Campfire Audio Comet: What an apparition it is
Campfire Audio (CA) has garnered a pretty impressive reputation given the brand is only three years old and still in it’s infancy. Mind you, being crafted by Ken Ball, the mind behind the juggernaut cable manufacturer ALO, ensured they would be in the spotlight right off the bat. Still, a reputation is earned and when you design a visually distinctive product that backs up those looks with sound to match, it can build in a flash. That’s exactly what Campfire did, and with their two newest products in the Comet and Atlas, they’re poised to continue their momentum and growth. Today we’re checking out the Comet, Campfire’s new entry level model which rings the tills at a reasonably affordable 199 USD.
Thanks to Caleb at Campfire Audio for arranging a complimentary review sample of the Comet. While it does not need to be returned, it is still considered the property of Campfire Audio and will be returned immediately if requested. All thoughts within this review are my own and are not representative of Campfire Audio or any other entity. There was no financial incentive provided to sway my opinion.
At the time of this review the Comet retailed for 199 USD. You can check it out here: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/comet/
Unboxing and Accessories:
While exceptionally basic, the Comet’s unboxing experience is pleasant and familiar. This time around , the cardboard box the Comet arrives in is bright orange with a matte orange sticker laid over it providing an image of the Comet. You also find some product information and contact details for Campfire Audio. I miss the swirling oil and water background present on the Polaris and Cascade’s packaging, but the simplified imaging used here works well. The mountainous scenery and starry night are still present, this time printed in a vertical orientation and colored in a contrasting shade of teal. Opening the lid you’re greeted on the inner flap by “Nicely Done”.
Inside, the package is dominated by Campfire Audio’s spacious and durable leather carrying case which, as is to be expected, holds the Comet. To my pleasant surprise, each ear piece is placed within it’s own protective fabric bag, offering additional protection and stopping them from rubbing together and scratching during transit. The zipper is thick and durable with a redesigned pull tab prominently displaying the CA logo, while the inside of the case is lined with what feels to be loose, fluffy wool. Unlike most clamshell cases, there are two collapsible inner walls that hold the Comet securely in place when closed and zipped shut. This is one of, if not the nicest compact carrying case I’ve come across yet. Underneath the case beneath a false floor rests the accessories, a manual, and a card for the Comet’s limited warranty.
The included accessories include a variety of items, from various tip options to a Campfire Audio pin which I thought was pretty neat. It’s not a cheap feeling pin either, with the CA logo properly raised and enameled. In all you are provided;
- Comet earphones
- Litz copper cable
- Single flange SPINFIT tips (xs/s/m/l)
- Campfire’s own foam tips (s/m/l)
- Single flange wide bore silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Cleaning tool
- CA branded lapel pin
The accessories included are plentiful and of high quality, and the unique artwork on the box is very pleasing to the eye, even after experiencing it a few times on other Campfire products. Overall it is a very satisfying unboxing experience that includes just the right amount of accessories. It’s a complete package and not something you should feel the need to add anything to out of the box.
Design, Build, Comfort, and Isolation:
The Comet features the brand’s newest design language which is unlike anything else I’ve seen on the market, for better or worse you might say. Like it’s predecessors, it is distinctly Campfire. The three piece shells are crafted from forged steel, then CNC machined down to the interesting shape you see before you. After being constructed by hand, the mirror finish is achieved by hand polishing the shells. The final result is as much jewelery as it is portable audio product, with it’s silver sheen drawing attention wherever you go. The elongated shells evoke thoughts of products I would have expected residents in the 50’s to find futuristic, and wouldn’t be out of place if found among the populace in the popular Fallout series. Whether you think it looks like a ray gun or a hair dryer, you can’t deny the Comet is eye-catching, or at the very least interesting.
It’s well built too, as is to be expected from the brand. Tolerances for fit and finish are low with the three sections that make up each ear piece fitting together snugly. The nozzles are especially nice given they’re not a separate piece with the protective grills included as part of the machining process. The CA logo on each side is flawlessly machined with the MMCX interface incorporated into the base of each ear piece in a way that is hardly noticeable, save for the black plastic holding the connector in place. This is the only plastic present and isn’t visible once the cables are in place.
The included cable might seem familiar to fans of the Polaris. Campfire re purposed the Polaris’ excellent copper cable for the Comet, removing the memory wire and adding an in line microphone and three button control module. Left and right channels are fairly easily determined by small L and R makings molded into the connectors, as well as blue and red dots for further channel verification. Microphonics are minimal as is memory, and it does a great job of avoiding tangling should you fail to store it neatly in the included leather carrying case. The MMCX connectors feature Campfire’s unique beryllium/copper construction which is more durable than what the competition provides. While I still don’t recommend detaching the cable unless necessary, you can do so with confidence the connectors will retain a reliable connection. The only issues I have with the cable are that it gets stiff in cold weather, and the microphone is set a couple inches too far down the cable which restricts the usefulness of the chin cinch.
