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Campfire Audio Andromeda Emerald Sea Review – All Show, All Go

Pros –

Beautiful shell design and construction, Fantastic accessory set with 3 included cables, Comfortable and highly isolating design, Much improved dynamics, Excellent resolution, Spacious and holographic soundstage

Cons –

Bass and midrange warmth can mask fine details, Not as balanced as predecessors, Separation often leaves to be desired

Verdict –

The loss of separation and balance do mire an otherwise impressive and capable platform meaning the Emerald Sea appeals more to bass lovers also wanting superb resolving power rather than fans of the original models.


About Campfire Audio –

Campfire Audio is a boutique audio company from Portland, Oregon that started life as ALO Audio in 2015. Their team consists of audio engineers, designers and craftspeople giving them a well-rounded skill mix. At the time, the chief focus was on AMPs and cables but this soon grew to include IEMs as well where the name Campfire Audio was born. Campfire Audio partners with local companies and have expended efforts to improve the sustainability of their products. With a focus on acoustics, materials and meticulous attention to fine-tuning, the company aims to deliver artisan earphones catering to all tastes and preferences.

Introduction –

Campfire Audio has a relatively frequent release cycle often including 2-3 new products each year in the form of new product ranges and updates to their existing hits. The most popular has easily been the Andromeda which was the first release that really put Campfire Audio on the map. This model has been slowly refined over the years according to popular feedback in the form of the 2016 Andromeda, the 2018 and 2020 updates and now the Emerald Sea. The latter is the most visually distinct and radical redesign yet. The shells have been re-engineered and Campfire has updated the 5-balanced armature configuration with the latest generation dual-diaphragm Knowles BA drivers all within a new 3D printed waveguide. Of course, the topic of value must be discussed. All Andromeda until now have remained at the same USD 1099 price which started off as TOTL in 2016 but in recent years appears almost midrange due to copious inflation in the top-end of the market. The price tag also determines the public impression of the product so perhaps there is some concern that a cheaper price means a lesser perception of the design; of course, this should now be the case. Accordingly, the Emerald Sea is 20% more expensive yet also the most distinct and meticulously designed release yet.

The Emerald Sea is available for $1399 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to a unit on Campfire Audio’s website here.

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Chris from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for organising a review of the new Andromeda Emerald Sea. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.

Contents –

Specifications –

  • Drivers: 5 Knowles Dual-Diaphragm BA Drivers Per Side, 3-way Crossover
  • Configuration: 2 Low, 1 Mid, 2 High
  • Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Impedance: 6.375 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB

Behind the Design –

T.A.E.C

Tuned acoustic expansion chamber is Campfire Audio’s approach to a spoutless and tubeless balanced armature design. They instead position a 3D-printed chamber directly to the output of the balanced armature driver(s). Regular BA IEMs use a filter and tube which permits the manufacturer to tune the sound by implementing various tube lengths and filter values. However, the physical properties of the tube and filter are often not ideal for sound output and the tube itself can cause reflections, thereby increasing distortion and placing a resolution “ceiling” on what the design can achieve. Bypassing this mechanism provides a more direct path for sound and increases high-frequency sensitivity, thereby increasing treble extension and improving detail retrieval.

New Generation Drivers

Campfire Audio is sourcing its new drivers from Knowles and is using the latest generation drivers to provide the best sound. Of note, the Emerald Sea uses Knowles’ new dual-diaphragm drivers that were first seen in mid-2022 and were first used in the Pathfinder collaboration IEM between Campfire and Astell & Kern. That model, however, only sports dual-diaphragm midrange drivers, whereas all 5 drivers feature this tech on the new Andromeda. Two chambers and two diaphragms are actuated by a single motor circuit, offering a substantial increase in efficiency for the same size footprint. Accordingly, these drivers offer a sizable drop in distortion at similar SPL output. The new dual-diaphragm drivers target superb performance and enable a smaller, more comfortable IEM due to their high output for size design.

Phase Harmony Engineering

Increasing the driver count theoretically increases sound quality but the added complexity of the design means this isn’t always the case. The primary reason is due to phase; much like how active noise cancellation works, if the drivers are out of phase, it greatly increases the distortion of the sound. As the driver count increases, so too does the difficulty of maintaining phase coherence increase. Campfire Audio explains that this is the primary reason they retained a 5-driver design. They have also spent effort to optimise phase coherence with their crossover design, engineered housings and shell geometry alongside custom damping values. Solid body isn’t specified on the website but makes a return here which is CFA’s internal 3D printed waveguide as seen on the 2020 models.

