A car with four cylinders might be pragmatic, but driving with eight is just more fun. Similarly, headphones connected directly to a computer might work, but they are guaranteed to be more fun with a headphone amplifier. Simply put, music is guaranteed to sound better with proper amplification. Luckily, headphone amps have a healthy, mature market. The recent growth of convenient audio, personal listening, and increased digitization of music has unexpectedly birthed a high-end headphone and desktop-audio industry with plenty of options. Desktop headphone amplifiers exist to satisfy every unique taste and need. It is broadly assumed that separate is better: Keep a digital-to-analog converter (DAC), phono stage, and headphone amp separate, and listeners get more customization and higher-quality sound. However, that is not always necessary. In many cases, integrated versions exist containing top-drawer components to satisfy even the most sophisticated ear. If one is seriously considering upgrading or adding a new desktop amp, it is worth keeping a few questions in mind. Is the audio source a turntable, computer, or CD transport? Is desktop space a concern? Is there a preference for convenience or upgradability? These are common considerations, so each amplifier on this list is selected to satisfy a different taste and create a unique desktop synergy. It is worth noting that each of these amps has fantastic visual appeal to match its equally superior audio. Sophisticated listeners know that the perfect desktop setup has to look the part, too.
If you are ready for upgraded desktop sonics, prepare to treat your ears with this list of the top 10 desktop headphone amplifiers.