With more people spending decent money on headphones, and Hi-Res Audio making waves, now's the time to improve the sound coming out of your computer. A USB headphone amplifier is the way to do it.
The audio circuitry on a laptop or phone is built to cost and size constraints, not because it does the job well. If you use headphones costing, say, £50 or more, you'll be amazed at the difference you can hear from using accompanying hardware that's built for purpose.
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We've cherry-picked the best headphone amps that'll plug into a PC, Mac or smartphone, suck your digital music through their built-in DACs (digital-to-analogue converters) and squirt it out of their jack sockets. Some are for home listening only and need plugging into the mains, while others are ready for on-the-go use, with their own internal battery or the ability to draw power from your mobile device's charging socket.
NuForce uDAC-3 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £100 | Now £72.99
Audioengine D3 at Amazon.co.uk | Was £115 | Now £99
NuForce uDAC-3 at Amazon.com | Was £116 | Now $107
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We tested using a wide range of headphones, from mid-range in-ears up to the astonishing Grado GS1000e over-ears and Noble Audio Kaiser 10 custom-fitted IEMs. Music files were everything from old 192kbps MP3s to 24-bit 192KHz Hi-Res Audio, as well as streaming services such as Spotify and TIDAL.
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Read on to find out which amps gave us real sonic delight, or use the dropdown menu on the picture above to head straight to the model you're interested in.