The following Top Reader Voted desktop amplifiers scores are assigned by the readers, (Score) and apply only to all reviews where a slider voting system exists. This list includes all types of desktop amps new and historical, solid-state or tubed, and integrated amps as reviewed on Headfonics.
Please note the list will change dynamically as readers continue to vote. Higher scoring amplifiers will automatically replace lower-scoring amplifiers. They will also continue to change as we progressively work our way through historical reviews and add a voting system.
These lists are not to be confused with our forthcoming Editorial scoring lists which are the best gear as reviewed and scored by our review team. Those lists will form the basis of our Awards at the end of the year. Once the year is completed the Editorial scores will be deleted and the ‘annual top lists’ will start over again.
The dCS Bartok is probably the best sounding integrated DAC and headphone amplifier I have reviewed to date in the 10 years we have been operating this website. That is some statement but I will not future proof it because, well, the Bartok is modular, it is firmware upgradeable, and has plenty of legs in it to go on for a few years more and still stay relevant.
The Formula S is a true top of the line solid-state amplifier. However, it does not shout out flagship through crude power numbers. Instead, it is much more nuanced in how it delivers its quality though it still has plenty of headroom for demanding cans. This is a linear but slightly sweet-sounding amplifier with a huge emphasis on resolution or detail, pace, and dynamic range.
Even in a raw state, RME has delivered a formidable DAC/amp combo that is worth more than the asking price. But in the end, once you've gotten used to all the corrections DSP allows, it is nearly impossible to go back. This is a game changer, even for pure music listening!
Burson aimed way too high and actually hit their mark. They've told me they've set out to become the new alpha of the DAC/AMP world at this price range and they've succeeded. If you like very engaging vocals and a vast imaging experience, this is for you. Hell, they've even got us gamers covered with audiophile needs as well. I can't ask for more.
This is an excellent, compact, and very unique little high-end amplifier. It does not look like much, perhaps a little utilitarian but stacks beautifully with compact balanced DAC's such as the Topping D90 and the older Oppo Sonica DAC. The balanced design has some excellent grunt with minimal distortion levels and a low sound floor.
The Auris Audio HA-2SE is a really excellent sounding headphone tube amp. More than that it is an amp that I find myself wanting to use both on a recreational casual listening level as well as the times when I want to take a more studied approach. It has an enticingly quiet, balanced, and analog-type sound with just a hint of wetness but nothing painfully slow. It is just so easy to listen to.
Feliks Audio strikes again. Their Eurforia is euphorically neutral. Simple as that. The build quality is excellent and the tube selection they've chosen are fitting of the type of sound they wish to impart to the community.
This amp is clearly intended to wreck house on all mid-tier tube amps and it seems most of the audio community agrees. It has been a best buy product since it was released and the first wave of reviews bestowed upon us. I am going to have to agree with this.
I love the amplifier inside the Euterpe. It is a relatively neutral to slightly sweet tone, very low on noise and can scale with a great source. The power is middling, not as strong as some solid-state contenders but for modern planars and dynamic headphones, it does perfectly fine. As a tube headphone amp, it has a subtle contrast to its bigger slightly richer sibling, the HA-2SE.
LTA has done a good job in improving the previous amplifier and it is refreshing to see another company originating from DIY, diving into the realm of headphone amplifiers. The MZ2S is a good pick for those who are looking for something of value while being flexible in finding the right matching for it.
If the iFi Audio NEO iDSD would have a beefier headphone amplifier section, this could almost be an endgame piece because as a preamplifier DAC it is clean as a whistle. There are no clicks, pops, hiss, or turn on or off thumps. This is probably the first device of this type I tested that is completely silent in operation.
The EF6 is $1600 well spent if you are after a powerful amplifier for your planers and inefficient dynamic cans. What surprised me most was the wonderfully lush and smooth sounding presentation particularly when paired with the HE6.
The LD H1 is a great pure sounding headphone amplifier that offers an amazing clinical tonality. It is also great for IEM usage, so long as you are careful, and seems to play well with most DAC's out there
If you want a powerful amp that can drive almost any headphone on the market, outside of the absurd HE-6 type headphones that are massively inefficient, as well as one that sounds great overall with damn near flawless setup, then I will certainly be recommending the Soloist MK2
This is a very good balanced and neutral sounding DAC/amp. If you have headphones that have excellent depth of field, I would buy the LCX+LDAC, or at least strongly consider it as your primary amp for the time being. It handles stage forward sound fields extremely well and offers a neutral enthusiast a bit of a break on painful wince and physical impact factor on the treble.
At $399 the Pre Box S2 Digital is one of those all-in-one solutions that defines what a typical 2018 digital audiophile might be looking for. Roon Tested, full MQA unfolding, a low noise floor, easily transportable, and a very likable tonal presentation with a very modern DAC chip solution inside.
The value proposition of the Aquila II at $700 is excellent, in all honesty. You get a modern DAC implementation, two qualitatively different sound signatures, a heck of a powerful headphone amp, and the ability to preamp or pure DAC out to an analog amplifier of your choice.
The Alita is clearly going to appeal to those on the older DAC-9/HPA-9 double stack guys who are looking to remain that smooth warm tone for something a bit more resolving and expansive sounding. It merges and upgrades both into a form factor that is almost the same size and dimension.
If you love neutrality, this is something you should consider. It has a ton of power via balanced mode and an internal EQ option that can fix problematic treble when the problems do rise up. The imaging factor is pleasantly set up and viable for near-perfect matching with the T1 mark2.
As a headphone amp, the tonality matching with the HD800 is almost perfect and for other headphones, it plays to obvious strengths. The transparency of the CMA800r is top-notch, so much so your DAC will be under more scrutiny than you think so choose wisely to get the best out of the amp.
This is a sum of the parts feeling with the iDAC-6 DAC and iHA-6 amp. Apart they are impressive, competitively priced with good specs and well-put-together desktop components. I could happily use either with perhaps the iHA-6 being the more immediately impressive of the two. Together, however, they are outstanding as a system which is how Cayin really wanted these units to be used.
I don't think the extreme clinical tone chasers should invest in this, but if you are in the middle and might enjoy a bit of both with the potential to EQ to achieve a boosted appeal to your desired presentation, or want a forward and linear sound with plentiful everything...this amp comes highly recommended.
Yes, you can roll these tubes and produce some variable sound signatures but as it stands the ability to power planars cleanly and yet stoop down and deliver low noise levels with highly sensitive IEM's with minimal distortion is just right.
The Lake People Reference Series is easily recommendable for headphile purists. DAC and amp sound very clean and linear without any flaws. Especially the amp impressed me. Aiming at the same sonic qualities as the pricier Violectric products, the Reference Series deserves its name in my humble opinion.
The 535SE is a drop-dead gorgeous looking solid-state amp that happens to sound like a very good tube amp with sweet treble, offers excellent sound staging and also the highest overall fidelity in a sub $2000 amplifier that I've ever tested.