After the recent fanfare around the launch of Campfire Audio’s first over-ear headphone (the Cascade), they have decided that one release in 2018 isn’t enough to keep everyone busy, so they have released two new single driver models, the Comet and the Atlas. Both models use a new drop-forged stainless steel body and more “traditional” wear-down design. Whereas the Atlas is set to appeal to their existing high-end model clientele, the Comet is a model aimed firmly at the entry level of the current audiophile market. While $200 is still not an inconsiderable chunk of change for most people who haven’t fallen fully down the rabbit-hole in this wallet-unfriendly hobby. it is the cheapest Campfire Audio model to date, and an excellent way to get a taste of the CA “house sound”.
The Comet were purchased with my own money, so the opinions given below are 100% my own, with no input from the Campfire Audio team. A full review in the usual format will follow in a few weeks, but the below sound impressions are based on around three weeks listening with a variety of different sources.
Build and ergonomics
The Comet are a new design from the team at Campfire Audio, sporting a solid stainless steel body in a shape that is vaguely reminiscent of a metal ingot or very small and angular bullet. The steel is polished to a high shine, with a smoothly joined nozzle section sporting the Campfire TAEC (tuned acoustic expansion chamber) technology and an unusual and very steam-punk looking solid metal grille covering the sound bore. The actual sixe of the body is pretty small, being about 80% of the size of my little finger (or the tip of it, anyway). The shells sport a nize engraved CA logo on the shoulder joing, and the standard Campfire beryllium-copper MMCX connectors on the bottom the shell. The connectors are placed at a slight angle (about 15 degrees), and are designed for the IEMs to be worn cable down. They will work when worn in the more usual audiophile “over-ear” configuration, but given the excellent fit and isolation that can be achieved with these due to the ergonomic shape and small size, I actually prefer wearing them down.
The shells feel light and sit in the bowl of the ear nicely, allowing a pretty deep insertion with the right set of tips. Once in, they are pretty secure, and isolate extremely well due to the sold metal nbody and the lack of external venting. The copper cable provided is also nicely ergonomic, employing a twisted braid to make it very easy to handle. It is sheather in a black platic soating, so is a little less ostentiatious than the main body of the IEMs, but feels solid and nicely put together. The only little nagging downside to the cable design is the included microphone (Android and iDevice compatible) – while I’m not against having a microphone on a cable when the market is obviously aimed more at the “crossover” audiophile using these IEMs as their out and about/phone use pair, the design of the CA cable is a little curious. They have their usual chin slider at the y-split, but the microphone is stationed about 4-5 inches ABOVE the y-split, so the usable distance for the chin slider is pretty limited, and basically kjust serves to bring the cable together at the microphone. This doesn’t actually cause any usability issues for me, but is definitely an unusual choice.
Overall, the build is stellar, feeling strong and sturdy yet still light enough to offer long term listening comfort and plenty of sonic isolation once you have found the right tips. Add that on to the standard Campfire Audio loadout (nice faux-fur lined case, a selection of foam, silicon and Spinfit tips, a CA pin and cleaning tool and the nice copper cable) and you have a seriously competitive package in the $200 price range.
Initial impressions on sound
If you were to ask the audiophile community in general what they thought the sound would be like from a single balanced armature driver in-ear, I’d wager most would come up with words like “lean”, “detailed” or “crisp”. Some Final Audio fans may talk about an “emotional” midrange, and Etymotics afficionados may look at you with that Kool-Aid cultist smile and wax lyrical about banging little slivers of metal into your ears and excavating your brain with molten treble. One thing most people wouldn’t mention would be bass, unless they were bemoaning a lack of it.
Obviously, the guys over at Campfire Audio don’t spend a lot of time listening to other people’s opinions, as the only thing the Comets have in common with the above descriptors is the emotional connection. These are an IEM that drift a lot closer to the standard characteristics of a single dynamic driver in both tone and body, boasting a nicely rounded bass presence and a big sounding midrange. Treble is extended but not over-emphasised, sounding nicely airy and crisp. Overall, they give off a convincing sense of musicality and balance, sounding natural rather than neutral, and carrying a nice sense of resolution and cohesion.
