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Campfire Audio Nova

Rating:
4.33333/5,
  1. ExpatinJapan
    Campfire Audio Nova - superb mid fi sound and elegance
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Sep 15, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Sound, value and fit.
    Cons - Might not have enough treble for some listeners.
    Campfire Audio NOVA Review - Expatinjapan
     
    First published on Head Pie 5/14/2016
     
    For full set of text and pictures:  http://headpie.blogspot.jp/2016/05/campfire-audio-nova-review-expatinjapan.html
     
    acamp1.jpg
     
    acamp2.jpg
     
     
    https://campfireaudio.com/nova/
    Campfire Audio Nova. What is all the buzz about? On Head-fi.org the Campfire Audio thread dedicated to the Andromeda and Nova models are all abuzz with the sweet expectation of how the new model could sound. Tie that in with 200 units recently up for grabs on Massdrop and a pre-order at a decent price on the Campfire Audio website and the IEM community goes into a blind feeding frenzy.
    I was fortunate enough through circumstance to receive an early unit of the Nova and have attempted on head-fi.org to give initial impressions which were predictably garbled to an extent, although in my defense I think I painted enough of picture of what the Nova would sound like to help those in their purchasing decisions.
    Common sense told me to hold off for a proper full review but my public awaited! And being the gentleman I am, I half delivered.
    On with the show.
     
     
    *Build, packaging and fit is the same across Campfire Audio products so excuse me If I borrow from earlier reviews for those sections.
    Build
    Build, quality and shape is virtually identical across the board with Campfire Audio products.
    The Nova as you can see in the photos is machined from aluminum and is sturdy. It is a strong, well built IEM, robust and able to handle most rough housing.
    It is lightweight which belies its outer image, it gives the illusion of being sharp edged but is in fact rounded in its own way thanks to great design.
     
      acamp3.jpg
     
     
    Each part is precision machined out of aluminum with  two small bore holes. The two halves of the housing being connected by bolts. 
     
     
     

     
     
    Using MMCX connectors with reinforcement makes for a safe and sturdy cable where it counts the most. The ability to swap out the 3.5mm cable for a 2.5mm balanced cable (not included) is also a plus.
     

     
     
    The new Litz wire cable makes its entrance into the Campfire audio range and will eventually be the standard cable for all the CA range. No need for any cable upgrades with this beauty.
    Note the chin slider for added comfort and a securer fit.
     

     
     
    Packaging
    The Campfire Audio Nova comes in a simple box like The Jupiter I received, yet with one important difference in detail. Now one can easily open the box (same process for the Andromeda) once the plastic shrink wrap is removed without having to cut into it. 
    When I received The Jupiter having to cut through the beautiful sticker was a saddening process (See The Jupiter unboxing).
     
     
     
     

     
     
    Once again Campfire Audio has included a beautiful and strong case to protect the IEMs, lined with wool. This time Campfire Audio has moved away from the leather case that the Jupiter and Andromeda come with, and this time in a matching gray.
    Simple, functional and elegant.
     

     
     
    Extras not pictured. As with other Campfire Audio products the Nova comes with a set of Comply tips in S/M/L, a set of silicone tips in S/M/L, a cleaning brush and a Campfire Audio logo pin.
     
     
    Fit
    Recently I have read several reports about fit for Campfire Audio products.
    It seems like many IEMs a process of trial and error involving some tip rolling of the included tips (recommend to keep within the intended sound signature of the Nova) and aftermarket or other brands tips.
    The cable has a chin slider to help keep them secure as well as a memory wire for around the ears.
     
     
     
     
    Here pictured with the Comply tips. Campfire Audio and myself recommend silicone tips for the Nova as it retains the sound signature of the Nova best.
    EDIT: I have been using JVC Spiral tips these days. 9/2016.
     
     
     

     
     
     
    Sound
    Well this is the section that most are looking for, maybe even breezing past the build, packaging and fit sections in search of an answer to the question that will enable them proceed to unite them with their precious.
     
    Reviewing the Nova has been a struggle at time, from requests for early fractured impressions from the denizens of head-fi.org desperately trying to make a decision before the pre-order and Massdrop close their doors.....Nothing like a limited time to set a feeding frenzy going for the early adopters, but thats all part of the fun.....to having in my possession the higher end CA Jupiter and CA Andromeda to confuse matters further.
     
    Reviewing low end gear and high end gear is infinitely easier than review mid fi gear.
     
    I was torn between whether to review the Andromeda or Nova first and went for the flagship, perhaps the old adage `save the best for last` would have fitted the process more finely, If only I had been more prescient. Hindsight can possess more accurate vision than the sharpest illuminating foresight.
     
    As usual I clocked up a decent set of hours on the IEMs before commencing the review, either through listening, leaving an old iphone to play varied music and tracks on shuffle as well as having a burn album on there of different frequencies. In the end over 150 hours were logged.
     
