Periodic Audio Nickel headphone amp assessment: Make your smartphone sound like a high-res digital audio participant

Periodic Audio’s Nickel moveable headphone amplifier will break you of the behavior of listening to music on headphones plugged into your smartphone, pill, or laptop computer.

And that’s how most of us hearken to music as of late, proper? Devoted high-resolution digital audio gamers ship superior audio performances, however cellular gadgets are simply a lot extra handy—even after we’re utilizing the kind of high-end, high-impedance cans that extra general-purpose cellular gadgets discover so troublesome to drive.

Trendy computer systems and cellular gadgets have significantly better digital-to-analog (DAC) converters than they used to, however the headphone amplifiers on these merchandise stay the weakest hyperlink within the audio replica chain. The Nickel is a high-end, battery-powered, moveable headphone amp that guarantees to wring peak efficiency from nearly any wired headphones, together with high-impedance fashions.

The way it works

The Nickel is completely tiny—it’s concerning the dimension of a 9-volt battery—and it sits between your music supply and your headphones, performing a easy but vital process: Amplifying the supply’s audio sign with sufficient energy to manage a headphone’s drivers with precision. Throughout my listening assessments, the Nickel noticeably improved the efficiency of  headphones. Customers with high-quality and/or difficult-to-drive headphones will understand probably the most profit.

Theo Nicolakis / IDG

Periodic Audio’s Nickel amplifier is concerning the dimension of a 9-volt battery, proven right here with an iPhone XS and Beyerdynamic Amiron House headphones.

The Nickel is easy to make use of: Simply plug the included 3.5mm cable into your sensible machine (any smartphone that doesn’t have a headphone output would require an adapter), your headphone’s 3.5mm cable into the Nickel, and voila! The Nickel turns your sensible machine right into a preamp and does all of the heavy lifting to enhance your headphones’ efficiency. The included 3.5mm-to-3.5mm analog cable has mic pass-through, so that you’ll ready to make use of an inline microphone with the Nickel.

I do want Periodic Audio had put a headphone icon subsequent to the Nickel’s output jack and labeled each the entrance and again of the unit. At one level throughout my testing, I wasn’t paying shut consideration whereas switching cables. and I by accident linked the cables backwards—producing a loud, piercing sound by way of my headphones.

The Nickel is a much more elegant and unobtrusive answer than a number of the bigger amps on the market. But it surely’s unlucky that Periodic Audio doesn’t present a swish technique of mounting the Nickel to your sensible machine—the amp will simply dangle by its cable.

No controls to fret about

There’s no energy swap. As a substitute, the Nickel mechanically powers on when each your sensible machine’s and headphones’ cables are plugged into the Nickel’s 3.5mm enter and output respectively. Unplug both cable and the Nickel mechanically powers down. A small LED between the enter and output lets you understand the unit’s operational standing and battery life. Slick and sensible.

When input and output are plugged in, the unit automatically powers on. A green light means the Nick Theo Nicolakis / IDG

When input and output cables are plugged in, the Nickel automatically powers on. A green light means the amp has 75 percent or more battery life.

Further adding to the simplicity, there’s no volume control on the Nickel. You don’t need one since your smart device has its own volume control.

The Nickel is designed with 6dB of internal gain, a feature that came in handy during my tests—especially with the somewhat difficult-to-drive Beyerdynamic Amiron Home, which have nominal impedance of 250 ohms.

Supremely small and light

Periodic Audio claims that the Nickel—which weighs a mere two-thirds of an ounce—is the smallest and lightest high-powered analog headphone amplifier on the market. The amp’s shell is fabricated from a strengthened polycarbonate material that Periodic Audio says is highly resistant to cracking.

The Nickel presents an input impedance of 10k ohms to ensure the amplifier in your smart device or computer is never stressed. Periodic Audio says that eliminates 99-percent of the poor sound you get from those sources. Nickel’s inputs are AC coupled to eliminate any issues from DC offset (which can produce buzzing and other issues). The amplifier’s circuit is DC coupled on the output, providing bandwidth from 8Hz to 80kHz, a signal-to-noise ratio of 105dB, total harmonic distortion of less than 0.005 percent, and greater than 80dB of channel separation. Periodic Audio’s measurements are performed at 1mW @ 32 Ohms (179mV). That’s considered a typical listening level, not maximum.