These aren’t micro-detail monsters, but clarity is high for the price bracket, with the single vented BA being able to cleanly identify the acoustic guitar riff at the 20 second mark of “Everybody Knows She’s Mine” by Blackberry Smoke without it sinking into the meaty electric guitar chugging away underneath it. It also picks up the subtle tapping sound in the background room noise of “Palladio” by Escala at the 0:05 mark without breaking sweat, folding it nicely into the overall presentation.
The sound feels clean and pure in its representation, with an adequate but not overwhelming sense of body to the notes. The staging on the Comet isn’t huge, with more width than depth, but the neutral note size leaves plenty of room around each instrument to allow the resolution remarked on above without resorting to emphasising the treble or artificially crispening the edge of the notes too much. Vocals are very well rendered in this presentation, sitting forward of neutral in the stage and resolving a lot of the finer nuances, like the shadow vocal line underneath the main chorus that trails in at around the 48 second mark in “Hold Back The River” by James Bay, which can get lost in the background if there is too much noise in the track. There is slightly more emphasis in the midrange in the female vocal range to my ears, but it is marginal rather than massive.
The tone of the Comet hovers somewhere between neutral and warm, with a nimble yet solid bass presence that pushes the usual mid bass hump a little further downwards towards sub bass territory to give a more complete foundation in the lower ranges, and allow the all important vocals and other mid range instruments room to breathe. This feels balanced with the mids and treble, without a pronounced V or N shape to the sound. In some ways, the Comet reminds me of the Andromeda with a little less space and sparkle in the top end. At ⅕ of the price (and driver count), there is obviously a gulf in class between the two in terms of technicality and overall sonic quality, but in keeping with the law of diminishing returns in audio gear, far less than the pricetag would otherwise indicate.
The Andro comparison rings more true to me in terms of the tuning ethos, with the Comet presenting a sound that is musically balanced and not lacking in any major area. The bass helps here, providing more body to the sound than a typical one BA setup (and even a little sub bass tickle on some tracks). The ubiquitous TAEC tech that Campfire use with their higher tier BA models helps maintain the balance at the other end of the scale, managing to extend and aerate the treble sufficiently for the Comet to cover both ends of the spectrum.
Treble is not hugely extended, but does have an airy and velvet smooth texture to it that gives the notes room to breathe. Sharpness isn’t generally an issue, detail being achieved without a cutting edge to the sibilance regions. There is a sweetness to the edge of the sound that is very pleasing on the ear, giving an almost vinyl-esque tone to the sonics.
Overall, the Comet provide a lively and engaging sound, marrying the traditional sense of speed and definition you get with a balanced armature driven sound with just enough bass thump and balance across the ranges to make it feel organic. They won’t blind you with beauty or batter you with bass, but they will do a very good job of simply melting away into the inner ear and tapping you in to your music. They are a performer with no obvious deficiencies, and the trademark CA sense of musicality. For the price, they are definitely a very good all round offering, and will happily compete with (if not necessarily beat) IEMs in the $200-$350 price bracket, their all-court game playing well across all genres and use cases.
The Comet is hands down the most tip-dependent IEM in my current collection, both in terms of fit AND sound. It alters the sonic presentation notably with different types and styles of tip, gong from a (relatively) bassier and more full bodied presentation with the Campfire foams to a crisper and more overtly detailed sound with something like Spinfits.
My tendencies err towards the warmer and darker side of the street, so I prefer the CA foamies over the other silicon tips in the box, although they do take a tiny bit of crispness from the top edge of the sound. Spinfits tend to sharpen the sound at both ends of the spectrum, but take away a little of the midrange body, so not ideal for my tastes. I also have very large ear canals, so the Spinfit leave the body of the IEMs sitting a little too far outside the canal, making the fit less stable when worn down and the staging feel a little further back.
