Periodic Audio In-Ear Monitors

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Periodic Audio’s In-Ear Monitors, Mg & Be

Founder and speaker designer Dan Wiggins started Periodic Audio with a focus on portable audio. With a list of credentials that includes transducer design at Sonos and Starke Sound, I was very curious to hear his personally designed single driver IEM (in-ear monitors).

While balanced armature driver IEMs are all the rage (I’ve had a pair for years), Periodic Audio created a simpler design employing a single full-frequency driver without a crossover point. With balanced armature IEMs, you are tuning between multiple drivers for a specific frequency range (think hearing aids), while a dynamic single drivers IEM allow for a more full-frequency response with excellent time-coherence.

These single speaker driver IEMs are available in 3 versions; Mg (magnesium), Ti (titanium), or Be (beryllium). The properties of the speaker drivers, like mass stiffness, and electrical conductivity differ for each metal chosen. In fact a full frequency response chart and specifications for each model can be found on there website. For the sake of this review, I auditioned the magnesium and beryllium driver versions directly connected to an iPhone 6.

Unboxing these IEMs revealed a variety of silicone and memory foam ear-tip size options, adapters for both 1/4 in stereo jacks and an airplane adapter (man those airplanes need updating). I was even told you can experiment with the ear-tips and once you settle on the type/size you like they’ll send you some extra ones- cool customer service. These IEMs are made of polycarbonate with the single driver, port, and hard-wired cable. While I was initially concerned about the build quality with these IEMs, after using them for over 6 months (3 days a week at gym), I am happy to report they are quite sturdy little buds.

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All models include ear tips, 1/4 stereo adapter, & airplane adapter

Mg (magnesium): The entry model ($99) is constructed of 96% magnesium drivers with a N48H neodymium magnet. Everything from the drivers to the volume of the front and rear housing were designed and tooled in-house.

Using the magnesium drivers for some time revealed a favor for mid to higher frequencies, and does so in a way that tips the listener to a revealing top end. The drivers produced an even bass response, but some of the authority and fullness of the deepest bass was bested by the Beryllium drivers. While the mid to higher frequencies are pronounced, I would not call them overtly bright or harsh. Soundstage is decent, but not amazing (yes, I know they are IEM). Articulation of musical attack was good but tighter with the Be driver.

Be (beryllium) ($299): The custom top model from Periodic Audio employs a 100% pure beryllium foil diaphragm with a bonded PEEK surround and N48H neodymium magnets.

Moving onto the beryllium drivers was a major step-up, in every way. Bass became extended and powerful, middle and treble frequencies were better balanced and defined. The control of these drivers allowed for a more intimate sonic view of the mix. The soundstage also had a major benefit from the beryllium driver material- nuanced synth sounds from Herbie Hancock now popped out of hard left and right with piston-like precision.

While headphone amps and DACs will certainly improve these IEM’s sound, I was happy to find they were easily driven by my iPhone 6 heaphone jack/amp.

If I had to knock points to either IEM, it would be the quality and presentation of packaging. While they are supplied with a screw on circular case(cord tangle issues), maybe a zippered pouch would be preferred. A small red dot differentiates right from left ear buds, but man is that dot tiny- can we make it a wee bigger? While it may be obvious I preferred the beryllium driver, let me be clear that the $99 Mg in-ear in no slouch. I recommend taking a listen to each model at the next audio show for your personal preference.

Periodic Audio has managed to bring some thoughtful and musical designs to the in-ear monitor market. This materials based approach offers the consumer options and an education. Real science, real engineers, real transparent.

Anatomy of a Periodic Audio In-Ear Monitor

-happy listening

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The Focal Spirit Professional – Accurate/Natural Sounding Closed Back Headphones

 

The Textured Finish of the Spirit Pro

The Textured Finish of the Spirit Pro

The bottom line for most field recording engineers goes something like this: “what I hear, better be what I get on this recording.” While great microphones are responsible for the actual pick-up of sound, an accurate pair of headphones is the key ingredient to making sound judgements. Whether one intends to record dialogue or stereophonic information, truly hearing the microphone(s) is essential for quality recording. Strapping headphones over your ears is always a compromise when compared to listening over speakers/monitors, but in some environments it is just unavoidable.

Enter the Spirit Professional headphones from Focal:

Over the past several years Focal has introduced several headphones, and their latest offering is aimed at the professional audio market. These cans sport a textured black spackle-paint for durability and memory foam headband/earpads. The speaker drivers are made of a mylar/titanium material which claims to have a balance of rigidity/lightness and high damping properties. All this engineering is to ensure the transducers are capable of delivering dynamic natural sound reproduction.

