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With headphone amps available in so many configurations these days, it’s refreshing to find one as simple as the Topping A50s ($199.99, all prices USD). Simple amps are an increasingly good idea, because our ways of accessing music have been changing so fast. I remember about six years ago rolling my eyes while sharing a radio show with music industry guru Ted Cohen, who insisted that streaming would be the future of music distribution. Now I can’t remember the last time I listened to anything other than a streaming service. So while I can’t say how we’ll be listening to music in five years, I’m pretty sure that simple amps like the A50s will continue to work with any new source devices and technologies that might come along.

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It’s amazing how many choices we have in headphone amps these days. I’ve covered portable amps, portable DAC-amps, component DAC-amps, amps with programmable digital signal processing, and more. The new EarMen TR-Amp ($249, all prices USD) fits into the portable DAC-amp category, with a twist: a rechargeable battery. The advantage of the battery is that the amplifier section isn’t dependent on the limited current available through the USB output of a computer or smartphone; the battery provides about ten hours of power.

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Reviewers' ChoiceI’m less demanding than Winston Churchill, at least when it comes to headphone amps. Churchill is often quoted as saying, “My tastes are simple: I am easily satisfied with the best” -- but with headphone amps, I don’t even need the “best.” I just want one that’s powerful enough to drive the notoriously insensitive HiFiMan HE6se headphones, and that has balanced output, because a lot of headphones I get in for review offer a balanced connection. And I want it to be affordably priced, which shouldn’t be too tough considering that even very demanding headphones need only about 1W of power. The new Schiit Magnius ($199 USD) seems like it was made according to my specifications.

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The new Helm Audio DB12 AAAMP follows the path least taken for top-notch sound on the go. Path #1 is a high-quality portable media player, like an Astell&Kern -- nice, but often pricey and complicated to configure. Path #2 is a portable DAC-headphone amp, such as the iFi Audio Hip-dac -- nice, but sometimes clumsy to carry and fussy about formats and connections. Path #3 is a small, analog-input headphone amp, such as the DB12 AAAMP -- an option many audiophiles insist is not nice, because it relies on the DAC inside the source device. And of course, that source device is typically a phone made by a tech company we assume is too colossal to care about audio.

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Reviewers' ChoiceFounded in 2012, UK-based iFi Audio has been busy the past few years, releasing a slew of small audio products designed “to improve your music enjoyment.” iFi makes some lifestyle and hi-fi components -- two of them, the Aurora wireless music system and the Pro iDSD DAC, were recently reviewed by Gordon Brockhouse for SoundStage! Simplifi -- but most of what iFi does centers around improving the sound quality of earphones and headphones. A recent result is the diminutive Hip-dac ($149, all prices USD), designed to enhance the sound of a smartphone or other portable digital device by bypassing its internal DAC, headphone amplifier, and output.

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Reviewers' ChoiceAs I’ve written before, headphone amps are typically more critical to headphone sound quality than speaker amps are to speaker sound quality. That’s largely because there’s so little standardization of headphone impedance and amplifier output impedance. The amp might be even more critical to the sound if you’re using expensive headphones of the type Focal is known for, such as the Utopia ($3999 USD) and Stellia ($3000) designs. So it’s no surprise that Focal launched the Arche ($2500), a high-end DAC-headphone amp with features intended to get the best sound out of the company’s headphones.

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Brent Butterworth 22 hours ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
@ChristianYes, if you experience eardrum suck, being able to turn ANC down should lessen or ...
Christian 23 hours ago Eardrum Suck: The Mystery Solved!
Xm4s have adjustable noise cancellation does that help this issue?
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How would you compare these to the Hifiman Ananda's?
Klaus Christensen 4 days ago The Biggest Lie in Audio
@Brent ButterworthHi Brent and Doug.

Thanks for the effort and extend you are interacting with your readers. ...