The landscape of flagship-level in-ear monitors (IEMs) has undergone drastic changes and monumental strides in the last few years. In the once unthinkable $1000 and up range, competition has stiffened between statement products such as the new Noble Katana ($1850), the Empire Ears Zeus XIV ($2099), the Jerry Harvey Layla ($2725) and several others.
Enter Portland, Oregon's Campfire Audio and their new flagship in-ear, the Andromeda ($1099). Campfire sprung up as an offshoot of well-respected cable and amplifier designer ALO Audio. Their small, but well-designed lineup now includes five different IEMs, ranging in price from $349 to $1099. With their first true statement product, the Andromeda, Campfire designers set out to fix a long-standing issue inherent in many IEMs: a steep treble roll-off starting around 9kHz.
To address this treble issue, Campfire designed a first-of-its kind innovation. In addition to the Andromeda's five balanced armature drivers, there is a "tubeless resonator box" found at the exit of the two high frequency drivers. Used in place of the typical tube and dampener design (found on most balanced armature earphones), this innovation helps to enhance the upper treble frequency response. With the new resonator box in place, the treble roll-off point is extended from 9kHz all the way up to about 14kHz. As a result, the Andromeda gains a nice sense of air, transparency and ambient detail lacking in many IEMs.
The remainder of the construction is equally impressive. The Andromeda's shells are machined from a solid block of aluminum in a rigorous 9-hour process to provide the best possible dampening and isolation. The construction is robust and durable, albeit a little bit heavy, relative to some competitors. The earphone also includes a premium-quality silver-plated copper Litz wire braided cable (terminated with MMCX connectors), a variety of ear tips and a lovely wool-lined dark leather case. The accessories and presentation are truly first class across the board.
The Sweet Sound Of Thunder
Bass is well separated, with good definition between activity in the sub-bass and mid-bass. Sub-bass is well extended and tonal differentiation is very good for an earphone with so much low-end weight. Mid-bass impact is absolutely among the very best in class, and doesn't blur into the lower midrange at all. Bass decay properties are also quite strong, resulting in a sound that is both powerful and articulate.
It should be noted, however, that the bass can be quite dominant in the sound. On rare occasions, the mid-bass was just a touch overwhelming. More often than not, I found it to be wonderfully satisfying. Neutrality seekers should probably look elsewhere. But for modern electronic, pop, hip-hop and R&B the massive yet clean low frequencies will power an absolutely top-notch experience.
Midrange is a little bit more of a mixed bag, but quite good, nonetheless. The lower midrange showcases a beefy and robust weight. Vocals are smooth, full and quite intoxicating. Female vocals are especially strong, and difficult to beat at the $1099 price point. The upper midrange doesn't showcase any glaring faults, but does lack a bit of sparkle and magic. Guitars are slightly blunt around the edges, neutering the engaging bite a bit in favor of big body in the lower midrange. I found that swapping out the stock cable with my Moon Audio Silver Dragon did improve this area of the frequency range a bit, but I never felt my heart swell with the emotion that comes from a truly great upper midrange response. Still, this is a somewhat minor complaint, and based on your musical preferences, you may prefer the Andromeda's presentation.
The high frequencies are extremely well done, taking full advantage of Campfire Audio's innovative design. I found the all-important mid-treble region to be relatively free of harsh sibilance, unless it was exceptionally problematic in the recording itself. Detail and extension were very strong, especially when the IEMs were paired with ALO's upcoming Continental V5 amplifier. When accompanied by this wonderful portable device, ambient spatial details from the Andromeda were truly impressive, arguably on par with the best of the best.
Complimenting that nice sense of spatial detail is a large and involving soundscape. I always find it impressive when a headphone or IEM can deliver a great sense of height, and the Andromeda definitely impresses here. Sound images just seem absolutely massive on the Andromeda, a feat which is further enhanced by its weighty sound and bombastic presentation. Width and depth are very good in size, without being totally exceptional relative to other flagships. Overall the soundscape presents in a very well-shaped orb, exuding naturalness without veering too far into any of the three dimensions. The stage depth layers very well out in front of you, giving a good perception of distance between foreground and background images. This sense of depth is most certainly helped by the airy and detailed treble, which offers strong spatial cues.
All of this contributes to an overall sense of resolution that is quite strong, but somewhat difficult to completely nail down. The bass is very well done and the highs are extremely resolving, the images are well layered, but the mids are just a touch on the soft side when it comes to focus. I think this stems from two things. First, the upper midrange is just a little bit too recessed. A boost in this region nearly always results in a greater sense of perceived detail. The other factor is that the transient snap in the attack isn't quite as strong as the crisp decay. I would speculate that some of that transient softness is a catch 22 byproduct of the tubeless resonator box, but I couldn't say for sure. Even if it is, I can tell you without a doubt that the net effect of the technology is still hugely positive.
A Glorious, And Masterful, In-Ear Monitor
Equipment Used During Review