Campfire Audio CASCADE

General Information

Premium Select Materials
We wanted to be sure our first headphone was as good as the earphones we make. Close attention to each component is critical to achieving this goal.

The headband, joints, and pivot are all made of stainless steel. This makes the traditionally weakest parts of a headphone the strongest. The cups and hanger arms are aluminum; cast and then machined to reduce weight.

Our headphone pads are soft sheepskin, attached via magnets and replaceable. Each element’s design is there to improve your ownership experience.

Detachable Cable
Cables are where we started with ALO audio so we know the importance of including an awesome cable.

That is why we include our acclaimed Litz cable with Cascade. It has the same conductor design and materials as the Litz cable included with each of our earphones.

Here we’ve added a special cloth jacket to the cable. It minimizes microphonics and adds a level of durability to the cable for headphone use.

Designed for Portable
Cascade is the headphone that we wanted while traveling. It folds up to a compact size and is an isolated closed-back design.

It sounds excellent with your portable DAP or phone. And it scales with ease in your home set-up.


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Latest reviews

Pros: Built like a tank, Beautiful accessories set, PHAT Bass, Cloyingly warm sound, Superb Imaging, Unfatiguing sound-sig.
Cons: Heavy build, not the comfiest headphone, THICK bass masks other frequencies, highs are slightly muted.
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Take note that this review is not being sponsored, this is an accurate reflection of my opinion. YMMV


Campfire Audio is an audio brand from Portland, Oregon. Starting out as ALO Audio, a company primarily focused on selling high-end headphone and IEM cables, the Campfire Audio rebrand began its foray into the competitive IEM market.

From their universally acclaimed “Andromeda” to the entry-level “Comet”, Campfire Audio has carved a name for itself among the Porta-audio community in the last 4 years, cementing them as a reputable IEM brand.

When news came around that Campfire Audio was developing an “audiophile” pair of headphones, the hype surrounding its impending release grew. What started out as a passion-project turned out to be a tiresome, 3-year “R and D” process. As a result, the “Cascade” was born. Featuring 42mm Beryllium PVD drivers, these headphones were conceived with the purpose of emulating the “sealed-sound” of an IEM. A bit of an oxymoron, but I’ll explain further as we dive deeper into my review.



Price:

$1099 (AUD)



Specifications:


Cascade is a culmination of a 3 year engineering effort to bring our signature sound to a headphone.

The result is a portable, closed-back headphone that sounds and performs like it’s open. Even better; it has the unique sound you expect from a Campfire Audio headphone.

Campfire Audio

  • Frequency Response: 5Hz- 3kHz
  • Impedance: 33 Ohms (1kHz)
  • 100dB SP/mW Sensitivity
  • 5 oz (without cable) or approximately 383 g
  • Inside ID is approx.-1.5-inch-wide x 2.5 inch



Packaging:

Like its siblings in the Campfire Audio line-up, the box itself is sourced from an American-made, French paper company. As someone who appreciates writing on high-quality paper (Tomoe River, Midori paper company), I deeply admire a company that takes pride in its packaging. The color-saturated prints and the leafed-lettering oozes personality. Their cohesive aesthetic distinguishes their brand from the rest of the market.

A product is only as good as its packaging.



Accessories:
  1. Campfire Audio Cascade + Campfire Audio SPC Litz Cable
  2. Campfire Audio Headphone Case
  3. Campfire Audio Pin
  4. Filter Set (4 pairs of Damping Pads)
  5. Warranty Card
There isn’t much to criticize. The lavish leather headphone case is basically an enlarged copy of their IEM cases, with the same faux-wool lining and leather outer-shell. Sadly, the bulky, over-sized case is hardly portable, taking up too much real-estate in my backpack. The case does come equipped with a leather sling; in case someone wants to carry it around like a man-purse (not the most practical option).

Overall, the accessories included are more than substantial.



Design and Build:

The headphone is built like a brick ***house. According to the Campfire Audio website, the headphone is almost entirely made out of machined aluminium and stainless steel. From the reinforced yokes to its oblong ear-cups, the build itself feels virtually indestructible. The all-black paint job and its angular edges reflects unpretentious, industrial design

The downside of using an all-metal (almost) build is its combined weight; it is a hefty headphone. If you’re looking for something suited for long-listening sessions, this is not for you. If you’re looking for an ultra-portable over-ear headphone, this might not be for you either. Yes, the Cascades are collapsible, but it still occupies a significant amount of space.

