Campfire Audio Holocene: Uppercut!

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out one of Campfire Audio’s newer mid-range offerings, the triple armature Holocene.

While the colour scheme is reminiscent of their original flagship, the Jupiter, the sound tuning is inspired by the limited edition c/2019 Q4. Inside each shell are three balanced armatures per side, housed within Campfire Audio’s now ubiquitous 3D printed acoustic chamber. Unique to the Holocene and release mate, Mammoth, the shell, cable, and carrying case contain glow-in-the-dark elements that lighten the mood somewhat. Audiophiles and the audio community seem to take things way too seriously nowadays, so it’s nice to see a leading brand like Campfire Audio have some fun with a product aimed squarely at the audiophile crowd. The glow-in-the-dark feature would also be handy in a dim listening environments.

I’ve spent plenty of time with the 649.00 USD Holocene over the last 6 months or so, and feel that it is one of Campfire’s strongest offerings to date. Let’s take a closer look at why, shall we?

What I Hear With the exception of a brilliance region peak around 10k, the Holocene has a very flat, almost reference style tune that distinguishes itself from the rest of Campfire Audio’s lineup. Sub-bass extension is quite good for an armature-only unit with a very smooth transition into the upper-bass and mids. Bass-heavy tracks like Ludacris’ “How Low” are reproduced adequately, though more quantity would be preferred if that, EDM, pop, etc. is going to be your preferred style of music. The absence of a notable mid-bass hump and general reserved nature of the bass presentation means there isn’t a ton of visceral feedback coming from the Holocene. Even so, notes still have decent punch. Texturing is handled well with the Holocene finding itself being informative, but without crossing into the territory of more clinical sounding iems like the EarNiNE EN2J or Campfire’s own Ara.

The midrange is a treat, as I find to be the case with most Campfire Audio earphones. This region is basically flat from lower to upper mids with a slight dip occurring during the transition into the presence region. Timbre is quite accurate but has a minute tilt towards the cool side of things. I feel a bit of additional warmth would benefit the presentation. At least it doesn’t sound wooden, plasticy, or dry, as is oft the case with earphones using this driver tech. Vocals are nicely weighted with a drift towards a leaner sound. This plus the hint of coolness in the tonality leaves the Holocene best with male vocals to my ear, such a Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson. Most female vocalists, in my opinion, need some extra warmth and weight to sound at their best. A light bump in emphasis between 2-4k would also better suit my tastes as it would gives vocalists a bit more presence in the mix, and aid in giving drums and other percussive instruments a stronger attack. The drivers in the Holocene are plenty quick and articulate, but the lack of a definitive attack on drum strikes feels out of place given the treble energy present.

Treble energy is concentrated in the brilliance region thanks the prominence of a ~10k hump. This peak adds plenty of sparkle to the presentation and results in a very airy feel between notes. It truly dominates the upper frequency presentation, mostly thanks to a dip throughout the presence region. This dip is good because it aids in the Holocene’s otherwise transparent and mostly uncoloured presentation. That said, if it were emphasized a few dB more it would bring up details levels even more which to my ears would make the Holocene near perfect for track dissection, without crossing the line into being fatiguing. If I were to levy any complaints at the treble presentation they would be that the brilliance peak is too strong and skews what is otherwise a wonderfully balanced signature. I can see some finding claps, snares, chimes, etc. coming across too prominent in comparison to the rest of the mix. This is quite noticeable with metal tracks like Havok’s “ D.O.A.” For my tastes, this bright-leaning tuning works well. I also found the presentation up top to contain some grain that I wasn’t expecting for a product in this price range. Given how smooth the rest of the signature is and how tight and well-defined notes are, it stands out, though it’s certainly nothing significant enough to ruin the experience.

The Holocene’s sound stage is quite good, though not top of class. Width and depth are fairly even and well rounded. Tossing on BT’s experimental album ‘If The Stars Are Eternal Than So Are You And I’ shows off the Holocene’s ability to encapsulate you in a track. Channel-to-channel movement is extremely effective with sounds moving smoothly and cleanly. They can also be tossed well off into the distance, providing a convincing sense of space. Instrument separation holds up well even on messy, complicated tracks like “Starless and Bible Black” from King Crimson where lesser earphones end up congested and muddy. Track layering is also handled very well with various sound effects and instrument remaining distinct and easy to follow should you feel the need to dissect the stack.

While not my personal favourite earphone in their lineup (that still goes to the Ara), I do feel the Holocene is one of their strongest offerings. It is balanced and energetic with plenty of detail and a reference style presentation that should satisfy the most critical of listeners. For my tastes I’d make some light tweaks here and there, but as-is it is pretty fantastic.

Campfire Audio Holocene and Friends

Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Dunu Zen (699.00 USD): Given the Zen’s use of a single dynamic, it’s not surprising to hear that it has a much more robust low end presentation. Sub-bass presence is considerably greater with more prominent extension. Mid-bass is warmer and punchier. The entire experience out of the Zen is much more visceral and tactile, though the Holocene nails finer details the Zen glosses over. Thanks to the Zen’s stiffer diaphragm materials, it can keep up with the Holocene’s armatures just fine on quick and complicated tracks. Whereas the Holocene’s midrange is flat and even throughout, the Zen has a prominent upper mid peak. While I personally really like this style of tune thanks to the vocal boost and percussive attack it brings with it, the flatter, calmer presentation of the Campfire will better please some. The Zens upper mid boost brings with it some dryness that puts timbre quality behind the more organic sounding Holocene. If you’re treble sensitive, the Zen will probably be a better choice for you. It is firmly skewed towards the presence region which helps give the Zen it’s excellent detail and clarity, with a much reduced brilliance region that helps prevent fatigue. While the Holocene can match the Zen’s detail output, it is considerably more energetic in the brilliance region giving it more shimmer and sparkle, but also causing fatigue earlier on during a listening session, especially if you listen loud. The sound stage on these two is comparable, though they go at it differently. Both place vocals fairly close to the ear with sound spacing out behind. The Zen’s stage feels more rounded and even, but lacks the depth of the Holocene. Imaging isn’t quite as precise either, though they go head-to-head with track layering. I’d give the Holocene a slight edge in instrument separation thanks to a smoother, tighter treble presentation.

Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 (1,099.00 USD): Bass performance on the two is similar. The transition from lower to upper bass is smooth and consistent with an even emphasis throughout. The Andromeda has slightly more presence until you reach the lower mids, and as a result its signature is a bit warmer and accurate sounding to my ears. Speed, attack, and texture between the two are comparable. Heading into the mids the Holocene remains flat and free of peaks while the Andromeda bumps the upper mids. As a result the Andromeda has a more aggressive attack and decay pattern. For the most part time on the Holocene remains slightly more accurate, with its flat lower treble and brilliance spike skewing things towards a lighter, brighter sound since there is less mid-bass warmth to counter. The Andromeda’s comparatively bumped low end and more relaxed presence and brilliance regions blend better with the midrange peak to my ears, giving it a more realistic and natural presentation. The Andromeda is well known for it’s capacious sound stage and outstanding technical qualities, some of which have bled down to the Holocene. The Holocene’s staging isn’t quite as wide or deep, nor does it layer quite as well, but instrument separation and imaging quality is comparable. It sounds like a small step down from the Andromeda.

In The Ear Campfire’s iconic design language returns for the Holocene, with clean angles wrapped around a low profile design. Like other models in the lineup, the shells here are machined aluminum. This time they have been anodized in a reddish brown, ‘umber’ finish. Personally, I love the colour and it takes over from the IO as my favourite colourway. As is usually the case with Campfire Audio products, fit and finish is class leading. Gaps between the black PVD finished stainless steel nozzle and two shell sections are nonexistent. The black tri-lobe screws holding the shell together are threaded perfectly and provide some contrast to the unique colouring. The inlaid Campfire logo has a party piece this time around, that being glow-in-the-dark paint. Definitely a gimmick, but it’s enjoyable. Buyers at this price range tend to take things a little too seriously, so it’s refreshing to see Campfire Audio let go and have some fun with their gear.

The cable is more-or-less the same one included with a number of other Campfire Audio products, though the glow-in-the-dark motif they’ve gone for for carries over to the hardware. The glowing 90 degree angled jack is smartly designed with an extension to permit compatibility with a wide variety of device cases. While the strain relief is still stiffer than I find ideal, I’ve yet to experience an issue with it on any other Campfire Audio product. These cables are 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. They missed an opportunity to make the cinch glow though. Tsk tsk. The same excellent preformed ear guides Campfire has been using for a while now are found on the Holocene. They are light and flexible, yet they hold the cable securely in place behind the ear. The guides lead into the MMCX plugs which of course now glow in the dark. Left and right markings remain appreciably redundant with recessed L and R markings present on the plug and earphone body. Small blue and red dots round things out.

