Campfire Audio Andromeda: As Expected
Today we’re checking out the Andromeda from Campfire Audio. Does this thing really need an introduction? For the sake of writing a complete review, sure, but I’ll keep it brief.
The Andromeda first appeared on the market in 2016 and took the portable audio community by storm thanks to a balanced tune that does pretty much everything right. Over the years it has continued to receive near universal praise from customers and reviewers alike. 2019 sees the Andromeda receiving an update in various areas, such as a more refined shell, a new cable, and an updated accessory kit. What made the Andromeda such a hit in the first place, that being the sound signature, has remained untouched.
We already know the Andromeda is awesome, but feel free to read on for yet another opinion of this modern classic.
Thanks to Caleb with Campfire Audio for arranging a sample of the Andromeda for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on time spent listening to the Andromeda throughout the last two months. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Andromeda retailed for 1099 USD. You can check it out here: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/andromeda/
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
@home: TEAC HA-501 with a ZiShan DSD, HiFi E.T. MA8, or Asus FX53V acting source duty
- Drivers: 5 balanced armatures (Dual High Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C, Single Mid Frequency Balanced Armature Driver, Dual Low Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers)
- Impedance: 12.8 ohms
- Sensitivity: 112.8dB
- Frequency Response: 10Hz to 28kHz
Packaging and Accessories:
When it comes to packaging, Campfire Audio has changed things up this time around. The spirit of their past designs are still in place as they follow the same astronomical theme, but the format has changed. Similar to the Solaris, the Andromeda comes in a fairly large, shallow square box. This box is covered by an exterior sheath, sealed shut by a matte silver Campfire Audio seal on the back. The front contains a large sticker with a mottled pattern set beneath a high quality image of the Andromeda’s earpieces and the usual company branding and model information. One more sticker is present around the side containing company info, another image of the Andromeda, among other details that may or may not be important to the average consumer.
Breaking the seal, the sheath unfold like the pedals of a flower revealing the main box inside. Lifting out the box, you will notice the inner sheath is printed with the CA logo dead centre, silver rays exploding outwards. It’s quite dramatic. The main box itself contains the same beautiful mountainous scene found on CA’s prior packaging along with more Campfire Audio branding. Lifting the lid you’re greeted by the slogan “Nicely Done” printed on one of the flaps, as well as their new leather carrying case and a smaller cardboard box containing many of the included accessories. Beneath all this is your warranty card and a manual. In all you get:
- Andromeda earphones
- Smoky Jacket Silver Plated Copper Litz Cable
- Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
- Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l)
- Medium bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Campfire Audio lapel pin
- Cleaning tool
- Mesh accessory case (x3)
Overall this is an outstanding unboxing experience, as is always the case with Campfire Audio. But…I still prefer their old packaging. It was smaller and more compact thereby using less material and producing less waste, a big plus for those that toss packaging once they get to the goods within. That said, this packaging still produces a lot less waste than what you get with various other luxury brands (RHA, Dunu, etc.), and everything is recyclable, so take this as more of an observation than a complaint. The new box does look fantastic on display though, a positive for those of us that appreciate brands who put time and effort into crafting unique and attractive unboxing experiences.
Packaging aside, the accessory kit is second to none. Final Audio tips are some of the best in the business and with five sizes included you’re sure to find something that works for your ears. Campfire Audio’s Marshmallow tips are a very high quality foam option. The basic single flange silicone tips are nothing special and are the sort of tip you’d find included with more budget oriented offerings. That’s not to take away from their performance though. They stay attached to the nozzle just fine and consistently seal well. The cleaning tool will be invaluable to those with waxy ears and the inclusion of three mesh bags to keep everything neatly organized is genius. Nicely done.
Build, comfort, and Isolation:
The machined aluminum housings of the Andromeda are adorned with their iconic green anodized finish that looks as stunning in person as it does in images. Seems to me that Campfire has improved the quality of their machining and their anodized finish. Compared to the original Polaris and images I’ve seen of earlier Andromeda’s, the shells are much smoother with all machining grooves flattened out. Small bumps and knocks that chipped the finish on the original Polaris have done nothing to the Andromeda. New ~6mm long stainless steel nozzles are present and have a prominent lip that does a great job of holding tips in place. It also contains three small openings for the various sound tubes inside the Andromeda that keep the various frequencies from interfering with each other, at least until they’ve reached your ears. Textured silver screws top things off and attractively accent the green finish. The Andromeda use’s Campfire Audio’s familiar and extra durable beryllium/copper MMCX connectors. I say extra durable because that’s what the marketing blurb spouts, but also my now almost two year old and well-loved Polaris has seen tens and tens of disconnects and the MMCX connectors are just as firm now as they were out of the box. Fit and finish is as to be expected, that is to say it is fantastic. Seams are barely visible and everything lines up perfectly without any gaps or off kilter angles.