The ear-pads and headband-padding are made out of sheep-leather. In spite of the headphone’s heavy mass, the plush padding helps to ease the pressure exerted on my head and ears.

The lambskin pads are magnetically attached and easily switched out should they wear out over time. Do take note that the replacement pads are proprietary to Campfire Audio. The headphones are equipped with HD800 connectors; an odd choice considering the multiplicity of common connector types available in the market. Nevertheless, I have zero qualms with that decision.

My biggest gripe with the Cascades lies in its cable. While the cable is made out of high-end components, the cloth/fabric sheath retains too much memory. The cable bends and twirls uncontrollably. To make matters worse, the fabric is incredibly rigid, resulting in a cable that is barely malleable. It is almost impossible to undo the kinks that form along the cable. In addition, the Y-spit and 3.5 mm termination feel remarkably cheap.

This was a huge oversight on Campfire Audio’s part. It’s hard to not nit-pick when they’ve nailed every other aspect in its design.



Isolation

The headphones aren’t exactly “closed” per se. There is a tiny, pinhole-sized vent at the top of each respective earcup. As a result, it doesn’t seal as well as other closed-backs in the market. In spite of this, it still isolates fairly well. Be prepared to turn the volume pot up in louder settings. Don’t expect Bose levels of NC.

At Home: My apartment is generally quiet. In an undisturbed setting, I used the Creative Super X-fi DAC/Amp at approximately 70/100 steps.

At a Coffee Shop: Slightly noisier, with more ambient noise in the foreground. I used the Creative X-fi DAC/Amp at approximately 82/100 steps, a slight increase from a “home” setting.

Google Pixel 2 XL Test (Now Playing): Thankfully, the placement of my Pixel 2XL next to the Cascades on my head did not trigger the now-playing feature (can’t say the same for open-back headphones).



Sound:

Track List:
  • Neko Case- I wish I was the Moon
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra- Be Happy
  • God of War (PS4) OST- Valkyries
  • Fleet Foxes- Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
  • Diners- Little Pad

Hardware:
  • Aune X1s
  • Creative “Super X-fi” DAC/Amp
  • Shanling M0


Drivability:

The Cascades are easily powered by the aforementioned source. However, it performed exceptionally well with the Aune X1s in particular, as expected from its higher output power and quality DAC. Nevertheless, the Cascades are a forgiving headphone that pairs well with most sources.


Bass:

PHAT. THICC. In your face. Campfire Audio held no restraint in tuning this bass beast. The low-end is bombastic, with meaty sub-bass rumble and mid-bass punch. The Cascades boast an unconventional tuning, sustaining each bass-note as long as it can.

At this price point, most audio hobbyists would expect your typical mid-range boosted, clarity-centric headphone. Campfire Audio has instead, turned that philosophy on its head.

The bass is fun, exciting and never fails to emulate the chamber-like pressure of an IEM with a proper seal. Unfortunately, the monstrous bass-response does bleed into the mids, overshadowing the vocal-range and other instrumentation in the foreground.

It is important to note that this is not your run-of-the-mill, “Beats by Dre”. I’m simply using headphones in the same price bracket as referents.


Treble:

The Cascade features a treble section with air and sparkle. Stringed instruments are given ample space to breathe, never coming across as strident in the process. Oddly enough, the Cascades allow the treble to decay at the exact moment when vocals start to sound raspy, hitting the acoustic “sweet spot”.


Midrange:

It is safe to say that Campfire Audio has opted for a V-shaped response on these bass-cannons. The mid-range remains clear, with enough presence for it to remain coherent. However, there is still a noticeable dip in the upper mids, with vocals placed further back in the entire mix. The PHAT bass complements the mid-range by backing it with weight and heft, creating an almost “tube-esque, vinyl-like” warmth that hearkens back to an analogue age.


Highs:

Highs are well extended, rolling off at the opportune moment so as to avoid ear-piercing sibilance. Considering the gargantuan bass response of the Cascades, its highs are surprisingly distinct, unfazed and undeterred by its explosive bottom-end.


