Campfire Audio Satsuma and Honeydew Review – Sweet & Sour

Honeydew Sound Breakdown

Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the Honeydew 100hrs of burn-in prior to final evaluation to ensure maximum performance.

Tonality –

Unlike the Satsuma, the Honeydew doesn’t have a clear progenitor in the CFA line-up. Perhaps it is a distant derivative from the Atlas but even this is not clear. From memory, the company hasn’t used an LCP single-driver before either so it appears very much a new creation. As promised, it is an energetic, V-shaped monitor. Albeit, with a clear bass-focus, it comes across as more L-shaped as treble isn’t enhanced nearly to the same extent as bass. It’s a robust, sub-bassy monitor that draws the majority of focus to the low-end. Vocals and the midrange on a whole are very laid-back, albeit tuned with enhanced clarity and articulation to retain a respectable timbre. Treble is crisp and foreground focused due to the lower-treble peak. It isn’t nearly a bright monitor relative to the bass; clearly, this monitor is tuned for heaps of low-end energy and higher volume listening. Altogether, a bass-focused/bass-head earphone through and through.

Vent Mod

As with most of CFA’s DD earphones, blocking/taping over the back vent does sizeably reduce bass and can create a more balanced listening experience. It’s cheap and reversible. I also think this is especially pertinent here given that this is one of the most bass-focused tunings from the company, with the least compensatory midrange and treble emphasis. Accordingly, blocking the vent indeed provides a more balanced, albeit still coloured sound. Bass is greatly diminished, unfortunately, some extension and pressure is lost, while the remaining frequencies aren’t too affected. This mod highlights the quality of the driver and implementation, delivering a tight, controlled and impressively agile mid-bass – especially with the more reasonable quantity here. I also didn’t find treble piercing in this configuration, but dynamics do take a hit, likely be my biggest complaint.

If you’re looking for a balanced DD earphone, there are options at this price tuned accordingly from factory. The mod is more an avenue for listeners who want the flexibility to have both a bass-forward and reasonably balanced, warm/smooth sound for listening in quiet environments. You can also experiment with celophane tape, using a needle to reduce the vent size, but not block completely, in order to attenuate bass to a lesser degree. While this can produce a more balanced and useable mod, I didn’t attempt this as I found it difficult to achieve identical results on both earpieces and it would be unfair to assess this earphone with channel imbalance. Comments below will be in stock form with Final E-tips.

Bass –

Sitting at the forefront of the presentation, the Honeydew presents a very forward albeit mostly well-voiced bass. It has a slight sub-bass focus, with a downward slope into the recessed lower-midrange. However, the sub and mid bass achieve good linearity which aids a more accurate note timbre. Extension is excellent, delivering an abundance of pressure, slam and rumble; all manner of bass is showcased proudly. Despite the emphasis, the timbre is not bad at all due to the linearity between sub and mid-bass. There is obvious mid-bass bloat and tubbiness, but this isn’t a remotely muddy or ill-defined presentation either. The slope through the upper-bass helps to reduce smear and bloom, it also prevents the rest of the sound from becoming too warm. Separation with the midrange isn’t the best and spill is clearly evident, albeit the tuning above does help to some degree.

Though their enthusiastic tunings may not be agreeable to all, Campfire Audio have always excelled with regards to quality of their dynamic drivers. The Honeydew is their cheapest DD earphone yet and, no, the same speed and control as seen on their higher models is not present here. It’s a little softer in terms of attack, and control isn’t as strong; notes being a little fuzzier around the edges. However, it remains a highly dynamic earphone and is easily one of the best dynamic drivers in its class in terms of bass quality. As, though impact could be tighter, decay is quick and mid-bass definition is impressive considering the huge emphasis. Control is also a great performer for the price, able to reign in the emphasis with aplomb. Sure, bloat is clear and separation isn’t a standout, a simple by-product of the tuning. However, muddiness is almost entirely absent. With its control and agile decay, the Honeydew is impressively articulate despite its especially bass heavy tuning.

Mids –

It appears to me that the goal of the design here was to create an earphone that highlights bass while also minimising timbral impact in the mids and highs. This is not entirely possible, but Campfire Audio do offer a good attempt when considering the tuning from this point of view. If your preference is for perfect timbre and balance, promptly explore other options. The Honeydew isn’t muffled or congested but is surely stuffy due to its fullness. The most notable qualities here are the 3kHz dip and small 4kHz bump followed by a 5.5k peak. This means vocals are relatively small in size and laid-back but also presented with enhanced clarity and articulation. As always, this is a balancing act and here, the low-end colouration clearly outweighs the top-end lift. So, rather than pursuing clarity or resolving power, these elements are mostly implemented to retain as much definition and separation as possible.

