Campfire Audio Atlas Review – Legendary

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Sound –

I used the Custom Art custom ear tips during evaluation as I found them to provide a tighter bass response and slightly higher micro detail retrieval than my next preferred tip, the Final Audio E-tips. They also provided the most reliable fit in my case. The Atlas received over 200hrs of burn-in prior to review to ensure optimal performance.

 

Tonality –

The Atlas has been described as a refinement of the Vega, and in many instances, it very much is. However, the two deviate to a degree where I feel they may cater towards different audiences; the Vega assuming a W-shaped signature and the Atlas a more traditional V. What both maintain is a fairly neutral/natural midrange tone, a notable feature of Campfire’s recent models that makes them so appealing. However, where the Vega achieves this through fairly substantial treble elevation, the Atlas instead attenuates the lower-midrange to avoid bass spill.

To maintain an even midrange, centre midrange presence is also reduced, avoiding vocal thinness, while clarity is increased through greater upper-midrange presence. This leads fairly naturally into an enhanced lower-treble. So where the Vega was bright, clear and airy, the Atlas is more grounded with a significantly more natural, if also more recessed midrange and a high-end that is simultaneously more detailed and less fatiguing. Its slightly more pulled-back vocals and even greater bass emphasis may not appeal to some, but it does represent a more mature style of tuning than the Vega in addition to a fairly substantial upgrade in technical ability that one would not expect given the Vega’s prowess.

 

Bass –

The Atlas’ bass drives its sound; a force of thunderous yet meticulously controlled rumble. Bass quantity encroaches upon bass-head territory, with huge sub-bass that slopes smoothly down into a more modestly enhanced mid-bass and lightly enhanced upper-bass. As sub-bass feeds gradually into mid-bass, the Atlas doesn’t carry the tubbiness and bloat of most bass emphasized IEMs while retaining the same kind of fullness. Sub-bass extension is flawless, delivering sublime depth and slam that very few earphones can muster. They can sound a touch excessive on first listen simply due to the nature of their tuning, but given adjustment, the Atlas hits like a well-integrated home theatre sub; not as fast as a BA, not neutral, but tight and physical impact that does enhance the listening experience. As upper-bass begins a smooth decline into the lower-midrange, bass/midrange separation is heightened, thereby avoiding spill and over-warming of the Atlas’ sound.

This hearty bass emphasis is set to impeccable control and accurate decay that helps to retain a very detailed presentation. The Atlas keeps pace well with faster tracks and more impressively, avoids droning on slow ones such as Radiohead’s “No Surprises” where Thom’s lingering bass tones remained well defined. Though notes are undeniably huge and boldly presented, they’re impressively tight and focused, delivering a more aggressive texture than competing models such as the Xelento and ie800S. Some competing armature in-ears, even Campfire’s own Jupiter, are able to provide greater separation and speed, however, none deliver the same extension and sheer quantity that the Atlas musters. Its low-end is huge but its quality is immensely good. Though bass is undeniably the main attention grabber within the Atlas’ presentation, its nuanced qualities are worth showcasing first and foremost.

 

Mids –

The Atlas sounds distinctly more natural than its predecessor with greater body, a slightly warm tone and similarly great clarity. This is achieved through attenuation of the lower-midrange that prevents over warming and congestion. However, as upper-bass still has fair emphasis, vocals are full-bodied and warmth permeates throughout the Atlas’ midrange; flattering acoustic and indie. A very slight centre midrange bump redeems some vocal presence, though both male and female vocals remain laid-back relative to the Atlas’ massive bass. This precedes a gradual upper-midrange incline into the higher-frequencies, imbuing excellent clarity that prevents overshadowing of vocals. On the contrary, though clean, clear and nicely transparent, the Atlas’ vocal presentation can vary depending on mastering style; an example being the explicitly warm vocals in Courtney Barnett’s “Nameless, Faceless” compared to the slightly cool, thin vocals in Beck’s “Dear Life” and touch of over-articulation on some Asian tracks such as HEIZE’s “Sorry”.

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This discrepancy isn’t as emphasized by more balanced IEMs with a more linear bass/midrange transition. I am nit-picking, I’m allowed to when reviewing TOTL products, and it’s clear the Atlas doesn’t appeal to listeners wanting perfectly life-like timbre and superb balance. As with the Vega, the Atlas’ instead pursues great engagement while upholding tonal excellence and immense technical ability; delivering strong micro-detail retrieval and excellent resolution accented by great clarity. This is exemplified by comparison to the Hyla CE-5, another technical masterpiece but also an IEM with a notoriously thin midrange. This statement isn’t intended to undermine the Hyla, but to illustrate how the Atlas, with even greater bass presence, employs effective tuning to produce a more natural midrange and more accurate timbre than similarly engaging models. This is a testament to Campfire Audio’s constant refinement of the engaging yet tonally neutral tuning pioneered by the Vega and deliberate decision to forgo what is “correct” for what is decidedly epic.