Sound-stage:

The piston-like bass response overwhelms the sound-stage, stealing its thunder. Expect an intimate presentation when compared to its open-back counterparts in the market (Hifiman HE-560, HD800). I would describe the stage as a circular sphere, your head as the metaphorical center.

On the other hand, imaging is razor-sharp, allowing you to unconsciously pinpoint the placement of instruments and vocals with ease. This an impressive feat for a closed-back headphone. There are some occasions where the bass proves to be too thunderous, drowning out everything else in the process.



Summary:
For their first headphone release, Campfire Audio has undoubtedly, created an unorthodox creature in a crowded sea of high-end, reference headphones. In a market where developers strictly adhere to the Harman Target Response Curve like dogmatic scripture, it is refreshing to witness a company carve its own path.

Like the Audioquest Nighthawk, this headphone is bound to polarize listeners with its velvety tonality. Nevertheless, I believe they will develop their own cult following as time goes by.

If you’re looking for a reference headphone with clinical precision, look elsewhere. If you’re up for an unashamedly fun listen, this is the headphone for you.
Pros: Powerful sound.
Excellent speed.
Great detail retrieval.
Build quality.
Reasonable price. ( Compares to some ridiculous overprice cans)
Cons: The warm sound may not suit everyone.
Disclaimer:

The unit I reviewed is part of a review tour set up by Head-Fi members Wiljen. Huge thanks to Ken and Wiljen and everyone involved in this tour.


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Intro:


Campfire audio is a well-known American manufactory famous for its high-quality IEM. Andromeda is one of the most iconic IEMs in the market, which bring huge success to the company. Then in recent years Campfire audio also launch serval IEMs with the great build and sound quality. With huge success in IEM market, Campfire first time ever launch its new portable, closed-back headphone Cascade.


Driver:
Cascade feature 42mm Beryllium PVD Diaphragm Dynamic Drivers. Beryllium is one of the superior material for the diaphragm of a high-frequency electroacoustic transducer. The driver components were manufactured through a method known as PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition), which is a process that involves depositing thin layers through the condensation of the vaporized element onto a form. Compare to other drivers like Aluminum and Titanium, Beryllium has the lowest mass, the highest stiffness, the lowest Poisson Effect, the highest speed of sound, and the highest tensile strength of the acoustically useful light metals. Also, the beryllium diaphragm exhibits substantially more output in the two octaves from 3 to 12kHz than all of the standard materials.


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Build Quality:


The build quality of Cascade is maybe the best I have seen.
It is phenomenal. Aluminum and Stainless Steel Construction make it looks solid but not heavy, a nice weight on your hand. Sheep leather detachable pads are very elegant and plush, it feels like the whole pads are “hug” you into the Cascade. Also, It is very easy to replace because of the magnetic design. The clamping force is firm but not make me any discomfort. This plus the sheep ear pups give you a very good seal and secure fit. Again these pads are really really good.
The headband is touching my head, but nothing uncomfortable. The cable is lightweight also durable. Cascade use the Sennheiser HD800 style of push/pull connectors which is very easy to use.


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Sound Impression:

Cascade has a very powerful and impactful sound signature, excellent speed and detail retrieval. It is very fun to listen to and it sounds open. The overall sound signature is warm, great quality bass, mid is a little recessed but still can have some impact. Scalability is incredible.

During my almost 7-day listening, I used cascade 80% of the time in my office 20% at home.
What I listen: Jazz, Light Electronic music, Rock etc.
I try different filter but I prefer no filter, so I will not cover filter sound different in this review.



Source
:

In office: MacBook pro and mojo, Player: Jriver;
At home: Audio-GD Master 11, Player: Jriver;
IPad pro, player: HibyMusic.
All music file are using DSF or lossless 16 bit/44.1khz or higher FLAC file


Synergy:
I prefer to use MacBook directly with Cascade which still provides very nice sound without DAC/Amp. The synergy of Cascade and mojo is okay but because even Mojo give more detail but they both have warm tonality, sometimes it is just too much.
I am a little surprised after hearing Cascade pairing with Audio-GD master 11, I personally preferred this synergy, it makes the sound tight and provides a much cleaner sound. It shows Cascade has very nice scalability compared to some other bass-head headphones which typically lack. This might be a reason I still prefer it for in-home use rather than portable use.

