The Best Stellar Value Headphone DAC/Amps (Dec. 2016)

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The world of headphone amplifiers and DACs can become pretty daunting and scary in a heartbeat. Not only is there a lot of technical mumbo jumbo to understand, but you’ll soon realise this isn’t the cheapest hobby on the block.

You can go pretty much bananas reading all the technical reviews on equipment costing thousands of dollars and trying to find out which DAC to buy or what Amp to get. On top of that, you’ll soon become dizzy as you’re trying to find out if DAC A is a good match for Amp B or Amp C works best with Headphone D and so on.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for all of this. There absolutely is. But if you don’t want to indulge yourself in it and just want a quality set-up that will give you the most enjoyment at a fraction of the cost, then you’ve come to the right place!

We’ll guide you through the 6 Best Stellar Value Headphone DAC/Amps that are currently available on the market.

All the products on this list have gotten raving reviews and are highly regarded in the audiophile/headphone community. They are guaranteed to give you unbeatable value for money and will drive just about any headphone out there with authority!

So, unless you’re feeling giggly at the thought of building the latest DIY audiophile wonder, check out these stellar offerings below!

But First… What Is a Headphone Amp and Do I Need One?

If you’re thinking “What Is a Headphone Amp and Do I Need One?” you’d better check out my easy-to-understand explanation on this subject, where I go through all of this in layman terms. Go ahead, it’s not complicated at all!

Alright, let’s get going!

#1: JDS LABS Objective2 + ODAC

Best Value Amp #1 JDSLabs O2 ODAC

A power combo in one box! The Objective 2 + ODAC is commonly seen the reference point to measure other DAC/Amps against.

Designed by NwAvGuy to proof that you do not have to spend thousands of dollars to get the most out of your headphones, this little open-source solution looks very minimalistic but certainly gets the job done.

With well-chosen components to keep costs as low as possible, while still holding its own against much more expensive equipment, the O2 + ODAC combo is literally all you need to stop worrying and just enjoy your music to the fullest!

What it lacks for in aesthetics it surely makes up for in performance! Oh, and did I mention JDS Labs gives you a 2-year transferable warranty.

Check out the latest price on Amazon.

#2: Schiit Stack (Modi 2 & Magni 2)

Best Value DAC/Amps #2 Schiit Stack

Looking a bit more eye pleasing and with a price-tag that beats the NwAvGuy offering, the Schiit Stack has dethroned the O2+ODAC as the best bang for your buck offering.

Some say the audible difference is still in favour of the O2+ODAC, but only with +$700 headphones, while other reviews claim both are equally good.

Needless to say, this package is one of the best you can get. The Modi 2/Magni 2 set-up will give you clean and pure sound with enough power to feed most headphones out there and it even looks neat on your desk. Plus, as a statement of quality, you’ll even get a 2-year limited warranty thrown into the deal from Schiit.

Both available on Amazon. Get the Magni 2 HERE and the Modi 2 HERE.

#3: AudioQuest DragonFly Red

Best Value DAC/Amps #3 AudioQuest DragonFly Red

Going for ultimate portability, AudioQuest made waves back in 2012 with the multi-award winning DragonFly v1.0 and followed it up with the even better DragonFly v1.2 one year later.

This year AudioQuest came up with 2 follow-ups named the DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red. While both are great, we felt we needed to put the Red on this list, as this little box of portable goodness is all you need to drive your favorite can on the road.

Both the Black and Red DragonFly are suitable for your laptop and computer and you can even hook them up to your favorite Android or iOS device, making this an extremely versatile DAC/Amp!

The reason we opted for the more expensive DragonFly, is that the Red is capable of driving a much wider range of headphones (even the power hungry!), while the Black is more suited for high-efficiency models. Besides that, the Red has slightly better audio quality too.

Look for the cheapest price on Amazon.

#4: Creative Sound Blaster E5

Best Value DAC/Amps #4 Sound Blaster E5

If you’re looking for something that does more than just produce crystal clear audio, the SoundBlaster E5 might be your thing. Especially if you’re an audio loving gamer.

The E5 is capable of outputting up to 24-bit/192kHz audio sources, but it also has support for 7.1 sound, has extensive DSP options, comes with wireless streaming thru Bluetooth, has several mics, and even provides 2 headphone jacks!

The 3200mAh battery gets you 8 hours of power and can even serve as a power bank for your smartphone.

Jack of all trades and master of none doesn’t fly on the Sound Blaster E5 as this could possibly be the most versatile and powerful headphone amp & DAC on the market without sacrificing audio quality!

