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The popularity of premium, high-end headphones continues to grow in 2014. Where the last few years were defined by colorful and large body headphones that put more focus on looks than sound, today’s market is one that sees value in sound. As we have said time and time again, headphones can sound amazing while looking great. But headphones sound even better when amplified. Here, we review Meridian’s high-end Prime headphone amplifier.

With the rise of premium headphones themselves, the amplification market has also seen growth. Enthusiasts have no shortage of forums and blogs dedicated to all-things headphone amps, but this channel may not appeal all, which is why we do our best to share only our favorite products in the category.

England’s Meridian Audio and its founder, Allen Boothroyd, have been innovating in high-end audio since the end of the 1970s. The most recent addition to their arsenal is the small, desktop friendly Meridian Prime: a headphone amplifier + DAC (digital to analog converter) built with Meridian’s proprietary ASP (analogue spatial processing) technology geared “to deliver more immersive, authentic sound to any headphone [while] providing a more natural spatial soundstage” that helps bring the open qualities of room speaker sound into your ears.

What makes the Meridian Prime visually appealing is its small, no-screw, six by six by two-inch metal enclosure that tucks nicely under your monitor, taking up almost no desktop in the process. Those looking to inspect the internals of the Prime may open the hood via a magnetic release mechanism; quite a nice feature that keeps the overall look of the Prime clean.

Sonically, the Meridian Prime headphone amplifier delivers some of the best sound we have heard from a device this small. Those listening to most mid and high-end headphones will applaud how clean, transparent and black between the notes the Prime sounds. Computer users that directly connect to the Prime via USB benefit from upsampling as high as 176/192kHz (that’s much higher than the fidelity of today’s Compact Disc). The experience is nothing short of beautiful.

As mentioned, the Prime includes ASP modes to spatially mix the right and left channels for a more natural, loudspeaker sound in your headphones. We recommend trying both modes. You can also turn off ASP at any time.

The elevated quality of the Meridian Prime does come at a premium: at $2,000, the device may be higher than what some are willing to pay for amplified sound. But the money is well worth it for those that require and demand the very best sound from their headphones. The Meridian Prime is a truly special piece of audio hardware.

Photography: Thomas Welch/Selectism.com

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