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

Sound –

Tonality –

One of the most beloved aspects of the Andromeda is its unique W-shaped warm yet energetic tonality. Over the generations, each has been slightly tweaked, yet the same underpinnings remain. The 2020 was my personal favourite as it was the most balanced, increasing mid presence and cleanliness over the 2018 release. The Emerald Sea interestingly diverges notably from the typical Andromeda formula. This is something that some have been calling for, yet I feel this is an interesting choice given that the older models have been discontinued and the Andromeda ES is no longer as much of an all-rounder as it once was. Firstly, bass is the most present it has been in any generation, producing a warmer, thicker voicing. The mid-treble has been increased to a slightly lesser extent, so the tonality is more V-shaped but also a bit more forgiving and listenable.

Furthermore, the midrange has been dialled back somewhat relative to the 2020 Andro, lacking the centre-midrange bump, and only retaining emphasis around 4kHz. There is also a medium 5kHz nadir before a more sizable boost to the mid and upper treble. The Emerald Sea doesn’t sound brighter but mostly noticeably more laid-back in the midrange alongside being more tonally coloured. Some will enjoy the smoother voicing that the reduced lower treble provides as it does take the edge off vocal articulation and bass is more present. Conversely, it is now thicker and notably mid-recessed, sapping clarity from vocals and reducing instrument separation. While I can no longer label the Andromeda as a balanced earphone, it does still have the same core traits of co-existing warmth and sparkle turned up to 11.

Tip Choice

Some will note the change to 5 individual bores over the 3 bores on the older models and slit-style 2020 revision. This combined with the new driver geometry has made the Andromeda ES more tip sensitive than before. In essence, most small bore tips are no longer appropriate as they generally decrease high-end presence and this can result in quite a thick sound. Final’s E-tips also dampen the only region of the midrange that is emphasized on the ES which results in an excessively V-shaped sound. My preference was for the AZLA Sedna Fit tips and this is what I used for the following analysis. They offer a longer nozzle promoting a deep fit that tames mid-treble hotness and a large bore that better balances the upper-midrange and treble with the copious bass. In a close second was the Acoustune AET078 tips which achieve balance more through attenuation of the sub-bass. While there was better balance relative to other tips, I still found the mid-bass overwhelming and they had less range than the Sedna Fit tips overall.

Bass –

When reading online and talking to members of the community, the Andromeda has always existed in a strange place. It offers a well-present but not overbearing bass with a full, warm character. Audiophiles commonly label it as bass heavy whilst many general consumers or those newer to the hobby consider them lean or neutral. The Emerald Sea will appeal more to the latter crowd as it bumps up the sub and mid-bass to near-thunderous levels whilst improving extension, weight and warmth. Conversely, for fans of the original Andromeda’s tonal balance or those wanting even greater cleanliness, this is surely an area where the Emerald Sea may be contentious.

Balanced armature drivers have come a long way recently in terms of sub-bass extension and this is on display here. While I have still heard a bit better at the very highest end, the Emerald Sea offers a very impressive sense of slam and rumble that the former models were incapable of. The new tuning is essentially identical to that on the Dorado 2020, with a large bass shelf evenly weighted between sub and mid-bass. However, lacking the sub-bass aggression provided by a dynamic driver, the Emerald Sea ends up coming across as more mid-bass dominant. Indeed, its voicing is much thicker and warmer than the original and bass now sits at the forefront of the sound.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but more to preference. The timbre is different due to the rounded note presentation and while your ears can acclimatize, there is some objective loss of detail retrieval. Bass separation is sacrificed, and bass is somewhat bloated. Though this is the case, that isn’t to say that the Emerald Sea is lacking detail as it definitely is not. The new generation BA drivers are agile and textured. The mid-bass especially, though tubby and enlarged, is rife with texture and remains nicely defined. The larger note size and associated loss to separation means bass isn’t as tight and intricate as the original but heavier and more impactful. Though the new drivers are a little more responsive, the tuning means effective detail retrieval takes a step back from the original in favour of a richer, more dynamic voicing.

Mids –

If the bass increase came with equal increases in midrange voicing, the Emerald Sea would have had a more all-rounder approach similar to previous incarnations. However, this isn’t the case as the midrange is actually more recessed than the original, especially lacking in the centre 2-3kHz range. While a small 4kHz bump does help to avoid veil and congestion, the midrange is notably laid-back and has a thick, warm voicing even compared to the already warm-leaning 2020 model. That said, besides the tonal colouration and full-bodied nature, there are no huge voicing issues. Most notable is the notably laid-back positioning of male vocals which can encroach upon recessed on certain tracks. The lower half of the midrange has a very warm, thick, and lush voicing which means male vocals and midrange instruments such as pianos can sound husky and bloomy. While some tracks fare better than others, I personally didn’t enjoy the level of warmth on display as it resulted in a loss of transparency and separation.

