When we first started making this list in about 2015, there weren’t that many good quality headphone-specific amps available. But today, we have a great many high quality products to choose from, and DACs and other source components have improved as well. This has actually made it more difficult to choose “the best.” In fact, among most of the higher-end products, your choice is really about features and “sounding different” (and the flavor YOU prefer) rather than “sounding better.” Of course, some of these amps appear to have better synergy with certain headphones than others.
Here's a variety of Headphone amp suggestions from our resident audiofools– keep in mind they have their own biases. Some units are amps only, others combine both DAC and amp. Prices may not be accurate. This is not meant to be the Holy Grail of information; just to help point the buyer in the right direction. In no particular order, but grouped by type as possible.
Pathos Aurium – Hybrid tube and solid state (MOSFET), more analytical sounding than the WOO (see below), has great features like Gain & Balance controls. $1400. Amp only, no DAC.
Pathos InPol Ear – tube-hybrid fully balanced amp to drive anything, but also functions as line level preamp and includes a DAC with streaming. $4500+
WOO Audio WA6-SE – great tube sound if you want to be in SET heaven, not very expensive. $1200.
ALO – check them out if you’re a tube fanatic and don’t want the WOO WA6-SE
Ampsandsound – They make a range of products and are dedicated tube fans who love "the classic tube sound."
Manley Absolute – A modern classic tube amp that follows that company's quirky and trailblazing aesthetic. $4500.
Nagra HD DAC – Frighteningly good hybrid tube amp/DAC combo. It you have too much money, you seriously need to demo this product. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Audiovalve Luminare – Excellent tube amp, especially if you have both high and low impedance headphones and/or Stax Electrostatics. No DAC. About 3,000 Euros.
Linear Tube Audio Z10 and Z10e – Both are fully tubed and transformerless, and also function as 12 Watt speaker amps with a surprising amount of drive. The headphone sections provide extra power and clarity that can drive any of our models easily. The Z10 is about $5k, with an option for MM phono stage.
If you have electrostatic headphones as well as planars, the Z10e is a special product. About $7k, but worth it if you can use all it offers.
Linear Tube Audio MZ3 – The evolution of their original amp, this is a lower-powered version of the amps above. It works very well with most of our models, but is not quite the best authority for the demanding 200 Ohm LCD-4s. $3700
Chord Hugo TT2 – Excellent sonics, with a different DAC sound than others due to their own FPGA implementation (we use Chord DACs at every trade show). $4,500. For an even bigger thrill, add the M-Scaler for $5k.
Chord Hugo2 and Mojo are great portable solutions, too (see below). If you have an LCD-4 and need a portable amp/DAC, then the Hugo2 is your best choice.
If you have the financial resources, then give the Chord DAVE a listen, and add that M-Scaler while you're at it.
Burson Conductor 3 Reference (or the fully balanced version called the 3x). This a DAC/preamp/headphone amp in one box, and is sonically excellent. $1,799 - $2199. If you have hard-to drive headphones like the LCD-4, this amp is a great solution (especially the balanced 3x).
SPL Phonitor X – has a great feature - spatial controls! Plus, 3 inputs, and balanced in/out. $2k+, and can be used as a line stage preamp. Use this with the Audeze XC or X for studio mixing. And check out the Phonitor E in balanced mode too.
Headamp GS-X mkII – Great balanced amp for driving the LCD4s!
Mytek Brooklyn & Manhattan II. Great products. They also do MQA.
Questyle CMA800R – Very good amp. We also love the CMA 400i driving the LCDi4 in-ears in balanced mode.
Pass Labs HPA-1 – A great headphone amp with line level preamp. Beautiful sounding. Maybe not quite enough gain for the LCD-4 if you like playing REALLY LOUD.
Prism Sound Callia DAC/amp – Great product. Linux support! About $2000.
Matrix M-Stage HPA-3U – a best buy at under $400 (via Amazon). This appears to be similar in circuit design to the Lehmann headphone amp listed below.
Matrix Audio Quattro II Amp/DAC – Once again, a best buy at only $899. This is probably your best choice for a balanced output headphone amp with DAC at less than $1,000.
Cyrus Audio Cyrus ONE – headphone amp and integrated amplifier (even a phono preamp and Bluetooth are included!). About $1000.
DCS Bartok – Another FPGA-type DAC with an optional headphone amp. Great product, great sound, priced at about $15k.
Weiss DAC502 – Loaded with features and will soon have Audeze's LCD target curves from Roon and Reveal built-in to the firmware. About $9850.
Simaudio MOON 430HA – Many features, will drive the LCD4 in balanced mode. $4,500.
Bryston BHA-1 – $1,395. This is also one of the few amps with a balance control (like the Pathos & SPL) – more useful than you might think as everyone’s left and right ears are different. And this is a powerful amp for the LCD-4.
Lehmann Audio Linear – A very good sounding amp, $1100
Schiit Mjolnir – If you can pronounce the name, then this is a very good balanced amp. $850 direct from them.
Schiit Ragnarok2 – An integrated amp that provides plenty of power for any of our headphones, especially if you run it balanced. $1450 with options for DAC and phono.
Benchmark HPA4 (amp only). This amp will drive the LCD4s in balanced mode. It’s an amazing line-level preamp as well. And we love it has a balance control! $2,995. Incredibly low self-noise. Also, check out their DAC3B.
PS Audio DirectStream Jr
Chord Qutest (add the M-Scaler if you can)
Resonessence Labs Mirus
Holo Audio Spring or May
Portable battery powered headphone amp+DAC
Sony PHA-3 – Excellent (ESS Sabre 9018 DAC), AND balanced outputs! $995
Periodic Audio Nickel - Analog amp only. Great solution for upscale cellphone users or those with lower-powered DAPs. $299
Chord Mojo and Hugo2 – Their DACs use a unique topology, and we use them at trade shows. $500 (Mojo), $2500 (Hugo2)
Audioquest Dragonfly – they make three versions, and all are good on-the-go options for our lower impedance headphones. $100 - 300
iFi – They make a number of headphone amps and amps/DACs, from portable units at $299 to the Micro iDSD at $600 that has LINUX support and MQA.
Here's a variety of headphone amp suggestions for the professional market (some are amps only, some are combos with DACs, in no particular order):
Lynx Hilo and Aurora(n) – excellent converters with equally excellent headphone sections. They're located near us and are nice people, too.
SPL Phonitor 2 – three inputs, and balanced in/out. Can be used as a line stage preamp.
RME ADI-2 PRO – a great 2-channel ADC and DAC, with analog inputs and some flexible DSP options.
Mytek Brooklyn and Manhattan series – great products, and they also do MQA.
Little Labs Monotor – made especially for pros, with various channel assignment possibilities for checking phase, etc.
Benchmark HPA2 and HPA4 – a great group of products for different use cases.
Rupert Neve RNHP – purpose-made for the pro world, with flexible routing and lots of headroom.
Anything from Chord Electronics in the UK – their products are stellar and we often partner with them at trade shows.
Weiss DAC502 – Loaded with features and will soon have Audeze's LCD target curves from Roon and Reveal built-in to the firmware.
Linear Tube Audio MZ3 (or anything from their line) – Extremely accurate OTL tube amps that are hyper-detailed without being analytical.
If you're curious about an amp not listed here, you can see this article for info on power recommendations, etc.
For more info, impressions and opinions, we'd recommend publications like Stereophile, or an online forum such as Head-Fi.org, etc.