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.
I would like to Thank Campfire Audio for providing Andromeda review sample in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer product website: https://www.campfireaudio.com/andromeda/
* click on images to expand
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 old 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.
Everybody has their own personal sound preference, and after a while I almost gave up on being able to find one pair of in-ear monitors that going to come close to balancing out a warm natural sound and a more revealing reference sound. I always separate headphones into these two groups and analyze which one comes closer to my target preference signature. Here, Andromeda was able to close the gap with a nearly perfect yin-yang balance of revealing detailed sound wrapped in a blanket of smoothness and coherency.
After a few weeks of continuous listening and going between PAW Gold and Opus#1 as my two primary sources, I found Andromeda to have a balanced revealing signature, with a slight hint of being mid-forward, and a very smooth natural tonal characteristic. The signature is actually a good example of W-shaped balanced sound where lows, mids, and highs stand out and equally grab your attention. You can easily shift your focus and effortlessly zoom in to distinct parts of the spectrum. But as I mentioned already, the most important characteristics of Andromeda sound quality is being able to successfully bridge the gap between warm smooth and revealing detailed tonalities, resulting in a perfection of a smooth organic transparent sound with an impressive clarity and retrieval of details.
Starting with a bass, you hear a bottomless low end extension with a visceral sub-bass rumble that has a warm textured quality. Here, the tuning doesn't shy away from a slightly enhanced quantity, but surprisingly it doesn't overpower the mid-bass or turns Andromeda into L-shaped basshead monitor. I hear a deep analog sub-bass layered underneath of a fast tight punchy mid-bass. Bass is well controlled with an excellent separation from the mids. In some cases, I found other multi-BA headphones with lows tuned like analog dynamic driver, while here it's a combination of what sounds like a warm lush dynamic driver sub-bass with a fast balanced armature driver mid-bass - coherent and in unison.
Mids are another star of the tuning where lower mids have a natural organic body, not too lean but with a little bit of thickness and absolute zero muddiness. That was another pleasant surprise because in a number of other IEMs I tested in the past, bass enhancement with a little thicker lower mids can take away from sound clarity by introducing some muddiness. Here, it was carefully tuned without affecting sound clarity. And speaking of clarity, the details of upper mids are very impressive. It wasn’t exactly on a crunchy micro-detail level, but very close minus the crunchy part - very smooth and organic retrieval of details without a hint of harshness. I especially enjoyed the vocal performance, both male and female, which had such a natural and realistic tonality.
Treble is bright and clear, with an excellent definition, zero sibilance or graininess, not too crunchy or super airy, but it still extends nicely and has just a perfect amount of airiness to lighten up the upper frequencies. If you are a fan, for example, of extended crash cymbals, you are not going to hear the full extension of the decay. I guess something gotta give, and I'm perfectly fine with it, though Andromeda treble performance is still ahead of many other smooth signature IEMs I've tested. Again, as I stated before, I'm very impressed with clarity and transparency of these IEMs considering now smooth they sound.
The soundstage expansion is definitely on a whole other level with a real holographic 3D imaging where the width/depth/height parameters are way above the average performance. It results in a relatively accurate placement of instruments and vocals in space, but at the same time in a few of the tracks with extreme panning of sounds it felt even a bit overwhelming. Andromeda is great not just for listening to music but also for watching movies or playing video games with surround effects. It picks up every little nuance of the random noise, places it perfectly in space, and gives it a new dimension. Even so separation of instruments and vocals was really good, the layering was just Ok. But I still found the sound to be very dynamic and transparent.
Andromeda vs 64 Audio U12 - U12 soundstage width is a little narrower, while depth/height is the same. U12 has a bit less sub-bass quantity with B1 filter which actually gets closer to with S1 filter, mid-bass punch is very similar though Andromeda has a little more speed. Lower mids are very similar, while Andromeda upper mids are brighter and more detailed where U12 is warmer, and not as forward as Andromeda. Andromeda treble is a little brighter, with a slightly better definition and more airiness. One of the biggest differences here is Andromeda being more transparent, faster, and with a little better retrieval of details while U12 is smoother, more organic, more laid back, and warmer in comparison.
Andromeda vs Noble K10UA - soundstage is similar in depth/height, but Andromeda is noticeably wider. Andromeda has more sub-bass, while K10 has a faster mid-bass, both have a well controlled low end. K10 lower mids are leaner, while Andromeda upper mids are smoother and more organic in comparison to K10 which can get a bit harsher and brighter. K10 treble is brighter and has more crunch, and with a bit more airiness. Andromeda sounds more natural smoother, while K10 is more revealing.
Andromeda vs UM Maestro - Maestro width is a lot narrower, while depth/height are very close. Maestro sub-bass is more rolled off, while mid-bass punch is as fast but less aggressive. Lower mids are a little leaner, but not by a lot, upper mids in Maestro are brighter and little harsher in comparison. Treble in Maestro has better extension and also brighter and with more crunch and airiness, which could even feel a bit grainy in comparison. Both have a detailed clear sound, but Andromeda is a lot smoother (not warmer, but smoother) and has a more natural tonality without any graininess or harshness.
Andromeda vs Noble Savant - Savant soundstage width is a little narrower, while depth/height is the same. Savant sub-bass feels more attenuated and mid-bass punch is a lot less aggressive. Lower mids in Savant are just a touch leaner while upper mids are very similar, being detailed a little more forward, but also a little brighter in comparison. Treble has a similar definition and airiness, but Savant has a little more crunch. Overall Andromeda has definitive upper hand in bass, and sounds smoother and a little more organic in comparison.
