Top 10 Headphone Amplifiers: Mixing and Mastering

 
  1. Prism Callia
  2. SPL Phonitor X Headphone Amp/Preamp + DAC
  3. Bryston BHA-1 Balanced Headphone Amp
  4. Avenson Audio Headphone Amp
  5. Little Labs Monotor Headphone Amp
  6. Rupert Neve Designs RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier
  7. Hafler HA75 Tube Headphone Amp
  8. MyTek Brooklyn DAC + Plus Headphone Amp/Preamp
  9. Grace Design M900 Headphone Amp
  10. Lynx Studio Technology Hilo-DNT

It almost goes without saying, but having an accurate depiction of your signal is incredibly important during both mixing and mastering. 

The more you can hear, the more you understand how your mix or master will translate to consumer-grade equipment and playback systems. 

Having a proper monitoring system is crucial during mixing and mastering.
Having a proper monitoring system is crucial during mixing and mastering.

Having an accurate monitoring system, especially when it comes to headphones, gives you the ability to confidently identify errors in your mix or master.  These errors will often become exacerbated when played on lower-level equipment.

This means that identifying and correcting these issues during mixing and mastering is needed before distribution.  A proper headphone amplifier makes this processing, not just easier but possible.

With that said, let’s look into the top 10 headphone amplifiers for mixing and mastering.  Keep in mind that this list is in no particular order – each one of these headphone amps is a good option, depending on your particular needs.

If you have a mix that you’ve been working on, or maybe a track that needs to be mastered or remastered, send it to us here:

We’ll master it for you and send you a free mastered sample for you to review.

10. Prism Callia

The Callia offers pristine D to A conversion.
The Callia offers pristine D to A conversion.

The Prism Callia offers an incredibly transparent and accurate depiction of your mix or master.  Sporting a USB 2.0 connection, and pristine D to A conversion (like all of Prism’s equipment) connecting your Prism Callia to your digital sound source is incredibly easy.

In addition to the 1 headphone output on its front panel, the Prism Callia has 2 XLR outputs on the back, meaning you can use the Callia for traditional monitoring setups as well.  Furthermore, the Callia supports both PCM and DSD formats, adding to its flexibility.

XLR outputs allow for loudspeaker connectivity.
XLR outputs allow for loudspeaker connectivity.

The Prism Callia also offers incredibly low noise and total harmonic distortion.  Its THD+Noise is 0.0005% making for a clean signal.

Lastly, the Prism Callia offers up to 113dB in dynamic range and can support digital conversion up to 32-bit / 384kHz.  This means that the Callia won’t be obsolete for some time, giving you the comfort of knowing your investment won’t be phased out by higher digital resolutions or changing file types any time soon.

The Prism Callia has incredibly low THD of 0.0005%
The Prism Callia has incredibly low THD of 0.0005%

If you’re looking for top-of-the-line D to A conversion, and transparent amplification of your signal, the Prism Callia will make a fantastic addition to your studio.

Current Price: $2750.00 USD

9. SPL Phonitor X Headphone Amp/Preamp + DAC

The SPL Phonitor X provides DAC.
The SPL Phonitor X provides DAC.

The SPL Phonitor X provides incredibly clear D to A conversion for digital sources, as well as A to A amplification for analog sources.  With USB, coaxial, optical and analog inputs, the SPL Phonitor X is a flexible option for any studio.

XLR and component or RCA outputs mean that the SPL Phonitor X also serves as a monitor amplifier, and can send your signal to most audio devices for monitoring.  So for example, if you wanted to hear how your master would sound on consumer-grade equipment, you could use the RCA outputs to some inexpensive speakers for reference.

RCA outputs allow for monitor connectivity
RCA outputs allow for monitor connectivity

The SPL Phonitor X is suited for headphones with greater than 10 Ohms of resistance – so it will work well for almost all studio headphones.  Additionally, low THD and noise of 0.00091% make it an accurate source for monitoring your mixes or masters.