By comparison, female vocals are more flattered by the tuning as they are presented in a more balanced manner and with greater transparency. There is an ample amount of clarity and a far more balanced presence due to the higher 4kHz emphasis. Vocals are no longer as large as on the 2018 but are now more neutrally sized albeit more tonally coloured. The added warmth and body work well in tandem with the enhanced clarity of female vocals to deliver both strong coherence and satisfying definition. The Emerald Sea also has a slightly smoother articulation than the 2020 model which reduces the chance of sibilance and produces a very well-structured sound that isn’t breathy or intense in the slightest. Midrange resolution is also improved notably over the original though this isn’t always apparent due to the warmer and fuller voicing. While I do find the Emerald Sea too coloured for my liking, many will enjoy the richer sound it brings and the increase in long-term listenability is welcome.

Highs –

Though I am on the fence somewhat about the bass and midrange voicing, the top end showcases a fun, vibrant character. Though the price has increased, the Emerald Sea provides a level of extension and resolution that is near TOTL. As with many of CFA’s high-end designs, it is upper harmonic biased due to the boost in mid and upper-treble presence. This means the top-end tuning doesn’t provide the most natural sound and note body, but a focus on excellent sparkle and holography alongside strong micro-detail retrieval and presentation. As the lower-treble is smoother than before and there is no longer such a sizable mid-treble spike, the Emerald Sea does sound notably more detail-dense and textured than the 2020. The prior model has a thinner, more metallic timbre but is also a touch crisper. The Emerald Sea by comparison showcases a more even-handed response with better extension. It sounds less over-sharpened if still remaining on the thin and energetic side. It has a sharper transient response meaning the drop in lower treble isn’t really felt as notes are still well articulated and highly defined.

The Emerald Sea offers a noticeable boost in detail retrieval in all aspects. The lower treble is denser and more textured. The 2020 has more emphasis on percussion but lacks the same shimmer, texture and natural decay provided by the Emerald Sea. Cymbals are a good example where the initial strike is more pronounced on the 2018 but the subsequent shimmer sounds more truncated. The Emerald Sea has a more balanced presence between both, and the actual shimmer is noticeably more textured and lifelike. The Emerald Sea sounds both more natural and more nuanced as a result and therefore excels on a wider range of tracks. Micro details and background details are abundant, and the Emerald Sea showcases fantastic headroom. It is a brighter earphone but doesn’t overwhelm due to the large bass emphasis that, if anything, sits just in front. As a result, you get superb resolution and enhanced micro details but a perceived drop in brightness relative to the 2020.

Soundstage –

In accordance with the improvements to resolving power so too has the soundstage grown more expansive over the already impressive 2020. Width especially extends further beyond the head whilst depth remains similar. The 2020 had excellent imaging and the Emerald Sea improves upon this. It has equally sharp directional cues but improved layering with better contrast between foreground and background. The Emerald Sea also has more accurate distance projection having a more involving sense of dimension as a result. As before, it is lightning fast and sparkly providing a holographic impression. Unfortunately, separation takes a notable step back due to the warmer, fuller tuning. The bass especially can sound quite congested on complex tracks, the mid-bass tends to dominate the low-end. Though dimensions have improved, there is also less space in the midrange which, as aforementioned, makes it difficult to appreciate the fine detail retrieval the earphones are capable of. Treble, however, is an excellent performer all around.

Drivability –

The Emerald Sea has a similar sensitivity to the 2020 Andromeda but a lower 6.375-ohm impedance. Source sensitivity has long been an issue for Campfire Audio’s multi-driver in-ears and multi-BA IEMs in general save for a select few. However, I have noticed recently that many measure very consistently despite higher output impedances, so it is possible that the new generation of drivers simply offers better impedance matching. In turn, though the impedance is low, the new Emerald Sea appears to be more source-stable than previous models.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

The Emerald Sea showcases an almost flat impedance curve and therefore, is not highly affected by output impedance. Subjectively, I heard very minimal change when listening from a source with a 10-ohm output impedance as opposed to one with a sub-1-ohm output impedance. As a result, owners must no longer worry about losing bass presence with higher output impedances and can expect a very consistent sound device to device so long as the source sound has a linear output.

Driving Power

Switching between the DITA Navigator and my desktop stack revealed a minimal change in overall tonal character but a good ability to scale with more resolving sources. Specifically, the sub-bass extended slightly better and provided a tighter slam on the desktop stack. The treble was also more detailed and the soundstage was larger. Still, while amplification and a resolving DAC do provide a better experience, the Emerald Sea is very efficient and runs well from a portable source.

Suggested Pair Ups

I would recommend a more neutral to bright source to pair with the Emerald Sea due to its warm and thick voicing. This helps to balance out the sound and uphold as much speed and tightness as possible. Output impedance isn’t a huge issue on the Emerald Sea unlike previous releases and background hiss is also not as prevalent but still quite sensitive, so a clean source is recommended for low-volume listeners. The Emerald Sea also scales very nicely with better sources so a good balanced amplifier will provide the best experience in terms of bass tightness and soundstage.

Next Page: Comparisons & Verdict

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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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