Like so many guitar gadgets, headphone amps have come a long way since their first introduction. Early headphone amps were little more than novelty items, but many of today’s examples can now be considered to be serious equipment, with features like loopers, drum tracks and multi effects now commonplace.
In this guide I’ll be looking at the 7 best headphone amplifiers for guitar on sale in 2021. Each amp will be reviewed based on sound quality, features, and battery life.
Our Top Three Picks
The Fender Mustang Micro is our best overall choice. Anybody looking for a well made, feature packed headphone amp can have it all with this model. Featuring a range of amp models and FX lifted directly from larger Fender Mustang amps, there are literally hundreds of sound combinations that are possible in this tiny, pocket sized package.
The Ammoon PockRock is our best value pick, and thanks to some clever design, it also operates as a standalone multi FX unit, too. It comes with multiple effects modules, drum beats, and operates both on battery and mains power. At any price this is a great choice for any player looking to scale down without sacrificing on versatility and portability.
The Line 6 Pocket Pod is our editor’s pick – this is the model to go for is money isn’t an object and you’re looking to get the most possible features and a recognized brand name. It’s loaded with a huge number of presets, amp models, cabinet models and more. It works as a headphone amp or a multi FX unit just like the larger Line 6 Pod models.
Fender Mustang Micro – Our Top Pick
Some of Fender’s most iconic tones in a tiny, rechargeable package
The Fender Mustang Micro is the smallest Amplifier in the Fender lineup. Somehow Fender managed to squeeze their Mustang GTX amplifier into this bug style headphone amp and were still able to include 12 of their classic amp models in, too. In addition to a selection of popular amp models, you can also choose from 13 different effects models, leading to dozens of possible combinations. It features a standard 1/8” headphone output, meaning you can use pretty much any studio headphones or wired in ear monitors. If you want to record, the Mustang Micro makes it easy with its USB-C interface, simply plug into your computer and record using your favorite software.
In addition, the Mustang Micro features Bluetooth streaming, which allows you to connect to your phone, tablet or laptop and jam along with your favorite songs, without being tied to a cable. The Bluetooth functionality works great and suffers from no noticeable latency. As for battery life, the Mustang Micro will get between 4 and 6 hours on a charge from its on board lithium ion battery. It uses USB-C charging, which is both fast and convenient. The ¼” jack plug secures firmly, and also articulates, which makes it suitable for pretty much any guitar layout. When you aren’t using it, it folds flat for easy storage and transportation.
Verdict: The Fender Mustang Micro surpassed all expectations. It produces tones that punch well above its weight class and are for the most part indistinguishable from the larger Mustang GTX combo amps. I was blown away by the overall sound quality, and can only deduce from the features and price, that Fender is out to disrupt the market with this incredible headphone amp.
Ammoon PockRock – Best Budget Option
An unbelievable feature set at an incredible price
The Ammoon PockRock was a huge surprise. It’s not often that a product from a relatively unknown brand can rival big names in both quality and sound, but this little belt clip amp did just that. This tiny little headphone amp is cleverly molded into the shape of a guitar, and comes with all of the functionality of a multiFX pedal. You get 5 different effect modules, each with 15 different effects, which gives an enormous number of combinations. It also comes with 16 preset patches and space for 16 custom patches, allowing you to create your own bespoke FX, which is really an incredible feature at this price point.
Continuing the trend of surprising features, the PockRock even has a bank of 40 different drum tracks for you to play along to. It features aux in for backing tracks, too. It runs on a pair of AAA batteries, but it can also run on mains power, and even comes with a 9v DC adapter, something not often found even in higher end devices these days. In addition to being a headphone amplifier, this unit features an aux out port, allowing you to play through a regular speaker or amplifer.
Verdict: Overall, the Ammoon PockRock is a fun headphone amp with performance that way surpasses its price. It’s sturdily built, has a ton of customization options, and the sounds quality is excellent. No matter what style of music you play, the PockRock has tones you’ll love, and that’s why it’s so deserving of its place as our top value pick.
Line 6 Pocket Pod – KGR Editor’s Choice
Big amp performance without the size and weight
Line 6 is one of the go-to brands when it comes to quality solid state amps, and it doesn’t just apply to their full size products. The Line 6 Pocket Pod is a powerhouse, coming with 32 amp models and 16 cabinet models to compliment the 16 effects it ships with. The tonal variety that this allows makes this so much more than a practice amp – you could realistically make this a primary amplifier. Not only is there an awesome selection of sounds built in, but ownership also gives you access to free Line 6 editing tools and a tone library to update your Pocket Pod as you see fit.
