The bedroom guitarist is common all over the globe. Many people need to find a way to express their love for the guitar while still maintaining a healthy relationship with their neighbors. It is where the small headphone amplifiers come in.
Most of these amps are made after some bigger successful version. They will be aiming to resemble the sound of those bigger amps as close as possible. Sure, some of the feelings are lost when you can’t play as loud as you want, but these headphone amplifiers are the go-to alternative to come as close as possible to achieving a top-quality “bedroom” sound.
The headphone amps also suit a traveling musician as you can pretty much just pocket it and pick it up anywhere to practice. In general, these small amplifiers are affordable, usually costing 30-60 dollars. Headphone amps will generally come with a headphone output and an aux input. The aux input is typically used for jamming to backing tracks etc. We are going to go through some good beginner headphone amplifiers in this listing.
There are small differences between these amplifiers, which make them each unique. Little things like looks, different FX knobs, durability, etc. can make all the difference from person to person. For more detailed information on what a headphone amplifier is and how it works compared to a ”real” amplifier, look at the buyer’s guide at the bottom!
|VOX AP2AC amPlug 2 AC30||
The All in One
|Valeton Rushead Headphone Amp||
Good for All Genres
|Blackstar amPlug2 FLY||
The Simplest One
|Electro-Harmonix Headphone Amp||
Best for Metal
|Donner Guitar Headphone Amp||
First on this list is the Vox AC30. If you have ever looked at different guitar amps, you probably recognize this small amplifier’s iconic look. It is modeled after the classic Vox AC30 and does a fair job at recreating its sound. This one is the only amplifier that is made for both bass and guitar in this listing. It comes at an affordable price and has a bunch of different models that are made specifically for different styles of playing like blues, rock, and so on. It is powered by AAA batteries and has an output for headphones and aux input.
The amPlug 2 AC30 has many little features that make it an all-around wonderful choice for practicing. It has an FX button that gives the player chorus, delay, or reverb. It has three very standard dials for volume, tone, and gain. The plug on the AC30 is very flexible. It is good because most guitar inputs are shaped differently. The power button on the AC30 is smart, as it turns your amplifier off after 40 minutes of inactivity. It is useful in comparison to the standard on-off switch where it is far too easy to forget for some people that they left their devices on.
All in all, the AC30 is at the top of the hierarchy of headphone amplifiers, where it produces very high-quality sound and comes at an affordable price.
Next on this list, we have a small amp from Valeton. This amplifier is pretty interesting and comes with a lot of different options for such a small unit. First of all, it has a USB charge option, which is very useful for someone looking to save some cash on batteries. Five knobs are on the Valeton Rushead; they control level, tone, ambient, mod, and gain. It has the option to switch between clean, overdrive, and distorted amplifier modes. From the ambient knob, the player can control the level of either delay, reverb, or delay+reverb that they want. On top of that, the Rushead also has a chorus, tremolo, and flanger built into it. It is truly an all-in-one headphone amplifier.
The Freedom of Choice
The Rushead from Valeton certainly opens up the door to an infinite amount of sounds right in the palm of the player’s hands. It sounds good, but for some, it might not be so. Too many options can paradoxically lead to not being able to choose anything at all. In some cases, when a player is going to practice, it suits that player’s style more to have a very simple interface where they can just plug the amplifier in and play right away without having to flip around and look for the perfect setting. The Rushead is for the player that feels stimulated by having many different options to flip through. It is a durable unit that comes at a slightly above average price for a headphone amp. Just like the other amps that will be featured, the Rushead also has an input for aux and an output for headphones.
Next is another mini-amp that is modeled by a very well respected amp producer. Blackstar has a lot of experience in the field of making small amplifiers that produce a satisfying sound. The amPlug2 FLY is no exception to that. It comes at a slightly above average price. It has three knobs that control volume, ISF and gain. The ISF stands for infinite shape feature and allows the player some more control when shaping their sound. The ISF works alongside the standard ”tone” control that you might find on other amplifiers. The Blackstar amPlug Fly has a built-in delay, reverb, and chorus. The Blackstar FLY has the same functions as the VOX amPlug featured earlier here. Smart on/off button, aux input and a foldable plug. It has a clean, crunch, and lead channel, so no genre is a problem.
Similarities with the VOX AC30
Since this amplifier is so similar to the VOX AC30 featured earlier, it might be a tough choice if you would have to decide between them. Both manufacturers have demos to listen to how the amplifiers perform, having unique sounds despite looking and functioning similarly to one another. The Vox amPlug is good at recreating the classic Vox amplifier sounds, and the Blackstar amPlug is slightly better at maintaining clarity at high levels of gain. It is why the Blackstar might be better suited for the high gain rock/metal type player and the Vox amPlug for the more clean rock/blues player. They are, however, both capable of doing any genre justice.
Electro-Harmonix or EHX is known as a brand for making quality guitar gear. Their niche is more towards stompboxes that feature various effects. The Headphone amp from EHX is more like a speaker, though. It is the simplest amp to use in this listing because it has only one knob. The EHX headphone amp is not of low quality, though. Any EHX pedal can be trusted to produce very high-quality sound. But for the price it comes at and looking at other options on the market that come at the same price, it is tough to see why this amp is better than another. However, it is extremely simple and straightforward, which can be a positive thing. A single 9v battery powers the amp.
