The best headphone amp volume knob

What is, in your opinion, the amp with the best volume knob, that is also a pretty good amp?

By best I mean, it’s a pleasure to use. Easy to grab, easy to rotate, easy to get the volume you want.
Ideally, the volume knob is so good you just want to keep adjusting the volume :smiley:

I’m primarily interested in AMPs, but DAC volume knobs also accepted.

For me, the best volume knob I’ve ever used was the Schiit Hel, which also sounded great. But it went up in smoke (literally), and I missed the warranty window, and my current Magni3+ volume knob is underwhelming…

My internet research seems to suggest that the Element II+ is pretty good, sans the low level imbalance some people are getting. The Element III is also getting great reviews, but I’m not sure it’s worth the $$, and I don’t really need a DAC, I want to keep using my Loki.

What do y’all think?
What’s the best amp + volume knob combo for you?
Curious to hear your favorites!

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DAC’s don’t* have a volume knob unless they have an amp integrated into it as well.

*being I stated an absolute and only the Sith deal in absolutes, I am bound to be corrected by a damned Jedi. :stuck_out_tongue:

edit - you also made me remember one of my favorite lines from Propellerheads - Bang On!

'rows and rows of humming machinery. I’ve never seen so many knobs!

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I’ve seen DACs with volume control before :slight_smile: I don’t like it, but it def exists :stuck_out_tongue:

Here’s a random example: E70 Fully Balanced Desktop DAC-TOPPING (

well…technically the volume knob is for the preamp. :wink:

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Or if they have a built in preamp, or it could just control digital volume within the dac as well without a dedicated pre circuit, it’s not all that uncommon

I don’t really have any specific answers since I don’t really care myself in terms of how something feels to use, but if you want something without really the chance of imbalance at higher and lower levels, then you’ll want something either digitally controlled (doesn’t mean it’s digital volume just digitally controlled) or ladder based stepped attenuation or something like that. Although with those you have finite steps which depending on the design will limit how many potential positions you have for volume vs the kinda infinite positions you can have on a traditional analog pot

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@M0N perhaps you can provide some direction / suggestion in my RCA switcher thread? :slight_smile:

A preamp is an amp and do you have an example of something controlling the digital volume with a volume knob on the DAC? That seems like a bad idea to me because it could easily clip the digital signal assuming the digital signal coming in is maxed out.

Technically yes, but different roles (amplifying to line level vs driving higher levels to drive transducers), and generally in terms of just talking about audio, nobody is calling a preamp and amp and an amp a preamp

One example I tried out recently was an EMM DV2 which while being a digital volume (hybrid digital perhaps?) and was actually quite good being digital volume. Digital volume can be good if well implemented and there’s effort put into it to minimize the shortcomings, but personally I always tend to favor analog designs myself. With digital volume the concern isn’t clipping but rather truncating the signal by reducing bit depth (oversimplification) and reducing resolution and dynamic range. You can sort of alleviate some of this by upsampling to lets say 32 or 64 bits and then reduce volume (which I think is what the EMM might do), but still other issues with volume control in the digital realm exist (such as noise not decreasing when you lower volume like on analog volume control implementations and so on, getting past the point of the thread lol).

You’d be surprised, a fair amount of DACs have the option for digital volume control although most typically don’t give you a knob for it (and instead go the button or remote option). Pretty sure the aforementioned topping is an example of that (looks like the E30 and E50 are digital, I think the E70 might be I’m not sure on that one, want to say they use the built in volume control function with the built in ESS chips which are digital)

I looked it up and thats very interesting. I saw this from an article about it.

At a quick glance, the DV2’s VControl is not that big a deal, until you scratch deeper. Most volume controls on DACs are either some kind of volume control in the analogue domain or have used re-quantisation (‘bit-chopping’) to attenuate the signal in the digital domain. Somehow, and EMM Labs is not telling, its VControl attenuates the signal in the digital domain without re-quantisation, thereby making it possibly one of the least sonically deleterious and “completely transparent at any volume setting and has wide attenuation range”, according to EMM’s literature.

so digital “volume control” is purely attenuation and not amplification. That makes a lot more sense.

Yes for digital volume control, it’s taking the max signal and then chopping off bits or other methods to go down, never up (otherwise digital volume control wouldn’t work because of clipping unless you resampled to 32 or 64 bit floating point where things can go above 0dbfs but that’s never done for a dac digital volume control)

Side note, the EMM volume control is not transparent, and it sounds better without it on the DA2v2, but it’s really up there as a solid volume control built into a dac, especially digital

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Great discussion, although sadly not answering my OG question heh!

Do I care about the imbalance? I’ve been eyeing the JDS Element Amp II+, and I’ve been reading that it can be a little imbalanced on the lower end, but I’m not sure it’ll matter. At $250 however I’d be pretty annoyed if it did.

My HP of choice is the E-MU Teak, so pretty low impedance. Currently on a Magni 3+ which sounds overall pretty great, so something similar with a better volume pot would be nice.

Any recommendations on something with a good digital pot? Somewhere in the $100-300 range?

All pots have a bit of imbalance but I wouldn’t really worry about it, since most mfg aren’t going to purposely pick that bad of pots, the times people run into it typically only tend to be when they feed their amps with a super hot signal and/or use really sensitive iems. Wouldn’t be concerned about use with headphones.

The element II+ is is really nice for the money if you prefer that style of volume pot, think it pairs well with the emu teak imo

Would really come down to your price point, what dac you’d be running, and generally what sound you’d be after imo, would likely suggest on focusing on volume control on the amp side at lower price points imo

So far I’ve failed to notice any differences in truly blind, volume matched DAC A/B tests. This resulted in me using an Apple USB-C DAC (the $9 one), and I’ve been pretty happy with it :stuck_out_tongue:

The headphones made by far the biggest difference - it took me quite a few tries to get the sound I wanted, but I finally found it w/ the Teaks about two years ago or so. I also have a Loki for the occasional bass boost. Sometimes I try another pair (I have the 6XX and 177x around), but I always come back to the Teaks.

I think I might give the El II+ a try, will let it brew in my mind for a few days. Thanks!

Check out mimic audio he has a jds labs el2 amp that has a great volume knob for sale.

I have the JDS EL amp and there isn’t any imbalance that I can hear and that knob :scream:…it’s soooo satisfying!.

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for some reason Weird Al’s, ‘it’s all about the Pentium baby’ came to mind…‘it’s all about the knobs baby’.

Hmm, good question! I never really thought about it, but now that the question has been raised, I can say with certainty that the very best volume knob I have ever used is the one attached to the Denon AVR-2808CI. This one feels very luxurious to use in every way.

the best knob is the knob I’m cranking at that very moment…unless it’s bad. if it’s bad, then it’s a terrible knob, not the best knob. dammit, now we’ve got a quandary!

I am a big fan of the volume knob on my Vioelectric v281. Big, smooth metal knob, with a silky smooth turn and just enough detent to let you know where each “click” is without diminishing the turn feel. The knob itself has a set screw so you can adjust it on its post to not scrape the body of the amp, but to ride close anyway.


JUST talking about satisfying knob, nothing I have owned yet surpasses the JDS labs Element series. So big, so smooth, so much range of rotation… :heart_eyes:

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