Campfire Audio Satsuma: Orange Justice

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out the Satsuma, one of two brand new products from Campfire Audio.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon where their products are designed and hand-assembled, Campfire Audio has been bringing high end in-ear-monitors to the public since 2015. It all started with the Jupiter, Orion, and Lyra. Since then their lineup has been expanded and refined with popular releases like the Andromeda and Atlas. The Andromeda in particular has become a staple recommendation for audiophiles looking to step up into the realm of TOTL (top-of-the-line) gear thanks to a balanced and technically proficient yet entertaining sound. It looks pretty cool too.

With the Satsuma and its sibling, Honeydew, we are seeing a shift in nomenclature from the brand. Whereas past products followed a celestial naming scheme, these two new models are titled after colourful, sweet fruits that make for a delicious snack during the warm summer months. The Satsuma is a replacement for the Comet, Campfire Audio’s previous entry level model. The Satsuma shares the single, ported armature driver setup and utilizes an updated version Campfire’s patented T.E.A.C. (Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber) system via a 3D printed interior. While the tuning between the two models is virtually identical, I found the new housing to make a noticeable difference in the overall experience. It is much easier to achieve and retain a perfect seal giving the signature overall a smoother more detailed feel, especially in the treble, with improved bass texture and presence.

Let’s look at it in more detail, shall we?

What I Hear What I hear is a smoother sounding, more technically proficient Comet that comes in a way more ergonomic shell. This enables me to more consistently enjoy the uncommonly robust armature bass making the Satsuma a fantastic replacement to what was already a great earphone.

Since the bass is what I can appreciate most thanks to the new housing and ergonomics, let’s start there. For an armature, the one installed in the Satsuma provides a pretty darn robust and linear experience despite only a moderate boost over neutral. Extension is great with the deep tones in the opening of Kavinski’s “Solli” providing plenty of physical feedback that feels more akin to a small dynamic driver than a balanced armature. While the Comet could achieve this, the fit prevented it from being a consistent experience unless sitting still. The Satsuma also provides a hint more texture and note control while retaining the natural attack and decay qualities I heard in the Comet. Where the Comet was decent with bass-reliant tracks and genres, it never felt quite at home. I cannot say the same for the Satsuma. Thanks to the improved consistency of the presentation, it provides just as nice of an experience with jazz as it does hip hop and classical. This is a very versatile low end.

The mid-range of the Satsuma sees a moderate upper mid boost that gives vocals a confident presence without resulting in them becoming shouty. That said, like the Comet the Satsuma is not forgiving of recordings that already have an overly forward and aggressive mix, such as Aesop Rock’s “The Gates”. On this track especially, the vocal performance is unbearably fatiguing through nearly all but a few select earphones I’ve tested it on. When it comes to sibilance I found the Satsuma a bit more forgiving than the Comet. Once again we turn to the master of dense word play, Aesop Rock, and his track “Blood Sandwich”. Ts and Ss out of the Comet have a more sizzle to them when compared to the Satsuma leaving the newer model the superior pick. Another area where the Satsuma improves over it’s predecessor is micro-detail. The Comet was somewhat over smoothed in the mids which smeared minor details. The Satsuma does not have this problem giving it a more coherent overall presentation.

Continuing upward into the presence and brilliance regions, we see the Satsuma favouring the upper treble. Where I found the Comet to lack micro-detail in these regions, the Satsuma comes across slightly clearer with better detail retrieval overall, as noticed on Broken Bells’ “Mongrel Heart”. Thanks to the brilliance region bias, the Satsuma provides plenty of air and space between notes while bringing forth some shimmer and sparkle that avoids coming across as too aggressive. In addition to being slightly more detailed than it’s predecessor, the Satsuma sounds smoother without giving up an ground in terms of texture. Notes also attack and decay relatively realistically. While this leaves the Satsuma a bit less technically proficient than other armature based earphones like Brainwavz B200, it also comes across more natural.

Sound stage is where the Satsuma truly differentiates itself from the Comet. Where the Comet sounded wide but flat, the Satsuma really sounds things out and feels more spacious in general. Imaging is basically the same, which is to say sounds travel from channel-to channel smoothly and without any dead zones or vague spots. Layering and instrument separation are much improved with the Satsuma doing a great job picking apart messy passages like the ending few minutes of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”, a track which felt congested and somewhat messy through the Comet.

