Chord unveils mini headphones amp with some serious audio chops

the chord anni headphones amp with a pair of headphones plugged in
(Image credit: Chord)

Chord may be best known for its fantastic portable DACs, but the company's latest model is a mini desktop headphones amp, which it says is the most advanced small amplifier on the planet.

The Chord Anni works with both headphones and speakers, and is designed to deliver their "full potential", as well as allowing you to enjoy hi-res audio streaming.

This is apparently made possible by the use of the company's proprietary technology, which was first unveiled in the £90,000 (about $120,000 / AU$170,000) ULTIMA amplifier system.

Happily, the Chord Anni isn't quite so expensive, coming in at $1,795 / £1,195 / AU$2,500 – still, that's no small amount to spend on an amplifier. 

Thanks to twin inputs, you can use the Chord Anni to connect two devices at one time, such as a record player and a laptop – and the company says it's capable of driving any headphones, from earbuds to power-hungry reference cans.

the chord anni headphones amp plugged into a pair of headphones

(Image credit: Chord)

Analysis: what's the point in buying a headphones amp?

Modern headphones are getting better and better, with many boasting incredible soundstages, unrivalled detail, and the ability to play hi-res audio files in great detail. With today's cans being capable of so much, why would you want to buy an external amp to go with them?

Generally, if you're using a pair of headphones for casual listening, you don't; however, if you're using a pair of audiophile reference headphones, an amp can make a big difference to their sound, improving their clarity and detail. 

That's because these headphones tend to have a high impedance rating – in other words, they need a higher voltage to power them than your laptop or smartphone can provide, and won't sound loud enough without an external amp.

This isn't a problem you'll find with consumer headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4 – but even these cans could benefit from a little extra oomph. If you don't want to spend lots of money on a headphones amp, a portable DAC is a good way to eke out a little extra detail from your music without breaking the bank – and you can use them on the go. 

Some, like the Audiolab M-DAC Nano, even come with wireless connectivity, so you can connect it cable-free to your smartphone or Bluetooth MP3 player of choice, and plug a pair of wired headphones into the Audiolab unit. That's a great option if you want to use a pair of wired headphones with a phone that doesn't have a 3.5mm audio port, which is an increasingly common issue for audiophiles. 

To some, a headphones amp or DAC is a crucial bit of kit that they wouldn't dream of living without. For most, it's a neat extra that helps us to get the most out of our headphones – and if you fall into the latter camp, smaller models like the Chord Anni could be a great introduction into the world of amps.

Olivia Tambini

Olivia was previously TechRadar's Senior Editor - Home Entertainment, covering everything from headphones to TVs. Based in London, she's a popular music graduate who worked in the music industry before finding her calling in journalism. She's previously been interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject of multi-room audio, chaired panel discussions on diversity in music festival lineups, and her bylines include T3, Stereoboard, What to Watch, Top Ten Reviews, Creative Bloq, and Croco Magazine. Olivia now has a career in PR.