Cascade is very source sensitive. One little default of the file or player will lead to a huge difference of the sound quality. When I play “Hotel California” DSD file using IPad pro's "HibyMusic" app and there is low-end distortion I never noticed. Same DSD file plays on master 11 using Jriver, there is no distortion at all and that is the first time I noticed it.


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Bass: Cascade hits very hard, deep, great quality bass. It puts the entire low-end in front of you. Overall best bass quality I have ever listened, Try MJ’s Billie Jean and ACDC’s Thunderstruck which will give you thunder-like bass.


Mids: Mids is not his strength, but not like some other bass-head headphone, which you can’t feel the mids. Cascade still has some light impact which you still can hear it effortless.


Treble: Treble is a little roll off, but keep its crispy taste, a little forward presentation. Try Kenny G Always if you like Saxophone.
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Soundstage:
This is very interesting. When you listen to some good quality recordings. you really can feel the size of the recording studio, with Cascade, it feels much more obvious. The different recording you can easily feel the different size of the recording studio, You can tell where the boundary is, which make the song much more interesting and fun to listen with. Try the Norah Jones Day Breaks album. Very relaxing sound with some low-end emphasis. Then listen to Peter Gabriel Sledgehammer. You can feel the drum sound reflect the wall and tell how big is the studio. But at the same time, some of the song you will feel too busy to keep too many things in this little room.
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Conclusion and some thought:


Overall, a good product is the reflection of its creator. Good product has its own soul. People know what they want before they design a product. Cascade is a great product, if Ken is a chef, Cascade is one of the best treats he gives to this world. On the other hand, IMHO, Cascade is some kind of overkill for portable use. Because of some ergonomic design, you really can feel the compromise for its portable purposes, imagine how good it will be if it is a full-size can. But this is really a great start for a company. At $799 price point, this is an absolutely fantastic headphone if you want a fun, entertaining campfire house sound signature, great speed great detail retrieval, but also has great scalability.
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Pros: Spacious and open
- Terrific build quality
- Great technical ability
- Scales incredibly well
- Tuneable
Cons: Big sub-bass won't suit everyone
- Headband shape won’t suit everyone
Introduction –

Campfire Audio requires no introduction in the modern day, but just a few years ago, many were scratching their heads at cable manufacturer ALO Audio’s foray into in-ear monitors. It’s evident that their efforts were a huge success with the Andromeda and Vega quickly becoming benchmarks for their respective sound signatures and driver types. The Cascade represents the next step in the company’s evolution, as their first closed-back over-ear headphone.

Utilising 3 years of development and growing experience, Campfire offer a headphone featuring 42mm berrylium drivers and the same gorgeous build quality that we have come to expect from the company. With an isolating closed-back design combined with deep, plush lambskin ear pads, the Cascade strives to find versatility between home and portable use, catering towards audio enthusiasts of every kind. You can read more about the Cascade and treat yourself to one here.



Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Caleb from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Cascade for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the headphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.



Accessories –


It’s almost amusing to see the same packaging from Campfire’s in-ears expanded for the Cascade. Campfire’s signature box design makes a return as does their terrific zippered carrying case, this time scaled up in size. The included hard case is gorgeous with a full grain leather exterior and soft faux shearling interior that prevents the headphones from becoming scratched while providing some drop protection on top. Inside the case are the headphones themselves in addition to the included accessories within two paper pouches. One contains the cable and warranty/instructional papers with the other containing 4 pairs of filters that enable the user to fine-tune the sound of the headphones.



Design –

Sloping lines, smoothly formed edges and a smooth finish all define the Campfire’s first foray into a market of flashy and abstract portable designs. The Cascade rather comes across as subdued with a design language translated from their previous in-ears. Accordingly, we’re gifted the same unyielding metal construction and a sense of styling that is distinct and industrial if not as low-profile as competing models. In line with other premium portable headphones from Bowers and Wilkins and Bang and Olufsen to name examples, the Cascade makes use of lambskin leather that beautifully compliments its cool stainless steel/aluminium complexion. The result is a headphone that’s both solid and luxurious. Though the metalwork is immaculate, I do have qualm with the finishing on the headband as there’s no sealing strip where the leather meets the inner frame to prevent fraying.