JVC Spiral Dots have recently become a favourite of mine, but again, I don’t feel they work well for me here. The sound is very good, but the tips simply seal too well in my canals, creating a suction effect with the solid metal (and unvented) body of the Comet which becomes unpleasant after a while. Dropping the size to get a looser seal then makes the fit less secure, causing constant readjustment. Symbio Mandarines also exhibit this uber-sealing effect for me, eliminating them from my long term listening plans too.
The other notable pairing I liked were the Kombi tips from the now defunct Trinity Audio. They have a small bore and foam backing behind the silicone, helping with isolation. The smaller bore sharpens the feel of the upper mids and treble, with the enhanced isolation of the foam helping retain some of the lower range fullness and body. This is a very good pairing if you like a slightly sharper feel to the sound than the foamies but still want a little bass heft.
While the above all offer excellent variations on the basic sound, my go to for sonic excellence with these IEMs is actually a custom solution. I picked up a set of custom silicone eartips from Custom Art a year or two back with a CIEM order I placed with them, modelled as a tip which extends around the bend of the ear rather than a full ear design. I haven’t used them with a lot of IEMs as I generally find other tip combos that work better, but as soon as I popped them on the Comet I knew they were unlikely to come off. The additional seal provides a perfect balance between the bass presence of the foam tips and the additional treble bite of the silicon tips, while keeping the Comet firmly fixed in my ears. It may seem a little like overkill to use a $60 eartip on a $200 IEM, but if you have access to this sort of solution, I definitely suggest you try it. I know Campfire are working on their own custom tip solution at the moment, so the Comet may well become a prime candidate for this.
The Comet are an all-metal design, and are designed to be worn down and inserted deep in the ear. Tip dependency plays a big part (as mentioned above), but if you do find a pair that seals well, the isolation levels are pretty high. In fact, with my custom tips in place, the Comet actually isolate at about 95% of the level of my full custom IEMs, which provides a crazy level of insulation against the usual traffic noise on my daily commute. There is a little conduction noise from footsteps when fully sealed, but that is almost unavoidable in this sort of design, and is certainly a worthwhile trade-off given the amount of other noise that is blocked out.
Separation, soundstage and layering
The Comet isn’t the most uber-detailed IEM out there, but it does pretty well in terms of separation. There is a sense of space and clarity around the midrange instrumentation that helps keep things neatly separated in the ear, and it does quite well with hard panned instrumentation to either side of the main central image.
As mentioned, the staging feels oval in shape to me, carrying more width than depth. It isn’t crazy wide in scope, but evokes a decent “widescreen” feel on some tracks, sitting just outside the ears on both sides of the head. The single BA setup does have its limitations, so it does tend towards a slight feel of congestion when you hammer it with a wall of sonic information – this will only really be noticeable in extremely busy or multi-layered instrumental tracks or orchestral music. For my use cases of mainly acoustic and electric guitar bass fare and a dab of electronica, it’s definitely more than capable.
Positional cues are good, giving a reasonable sense of where each performer is standing on the stage. It isn’t pinpoint accurate compared to the higher end models in the CA range or other IEMs in higher price brackets, but for the $200 asking price this is certainly a decent performer.
The Comet is an IEM that slips into the ear like an old friend. There is a sense of easy familiarity it evokes with the sound signature that immediately puts the listener at ease, and allows you to just get on with the job of listening to your music. I have been listening to these for three weeks solid, and I am still finding reasons to pick these up for my daily commute and worktime listening over the multitude of other IEMs I currently own. It isn’t because they excel in any one area, it is more that they don’t have any glaring deficiencies – they just sound GOOD. They are detailed but not ridiculously so, they have heft in the bass and a little sparkle in the treble, and just enough of everything else to keep the music flowing. I still feel there is more to uncover with this IEM (and the variety of tip combinations), so my views may change a little in the full review I’m currently working through, but as it stands, these are a serious contender for the value for money crown in the current IEM landscape.
With this model, Campfire are taking the sound signature that has been making waves in the higher end audiophile community and pitching it at a more entry-level audience, without scrimping on the package or accessories. That in itself is something to be happy with, but the fact they have done it with something that looks almost as good as it sounds and sports a chunky all-metal build is what really seals the deal for me here. More detailed impressions will follow in my usual format in the next few weeks.