The galaxy of Andromeda – a constellation of coherency and harmony!
PROS: out of this galaxy smooth revealing sound tuning, solid industrial design, premium quality removable cable, luxurious leather case.
CONS: the comfort of the fit is eartip dependent, the shell design could have softer corners, expect some hissing.
Manufacturer website (Campfire Audio Andromeda 5x BA driver IEM): https://www.campfireaudio.com/andromeda/ (MSRP $1,099).
Many Thanks to Campfire Audio for providing the review unit of Andromeda in exchange for my honest opinion.
Just the other night I had a very clear and detailed dream about sitting next to the campfire in the wide open green pasture while sipping on a smooth rum cocktail from a solid aluminum jug, bejeweled in silver and copper, under the skies with five fairly balanced stars of a flagship constellation calling me with its divine sound of mysterious galaxy. What a bizarre dream! What a strange combination of random objects and events! But was it really random or do they all connect together like stars of a bright constellation? Yes, they do! Welcome to the galaxy of Andromeda – a constellation of coherency and harmony!
Whenever I review a product from a manufacturer I haven’t covered in the past, I like to start with a little intro about the company. Here, I found a few associated companies with one name in common – Ken Ball, who is 100% behind all the audio engineering, the sound tuning, and the design. Since I don’t get a chance to attend Head-fi meets, CanJam events, and other audio shows where Ken is very well known, my communication with him was limited to PM exchanges where I quickly realized how much passion and pride he has for his products and how much energy he puts into his work, regardless if it’s headphones, amplifiers, cables, or just a professional audio gear modding which he has been doing for well over a decade. But two things really stood out. One is how much he enjoys listening to music and finds it very important to the quality of his life. The other is how Ken takes his accumulated knowledge of a traditional headphones design and uses it in conjunction with his outside-of-the-box thinking to approach everything from a totally different angle.
Some might question why am I starting the review with all these praises? In the last few years I tested and reviewed multiple dozens of headphones and many other pieces of audio gear with quite a few which I consider to be my favorites, but nothing have stopped me in my tracks like the first time I listened to Campfire Audio (CFA) Andromeda – Ken’s latest flagship creation. Prior to this review, I didn’t know too much about ALO (another Ken’s company) or CFA or how many veteran sound engineers or hearing aid professionals slaved behind the design and the sound tuning of this product. So imagine my surprise when I learned it was a vision and a hard work of one person, along with a big contribution of Caleb Rosenau (the vice president of CFA), from a company that got into IEM design less than 3 years ago while hand building them in their lab (Portland, OR). Shocking, indeed! But I shouldn’t be surprised after realizing the driving force behind it. Now, let’s proceed to the review.
Arrived in a compact sturdy carton packaging, there was something about this box that felt rather crafty. I’m not talking about rough edges or sloppy construction, but something different that stands out from a traditional glossy packaging with flashy images and spec bullets – just a modest picture of Andromeda with a green swirly background and a printed name with a basic description, and a hand drawn theme of stars in the sky. I assume all CFA models will come in a similar box with the only difference being the picture and the color background which reflects the theme of that particular model. It also worth mentioning that entire CFA lineup (Andromeda, Jupiter, Lyra, Nova, and Orion) is named around constellations, stars, and planets – something you would naturally enjoy by the campfire at night looking at the starry skies!
With the box cover lifted up, you’ll find a custom dark leather zippered case hosting earphones and a cable. I initially assumed that all accessories will be inside of the case as well, but instead the bottom of the packaging box comes out with the rest of the accessories hidden underneath. One peculiar thing was the writing under the cover flap with “Nicely Done” message which could have different interpretations. Nicely done – toward consumer for making a purchase, or nicely done – toward manufacturer for delivering the goods. Either way, it shows that CFA cares to make unboxing experience more personal.
Even so the leather case is the highlight of the accessories, more goodies were included. You get 3 sets of eartips with genuine Comply TX400 tips (S/M/L), generic foam tips (S/M/L), and a set of soft cap shallow silicone tips (S/M/L). Definitely plenty of tips, but I would have loved to see at least one more set of silicone tips with a longer core stem to enhance fit comfort, though it’s purely subjective. Also included were a cleaning tool with a magnetic tip (pretty cool to attach it to your desktop components or somewhere where it’s easy to find it), and a custom pin with Campfire Audio emblem/initials (didn’t expect this one, but cool nevertheless).
When it comes to the leather case, it’s definitely unique, premium quality, and lined with a soft fleece material on the inside. The case has a hard shell to protect your investment during transportation, and once you unzip it – opens up like a coin wallet with protected sides so nothing falls out. Some might find it an overkill, but considering the anodized finish of aluminum shells you don’t want to scratch them while these bang and slide inside of the case. Thus, a fleece lining is not just for the looks but also to protect the alloy shell finish.
For those familiar with ALO Audio, another Ken’s company which is a parent of Campfire Audio, you probably aware that in addition to amplifiers he also makes custom cables. Though a few of his earlier CFA releases featured tinsel wire cables, Andromeda comes with all new 3.5mm Litz SPC (silver plated copper) cable.
I usually look into replacement cable for sonic improvement rather than the looks, but in this case both goals were met. Starting with a translucent 90-deg gold plated jack, you can actually take a glimpse inside to see how wires are soldered, and the rubbery housing has a nice grip with a decent strain relief. The 4 twisted wire conductors have silver finish with a medical grade pvc jacket, and the cable still feels soft and pliable. Four separate wires also means that the ground of each earpiece side is isolated until the connector, which is just asking for a balanced cable jack. Hopefully it will be available soon as a separate accessory from ALO.
