Pros: glorious subwoofer bass, detailed mids, balanced treble, precise stage, bass is powerful with rest of the signature balanced
Cons: heavy housing can make fit difficult
Website: Campfire Audio
Introduction and acknowledgement
For most audiophiles following the current in-ear monitor scene, the brand Campfire Audio should require no introduction. The Portland outfit sprang out of owner Ken Ball’s ALO Audio brand a few years ago, and have slowly but surely carved themselves out a sizeable chunk of the mid to high end IEM market with some stellar models like the Andromeda, Jupiter and Vega, along with some more budget friendly gear like the Orion and the new Comet. Campfire seem oblivious to the driver wars going on around them, concentrating on producing beautifully tuned models with unusual industrial designs, usually at pretty decent prices.
The Atlas is the latest IEM in their dynamic driver range, and replaces the previous DD flagship the Vega, using the same amorphous diamond-like carbon (ADLC) driver technology, but with a slightly larger 10mm diameter. The ADLC diaphragm is ultra-stiff, allowing for extremely fine control and dynamic shifts. It is also very low yielding and difficult to manufacture (i.e. a lot gets left on the factory floor from each production run), hence the rather chunky $1299 price tag. As I have had the privilege of reviewing quite a few of the Campfire range to date, when I heard there was a successor to the Vega in the pipeline I dropped Ken Ball a note asking if I could get a chance to hear it, and he very kindly sent me out a review unit. The unit does not need to be returned.
As with all my reviews, the views expressed below are 100% my own, and I have received no incentives (financial or otherwise) for any positive or negative comments. It’s also only fair to warn you that the bassier Campfire “house sound” that has been evolving with the last few models fits pretty much perfectly into my ideal tuning bracket, so please bear that in mind when reading the review.
Unboxing and aesthetics
[Please note – the Atlas comes in the same Campfire packaging as the rest of the CA IEM range, so parts of this section have been lifted directly from previous reviews and amended as neccessary- feel free to move on to the sound section if you have already read this!]
The Atlas follows the usual Campfire Audio presentation style, coming in a small box just marginally bigger than the hard leather carry case it contains. This time, the box is a mustard colour, with green constellations patterned on the outside and a nice picture of the IEMs on the front on a blue and sliver sticker. There is also a brief description of the technology inside and the Campfire branding, but no major graphs or specifications. The box opens up to show a nice shiny black leather carry case inside, with the usual Campfire Audio embossed logo and zippered closure. Removing the carry case, there is a false floor on the box, underneath which the various loadout of eartips (foam, silicon and Final E-tips in various sizes) and a Campfire Audio pin are nestled, along with a cleaning tool, warranty card and small booklet with more technical information on your purchase and instructions on how to use them for those people unfamiliar with operating high tech ear-gear. Opening the carry case completes the gear list, containing the IEMs and a twisted silver litz cable, some Velcro cable ties and two small velour bags to keep the heads of the IEMs from clunking into each other when they are stored, all nestled in the dark pseudo-wool interior of the case.
The accessory package is simple but comprehensive, with the beautifully designed and now iconic carry case and the well thought out cable and tip selection giving a premium feel to proceedings, proving that you don’t need to inundate the buyer with technical data or hundreds of add-ons in order to give a high-end unboxing experience. The small footprint of the outer packaging also has more practical use, as it makes it far easier to store than the usual foam filled presentation boxes you tend to get with other IEMs in this sort of price bracket. Overall, nothing spectacular, but certainly stylish enough for this sort of price bracket.
Build and ergonomics
The two most recent IEM releases from Campfire Audio mark another change in the design aesthetic, moving away from the smooth LiquidMetal housings that came with the Vega, Lyra and Dorado to something similarly sized but this time made out of drop-forged polished stainless steel. When the IEMs first hit the ground, there were a fair few memes doing the rounds about the choice of shape – the Atlas resembles the barrel of a tubby raygun from 80s era sci-fi (think Buck Rogers meets Star Trek), with an octagonal shape for the main body of the IEM that tapers down to a rounded cone at the front, finished off with a solid metal grille at the end that wouldn’t look out of place as a miniature drain grating.
The description doesn’t sound great, but the Atlas look a lot better than they describe, the engraved CA logo on the corner joints and mirrored surface giving more of an air of ear jewellery than a serious audiophile purchase. This is complemented by the pure silver cable, which is braided in a twisted design this time (another departure from the usual ALO SPC litz design that accompanied previous models). As the Atlas shells are uniform and designed for wearing down (although they can be worn over-ear if desired), the cable doesn’t come with any memory wire or preformed ear guides, dropping nicely over the ear if you do wear it up and behaving if you wear in the more traditional manner.