Compared to a Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Meze Rai Solo (199.00 USD): The Rai Solo isn’t likely to be considered bassy by many if community comments are any indication, but next to the Satsuma it almost feels it. The Rai Solo has a less linear shift from sub- through to upper-bass regions with a faster roll off and more mid-bass emphasis. This along with tons of texture gives it a thick, weighty feel with plenty of punch. In comparison the Satsuma comes across quite light and nimble with a smoother presentation. I really like a strong upper mid bump. With the Rai Solo’s being around 5dB higher, it is better suited to my preferences since vocals are more prominent and well matched with the quantity of bass on offer. I also prefer the Rai Solo’s more raw texturing and detail. Still, I can’t argue with the timbre being more natural out of the Satsuma. In comparison, the Meze sounds somewhat cool and dry. Treble is where the two take drastically different directions. The Meze has a clear focus on the presence region which helps gives it all that texture and impressive clarity. Unfortunately it lacks sparkle and shimmer, especially compared to the Satsuma which feels considerably more well rounded with presence and brilliant regions that compliment each other quite effectively. The Meze has an amazing sound stage and strong technical qualities, so I was surprised to see it and the Satsuma going tit for tat. In the Meze’s favour we have a default vocal position a bit further outside the head with sounds trailing further off into the distance. It sounds quite wide with imaging accuracy to match this width. The Satsuma on the other hand comes across deeper with better instrument layering. The both separate instruments very well. I’ll give a slight edge to the Satsuma. The thinner presentation combined with the smoothness results in it being easier to track individual track elements.

While the Meze better matches my preferred signature and as a result I enjoy my time with it more than the Satsuma, Campfire’s product is the one that would likely be more of a crowd-pleaser. The signature is more balanced and less skewed towards certain frequencies. Plus, it sounds smoother and more refined.

DDHiFi Janus (199.00 USD): Bass from the Janus is thicker and more weighty with a slower attack and decay. Texturing is about on par. While the Satsuma offers more quantity and a much less drastic roll off into sub-bass regions, the Janus still manages to feel more visceral. Leading into the mids the Satsuma has a clear detail and clarity advantage. Vocals are more forward, clearer, and more articulate. While the Janus has a thicker presentation with a more natural timbre, it just doesn’t sound as crisp. It’s not so much of an issue when listening in a vacuum, but toss the Satsuma into the mix and I find the Janus a bit lacking. Treble from the Janus is completely biased towards the presence region with a small 7k peak being the only thing to give it any semblance of treble sparkle. The Satsuma is quite a bit more energetic. While overall detail retrieval is actually pretty similar, those same details are considerably more prominent out of the Satsuma. Despite the Janus’s somewhat dull treble presentation, it holds up to the Satsuma’s quickness and control. Sound stage is where the Janus shines sounding quite a bit wider and deeper than the very competent Satsuma. It helps that the Janus’ default vocals positioning is out of the head whereas on the Satsuma they’re parked just at the edge of the ear canal. Imaging I found more precise from the Campfire with layering and instrument separation being comparable.

These two earphones have extremely different presentations so picking one over the other is very much dependent on personal preference. If you’re treble and/or bass sensitive, the Janus would likely be the better pick since those aspects of the tune are greatly downplayed leaving the sound stage, mids, and accurate timbre to carry the beat. On the other hand, the Satsuma is quite a bit more versatile to my ears since frequency emphasis is comparatively more even leaving it a much less specialized and more well-rounded product.

*Since the Satsuma and Honeydew provide the same external build and accessories, these sections will be the same for both reviews with slight alterations made where necessary.*

In The Ear The Satsuma features an all-new shell design for Campfire Audio, though one that still draws inspiration from the iconic angular design first introduced in 2015 with the Jupiter and Orion. While still rife with straight angles, the new shell is quite compact and petite. Along with a new shell design, this is the first product from the brand that I’m aware of to move to moulded ABS plastic. While it certainly lacks the heft and quality feel of their other steel, aluminum, and ceramic models, fit and finish is definitely up to snuff. Seams are extremely tight and properly aligned without excess glue or whatever bonding material was chosen peeking out. The steel nozzles are similar in design to those of the 2020 Dorado and Lyra and protrude from the housings at a natural angle. Outside of the CA logo moulded into each face plate, there isn’t much else of speak of. The design language fits in well with the brand as a whole, with the exciting colour (“Orange Fizz”) really making everything pop.