Ergonomics are a strong point of the Cascade though it does come at the cost of portability relative to competitors. The headphones are in-between a home and conventional portable headphone in dimension, with very deep angled ear pads and a reasonably wide headband. In return, the headphones are very comfortable; their wide headband spreading weight evenly and their spacious, ultra-plush pads flattering with great long-term comfort. The pads magnetically attach, enabling easy replacement while permitting users to swap out sound tuning filters. I did find the headband to lack curvature, forming a mild hotspot on the top of my head after several hours of listening. That said, as its frame is made from stainless steel, I was able to form the headband into a more ergonomic shape (I take no responsibility for damage should you choose to do the same!).


The Cascade uses a traditional stepped headband slider. They were quite loose on my unit, lacking defined click, but with barely adequate tension to maintain their position. This could be unit specific, however, as other reviewers have not expressed similar concerns in private correspondence. Like Master & Dynamic’s headphones, I had to maximise the setting of the slider due to the shape of the headband. That said, Ken has expressed interest in an extended slider that would permit a larger range of adjustment on retail models. As a result of their strong seal, the Cascade can get a little hot though in return, they provide above average noise isolation. They don’t attenuate nearly as much as class-leading active noise cancellers from Bose and Sony or certain portable headphones such as the Oppo PM3, but suffice for public transport and commute when combined with their full sound.


Using their experience with cables, Campfire elected to use dual entry HD800 connectors on the Cascade; reasoning that, though not widely adopted, they have the lowest fail rate on the market. I didn’t personally experience any intermittency and both connectors engage with satisfying action. The cable itself is very pleasing too, with silver plated litz internals and a durable yet supple fabric sheath. The Cascade’s cable is smooth and compliant with zero memory and minimal microphonic noise. The terminations are well-relieved and Campfire’s pre-moulded connectors all look professional and coherent. Campfire offers a range of terminations, my 3.5mm variant has a pocket-friendly 45-degree plug, a wise choice for its intended uses.



Sound –

Tonality –

The Cascade is discerning, flamboyant and engaging. Those searching for anything vaguely neutral will want to look away, they are clearly V-shaped with abundant sub-bass and vibrant treble. The Cascade isn’t lacking in-between, maintaining fair linearity and a very pleasing tone, ensuring natural midrange voicing and an impressively organised image. Treble is very crisp and airy from factory with filters enabling users to tone down highs to achieve a smoother presentation. On a side note, I did notice that pushing the ear cups in to flatten the ear pads brought the midrange forward. I would presume that as the ear pads wear in, the headphones will become more balanced. The Cascade received over 200hrs of burn-in prior to review to ensure optimal performance.

Filters –


Campfire includes 4 tuning filters, all providing various levels of damping. As the number increases, the filter attenuate more high-frequency presence, thereby creating a warmer, smoother sound. I found the 2nd most conservative filter to suit my preferences best, smoothing treble while retaining some crispness and edge for acoustic. I felt the headphones sounded under-damped stock as they become noticeably more detailed in this configuration simply by smoothing treble peaks and improving control. Higher numbered filters sounded a little over smooth and warm to my ear though, of course, this will be up to individual preference.


On the flipside, if you want even more clarity and high-frequency presence than even the vanilla tuning, users are able to remove the white “fixed” filters on the bottoms of each earpad. This results in a brighter, more open sound but also a very thin, unnatural midrange. I would not recommend this configuration and it’s clear that the white filters are adhered to the pads for a reason. The beauty of this system is its flexibility. Though they don’t have a transformative effect, the differences between each filter are distinct and effective. One can see this in play just by reading reviews online with almost every reviewers opting for a different filter.



Bass –

The Cascade is a creature of rumble and visceral kick on behalf of its very elevated sub-bass and flawless extension. Sub-bass hits with precision and rumble assumes a physical character that flatters genres such as electronic, R&B and rap in addition to gaming and film. This is offset by a more modest mid-bass emphasis enabling a tone that is fairly clean, with noticeable but not obtrusive warmth. Accordingly, low notes are bold and impactful but the Cascade doesn’t sound overly full and woolly as its emphasis is mainly contained within the very lowest frequencies. Upper-bass is fairly neutral, enabling greater midrange transparency and preventing over-warming of the Cascade’s presentation. Bass is a little omnipresent as a result of its emphasis, though due to its excellent control, bass doesn’t drone nor does it become congested on busier tracks.