With regards to ergonomics, the Atlas is a fairly heavy IEM in the ear, so requires a solid sealing set of tips to keep in place if you do wear it down. I have extremely large ear canals (occasionally mistaken for soup bowls or cave entrances) so I’m probably not a “normal” example, but I found that it was difficult to maintain a seal for more than 20 minutes or so with the provided silicon or Final Audio tips for more than about 20 minutes or so without readjusting, which may prove to be an irritation for some. The marshmallow foams do alleviate this problem by “locking” the Atlas more tightly into your ears, so would be my favoured tip out of the stock options for long term wear (please see the “Tip Choices” section towards the bottom of this review for more details).
The cable itself is a thing of beauty, with a luminescent sheen and superb ergonomics, with not a shred of cable memory. Much like the litz cable was an advancement of the original ALO tinsel cables, I think this new twisted design is another step up in both looks and ergonomics, so I very much hope this becomes the new standard going forwards. As with all Campfire cabling, the connectors are beryllium-copper hybrid for enhanced durability, and the jack is covered in a chunky overmoulded right-angled connector (3.5mm as standard).
Overall, the build is impressive both in looks and feel, but the fit may not be universally liked – I suspect Campfire are already pretty comfortable with that, given the polarising fit of their first ever shell design on the Andromeda. I personally have no issues with it, and find the IEM design both striking and comfortable to wear with the right tips, but as always, YMMV.
(new twisted cable is on top of the below picture)
Initial impressions on sound
I normally start this section with a quick description of the defining points of the sound signature of whatever I’m listening to. Rather than start with the usual bass/mids/treble, I’m going to start with size. Atlas is a big sounding IEM. Not so much big in the HD800 / “dear lord, will this soundstage ever end?” way, more in the “why is the giant from Jack and the Beanstalk sitting in the middle of my head playing an enormous guitar, and where has his beanstalk gone?” type of way. It feels like using the ubiquitous iDevice/Android “pinch to zoom” function and just blowing the proportion of everything in front of your face up to a bigger scale, while somehow keeping everything visible in the sonic landscape at the same time. This is an in-ear monitor that has aspirations of being a floor-standing speaker. It wants you to physically feel the music around you, dropping you into the middle of a sea of audio and letting the sound fully immerse you.
I’ll expand more on that below, but for now, just rest assured in the knowledge that this small steel earspeaker is no shrinking violet. Atlas was known for taking the weight of the world on his mythical shoulders, and it seems quite fitting Ken Ball & Co have given this soubriquet to an IEM which produces a weight and size of sound almost as mythical.
As far as more mundane aspects like tuning go, the Atlas is a tricky beast to categorise. There is some serious bass presence to contend with, keeping (and in some cases improving) the low end impact and prowess from the other ADLC driver in the current CA range, the Vega. When there is bass present on a song, the Atlas throws it out in serious quantity, balancing the mid and sub bass frequencies nicely to give a quantity that is quite frankly huge without overcooking it with the classic mid bass hump. It also extends lower than a certain international statesman’s toupee glue, holding strong into true sub bass rumble and shudder. This gives the Atlas an enviable sense of physical impact and “slam”, the single DD moving some serious amounts of air in and out of the ear canal at pretty short notice. It produces a sound you think you can feel in the top of your chest, not just your ears, bringing that “live” vibe you experience when some huge stage-side amp stack kicks into life and you feel the bass and drums rattling your ribcage (disclaimers apply – this is a tiny 10mm speaker, so it doesn’t actually cause any chest palpitations).
Conversely, when a track is mastered without much low end, the Atlas doesn’t artificially boost the elements that are there, receding into the background and allowing the tracks room to breathe without adding any unwanted omnibass to the mix. It’s a nice mix of stealth and savagery, accentuating rather than overpowering whatever is supposed to be there, rather than adding its own interpretation of what is supposed to be present.
While bass will be the first talking point for many people, the Atlas is actually a pretty well balanced signature. Like all the Campfire models I’ve heard so far, it aims for musical rather than neutral, so this isn’t a sound that is ruler flat. In fact, I find it difficult to categorise the shape of the sound, as it changes with the mastering of each track. With tracks holding a lot of bass, it can tend to a gentle L or tilted U shape, but with tracks with plenty of mids and treble in the mix as well it’s probably more of a W-shape, with all three elements of the sound feeling neatly balanced, but holding some strategic peaks and valleys in the frequency response.
