Uber Nano Mini – Periodic Audio Nickel AMP
Periodic Audio is a well-known company from USA, having designed and created some really interesting IEMs in the past, all of which I’ve reviewed here on Audiophile-Heaven. The main feature of Periodic Audio so far has been to define their products by a specific chemical element that each product is based on, for example the previously released Beryllium, Titanium and Magnesium. The IEMs from Periodic Audio have always been interesting, not just because they’ve been amazing by themselves, but because Periodic Audio managed to design very basic looking IEMs that still had good reliability and excellent sonic performance. This being said, their products aren’t exactly the least pricey, but, Periodic Audio provides excellent support and after-market service, so you don’t need to worry, as they’ll have your back, if you decide to purchase something from them.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Periodic Audio. I’d like to thank Periodic Audio for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with Periodic Audio Nickel, also named Periodic Audio Ni throughout this review. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Periodic Audio Nickel find their next music companion.
You can always get your Periodic Audio Nickel from www.amazon.com here: https://www.amazon.com/Periodic-Audio-Powerful-Portable-Headphone/dp/B078HNJ3J2/
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
The package of Periodic Audio Nickel is very basic, but inside you can find a good number of extra cables, including a line cable, and a charging cable for the little Nickel. There’s not much else in the package, but I love the design and the information written on it, and you’ll have a fun time reading a bit through it and learning more about Nickel and the properties of this tiny device, some of which are quite amazing.
What to look in when purchasing a portable Amplifier
Nickel is one of the tiniest Headphone Amplifiers that has ever been made, but despite its mini size, it is one of the best balanced physically, and despite the entire case being made of some kind of plastic, it feels good to the touch. There is one headphone input, one headphone output, one microUSB charging port, and one battery LED indicator. Nothing else on the surface of Nickel, so not much to talk about here. The 20 grams weight of the nickel makes it the lightest Amplifier on the market at the moment of writing this review.
My two notes about its build quality are that it doesn’t get very hot during usage, instead staying pretty cool most of the time, and that it doesn’t scratch easily, so you can safely take it with you and use it anywhere you need.
Now, you may be wondering why you’re not seeing any buttons, and well, that’s because instead of having a physical on/off switch, Periodic Audio embedded a sensor in the Nickel, so it only turns on when both the input and the output 3.5mm headphone ports are populated. This means less headache for you, and more battery saving magic, also for you. The battery life of the little Nickel is stated to be somewhere around 8 hours, and well, for a device that always runs at maximum power, it is somewhere around that. With a charging time of just 30 minutes, you probably won’t feel that the battery is short any moment soon.
You can charge Nickel while listening, and the fact you’re charging it will not break your sound quality, and won’t affect it in the least.
The body shape and functionality are so basic that there’s hardly more to talk about, but if you were wondering how easy it would be to stack it, if you get slimmer cables, you could use a double sided tape, or some velcro to strap it to your source, and it becomes a very portable and nimble little device. Of course, if you were looking for something slimmer to stick to your smartphone, then you’re better off using a longer line cable and leaving Nickel in your pocket, or using it connected to something like a FiiO Bluetooth Module, to give it more power.
The sound of the little Nickel is mainly described not by how colored it is, but by how much the large damping factor influences every headphone it powers. Basically, having a high damping factor means that all music played through it sounds more cohesive, it has more space to breathe and more nuance, and it has more impact and just sounds smoother, despite having the same amount of extension in both the bass and the treble.
Adding the fact that a device this tiny can pump 250mW into 32 OHMs, and that it can also be used with IEMs that are multi-BA, and which are of the lowest impedance, without making them sound thin, as the output impedance of the little Nickel is quite low. With almost 500 mW per channel pushed in a 8 Ohm load, you get one of the strongest tiny Amplifiers in existence, and a lot of impact and dynamics.
The bass of the little nickel can be described as very coherent and liquid, and one thing you wouldn’t expect from this tiny one, is how hard and deep it hits, even with headphones that are slightly harder to drive, like the Sennheiser Signature DXP, or the Verum One that also appears in the pairing section of this review.