    Most of the testing was done using the Centrance Hifi-Skyn with an ipod touch 6G 128GB using Flacplayer app by Dan Leehr. Other times I used the Shozy Alien.
    Tips used were either the stock silicone tips or the JVC Spiral tips.
     
     
     
     
    On the head-fi.org thread dedicated to the Nova and Andromeda member Audio123 described the Nova as `Technical` and that is a term I keep returning to. Not analytical or sterile, but technical.
    Technical matches the color and performance of the Nova.
     
    I found I had a different experience when using the powerful Centrance Hifi Skyn which rendered the Nova more fuller but at the expense of some micro details at times, later when using the Shozy Alien it was a bit more clearer, laid back and airy. less low end was present on the Shozy Alien.
     
    The Nova reproduces vocals accurately, female vocals are especially silky smooth and sweet.
     
    The Nova has a decently wide soundstage, is accurate in terms of musical reproduction, open, instrument separation is excellent and it is well balanced between music and vocals.
    At times I could describe the sound as organic, which is to be interpreted as not overly digital sounding.
    I would tentatively say that it is a fairly neutral IEM, it does not seem to favor the lows, mids or highs in an ideal setting with the right source and tips.
     
    I have read that a few people consider the CA Orion to be a mini Jupiter, and at times during my listening I have in my head referred to the Nova as a mini Andromeda - but I would not like to fully commit to that assessment.
     
    It has great layering, fast response, wide soundstage, detailed, clean and clear. Those points could also be said about the other IEMs by Campfire Audio. 
     
     
    So what are the particulars of the Nova?
     
    *With the supplied stock silicone tips:
    Bass has decreased to a natural level.
    More organic and smoother.
    Balanced over the spectrum of lows/mids/highs.
    Treble now is quite sweet. No sibilance i think. More extension.
    Good width and extension.
    Still a fast response.
    Silky smooth accurate vocals.
    Better height, not too much.
    Good overall detail and separation.
    Better balance over the freq.
    Crisp and concise, fast response.
    Natural.
     
     
    *With the JVC Spirals tips:
    Lots of low end at times (sub bass?) although ok at moderate listening levels.
    Vocals are good, smooth and accurate.
    Treble is smooth and clear, not extended or sparkly.
    A kind of flat reference sound at times, although not reference due to the bass at times.
    Smooth and rounded.
    Bass gives it body.
    Not energetic, but can be lively.
    Not V or U shaped.
    I found the CA Nova to be more source dependent when using the JVC Spiral tips.
     
     
    *With the supplied Comply tips:
    The Nova with the Comply tips is a nice combination. 
    It does not seem to overly increase the bass as usual.
    Highs are slightly tamed as is often the case with Comply tips.
     
     
    It is a fairly even IEM overall. With sometimes and emphasis on the bass or mids - track dependent
    Bass and treble are moderate. Thicker tips will give more low end, thinner shorter tips more sparkle at the high end.
    With the stock tips the highs are airy and realistic than extended, the bass is at a enjoyable listening level.
     
     
     
    Nova frequency chart as supplied by Campfire Audio.
     
     
     
    Value
    Whether you purchased these on the pre-order or Massdrop promotions at a discount, or joined the party later to pay slightly more the Nova is great value at the mid price point range of US$499.
    Fantastic build, excellent sound and a wonderful cable, not to mention stunning looks makes this a regret free purchase.
    Of course with Campfire Audio offering five different models to choose from with each tuned to a certain signature one has to find the right model for ones own personal taste.
     

     
     
    Overall
    The Campfire Audio Nova is an excellent new entrant into the mid fi world of IEMs, not the most over crowded area but still one fraught with competition.
    The Nova is not a $200-300 IEM, nor is it in the $700 plus bracket.

    I think it is excellent as an IEM, but when I have the Andromeda sitting here I can easily hear who comes out in top. But that is an unfair comparison in terms of price and performance.

    It is a quality IEM, build is great and the sound splendid. If it is in your price range I think one would be happy with the purchase.

    It does not seem to have a V shape as such, and one can also customize the sound slightly with tips.
    Some have described the Nova as a dark IEM, that is track and source and track dependent imho , at other times I found them to be light and airy. I think when the song has a lot of central and upper mids it can appear darker.
    It could be due to how much power the amp involved has.

    It is a fairly even IEM overall.
    Bass and treble are moderate.

    The bass can be increased or decreased via tip rolling.

    With the stock tips the highs are airy and realistic rather than extended.

    If I was to do a sound signature shape comparison off hand:
    Jupiter XxX, Andromeda XXX, Nova XXx.

    All in all an enjoyable IEM, the Nova reproduces the tracks fairly accurately, has a nice organic sense to it, does not seem to color the music. The fit for me is quite comfortable and long listening sessions are non fatiguing.
     