Mids are beautifully smooth and weighty, carrying plenty of texture and detail. They aren’t overshadowed by the bass, keeping a clean distinction and transition between the two ranges irrespective of the amount of low end being pumped out. Note size is large, building a picture of big guitars and life sized vocals in the minds eye. Stage positioning is a touch forward, but not “leaning over the stage” close, putting the listener around the first or second row when listening to guitar, piano and vocal lines.
Guitars are very well catered for on the Atlas, carrying plenty of edge and bite around the edges, wrapped around a dense and meaty core to the sound. Listening to heavy rock is a foot stomping experience, something like “Legion Of Monsters” by Disturbed landing riff after riff on the inner ear with the sort of power and precision Iron Mike Tyson used to use in his prime, with a comparable sense of menace and raw aggression. These babies chug with the best of them.
Switching up to something a little more mellow, artists like Chris Stapleton and Elvis sound gloriously three dimensional and emotive. There is plenty of fine detail and nuance in the Atlas vocal delivery, allowing the listener to form a mental picture of the singer and how their lips are moving on more well recorded tracks. There is a richness to the tone through the midrange that adds a dose of realism to both male and female vocals, without sacrificing detail for body.
Brass instruments also fare particularly well, the reeds of a saxophones or some good honky tonk horns coming alive in the ear. This isn’t a resolution monster of an IEM compared to some other TOTL models I’ve had like the Zeus-XR, but there is a palpable sense of detail and clarity that marks the Atlas out as a top-tier competitor. It never feels muddy or clouded, given the bass presence – despite throwing a large mental image, the staging and separation isn’t huge, however, with the different instrumentation being clearly defined but not enormous distances apart.
The treble is the biggest deviation from the previous template laid out by its Vegan predecessor. It feels less peaky than the Vega, with a more linear extension. It also feels crisp without feeling spiky, carrying a little splash of the treble presentation of its other flagship sibling the Andromeda without directly mimicking the BA model. It is an important differentiator, as it helps cut through the heavier traffic beneath it and “air out” the chunkier sound, adding a delicacy and dash of sparkle to the otherwise heavyweight signature.
This is all achieved without any notable harshness – you are more likely to come across Ghandi going full Tyler Durden on Mother Theresa in an underground fight club than you are to find any offensive peaks in the sound here. “My Kind Of Love” by Emile Sande is mastered hotter in the vocal ranges than a Death Valley summer, but the Atlas keeps an admirable control on the harsher elements without neutering the heart of the track. Hi-hats sound metallic and crisp, shimmering naturally as they decay. Synths sound clear and fresh, something like “Go” by The Chemical Brothers sounding both propulsive in the low end and delicate in the floating keyboard accents that pepper the chorus.
A common theme of the early impressions noted so far is that the Atlas is something of an AndroVega, mashing together the best bits of both previous flagships. To those who are looking for that exact merger, I’d contend that the Atlas shares elements of the Andromeda approach and ethos when it comes to presenting the high frequencies, but it isn’t a direct copy and paste, so it is definitely a different take on things. It doesn’t have the effortless sense of sparkle and space that the Andro manage to pull off, but does add a more welcome sense of air and crispness without the slightly more aggressive nature of the Vega. Given the rest of the tuning, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, and the Atlas definitely improves on the Vega tuning in this regard, in both overall treble presentation and fine detail, but keeps the signature coherent and true to the thick and large signature I think they are shooting for.
Digging into the first of the frequency ranges in more detail, we come to the bass. This is a subject area you could probably write a thesis on, as it is both the most immediately impressive element of the tuning and also one of the best executed. Big, bold and brassier than a sackful of kitchen fittings, the Atlas bass hits you the moment you put on a track with any serious low end presence.
On first listen, it can get a bit overwhelming, filling the soundscape with a massive sense of weight and presence. It takes the brain a little time to get used to the sheer volume of air being moved, and allow it not to dominate proceedings. Once you “snap in”, it becomes apparent that no matter how big the bassline, it still manages not to obscure the midrange detail. I’m neither a believer or disbeliever of burn in, but I did believe that these are an IEM you need time to mentally adjust to before you can fully appreciate the finer nuances of their sound. They feel similar to the Cascade in that regard, taking a little time to get to know you before showing you where all the detail is hiding.