 

Highs –

As the Atlas mitigates over-warming through attenuation of the lower midrange as opposed to elevation of treble, its high-frequencies are notably less fatiguing and more refined than its predecessor. In place of the Vega’s elevated middle-treble is a well-integrated lower-treble emphasis. Resultantly, the Atlas delivers very crisp instruments with great attack and, combined with its upper-midrange that feeds more smoothly into treble, most instruments are endowed with organic body. Notes are more textured than the Vega and instrument timbre is more realistic. The Atlas is very detailed as a result, accentuated by its more aggressive presentation of said details. As aforementioned, the Atlas no longer has the same middle-treble emphasis, instead adopting a cleaner background that permits a more composed image making smaller details easier to discern.

Through this tuning, the Atlas effectively alleviates the fatiguing properties of the Vega with instruments lacking its occasional shrillness entirely. Upper-treble preserves emphasis, though it’s lifted to a lesser degree than the Vega. Still, the Atlas retains that sparkly Campfire character carried by essentially all of their high-end models. These changes characterise the Atlas’ refinement of the Vega formula, favouring a more focused instrument reconstruction over a smoother foreground set to elevated air and shimmer. Through greater linearity and improved extension, the Atlas achieves very impressive micro-detail retrieval in addition to excellent resolution, and though not explicitly airy, shimmer and atmosphere are well-realised. Again, the Atlas is still a brighter earphone but in addition to being revealing in its tuning, it is also very resolving of fine detail.

 

Soundstage –

With great treble extension combined with a more even midrange and high-end, the Atlas delivers a huge soundstage that retains nicely coherent placement. Width stands out in particular, stretching well beyond the head with the right tracks while depth is less expansive, compromising a perfectly rounded stage to bring vocals slightly more into focus. This will surely please many listeners as vocals can easily become lost in a large stage, especially on IEMs with a V-shaped tuning. Besides that slight vocal push, instruments are well placed and directional cues are tack sharp. The Atlas’ background is fairly laid-back, but also very well-detailed and it is a well-layered presentation both with regards to separation between said layers and resolution of the instruments that reside within them. The Atlas also provides a more separated response than one would think as its voluminous bass is counteracted by the sheer amount of space on offer. From a poorer source, the Atlas’ bass can lose some control and spill over other details, but when properly driven, lows occupy their rightful place leaving other frequency ranges their own space to breathe.

 

Drivability –

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The Atlas has a high 105db sensitivity and low 19ohm impedance making it one of the more sensitive IEMs out there. It easily reaches ear-splitting volumes from portable sources as a result. That said, the Atlas really needs a good source to shine, specifically one with high current output from subjective testing. A lot of this comes down to the bass response, which sounds substantially less controlled from a smartphone for instance, and ultimately midrange which becomes noticeably warmer and drier with less powerful sources. Select pairings below to illustrate and demonstrate synergy:

HTC U11: Slightly sloppy bass with greater sub-bass emphasis and mid-bass warmth, slower decay. Okay control, pleasing definition and detail, smoother bass texture. Vocals pushed slightly forward but midrange sounds dry and generally lacking dynamics. Pleasing detail retrieval, slightly uncontrolled compared to dedicated sources, nice resolution. Soundstage is more one-dimensional, okay separation and layering, decent expansion but lacking width.

Shanling M0 ($90): Firm sub-bass slam, hair of additional mid-bass warmth but nicely controlled and defined overall. Mids are a touch cooler in tone and slightly dry similar to the M7. Nicely detailed up top and reasonably well extended delivering pleasing resolution. Above average soundstage expansion, well-layered and layers are nicely delineated though not very separated as the M0 doesn’t have great space to play with.

Fiio M7 ($200): Slightly sloppy bass, less focussed, softer-edged notes, well defined but not as controlled as more powerful sources, smoother bass texture. Well-toned midrange, well positioned and refined but vocals can sound very slightly dry and lacking dynamics. Nicely detailed high-end, middle treble is slightly one-dimensional. This can be attributed to the M7’s mediocre soundstage expansion, its sound is not very layered and just modestly spacious

Hiby R6 ($480): Firm sub-bass slam, touch of emphasis. Mid-bass is more neutrally toned and bass is well controlled overall, not quite as tight as the X7 MKII or DX200. Mids are layered and clear, notes lack a touch of body. Treble is slightly aggressive, slightly splashy, as such, vocals are more hard-edged on the R6. Nice soundstage expansion with good layering and separation. Imaging is solid with well-placed instruments, sounds a touch forward up top.

Fiio X7 MKII w/AM3A ($650): Firm sub-bass slam, touch of mid-bass emphasis results in slightly less definition. Well controlled bass overall. Mids slightly warmed but otherwise nicely linear and well-positioned. Nicely detailed, well-controlled treble. Well extended, high resolution with above average soundstage expansion. Coherent stage with accurate imaging, good separation.

iBasso DX200 w/AMP5 ($900): Solid, hard-hitting sub-bass slam, more neutral mid-bass and very controlled throughout, very defined. Mids are more neutrally positioned, this pairing yields a smoother vocal reconstruction, very refined. Very detailed yet controlled up-top, well extended with high resolution. Soundstage expansion is excellent and imaging is sharp, extremely well-layered and separation is enhanced relative to most other sources.

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

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