    Thank you to Campfire Audio for sending Head pie the Nova
    -expatinjapan
      natto likes this.
  2. Brooko
    Campfire Audio Nova – Beautifully Balanced Twin BAs
    Written by Brooko
    Published Aug 28, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Build quality, sound quality, balance, vocal clarity, imaging ability, fit (shape), accessories, cable quality, and KB service.
    Cons - Hard edges on the internal facing (comfort) – can be mitigated by tip choice, price (compared to similar competition)
    nova34.jpg
    For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images

    INTRODUCTION

    Firstly I'd like to acknowledge Head-fier Ajaxander (Andy) and also Ken Ball from ALO/Campfire for making this short review possible. Andy's a fellow Kiwi (New Zealander) and his pair of Novas had an issue, so were sent back for repair. He knew I was keen on hearing them, so he arranged for Ken to send them back to me to evaluate after repair, and I would then get them to Andy once I'd finished.

    The second reason I really wanted to listen to this pair is that Ken agree to measure them on his own equipment, and then also send the data file so I could make a proper calibration curve for my Veritas set-up. Ken didn't need to do this – it was going above and beyond, but I am extremely, incredibly grateful for him doing this.

    So far I've heard Campfire's Lyra, Orion, and Jupiter (I chose not to review the Jupiter as I had issues with it's sonic signature and my own particular physiology / bias / sensitivity – which would have made any review overly skewed). I've heard prototypes of the Andromeda, and hope to hear and review a final version at some stage in the future. The Orion (single BA) was my favourite in the Campfire line-up, and I was really hoping for a continuation of the sound signature in Campfire's dual BA Nova.

    Unfortunately for this review – I've only been able to use these for a week – so please take this into account. These are short term impressions.

    ABOUT CAMPFIRE AUDIO
    Campfire Audio is a partner company or off-shoot to ALO Audio, and is run by ALO's CEO and founder Ken Ball, and a small team of like-minded enthusiasts and engineers. Ken of course is the CEO and founder of ALO Audio (2006) and ALO is very well known for creating high quality audio components – including cables, amplifiers and all manner of other audio equipment. Ken founded Campfire Audio in 2015 – with a vision of creating extremely high quality earphones with excellence in design, materials and of course sound quality.

    DISCLAIMER
    The Campfire Audio Nova was provided to me for review as a loaner. I get to use it for about 7 days then it goes to its owner. There is no actual obligation to write about it or review it. I am not affiliated to Campfire or ALO Audio in any way, and this is my subjective opinion of the Nova.

    The Campfire Audio Nova can be sourced directly from Campfire Audio for USD 499, and if you were lucky enough to get in on the earlier Massdrop, they were selling for a shade under $350.

    PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'.
    I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5 Pro and L3, and iPhone 5S) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Beyer T1, Sennheiser HD600, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

    I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.

    I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be skeptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays).

    Over the last week I’ve used the Nova paired with most of the sources I have at my disposal – from my iPhone to the L3 and X7. But for the review I’ve used mainly my X3ii + E17K, and also the X7. In the time I’ve been using the Nova, I haven’t noticed any sonic change. And although I used the Nova coupled with several different amplifiers, they are easily driven, and will pair nicely with most sources straight from the headphone out.

    This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

    THE REVIEW

    PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
    The Nova's arrived to me in only the carry case – and without the accessories. But for the purposes of providing a complete and informative review, and because I have reviewed other Campfire products previously (and know the accessory contents), I've listed what you will receive below.

    nova01.jpg nova02.jpg nova03.jpg

    Retail box (photo provided with assistance of Jackpot77)

    Full package contents (photo provided with assistance of Jackpot77

    Tips, pin and cleaning brush


    The Novas will in their distinctive 76 x 116 x 65 mm rainbow coloured thin cardboard retail hinged lid box. The box has the same 70’s psychedelic vibe about the patterning on it – kind of swirly and very distinctive (this time kind of orangey and grey). The top (lid) simply has the word Nova and a short description, and the front face has a picture of the Nova.

    Opening the lid will reveal the canvas Campfire Audio case – which is very sturdy, but more “jacket or bag pocketable” than trousers. It measures approx. 75 x 115 x 40 mm. The case has a woven canvas outer, is zipped on 3 sides, and when opened reveals a soft wool interior which will definitely protect and preserve your IEMs. Despite the outside being canvas outer material, it is quite strong, and pretty rigid.

    nova04.jpg nova05.jpg nova06.jpg

    The very good Campfire canvas case

    Wool padding inside

    Litz cable and Campfire Novas


    Under the case will be a hidden compartment which reveals the accessories. These include:

    1. S/M/L silicone tips
    2. S/M/L generic foam tips (Crystal foam type)
    3. S/M/L genuine Comply T400 tips
    4. A cleaning brush / wax remover
    5. A Campfire Audio logo clothing button / pin
    6. Campfire’s foldout user manual (incl care instructions and warranty info)

    You really won’t need any more than what is included, as the cinch on the cable negates the need for a shirt clip. And while I note the omission of an airline adapter or 3.5-6.3 mm adapter, really speaking – how many of us actually use these (plus they are easy to pick up for a very small outlay).

    TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS
    (From Campfire’s website)

    I’ve listed below the main specifications for the Campfire Nova.

    Type
    Twin Balanced Armature full range drivers
    Current Retail
    $499 (Campfire Website)
    Freq Range
    10 Hz – 19 kHz
    Impedance
    22 ohm (@ 1kHz)
    Sensitivity
    114 dB SPL /mW @ 1 kHz
    Jack
    3.5mm gold plated, 90 deg
    Cable
    1.2m, removable (MMCX) – silver plated copper (ALO Litz Cable)
    Weight
    24g including cable and tips
    IEM Shell
    CNC aluminium
    Body shape / fit
    Ergonomic, cable over ear


    FREQUENCY GRAPH
    The graphs below are generated using the Vibro Veritas coupler and ARTA software. As alluded to earlier, Ken has graciously provided me with measurement data for the same set of Nova, and I have used this to recalibrate my Veritas so that it mimics an IEC 711 measurement standard (Ken uses two separate BK ear simulators in a configuration I can only dream about and envy him for). I do not claim that this data is 100% accurate, but it is very consistent, and is as close as I can get to the 711 standard on my budget.

    freqresponse.png novavsorion.png

    Nova frequency response and channel matching

    Nova in comparison to Orion


    What I’m hearing (subjective).

    1. Very (wonderfully) linear bass response with virtually no roll-off in the sub-bass. It's not emphasised in any way shape or form – just really well balanced.
    2. Extremely clean and coherent mid-range with a small dip in the fundamental range (around the 1 kHz, and then subsequent rise in the presence area (from 1-2 kHz with a peak in the 2-3 kHz range) – which gives female vocals a lift in the presence or overtone area.
    3. Well extended but smooth lower treble which falls well short of excessive sibilance (for me) and remains detailed with sufficient air for clarity.
    4. Overall I’d say that the Nova has a wonderfully well balanced frequency response. Vocals are in perfect harmony with bass, and while the treble response is smooth, there is still plenty of detail (cymbal decay is very good).
    5. I would imagine that some who prefer more etched upper end detail may find these slightly smooth. To me they are really well balanced for vocal lovers.

    The channel matching on this pair of Novas is exceptional (and some of the differences shown in my measurements are likely to be minor differences in seating each ear piece). They are practically identical. When Ken says his team hand-pick and match the drivers, it isn’t just “marketing speak”.

    BUILD & DESIGN
    I really enjoy a simple, clean design. The Novas share a very similar design to similar earphones in the Campfire range – especially the likes of the Orion. Campfire uses a full machined aluminium enclosure. Each shell is taken from a solid block of aircraft grade aluminium and then each small batch is CNC machined and finished – with the process talking around 9 hours. After that they are anodised.

    nova07.jpg nova08.jpg nova09.jpg

    Rear face plates and new torx screws

    Side view showing depth and angles on the nozzles

    Internal face views


    Physically each shell measures approximately 21mm in length, 16 mm in height and has a depth of approx. 19mm (including the nozzle). The nozzle itself is angled slightly forward and slightly up, extends approx. 6-7mm from the main body, and has an external diameter of 6mm. The shape is very ergonomic, and the Nova is designed to be used with the cable over ear. The IEM shell is 3 pieces in total – nozzle, shell and back plate – with the plate secured by 3 small torx screws (a change from the hex used in the Orion). There are L/R marking on the inside of both ear pieces and the Campfire logo is also discretely engraved on the outer face. The finish is silver matt, the entire shell is precision cut – and these look understated but beautiful all the same (they appeal to my subjective tastes anyway)

    nova10.jpg nova12.jpg nova14.jpg

    Angled rear view

    The very good MMCX connectors

    Cable attached securely


    At the top of the shell is a beryllium coated MMCX connector, and when used with the supplied silver plated copper ALO Litz cable, the connection is made with a reassuring click. The cables do rotate in their sockets, but the connection itself seems to be very robust. Unfortunately this is one of those things that only time can be the judge of – but the craftsmanship and material used seem to indicate longevity (to me anyway).