Physically, it’s around the size of a hand held tuner, so it will easily fit into any gig bag, or into your pocket directly, and it does come with a belt clip for convenience while playing. Speaking of tuners, it features a built in chromatic tuner with mute mode to kill output for tuning on stage. The LCD display is clear, and very easy to navigate thanks to the 4 way navigation pad. You’ll have the option to run this amp from either 4 AAA batteries, or by a 9v DC adapter, which is sold separately.
Verdict: If you’re not concerned about keeping the price down and you’re looking for a fully loaded, 6oz headphone amplifier that thinks it’s a 240 watt Line 6 Spider, you’re looking in the right place with the Line 6 Pocket Pod. It boasts artist designed tones, classic amp profiles, and will start conversations when people see what it’s capable of.
A simple to use headphone amp with great tones
The Valeton Rushead Max is a great little bug style headphone amp for budget conscious players who aren’t interested in hundreds of FX and just want a good quality sound with a couple of options to warm up the tone. It comes with delay and reverb for ambience, and flanger, tremolo, and chorus for modulation. There are built in knobs to control the intensity of these FX, which was a nice touch – often these headphone amps have button adjustments, but the dials allow a lot of control and a tactile feel. In addition to these FX, you can switch between clean, overdrive and distortion.
For practicality, it charges by USB and runs for about 5 hours after a charge. Being rechargeable, most people will save money on batteries, and this prevents the issue of not having fresh batteries when you need them most! The interface is extremely simple, with analog controls for all functions. You change between the available FX using a physical switch, and modify those settings using rotary dials – while some do enjoy digital controls, the feeling of analog switchgear does feel more like a regular amp and would definitely be helpful if you were trying to use this headphone amp for live performance through a speaker.
Verdict: The Valeton Rushead Max is a strong performer and is best suited to guitarists who don’t need, or don’t want digital controls. Both build quality and sound quality are great, but it would definitely benefit from a folding jack as having it fixed in one position could cause compatibility issues with certain guitars fitted with unusually located output sockets.
The sounds of the British invasion in the palm of your hand
The Vox Amplug AC30 is a tiny solid state replica of one of the most legendary amps of all time, the Vox AC30. While you won’t be fooling anybody into thinking you’re playing through a high end tube amp, you will be able to enjoy the sounds of a cranked AC30 and all of the sparkly highs that it’s famous for through the convenience of your headphones. For texture, it offers 9 different effects, including 3 chorus tones, 3 delay settings, 3 levels of reverb. While there headphone amps with more FX built in, with this Amplug AC30, you’re getting a relatively faithful replica of an exotic amp, and the built in FX compliment that modeling rather than mask it.
This unit solves the issue that many of the bug style headphone amps suffer from – fixed position jacks. The Amplug AC30’s jack rotates through 180 degrees, making it easy to transport, and ensuring compatibility with pretty much any guitar. It’s non rechargeable, but it squeezes a massive 17 hours of battery life out of its 2 AAA batteries, so you shouldn’t need to change them all too often. To help preserve battery life, it has an auto off function that will turn the power off if no activity is detected for more than 10 minutes. If you want to play along with a backing track, it does offer an aux in, and for occasions where you want to line out to a speaker, simply plug in a 1/8” cable to the output jack socket.
Verdict: The VOX Amplug AC30 has a big name to live up to, and while functionality is limited, everything it does do, it does extremely well. Build quality is excellent, and the tones are phenomenal. Operation is straight forward, but on the downside, to switch between FX, you do have to cycle through the various settings using a single button, which can make it difficult to establish exactly which setting you’re on. Besides that, it looks cool, and is a great all round performer.
Impressive battery life and a long list of features
The Kithouse B6 is a feature packed bug style headphone amp. It comes with reverb, flanger, chorus, wah, overdrive, and of course, a clean setting. The clean was surprisingly good, but the biggest surprise was the overdrive which provides a lovely crunch without excessive distortion. One of the standout features of the B6 is the Bluetooth in function, which allows you to stream music or backing tracks into the amp to jam along through your headphones.
This is a rechargeable amp that runs for a little over 8 hours on a full charge, making it the longest lasting of the rechargeable amps on test. To cycle through the various FX on this amp, there is a single side mounted button, and to adjust the levels, there is a slider on the front. Kithouse did outfit this headphone amp with display lights that show at a glance which setting you’re currently running, which is definitely a nice touch.