In terms of extension, the Atlas drop even deeper than Kanye West’s epic reservoir of self belief, kicking out some impressive levels of sub bass. This is bass that vibrates in the neck and shoulders, not just the ears. Starting with “Say Something” by Timberlake and Stapleton, the bottomless “whoomp” that punctuates the track periodically stays low and full, giving a physical texture to the air in the bottom of the stage that almost recreates a club PA system, delivering palpable vibration on tap, and fading out just as quickly when not required.
It’s the control and texture the sub bass takes on that really pushes the Atlas into the top tier, marrying top notch detail with a big slab of decibels to give a performance that feels equal parts brutality and finesse. Switching to “Heaven” by Emile Sande, the thrum in the ears is palpable and loud but still in keeping with the vibe of the track, allowing Sande’s crystal clear vocal delivery to cut through all the vibration with ease.
Balance between mid and sub bass is nicely done, with a reasonably linear extension up through the frequencies. With tracks mastered with plenty of mid bass, the Atlas is still capable of inducing an ice cream headache with the best of them, but it generally stays pretty well behaved. “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk comes through with plenty of punch in the bass and a well rounded feel to the slinky bassline. It drops low, and keeps a clear differentiation between the bass notes, which can tend towards blurriness on more “consumer” style basshead monitors.
“Bad Rain” by Slash sounds like it was mastered with the Atlas in mind. The opening kick drum sounds physically imposing, and slams with authority into your ears, flexing the eardrum in and out in time with the beat like an inbuilt cranial drumhead. The signature bass riff that kicks in at the 23 second mark practically growls, feeling big and thick but conveying a huge amount of texture at the same time. The size of the notes is apparent here, with the bass just sounding “bigger” in the head than other monitors I have heard.
In terms of liquidity, the Atlas bass is fairly smooth, but not 100% viscous. It has an organic texture, with plenty of agility and control thanks to the diamond-coated driver, but just lingering in the ears long enough not to sound too clinical or sterile. The bass fills the stage with size, but remains muscular and solid rather than oozing into the far corners. “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from the Elvis album with the Royal Philharmonic has a solid mid bass presence to the track, and the Atlas reproduces the drum head impacts and the memorable bassline with a sense of subdued physicality that draws you into the track.
Now to the sobering thought – yes, this is bass of the absolute highest quality, but if you dislike frequencies below 150Hz in your musical universe, these IEMs won’t be for you. There is no getting around the fact that these drivers produce ear-shaking low end. They do it without drowning the sound (which is impressive enough in its own right), and once you have adjusted, it will probably leave your other earphones sounding anaemic and weak, but if you are a dyed-in-the-wool HD800 or Ety enthusiast, your preferences will probably be met elsewhere. For everyone else who likes a bit of meat on their musical bones, the Atlas has got you covered.
When an IEM is tuned with a gargantuan low end, it is usually the midrange that is the first thing to suffer, drowning in a swamp of marshy midbass. Not so with the Atlas. Despite the tendency towards a more L-shaped tuning on more bass heavy tracks, the vocals and midrange instruments have no problem cutting through the foundation below and carving themselves some room to breathe. Voices sound just a little more forward than neutral, and have plenty of clarity, sitting above the beefy sound beneath without any hint of masking or veil.
Listening to “Whiskey And You” by Chris Stapleton is a buttery smooth experience, Stapleton’s seasoned gruffness taking on a velvety but substantial persona, carrying genuine heft both physically and emotionally. This track has a notoriously jagged and shrill chorus (I suspect it was mastered in a cement mixer full of broken glass by a deaf person), but the Atlas handles it smoothly, the extra weight from the bass and lower mids filling in some of the rawness in the singers voice without losing the texture. My other tester for vocal harshness and sibilance is “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy, with its soaring vocal. The Atlas handles Kennedy’s falsetto with aplomb, capturing the breathy intonations of the early verses and staying crisp but still easy on the ear as the singer winds up into the higher octaves. The Atlas won’t smooth out the raw detail in a track, but it does have a way of presenting it that errs towards smooth and musical rather than raw and spiky.
Guitars are thick and chunky, the all round weight of the lower mids and upper bass filling the core of the notes with a sonic lead, anchoring the sound and giving it serious substance. The speed and responsiveness of the driver saves it from being sludgy or syrupy in presentation, handling the furious riffing of SOAD just a easily as the more sedate chugging of someone like Slash or Halestorm. This is a headphone that will excel with almost all types of rock and metal music, adding that head banging loudness to the mix that you only get in a live concert without losing any of the speed or precision. There is a crispness to the edges of riffs that adds crunch to the sound, backed up by the bone crushing weight behind it to give the best of both worlds.
