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Best headphone amps & DACs to buy - Expert Reviews

"Below is our review of the best Dacs and Amps available - reviews are in price order from LOWEST to HIGHEST"

Best Combined Headphone Amplifiers and DACs

FiiO E07K Amp & USB DAC 

fiio-eo7kVirtually all PCs and laptops have the wherewithal to put out an analogue audio signal, but the quality is often less than perfect. These components are selected to do the job, rather than knock everyone’s socks off with sound quality.

However, there are options other than buying a new PCI card or cracking your laptop open; why not try an external DAC?

The E07K is the ideal starting point for those who want good sound for few pounds – just connect to the USB port and select the correct input on the device. Your PC/Mac should spot it and install automatically.

Added to that, the E07K can come with you and become a headphone amp for your phone or player, helping to drive your headphones for an even better sound on the move.

Added to that, the E07K can dock in the Fiio E09K desktop amplifier, to provide a stylish and powerful means of powering the thirstiest headphones.

Hifiheadphones verdict :

The E07K may be the lowest-cost unit in this list, but do not be fooled – this may represent the most significant upgrade anyone can achieve for this price.

FiiO E17 Amp & USB DAC

fiio-e17-alpenThe E17 is very similar to the E07K at first glance, and is exactly the same size and shape; it fits also into the Fiio E09K desktop amp for more power.

The sound is slightly warmer that that of the E07K, and the E17 boasts additional inputs such as coaxial and optical.

Gives great sound and functionality; use with your computer as a DAC, then take it with you as a portable headphone amp!

Hifiheadphones verdict :

Like the E07K, the E17 represents amazing value for the music fan on the move.

FiiO E18 Kunlun Amp & Smartphone DAC 

fiio-e18Fiio’s E18 Kunlun is very versatile; it can act as a DAC both with PCs/Macs and portable android devices, and is a fine portable amp. Compatible with Samsung Galaxy S3/S4/Note2, HTC One, and other Android devices with USB OTG and USB digital audio output capabilities.

The form factor of the E18 means that any typical android device can be strapped to it with no great departure from the original size/shape, so it’s perfect for slipping into a pocket so you can concentrate on enjoying your music.

Added to that, you needn’t worry about your phone’s battery again since the E18 can provide power for that too – in short, the perfect low-cost companion for those longer journeys.

Hifiheadphones verdict :

For the price, the FiiO E18 Kunlun offers unparalleled value and functionality in one convenient package.

Beyerdynamic A 200 p Amp & DAC for Apple devices

beyerdynamic a200pGive your premium headphones a chance to shine with the Beyerdynamic A 200 p; it takes a digital signal from the iPhone5 and various other Apple devices such as a 4th Gen iPad, also smartphones with Android 4.1 and above, for superior conversion to analogue.

Developed in partnership Astell and Kern, there is no doubt about the quality of this unit, like the pedigree of the makers. The A 200 p makes for an improved punchier bass end with smoother, more dynamic sound when compared to a typical smartphone DAC only.

Now a 30-pin connector is available for the iPhone 4, so don’t upgrade your phone – just upgrade your sound!

Hifiheadphones verdict :

For its price, the Beyerdynamic A 200 p represents great value and can compete with much higher-priced DACs which can accept data from Apple devices.

Just Audio uHA-120Ds Amp & USB DAC

just-audio-uha-120dsGreat things come in small packages, and this little marvel is great indeed; a Wolfson DAC chip and a USB audio interface capable of working up to 24bit/96kHz.

Separate analogue and digital domain power regulation conserves and makes the best of available power, while careful layout and attention to detail combine in the uHA-120Ds to create both clear functionality and fantastic sounds.

Also, check the uHA-120Ds’ stablemate the uDAC 24/96 at £349.95, which features dual Wolfson DAC chips for even better sound.

Hifiheadphones verdict :

Situated near Cambridge, Just Audio is a very approachable maker and can tweak any given unit to be perfectly suited to a given headphone. For a completely bespoke service there’s no beating Just Audio!

Graham Slee Bitzie USB DAC

graham-slee-bitzieGraham Slee has been well-known in the headphone amp industry and has been making amps since 1998. The UK-based manufacturer has specialised in desktop amps for some time, but has recently released models with DAC functionality, such as the Bitzie.

Designed to work in a desktop scenario, the Bitzie can give some real three-dimensional detail to your music when connected to your PC’s USB port.

Hifiheadphones verdict:

Fantastic with headphones up to 300 ohms, the Bitzie can lend a little class to any desktop and hi-fi system.

Fostex HP-P1 DAC

fostex-hp-p1The Fostex HP-P1 can be connected to the iPhone /iPod and can act as a DAC for superior sound on the move – this aircraft-grade aluminium item sounds as good as it feels.

Compares to desktop-based DACs in terms of sound; great resolution and soundstage with 3 gain settings/2 filter settings. The line-out socket makes the HP-P1 perfect for connecting to a Hi-Fi system for exceptional sound quality, making this a very versatile unit.

Hifiheadphones verdict:

Reach new heights of resolution and clarity on the move with this stylish addition to your portable rig.

Cypher Labs Theorem 720

cypher-labs-theorem-720-dacCypher Labs’ products are well known for their functionality with Apple devices; they have enjoyed great success with their Algorhythm Solo –R and Solo –dB dacs, and also their Duet portable amp.

Now both amp and DAC is within the same case, for greater portability and convenience for an amazing sound wherever you are.

3 gain settings ensure a good level for all headphones and earphones, and an output impedance of less than 1 Ohm will suit earphones of 8ohms or more – so will suit practically any headphone you care to throw at it.

Hifiheadphones verdict:

For a sound as solid and well defined as their military-grade built products, the Cypher Labs Theorem 720 can really pack a punch.

Sennheiser HDVD800 Headphone Amp & DAC

sennheiser-hdvd800Designed for use with headphone such as the Sennheiser HD800, the HDVD800 is a combined DAC and amp which sports a balanced output for exceptional sound quality.

A good all-rounder in terms of musical genre, the HDVD800 will offer exceptional resolution and imaging within a natural and relaxed presentation.

The HDVD800 can of course be used very successfully with other brands of full-size headphones but these should have an impedance of 300 ohms and above for optimum results.

The sleek case offers a glimpse at the internal components, illuminated by a cool blue LED when in use.

The balanced HD800 cable CH800 S is available for use with both the HDVD800 and its amp-only sibling, the HDVA600.

Hifiheadphones verdict:

Perhaps the last word in amps for the fantastic HD800 headphones, and a great companion for other high-impedance headphones of all makes.

 

Please check out our youtube video DACs, Sample Rates and how to use Audio Files 

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