Additionally, its DAC is capable of converting digital sources up to 24-bit/192kHz, with a supported frequency response of up to 300kHz. 

But what makes the SPL Phonitor X special, is its ability to closely emulate speaker crossover and angling using stereo bleed and delay-based processing.  By varying the time it takes for the signal to play one particular ear, a sense of speaker angle can be established.

Furthermore, signals normally isolated to one side or the other can be fed into both headphone speakers, further emulating the sound created by studio monitors.

Current Price: $2699.00 USD

8. Bryston BHA-1 Balanced Headphone Amp

The Bryston BHA-1 is a great option for music lovers and audio engineers.
The Bryston BHA-1 is a great option for music lovers and audio engineers.

With each component hand-tested and all connections gold-plated, the Bryston BHA-1 is designed with audiophiles in mind.  In addition to appealing to home-audio aficionados, this headphone amp is suitable for studio applications, both headphone, and loudspeaker monitoring.

With additional drivers that provide 14dB or 20dB of input gain, the Bryston BHA-1 is ideal for amplifying quieter sources without adding unwanted distortion or saturation.  This makes it more suitable for mixing, as the signal will be quieter at this point in the audio production process.

Solely analog inputs mean that an additional D to A converter will be necessary if your source is digital.  The back panel includes balanced XLR inputs and outputs, meaning studio monitors can be connected as well.

This headphone amplifier only provides analog connectivity.
This headphone amplifier only provides analog connectivity.

The front panel includes the traditional 1/4” headphone jack, along with balanced left, right, and stereo outputs designed for headphone use.  An input select, as well as the aforementioned high and low gain selection also occupy this front panel.

Total Harmonic Distortion of less than 0.001% and a signal-to-noise ratio of greater than 105dB make the Bryston BHA-1 a transparent and accurate analog headphone amplifier.  A frequency response of 20Hz – 20kHz gives you everything you need to accurately monitor your mix or master.

Current Price: $2195.00 USD

7. Avenson Audio Headphone Amp

Simplistic in design, the Avenson Audio Headphone Amp is an affordable, yet professional option.
Simplistic in design, the Avenson Audio Headphone Amp is an affordable, yet professional option.

Solely a headphone amplifier, the Avenson Audio Headphone Amp is a straightforward, simplistic, yet powerful headphone amplifier for both mixing and mastering applications.

Two 1/4” headphone outputs give you added flexibility and the option to compare your mix or master on two different headphone types without the need to pause, unplug, and replug your headphones.

A crossover function negates the signal isolation often associated with headphones.
A crossover function negates the signal isolation often associated with headphones.

The stereo crossover function reduces the amount of channel isolation headphones create by introducing a small amount of stereo “bleed.”  The simplistic knob located on the front panel is the only other variable function the Avenson Audio Headphone Amp offers.

In addition to a signal-to-noise ratio of greater than 107dB, the Avenson Audio Headphone Amp provides a frequency range of 5Hz – 100kHz, meaning it goes above and beyond the perceivable frequency range.

Lastly, its small size and affordable price-point make it suitable for portable studios.  Under 3 lbs, the Avenson Audio Headphone Amp can easily be placed in a backpack or carrying case for any engineer on the go.

Current Price: $750.00 USD

6. Little Labs Monotor Headphone Amp

Affordable and practical, the Little Labs Monotor is a great option for home studios.
Affordable and practical, the Little Labs Monotor is a great option for home studios.

If you’re looking for a simple headphone amplifier, one that can cleanly and accurately depict your signal, the Little Labs Monotor Headphone Amp is an affordable option for any home studio. 

Offering 6 different headphone configurations, including stereo, inverted stereo, dual mono, left, right, and one channel inversion for phase cancellation, the Little Labs Monotor offers monitoring flexibility so you can hear your mix or master from multiple perspectives.

With no D to A conversion, this headphone amp is only suitable for analog sources.
With no D to A conversion, this headphone amp is only suitable for analog sources.