As an example, “Chop Suey” by System Of A Down fairly batters along into the eardrum, the opening bouzouki-style guitar jangling giving way to pounding drums and elephantine riffs, peppered with the occasional acoustic guitar floating around in the periphery. Despite the thickness of the sound, vocals again cut through clearly, standing separate from the wall of noise without feeling detached from it (noticing a common theme here?).
Switching down a gear, “All Around The World” by TajMo’ is a good tester for mid range congestion, the excellent recording and multi layered sound stacking horns, acoustic and electric guitar and two of the most recognisable voices in modern blues over an upbeat Lionel Richie-esque backing. The Atlas keeps all the individual parts comfortably separate, but gives them all enough solidity to sound “real” in the ear. These aren’t the most accurate IEM in terms of timbre, with a slightly stylised approach to its presentation, but that omnipresent weight across the spectrum evokes the feeling of listening to a real instrument. It’s an interesting effect, and has become quite addictive over the two or so months I’ve had the Atlas.
Listening for some other midrange instruments, piano sounds particularly deep and resonant, adding a sense of emotion to more subdued recordings. String instruments are similarly well looked after, sounding rich and textured on tracks like “Palladio” by Escala. The slightly forward nature of the tuning brings the instrumentation a little closer to the listener, lending a more intimate sheen to the sound. This is backed up with some top-notch detail retrieval. The 10mm driver in the Atlas manages to capture the faint scuff of fingers on frets and the creak of seats in the studio as well as the main tones and textures in the sound. The resolution through the mids is actually pretty impressive, and while being slightly overshadowed by the warmth and bassiness of the overall sound when you initially hear it, should not be underestimated.
I think this is an area that has definitely been tweaked over their previous DD flagship, levelling out the sound a little and bringing things together with a splash more balance. Again, these aren’t neutral or uncoloured mids by any stretch of the imagination, but the tone and weight sit perfectly on top of the thunderous bass foundation underneath to build a very compelling presentation.
This is the area that has improved most for me over the Vega, with the spike in the highs which gave the Vega its crunch moving down a few kHz into the midrange and leaving a more linear and extended feel to the treble in the upper reaches. There is a clearer sense of space and presence in the upper end, the sound relaxing outwards and upwards in comparison to its younger sibling.
It isn’t the most sparkly or glittering treble you will find in this rarefied pricing bracket, but there is a pleasing lightness and crunch to the edge of notes that pulls them clear of the main body underneath. It evokes memories of the Andromeda in the way it seems to take the roof off the sound, giving the presentation plenty of vertical headroom. The easiest way of describing it is like being in the front row of a rock gig, but instead of being in a small venue (Vega), you feel more like you are standing in a amphitheatre or a festival field.
This additional sense of air helps the Atlas sound more balanced overall, leavening the weightier elements underneath with a splash of lightness. Something like “St Elmo’s Fire” by John Parr benefits from this deftness of touch, with the hihat feeling crisp, and the upper edges of the synth and piano hanging in the topmost reaches of the soundstage rather than feeling pinned to the sounds beneath.
Another area of difference is the lack of perceived harshness compared to the Vega. I personally never found the Vega harsh, but some people reported a little sibilance in their own problem ranges. The Atlas is an altogether more even affair, giving crispness without glare right across the board. Throwing “Starlight” by Slash at the ADLC drivers, they chew up the angular dissonance of the harmonic-laden intro bars and pour it back into the ear like honey. This isn’t done by smoothing off the edges – each note still has bite and angularity, but it has enough body and roundness to avoid feel scratchy or irritating.
Cymbals are crisp but not overly emphatic in the soundscape, hitting with a satisfying tsssk but deadening quite quickly rather than splashing around. “Go” by The Chemical Brothers is propelled along nicely by the hi-hat rhythm, blending well with the swelling synth in the chorus and opening the otherwise bass-driven track up a little.
Overall, the treble is well judged and balanced the heavier aspects of the tuning out well. It isn’t the sparkliest or hottest treble you will ever hear, but it is a marked improvement over the previous DD models for my tastes, adding a little more breathing room and shimmer to the sound and making perfect sense for the overall tone Ken & Co seem to be aiming for.