The midrange also has that magical liquidity and cohesiveness that the bass has, and here you can hear what a high damping factor does to sound, it simply gives everything a magical smoothness, and makes every single headphone and IEM it comes in contact with more musical, and gives them a free flow from each musical note to the next. The soundstage of this little AMP isn’t that large by itself, but as its characteristic sound gives every musical note more air to breathe, resulting in a really good overall imaging and depth, making the entire stage quite well-rounded and giving instruments air to breathe.
The treble feels well-extended and has a good amount of sparkle, but once again, the smoothness of the little Nickel sticks with me in a magical way, as it feels like it takes away all harshness if your source or your headphones used to be harsh, taking the sibilance away as well.
Overall, that high damping factor works like a charm, if you want your headphones and IEMs to sound smoother, but please be aware, while this creates a very clear sound, it takes some of the analytical properties away, and if you’re a fan of textures, having a high damping factor may rain a bit on your parade, the sound of the Nickel is quite musical and enjoyable, but it is not a very textured sound.
In terms of portable usage, with a pretty strong battery life that will outlast or live as long as most portables, and with a weight of just 20 grams, and a tiny body, the little Nickel is one of the most portable Amplifiers in the market today. The fact that it also has a basic body shape, and doesn’t require any special connectors to work, means that you can use any line cables you had lying around without having to purchase anything especially for it.
Furthermore, Nickel works while charging, so if you go on a longer trip, you can also connect a power bank to it, and it won’t degrade the sound, but it will keep the power flowing and the music going. Nickel doesn’t pick up on Interference from smartphones, so you can keep enjoying it even while on-the-go, and even if you have it strapped on to your smartphone.
The main competitors chosen for this review are iFi xCan, Burson Playmate, and FiiO M9, all of them different from the little nickel, and basically chosen based on their price points rather than based on their shape and design, as I never reviewed a device that was this tiny before.
Periodic Audio Nickel vs iFi xCan (300 USD vs 300 USD) – Starting with a pretty interesting comparison, you may be thinking that the only thing the little Nickel has to offer above xCan, taking into account that they are at the same price, is that the Nickel has the smaller size and it is more portable. But, on a closer look, the tiny nickel has just a slightly lower battery life, it has a similar driving power, and, although it doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles of the xCan, like the Bluetooth DAC, and the special effects, the unique sound of the little Nickel still makes it an interesting choice, if you wanted an amplifier with a huge damping factor, that will make your headphones and IEMs smoother, will keep their extension in the treble, but smooth out their textures, and if you wanted something to increase the punch and dynamics, compared to your source, but if you didn’t want to take a larger device, like the xCan.
Periodic Audio Nickel vs Burson Playmate (300 USD vs 400 USD) – Burson Playmate is quite a bit more expensive than the tiny Nickel, and we’re actually comparing a full Class A desktop headphone amplifier with a tiny portable microAmplifier here, but since their price points was close enough, I thought I’d also show what else the same amount of money could get you. Playmate has a ton more features, including a line out, and a DAC inside, but when it comes to its sound and driving power, Playmate also offers 8 times the driving power of the little Nickel. This being said, the sound is quite different, and if you’re in need of a portable, the little nickel provides a higher damping factor, and a smoother overall sound that will make even the most harsh and analytic headphone sound smooth and musical, and the little Nickel also has the form and shape to its advantage, with Playmate needing a power converter to work at all times.
Periodic Audio Nickel vs FiiO M9 (300 USD vs 300 USD) – FiiO’s M9 is actually priced at the same price point as Nickel, and again, the point here is to show what else the same money can get you, as you may be wondering if it is worth to invest in the little Nickel, with so many interesting audio devices on the market at this moment. FiiO’s M9 is a full blown DAP, with a microSD card, and even with Balanced Outputs, having way too many features to spend time comparing it to the little nickel. If you push M9 to its limit, it has a similar battery life compared to the little Nickel, and this makes the mini Amp in the question quite interesting. When it comes to the driving power, you could actually add Nickel to M9 to get a bit more impact and driving power, and you would also get the smoother, more musical sound that Nickel has when pairing it with FiiO’s versatile DAP.
For the pairing part of this review, I have chosen Periodic Audio Be, Verum One, and HIFIMAN RE2000 Silver IEMs.
