Headphone amplifier?

Some of the CDs that I own are from the early days of CDs, the days when recording engineers were very careful not to approach the 0dB level. This was a good thing, given the level of experience at the time, but it also means that I have a number of MP3s that are fairly quiet.

My current work machine unfortunately has an inadequate amp on the sound card, so even with all the volume control sliders on 11, I can't get enough volume.

I have a set of Altec Lansing speakers on my desk that can achieve impressive levels of sonic masking, so using the headphone jack on those isn't really a solution.

Does anybody know of a nice headphone amplifier with good sonic performance, preferably with volume control?

Or should I just stuff a decent sound card in the machine, and get better volume and performance? Or use a USB sound card?


Comments (14)

  1. Vurg says:

    These are, however, pricey audiophile models. I own one and they’re really really good:


  2. Chris Kinsman says:

    check these guys out:


    I have a total airhead that is great…

  3. Nicholas Allen says:

    Are you using a software mp3 player like winamp, or playing a hardware mp3 player through your computer sound system?

  4. Gareth Marshall says:

    ArsTechnica reviewed the AirHead and BitHead amps. You can check out their review at http://arstechnica.com/reviews/other/HiFiHeadphones.ars/5

  5. Manish says:

    Check out http://www.z-audio.com/. These are very high quality amps, going for about $70.

    You might want to try Kernel Streaming first. See my article on this at http://www.osnews.com/story.php?news_id=10324.

  6. Glen Gordon says:

    I’ve had very good results using a software solution to this problem

    in the form of MP3Gain: http://mp3gain.sourceforge.net

    Quoting the web page:

    MP3Gain does not just do peak normalization, as many normalizers

    do. Instead, it does some statistical analysis to determine how loud

    the file actually sounds to the human ear. Also, the changes MP3Gain

    makes are completely lossless. There is no quality lost in the change

    because the program adjusts the mp3 file directly, without decoding

    and re-encoding.

  7. ben says:

    I’ve used the Boostaroo, I think its exactly what you’re looking for:


  8. I got the OPTOPlay from AudioTrak. http://www.audiotrak.net/optoplay.htm. It works great. It plugs in USD, and looks like a new sound card. It has either headphone or optical out, and includes an amp. Sounds great, simple, and under $50.

  9. Joel says:

    How about a roll-your-own? This is a nice newbie electronics project that looks damn cool IMHO. The CMoy Headphone Amp:


    Or if you’d rather, there are always some prebuilt CMoy amps on ebay of various qualities.

    I have read a couple comparison reviews of CMoy vs. the expensive amps and folks generally seem to find them comparable, at least until you get into the upper end head amps ($1000+) — those with image processing chips etc.

    Be cautious if shopping for commercially available head amps. Being a decidedly rich hobbyist niche, you can end up paying a lot of money for relatively little functionality.

  10. I talked about improving my computer sound volume a while ago.

    After thinking about it a bit, I decided…

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