Many high quality amplifiers do not feature headphone sockets, and those that do
are often something of an after thought, fine for occasional use with basic headphones
but ultimately rather limiting for the more serious listener. For this reason we
offer a range of headphone amplifiers.
All the following headphone amplifiers have their own volume controls, so can be
connected directly to a source such as a CD player, or can be connected to the tape
output on integrated/pre amplifiers. All of the units here (with the exception of
the Earmax) have loop outputs which mean that when connected into a tape loop they
will still allow a tape/CD recorder etc to be connected as before.
Project Headbox MkII: £110
The Project is the perfect starting point for good quality headphone amplifiers,
its one of the smallest designs available at just 10cm wide and deep, and comes with
an external plug type power supply.
It offers a worthwhile improvement in performance compared to the sockets fitted
to most amplifiers and CD players, and offers good resolution of detail, allowing
the subtleties to be heard clearly even when recordings get complex. It has a slightly
recessed mid band compared to some of the designs listed here, but in many ways this
makes it even more suitable for the sort of headphones that’s its likely to be partnered
(i.e. those of a similar price to the unit) which tend to be rather more mid forward
in their presentation anyway.
Edwards Audio Apprentice Headphone amplifier
Due for launch in early 2013, the Apprentice headphone amplifier will be a new budget
model from the great manufacturer. I’ve already heard a pre production version and
it looks like its performance is going to be quite remarkable at its price point.
More details to follow shortly.
Edwards Audio APP-HA headphone amplifier: £119.95
The Ear is an all new design launched in August 2012, and whilst it shares its name
with its predecessor not only is the casework revised but so are the internals. The
design is apparently inspired by Rega’s Brio-R amplifier circuit and it’s made using
surface mount technology for ultra short signal paths, and at normal listening levels
the output stage runs in pure class A.
The case is made from extruded aluminium box and measures just 18cm wide and 14cm
deep, and is available in either a Black or Silver finish. A small plug type power
supply is also supplied to help keep noise away from the sensitive audio circuitry.
Feature wise it also offers a mute button which cuts the signal to the loop outputs
on the back, so if its used between pre and power amplifiers (for example) you can
silence your speakers without having to turn the power amplifier off.
This latest version offers a substantial performance jump over its (already very
good) predecessor, the clarity and reduction in grain are the most obvious benefits,
but it’s also substantially more dynamic and well defined at low frequencies too.
Rega Ear headphone amplifier: £198.00
Edwards Audio HA1
The HA1 is Edwards Audio first headphone amplifier, and having just heard a pre production
version I can state with confidence that this is something really very special. Built
around a completely discrete circuit (rather than chip based) and designed like a
very high quality small power amplifier, it is capable of producing ample output
for almost any headphones (it’s rated at 2 watts!), and with a very low output impedance
(so suitable for both low and high impedance headphones).
It has a line level input, a line out (so it can be put in line with a source component
if required) and a 3.5mm input for MP3/iPod use, selected via a rear mounted switch.
The HA1 can be upgraded with the PSU1 power supply for even greater performance.
Its sound quality is very special, many competing headphone amplifiers sound rather
anaemic and lacklustre, lacking drive and scale, but not the HA1 which is potent
sounding without losing any subtlety. The resolution and midband realism is beyond
anything I’ve heard at the price, and tonal colouring is rich and voluptuous.
Adding the PSU1 power supply brings gain to the weight and precision of the bass,
as well as improving dynamics and fine detailing, so ultimately it’s a very worthwhile
-Edwards Audio HA1 headphone amplifier: £279.99
-Edwards Audio HA1 headphone amplifier with PSU1 power supply package price: £499.99
Edwards Audio HA2
Coming very soon (summer 2011) is the second Edwards Audio headphone stage. The HA2
is derived from the HA1 (featured above) and adds an active driver stage in place
of the passive stage and includes a full four line level input preamplifier (one
of which is 3.5mm for MP3/iPod use). Price is expected to be in the region of £400
and will be upgradeable with external power supplies.
The Earmax Pro is an ultra compact OTL (Output Transformer-Less) valve headphone
amplifier that measures just 9cm wide and 9cm deep (plus an external power supply).
It uses ECC88 and ECC81 triodes for the amplification and is designed to drive practically
any impedance of headphone available.
Outwardly this is a simple no frills design, and the sound is all the better for
it. The mid band has the naturalness and liquidity that we’ve all come to expect
from a good valve design, with vocals in particular sounding wonderfully textured
with no unpleasant edge or artifice. The frequency extremes are precise and extended,
with only a little softening of bass lines until the unit has warmed up for 5 to
The Silver Edition is the top of the range version, with metallic finished housing,
chrome plated fittings and a much larger power supply