Fit and Comfort:

The shape of the ear pads are circumaural, that is, they are designed to rest around the ear. After using these headphones for weeks in the field, I have to say they offer excellent passive noise isolation, but the ear pads tend to press on the outer edges of my ear more than say the Sennheiser HD-600 circumaural design. While the foam used is comfortable , I find the pressure coupled with the slightly smaller pads to limit my use to 45 min- before removing them for relief. This is not a complete deal breaker, as I don’t wear headphone all day and often remove them when between recording takes. Still, if maximum long term comfort are your goals in a sealed headphone, you may want to investigate other options.

Listening:

My first test for these headphones involved using direction microphones. Both Schoeps cardiod and shotgun mics were employed to record a variety of male and female voices in various acoustic environments. Schoeps are know for having an even frequency response across the polar patern. Even so, I was impressed with the Focal Spirit Pro’s ability to translate the slightest of off-axis positions to the human voice being picked up. Yes, the Schoeps have a wider sweet spot than most directional condensers, but getting the best position was aided with use of the Focal headphones.

The Spirit Pro’s also held up well when making stereo microphone adjustments. When I found myself without speakers to monitor, the Focal’s presented enough front-to-back depth and imaging to make appropriate balance adjustments. I certainly still prefer to do this type of balancing with speakers, but to my surprise the Focal’s closed-back design permitted me to hear into a recording, rather than just being a completely flat soundstage, or blob of sound. These headphones also have an excellent frequency response. Even though they are strapped close to your ear, I could hear problematic rumble from infrasound and wind more easily than my previous Sony 7509/7510. With Sound effect recording, these cans reproduces all the nuance that I so often find glossed over with professional headphones.

Focal Spirit Professional-circumaural, memory foam, detachable cable

Focal Spirit Professional-circumaural, memory foam, detachable cable

Listening to Music: 

For the audiophile or music lover that insists on headphone listening, the Spirit Pro’s tell the truth. That is, flaws in recordings stick out, and well engineered recordings sound gorgeous. The comfort of these headphones will prevent most users from wearing them for long periods, and the precise nature of the Focal’s means that most details are more upfront than cans like the Sennheiser HD-600( I know the HD-600 is an open back design, but still a reference from my orchestral recording). As an engineer I don’t mind that the Spirit Pro’s aren’t as gentle or sexy as the HD-600’s. Rather, I’ll take sheer resolution over a laid back sound.

Aside from my own recordings, I chose some familiar recordings such as Buena Vista Social Club, Karajan Beethoven. For Modern recordings I used tracks from Beach House and Stereolab. Listening to orchestral recordings made in halls with lovely acoustics sounded fantastic on the Focal Spirit Pro. Where as modern pop recordings could sometimes benefit from the gentler presentation of the HD-600’s.  While engineering decisions could be made with the Sennheisers, I felt the Focals’s allowed me to more readily hear any issues going on with a recording. For pure listening pleasure, I might look elsewhere as the Focals are more a tool than a pure pleasure listening headphone.

Included Cables; coiled, straight w/ smartphone mic, 1/4 screw on adapter

Included Cables; coiled, straight w/ smartphone mic, 1/4 screw on adapter

If you are looking for a headphone that will help you make decisions about mic placement and EQ adjustments, then the Focal Spirit Pro ranks high in my book. In addition to being solid and neutral in sound, they also do a superb job with passive noise isolation. On the other hand if you are more interested in long term comfort I would look at other models. Even though I have been disappointed with headphones for making sonic decisions in the past, I can clearly say the Spirit Pro gives me an assured even response that allow me to work effectively and efficiently.

 

Associated Equipment:

Sound Devices 744t

Great River MP-2NV

Benchmark Media ADC1

Crane Song Avocet

Meridian Explorer

 

 

Sony Portable PHA-2 Headphone Amp/DAC with DSD

Coming March 2014, Sony releases the PHA-2 – a portable rechargeable headphone DAC and Amp. Sporting features like PCM files up to 24 bit 192 Khz and even decodes DSD audio files.  Portable DSD from the company that brought it to you!

Sony PHA-2 coming March 2014

Sony PHA-2 coming March 2014

  • Hi-Res audio: PCM 192kHz/24 bit, DSD 2.8/5.6MHz
  • Direct Digital Connection for PC and Apple® devices
  • Enhances non hi-res music sources (via analog input)
  • Asynchronous, precision USB clock for superior sound
  • Premium DAC with separate operational and headphone amps
  • Durable aluminum enclosure with protective alloy bumper
  • Selectable gain supports impedances from 8 to 600 Ohm
  • Lithium-ion battery for up to 17 hours battery life
  • Line-out to connect external amp or active speaker
  • Mounting straps, protection sheet and cables included

Also released (October 24, 2013) is this new app for playing those Hi-Res files:

Onkyo HF Player App Offers Precision Equalizer, 192/24 Playback on iOS Devices