When it comes to fit it’s great that Campfire went with a more universal design with the Comet. The ear pieces are mirrored. This means you don’t have to worry about which side is which when plugging in the cables since they not dedicated to one channel or the other, and they fit the same regardless of which ear they’re in. They’re also designed to be worn cable up or down vs. the cable up designs found throughout the majority of the CA lineup. Given this is their entry level product, such flexibility is important. My only qualm is with the weight of the earphone. The Comet is fairly heavy, but, it is also well balanced so the weight ends up being distributed well once in the ear. They never disappear as you always feel a light tug, but it’s far from being a deal breaker. You can always wear them cable up if it’s an issue since that negates the weight almost entirely.
Isolation is also pretty impressive, but that’s not unexpected. While the armature drivers themselves are vented, the ear pieces are not. Combined with the included foam tips or Spintfits, isolation is well above what you generally get with vented dynamic driver based products. These would be fantastic for use on transit, in noisy environments when working or studying, or any other situation where you’d want to drown out your environment.
In-line Controls and Call Quality:
All three buttons on the remote worked perfectly with my LG G5 with the Comet able to control volume, skip back and forth through tracks, answer and hang up calls, etc. Ergonomics for the control module were just okay though. The three buttons are very similar in shape with little distinction beyond a small bump on the middle button. To ensure I hit what I was looking for, I would sweep my fingers over the module to feel for the button, and go from there. The buttons are also quite thin, though easy to depress and with a satisfying click.
When it comes to the mic, it’s call quality is shockingly good. My voice came through loud and clear to callers. The only issue is, and this comes back to something mentioned earlier, placement of the mic on the cable. It’s too low and as a result the mic is always brushing against my shirt. Fine if you’re sitting still, less so when on the move. This is rectified mostly by wearing the cable over ear to raise the mic, but it shouldn’t be necessary.
Overall I was extremely impressed with how good this mic sounds. It’s definitely up there with my favorites like the JVC HA-FRD60, HA-FRD80, and YHC S600. Fix the placement issue and it would be nigh perfect.
Sources and Mobile Use:
For at home use the Comet was paired with my TEAC HA-501 desktop amplifier sourced by my ASUS FX53V laptop. On the TEAC, I listened with the damping factor set either to ‘mid’ for improved clarity and micro detail, or ‘low’ which improved long term listen-ability and bass response.
On the road, I often played the Comet straight out of my LG G5 which easily powered it to uncomfortable listening volumes, despite relatively high power requirements (97 dB sensitivity @ 48 ohms).
Pairing it with a number of players, I found the Comet fantastic with neutral to warm players like the HiFi E.T MA8, Shanling M1, F.Audio S1, and HiFiMan MegaMini, all of which synergized well. The MegaMini in particular sounded amazing with the Comet by lowering treble emphasis slightly and opening the sound stage depth right up. It made for an exceptionally smooth, nautral, and yet fairly spacious pairing. Brighter players like the Walnut V2S and Xduoo Nano D3 exacerbated the Comet’s treble and threw the balance off completely. The D3 was an especially poor mate since it also displays early low end roll off.
I recommend source rolling with the Comet if you have the luxury to do so. It sounds best through neutral to warmer sources in my experience. The high-ish impedance also keeps hissing and background noise with your devices to a minimum.
- Driver: Single full range balanced armature
- Impedance: 48 Ohm @1kHz
- Sensitivity: 97 dB SPL/mW
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
Full-range balanced armatures (BA) always seem to make sacrifices when it comes to extension. The Brainwavz B100 has great mids and treble but lacks a little umph down low. The B150 has a thick mid and mid-bass presence but is missing some sparkle and sub-bass. The EarNiNE EN1J has an amazing mid-range, but can be seen lacking somewhat everywhere else. Campfire seems to have found a solution to this with the Comet. The use of a vented design aids in bass extension while the application of Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (T.E.A.C.) tech, as seen on their more premium models, improves treble extension. What this results in is a well-rounded and flexible full-range armature with a balanced signature that leans towards a very reserved v-shape.
Treble is emphasized and vibrant and gives the Comet’s some air and space. It gives off a good amount of shimmer and sparkle with cymbals and other effects without any overemphasis that might cause discomfort. Micro-detail is somewhat lacking though, with textured effects coming across smoother than they should. This airiness in the treble positively affects the mid-range which despite being set back slightly is very clear and intelligible. Vocals have a natural sense of weight and body to them with just a hint of warmth that carries over wonderfully with female vocals.