    As I mentioned, the cable is ALO’s new “Litz”. It utilises individually enameled strands of high purity sliver-plated copper wire, which are then combined into 4 separate conductors, which are in turn encased in a durable medical grade PVC outer jacket. The cable is extremely flexible and light-weight, has stunningly low microphonics (practically non-existent), and virtually no annoying memory issues. The male MMCX connector is again beryllium coated, fits very snugly, and has either a blue or red dot on the connector to indicate L/R. There is a 80mm length of memory wire for over-ear wear, and I’ve found this very malleable, but also holds its shape very well. The cable is approximately 1.2m long, and consists of two twisted pairs above the Y split which continue as a twisted quad right through to the jack. The Y split is small and light and houses an in-built cinch which works really well (easy to move yet holds its position well when cinched). The jack is 3.5mm, right angled, and has clear rubber housing. Strain relief is excellent. The jack will also fit my iPhone 5S with case in place, although YMMV as the diameter of the rubber base is around 6mm. I like this cable so much, I am genuinely tempted to purchase it separately for some of my other MMCX based IEMs.

    nova15.jpg nova16.jpg nova17.jpg

    Connectors and forming memory wire

    Y-split and cinch

    Lower cable and right angled jack


    So both aesthetically and physically I am highly impressed with the build and overall design.

    FIT / COMFORT / ISOLATION
    Fit for me is fantastic – the shells are very ergonomic in shape, and this includes the angle of the nozzles and also the placement of the cable exits. The shells (when fitted) do not extend outside my outer ear, and I have no issues lying down with the Nova. The memory wire is also really well implemented here so that snugging the wires properly is easy. The fit is relatively shallow, so for me I need to resort to my larger tips. If it was possible to extend the nozzle length by a couple of mm, it would really help the overall fit I think.

    This leads me to comfort and I'm in two minds about this. I was mildly critical of the internally angled design utilised in Campfire's Orion and Jupiter. My ears are soft, smooth, and have a lot of curved surfaces. I’d bet yours do to. The interior of the Nova shell has a series of hard angular edges. I first noted this with the Jupiter, and it continued with the Orion and now the Nova. The Lyra lacked these edges and was extremely comfortable for me.

    nova18.jpg nova19.jpg nova24.jpg

    U6 vs Primacy vs Nova vs P1 vs Pai MR3

    Same selection - you can easily see the issue with comfort

    With the right tip (large Shure Olive), the comfort is "OK"


    However, the hard edges (if they do cause comfort issues with you) can be overcome. The secret is simply to use a larger tip which effectively seals without having to push the IEM body hard into your ears. With the Nova, I've already found my ideal – the large Shure Olives (and yes they do fit – you just need to work at getting them on). This gives me a wonderful 100% seal with a little looser fit in the outer ear. Anyway, I’m not really bothered by fit any more – but I do think it is something that can be improved upon. The Nova doesn’t feel as though it disappears like some of my other IEMs. It is probably the only critique I have regarding design.

    As far as isolation goes, it will be tip dependent. For me, using large Shure Olives tips, the isolation is excellent – at least as good as using my q-Jays (deep insertion – wonderful isolaters), and I would use the Nova on long haul air travel.

    nova20.jpg nova22.jpg nova23.jpg

    Spin fits and Spiral Dots

    Ostry tuning tip and Sony Isolation

    Crystal foam and large Shure Olives


    Those who’ve read my reviews will know that I have one ear canal slightly different to the other one (my right is very slightly smaller) - so I tend to find that usually single silicon flanges don't fit overly well. This is often even more of an issue with shallow fitting IEMs. I tried my usual selection of silicones and found varying degrees of success. Tip matching will always be personal preference – but here are some of the tips which fir pretty well.


    1. Sony Isolation / Trinity Kombi tips – great isolation and seal, but did tend to have to be inserted with Nova internal face more against my ear.
    2. Crystal foams / Comply foams – great fit, isolation and comfort. Using wider tips allowed me to maintain the looser fit in ear.
    3. Spin-fits – extra length allowed me to use a looser fit while maintaining seal, but isolation was not as good as other options.
    4. Ostry tuning tips – good seal and reasonable in terms of maintaining looser fit in ear. Best silicone tips I tried.
    5. Spiral Dots -very good seal, and did help to provide a little more upper end emphasis. If the core of these was a little longer (to allow looser fit in ear) these would be perfect.
    6. Large Shure Olives. You need to stretch the core to get them on, but they are perfect for me for shallow fitting IEMs. Perfect isolation, longevity with continual use, comfort and allowance of a looser fit in ear all adds up to a perfect tip choice. YMMV.

    So everything is practically perfect with the possible exception of perfect comfort. And it’s not bad, just not as good as it could be.