The Nickel is capable of pumping out 250mW per channel of continuous power into a 32-ohm load, and nearly 500mW per channel into 16- or 8-ohm loads. A representative from Periodic Audio told me they’ve even tested the Nickel on high-efficiency home loudspeakers.

It won’t drain your mobile device’s battery

The Nickel won’t drain your smart device’s precious battery life. Designed to be a portable companion, the Nickel comes with its own rechargeable 280mAh Lithium Polymer battery that Periodic Audio says will provide up to 10 hours run time at loud listening levels. The battery is a high-current design that completely recharges in about 30 minutes via a micro-USB port. You even can use the Nickel while it’s charging.

Detail view of the Nickel’s battery. Periodic Audio

Detail view of the Nickel’s battery.

The battery is completely isolated from the amplifier stage with a
discrete +/- 5V power supply circuit. I used the Nickel while charging it and never heard any charging noise or interference. The Nickel’s signal-to-noise ratio stays the same whether it’s charging or running on battery.

Immune from cellular interference

Cell phones can wreak havoc on nearby electronic devices—you’ve most certainly experienced the audible interference. The Nickel is immune to any such interference thanks to its Texas Instruments INA1620 amplifier.

Detail view of the PDetail view of the Periodic Audio Nickel’s ineriodic Audio’s internal circuitry. Periodic Audio

Detail view of the Periodic Audio Nickel’s internal circuitry.

The TI INA1620 is EMI/RFI hardened, rendering the Nickel virtually immune to RF and GSM noise. That means you can place the Nickel right next to your cell phone with  zero impact.

A remarkable difference

I tested the Nickel with Focal Clear and Beyerdynamic Amiron Home headphones on an iPhone XS, using Tidal as well as high-res and lossy music streamed from my Roon Nucleus music server. I was careful to level match during my A/B comparisons.

The Focal Clear presents an impedance of 55 ohms, with a sensitivity of 104dB. The Amiron Home’s impedance is 250 ohms, with a sensitivity of 102dB. While you can use either of these headphones with a smartphone, both will fall short of delivering their peak performance.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long to hear the difference the Nickel made on the music. The Nickel immediately refined and improved the performance through both headphones.

Playing Lauren Daigle’s “You Say” was more exciting with the Nickel in the mix. Bass had more impact and control. The song’s overall presentation was more dynamic, too. In particular, the chorus of voices in the song’s refrain came alive as though infused with new life through the Nickel. Voices took on more definition and refinement. Taking the Nickel out of the mix and playing “You Say” straight from the iPhone XS made the song sound comparatively dull. The Nickel didn’t simply change the technical performance; it affected a song’s emotional impact, too.

The Periodic Audio Nickel. Periodic Audio

The Periodic Audio Nickel.

Song after song, I noticed more detail, better control, less haziness, and—ultimately—more musical involvement. For example, on Dido’s new album, Still on My Mind, the bass on “Take You Home” instantly tightened up compared to the iPhone playing sans Nickel.

I also noted that the Nickel had the ability to bring out a warmer, richer sound from the music. Dido’s “Hell After This” had far better tonal balance through the Nickel, to the point where I found myself being more emotionally drawn into the music and the artist’s performance. But it was the Nickel’s ability to breathe life and color into the guitar on “Some Kind of Love” that was the finishing touch.

A must-have audiophile accessory

Periodic Audio’s Nickel headphone amplifier has the uncanny ability to make music come alive through the headphones you love most, even on an average smart device or computer. High-quality headphones and difficult-to-drive cans will benefit most. Judge for yourself, but the Nickel probably isn’t worth the expense if you’re using entry-level headphones or sticking with whatever came with your smart device.

That being said, I’d classify the Nickel as a must-have accessory for the music lover or audiophile who wants to use high-quality headphones without the hassle and expense of also carrying a dedicated high-res DAP. The Nickel’s tiny size, light weight, excellent battery life, and simple operation makes it easy to use on the go. And the sonic benefits are simply intoxicating.

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