What impresses most about the Cascade’s low-end is its control, reminding very much of Campfire’s Vega; a dynamic driver in-ear with big sub-bass reeled in with surgical control. Though its notes are large, the Cascade maintains definition, preserving detail and texture. Sub-bass is tight, especially considering its level of emphasis, reaffirmed by a very solid, coherent impact at the very bottom. Though the Cascade doesn’t strike me as an especially fast headphone, compared to lower-end headphones with similar tuning and even the similarly priced MDR-Z7, the Cascade thoroughly impresses with its ability to follow complex passages; a by-product of its great control paired with a nicely considered mid-bass emphasis. Really, the Cacade’s bass is very respectable in quality, there’s just a lot of it and you can have too much of a good thing.



Mids –

The Cascade’s midrange is laid-back on a whole, but clean and slighty bright, treading a fine line between clarity and balance. To my ears, Campfire have found a fair middle ground with a nicely revealing signature set to a fairly neutral tone. This is achieved through slight attenuation of the lower-midrange that serves to counterbalance the headphones emphasized bass, and a slightly enhanced centre midrange that produces a presentation slightly biased towards vocals over instruments. The Cascade pairs this tuning with a slight upper-midrange lift that feeds more evenly into its elevated treble while providing additional midrange clarity. As such, the Cascade has a clearer presentation and an almost exaggerated sense of separation at the cost of a little body and linearity. I wouldn’t characterise the Cascade as a realistic sounding headphone as a result, though due to its excellent tone, it remains naturally voiced and upholds respectable transparency.


It should be noted that though both male and female vocals are well-present, they’re still laid-back relative to the Cascade’s enhanced bass with treble presence depending heavily on the chosen filter. At times, male vocals sound slightly chesty on behalf of its enhanced bass while female vocals hold constant spotlight with slightly greater presence and reduced colouration. The Cascade layers very well even if it isn’t perfectly balanced and its excellent resolution enables great background detail retrieval. With the right filters, mids are refined and smooth with accurate articulation, lacking negative traits usually associated with V-shaped headphones. True to its slight brightness, instrumentation is crisp and the nature of the headphone’s treble tuning avoids overly emphasised sibilance. Again, this is subject to change with filters, as I did find the Cascade to sound more explicitly cool stock. Mids are very well done unless you absolutely prioritise timbre.



Highs –

Up top, the Cascade is revealing, resolving and terrifically well-extended. Lower-treble has slight emphasis resulting in a more aggressive presentation of foreground detailing and nicely crisp, if thin instrumentation. Using the included filters can have quite a profound impact here, attenuating peaks to produce a more even and detailed image. With my preferred filters installed, instrument body is bolstered, becoming slightly organic, with the higher resistance filters further pushing the Cascade into smoothness. In this configuration, the Cascade is a very detailed headphone that scrutinises background detail in addition to being superficially clear. It delivers excellent micro-detail retrieval, especially with acoustic, in addition to naturally decaying cymbals and well-resolved high-hats. Regardless of filter choice, the Cascade’s elevated middle-treble always shines through, enhancing air and aiding shimmer.

It sounds very open as a result, a large contributor towards its spacious stage. Compared to a lot of other brighter headphones, the Cascade’s emphasis here is well-considered, I wouldn’t call them over-bright and middle-treble doesn’t overshadow detail lower-down. The Cascade’s background remains fairly clean and composed when combined with its excellent control. The same can be said for its upper-treble. Ironically, with a lot of high-end headphones and in-ears, upper-treble emphasis can become a bit excessive; it does showcase the level of extension they’re capable of but can skew their tone and timbre. In this regard, the Cascade is nicely done, it doesn’t possess the same upper-treble energy as Campfire’s BA in-ears, but retains plenty of sparkle without throwing its technical prowess in the listener’s face. Regardless, the headphone’s impressive extension is always evident through its high resolution, micro-detail retrieval and organised stage.



Soundstage –

Probably one of the first aspects that creates an impression on first listen, the Cascade’s soundstage is very spacious while maintaining coherent imaging. It has a nicely rounded presentation with great expansion in all axis, achieved through its airy tuning, well-extended treble and laid-back vocals that emphasize depth. Some have even likened the Cascade to an open back headphone, and though it’s certainly no HD800 and lacks the same sense of natural expansion, the Cascade is roughly on par with the average open-back.