    SOUND QUALITY
    The following is what I hear from the Campfire Audio Nova. YMMV – and probably will – as my tastes are likely different to yours (read the preamble I gave earlier for a baseline). Most of the testing at this point (unless otherwise stated) was done with my FiiO X3ii and E17K and large Shure Olive tips. For the record – on most tracks, the volume level on the E17K was around 14/15/60 on low gain which was giving me an average SPL of around 70 dB (mostly 65-75 dB) and peaks at around 80dB (A weighted measurements from my SPL meter).

    nova25.jpg

    Tracks used were across a variety of genres – and can be viewed in this list http://www.head-fi.org/a/brookos-test-tracks.

    Initial Thoughts
    The first time I heard the Nova, my initial impression was “these are how a dual BA should be tuned”. Very good speed, wonderful sense of balance, really nice clarity – but nothing too etched or overly spot-lit. At the time I'd been coming from spending considerable time with some slightly warmer, smoother earphones – so this also had some bearing on my impressions. The more I've used the Nova, the more I've come to appreciate the overall sense of balance. They are probably a little smoother than I'd normally like – yet once you get used to this, it is very easy to get lost in the overall tonality. So lets look at my subjective impressions ina little more detail.

    Overall Detail / Clarity
    Tracks used: Gaucho, Sultans of Swing, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town


    1. Really excellent overall tonal balance. Bass is perfectly balanced and if anything the overall emphasis is on the mid-range than anything else
    2. Very good detail retrieval, high level details are present but not overly spot-lit or etched
    3. Cymbals have reasonable presence (perhaps slightly muted) but wonderful sense of decay. Pearl Jam's “Elderly Woman ….” is full of cymbal action, and the decay on each hit is stunningly well articulated.
    4. Guitar is very good with just the right amount of emphasis and good edge to notes
    5. Resolution is good. Overall the upper end (lower treble) is smooth rather than accentuated.

    Sound-stage & Imaging (+ Sibilance)
    Tracks used: Tundra, Dante’s Prayer, Let it Rain


    1. Not a huge sense of width or depth. With the binaural track “Tundra” the sense of instrument placement is very precise, but it is more in-head than projected out of head.
    2. Reasonable of width and depth (smallish stage, but well represented / circular). More intimate than expansive
    3. Imaging is very precise and overall separation of instruments is clean
    4. Immersion is good (applause section of Dante's Prayer) with impression that crowd is either side of you – width is stronger than depth
    5. Some sibilance is revealed in “Let It Rain” - but not overly magnified. It is present in the track anyway, and the Nova does a good job of softening or masking it slightly. The track is a lot smoother than I've noticed on other earphones – yet all the detail continues to be there. Not as holographic overall than I have heard – and this could be the bump in the vocal area (forward mid-range) lending more to intimacy in the perceived sound-stage.

    Bass Quality and Quantity
    Tracks used: Bleeding Muddy Water, Royals, You Know I'm No Good


    1. Mid-bass has reasonable impact – but it is not visceral or hard hitting. Some may find this presentation a little bass light (I don't).
    2. Overall bass speed is very good, no sign of excess “boom” or bleed into the mid-range.
    3. Nice projection of bass timbre and reasonable texture (Mark's vocals in “Muddy Waters”). Mark's vocals have good overall presentation, but not as coarse or conveying as much raw emotion as other earphones have been able to do. Enjoyable overall listen though.
    4. Enough sub-bass for rumble to be audible, but not emphasised (“Royals”)
    5. Again good separation between mid-bass thump (which is actually quite good when you get used to it) and vocals (“Royals”). Ella's vocals are very clear and slightly euphonic. Really enjoyable track.
    6. I finished with Amy Winehouse – just to recheck the contrast between bass and mid-range, and the Nova really does this extremely well. Vocals are clean and clear and the actual bass slam is pretty good.

    Female Vocals
    Tracks used : Aventine, Strong, For You, Human, The Bad In Each Other, Howl, Safer, Light as a Feather, Mile on the Moon.


    1. Brilliant transition from lower-mids to upper-mids (among the best I've heard to date). Aventine was excellent with sweet vocal presentation, good contract with the deeper dulcet tones of the cello, and no signs of stridency.
    2. London Grammar's “Strong” is a brilliant track which can sometimes appear a little sharp in the upper registers (its in the recording). With the Nova, once again the actual pitch and tonality was brilliant, and the added presence really gives female vocals an almost ethereal sweetness. But the smoothness again seems to be masking the sharpness which exists in the track – but without taking anything away from the vocals. And it is this which makes the Nova quite addictive so far – a real vocal lovers IEM.
    3. Nice bass slam and good contrast with vocals in rock tracks (Feist, FaTM).
    4. Goose-bump moment with “Safer” (Cilmi) – slower jazzy / soul track. Smooth, creamy, and so easy to listen to. Likewise Norah was a definite winner.
    5. I finished with Sarah Jarosz (slower folk like – but very melodic). Tonally brilliant, and the sort of presentation I could listen to for hours.

    Male Vocals
    Track used: Away From the Sun, Art for Art’s Sake, Broken Wings, Diary of Jane, Hotel California, Keith Don’t Go, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.