2 1/4” headphone jacks and 2 1/8” headphone jacks make plugging into the Little Labs Monotor easy, with no need for 1/4” adapters.  Balanced 1/4” and unbalanced XLR inputs on the back panel allow for flexibility for inputting your analog source.

With a low-noise level, portable design, and low price point, the Little Labs Monotor has garnered overwhelming praise and positive reviews from its users.

Current Price: $540.00

5. Rupert Neve Designs RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier

Rupert Neve Designs provides a professional and affordable option for studios at all levels.
Rupert Neve Designs provides a professional and affordable option for studios at all levels.

Another affordable yet high-quality amplifier on this list, the Rupert Neve Designs RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier offers exceptional quality for under $500

Modeled after the headphone amp in their RND 5060 Centerpiece, the RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier offers reliable, reference-grade amplification to just about any pair of headphones you plug into it.

The back panel sports 3 distinct inputs.
The back panel sports 3 distinct inputs.

The RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier offers 3 distinct input sections – a professional line-level XLR and line input section, an RCA section, and a 3.5mm stereo jack.  Each one of these inputs can be selected via the front panel. 

This means you can use the RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier to monitor your mix, and then quickly switch to another input for comparison.  This makes it a useful tool for performing a quick AB comparison between two mixes or two masters. 

The front panel allows users to switch between these inputs.
The front panel allows users to switch between these inputs.

Additionally, each one of these inputs has been carefully calibrated to ensure that you hear as much of the signal as possible, with the entirety of its dynamic range intact.

It should be noted that because this unit doesn’t have a D to A converter, it will not be able to play your mixes directly from a digital source.  The 3.5mm jack does remedy this, as you can connect your laptop via this connection, but this is not ideal.

Regardless, the RNHP Precision Headphone Amplifier is a great sounding option for monitoring your mixes and masters.

Current Price: $499.00

4. Hafler HA75 Tube Headphone Amp

The Halfer Tube amp has complex functionality at an introductory price point.
The Halfer Tube amp has complex functionality at an introductory price point.

If you’re looking for a headphone amplifier that is a great option for professional monitoring and offers options to enhance casual listening experiences, then the Hafler HA75 Tube Headphone Amp is a good pick.

This headphone amplifier covers a lot of bases.  It includes DAC, analog inputs, variable impedance, a focus function that emulates loudspeaker crossover, an input switch between analog and digital inputs, and Vox function that employs a low-frequency shelf, or a loudness contour.

This headphone amp utilizes both digital and analog processing.
This headphone amp utilizes both digital and analog processing.

The impedance function means that headphones with different impedances can be used and that the device can be best calibrated to accommodate these different headphones.

Additionally, the tube used generates subtle harmonics that result in a full sound.  Granted, the tube in this device won’t generate those harmonics unless driven significantly, but you have the option to generate them by increasing the output or input significantly.

A tube amplification system employs subtle harmonics
A tube amplification system employs subtle harmonics

Lastly, a “Tube Out” allows for this amplifier to be fed into another device.  This means that you can generate these harmonics and then record them with an audio interface or recording device.

The analog inputs include both XLR and RCA connectivity.

Current Price: $649.99

3. MyTek Brooklyn DAC + Plus Headphone Amp/Preamp

This boutique amplifier is a great option for both professional and casual listening applications.
This boutique amplifier is a great option for both professional and casual listening applications.

A headphone amplifier for both professional studios and audiophiles alike, the MyTek Brooklyn DAC + Plus Headphone Amp and Phono Preamp is a pro-class unit. 

In terms of connectivity, the MyTek Brooklyn DAC supports both analog and digital inputs and sports a clean D to A conversion.  This conversion is up to 32-bit/384kHz via a USB 2.0 connection, while the analog inputs support up to 130dB of dynamic range.

This amplifier supports digital and analog inputs, as well as includes a separate phono amplifier.
This amplifier supports digital and analog inputs, as well as includes a separate phono amplifier.

A phonograph connection and amplifier means that you can use your vinyl records as a reference, or for simply enjoying the hi-fi sound. 

