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PreSonus HP4

Headphone Amplifier

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The Best Headphone Amplifiers

PreSonus HP4

  • Don Makoviney
  • Last Updated: January 22, 2016

When you start getting more people in your recording studio, you'll need a way for them all to listen in headphones together - whether it is tracking instruments, vocals, or mixing - via a headphone amp. The Presonus HP4 is the best one for most home and project studios. It as independent left and right channel outs, is loud and distortion-free. We also have some rack-mountable and budget options in our guide.


Table of Contents

Why you need a great headphone amp

You’re probably aware of the headphone monitoring available on your digital audio interface or mixer. The downside to those is they can under-drive your headphones, which messes with your gain staging.

Single channel headphone amps are great for audiophiles – music listeners.

Multi-channel headphone amps are great in your home recording studio because you can have two, four, or more headphones attached, all listening to the same mix, or tracking the same song. And again, these levels will be strong and not introduce any distortion, clipping, or unnatural sound coloration.

Check out this example of headphone amp usage from practical-music-production.com:

studio-headphone-amp-diagram

TL;DR – A headphone amplifier is good for getting a good headphone signal to everyone in the room.

What to look for in a great headphone amp

A good headphone amplifier will deliver sufficient volume with low distortion—and distortion is the prime contributor to listener fatigue.

For the purposes of your recording studio, you’ll want 4 or more outputs. Even if you’re not always going to have four people in the room listening to a mix, or tracking at the same time, it’s good to have four. They’re relatively inexpensive, and the extra outputs will come in handy more often than you might imagine.

Our pick should also have a reputation for reliability. (Duh!)

Our pick

best-headphone-amplifier-presonus-hp4

If you’ve hunted around online much (go ahead, we won’t be offended 😉 ), you’ll quickly see the Presonus HP4 headphone amp is universally regarded as the perfect combination of price and quality.

One reason it’s great, is the HP4 uses two balanced mono inputs, which is almost always what comes out of your mixer or audio interface. Many of the smaller and less expensive models just use one unbalanced stereo input – you know, like a headphone jack. This means one less adapter cable – you know the Y-cable that goes from headphone 3.5mm stereo jack to two RCA jacks.

Another reason it’s great is that it’s straight up reliable. If you look at the Amazon reviews, you’ll see nothing but glowing reports for nearly a decade. These are the kind of products that are so easy to recommend on our site.

User reviews

This Guitar Center customer noted:

“To my amazement, your HP4 sounded as good as both of my hi-fi stereo heaphone amps. Very very clean and loud. I can’t believe you put 150 mw per channel, @52 ohms, to four headphone outputs and offer such a quality unit for very little over $100.” (M. Burke via email)

Over at Sweetwater Sound, a reviewer says:

It easily does exactly what it is supposed to do and it does it well. Mine has driven 3 low-impedance headsets cleanly and PLENTY loud. I’m impressed. Get one…! Everything I have used from PreSonus has worked very well.

And these Amazon reviews concur:

I have to agree with the product description. It offers clarity: great sound with little noise. I picked one up for my home project studio…I have my rig set up in my living room and use my bedroom as a default iso booth…so I use this to send a separate cue mix to the “talent”. Works great…good price.

Loud and no distortion:

Talk about power. DAMN! This headphone amp is AMAZING! I find myself having to tell the artist to sometimes lower tbeir volume because of headphone bleed that i can see and hear. It amazes me how so many artist like super loud headphones while they are recording. I think my next buy will be closed earphones. Lol

From a self-described “picky sound guy”:

1st Off, I’ve made a living mixing records that you may have actually heard on the radio. That said, I was VERY impressed with this little box. Coming direct out the main outputs of a ProTools rig in the B room where I’m ripping vinyl 24/96 (you’ve got to hear it to beleive it-digital was a lie till 2009!)this little box sounds crystal clear, has way more than enough oomph to drive about anything, and seems made quite well- a metal box with good feeling knobs and buttons. The on/off power switch built into the power cord is a bit cheeky, but it’s better than not having it at all in my use of it. For under $100 it’s a no brainer-it’s actually better than most other Presonus items I’ve had experiences with (digi pre’s, digital mixer, etc)-that stuff is pretty much Guitar Center semi-pro but decent enough value. I would have to triple my $$$ to get anything better if at that. If you need one, this is THE one…Just note it has separate L/R inputs and outs-you can not take a TRS headphone cable out of the front onf a semi-pro piece of gear so adapters (yuk) or custom made cords may be needed.

Reviews across every website, and hands-on usage here at MSCGR, make the Presonus HP4 headphone amplifier the one to get.

Budget Options

You’ll be pleased to know that if $130 is out of your price range, the Behringer HA400 is almost as good as the Presonus, and only around $30. Many people like to bash on Behringer for quality, or building cheap knockoffs of other manufacturer’s products. While those things may or may not be true, the Behringer headphone amp is solid and worth checking out. I’ve had one for over a decade and still use it on a weekly basis:

behringer-ha400-stereo-headphone-amplifier

If you’ve been shopping around much, you may have been looking at many others in that price range. The reason the Behringer is better is because it’s a powered headphone amp – others in this price range are not. That means with other models you will lose power as the signal is split four ways.

The Behringer amp has active circuitry, so each channel gets boosted up to it’s original level.

If you don’t know what this means right now, don’t worry – it’s good. 🙂

If you don’t believe me, check out the bajillion glowing reviews over on Amazon.

The Step Up

If you’re looking at headphone amps for the first time, our pick will offer you years of reliable monitoring and tracking.

Eventually, you may end up getting rack-mounted gear. If you do, Presonus’s rack mounted HP60 gets you an extra couple of channels, as well as a sleek rack-mountable design:

presonus-hp60-best-headphone-amp2

 

 

Conclusion

There’s some great headphone amps for a variety of studio styles and processes. All are affordable. Figure out which works best for you and move up or down the scale from there.

Did we miss anything? Let us know.

Happy recording!


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The Best Headphone Amplifiers

PreSonus HP4

The Best Headphone Amplifiers

Important Specs

Dimensions 5.5 x 1.8 x 5.5 inches
Weight 3.5 lbs
Input Channels 1
Output Channels 4
Analog Inputs 2 x TRS
Analog Outputs 4 x 1/4" (Headphones), 2 x TRS (Thru)
Form Factor Desktop
more specs

Synopsis:

The Presonus HP4 is the best headphone amp for most people. Loud and distortion free, with tons of glowing reviews from hobbyists and professionals alike. If you need to get a signal to multiple listeners without sacrificing the line level, the HP4 by Presonus is the one to get.

Behringer HA400

Great budget option

Behringer HA400

Super reliable with active circuitry will ensure you get good headphone signal to everyone in the room. If you're on a budget, this is the one to get. We have one here we've used for almost 10 years. Trust us, it's great. And only $30.

Presonus HP60

Rackmount, and more channels

Presonus HP60

This rack-mountable unit will get you two more channels. Highly regarded and recommended.

- M
Originally published: January 8th, 2016

Important Specs

Dimensions 5.5 x 1.8 x 5.5 inches
Weight 3.5 lbs
Input Channels 1
Output Channels 4
Analog Inputs 2 x TRS
Analog Outputs 4 x 1/4" (Headphones), 2 x TRS (Thru)
Form Factor Desktop
more specs



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