Andromeda vs Westone ES60 - ES width is very close, but not 100% as wide, the height is the same but with a little less depth. Sub-bass and mid-bass in ES are more neutral in quantity and don't extend as deep or punch as fast or have the same impact. ES lower mids are a bit leaner, but not by a lot, upper mids are very similar, maybe with Andromeda being a touch smoother and a bit more organic. Treble is also very similar, clear and well defined without too much airiness. Both have great transparency, but ES is more reference quality with a slight advantage in retrieval of details. Andromeda is more balanced and a little smoother, with a more lifted low end.
Andromeda vs Westone W60 - soundstage is similar in comparison but W60 is a bit narrower, while depth/height is the same. W60 bass is slower and looser with a bit of spillage into lower mids, and thicker lower mids and smoother/warmer upper mids, also less sparkle in treble. Andromeda is smooth, but faster, tighter, and with a more articulate bass and better control/separation from mids, leaner lower mids, more revealing detailed upper mids, and more sparkle/airiness in treble.
Andromeda vs Inear SD-4 - SD4 soundstage is narrower, while depth/height is the same. Due to a more mid-forward sig, it feels like SD4 sub-/mid-bass are lower in quantity, but it could be just the case of sound signature difference. With that in consideration, SD4 sub-bass is a little rolled off and mid-bass is not as fast. Lower mids are very similar, while upper mids are brighter, a little more revealing, though a bit harsher in comparison. SD4 treble is brighter, crispier, with a better extension and more airiness, but at the same time a little harsher, in some tracks even pushing closer to sibilance threshold. In general, Andromeda is more balanced, smoother, with a deeper low end impact, while SD4 is brighter and more analytical and with a more enhanced top end.
As I was going through a pair-up with different sources, the main focus of this test was to compare hissing level, overall soundstage expansion, general sound quality, and the quality of low end impact. I didn’t focus on more detailed aspects of the sound analysis, and instead chose what I found to vary the most between different sources.
LPG (Lotoo PAW Gold) – low hissing; the sound is very spacious, detailed, transparent, fast/punchy, with a natural tonality. I hear a strong mid-bass and textured sub-bass.
Micro iDSD (dac/amp) – no hissing due to a highly configurable gain setting (Micro rocks in this regard!); the sound is very spacious and detailed, has natural organic tonality, and excellent low end extension. Reminded me a lot of LPG performance, maybe even better.
Samsung Note 4 – some hissing; good soundstage, detailed, smooth, fast sound with surprisingly great natural tonality though a bit warmer in comparison to other sources, and the bass is not as articulate. Still, a good pair up on the go with a smartphone.
L&P L5Pro - some hissing; good soundstage, detailed punchy smooth sound, a bit bright and with rolled off sub-bass. Actually, I wasn't too crazy about this pair up, kind of caught me by surprise.
theBit Opus#1 - low hissing; very spacious, detailed, highly resolving organic sound quality, beautifully textured bass with a nice mid-bass punch. Definitely among my favorite pair ups in this group.
iBasso DX80 - some hissing; good soundstage expansion, sound is warm, smooth, detailed, but not super resolving, more on a warmer analog side. I’m on a fence with this pair up, it was a bit too smooth for my taste.
A&K AK120ii - no hissing; very nice soundstage expansion, detailed, fast/punchy sound, slightly rolled off sub-bass, a bit more mid-forward signature. Zero-hiss sound in comparison to all of my other DAP sources, and I expect the same with other AK models.
FiiO X7 w/AM2 - faint hissing; not bad soundstage, very detailed balanced sound, smooth tonality, nice punchy mid-bass and good sub-bass extension.
Cayin N5 – hissing is high; good soundstage expansion, very balanced detailed sound, excellent low end performance, actually I found both sub-bass and mid-bass quantity/quality to be on a level of LPG, very punchy detailed sound. With an exception of hissing, this pair up was actually good.
FiiO X5ii - faint hissing; good soundstage, excellent low end performance (sub-bass and mid-bass quality is really good), excellent punchy sound. Definitely a pleasant surprise, X5ii pulled through with a really good pair up.
ThinkPad T430s laptop – pretty bad hissing; sound was too thin and bright with poor low end performance. I didn’t expect a miracle and only tested it because my laptop was paired up with Micro iDSD already. Straight from HO of my laptop, which has a generic sound chip, I found the pair up to be rather underwhelming.
Also, for the test purpose, I tried driving E12A and Q1 portable amps from LO and HO of LPG, and found E12A to be dead silent while Q1 yielded some hissing.
I learned my lesson not to label any IEM/CIEM as the endgame headphones, because every time I think I found one - another review pair gets into my hands/ears and I have to eat my own words. One thing for sure, CFA Andromeda was the biggest surprise for me so far in 2016, and it will be a tough act to follow. With its warm, smooth, revealing tonality and a perfectly balanced sound signature, including the holographic soundstage expansion, Andromeda didn't just get a checkmark next to all of my personal sound preferences, it quickly got to the top of my favorite in-ear monitors list. As a mentioned before, nothing is 100% perfect and there is some room for improvement, but it's related to a combination of the fit and my personal ear anatomy. Once I found a pair of eartips that slightly extended the nozzle insertion, it resolved all the previous issues I had with a comfort of the fit. Now, I'm really curious what Ken is going to come up with next. If it took him less than 3 years to build flagship Andromeda and other CFA models, how can you top that? Hopefully will find out in a near future.