A digital display shows both the average RMS level and the peak level of your signal.  Two headphone inputs mean added flexibility for this unit, and the ability to reference two different headphones simultaneously. 

In addition to supporting PCM files, like WAV and AIFF, the MyTek Brooklyn Headphone Amp supports the less commonly used but still relevant DSD file type.

Additional inputs and outputs include two XLR outputs for monitors, RCA inputs and outputs, SPDIF or optical inputs, S/PDIF connectivity for the DSD format, and WCK inputs for the phonograph.

Current Price: $2195.00

2. Grace Design M900 Headphone Amp

Grace Design has created another greater headphone amplifier with the next model of its m900 series.
Grace Design has created another greater headphone amplifier with the next model of its m900 series.

Following the success of its flagship headphone amplifier, the Grace m920, the Grace Design M900 Headphone Amp offers superior headphone monitoring but for a more affordable price.

2 headphone outputs on the front panel as well as unbalanced RCA outputs for monitors on the back give you some options for monitoring.  The small size of the Grace Design M900 makes it perfect for on the go engineers.

RCA outputs and optical connectivity add some flexibility to the m900's routing.
RCA outputs and optical connectivity add some flexibility to the m900’s routing.

Additionally, the Grace M900 is bus-powered, making it that much easier to take it to coffee shops, on the road, or any other place you might be working on your music.  A 5v USB connection is available for additional power when needed.

By holding down the one and only rotary for 2 seconds, you can access various aspects and parameters, including the crossover amount, the output to the monitors, and save presets for future use.

Additional inputs include a S/PDIF connection for DSD formats and Toslink.  Regarding PCM files, the DAC can handle up to 32-bit/384kHz.

Current Price: $545.00

1. Lynx Studio Technology Hilo-DNT

The Lynx Hilo-DNT offers immense flexibility with its digital and analog routing.
The Lynx Hilo-DNT offers immense flexibility with its digital and analog routing.

Although this list was created in no particular order, this amplifier is truly impressive.  With immaculate D to A and A to D conversion and analog connectivity, the Lynx Studio Technology Hilo-DNT offers flexibility and professional headphone monitoring.

In terms of analog connection, the Lynx Hilo-DNT offers XLR line in and out, left and right monitor outputs, and a 1/4” headphone output on the front panel.

Monitor outputs allow for loudspeaker connectivity.
Monitor outputs allow for loudspeaker connectivity.

Digital connectivity includes a USB 2.0 connection, S/PDIF in and out, AES in and out, and ADAT optical connections.

The front panel showcases a digital display, with which you can alter your inputs, routing, and gain.  Additionally, you can use this display to monitor your inputs, their relative volumes, and alter your D to A conversion.

A digital display allows users to alter multiple settings.
A digital display allows users to alter multiple settings.

The digital conversion software supports up to 24-bit/192kHz.

Although on the more expensive side, this truly versatile interface is a great addition to any professional or home studio.  Its crystal clear reproduction of any signal makes it perfect for headphone monitoring, especially when mixing or mastering.

Current Price: $2,295.00

Conclusion

Whether you prefer monitoring your music using loudspeakers, or with headphones, there is no denying that adding headphones into your monitoring routine can be beneficial, and help you to garner a wider perspective of your mix or master.

That’s why having a reliable headphone amplifier in addition to a pair of headphones you trust is necessary. 

The headphone amplifiers listed here vary in price and functionality.  Some are designed to be solely headphone amplifiers, whereas some have monitor outputs for loudspeakers. 

Regardless of the functionality, each provides a transparent and professional sound.  In our personal opinion, the amplifiers that are most suitable for modern studios include digital to analog conversion – this way you can monitor your mix or master directly from DAW.

However, this type of conversion won’t be necessary during solely analog mixing and mastering.

If you’d like to hear your music mastered, particularly if you’d like to hear your music mastered by analog equipment, send it to us here:

We’ll master it for you and send you a free sample for you to review.

Do you have a favorite headphone amp that wasn’t mentioned here?


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Sage Audio Mastering

Nashville, TN

www.SageAudio.com