Ready for the Bass – Periodic Audio Carbon IEMs Review
Periodic Audio priced their latest IEM, the Carbon at about 400 USD, which makes it a direct competitor to some really capable IEMs, like Periodic Audio Be, HIFIMAN RE800 Silver, and FiiO FH7. As far as pairings go, we’re still waiting for the Periodic Audio DAP, so for now the pairings will include FiiO M11, iBasso DX160, and xDuoo X20. Let the bass cannons loose!
Periodic Audio has had their own thing going on, with using specific materials for their IEMs for a while now, and it has been working quite well. This being said, their IEMs are usually made with non-removable cables, and although most of them hold up really well to the test of time, they aren’t exactly the easiest to recommend to those who are concerned about long-term reliability. Periodic Audio decided to do something about this, so they have one of the best warranties I’ve seen, and they will be happy to help if anything is to happen to their IEMs, so don’t be afraid to purchase from them, especially if you’re from USA, where their main HQ is. I reviewed their Periodic Audio Be, Periodic Audio Titanium, Periodic Audio Nickel and even the Periodic Audio Magnesium.
It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Periodic Audio, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. I’d like to thank Periodic Audio for providing the sample for this review. This review reflects my personal experience with Periodic Audio Carbon Ca. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Periodic Audio Carbon find their next music companion.
First things first, let’s get the packaging out of the way:
The package of the Carbon is the same as pretty much all of the other Periodic Audio IEMs. It is never boring, and always offers a good half an hour of reading, increasing the knowledge of the buyer with bits of really intriguing information (at least if you’re half as nerdy as me).
You also receive the IEMs, a metal carrying case, and a huge number of tips. There’s an airplane adapter, and also a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter too, designed to make the Carbon usable with as many sources as possible.
Somehow, the package is not bad, and although not everyone will like the overall Periodic Audio package, because they have a really different package from most companies, it includes almost everything that FiiO FH7 includes.
What to look for when purchasing a high-end In-Ear Monitor
The build quality of the Carbon is good, but this is a really basic IEM. In fact, it is so basic, that people will never know the real price and the real value of them just by looking at them. They will just need to take a listen, and they will understand, but until they do, Periodic Audio Carbon looks really simple and basic. It is different from the other Periodic Audio IEMs in the back, because the cap at the back of the IEM has a darker color than most of them, but otherwise, it is pretty much the same.
The Left and the Right Earpieces are defined by the color inside the earpieces, and the comfort is actually pretty good. There is no driver flex, and no real void, although I would be careful when inserting and taking out the Carbon, as they are dynamic driver IEMs.
The cable is pretty thin and doesn’t look quite as trusty as that of other, higher priced IEMs, but that isn’t a big issue as most units never had any issues. It is a bit problematic when you look at it though, and for the price of the Carbon, I am hoping that Periodic Audio will include detachable cables in the near future.
For an IEM that is this featureless, and which has a pretty simple dynamic driver inside, there’s not much more of an explanation to give about the tech inside, so we can move it to the sound quality, which is the main point of the Periodic Audio Carbon.
The comfort is top notch really, and since you can wear them both straight-down and over-the-ear, I could say that they are versatile in what they give you as options for wearing. The tips included are also pretty good, although I would recommend experimenting with Spinfit too. Foam tips are not really recommended, because the sound is already pretty thick and bassy.
The sound has bass, bass, and most definitely bass. Of course, it wouldn’t be Periodic Audio if it didn’t have treble extension, musicality and a nice stage too, but the sound really centers around the bass, which is powerful, and in terms of quantity, may very well be the IEM with the most bass I have heard up to this point. You could say that they are also moderately V-Shaped, because despite the large amounts of bass, Periodic Audio didn’t leave the treble out, and the midrange feels recessed when compared to the lows and the highs.
The bass makes itself heard in every track, every song, but it is a fairly clean type of bass without distortions. It is large, but also flows naturally, with excellent extension down to the magical 20 Hz, which makes the Periodic Audio Carbon a really good IEM for bassheads. The bass has that audiophile quality, so I don’t feel the need to turn it down, and the even better part is that the bass has a tight speed to it too, so it is never bloated, and I never felt like it was boomy. The entire sound is thickened by the bass, and the midrange has a thicker, smoother presentation, so the bass does bleed a bit in the entire sonic presentation, but it has a good quality to it, makes music enjoyable, very similar to the way FiiO FA7 presented music.
