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.
Below is 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.
For LCD-4s you need a more powerful amplifier than normal-- something in the range of at least 500mW at 200 Ohms, but more is better. Take a look at these for starters:
Headamp GS-X mkII – Great balanced amp for driving the LCD4s!
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.
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.
Pathos InPol Ear – tube-hybrid fully balanced amp to drive anything, but also functions as line level preamp and includes a DAC with streaming. Uncheap at $4500+, but very nice.
Burson Conductor 3 Reference DAC and headphone amp and line level preamp (they have a killer all balanced version called the 3x) and streamer. This a DAC/preamp/headphone amp in one box. $1,799 - $2199.
Chord Hugo TT2 – Excellent. 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 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.
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 full output of the amps are also directed to the headphone sections, for 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.
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.
You can see our full list of amp recommendations here.
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.