Yes, the Dongle DAC/Amp market is super crowded right now, but that hasn’t stopped Periodic Audio from dropping their own branded dongle DAC at a reasonable price of $49.
It’s called the Periodic Audio Rhodium DAC, and it has 32bit/384kHz high-res PCM decoding, along with 30 mW of power to boost their earphones. Periodic is all about mobile hi-fi, so they made Rhodium extra light and slim for use on the go, but that also means it doesn’t have as much juice as its competitors.
That’s said, I love the streamlined design for use with a smartphone, as it isn’t bulky and doesn’t flop around.
There’s no DSD decoding, which is not a big deal since there aren’t many people playing DSD on their mobile phones. I would’ve liked to see an LED indicator for sample rate, however.
Overall, it’s a clean-sounding DAC/Amp with excellent natural detail and separation for the price, but don’t expect to fire up any power-hungry headphones with it.
If you’re a Periodic fan, and you’re picking up (or already own) their earphones, the Rhodium will be a good match aesthetically, ergonomically, and sound-wise (Which makes sense because that’s what it’s designed for). It’s a no-brainer for the price.
Outside of that, you need to weigh the beautifully smooth sound and compact dimensions against what type of headphones/earphones you plan to use and how much power you need.
Disclaimer: The Periodic Audio Rhodium DAC was sent to us by the manufacturer in exchange for our honest review.
If you’re not familiar with Periodic Audio, they’re a cool brand that markets various in-ear headphones and accessories with names pulled from the Periodic Table. Their mission is to be “a mobile-first Hi-Fi company whose primary value proposition was high-quality audio performance.”
To that end, they primarily manufacture simple to use, comfortable to wear IEMs (earphones) that have excellent sound quality.
They also have a portable headphone amp called Nickel, which I reviewed back in 2019, and I was astonished at how powerful and clean it was for its size. It’s about the size of a 9-volt battery and supplies 250 mW into 32 Ohms.
While that is impressive, it’s analog-only, so to get the best performance, you need to pair it with a DAC, or at least a source with a good DAC installed.
That’s where Periodic Audio’s latest product, the Rhodium DAC, comes in. It’s a USB DAC/headphone amp capable of high-res 32bit/384kHz PCM decoding, as well as 30 mW power output (or 1Vrms) into 32 Ohms.
It’s not advertised, but word on the street is they are using a Realtek DAC/Amp chip. As usual, Periodic shows their work by posting measurement charts on the website.
There’s no MQA, and I wouldn’t expect it at this price, but the lack of DSD decoding is a bummer.
The Rhodium is a very slim dongle with USB-C on one end and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the other. It’s quite similar in size to the dongles that are included with many smartphones today.
That’s by design, as Periodic wanted it to conform to their “mobile-first” ethos, meaning it should be well suited for use on the go. They definitely got that right, as it is the perfect length and width to stay out of the way as you walk around.
The stiff braided cable also keeps it from flopping all over the place, which I like a lot.
However, that compact size does come at a cost. That’s because, at 30mw, Rhodium is not the most powerful dongle style DAC/amp out there. Some around the same price have double the output power, but they are larger and more cumbersome to use.
Since Rhodium is primarily intended for use with sensitive earphones (the type Periodic sells), they prioritize sound quality over class-leading power output.
They claim their high-quality oscillators and specially selected capacitors provide superior performance to the dongles included with smartphones.
Even though this DAC/Amp is mainly intended for mobile use, it comes with a USB-C to USB-A adapter, which makes it also suited for use with laptops.
While it won’t give you too much of a power upgrade, it should give you a little upgrade in sound quality over the laptop sound card.
Listening To The Periodic Audio Rhodium Dac Amp
For my testing, I started with the Rhodium and the Periodic Audio Carbon IEM ($399, sold sep.) connected to my Moto G Power test phone. I played hi-res files from Qobuz via the UAPP (USB Audio Player Pro) app.
In terms of sound quality, I have to say I liked the Rhodium quite a bit. I’m really sensitive to edgy-sounding dacs, and unfortunately, many manufacturers boost the treble on budget gear to create some “detail.”
I’m happy to say that wasn’t the case here, as the Rhodium had a smooth treble but not so smooth as to blunt all the air present in the recording. The mids were natural and sweet, nicely presenting the texture of strings and other instruments. The Bass was deep and controlled the way I like it.
The extension was a little rolled off on either end of the audioband, but not overly so. It actually had an organic “tubey” sound which was pretty nice. If you like a whole lot of sparkle up top, you may find the Rhodium to be a little dull.
As far as separation and layering are concerned, this DAC Amp combo did a good job, especially for the price point.
I listened to the new 24/192 Christian McBride EP, “The Q Sessions” on Qobuz (Free trial here), and I was delighted at how it was able to play the songs with depth.
I was able to hear the instruments somewhat in their own little bubbles and certain instruments layered behind the others. It’s amazing what these little chip DACs can achieve today.
Of course, the Rhodium will not give you the detail or separation of some of the $100-$200 models out there, but at $50, it makes a nice little upgrade for the USB-C to 3.5mm dongles that come with phones nowadays.
As far as power is concerned, like I said earlier, Rhodium’s power output was on the low side. It drove high-sensitivity Over-Ear headphones like the Focal Elear, but I had to turn the volume in UAPP up to about 80% of maximum.
Even at 80% volume, it drove the Elear with full dynamics, and the sound quality was good. So you can use Rhodium with some full-size headphones in a pinch, but you won’t have a lot of headroom.
The Wrap Up
The Periodic Audio Rhodium is a nice DAC Amp combo for those looking to upgrade the sound coming from their smartphone, especially if you’re doing a combo with the Periodic IEMs. It’s perfect for that.
I like the lightweight, sleek build, as well as the natural, relatively detailed sound. I just wish it had a little more juice for full-sized headphones.
Where To Buy
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.