One of the really fun things I got to do in audio this year was judge the Alfie Awards with industry veteran Roger Skoff at the LA Audio Show. This had us going around to dozens of rooms looking for products that excelled in value for dollar, genuine innovation, or both. A completely new name on the scene for Roger and I was Periodic Audio, a maker of budget priced IEMs that names its products after elements on the periodic table. Oh man, flashback to an incredibly difficult organic chemistry course in college! We both fell in love with their Beryllium IEM and awarded it an Alfie. It was really great seeing them at RMAF but the news of the day was their new Nickel (natch) amp show in prototype form in a super small and convenient blue box.
As Periodic describes it:
The Nickel amplifier is designed to provide nearly-unlimited clean power for nearly every headphone in an extremely compact and portable package. All mechanical and electrical design efforts, including layout of the four-layer SMT board, was completed in-house with full custom tooling for all parts. Nickel uses the same rugged polycarbonate featured in our IEMs. Nickel is made in the USA.
The Nickel amplifier is capable of producing high levels of power. Nickel will supply 150 mW into 50 Ohms, 250 mW into 32 Ohms, and 270 mW into 16 Ohms. Nickel is stable into an eight-Ohm load making it ideal for nearly any headphone on the market. A fixed 3 dB of gain allows higher headroom than most phones and DACs can generate, but is low enough to maintain nearly the full dynamic range of volume from any source.
The Ni Amp 2 is very small at 30x50x15 mm and is expected to retail for $299 USD. One cool feature is a “Smart Switch” system where an MCU senses the presence of input and output connections and switches itself on. An LED shows battery usage and changes colour from green to yellow to red as the battery is depleted.
A dedicated battery charger is used to keep a 220 mAh battery charged and this in turn feeds a dual-voltage power converter which generates +/- 5V analog rails. Gain is around 3db. Frequency response is from 8 hz to 80 khz and crosstalk is less than -91db. Signal to noise is >=95 db at 1 khz and THD is ≤ 0.0007% at 1 khz. Charging time is a fast 20 minutes from 10% to full. Battery life is eight hours.
From a practical use standpoint, the battery is charged with a micro-USB connector and the audio input is the common 3.5mm size. Output jack for IEMs and headphones is a standard 3.5mm and the package ships with an eight-inch long USB Type-A to Micro-B charging cable and a 6-inch long 3.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRRS audio cable to connect any phone to the Nickel.
As with their IEMs, the Ni Amp 2 has a polycarbonate body which reduces resonances to a very low level. Another nice feature is that the manufacturing work is all done in-house including custom tooling for the parts and the layout for the four-layer SMT board.
I listened to the prototype and it sounded very good. Well above what one would expect in such a small package. But then again, it seems with the better designs audio parts keep shrinking and sounding better as well. I’m very curious to listen again with my own IEMs and revisit the Beryllium as well, which has a pure Beryllium foil as a driver.
As one who travels a lot, my bet is that this Be + Ni combination may be just what the doctor ordered for good sound on the road.