Tonally, the Comet is quite similar to the Polaris to my ears but is less dry and slightly more organic. Once again though, micro-details are under emphasized and smoothed over. Hearing fine details, like those of fingers sliding over strings, requires more effort than I would expect from an armature based earphone. The low end is well extended with an uncommon amount of punch for a BA. It’s snappy and articulate with a reserved decay that is more in line with micro dynamic drivers than other BAs. This gives the Comet’s bass presence and authority. Overall quantity is still fairly low, not much beyond neutral, and is in a good place when considering balance with other frequencies. Texturing is decent with grungy basslines represented well. I found the sound stage fairly large, but also somewhat flat. Separation is great, but layering feels a couple steps behind since there simply isn’t room for instruments to play. As a result, on congested tracks the Comet begins to display a wall-of-sound effect making individual instrument distinction more difficult than might be preferred.
Overall I find it to have a slightly bright and engaging sound with a hint of warmth and a full mid-range, a prominent but not tiring treble presence, and bass that carries itself with confidence. Micro-detail is acceptable and staging is large but not particularly deep. As such, the Comet’s ability to layer on complicated tracks falters. Imaging accuracy and separation are satisfying though, and so is the Comet.
Select Comparisons: Volume matching completed with a Dayton Audio iMM-6
EarNiNE EN2J (267.00 USD) – The EN2J, like the Comet, features custom-built and designed balanced armatures developed in-house by the EarNiNE team. On each side you find a full-range driver supplemented by a woofer. I find EarNiNE’s armatures have a very distinct, love-it-or-hate-it breathiness that contrasts greatly with the Comet’s smoother presentation. The EN2J is relentlessly detailed compared to the Comet and is much more suited to someone looking to analyze their music. It’s technically impressive but not as satisfying when it comes to pure enjoyment. The Comet is musical and robust with greater weight behind it’s output, and more fullness to the mid-range. The EN2J’s sound stage is larger and more rounded with impressive layering and separation qualities that the Comet can’t match. When it comes to build, the EN2J is once again alike the Comet in that it features steel earpieces, though it uses a different manufacturing process to get it’s result; hairline processing. While the EN2J looks and feels great, it’s polished effect isn’t as pure and lacks the mirror-like quality of the Comet. Overall fit and finish is on par, though the EN2J is taken down a peg via the application of plastic nozzles. Comfort isn’t perfect for me on either but I’d give the EN2J the edge. It’s low profile, Shure-styled housings nestle in well once you’ve found the right tips, through they lack flexibility in that they can only be worn cable-up. Speaking of cables, while I like Campfire’s I love EarNiNE’s. It’s thin, light, super flexible, shows no microphonics, and is well relieved with a great chin cinch. I doubt it will be as durable long term but that is overridden completely by just how unobtrusive and pleasant it is to use.
While I appreciate the EN2J for the detail and clarity it brings to the table, it simply isn’t as enjoyable to use as a daily driver as the Comet has proven to be.
Brainwavz B400 (199.00 USD) – Where the Comet features single custom full-range BAs per side, the B400 implements quad Knowles BAs per side. This results in two very different sounding earphones. The B400 is warmer and more organic or analogue, with a deeper, fuller sound, vs. the Comet’s brighter, more lively presentation. The B400 has greater extension in either direction, though I wouldn’t expect it given the Comet’s upper frequency presence that is much more reserved on the B400. To me the Comet’s staging in general feels larger and more spacious but lacks the layering and depth of the B400. It also falls behind in terms of imaging accuracy and separation, all of which are standout qualities on the B400. While the Comet is reasonably detailed, it doesn’t pick up subtle track nuances in quite the same way the B400 does. When it comes to comfort, the B400’s low profile housings fit my ears more naturally. Isolation is equally excellent between the two with the B400 getting a slight edge due to the way it fills the outer ear, especially when you thrown on some foam tips. In terms of build, the B400’s earpieces fall far behind not only the Comet, but most every other similarly priced product, particularly if you get a colored model. There’s no comparison. In terms of cables, the Comet’s stock cable both looks and feels much more price appropriate than what you get with the B400 which shares cables with lesser models in the B-Series lineup, it just happens to be removable via MMCX. The quality of the B400’s Frosty upgraded cable option is much more in line with the Comet’s stock cable, but it tacks an extra 30 USD onto the overall cost.