In this vein, over-articulation and strain are barely noticeable due to the sheer level of bass colouring vocals with enhanced fullness and moderate warmth. Coherence remains high in general albeit the treble lift means female vocals sound a bit breathy and mouth sounds are emphasized which doesn’t always flatter the vocal performance. Otherwise, they are impressively clear and relatively clean tonally. Male vocals tell a different story, however, being more obviously coloured by the bass. This can make them too full at times and lacking definition in general. I found them overly smoothed off and, at times, a bit muffled. The voicing is still mostly natural overall, and the modest amount of veil is impressive considering the bass focus and level of recession. However, it remains that midrange timbre clearly wasn’t the focus of this design, though arguably could not have been much better with this level of bass emphasis.

Highs –

The uptick of lower-treble energy adds some crunch and crispness to the lower-treble that helps to cut through the full, meaty sound below. To reiterate, the Honeydew isn’t remotely bright if you adjust listening volume according to the volume of the low-end. In this case, treble sits just behind. As there is mild focus in the lower-treble, the Honeydew has a focused, energetic foreground detail presentation. It is articulate with above average fine detail retrieval in class, and is tuned for engagement over accuracy much like the rest of its sound. The transient response is slightly on the smoother side, lacking the hard-edge of many lower-treble focused monitors. Accordingly, its treble sounds a bit more organic and natural than one may expect given the measurements.

The Honeydew has a slightly thinner body due to the relatively isolated peak but retains a respectable timbre overall. Though it is surely on the crisp side, it doesn’t sound strident or overtly peaky, with a nice note body and decay on display that brings out texture well. Above is a darker background and 10kHz peak for energy and sparkle. It doesn’t extend quite like the higher-end DD monitors yet alone CFA’s high-end BA models. It simply provides a decent amount of extension for the asking price and a clean, well-defined background that instigates a pleasing sense of layering and organisation. While it doesn’t have a whole lot of upper-harmonic energy, headroom is ample to provide a spacious stage that further prevents congestion in lieu of its thicker low-end.

Soundstage –

The Honeydew aims for a spacious stage and provides above average dimensions in its class if not being an outlier like the Final A-series. Width is especially impressive, stretching beyond the head while depth is good but not great despite the laid-back vocal range. Imaging is slightly messy, that said, with good coherence but acuity could be improved. The centre image is slightly diffuse, and localisation is hazy at times. While directional cues in the treble are clear, the midrange fullness means the foreground overshadows the room and background, diminishing separation of layers.

It has decent stereo separation but is far from pinpoint accurate. Separation not great as one would expect, albeit somewhat admirable considering the tuning. There is an impressive amount of definition and note separation within the bass itself especially, though the midrange does lack definition. The treble has good separation, small details are easy to discern even on complex tracks. As such, though it is spacious, the Honeydew doesn’t immediately flaunt its stage dimensions due to its generally lower separation.

Driveability –

The Honeydew offers a 17.44 Ohm impedance and a 94 dB sensitivity making it a reasonably efficient earphone, in fact, it requires less volume than the single-BA Satsuma. It is one of the most efficient DD-based earphones in-class.

Output Impedance Sensitivity

As expected from a single-DD design, the Honeydew also isn’t picky when it comes to output impedance, sounding almost identical from both the Shanling M2X (1-ohm) and Hiby R6 (10-ohms). This is an asset for stage monitoring where the audio system may have a higher output impedance, the sound will remain true to the designer’s intent.

Driving Power

The Honeydew is a very efficient single-DD earphone that doesn’t need much volume nor power in general to reach its potential. It also isn’t so sensitive that is picks up source noise, for instance, it didn’t pick up the faint hiss audible on the M2X on sensitive IEMs at all. Switching to my desktop stack did provide a larger soundstage and a more articulate bass. However, the Honeydew didn’t sound dynamically flat or rolled off from my less powerful sources such as the headphone jack on my Xperia 5 II.

Suggested Pair Ups

The Honeydew is, altogether, an easy to drive earphone much like the Satsuma and I am thinking this is Campfire Audio’s intention. It sounds good out of almost anything and achieves high volumes from less powerful portable sources due to its efficiency. It isn’t phased by output impedance or low level source noise either. The Honeydew benefits from a more analytical source which helps to reign in its huge notes with a bit more definition and control – it has plenty of body and warmth to spare. I would not personally pair this with a warmer source as it can err on the side of veil and congestion.

Comparisons –

Oriolus Finschi ($179): Quite a similar tuning with a little more vocal presence and more treble to counterbalance its bass – a more traditional V. The Honeydew is more bass focused. It has slightly more pressure at the very bottom and also a lick more mid-bass, the Oriolus having a harder cut to minimise midrange colouration. The Honeydew offers slightly better control and definition in the mid-bass, the Finschi being a bit smoother but also having slightly higher separation due to its reduced warmth. The Finschi has more vocal presence though remains laid-back.