So far, all of the amplifiers’ features have been pretty up-to-date when it comes to technology. When it comes to the mini-amplifiers, the trend is having the 6.5mm instrument cable built into the amp itself. It allows for a smaller type of rig so that you don’t have to take up space with an instrument cable. However, the EHX headphone amp does not have this feature. Instead, it has a standard input for a 6.5mm instrument cable like any typical amplifier and is driven by a 9v battery. It will take away some of the convenience and ability to use the amp anytime, anywhere, but maybe it will add some more authenticity to make it feel like a real amplifier. However, the market speaks for itself. Overall this amplifier is a neat thing, but it feels like a relic. Many other options will do better jobs at lower prices. However, it is extremely easy to use, not too pricey, and produces a good, clean practice tone.
Last on this list is the odd-ball. It is a pocket amp designed by Donner, and it is made mainly for the metal in mind. It has knobs for tone, drive and volume. By default, this amplifier has a pretty high level of gain and distortion, but it can certainly be used for any music genre where you are looking for that extra distortion. Just like the last listing, this amplifier seems to be a little old school. In the instructions manual, you can find instructions on how the auxiliary input allows you to jam along if you have a CD or Mp3 player!
But just because it looks a little outdated does not mean it won’t do a good job. It is a very cheap amp and comes with the basic features of a headphone amp as well as some built-in effects. It is the second only amplifier that has the ability to charge via USB, something that can come in very handy. The Donner Headphone amp is modeled after the heavily respected Soldano SLO100.
Difference in Pocket-Sized Amps
The bigger the amplifier gets, the more important it becomes to choose a fitting amplifier for a specific music style. But it cannot be avoided; even with these small pocket amplifiers selecting the one with the right sound is very important. If you don’t play distorted guitar, you don’t need to purchase an amplifier with a very high gain limit. That extra gain can be used to make the clean-tone sweeter instead. On the other hand, if you do not play many clean parts, don’t try to buy a clean amplifier and max it out. Many amps already have a predetermined genre where they are used best, just like with instruments.
Headphone Amp for Guitar – Buyers’ Guide
In the buyer’s guide, the goal is to take any foreign terms or more complicated technical problems and explain them. However, in the case of the headphone amplifiers, there are not so many terms and different technical things to figure out, so this section will be brief.
An amplifier in general terms is a circuit which amplifies a signal and makes the output signal louder than the input. For guitar amplifiers, the signal becomes louder and gets affected by the guitar amp’s unique sound characteristics. It is where different brands come in and get to have their say. As a signal passes through a guitar amplifier, it goes through three main components: preamp, power amp, and a speaker. The first thing that the signal passes is the preamp. Here the signal gets shaped with a different tone and volume controls. The signal then goes to the power amp, which outputs a stronger signal with enough voltage to power a speaker. Finally, the speaker receives a signal from the power amp and converts the electrical energy into an audible sound. It is what is happening inside the headphone amplifiers, although the signal usually goes to the 3.5mm headphone output instead of a speaker.
Knowing the basics of how a guitar amplifier works, we will look at some of the controls that you might find on different amplifiers and explain in more detail what they mean.
Notoriously used to overpower guitar amplifiers and create the first sounds of distortion known to music, the gain is now commonly used as a term all across the world of music. If you turn up or turn down the gain knobs on a guitar amplifier, you tweak the sound that goes into the preamp, not the overall loudness of your signal. The volume knobs do exactly that, tweak the overall loudness of the output signal. The gain creates distortion by overloading the preamp and shapes the tone of the sound that is output from the amp. It is why we can have something like a heavily distorted signal with high gain but with a very low output volume.
Briefly put, reverb is what happens when sound hits a hard surface and bounces back to the source/listener. Amplifiers with built-in reverb try to simulate naturally occurring reverbs. There is no reverb that is better than the other; it is really one of the biggest matters of taste within the music. Having a big, boomy reverb will make the instrument sound like it is being played from afar, while a small, short reverb would make the sound feel closer.
Chorus is another effect commonly featured in the basic headphone amplifiers. This effect is created by taking the original dry signal that the guitar produces, pitch/time-shifting it, and blending the pitch/time-shifted signal back in with the original dry signal. This effect makes the guitar sound slightly out of tune and shimmery; it can really help make the instrument stand out more in a mix.
The delay takes the original dry signal, shifts it in time, and sends it back into the mix. It is as basic as it gets. With the typical headphone amplifier, you won’t get that much control over altering your effects’ inner workings, but rather an introduction to them.
With the headphone amplifiers, it is anyone’s game more than it is for a bigger amplifier or, say, purchasing a new instrument. But the different choices matter nonetheless. The headphone amplifiers have flooded the market recently as more and more people want to practice discreetly. Having something other than the dry electric guitar sound will greatly impact how the instrument feels/sounds overall. It is why even a simple amplifier such as the EHX model featured in this listing still is a viable choice. The mini headphone amps will continue to evolve, and at the forefront of this evolution are the amplifiers such as the Vox AC30 and Blackstar FLY. Iconic looks, cheap, technologically up-to-date and excellent sounding. These two are at the top of the current market. One is more geared towards clean sounds and another one towards high gain distortion. Either way, you could use them to practice anything. Whether you chose to go for the standardized headphone amp models or something a bit more out of the box, it will liven up your practice.