How a Portable Amp and DAC Could Improve Your Headphones

How a Portable Amp and DAC Could Improve Your Headphones
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If you’re someone who craves the best quality audio possible when listening to music but you find your current headphones setup is missing a certain sharpness, then you might want to consider picking up a portable headphone amp. These handy devices will help improve the clarity and detail of your audio, creating a more dynamic listening experience.

Here’s what a portable headphone amp can do for your audio, along with a few suggestions that’ll help you hit a higher peak of quality.

More power, better sound

With a portable amp, you’ll be able to reach a better level of performance with your headphones. However, this relies on you having a high-quality pair of headphones in the first place. Some of the more high-end headphones require a certain level of power input to reach their full potential. In other words, just plugging your headphones into your phone might not give you enough power to reach its intended fidelity.

The impedance of your headphones will let you know how much power you need to get the most out of your cans, but not all headphones will benefit from an amp. If you own a pair of low impedance headphones (below 50-60 ohms), it should work fine when plugged into a phone or laptop. For example, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 headphones have an impedance of 16 ohms when in passive mode and  47 ohms when its active noise-cancellation is on. Anything over that 60 ohms mark will benefit from an amplifier providing it with extra power.

What is a DAC?

Most portable amps also include a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), which will help you get your music sounding as close as possible to its original master recording. A DAC does exactly what its name suggests, and converts the digital audio signal created by your phone or laptop into an analogue one that you can listen to.

Most modern tech, like your laptop, tablet or TV, have an internal DAC built-in and do a pretty good job, for the most part. However, these internal DACs aren’t totally precise, so there’s also a chance of noise interfering when this signal is being converted, which results in your music sounding distorted with notable artifacts.

The DAC in a portable amp is usually of higher quality and will help create a better listening experience by ensuring that every part of the digital signal is converted as precisely as possible. By removing static or noise interference it’ll create a greater depth of sound with fewer errors, allowing it to get closer to how the original recording sounds.

What do we recommend?

Fosi Audio N2 Mini Headphone Amp – $75.99

portable amp
Image: Fosi

Most portable headphone amps run on the more expensive side of things, so if you’re looking for a cheaper option, the Fosi Audio N2 isn’t a bad pick. Under this smooth aluminium shell, the N2 has a battery life of up to 12 hours, a built-in DAC, an output impedance of 16 to 600 ohms, and the ability to adjust gain and bass levels.

If you’re a high-end audio obsessive, you might want something a bit more advanced than this. But if you’re starting out on your journey for perfect sound forever, this is a good portable amp to start with.

You can pick up the Fosi Audio N2 Mini Headphone Amp here.

iFi hip-dac2 Portable Headphone Amp – $279

portable amp
Image: iFi

This hip flask-looking portable amp will help you get the most out of headphones’ audio quality. The iFi hip-dac2 has a battery life of up to 8 hours and a power output of 32 to 600 ohms. It also has 3.5mm and 4.4mm headphone inputs. Its PowerMatch feature will match the “level of drive to the load presented by the headphones, by adjusting input sensitivity and thereby signal strength.” If you’re looking for some precise, dynamic audio quality, this portable amp is a great option.

You can pick up the iFi hip-dac2 Portable Headphone Amp here.

Chord Mojo Portable DAC and Headphone Amplifier – $799

Image: Chord

The Chord Mojo is a powerhouse of a portable headphone amp and DAC. Although at that price, you’d expect nothing less. The Mojo is designed and built to Chord Electronics’ high standards, with the end result being a quality and reliable portable amp that’ll fit neatly into your pocket. It has an 8-hour battery life and can support headphones with an impedance up to 800 ohms.

You can pick up the Chord Mojo Portable DAC and Headphone Amplifier here.