It has clearly greater clarity and is more articulate with its large lower-treble peak. However, it is also a little intense in so doing due to the high contrast tuning. The Honeydew is smoother, fuller and more coherent while still being quite articulate. It isn’t as balanced nor as defined but lacks any intensity too. The Finschi offers a sharper, more present lower-treble in equal measure to its bass. It has a more focused detail presentation with a little more texture and fine detail in the foreground. However, while it has more initial bite, it lacks extension above. The Honeydew offers more headroom and air in addition to a larger soundstage.

Campfire Audio Satsuma ($199): The Satsuma and Honeydew are two very different monitors, in fact, they are practically foils. The Honeydew has far better bass extension and also a lot more bass in general. It is fuller, bigger and warmer. The Satuma has a more restrained warmth but is much more linear overall. The Satsuma is more defined and much more articulate in the mid-bass, aided by far superior separation. Albeit, the Honeydew offers far more kick, slam and rumble. The midrange is much more forward on the Satsuma and much cleaner tonally. Once again, it offers much higher definition and separation.

The Honeydew is more coherent, it is more articulate, with a little more extension but its huge bass fills in its notes with a lot more body and warmth. In turn, the Honeydew actually sounds smoother despite its more aggressive treble suggesting otherwise. The Honeydew has a bit more bite in its lower-treble but its treble is more laid-back. The Satsuma sounds a bit brighter and resolves noticeably more fine detail in the foreground. The Honeydew to me offers a bit more extension and air above, it also has a larger soundstage. However, the Satsuma has sharper imaging and better separation which, to me, makes it the more resolving earphone in most situations.

Final E5000 ($279): The E5000 is a more linear earphone that shares a bass-focus and warmer tonality with the Honeydew to an extent, but is more of an all-rounder. The Honeydew has more bass focus, but within the bass, actually sounds a bit more linear, the E5000 having a bit more mid-bass focus. The Honeydew has better extension and pressure. Despite having an even bigger bass, it is more defined and a bit more controlled, though this isn’t always apparent due to its greater emphasis. The E5000 has a laid-back midrange too but not to the same extent. It also has a more even tuning here and in the lower-treble, to the benefit of its timbre.

The E5000 is warm and full, clearer with a more open upper-midrange but equally coherent as it has a smoother articulation. Its vocals are cleaner and denser, also lacking the male vocal muffle of Honeydew. The E5000 has a bit more bite in its middle-treble while the Honeydew has more crunch in its lower-treble. The E5000’s treble is a bit more balanced with its bass. It is crisper and more defined here, the Honeydew instead offering a bit more extension and air. The Honeydew offers a wider soundstage, but the E5000 has more depth and sharper imaging.

Fiio FD5 ($329): A little more expensive but a more versatile tuning. The FD5 is more balanced, being U-shaped and more linear in its tuning also. It has a bit more mid-bass focus and has a similar gradual transition into the lower-midrange. The FD5 has better driver control, but the Honeydew is not far behind. The FD5 has a big leg up on separation due to its more balanced tuning, while the Honeydew offers a much more fun tuning with bigger slam and rumble. The FD5 has a clearer and more vocal-forward midrange. It is thinner and tonally much cleaner. The FD5 has much higher separation and definition.

The Honeydew is smoother, warmer and fuller. It is more coherent and a bit easier to listen to at high volumes but less accurate and balanced objectively speaking. The FD5 has a crisper treble, also focused in the lower-treble. It is noticeably more detailed and offers much better extension above. The FD5 has a lot more headroom and micro-detail at the very top. It also has a larger soundstage enhanced with better separation. The FD5 has more accurate, sharper imaging. Of course, it is a bit pricier and caters perhaps towards a different listener.

Campfire Audio Atlas ($899): The Atlas offers a more balanced, U-shaped sound with a bigger push in the treble and midrange to compensate for its big bass. It has similar bass extension but a little less sub-bass focus, sounding more linear. The Atlas has a sharper cut into its lower-midrange, sounding a bit tonally cleaner. It has immediately better control and definition, higher dynamics. In particular, its note attack is much sharper, but decay is faster also, so separation is improved despite similar emphasis. The midrange is also much more present, only being slightly recessed. It has more separation and greater clarity. Similarly, it is articulate but compensated for by the warm, full bass.

With its sharper lower-mid cut, the Atlas has much more vocal definition than the Honeydew. The Honeydew is a bit more coherent in return and its treble especially isn’t as sharp. The Atlas has a much more focused and brighter treble. It is much more aggressively detailed but also much more detailed in general. The Atlas also has much better top-end extension, resolving more background detail. This aids its stage which is both larger and far more defined in terms of imaging. The bump in balance and separation further compounds upon these benefits. The price difference is huge but so too is the performance and tonal jump. The Honeydew does appeal more if you’d like greater bass focus and it is, to an extent, painted upon the same canvas with similar peaks.

Next Page: 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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