Although in general I do not use in-ear headphones (buds) for personal use, I occasionally try them out at audio shows. The prices for some can be staggering at times, even exceeding $2000 per pair! But there are many fine ones that are reasonably priced, too. At the recent February 2017 CANJAM New York City show, I spotted Periodic Audio. They are easy to find: Their presentation reminds one of a hospital or a scientific lab with even the Periodic Table of chemical elements boldly shown, and the friendly and knowledgeable staff are dressed in classic white laboratory coats. The company started in 2016, they are quite new, and worthy of attention.
Periodic Audio make three models, each one referred to as an ‘In-Ear Monitor’ (IEM) and each one is named after the metal chemical element used in its diaphragm material. The least expensive is the Mg (Magnesium) at $99 (frequency response 20 Hz to 30 kHz), second is the Ti (Titanium) at $199 (frequency response 16 Hz to 30 kHz) and finally the Be (Beryllium) at $299 (frequency response 12 Hz to 45 kHz). [Photo of Be in header -- Ed].
They look simple and elegant, and they are solidly made, with a 5-year warranty. They use metal because the stiffness of such metals in small transducer diaphragms reduces distortion. The highest model (Be) has a gold colored back, the lowest level model (Mg) has a silver colored back, and the middle model (Ti) has a slightly blue-tinted silver colored back.
Keeping with its scientific flair, in addition to standard specs such as frequency range of the model, for each model the specs include the metal element’s Melting Point, Speed of Sound (how fast sound travels through the metal), Young’s Modulus (a measure of the stiffness of the metal), and Brinell Hardness (a measure of indentation hardness). For example, the Ti model has the specs as 1941 Kelvin, 5090 meters per second, 116 Gigapascals, and 2770 Megapascals. As a scientist myself, I found this additional info both fun and fascinating (although admittedly, I don’t know what to make of it).
I was loaned all three pair for this review (many thanks to Sue Toscano, of Toscano Communications for making this happen). Each comes in a box in which a small circular metal case is to be used for storing the IEM, contains numerous soft ear bud covers of different sizes for getting the right fit, and a 1/4” jack adaptor.
My plan was to be fair in the assessment of these buds, starting with using them on an iPhone, and moving up slowly to things more demanding (e.g., devices that require over the ear head phones for optimal use), all using digital audio. But I was unfair from the start: When I saw the 1/4” jack adaptor, I grabbed the highest model (Be), snapped on that adapter and attached it to a $6000 preamp/headphone amp combo (PS Audio BHK Signature). The Be survived, and so did I. It actually impressed me; it had a bass extension that was hard to believe. Because my family was sleeping (it was late at night) and I could not turn on lights, I had to figure out Right (R), from Left (L) . (In general, Periodic Audio uses a sound nozzle grille red (R) and black (L)). The only way I could do that was by playing music I know well. I chose one of my very favorites for this use, ‘You Look Good To Me’, Oscar Peterson Trio; triangle should be out of the left channel immediately, double bass out of the right. I was lucky; got it correct on the first time–by chance. But of course this was an inappropriate unfair testing ground (the naughty scientist in me?). So, I settled back on to my original/sensible plan.
I moved to an iPhone, then spent considerable time using an iBook air in two ways: by itself directly and then (using the iBook as player) with a PS Audio Sprout (e.g., using the Sprout’s internal DAC) via USB (at CD quality, 16/44.1 PCM); the Sprout required using the 1/4” jack adaptor. Both the Ti and the Be have a bass extension that is remarkable for buds at such prices; and when you get to the level of Be and use the Sprout the Be is a real winner; the triangle in the Oscar Peterson piece is so clear, too; more body and articulation in frequencies low and high. I also listened to my favorite album by Genesis, ‘Selling England By The Pound’, 1973, with Peter Gabriel, one of my very favorite drum solos 'Toad’ (Ginger Baker) from Cream’s first album (1969) in which all drums only come from the right channel), and the entire ‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ by The Beatles.
Advice: all three models are a bargain in sound quality and comfort (and way better than standard buds you get with a typical mobile phone, for example); choose what is best for the equipment you plan to use them for: If you are planning to use just an iPhone for example, then go for the $99 Mg, otherwise try out both the Ti and the Be and choose the Be if it sounds better to you. I think the Ti will satisfy most people unless their player is of high quality. Very highly recommended at such prices.
Further information: Periodic Audio