Layers are very defined and the Cascade’s background remains well-detailed despite being so expansive. Imaging is respectable, especially considering the nature of the Cascade’s tuning, likely a result of its more linear midrange. Separation is generally pleasing too, with controlled, agile and slightly thinner notes working in conjunction with a spacious stage to produce a very delineated presentation. Bass separation is the weakest element due to its sub-bass emphasis that can overshadow mid-bass details, and treble can get slightly busy at times.



Driveability –

With a low 38ohm impedance and 100dB sensitivity, the Cascade is quite easily driven to high volumes from a portable source. For the majority of listeners, even a smartphone will provide sufficient volume. Despite this, the Cascade scales immensely well from higher end sources. It definitely benefits from a strong amplifier and has the resolution to take advantage of a resolving source. Even coming from the Fiio X7 II, running the Cascade from my Schiit Magni 3 desktop amplifier yielded a noticeably more controlled low-end with tighter sub-bass and greater separation. Its soundstage noticeably expanded and micro-details were easier to discern. Select pairings below:

iPhone 6S: Loose, woolly bass with little definition. Slightly warmer tone. Midrange is fairly balanced but slightly more laid-back and lacking a little transparency relative to dedicated sources. Less detailed, pleasing air and resolution. More intimate soundstage with less defined layers. Lacking separation. Liveable, impressive but not ideal!

Echobox Explorer: Slightly fuller bass, mid-bass a little woolly and lacking some control. Midrange is slightly fuller, but still fairly transparent, upper-midrange is laid-back producing a denser image. Enhanced detail presence, crisp and clear, nice air. Good resolution, great soundstage expansion but mediocre layering and separation.

Fiio X7 MKII (AM3A): More vibrant, slightly lifted mid-bass, larger bass notes. Slightly forward upper midrange, enhanced midrange clarity. Well-detailed with nice air. Great resolution, medium soundstage expansion with clear layers and good separation.

Shozy Alien+: Very balanced, clean, great bass control, more neutral tone. Transparent midrange, slightly clearer. Slight lower-treble emphasis aids midrange clarity and detail presence. Nice air and resolution. Medium soundstage expansion with clear layers and great separation.

Hiby R6: Very balanced, clean, well-controlled bass. Slightly diffuse sub-bass slam relative to the DX200/Magni 3 combo, but also a more neutral bass tone. Transparent midrange, slightly less dense but clear and balanced. Well-detailed with nice air. Nice resolution, great soundstage expansion and layering. Well separated.

iBasso DX200 (AMP5): Very balanced, clean, extended bass with nice control and definition. Transparent midrange, very slightly full-bodied vocals. Excellent detailing, slightly enhanced air and terrific resolution. Great soundstage expansion and layering, well separated.

DX200 w/Magni 3: Very balanced, very clean bass with a slightly more physical quality. Excellent bass control, slightly more neutral tone with enhanced definition and separation. Transparent midrange, slightly clearer on account of more controlled bass. Excellent detailing, enhanced air and retained resolution. Expansive soundstage with great layering and separation.



Comparisons –

All comparisons below were running through the DX200 + Magni 3 setup, volume matched using an SPL meter.

Oppo PM3 ($450): The PM3 does not compete within the same price class, but it is my personal portable headphone benchmark. It features planar magnetic drivers and a very balanced signature that contrasts to the vivid Cascade. The Cascade is immediately more V-shaped and more resolving with greater extension at either end. The PM3 has a slight sub-bass emphasis while the Cascade has a fairly significant boost in addition to slightly more extension, producing considerably greater slam. The Cascade also has more mid-bass though its low-end is tighter and more defined despite the PM3 being more balanced. The two diverge heading into the midrange where the PM3 is full-bodied with sustained emphasis through its upper-bass and lower-midrange.

By contrast, the Cascade sounds cleaner and a little more transparent on account of its more neutral upper-bass and attenuated lower-midrange. The PM3 has a more present midrange overall, it’s very linear with an especially realistic timbre. The Cascade is brighter and thinner, but not excessively so. In return, it’s clearer while retaining a pleasing amount of body. The Cascade layers a lot better and it has higher resolution throughout, aided by its clearer tuning. The PM3 has a small bump in its lower treble for detail presence before a moderate slope into an attenuated middle and upper treble. On the contrary, the Cascade is emphasized all the way through, most notably within the middle-treble.