Like the other new model in the lineup (the Comet), the Atlas can be quite a tip dependent IEM. It is bigger and heavier in the ear than the slimline Comet, and requires a better seal to get a stable fit in my larger than average ears. Like the Comet, it is also designed to be worn down, and while it can be worn up, I found the best fit from an ergonomic and insertion depth perspective was definitely found when wearing in the more “conventional” manner. The provided silver cable helps a lot here, as it doesn’t have any preformed or memory wire section, and the super-soft twisted braiding leads to almost no cable noise as it moves around.
The included tips all have their slight differences in terms of affecting the sound of the Atlas. The CA Marshmallow tips have the best seal, and keep the Atlas firmly in place. These are the bassiest tips I have heard on the Atlas, so depending on your preferences they may be your go to or not – unlike Comply, they don’t overly deaden the highs, but the extra isolation can make the bass feel a little more pronounced.
The Campfire silicon didn’t give a great seal or comfort for me, so my preferred choice out of all the enclosed tip choices is actually the Final Audio E-series tips. They fit and seal a little better than the stock silicon, and hold the Atlas a little more firmly in place, requiring less adjustment. Due to the heaviness of the housing and the way it sits in my cavernous ears, a little occasional readjustment when not using the foamies was usually required if moving around – I do have huge ear canals, however, so this may not be the case for all users.
The actual sound of the E-series tips balances the sound of the Atlas a little, giving the mids a little more prominence and taking a little off the bass. It doesn’t drastically alter the base tuning, so the effect is subtle, but if you are having issues with the bass levels being put out by the 10mm ADLC driver then these tips may be a good bet.
For me personally, I have found that the best tip in terms of both balance and ergonomics is actually a custom tip I had made a while from the Polish CIEM manufacturer Custom Art. They are made out of silicone and moulded to the shape of my ear canal, so help “lock” the Atlas firmly in place for extended listening sessions without requiring any further readjustments, and also provide a great sound without affecting the airiness or sparkle of the treble in any way.
I believe that Ken and crew are shortly looking at launching their own custom tip solution, so this may become an option straight out of the box for Atlas users in future, but if you have access to a custom fit solution then I suggest the Atlas are a perfect candidate. It is difficult to overstate how much easier and more comfortable they make this particular IEM – ironically, they don’t actually work so well with the more “usual” CIEM type over-ear design, as it tends to hold the shell a little out from my ears, but the small design of both the Comet and Atlas from the new CA range seems almost purpose built for these tips, so hopefully the Campfire in-house solution will work even better. Long story short – if you are intending to buy the Atlas, custom tips are seriously worth investing in to maximise the potential of this fantastic sounding IEM.
Separation, soundstage and layering
The Atlas soundstage is somewhat of a curate’s egg, not possessing tremendous width or height in real terms, but managing to fill up the available dimensions with a sound that just feels bigger than other IEMs I have with a similar X and Y dispersion. Depth is a different matter, with the CA flagship throwing a deep stage from front to back. This allows for excellent layering on multi tracked recordings, the Atlas deftly setting out its stage in 3D space to allow the listener to move between the instruments and feel the gaps between the performers.
Separation is predictably good, despite the thickness of the sound. The acoustic guitar lick that kicks in around the 20 second mark of “Everybody Knows She’s Mine” by Blackberry Smoke stands out clearly against the backdrop of chugging country rock guitar going on underneath, allowing the listener to track both with ease. Despite the size and thickness of the sound, there is still plenty of room between each note, even the most frenetic of rock or electronic music never managing to make the Atlas sound congested or blurry to my ears. It definitely errs more towards the “wall of sound” type sensation on tracks with more stuff going on, but it’s the sort of wall where you can pick out the detailing on each brick as it hurtles towards you.
Power requirements and source matching
This isn’t a difficult IEM to drive. It’s a little thirstier than things like the Andromeda, but it is still easy enough to get deafness inducing volume out of a humble mobile phone or entry level DAP, so amping isn’t an absolute requirement. That being said, the ADLC dynamic driver does like a bit of power, and will soak up output from portable amps and desktop based solutions with absolutely no issues. To get the best out of the Atlas in terms of dynamics, you will probably want to run them with a source capable of some decent output power, or pair with an amp that can deliver a good voltage swing.
Likewise with sources, the Atlas sounds good out of most things, but feed it through something like the desktop CMA400i amp/DAC from Questyle or the ZX300 from Sony and it will take advantage of the extra resolution and control. As with power, it doesn’t absolutely NEED a top line source to sound great, but it will reward you with greater detail and dynamism of you feed it the right diet.