Verdict: The Kithouse B6 is a genuinely good headphone amp. Tonally speaking, it sounds good, and looks-wise it’s pretty unique, especially with the wood effect trim. It’s well made, too, although I do feel a dial would have been a better choice for level control than the slider they fitted. It’s one of the easiest headphone amps to use, and the fact that it offers Bluetooth input at such a low price is quite remarkable.
All you need to shred on the move
Donner have made a name for themselves in the budget guitar equipment niche, but their equipment continues to surpass expectations and that’s why the Donner Heavy Metal headphone amp made it into this list. As far as form factor goes, it’s a bug style amp with a fixed position jack and a tiny body, measuring just 1.5” x 3.4”. It does offer 5 hours of battery life on a single charge of the built in lithium ion battery, which should be plenty to make it through a session.
As for tone, you can probably guess from the name that this is voiced for metal. It offers incredible distortion for such a small unit, which isn’t too common in the headphone amp genre. The level of distortion is controlled by rotary dials at the top of the unit, which alter tone, volume and gain. You can turn down the gain to play clean, but as this amp is voiced for metal, it’s not a truly clean sound – something to bear in mind if you are considering this amp. For FX, there is a chorus function which adds some good ambience to the sound. If you want to play with a backing track, this model does feature an aux in port.
Verdict: The Donner Heavy Metal headphone amp offers great tones for anybody looking for a darker sound. The majority of headphone amps aim for mass appeal, and offer a wide range of tones, but Donner have chosen to drill down to a very specific niche and have made a great little headphone amp for those who strictly play metal.
In many ways, shopping for a headphone amplifier isn’t much different to shopping for a regular amp, after all, the features of the best headphone amps are largely similar to their larger counterparts, albeit compressed to a smaller scale. Some of the features available on today’s headphone amps include:
Metronomes keep a steady rhythm in the form of continuous clicking. They are great for practicing scales and strumming rhythms.
Some headphone amps now carry numerous drum tracks, and some even allow tempo modification. Drum tracks provide a more realistic beat than metronomes do, and are great for practicing whole songs, or even as accompaniment for solo artists.
Loopers record short sections of your playing and repeat them in a loop. Much like drum tracks, they can be used for self accompaniment, and can even be used for creating experimental sounds.
Having access to a tuner built into your headphone amp is very convenient. There’s no need to worry about clip on tuners coming off your headstock, and there’s no need to buy additional line-in tuners.
Effects, or FX, are what separate modern headphone amps from older versions. In the past, headphone amps only played dry signals and produced bland tones. They were OK for practice but were far from inspiring. New headphone amps with built in FX have a range of sounds and tones also found in standalone pedals and units, but in a much more convenient form factor.
What To Look For In The Best Headphone Amps?
A prime consideration when choosing your headphone amp is which style, or form factor, you’d like to use. The most common headphone amps are referred to as bug style. Bug style amps have a bult in 1/4” jack and plug directly into your guitar without the need for cables. They are the most portable of all the headphone amps because they are completely standalone (save for your headphone cord).
Alternatively, there are belt clip headphone amps. They tend to look like a mini multiFX unit, and for all intents and purposes, they are. The key difference between these units and an actual multiFX processor is that they have a built in amplifier with a headphone out socket that means they can be used with or without a standalone amplifier. They lose some practicality over the bug style units due to the fact that you need to run a cable from your guitar to the unit, but they gain it back and more in functions and features.
Most headphone amp users understand that they aren’t going to rival the tone of a Fender Bluesbreaker with a sub $200 solid state headphone amp, but there’s no reason for the tone not to be decent. Some headphone amps have been designed to suit certain genres, so, for example, if you play mostly metal, there is a headphone amp to suit, the same goes for blues, classic rock, or pretty much any other genre you could think of.
When considering any portable gear, you need to think about power. Most headphone amps are battery powered, although some do have mains power options, too. Battery powered amps will either require disposable batteries or will be equipped with a permanent rechargeable battery. Remember, while the initial cost of purchasing those that require AA or AAA batteries may be cheaper, they will require regular replacements. Conversely, if your amp is rechargeable only and it dies during play, you may have to stop until it’s charged again.
Headphone amps offer a lot of possibilities for almost every player. Not only are they a way to practice without disturbing others, but some can genuinely hold up to semi professional, or even professional use should the need arise.
They can go literally anywhere, and with the advancement of modern technology, they sound frankly amazing. It is worth adding the caveat that the end sound quality will depend heavily on the quality of your headphones.
If you’re using budget earbuds, you’ll lose a significant amount of fidelity – if you can, try to play your headphone amp through a pair of studio monitor headphones or in-ear monitors for best results.
So if you’re in the market for a headphone amp – check out our favourites: