Disclaimer: Campfire Audio sent me Atlas for the purposes of this review. I did not pay for it, nor did I go out of my way to get it. Atlas houses a single 10mm dynamic driver per channel, is built like a bullet, and goes for 1 299$ USD. You can find out all about it here: Campfire Audio Atlas.
Campfire Audio’s new line of earphones meets or surpasses industry leaders in CNC machining and accessory quality. But quality - of build and brand - has always been the core of Campfire Audio. Since Andromeda, high-frequency texture and reach has mediated Campfire Audio’s otherwise warm and robust house sound. Atlas, which punches fast and hard like no Campfire before it, and which crowns the V-shape signature with a mature top, is, in some respects, something of an anti-Andromeda.
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ohmage to the Campfire Audio Comet
ohm air #26 OHM AIR Campfire Audio Andromeda
Eyes on Jupiter - Campfire Audio’s case for patience
The Campfire Audio Lyra
Campfire Audio Andromeda - Topping the maker game
Campfire Audio Jupiter pre-production report
Haptics and build: ohmage and porridge
Like Comet, Atlas shares the same channel interchangeable design. When tethered to their cables, both sides are identical; and I’ll be damned if you can suss which is which in the pitch black of a 2AM room. If you’ve got light, it’s easy: red dot for right, blue dot for left.
Atlas comes with a single Litz cable, eleven pairs of ear pads, a cleaning brush, channel totes, and the best carry pouch in the business. While not brimming with options, it’s full of quality parts.
Like Comet, Atlas’s drop-forged steel casing is tough as nails, and despite its mirror finish, hard - but not impossible - to scratch. Unlike Comet, its wider body presents lots of purchase for insertion and removal. Like Comet, it lacks a tail of any sort, making it easier grab cable than anything else, when removing it from the ear. If you’ve got fat fingers and/or deep ear canals, or any combination of both, you’ll find it tricky to remove Atlas.
Fit: ohmage and porridge
Atlas’s y-split goes halfway down a buttoned shirt and its cinch travels up from there, straddling smartly between and cinching in the two tributaries. The combination of Atlas’s strong steel body and pliable cable keeps touch and other transfer noise to a minimum.
Better, Campfire Audio have stuck with an L-shaped plug whose plastic/rubber sleeve is not only is slim enough to work with most, if not all, smartphone cases, it is tight enough to fit in a pair of jeans when hooked directly to a Sony MZ-R50 Minidisc Walkman.
The Final Audio silicon pads shipped with Atlas are good, though not as comfortable as my personal favourites from Ortofon/Grado. Campfire’s Marshmallows, however, feel like heaven. Sound changes a bit going from silicon to foam, especially if you have narrow ear canals. In my case, Marshmallows nets a positive in bass sound pressure at the expense clarity in the upper bass and lower mids. Even muffled by my small ear canals, a Marshmallowed Atlas is powerful and stereo nuanced. For absolute comfort I’ll sacrifice anything or any one.
When properly fitted, Atlas isolates really well. Of course, it won’t match a good custom earphone or deep-insert IEM. But for a ported dynamic earphone, it isolates about as well as possible.
There’s nothing kitschy about any Campfire Audio product I’ve tried. Let’s get onto sound.
Atlas punches lower than Comet and with a much deeper and more layered stereo scape. Z-Axis detail and travel are high, easily surpassing many good multi-driver earphones.
At 105dB sensitivity and 19Ω impedance, Atlas gets loud, and fast. And, it picks up a lot of amp and other circuit noise, just not to the degree of Ultrasone’s IQ or Shure’s SE846. For me, that is a saving grace, especially as I’m in the throes of a renewed passion for Minidisk portable audio. My most-used MD portable - an MZ-R50 - hisses a lot more I’m comfortable with. My CK10 picks it up. My IQ picks it up. My GR8e picks it up. And Atlas more than picks it up. Cleaner sources: Onkyo’s DP-S1, Apple’s iPhone SE, and Sony’s phenomenal MZ-EH1 only barely hiss.
As long as your source is modern, you should be fine.
Like Comet, Atlas requires an extra step or two up the volume scale above an earphone like the Grado GR8e, but overall it is quick to get loud.
Bass vs. Mids: ohmage
Atlas’s bass pressure is strong. It rumbles low, easily rattling open the usually inaudible introduction to Markus Schulz’s Mainstage. And it does so without a hint of bloom as bass signals ramp up beyond 50Hz, 100Hz, and so on. Atlas hits low, renders good to great texture, and remains clean on the attack. Decay is a bit slower. Its transition to lower and middle mids is cleaner than typical for such a fast-acting, low-hitting, and bloom-free anchor sound.
In comparison, Andromeda’s lower bass pressure slides right into the mids smooth as a baby’s bottom. Atlas’s upper bass catches a bit, holding decay a fraction longer. This aids in establishing environmental atmosphere, especially live music. It also helps to firm up the impression that Atlas’s lows aren’t just more powerful- they are warmer. Andromeda’s lows are about as natural sounding as I’ve heard from a quad-armature earphone. Atlas’s is more energetic, and, to improperly use a cool term, visceral.
Bass vs. Highs: ohmage
Despite the energy and z-axis depth down low, Atlas’s highs are what I think Ken and team truly nailed. From upper female vocals to cymbal crashes, high frequency reverb is perfect. A slight decay delay ensures a lovely aura around pianos and violin.
Vocals jump to the fore more than is typical of earphones sporting V-shaped signatures. Both male and female voices have tight forward edges, and a decent room between them and their immediate mid-range company. And, while stereo detail is meagre in the mids, it is above average in the highs. All of this is a welcome departure from Comet, whose male vocals sound over-filtered and whose stereo image is flat.
Overall, Atlas brandishes a V-shaped signature. But it is one without sibilant highs or upper frequency lilt. Highs are moderately bright and lows are punchy and powerful. Mids are crisp and full enough that vocals run to the fore, but not with gobs of warmth. It’s the sort of sound that can draw the EDM, trance, and club listener, but also offers a lot to the rock fan and even to the casual jazz lover. Classical lovers will find a lot to dig in Atlas’s detailed and powerful lows and enjoy upper mids. While not balanced in Andromeda’s terms, Atlas’s take is Andromeda but more energetic, detailed, and fun. It is also just warmer than neutral, and its transitions are grittier than they are wet.
Overall soundstage is wide, but not extreme. It gets a good couple steps into the Z-axis with great instrument separation. The sense of air between instruments and stage elements is medium-large, but not swimmingly wide like in Ocharaku’s Flat-4 Sakura Plus.
VS. Ultrasone IQ
Honestly, the Ultrasone IQ’s round-edged bass is to die for. But its highs are rough, and often tinny. Atlas and IQ hold a lot in common to just below the vocal band. IQ giving up bass slam for wetter low-frequency reverb, and its vocals, while crisp, sink into impending and often scratchy highs. IQ has been a favourite of mine for years, but its weaknesses are enough to sink it for a variety of bright genres. Atlas shares none of its weaknesses and hits even lower where it counts.
VS. Shure SE846
No combination of ear tips and tube inserts brings out Atlas-like highs from the Shure SE846. The SE846 extends well up high, but lacks high-frequency bite. And, while the SE846 can really kick it in the lows, it’s not got as much low-frequency stereo detail as Atlas. It is also even warmer through the midrange, turning some maudlin various uplifting trance favourites. The SE846 is my all-time favourite high-end balanced armature earphone. In stock form, I prefer Atlas to it, but not by leaps and bounds.
VS. Ocharaku Flat-4 Sakura Plus
Ocharaku’s Flat-4 Sakura Plus hasn’t quite the bass punch Atlas has, but has both sharper mids and highs. It’s V-shaped signature is almost a perfect inversion of Atlas’s. Bass, while strong, doesn’t reach the same crest of power and punch, but its highs certainly exceed Atlas’s in both pressure and texture. Sakura is a master of texture; and sometimes it is texture pushed too far. Sometimes Sakura grates. Atlas is a master of the artful punch: just enough pressure and texture and follow through to make you feel it, but nothing for the overdrive.
Atlas does the V-shaped signature almost perfectly. I say almost because maybe I’d prefer a bit more low-frequency texture, but then what I want may be too much. Extension in both directions is perfect, and midrange sound pressure and vocal grit are spot-on. Accessories, build, and kitschlessness are all orders of magnitude beyond most of the competition. Atlas should have a long road in front of it.
I just wish I could cram it and then take it out of my ears again without fear of breaking its connections.