When it comes to sound the B400 is a technical powerhouse compared to the Comet, however, the lack of treble emphasis may hinder the enjoyment factor for those that prefer a more lively sound. The Comet’s vastly superior materials also serve to highlight the potential fragility of the B400’s 3D printed construction.
AAW Q (223.00 USD) – The AAW Q canal phone provides sound via 6mm microdrivers and is unique because it’s ear pieces are hardly larger than the driver within. When inserted, the entirely of the Q rests inside your ear canal. The Comet isn’t a large earphone, but it absolutely dwarfs the Q which is one of the most comfortable products I’ve put in my ear to date. The Q is much warmer and bassier. It falls behind the Comet in terms of detail, clarity, speed and texture but hits with more authority and extends further into the low end with greater sub-bass presence. Mids are set slightly further back on the Q which seems more in tune with male vocals that are comparatively thin and lacking body through the Comet. Treble on the Comet is much more emphasized giving it more sparkle and an overall engaging sound. Sound stage on the Q is wider and deeper and overall more enveloping. They image similarly with the Comet’s thinner sound helping it out with more minute movements. Layering goes to the Q where the depth of it’s stage goes a long way to a more natural presentation. Separation is similar with the Comet having an edge. Build and design handily goes to the Comet. Both use steel housings, but the Q is mostly devoid of any elements of style and has a fixed cable. That said, I suppose there isn’t much that can be done with a housing that’s smaller than a medium sized ear tip, nor could a detachable cable be easily integrated without losing the appeal of the Q’s compact design.
These two really couldn’t be more different. The Q is tiny and bassy with a less robust construction and simple design that plays into it’s size and impossibly low weight. The Comet is stylish and more neutral in signature with a better build, removable cable, and overall greater value quotient.
Campfire Audio Polaris (599.00 USD) – The Polaris is one of Campfire’s newer models and features a 1+1 hybrid configuration. A/Bing it with the Comet, a task made somewhat challenging by the Polaris’ greater efficiency, you can certainly hear the family resemblance in the tonality and presentation of the mids and treble. To my ears the Polaris comes across slightly brighter and with a touch of dryness in the mids compared to the Comet’s slightly darker sound. The Polaris I found more detailed, especially in the lower treble where the Comet is somewhat smoothed over. In the low end there isn’t much of a comparison given the Polaris has a dynamic driver, and a very good one at that, dedicated to the task. It feels quicker with better extension, and has more texture, slam and impact than what you get from the Comet. Still the Comet’s full-range BA does a commendable job given the circumstances. In terms of design and build, both are iconic in my opinion. The Polaris’ anodized, two-tone aluminum shells suffer from paint loss over time, but based on what I’ve seen, that is a point of pride for some owners who enjoy showing off their well-loved and worn Campfire earphones. My Comet’s polished steel housings have yet to scratch or show any wear, something I couldn’t say about the Polaris after the same amount of time. I suspect it will remain blemish free far longer than the Polaris. The Comet and Polaris share the same cable with a couple alterations. The memory wire present for the Polaris is gone, a big plus in my opinion as it wasn’t particularly effective, and an in line mic has been added. The mic makes the chin cinch ineffective due to how low it is on the cable, something Campfire should look into adjusting.
The Comet and Polaris aren’t really comparable given the vast difference in price and driver configuration, however, comparing them anyway shows the Comet is a great first step into the Campfire lineup and gives you an idea of what to expect from the brand should you continue your journey up to their more premium offerings.
It’s always nice to see a brand know for premium offerings provide a more affordable entry into the lineup that doesn’t sacrifice what makes them so appealing in the first place. The Comet offers a uniquely interesting design that is distinct to Campfire Audio while retaining the excellent unboxing experience and accessory kits of their more expensive products. The build quality is second-to-none with well-constructed, hand-polished stainless steel housings. It brings in features that are suitable for the price point and which make it accessible to a wider audience, such as the inclusion of an in line mic for mobile use, and the ability to be worn cable up or down. The quiet cable makes each style of wear equally viable too, though cable up is better to take advantage of impressive call quality on the in line mic. While the Comet isn’t the be-all-end-all of micro-detail and could benefit from greater depth of sound stage, its performance is in line with similarly priced products. It also provides exceptional extension for a single full-range balanced armature avoiding the sacrifices common to the format, especially in terms of bass reproduction.
Campfire Audio has done a fantastic job of bringing to the market a new product that is rife with the style, technology, and quality they are known for, all while avoiding cutting corners to keep costs down. This is not an earphone you need to approach with caution and is something you can purchase with confidence.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Material:
Aesop Rock – Skelethon (Album)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (Album)
Elton John – Yellow Golden Brick Road (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Converting Vegetarians (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bone) (Album)