From my personal observations, my favourite sources are actually the humble Shanling M0 (either in high gain if I want a crunchier edge to the sound or fed through the ALO CV5 if I want something a tad warmer and more organic) and the CMA400i. The Andromeda pairs beautifully with the amp tech used by Questyle, and it’s tubbier DD brother makes similarly good use of the output, throwing a sound that is thickly musical but still clear as a bell when it comes to detail. It achieves detail without sharpening or digitising the sound, feeding into the strengths of the Atlas to bring more nuance and passages of light and shade into the presentation without losing the raw power or smoothness.
The Zombie is a 9-driver hybrid IEM from the Hong Kong manufacturer Rhapsodio, and retails at around $1699 at time of writing. It is positioned as one of their flagship models, and by far the bassiest in the Rhapsodio range, so should offer a good comparison.
Starting with bass, “Heaven” by Emile Sande puts out a sub-bass rumble that is equal or bigger than the impressive Atlas low end. What it edges in quantity, it loses out in overall texture and tone, however, with the bass coming across as far crisper on the Atlas. There is far less bass bleed, and more clarity, the bass hitting with a little more punch in the Campfire model. The bass on the Zombie is more heavy feeling but slower and more diffuse in presentation, giving a wetter and more enveloping sensation. As mentioned, I did experience some bass bleed with the Zombie into the lower mids, having a tendency to slightly overpower tracks with minimal bass in mix.
Moving up to the midrange, the Atlas presents vocals with a more forward stage position and and a splash more air. The Zombie sounds warmer in tone (mainly due to the bass) but loses a bit of perceived clarity as a result, feeling slightly veiled on male and female vocals in direct comparison to the Atlas.
Feeding both IEMs some more rock music, “Legion Of Monsters” by Disturbed is up next. David Draiman’s vocals feel slightly harsher and grittier on the Zombie, ringing a little smoother on the Atlas. Despite that, the Atlas still wins for me in detail retrieval, bringing more macro and micro detail into the sound, and giving a more emotional feel as a result.
Heavy guitars have a meaty feel to them, blending together into one crunchy wall of sound on the Zombie. In comparison, the Atlas has more dynamic thrust in the track, with a heavy but more crisply defined guitar riff driving the track, with the edges of the notes more clearly defined.
In the highs, the Zombie has less presence than the Atlas, giving a more L-shaped tuning. Despite the high BA count, there is less feel of air and sharpness on the Zombie. In terms of staging, the instrumentation actually feels smaller on the Rhapsodio, although soundstage is fairly similar in dimension.
Packaging is good on Zombie, but not quite at the level of the Atlas. Cable is a sturdy copper aftermarket cable from Rhapsodio’s own range, of high quality fit and finish. It isn’t as flexible or ergonomic as the thinner and slightly nicer looking CA silver cable, but it certainly isn’t a standard Plastics One effort either. Accessories feel slightly higher grade on the Campfire, despite the fact the Zombie is actually the more expensive monitor by a few hundred dollars.
Build quality and finish is high on the Zombie, but the large shell shape and shallow nozzle doesn’t work well with my ears, meaning I only get a good seal with foamies. Atlas also has mild fit issues for me unless used with custom tips due to large size of my ear cavity, so it’s roughly similar here – the shape of your ear canal will most likely determine which IEM you get on better with.
Overall winner – Atlas by an easy margin. It gives a more refined and detailed sound than the Zombie, with a bigger sonic image and a more balanced feel to the huge bass on display. The Zombie feels like an “almost” IEM – if Sammy at Rhapsodio has managed to get the 8 BAs use to cut through the bassy fog and let a little more air and detail into the sound, it may have been a contender, but as is, the Atlas is an easy recommendation for me personally.
Campfire Audio Vega
The Vega was the former DD top dog in the Campfire lineup, sporting a liquid metal body and a smaller 8.5mm ADLC driver. The Atlas has since taken it place (and its pricetag), knocking the Vega down a couple of hundred dollars in the process to around $1000 at time of writing.
Starting with ergonomics, the Vega is smaller, lighter and has a more conventional over-ear fit. The Atlas is more isolating with a good seal, however, with a bigger all-metal body which blocks more of the ear canal. Personally, I prefer the build of the Atlas in terms of materials and shape, but the lightness of the Vega in terms of long term wearing comfort. The cable is far more manageable on the Atlas with the change in braiding, too.
