1n-EB tubes.
Its bypass function allows users to suspend the tone control circuit, which in turn provides a purer music experience. A deeper, delicate sound can be achieved by adjusting the built-in treble and bass knobs to your liking, adding to the versatility of the P1.
This amplifier is open and dimensional, has impressive dynamics, and a ton of volume options. One of the best, if not the best, tube amps for just under $100.
- ✓ Well-balanced sound quality
- ✓ Beautiful design
- ✓ Great construction quality
- ✓ Satisfying bass
- ✗ Bluetooth receiver is not reliable
Behringer Microamp 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amplifier : Best Beginner Amplifier
If you are a beginner looking for a solid, reliable, no-frills headphone amp, the Behringer Microamp HA400 might be for you.
Other than its volume control, the HA400 does not have any other adjustable setting. Nonetheless, all its high-power channels have a dedicated power supply that allows you to maintain optimal sonic quality even at maximum volume levels.
This unit allows up to four users to plug their headphones and adjust the volume independently. Furthermore, its ultra-low-noise 4580 operational amplifier adds to its outstanding audio performance. This technology is oftentimes found in full-sized audio equipment only.
The HA400 is a “sound” investment that does exactly as it is advertised. It is a great product for beginners and experienced audiophiles alike.
- ✓ Premium product with a solid build
- ✓ Works fantastically right out of the box
- ✓ Multiple output ports that can be used at the same time
- ✓ Can reach extremely high-volume levels
- ✗ Can distort sound at higher levels
- ✗ Does not work with an FM transmitter
AudioQuest DragonFly Plug-in USB Headphone Amp : Best Portable USB Amplifier
If you are looking for a portable headphone amp to use on your daily commute, you might want to consider getting the DragonFly USB Headphone Amp. it is so small that it can easily fit in the palm of your hand!
Built with high-quality metal and a soft rubbery textured finish, this USB amp offers tremendously enhanced sound and significantly lower power consumption than its DragonFly predecessor.
Its built-in DAC adds detail, transparency, and overall richness to the tones of your music. It plays practically everything, from MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files. It also works with Apple and Android smartphones, tablets, laptops, and PCs.
The Dragonfly USB amp comes in three different colors, each with its own volt capacity. The Black USB comes in 1.2 volts. If you are looking for something higher, the Red and Blue DragonFly USB can supply 2.1 volts at double the cost.
Nonetheless, all colors incorporate an upgraded 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC chip, which is considered to be the world’s highest performance converter for digital audio workstations.
- ✓ Compact and portable, fits in your back pocket
- ✓ Clear, transparent, and rich sound quality
- ✓ Plug-and-play design
- ✗ No adjustable sound/bass options
Key Factors to Consider When Buying a Headphone Amp
Before buying a headphone amp, you will need to make sure you are purchasing a model that fits your needs and works well with your headphones. Here are some other factors to consider.
Headphone Amp Types
When choosing a headphone amp, you will find three primary types: tube amps, solid-state amps, and hybrid amps. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Tube Headphone Amp
Tube headphone amps, also commonly called vacuum tubes or thermionic valves, come with glowing glass cylinders, which gives them a more ‘premium’ and ‘old school’ look.
But it is not all just for show. In fact, these valves form a part of the audio circuitry by letting electrons burn inside them.
Any amplifier that comes with tubes is guaranteed to produce rich, warm, natural-sounding audio that flows smoothly between your ears.
The technology that powers these amplifiers remained pretty much the same for decades, which says a lot about how stable its performance is.
If you do not mind occasional maintenance and changing tubes, the tube amplifier should be suitable for you.
Perfect for bright-sounding headphones as it adds warmth to the sound
Much more powerful when compared to solid-state amps
Aesthetically pleasing design
Glass might break
Susceptible to overheating
Is not water-resistant
Does not have a portable version
Solid-State Headphone Amps
While tube amps produce top-quality sounds, they are not the most ideal when it comes to portability and maintenance.
Solid-state amps serve as a great alternative as they are smaller, lighter, and more heavy-duty when compared to tube amps. They are easier to maintain, too.
Solid-state replaces the tubes found in a tube amp with smaller parts and built-in circuits, which makes the overall process much more reliable.
These amps are ideal for beginners looking for a headphone amp without breaking the bank. While they do not produce the same warmth as tube amps, they still transmit sounds that are accurate, sharp, and detailed.
Come at an affordable price
Great transparency and cleaner audio
Lightweight, compact, and portable
Does not handle loud volumes as well as tube amps
Parts are harder to replace
Hybrid Headphone Amp
Hybrid amps combine the input circuits that are found in tube and solid-state amps. They rely on tubes to provide the color, and electronics to provide the power. The result is a cleaner, deeper, and more dynamic sound that does not heavily rely on bass.
If you cannot decide between tube and solid-state, why not enjoy both with the hybrid headphone amps?
Balances sound exceptionally well
Can be expensive
Is not portable
Has a slight learning curve when adjusting sounds
Where You Intend to Use It
The next factor you will need to consider is how you are planning to use your headphone amp. Typically, it falls into three basic categories: portable, desktop, and full-size.
Portable headphone amps, as the name suggests, are designed to be used in conjunction with a mobile music device like a smartphone or a laptop.
Because of this, these types of amps are small enough to fit inside your bag or even pockets. Additionally, they derive power either from a battery or a USB connection.
Although desktop amps can be somewhat portable, they are much heftier than standard portable alternatives. They are designed to be stationary, meaning they must be plugged in a power source to work.
So, if you primarily work on your PC and do not require to move it around, desktop amps would be suitable.
Looking for a solid, fixed, audio component? Full-sized amps should be your answer. These amps are primarily made for professional settings; that is why they are often priced over $100. They offer the highest level of performance with solid build quality.
Most headphones require a 3.5mm or 6.3mm connection. Make sure that your headphone amp has the right output, or you will need to purchase an adapter that may ruin the quality to some extent.
When looking for a headphone amp, make sure to buy a model that has the least distortion rate. On the amp’s specifications, this is usually listed as total harmonic distortion (THD) or intermodulation distortion (IMD).
Look for a distortion rating of 1% or less. And of course, the lower, the better.
The power ratings found in headphones often come in milliwatts (mW). Earphones typically require less than 20 mW. On the other hand, most headphones require up to 200 mW to reach their maximum output.
When searching for a headphone amp, it is best to check how many milliwatts per channel it can generate. 500mW headphone amps will be able to power most headphones, but you will always need to double-check the specific ratings of your headphones first.
To enhance the sound quality of your headphones, you will need a headphone amp. And while a lot of headphone amps cost hundreds of dollars, there are a few select units that perform just as well for under a hundred.
All the products we have listed are considered to be some of the best headphone amps under $100. The choice solely depends on your overall needs. But if we had to choose, the FX-Audio DAC-X6 Headphone Amplifier would be our recommended choice.
It is a solid piece of equipment that is compatible with almost all headphones available at the market, especially as it comes with a power of 520 mW.