Periodic Audio Carbon in-ear, wired headphone review

Periodic Audio made its name with in-ear monitors (aka headphones) designed by a team relentless in its pursuit of maximum sonic excellence at each model’s price point. The range has no flashy logo, no bespoke industrial design, just incredible hi-fi performance for the price.

The $499 Carbon in-ear headphone is the company’s flagship product, and Periodic Audio’s recent redesign is a collection of small changes that add up to a huge upgrade. This headphone demands that you focus on its assigned task. If you’re a multitasker addicted to scrolling through social media and watching sports on TV while you’re playing music, the Carbon will inevitably hijack your attention and the other stuff will just fade away. They’re so good at sucking a listener into their orbit that I’d hesitate to use them while using public transport or walking around town.

I’ve owned the previous generation of Carbon, and I’ve consistently used it when I’m listening to mixes or any time I want to focus on the details of a new song. It was an outstanding in-ear monitor, but the new version is a welcome improvement.

Periodic Audio made its name with in-ear monitors (aka headphones) designed by a team relentless in its pursuit of maximum sonic excellence at each model’s price point. The range has no flashy logo, no bespoke industrial design, just incredible hi-fi performance for the price.

The $499 Carbon in-ear headphone is the company’s flagship product, and Periodic Audio’s recent redesign is a collection of small changes that add up to a huge upgrade. This headphone demands that you focus on its assigned task. If you’re a multitasker addicted to scrolling through social media and watching sports on TV while you’re playing music, the Carbon will inevitably hijack your attention and the other stuff will just fade away. They’re so good at sucking a listener into their orbit that I’d hesitate to use them while using public transport or walking around town.

I’ve owned the previous generation of Carbon, and I’ve consistently used it when I’m listening to mixes or any time I want to focus on the details of a new song. It was an outstanding in-ear monitor, but the new version is a welcome improvement.

I always felt like the original cable was a bit thin and fragile, even though the company says the cable break rate on the old version was only 0.3 to 0.4 percent. I have no reason to doubt those numbers, but that doesn’t mean a lot of users weren’t nervous about durability. Periodic was obviously paying attention, and this new option is fantastic, even if in practice the new cables only make us feel better about the repairability of a substantial investment, as opposed to solving an actual breakage problem. That doesn’t make this new cable any less amazing.

To keep the earbuds as small as possible while providing the detachable cable, Periodic Audio developed its own 2.5mm jack, dubbed the IDEEL (IEM Direct Electrical Engagement Link) connector. The company says it’s the world’s smallest 2.5mm jack, measuring just 3.6mm across with a mounting depth of 9.5mm.

The other big news is that the earbud housings are now made from Eastman’s Tritan copolyester thermoplastic, the same substance used to make the virtually indestructible plastic containers for Vitamix blenders. Periodic Audio says the material is also better for audio applications than either polycarbonate or ABS, and that the redesigned Carbon is the first headphone to use the material.

Same great sound
The second-gen Carbon’s transducers are the same ones found in the original product and utilize a lab-grown diamond layer (8 microns thick) on a proprietary high-temperature polymer substrate. The transducer diaphragm is manufactured from carbon in a diamond lattice, its transducer is a proprietary polymer, the frame is 315 stainless steel, and the magnet is N48H-grade neodymium.

In addition to the earbuds and the cable, you get nine pairs of ear tips: Three types (single-flange silicone, dual-flange silicone, and memory foam) in three sizes (small, medium, and large). Periodic also includes a gold-plated 1/4-inch TRS adapter, a gold-plated dual-mono airplane adapter, and a pair of hooks you can use to thread the cable around your ears. In lieu of a flimsy carry back, you get a metal screw-top travel case. This last accessory resembles a smokeless tobacco tin, and it slides just as easily into the back pocket of a pair of jeans.

I tested the Carbon with latest version of Periodic Audio’s Nickel portable headphone amp ($299). The changes to the latter are far more than cosmetic; Periodic has substantially improved an already outstanding piece of gear. The second-generation Nickel is manufactured from the same nearly indestructible Tritan material as the new Carbon. The input arrow is now debossed and the output arrow embossed, so you can easily figure out which port to use just by touch.

Periodic Audio also redesigned the amp’s internals, moving the power supply and battery charger away from the audio components. This change has lowered the noise floor on the Nickel, meaning the signal, noise, and distortion (SINAD) is higher, while the total harmonic distortion plus noise (THD+N) is lower.

The Nickel’s battery has grown from 260mAh to 400mAh, yielding a run time of 14 to 16 hours on a full charge that only takes 30 minutes. This headphone amp is absolutely tiny and, while it’s designed to work with Periodic Audio’s own gear, the Nickel will improve the detail from any headphone you want to use with a mobile device.

 

 

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