The y-splitter is slim and aluminum, like a silver bullet, and it has a clear plastic chin slider which retracts from the splitter. The wires going to each earpiece after the splitter are twisted, and closer to mmcx connector housing you will find a memory wire section. Here you a have a traditional stiff piece of a memory wire wrapped around in a soft clear tube which you can shape for over-the-ear fit. The mmcx connector itself uses a high quality beryllium copper material, and the housing of the connector has red/blue dots corresponding to Right/Left sides.
The same matching mmcx beryllium copper alloy connector is used in the shell of Andromeda, and you get a snappy and a secure joint. Mmcx connectors have a bad rep due to intermittent contact issues or accumulated specks of dust or just premature wear off. Here, an extra attention was paid to choose components with a premium quality material. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is combination of memory wire hook spinning around the connector as you trying to put these monitors in your ears. Could be a matter of personal preference, but I like to put earpieces in first and then put the cable over my ears without distraction of moving ear hook. I would suggest an alternative cable version without memory wire piece, especially for those who wear glasses. Also, those who are into DIY, be careful if you decide to remove wire by yourself because you can damage the connector housing since the memory wire is jammed tight inside.
In most of my IEM/CIEM reviews I typically suggest to replace the stock ofc cable with premium aftermarket alternatives. I do hear a difference in sound when switching between cheap stock ofc cable and spc or pure silver or gold plated silver wires. But in case of Andromeda we are not dealing with a cheap generic cable, but rather a premium Litz silver plated copper which ALO sells alone for $149 (https://www.campfireaudio.com/product/litz-cable/).
But regardless of that I still went ahead with a swap, going through collection of my replacement cables, and made a full circle back to a stock Litz SPC. Something like Linum BaX, which is also a Litz cable, affected the extension of lows where sub-bass got attenuated and I felt the sound lost a bit of sparkle. Going with pure silver TWag v3 yielded a bit of sub-bass roll off as well and made the upper frequencies a bit too hot. The only cable I found surprisingly close in performance was Fidue A83 replacement balanced cable, here. It maintained a similar tonality of mids and treble, but sub-bass was still a bit rolled off in comparison. Due to stiff memory wire in that Fidue cable, I actually did a little DIY mod by removing the shrink wrap cover and pulling the wire out. While waiting for ALO Litz SPC balanced cable to become available and if you don’t mind modding (to remove memory wire), this could be a possible alternative.
With an exception of Lyra which uses a ceramic shell, all other CFA models have shell machined from a solid block of aluminum with a hand anodized finish in a distinct color. In case of Andromeda, the color was selected to be green since the name refers not only to constellation and the galaxy within it but also to an evergreen shrub. But aside from a color variation, Andromeda, Jupiter, Nova, and Orion CFA models have the same exterior design with an identical shell held together by 3 torx screws and a short aluminum nozzle. It definitely has a really cool looking industrial design.
While it looks very original with its angled facet corners and sides, due to a short nozzle the fit might not be everyone’s cup of tea using stock eartips. We all have a different ear anatomy so this is subjective, but it’s still very important to go through various eartips not only for seal/isolation purpose but also to find the one which going to provide enough spacing to prevent the shell from rubbing against your concha area. Eartips vary not only in material but also in length of the inner stem where even a few mm can make a difference depending on the depth of your inner ear canal.
I just don’t want the people to be discouraged if they are having a fit issue with Andromeda or any other CFA model because a wrong eartip selection will not only leave you with a poor seal and reduced isolation, which affects the low end performance, but can also cause a few sore spots if the shell rubs against your ear. A few things I might suggest to CFA, in addition to another set of longer silicone eartips also maybe look into smoothing out the corners and using torx screws with a rounded head.
As far as the internal design, it’s unique to every model and depends on a driver config. With Andromeda being a flagship featuring 5 Balanced Armature drivers, they are partitioned in groups of dual lows, single mid, and dual highs with each individual group going to one of the 3 bores machined into a nozzle tip. But Ken/CFA decided to take it one step further besides a simple passive crossover which is still utilized in here. Andromeda features a Patented design of an optimized acoustic resonator assembly which is machined into the aluminum enclosure. It actually replaces the traditional tube and dampener system commonly used in other IEMs. As confirmed, this acoustic resonator device is only applicable to the dual high frequency drivers, and happens to be a part of the CFA Patent.
As far as the actual spec goes, stated by manufacturer, the frequency response is extended from 10Hz to 28kHz, and we are also looking at higher sensitivity of 115 dB with a low impedance of 12.8 ohm. I will talk more about the pair up in my sound analysis section of the review, but basically this means that you should expect a moderate level of hissing depending on your source selection. You can choose to mitigate the hissing problem with an impedance adapter, and I actually confirmed it with 75 ohm adapter to quite it down, but in addition to cutting the noise the low end impact got reduced noticeably as well. I’m sure fans of SE846 can relate to this (the same story of higher sensitivity and low impedance).
Overall, as far as the design concerned, there are no showstoppers but definitely a room for improvement, especially when it comes to a personal preference with the fit. Other than that, I see a very solid build, a very unique industrial look, and a patented sound shaping technique inside of the shell. All this is not just words on a paper, it actually reflects in a rather impressive sound quality which I’m going to talk about in the next section of the review.