The Andromeda comes with Campfire Audio’s new Silver Plated Copper Litz cable. It is quite reminiscent in design and thickness to the copper cable that came with the original Polaris, but with a new smoke coloured sheath. The 90 degree angled jack is smartly designed with an extension to permit compatibility with a wide variety of device cases, though strain relief is a little stiff. Less of a worry than it would be in other cases. My experiences with Campfire’s cables have shown them to be plenty durable. Within the small, reliefless aluminum y-split, the cable divides sending two strands on each side to the ear pieces. Slotting into the top of the split is a small plastic chin cinch. It moves much more smoothly here than on older Campfire cables and as a result is much more useful. Also much more useful is the move to preformed ear guides. While the memory wire used on past Campfire Audio cables worked, I found the “memory” aspect of that title limited at best which led to the wire straightening out over time. Ditching that entirely and running with preformed guides has resulted in a much more pleasant experience since I’m not constantly rebending the wire to ensure it stays behind my ear. This is a great new cable and I was pleased to see it included with some other new models, like the Polaris v2 and IO.
When it comes to comfort you’d be forgiven for assuming Campfire Audio’s iconic angular shell design is a pain in the ear. Maybe for some, but not for me. Ergonomics are just right with the low profile Andromeda conforming quite naturally to my outer ear. That plus the use of lightweight aluminum, a small size the belies the chunky appearance, and the stubby nozzle keeps the Andromeda sitting in a way that does not feel out of place. I can wear the Andromeda almost indefinitely without experiencing any discomfort.
When it comes to isolation, the Andromeda is outstanding. The fully sealed housings relegate the sharp tapping of keyboards to a subtle snap and the tire rumble of cars passing by to a dull murmur, though as with the IO vocals seem to cut through the silence surprisingly effectively. It really is an odd experience, though handy if you’re listening in an area where you risk being summoned by someone nearby. Of course, should you wish to eliminate this just toss on some foam tips and overall isolation improves even further.
Tips: The generic medium bore single flange silicone tips seemed to elevate treble and improve sound stage slightly making the Andromeda sound brighter and give the perception of improved technical ability. Foams seemed to dull the entirety of the Andromeda’s presentation making it sound somewhat stuffy. Didn’t like them at all. The small bore Final Audio Type E tips brought the most out of the Andromeda’s low end and the tips to use if you want more sub-bass. They also slightly boosted treble giving the earphone a less balanced sound overall. Lastly, my preferred tips came via a third party; JVC. While many users love the Andromeda with JVC’s Spiral Dot tips, I don’t have any of those. I run the Andromeda with the similar but vastly more affordable wide bore tips that come with many JVC products, such as the brown set I got with my old HA-FR65. With these tips in place, the Andromeda sounds near perfectly balanced with very mild treble and bass elevation. Magnificent.
The Andromeda is an all-armature earphone but in no way is the low end lacking. Opening with a classic track, Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”, the Andromeda’s low range armature attacks it with a growly texture and quick slam for each note. Decay is snappy but realistic, with notes hanging around as long as they need to. As is almost always the case with balanced armatures, I find extension into sub-bass regions somewhat wanting, but I still come away satisfied with the way things are handled here. On faster, more congested tracks like Havok’s “Scumbag in Disguise”, rapid double bass hits remain well-defined amidst the rest of the instrumentation, regardless of how much is going on. The low end of the Andromeda won’t wow with it’s quantity or depth, instead impressing with it’s texture and control. As someone that listens to a lot of (read: primarily) electronic music, I more or less require a strong low end to carry my music. There aren’t many armature only earphones that tick the right boxes. The Andromeda is one of them.