Time Stream Cable

Campfire Audio is now offering 3 Time Stream cables with the Emerald Sea sporting 3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm connectors. This is a good addition as the user is provided with spare cables with fewer points of failure as opposed to a modular solution. The new cable offers an 8-wire design with individually enamelled silver-plated copper conductors and a soft, non-migratory PVC jacket that is bonded to the wires themselves. Making a return are Beryllium MMCX connectors that offer enhanced mechanical properties and lifespan alongside reduced corrosion over the usual copper seen on other IEMs.

Unboxing –

Campfire Audio has always excelled at delivering a memorable unboxing experience that instantly provides a positive impression. The Emerald Sea steps this up a notch albeit do note that the latest batch no longer includes the wooden box included with the initial run. The box is now much larger and contains a wealth of accessories.

Opening up the lid reveals a large split-fold case made from authentic leather with a magnetic latch, alongside a soft quilted pouch that also closes magnetically. The leather case contains the earphones within a dual-compartment mesh bag that prevents the metal housings from scratching each other during shipping or transit. I appreciate that the mesh bag is also green to match the earphones.

The earphones come pre-equipped with medium memory foam tips and a 3.5mm time steam cable. The quilted case has two pockets, containing an additional two time stream cables with balanced 2.5mm and 4.4mm plugs. Also included is a CFA pin and cleaning tool, 2 additional pairs of foam tips and 3 pairs of generic wide-bore silicone tips. Papers are included in a separate pouch within the box. Some may lament the omission of Final Audio’s E-tips or other branded tips such as Spinfits. However, given the new sound tuning of the Andromeda, this is in good taste and I will discuss tip choice in the sound breakdown below.

Design –

Campfire Audio has showcased a mastery of industrial design with their striking all-metal shells and each generation has offered both more complex geometry and tighter tolerances. The Emerald Sea exemplifies this most while representing the most radical departure from the original BA shell shape. The industrial, masculine lines and faceplate screws seen on the original are replaced with softer, rounder planes and smoother line angles. Every facet of the shell appears to have received an extra step of refining during CNC machining producing a noticeably more refined product. While the signature vibrant green colour makes a return, it is now adorned with a finer media blasted finish. Silver accents have been placed around the MMCX connectors and small flat-head screws on the bottoms and rears for visual flare. Though I am partial to the iconic original shell, there is no denying that side by side, the Emerald Sea offers a more elegant design.

CFA uses ubiquitous MMCX connectors with an abundance of aftermarket options. However, leveraging experience as a former cable company, their IEM cables always far exceed the industry standard. The new Time Stream cables are a unique twist on that (or lack thereof) sporting 8 silver-plated copper conductors and a new flat, internally braided design. The ultra-soft TPU jacket is very pliable and offers zero memory or springiness, so it is still easy to live with. Still, the flat design is slightly more difficult to untangle and requires more care when coiling for storage as it is unable to twist. At the same time, the cable can never un-twist or delaminate from the conductors as is an issue on traditional braided or twisted cables. CFA reasons that this makes it a more durable design overall and I’d agree. The pre-moulded ear guides offer sensational comfort and stability too, and the metal connectors match the silver accents on the shells well. Including 3 cables from the factory is something you won’t see from many companies either and must be applauded.

Fit & Isolation –

The new shell design is similar in overall size compared to the 2018 version, just a smidgeon smaller and slimmer. While the overall profile is very similar, the inner, bottom and rear faces have been notably more rounded to improve wearing comfort. I found the initial 2016 and 2018 Andromeda units a little sharp at the rear though this was handily fixed on the 2020 due to the edges having an extra bevel that removed the sharp corners that contacted my ears. The Emerald Sea takes this one step further with an even larger bevel that extends down the bottom of the housing which further decreases the chance of hotspot formation. In turn, I find them very comfortable to wear and they are also impressively low profile to boot.

The fit does feel just slightly different due to the inner face being redesigned. The 2020 model had a two-step design that pushed the nozzle more forward and helped the rears to clear the cartilage in the concha of the ear. This is now one progressive contour on the Emerald Sea so it doesn’t feel quite as locked in here but hovers over the top. Functionally, the original fit a little deeper while the Emerald Sea has a slightly longer nozzle to compensate for the lack of step. The result is very similar though, especially with longer tips such as my preferred Sedna Fit tips. The overall seal and isolation are also very similar, meaning the performance is excellent. The housings are fully sealed and provide incredible isolation with foam tips and still excellent isolation with silicone tips. This makes them a great choice for travellers or those valuing passive isolation.

Next Page: Sound Breakdown

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Ryan Soo

Ryan Soo

Avid writer, passionate photographer and sleep-deprived medical student, Ryan has an ongoing desire to bring quality products to the regular reader.

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