The midrange is recessed when compared to the bass, and the mids feel musical, and somewhat smooth, with the textures being expressed in a musical way, rather than a dry, revealing way. The tonality is fairly good, although in general the Carbon is a slightly sweet sounding IEM, so it works better with happy music, especially EDM, and pop music, rather than sad music. Both female and male voices are fairly natural, and the fact that it is bassy doesn’t affect the vocal presentation, although the voices are pushed a bit back compared to the bass and the treble. This works very well for me, and if you don’t know yourself to be a mid-forward signature lover, the Carbon will work well for you. This is because most people are actually looking for either a V-Shaped sound, or a moderately V-Shaped sound, rather than a full blown linear sound. The textures are slightly smooth, but the clarity and the detail levels are up to the price point of 400 USD. You could call the mid a full-bodied sound, and a pretty impactful / punchy one too.
The treble is a mixed bag, because it is not recessed, which is great, but it isn’t quite where I’d want it to be in terms of sparkle. This is not a negative, and it will be quite excellent for most people, especially since the treble is never sibilant nor fatiguing nor harsh, but the treble can lack that ultimate bit of extension and aggressive touch, so the Carbon is best suited if you enjoy an energetic, yet slightly smoother treble, or if you listen to anything except for metal, which tends to require a slightly more aggressive signature.
In terms of soundstage, I noticed a perfect imaging, really good instrument separation, and a fairly natural soundstage. The dynamics are top notch, and dynamic drivers manage to have quite a bit of headroom and sound quite dynamic, the sound coming through as really punchy and lively. The stage is room sized, and music that’s supposed to sound a bit larger will sound a bit larger, but the stage doesn’t really go beyond what I would call a room-sized stage.
The portability of the Carbon is quite excellent, as they have a fairly flexible cable, a great comfort, no driver flex, and can be driven easily too.
This being said, the cable has a tiny bit of microphonic noise if worn straight-down, and especially if you do a lot of activity. If you want to use the Carbon for physical exercise, it is best to wear them around the ear, as straight-down you’ll get quite a bit of microphonics.
The drive factor is good, although I would not use the Carbon with anything below a HIDIZS AP80, or a Shanling M2X. FiiO M6 would work fairly well too, and there’s also a portable DAC solution that you can go for. You cannot use iBasso DC01 because it is balanced, and you need to search for the single ended one, as the Carbon is single-ended only and cannot be used with a balanced output. This is actually a fairly big thing to take into account, the cable is there to stay, and it isn’t quite as good as the default cable that other IEMs in the price range come with, so if you don’t like a simple, bland cable, the Carbon may not satisfy.
For the best results, I recommend using a midrange DAP, as the Carbon scales well, so anything like an iBasso DX160, FiiO M11, or even an Opus #3 would do. The Carbon is not quite that hiss sensitive, but they have a low impedance, so something like Hiby R6 is not recommended, as it has a high output impedance and the Carbon will hiss a bit with it.
Periodic Audio Carbon is easy enough to drive that I would recommend using it with something that has a lower output power, and it could do just fine with the likes of Audirect Beam, Earstudio HUD100, FiiO BTR5, FiiO BTR3K, and even something like the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital. The carbon will pair better with brighter, more neutral sources, rather than smoother sources, since it is already pretty smooth, and it already has a musical sound.
All of them have a similar price point too, although from this little comparison list, FH7 cannot be used straight down, while the other two can.
Periodic Audio Carbon vs FiiO FH7 (400 USD vs 470 USD) – FH7 is a bit more expensive than the Carbon, but they also have more overall quality to the build an to the package. The cable is much better for FH7, but they can only be worn straight-down, and the Carbon will work better for smaller ears than FH7. Both IEMs have good comfort, and both come with a large number of tips. The cables for HF7 are detachable, and FH7 is slightly easier to drive than the Carbon, but they are also slightly more sensitive to hiss in practice. The sound is wider, with more overall space for FH7, quicker, but also considerably colder, has less bass, with less emphasis on musicality, and more emphasis on revealing abilities, clarity, and has a more analytic presentation in general. FH7 has considerably more treble sparkle, and it works better for atmospheric music, where the Carbon works a bit better for EDM, Pop and commercial music.