    1. Once again the balance is wonderful – with good dynamic slam from the bass, nice edge to guitar, and vocals front and centered.
    2. Male vocals have really good body and good timbre/texture.
    3. Older classic rock (10CC) has good sense of detail, and the real beauty again with the Nova is the mid-range presentation. It really makes older recordings very present and alive.
    4. Speed with faster tracks is very good – easily handled complex guitar (Breaking Benjamin), whilst keeping the vocals separate and also very clear.
    5. Acoustic rock is wonderful – and the rendition of “Hotel California” (live) was fantastic. Still intimate, but the overall imaging and separation was exquisite.
    6. Stunning with Vedder (Pearl Jam). This time the texture and tonality was 100%. Great clarity on cymbals (not quite as bright as I am used to), but the decay was captured perfectly.

    Other Genres

    1. I loved the Nova with Alt Rock (Floyd and Porcupine Tree) because sometimes the detail can get lost if the balance isn't right. PF's “Money” can sometimes seem a little washed out with other earphones, but the mid-range on the Nova ensures this never happens.
    2. Really good with both Blues and Jazz (the overall tonal balance again). With jazz in particular I'm amazed at the overall detail present even though it is smoothed a little in the lower treble. Double bass is nice and deep, whilst sax is smooth and easy to listen to (Portico Quartet), but it is the cymbals I keep going back to. When you can easily hear the brush, and the decay sometimes lingers …….. Magical!
    3. OK with both Hip-hop and Electronic, and enjoyable also with Trance, but bass is not visceral, nor is it enhanced. I guess this depends on what your preference is. I'm happy with the speed and overall balance – but if you're looking for impact, then the Nova probably won't deliver. Lighter electronic (the Flashbulb) and Trip-Hop (Little Dragon) was really enjoyable for me.
    4. Mainstream Pop was pretty good. I have some modern Pop music I really enjoy (Coldplay / Adele etc), and some of it just isn't that well mastered. The Nova really helps with this – by concentrating on the mid-range and smoothing off some of the bumps on the way. Adele live at the Albert Hall was a great example of this – extremely enjoyable.
    5. I'm a bit of an Indie fan, and lets face it, like Pop – some of the recording quality can be a bit up and down. Indie can also often be recorded a little hotter – and here once again the Nova shines. Band of Horses and Wildlight were just wonderful with the Nova.
    6. Classical was very good with the Nova, but maybe lacking in a sense of overall depth with larger orchestral pieces. The sense of tonality was very good though, and with everything from violin to cello, piano to oboe etc was really well presented. Intimate – but enjoyable none-the-less. My one minor critique is I would personally prefer a little more lower treble (air/presence with violins).

    AMPLIFICATION REQUIREMENTS
    As I alluded to earlier, the Nova is easily driven out of a smartphone or DAP, and on my iPhone 5S I’m sitting around 20% for my normal listening level (65-75 dB).

    I also volume matched and compared X3ii vs X3ii + E17K, and there was no discernible audible difference in dynamic presentation – so I think it is pretty safe to say that extra amping won’t be necessary. Based on the specs alone (22 ohm and 114dB SPL), straight out of the headphone-out of most sources should be more than enough. My favourite source was probably L&P's L3 – with the Jazz EQ (which seems to slightly bump the lower treble).

    nova26.jpg

    Because of the high sensitivity of the Nova I thought it best to also test for hiss or noise. With my tinnitus, I can hear anything (it is below my hearing threshold) so I employed the super sensitive hearing of my 13 year old daughter and 15 year old son. Both were able to hear faint low level noise which they described more as being like static than hiss – and this was at very low levels of volume on both the E17K and X3ii by itself. This disappeared when music was playing – but I've noted for the reviews sake anyway.

    RESPONSE TO EQ?
    Although I didn’t play around a lot with EQ, I did want to see what could be done with the bass using a simple EQ (tone controls on the E17K). Firstly I went back to some Eminem after giving the bass control +6. This time the bass impact was a lot more visceral, and this was without killing the mid-range. So a nice gain if you are prepared to EQ.

    So what about resetting back to neutral again and adding a little more lower treble (+6 on the E17K). For this track I went back to Amanda Marshall's let it rain to see what the effect would be. It definitely lifts and lights up some of the lower treble area, and for my personal tastes I would possibly use a +4 or +6 treble setting with the Nova if my mood was for a lighter airier presentation (it sometimes is).

    So the Nova responds very well to EQ – although to be honest I think most will be happy with the overall default balance.

    COMPARISONS
    I wanted to try a mix of different IEM options against the Nova. So this time I picked a selection of what I thought was similarly tuned IEMs at various price brackets. As always, the IEMs were compared after volume matching (SPL meter and test tones), but the comparisons are completely subjective. For these tests I used the X3ii and E17K – simply because it is easier to volume match with this combo. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot to compare with in the same price bracket – as I don't really have anything in the $500 bracket which is similar.