Treble out of the Andromeda is so close to being perfect for my tastes. Extension is excellent and there are zero nasty peaks to cause discomfort. I personally would like a little more upper treble emphasis to add a hint more sparkle and energy to cymbals and chimes, but then the presentation would lose some of it’s long term listenability and tire the ears faster. Regardless, the Andromeda’s upper ranges are very smooth and detailed delivering beautiful, tightly controlled notes. Tracks that are usually uncomfortable or worse, like The Crystal Method’s “Grace feat. LeAnn Rimes”, come out perfectly manageable if not pleasant with the Andromeda. In the case of “Grace”, the screeching effects that kick in at 1:30 and do their very best to ruin the LeAnn’s solid vocal performance almost sound good with the Andromeda. Heck, it even shows that they have some depth, displaying a mountainous profile as the shrieks shift forward and back in the soundscape. No other earphone I can think of, save for maybe the Solaris or Brainwavz’s humble B400, make that track sound this nuanced.
If you’re a lover of good vocals the Andromeda is going to win you over in a heart beat. The mid-range on this earphone is phenomenal. Vocals have a thick and weighty feel to them, but with an ease of presentation and clarity that belies expectations. Paul Williams’ performance throughout Daft Punk’s “Touch” is a perfect match and easily draws you in thanks to the wealth of emotion on display, especially in the opening and closing moments when things slow down and focus on Paul. Whether you’re listening to Danny Brown in his collaboration with Evil Nine on “The Black Brad Pitt”, Celine Dion on the chill inducing “Ashes”, or Corey Taylor tearing it up in “Pulse of the Maggots”, the Andromeda does everything justice. It also helps that it’s timbre is spot on, avoiding the metallic or plasticy edge armatures from lesser products take on. Guitars sounds like they should and are rife with texture and grit. Pianos can sound light and airy or dark and brooding. It’s this versatility and accuracy that has helped the Andromeda win consistent accolades over the years.
When it comes to the sound stage, I find the Andromeda large but not as cavernous as I was expecting based on what I’ve read over the years. As with the Brainwavz B400 against it’s peers, the Andromeda’s presentation is slightly above average in terms of size with sounds expending just past the head and moving about in a nicely rounded space. Where the jaw dropping occurs is in the imaging, layering and separation. Imaging is spot on with impossibly smooth, nuanced channel transitions. Tracks sound deep and layered with instruments playing in well defined areas, forward or back on the stage. They never blend and muddy each other, instead remaining separate and clear. This makes live recordings like King Crimson’s “Cat Food” and “Indiscipline” a joy, giving you the impression of sitting among the crowd. Just close your eyes, lean back, and listen.
I am nothing but impressed with the Andromeda. Impressive is the tuning balance, how well it handled any genre I tossed at it, but most importantly, how effortlessly it did it all. Lesser products often sound like their driver(s) is/are being tuned within an edge of their capabilities giving everything a slightly strained edge to it. Then you have products like the Andromeda, the Solaris, HIFIMAN’s RE2000, and others, which remove that undesirable quality and allow the music to flow freely and unimpeded. This effortlessness is a quality that really sets top of the line gear apart from more affordable stuff, at least in my limited experience. That and vastly improved technical qualities, like imaging accuracy and how effects are layered.
Campfire Audio Atlas (1,299.00 USD): As the flagship dynamic-only earphone in Campfire’s lineup, the Atlas offers up a very different experience than the Andromeda. Whereas the Andromeda is very balanced through the entire frequency range, the Atlas provides a warmer, v-shaped, bass-centric experience. The Atlas’s low end is more boisterous and powerful, hitting harder and digging deeper than the Andromeda and it’s armature only setup. In the Andromeda’s camp are texture and speed which best the Atlas. In terms of the mid-range, I was pleased to see they were more similar than not. The Andromeda’s mids are obviously more forward and crisp giving listeners more information and better clarity, yet despite this, the Atlas’s mids share a similar tonality and timbre accuracy. It’s just less forward and in your face about it. The Andromeda’s treble has better extension, is slightly more controlled, and in general just sounds more technically competent. The Atlas is a bit brighter and more sparkly though thanks to more upper treble emphasis. I’d also say the Atlas’s presentation is a hint more natural sounding though, with higher pitched instruments sounding just the teeniest bit off through the Andromeda. Given how minor this is, it is not something I would have noticed without a/b’ing the two. In terms of sound stage, the Atlas gives off a more grand impression of space. While impressive in it’s own right, the Atlas can’t compete with the Andromeda when it comes to imaging accuracy, layering, or separation, where it is second to none.
While I am firmly in the Andromeda camp thanks to it’s technical qualities and overall balance (shell comfort too), I can see why you would prefer the Atlas. The liquid bass that only a dynamic driver can provide is a strong selling point.