Periodic Audio Carbon vs HIFIMAN RE800 Silver (400 USD vs 600 / 300 USD) – RE800 Silver has a larger package than the Carbon, but with slightly less extras, and with less ear tips included in the package. This being said, the comfort is better on RE800S, because they have a smaller body, and a slightly better cable than the Carbon. The sound of RE800 is much brighter with more treble quantity, but this also means it has better detail, clarity, and a more natural sound. It is less musical and more aggressive in general, and can become fatiguing quicker than the carbon, but the Carbon works more for slower music, Jazz, Classical, Slow Pop, where RE800 Silver works much better for Rock, Metal and uplifting / aggressive music.
Periodic Audio Carbon vs Periodic Audio Be (400 USD vs 300 USD) – The Berilyum is less expensive than the Carbon, but they also have a more musical sound, the same fit and ergonomics, and just like most Periodic Audio IEMs, they have exceptional support from the company selling them. This being said, the sound has less depth to the bass, with a slightly more balanced overall presentation that is quicker in the bass, is thinner, more natural, and with a better extension to the treble. The Carbon feels like it kept the musicality, but it feels like it is darker, thicker, and more impactful / bassy than the Be.
The pairing list includes FiiO M11, iBasso DX160, and xDuoo X20. There are other DAPs that would work well too, and you could go crazy and even use something like the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ if you wanted, the Carbon scales well up to that point.
Using Periodic Audio’s Nickel is also quite a good idea, making the sound even smoother, and giving it more punch / power, but if you need a high-quality DAC/AMP, I would recommend going with Chord Mojo, FiiO Q5s, iFi xDSD, or something like the Earmen TR-AMP. Since the Carbon is easy to drive, even low-power DACs like the Earstudio HUD100 are a great match.
Periodic Audio Carbon + iBasso DX 160 (400 USD + 400 USD) – iBasso DX160 is the most well-rounded midrange DAP in 2020, and it still holds the crown for the easiest to recommend DAP for mid range headphones and IEMs, so it won’t be missing from the pairings with the Carbon either. The sound of this pairing is clean, clear, and has the signature that I describe usually for the Carbon, the DX160 is transparent, so it doesn’t color the Carbon in either direction, making the best possible out of their default signature.
Periodic Audio Carbon + FiiO M11 (400 USD + 400 USD) – FiiO M 1 1 is a really versatile DAP, with Streaming, good battery life, and way more than enough driving power for the Carbon. The sound of M 11 always had a bit of a digital glare in the treble, and this type of slightly brighter sound works exceptionally well with the carbon, and it makes them more balanced, with more sparkle and more detail, better overall clarity and gives them a slightly wider soundstage, while keeping their exceptional imaging and separation.
Periodic Audio Carbon + xDuoo X20 (400 USD + 200 USD) – X 20 is a DAP that always sounded a bit bright and dry in my experience, and that pairs perfectly with the Carbon, because they are already a bit warm and bassy, so the more analytic character of X20 makes them pretty well balanced and gives the entire sound a good clarity, without taking any of the musicality, and the sweetness out of the mix.
Value and Conclusion
The value of the Carbon is actually fairly good, at least when you consider their comfort, sonic quality, and ergonomics alone. The things that would potentially hold it back are the bland design, that may not work so well for everybody, and the cable, which is not detachable, and which doesn’t look quite as strong as other cables, even those of Chifi IEMs.
You can pardon the cable when you unbox them, because they have an awesome package, and you can also stop thinking about it when you wear them. In fact, allowing both straight-down and over-the-ear wearing, the Carob is one of the very few IEMs that is this versatile nowadays, as most really high-quality IEMs are over-the-ear only. This being said, they do suffer from a bit of microphonic while being worn straight-down, but that is not present while wearing them over-the-ear. There is no driver flex, and they are easy to drive, not being very sensitive to hiss either, so most DAPs will do just fine.
The sound is grand, explosive, punchy, and dynamic, with a strong, yet clean bass, a midrange that’s slightly recessed, but sweet, musical and fun to listen to, and with a treble that has some bumps, enough to make the sound enjoyable despite the larger bass, but still doesn’t come through as fatiguing or as too much.
At the end of this review, if you need a simple-looking but good-sounding IEM, something that places function above form, and has a beautiful warm, bassy, punchy, deep sound, with good imaging and separation, and a sweet tonality, and which is priced at about 400 USD, you should totally check out and consider the Periodic Audio Carbon, which once again, does not disappoint.
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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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