Available at a great price on Amazon.

#5: Sony PHA-1A

Best Value DAC/Amps #5 Sony PHA-1A

If you like your audio gear clean and stylish, the PHA-1A is the one to look out for. Not only does it leave a small footprint on your desk, but it looks sexy as hell (as far as solid state amps go). I’m particularly fond of the gold accent around the headphone jack.

The compact design (although not as compact as the DragonFly) and lightweight, together with a built-in rechargeable battery providing up to 6 hours of power, makes the PHA-1A well suited for mobile devices whether it’s Android or iOS you fancy.

Like the Sound Blaster E5, it is capable of doing 24-bit/192kHz audio and has a selectable gain from 8 to 600 Ohm, providing all the power you need.

Currently getting 4 out 5 stars on Amazon.

#6: OPPO HA-2 SE

Best Value DAC/Amps #6 OPPO HA-2 SE

Even more so than the Sony PHA-1A, the OPPO HA-2 SE is a real eye catcher. The leather wrap around makes it very aesthetically pleasing and also gives it a more sophisticated look.

With a maximum impedance level of 300 Ohm, the AH-2 SE is not as powerful as the PHA-1A but is still able to power most demanding headphones on the market, like the Sennheiser HD650 for example.

The 3000 mAh battery provides up to 7 hours of play time for digital resources and it can be used as a power bank for your mobile devices.

If you’re looking for a DAC\Amp that can go all the way as far as digital music concerns, the HA-2 SE with its ability to convert as high as 32-bit/384kHz is an excellent choice. Oh, and it can do DSD256 as well.

Look for recent prices on this beauty on Amazon.


Whether you’re just taking your first steps in high fidelity world or are a seasoned audiophile, all the above six choices will get you an amazing musical experience without breaking the bank.

And while there are less expensive options out there, cheap is not always the best, but neither is the opposite!

Of course, you can go for a 20 or 50 bucks DAC\Amp, but besides from the fact that it would make everything sound a bit louder, it’s not really going to be an upgrade sound quality wise over the DAC/Amp that’s used in your laptop, computer or mobile device… Unless the thing is like 10 years old of course 🙂

Looking for high fidelity albums of your favorite artists? Check out The High-Quality Music Download Site True Fans are Using.

Still looking for a quality headphone? THIS is my favorite all-round HiFi headphone.

8 thoughts on “The Best Stellar Value Headphone DAC/Amps (Dec. 2016)”

  1. Hi Jurgen,

    I enjoyed your article!

    I remember the obsession with high quality headphone amplifiers going back to the 1970’s.

    As a lifelong electronics tinkerer, I would occasionally see an amplifier construction article in an issue of Popular Electronics magazine. Even things like making a guitar amp out of a hearing aid amplifier.

    Fast forward to today – Hi Fi meets Wi Fi!

    You’ve presented a great line up of choices. Some of these would make great monitor amplifiers for recording, too. I’ll have to explore some of these amps for myself. A good reference quality amplifier can make a world of difference!

    Thanks for sharing and cheers to an awesome New Year!

    – Oren

  2. It just came with the right timing as i was searching to buy affordable dac for headphone. As a first time trying the dac i really like the one you recommended especially the sony PHA 1A.
    Have you ever tried these? I want to get my hand on and do some gaming.

  3. Looking for a headphone amp, your post came at the right time. Better informed with the options, I think I will go with the schiit stack mainly because I have used their other product before, namely their phono amps, the schiit mani. I truly like it that you endorsed it too. Thanks for sharing your views on these products

  4. Hey Jurgen

    These headphone amps looks great and I’ll bet they sound great, too. I am thinking of saving up to buy the Creative Sound Blaster E5 one. That one was the best of the six you mentioned.

    Do you own any of these? If you do, how has it held up over time. Any wear and tear issues to report? is there a warranty on the E5 one?

    The sound card inside it sounds very impressive, too. I would hook it up to my mac and jam to Youtube videos while I type away on my blog. Thanks for the honest review.

    1. Hey Jason, from the list I only own the Objective 2 amp and the Dragonfly, but because I’m a daily visitor of headphone/music fora and sites, I do have a good insight on what’s out there.

      The reason I wrote the article is to let people know about some solid options. That’s why I also diversified the list a bit.

      The E5 has a 1-year warranty. Durability was one of my criteria when putting this list together. My O2 does not show any wear after almost a year. And my Dragonfly is build like a tank. Although I’m not gonna try it, I’m pretty sure you can run it over with your car, without breaking it. 🙂


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