The Satsuma comes with a new ‘Smoky Lite’ Litz cable. Outside of one small change, nothing else about the cable seems different from the regular Smoky Litz included with the Andromeda 2020, IO, and various other models. I might be just a tad thinner and the sheath more flexible, but even with the two cables side-by-side I’m not confident about this. Either way, the 90 degree angled jack is still smartly designed with an extension to permit compatibility with a wide variety of device cases, though the strain relief remains stiffer than I find ideal. That said, I still have yet to experience any issues with it on the numerous cables in my possession. 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. The one change mentioned earlier is the preformed ear guides. They are now opaque black instead of translucent white as found on all previous versions of this cable. Functionally it is unchanged and does just as good a job of holding the cable securely behind the ear. I like this cable, even if above the y-split it can get a bit tangly.

All points where the shell meets the ear are smooth and rounded leaving this, in my experience, as Campfire Audio’s most ergonomic and comfortable design to date. The lightness provided by the use of ABS absolutely helps with this since the earphone doesn’t droop in the ear, or slip out of place while walking, running, etc. While out and about, you might notice how well the Satsuma isolates. The ear filling, low profile, completely sealed design does a great job of passively blocking noise regardless of whether or not you’re using silicone or foam tips. These would be lovely for commuters or anyone that simply wants to shut out the world around them to listen to their music, or focus on a task more effectively.

In the Box The Satsuma arrives in the same packaging we have become familiar with from the last few releases from Campfire Audio. But is it really the same? When I first held the box, it felt a little different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was until I removed the lovely Campfire Audio logo embossed sticker sealing the exterior sheath shut, then opened the lid of the interior box to reveal the inner contents. Ah ha! This packaging is smaller. Not by a lot, just a few millimetres, but they’ve definitely condensed it down slightly into a more compact experience. This is a change I can fully get behind since it uses less material and creates less waste, a philosophy more in line with the earlier, extremely compact packaging that came with models like the original Polaris, Comet, and Atlas.

Anyway, the theme this time around has changed. The large sticker that adorns the front of the sheath carries with it strong 80’s summer vibes thanks to the use of bright colour gradients set within various well-defined circles. Images of the Satsuma’s creamy orange shells are present and there is also a gemstone tucked into the bottom left corner. Don’t really see how that one fits into the theme, but it looks cool so I’ll let it slide. A smaller sticker can be found along one of the side panels and provides some basic information about the Satsuma, such as that it features a single balanced armature with Campfire’s T.A.E.C teach, a stainless steel spout, among other details. Removing the sheath to reveal the main box within sees Campfire’s traditional nighttime mountain scene has not been abandoned. ‘Nicely Done’ remains printed on the front flap as well, which always puts a smile on my face. Once inside the box, you find a compact half moon carrying case and yet another, smaller box containing the rest of the accessories. In all you get:

  • Satuma earphones
  • ‘Smoky Lite’ silver-plated, copper litz cable
  • Canvas zipper case (handmade in Portugal!)
  • Marshmallow foam tips (s/m/l)
  • Wide bore silicone tips (s/m/l)
  • Final Audio Type E tips (xs, s, m, l, xl)
  • Cleaning tool
  • Campfire Audio lapel pin
  • Mesh accessory bag (x3)

In all a very comprehensive accessory kit, as is always the case with Campfire Audio products. The only thing I would love to see added in the future is a set of bi- or tri-flange tips to satisfy the crowd that prefers that style. Going back to the new case, this is my favourite iteration of Campfire’s half-moon style case so far. Not only is it smaller and more pocketable than previous versions, without sacrificing the ability to comfortably hold the earphones and some extras, but the canvas material looks and feels fantastic in the hand and will certainly be able to take some abuse. Hopefully they carry it forward to future releases.

Final Thoughts When I heard the Satsuma was going to be a replacement for the Comet, I was pretty excited. That remains one of my favourite single armature earphones with only the ergonomics stopping me from using it on the regular. The hand-polished, stainless steel shells with a thing of beauty, but their weight combined with a somewhat long nozzle and standard barrel shape made them cumbersome.

With the Satsuma and it’s new shell design, Campfire Audio has gone above and beyond in addressing the ergonomic and comfort issues of the Comet, while keeping the excellent signature and refining it further. Outside of the shell material lacking the same quality feel of the rest of their lineup, there really isn’t anything I dislike about the Satsuma. The tune is well-balanced and technically capable with a nice sound stage and good detail. Timbre quality is excellent and bass kicks, especially for a balanced armature. This is a wonderful all-rounder and something I’ll definitely be rolling into my daily driver setup. This is a near perfect entry level model in my opinion.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Caleb at Campfire Audio for reaching out to see if I would be interested in covering the Satsuma, and for arranging a sample for review. The thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions and do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Satsuma retailed for 199.00 USD: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/satsuma/

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 18kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94dB SPL @ 1kHz 18.52 mVrms
  • Impedance: 46.40ohms @ 1kHz

Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

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