What's more fun to drive: a 20-year-old Toyota, or a mint 1972 Porsche 911?

The fact that they both get you from point A to point B is not going to change. But why would one experience be completely thrilling and the other wholly mundane — yet they both perform the same function?

Most people know a little about cars, and can generally answer that question with "a whole lot of reasons."

From design start to design finish, those two cars travelled very different paths. Individually, they were conceived with specific purposes in mind. For the Toyota, reliability and longevity was the focus, as was ease of use and a modicum of comfort features installed.

(Taylor)

For the '72 racing Porsche however, the goals were simple. Speed and power were forefront in the discussion, while comfort took a backseat.

This kind of variability among similar products exists everywhere. Learning everything you can about the differences will help ensure you never make a hasty purchase that might later leave you with regret.

I mention all of this to begin a discussion about headphone amplifiers.

Headphones and earbuds are everywhere. But nine times out of 10 you see those multicolored-connection cables going straight to the smartphone.

Every device with a headphone jack has a headphone amplifier inside. But the question is, is that mini head amp giving you everything you can get out of the music?


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Since every headphone and earbud is different, a manufacturer like Apple has to construct a headphone amp that tries to serve all types.

If there's anything we've learned after moving on from the Hanes "one-size-fits-all" days of the '80s, it's that one size never fits all, and one basic T-shirt shape means clothing looks awful on everyone.

It's 2016. We have the Internet now. Copious options are available to fill every product niche.

So why settle for just the minimal output needed for generic headphones and earbuds? I began with the car analogy because, likewise, a purpose-built headphone amplifier can knock the crap out of the sound that comes straight from the phone. But don't just take it from me — there is so much information out there, and a good starting point is a headphones discussion forum site like www.head-fi.org.

Because I'm interested, I've sat down with a large number of different headphone amplifiers. From little guys like the Audioquest Dragonfly (for computers) or the V-Moda Vamp Verza (which attaches to the back of an iPhone), to audacious displays of luxury like the $4,000 King Amplifier from Audeze.

JDS Labs’ the Element.
JDS Labs' the Element. (Taylor)

For the value-minded, it's my opinion you can't get much better than the $120 O2 amplifier from JDS Labs. That said, their brand-new desktop amplifier, the Element, bests the O2 sonically (which is nearly impossible) ... and just look at that volume knob. Yes please.

Next week I'll keep the amp talk going. Amplifiers are all around us, but many are made to fulfill the minimum requirements and no more. You can do better! Your ears deserve it.

Read more Taylor: coloradodaily.com/columnists.