Resultantly, the PM3 sounds dark and mellow while the Cascade is rather open and airy with a brighter background. The Cascade extends a lot further up top which accentuates its openness and contributes towards its higher resolution. When it comes to soundstage, the Cascade is the clear winner, considerably more spacious in all dimensions, more layered and a lot more separated. At twice the price, the Cascade provides all the technical upgrades one would expect and its tuning really capitalises on its strengths. Of course, the PM3 is a lot more balanced, but on a technical level, this demonstrates that driver type should not be considered a limiting factor.

Sony MDR-Z7 ($800): The Z7 is another high-end closed-back dynamic headphone with a bassier tuning. Compared to the Cascade, the Z7 is slightly more balanced but also less transparent and technical. Both dig very deep when it comes to bass, with the Z7 producing greater impact due to its greater sub-bass emphasis. The Z7 isn’t as bassy overall, but as it has a greater focus on mid-bass with a less emphasized sub-bass. I personally prefer its less emphasized sub-bass, but it sounds more bloated and tubby due to the nature of its tuning. It’s also more obviously warm in its presentation where the Cascade is more neutral in tone. In addition, the Cascade has noticeably greater control and it’s clearly more defined and detailed within its lower registers as a result. The Cascade also has a considerably more natural midrange.

Of note, the Z7 has a sucked out lower-midrange combined with over-articulated vocals on account of its more pronounced lower-treble. The Cascade on the other hand is fairly neutral through its lower-midrange. Combined with its more neutrally toned bass, it’s more transparent, natural and refined. Vocals are slightly more laid-back but have more realistic body and timbre. The Z7 has a forward upper-midrange that enhances the presence of female vocals and increases midrange clarity. That said, the Cascade is again smoother and more natural in this regard where the Z7 is more vibrant but also quite unnatural. The Z7 is a well-detailed headphone accentuated by a clear, crisp lower-treble that brings details forward in the mix. The Cascade is considerably more linear through its upper-midrange and treble, providing more naturally bodied instrumentation.

It’s the more detailed headphone even if it lacks an iota of crispness compared to the enhanced Z7. The Cascade also extends further up top, it has immediately more sparkle, a little more air and noticeably higher resolution than the Sony can. The more linear nature of the Cascade’s midrange and treble tuning works wonders with its soundstage. The Z7 actually has the advantage with size and, in some regards, separation; it’s an immensely spacious headphone and its thinner midrange sounds nicely delineated. That said, the Cascade is immediately more layered with clearly superior imaging. It has greater background detail retrieval and separation overall is higher. It’s the more nuanced, coherent headphone if less superficially vibrant and clear.



Verdict –

Over the years, audiophiles have been conditioned to appreciate (almost exclusively), a balanced or neutral orientated style of tuning and with it, have gained a hyper-critical perspective on almost everything else. As an enthusiast with such a mindset, my first minutes with the Cascade were quite a shock yet despite this, I came to thoroughly enjoy my time with the Cascade. It goes without saying that most headphones carry a V-shaped signature, so what makes the Cascade more unique than most is its technical prowess; enabling them to uncover more and more detail over longer listening periods. In another sense, the Cascade is also a poignant reminder of the bassy, hyper-engaging gear that introduces most listeners to the hobby in the very beginning; and it’s one of those products that makes me question my own preferences and whether one can concretely categorise what brings them enjoyment.


For Campfire, the Cascade not only represents their first non-in-ear design but a refinement of the V-shaped signature initiated by the indomitable Vega; realising great vibrancy without skewing midrange tone. As someone who highly values timbre, the Cascade cannot be universally recommended, despite its technical ability. Still, I’m sure it will be a sound that many will love and many will grow to appreciate. It’s not balanced, neutral or realistic, but executes its tuning through marvellous control. I’m especially enamoured by the Cascade’s midrange that shines through with its clear yet natural voicing achieved through careful transitions that achieve overall coherence. I have to thank Ken and everyone working with him for providing an experience that was surprising, engaging and most importantly, memorable.

The Cascade can be purchased from Campfire Audio for $799 USD. I am not affiliated with Campfire Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed my review, please see my website for more just like it!

Comments

Hi,

Small question: any Campfire Audio IEMs with a similar sound signature to the Cascade's you could recommend?

Thanks in advance & Take care
 
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