Periodic Audio Nickel + Periodic Audio Be IEMs – As many others have pointed out, the pairing with Periodic Audio’s own BE IEMs is one of the sweetest out there. For those who wanted to see this already musical and magical sounding IEM become even more musical, this is just the thing, as the little Nickel gives them an even smoother midrange, takes away even the last bit of harshness and sibilance from their treble, but leaves the sparkle there, and gives the, a very well separated, large sound.
Periodic Audio Nickel + Verum One Headphones – Verum one is one of the smoother, more musical headphones by default, and it is also one that’s a bit more complicated to drive, not because it has a high impedance, or because it has a low efficiency, but because it has a very low impedance, and if you want to make them loud, they will drive your amplifier into overdrive. This test was more about testing whether the little nickel enters overdrive easily, or if it can drive very low impedance loads. The thing here is, when something has a very low impedance, for the amplifier, it is almost like connecting its poles to each other, which can easily short an amplifier, leading it to overdrive and making it shut down. It sounds quite horrific when it happens, and those of you who have speakers may know that really low impedance speakers are much more complicated to handle than high impedance, high efficiency ones. Back to the little Nickel and this pairing, Verum One was already plenty musical, and plenty thick, so the little Nickel doesn’t change its main signature quite that much, but I can say that if you’re trying to power Verum One from a smartphone, or a source that’s struggling, the little Nickel will help Verum One gain better impact, better control and a more dynamic sound, leading to a much more pleasing overall experience.
Periodic Audio Nickel + HIFIMAN RE2000 Silver IEMs – RE2000 Silver from HIFIMAN is one IEM that you’ll quickly fall in love with, if you’re into analytic and precise sound, and if you like to hear every texture, but despite what you may expect, pairing the little Nickel with RE2000 Silver doesn’t result in a bad sound, and actually is quite pleasing. The resulting sound is smooth, but detailed, clear but not harsh, and it has a good amount of detail, despite being very fluid. The speed of RE2000 is still there, and their instrument separation didn’t decrease, but actually improved, leading to a pairing that you can enjoy for hours, especially if you felt that the original signature of RE2000 Silver was a touch harsh.
Value and Conclusion
The value of the little Nickel is a slightly complicated topic to talk about, as it is a slightly expensive device, priced at 300 USD, and it is a very specific one at that. If you want the kind of sound it provides, then very few other devices on Today’s market will provide that sound, especially in this mini, convenient shape. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a typical headphone amplifier, and you don’t care about the size / shape and if you just need the power, then the price probably won’t make the most sense to you.
Starting with the package, you get everything that’s basically needed to operate the little Nickel, a Line cable, a USB Charging cable, and that’s pretty much it. You will need to purchase a solution for strapping it to your smartphone, and longer / shorter cables if you won’t like the length of the ones included by default.
The build quality is pretty much indestructible, and the tiny Periodic Audio Nickel is made to last a lifetime, with a minimalistic shape and design that you simply can’t break and aren’t likely to scratch. It also saves you the headache of forgetting it turned on, having a sensor that only starts it when both the input and the output cables are connected, but also having a little LED indicator that tells if when it is turned on and how much battery is left.
The sound is unique, powerful, and sublime, especially if you were looking for something that will smooth out your music, having a pretty high damping factor for music, turning almost any IEM and headphone into a very musical one. The power driving factor is amazingly good as well, and for a device this tiny, you’d be hard pressed to find anything that can push the dynamics and punch that this little fighter has.
At the end of this review, if you’re looking for a mini AMP, something so tiny that you won’t even notice it, and if you’re looking for an amplifier that increases the musicality, smoothness, and overall coherency of your headphones or IEMs, then the tiny Periodic Audio Nickel makes a very good proposal, and don’t worry, despite its mini size, it has the roar of a monster, from the size of a mouse.
You can always get your Periodic Audio Nickel from www.amazon.com here: https://www.amazon.com/Periodic-Audio-Powerful-Portable-Headphone/dp/B078HNJ3J2/
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Full Playlist used for this review
We listened to more songs than those named in this playlist, but those are excellent for identifying a sonic signature. PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality are all revealed by those songs. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you’re searching for new music!
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