Power-wise, the Vega is harder to driver (8-9 notches on high gain single ended on ZX300), which was surprising. Once driven to the same volume, the main difference that becomes apparent in the two sound signatures is in the midrange. The vocals and midrange instrumentation feels slightly less emphasised on the Vega, sitting further back on the stage. It’s a matter of a few imaginary feet in the in-ear soundstage rather than a huge distance, but it is noticeable.
Detail and texture in the low end is roughly equal, with both exhibiting top tier bass in quantity, quality, detail and texture. Slam is the same for both models, with the Atlas just shading it for my, most probably by virtue of the slightly larger driver being used. Sub bass feels a little more clearly defined on the Atlas, and has a cleaner definition between bass and mids overall.
Micro details are a shade easier to pick out on the Atlas, due to the slightly more forward emphasis in the mids and the more linear and extended treble. Both resolve well when driven with a quality source, but again, the Atlas feels marginally crisper.
In terms of midrange tone, there is a slightly crunchier feel to the Atlas, despite the more prominent high mid/low treble spike on the Vega. Listening to “GRITS” by Brantley Gilbert sounds slightly warmer on the Vega as a result, but has a finer texture with the peripheral acoustic guitar notes on the Atlas, with the Vega sounding a little more laid back and romantic in comparison. The edges of the vocals just feel a tad more easy to identify with the newer model. Playing something like “Drinking From The Bottle” by Calvin Harris and Tinie Tempah, the opening synth and vocal lines are more precise and sound clearer on the Atlas. The track feels less warm and more balanced, with a bigger sound. The swirling synth on this track and “Go” by The Chemical Brothers is cleaner and airier on the Atlas, with more sparkle. Overall, the Atlas treble is less abrasive, and feels more linear as it extends upwards. It has a higher ceiling, and sounds more natural than the more pointed treble in the previous model.
Stage-wise, the sonic image and instrument size is bigger on the Atlas – it is an improvement rather than a complete redesign of the presentation, but it is noticeable. The actual size of the stage is similar on both IEMs, but despite the bigger note size, the Atlas doesn’t feel congested or closed in, so is comfortably better than the Vega here.
Overall, the Atlas is an evolution of the sound, rather than a complete quantum shift or drastic improvement. It “fixes” a few things that people have mentioned in the previous model (the c. 6kHz spike for one), and added a little more balance and size to the sound without losing the unique energy and dynamism. They are almost two different flavours of the same basic sound profile, so I can imagine that some people will prefer the Vega, either for the fit or for the more pronounced treble peak and more “fizzing” sound. If you get the chance, audition both to see which fits you best in terms of preference – for me, I prefer the Atlas as I feel it takes what I loved about the Vega’s unique signature and takes it up another small notch, refining the “audiophile basshead” tuning of these two models to something approaching perfection.
The Atlas has been a bit of a watershed IEM for me, helping me complete my journey in this hobby from basshead-in-denial with my Aurisonics ASG-2.5, through the “classic” audiophile appreciation of things like the EE Zeus and CA Andromeda and back to a more mature presentation with plenty of low end. The sound is rich, thick and deliciously musical, and sounds like very little else currently on the market. It is unashamedly coloured, but not so much that it distorts the underlying feel of the music or adds anything that isn’t already there. It is a distillation of the evolving Campfire Audio “house sound”, proving that bass isn’t the enemy of detail or a true audiophile experience, throwing a huge sound into your brain that you can’t help but be swept along by. For most people reading this, listening to music is a hobby and a pleasure, and the Atlas concentrates on the latter phrase, making listening to even the most laid back of tunes a genuine joy.
To add a dash of perspective, this isn’t a perfect IEM (either in tuning or design), so it won’t be the endgame for everyone or as universally acclaimed as the Andromeda. The fit can be a little problematic for extended listening sessions, it requires careful tip matching to get the best sound and it will just flat out have too much bass for some. While it shares the same DNA as the Cascade over-ears in this regards, it lacks the wider range of tuning abilities that the Cascade sports, so this is less easy to alleviate if you do want to lay off the low end a little. All the above being said, this IEM is pretty much perfect for me, and has become my daily go-to IEM for listening to my music out of all the IEMs in my collection. There is just something about the soul and physicality that it imparts to my favourite tracks that can’t quite be matched by the other gear I currently have (apart from the Cascade), making it uniquely enjoyable as a result. If you are considering a foray into TOTL sound and like a bit of meat on your musical bones, the Atlas is definitely something you should be considering.