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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
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)
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.
#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
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
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
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 🙂
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