Since the Holocene uses Campfire’s iconic angular shell design, those who have had issues with it in the past won’t experience anything new here. For myself, I find it extremely comfortable, though I still prefer the short, stubby nozzles of the 2020 Andromeda to the longer nozzles found here. The shell used here is the refined version we’ve come to expect. While angular, the more aggressive edges have been rounded out making it more pleasant to wear for long periods. This shell design and the shape of my outer ear are very much compatible with each other. When it comes to isolation I found the Holocene to be about average, if not slightly above. The shells are sealed (but they don’t cause uncomfortable suction) and not a lot of sound gets through. Pair it with tips that give a decent depth of seal or use a thicker silicone wall, like the included Type-E tips, and you can listen in noisy environments at more or less normal volumes quite comfortably. Sure, some noise still bleeds in, but I never found it intrusive enough to warrant raising the volume much to compensate.

In The Box The Holocene’s packaging follows the format set by 2019’s releases with the earphones arriving in a squat, square box, protected by an exterior sheath that is sealed shut by a shiny Campfire Audio seal on the back. While their past few releases moved away from their typical astronomical them, the Holocene brings it back. On the front of the sheath is a large sticker with an image of the earphones along with the usual branding and model info, all set over top of a vibrantly coloured, stylized Saturn-like planet pattern. Another sticker is present around the front edge containing another image of the earphones, some company info, among other details, all set over the same clever background.

Breaking the seal allows the sheath to unfold in four segments revealing the main box within. Lifting it out reveals the same uplifting interior to the sheath we’ve seen before; the CA logo dead centre with rays exploding outwards in a dramatic fashion. Looking back at the main box we see Campfire’s familiar mountainous scene along with more CA branding. Lift the lid and you’re greeted to “Nicely Done” printed on the front flap and their now standard half-moon carrying case, though this time it is made from upcycled marine plastics with glow-in-the-dark accents; the zipper and Campfire Audio logo. You also find a smaller cardboard box containing the main suite of accessories. Tucked beneath it all is a warranty card and manual. In all you get:

  • Holocene earphones
  • Epoch Carrying case
  • Smoky Glow 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 a pretty fantastic unboxing experience, as I have come to expect from the brand. Their use of recyclable, sustainable materials is a brand standard and a welcome departure from the needlessly complicated (though fun to disassemble) and less environmentally friendly packaging of the competition. The accessory kit is right up there with the best I’ve experience thanks to the inclusion of a wide variety of tips and styles. Final Audio’s Type E tips are durable and provide a fantastic seal, giving most earphones you pair them with a slight low end boost thanks to the small bore. The included wide bore tips are fairly standard but they too provide a good seal and are a more balanced sounding option. Campfire’s Marshmallow tips have shown themselves to be fairly resilient for a foam tip and do a great job of boosting isolation and softening treble peaks. The inclusion of a number of mesh bags to store everything in is awesome too.

Final Thoughts ‘Bang-for-you-buck’ isn’t really a term you’d generally apply to a nearly 700 dollar earphone, but in the case of the Holocene I think it’s apt. Pitting it against similarly priced products along with a crop of kilobuck products both within and outside of Campfire’s lineup shows it can handle it’s own. While there are aspects that fall short of the lofty heights set by flagship products the differences certainly are not as vast as you’d expect given the price difference. As such, this puts the Holocene in a very strong position. If you want a reference level earphone without spending the 1K+ USD many brands are asking for their best nowadays, you could do a lot worse than the Holocene. It also doesn’t hurt that it comes with the same extensive accessory kit as the rest of Campfire’s lineup, their iconic angular shell with the same excellent build quality as the Andromeda 2020. The glow-in-the-dark elements are neat too, though I wouldn’t be basing my purchasing decision on that.

Overall a fantastic product well worth the attention of anyone wanting a top quality earphone with mid-tier pricing.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A big thank you to Caleb with Campfire Audio for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the Holocene, and for arranging a sample. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on almost 6 months of use. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity, and do not detract from the opinions of others who may or may not have listened to the Mammoth before posting their opinions. At the time of writing the Holocene was retailing for 649.00 USD: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/holocene/

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 5Hz-20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB SPL@1kHz: 6.99 mVrms
  • Impedance: 5.4ohms @ 1kHz

Gear Used For Testing Huawei P40, DDHiFi TC35 Pro (Mountain), 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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