HIFIMAN RE2000 Silver (1,500.00 USD): The RE2000 Silver is the best earphone in Hifiman’s lineup in my opinion, besting the notably more expensive and flashy gold-plated, brass shelled standard RE2000. Why? It provides a more even, balanced signature, one that is quite comparable to the Andromeda. The Andromeda provides a bit more upper treble emphasis giving it slightly more sparkle and air in the upper ranges. I also find the Andromeda’s armatures slightly better controlled with more defined notes. The RE2000 Silver’s mid-range is less forward and a touch thicker, providing a less detailed and slightly darker but no less engaging presentation. In the Andromeda’s favour, the upper mids on the RE2000 can show some stridency on female vocals that remain quite smooth on the Andromeda (ex. Massive Attack’s “Dissolved Girl”. Bass on the RE2000 Silver is more extended and slightly more emphasized, though I find it’s presentation slower and softer. The Andromeda’s mid-bass gives notes a nice solid kick where it comes across as more of a thump through the Hifiman. In terms of sound stage and technical ability, this is where the Andromeda’s multi-driver set up shines. The RE2000 sounds a hint wider and deeper to my ears, but falls behind in layering depth and instrument separation. Not to say it’s bad by any means. Both of these will vastly outperform what the majority of the population is used it. Imaging falls into the same camp with the Andromeda showing even cleaner and more accurate channel to channel transitions.
While both of these products are shining examples of what the almighty dollar can buy, only one would get my hard earned Toonies; Andromeda. Not only do I think it sounds better thanks to it’s more balanced, less fatiguing signature, but it’s build quality is more price appropriate. It’s also almost 400 bucks cheaper.
Campfire Audio Solaris (1,499.00 USD): As the flagship hybrid in Campfire’s lineup and one of the best products I’ve listened to to date, I was curious to see how these two stacked up. Once again, the Andromeda comes across as the more even and balanced of the two. These two earphones have a similar mid-range with the Solaris coming across slightly cooler, leaner, and less forward. The cooler, leaner presentation, for me, gives the Solaris the edge on detail and clarity through the mids and up into treble regions. The Solaris is also slightly brighter up top thanks to some additional upper treble emphasis, but it’s no less smooth. Bass is where the two differ most, and we can thank the Solaris’ retuned Atlas driver for that. The extra depth afforded by a dynamic driver is readily apparent with sub-bass notes providing a deep rumble and level of physical feedback that simply isn’t possible through the Andromeda. Andromeda still has the edge in terms of speed and texture, though not by a wide margin. Sound stage on the Solaris pulls from the Atlas in that it is wide open and spacious, even more so than the Andromeda. However, I’d still put imaging accuracy and precision, as well as layering and separation capabilities in the Andromeda’s camp… barely. They’re equals for the most part.
I was expecting to be all gung ho on the Andromeda with this comparison given just how much I’ve enjoyed my time with it, but this ended up being a wash. Sometimes I really miss the Solaris’ extra treble and bass extension, but then when I’m listening to it I miss the Andromeda’s thicker, more engaging mid-range. Once thing I think everyone can appreciate about both of these products is just how effortless their presentations are.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the Andromeda is everything I expected it to be. The angular design pairs perfectly with the striking shade of green Campfire selected. As experienced on other models, it fits my ears perfectly too. The edgy shell might bother some, but it is perfectly in tune with the shape of my outer ear resulting in something I can wear for long periods of time, discomfort and fatigue free.
The new packaging is more tedious to dig into and produces more waste than Campfire’s previous attempt, but you can’t argue against it doing a better job of representing the premium product the Andromeda is. Inside the accessory kit doesn’t let you down either. Along with a number of goodies you get 11 pairs of high quality tips of varying styles and sizes, all but guaranteeing you find something to fit your ear. Everything can be easily stored within the three mesh pouches provided, or at the very least tucked into the outstanding, newly designed leather carrying case.
Of course none of this would matter much if the Andromeda didn’t back it up with one of the most accomplished and well-rounded signatures I’ve ever heard. I love everything about the way the Andromeda sounds, from the punchy and politely elevated bass, to the weighty and detailed mid-range, to the sprightly treble and sizable, well-balanced sound stage that pulls you into your music.
If you’re not the kind of person to chase the perfect budget earphone, preferring instead to buy once and get it right the first time, the Andromeda is exactly what you need. It is every bit the top of the line, reference level product it’s reputation has grown to suggest.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (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 Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)