    For anyone who may look at past reviews of the IEMs I'm comparing here, and notice the graphs are different – this is simply because of the use of the IEC 711 compensation.

    Nova $499 vs MEE P1 $180-200
    nova28.jpg novavsmeep1.png

    Campfire Nova and MEE Pinnacle P1

    Comparative frequency graphs

    The first comparison is with an IEM I reviewed very recently – the MEE P1 – and compares a full range dynamic to the dual BA Nova. Both have extremely good build quality – and very good accessories. Overall fit / comfort I would give to the MEE P1 – it just disappears when worn. The P1 is definitely harder to drive. Sonically the P1 is noticeably more V shaped when comparing the two side by side – exhibiting a warmer bottom end, but also a more lively top end. The P1 is noticeably more distant in the primary vocal range – especially with male vocals, and I think the Nova has the better transition between upper and lower mid-range to present both male and female vocals well. This would be a really tough one to judge – if they were both at the same price level I would tend to side with the Nova on sonics alone. But if you take price into account, the MEE P1 really does deliver a lot as an overall package.

    Nova $499 vs Alclair Curve $250
    nova29.jpg novavscurve.png

    Campfire Nova and Alclair Curve (updated tuning)

    Comparative frequency graphs

    This time we see a comparison between two very good dual BA earphones. Nova wins on overall build quality – given the metal enclosures and superior cable. The Nova also comes with a better overall accessory package. For overall fit and comfort, the Curve is very hard to beat – there are few which can come close in any price range. Sonically the Curve has a little more oomph / warmth in the bottom end, and is also a little sharper up top (lower treble). Both are reasonably balanced overall – with the Curve exhibiting a mild v-shape vs the Nova's flatter more balanced approach. This one once again is quite a hard one to pick a clear winner. Overall I like the Nova's sonic balance a little better, but if you're on a tighter budget, and like a similar signature with just a little more bass and upper end emphasis – the Curve should definitely be on your list to audition. At roughly half the price of the Nova – it is hard not to look at the Curve as a pretty good competitor.

    Nova $499 vs DN2000J $299.
    nova30.jpg
    novavsdn2kj.png

    Campfire Nova and DUNU DN-2000J

    Comparative frequency graphs

    This time the dual BA Nova is up against a triple hybrid. The build on both is exceptional, but the Nova pulls ahead with its overall precision and of course the excellent cable. The accessories would be pretty evenly matched, and this is repeated with fit and comfort (although the DUNU may be just slightly more comfortable) . Sonically the two have a similar overall bottom end and lower mid-range, but in the upper mid-range and lower treble, the DUNU is a lot brighter. Because of this, the Nova does sound less coloured / more natural. The one thing the 2000J does extremely well is provide an incredible listening experience for low volume listeners – and at lower volumes the Nova really doesn't beat it for me. But at louder listening volumes (where the 2000J can be overly bright), I'd be picking the Nova.

    Nova $499 vs Oriveti Primacy $299
    nova31.jpg novavsprimacy.png

    Campfire Nova and Oriveti Primacy

    Comparative frequency graphs

    The Primacy is another triple hybrid with extremely good build, and a comprehensive accessory package. And once again the Nova would be my pick for overall build quality, whilst the Primacy wins on fit and comfort (its another that disappears in your ears). Sonically the two are very close in overall signature with the main difference being the smoothness of the Nova's upper end vs the slight heat in the lower treble from the Primacy. For me – my preference would be the Nova's fuller signature and transition between lower and upper mid-range.

    Nova $499 vs DUNU DN2002 $370
    nova32.jpg novavsDN2002.png

    Campfire Nova and DUNU DN-2002

    Comparative frequency graphs

    The DN2002 is a quad driver hybrid, and of all the IEMs I've shown comparisons to, has the most closely matched overall signature. In terms of build quality and accessories, both IEMs are extremely robust with great overall packages in terms of quality and content. I'd give the build marginally to the Nova, but for fit and comfort I'd say it was pretty even (with the Nova perhaps even marginally ahead with the right tips). Sonically the two are very close, with the Nova showing a little more bass extension. The 2002 does have a peak at 9 kHz but I find it hardly noticeable, and if anything the 2002 can sound the smoother of the two at times. The Nova does have a little more mid-range emphasis – especially with female vocals. Sonically this is too close to call – they are slightly different representations of similar signatures. The Nova is beautifully clean and present, but the 2002 is a little easier to just relax and let the music wash over you.

    Nova $499 vs Jays q-Jays $399
    nova33.jpg novavsqjays.png

    Campfire Nova and Jays q-Jays

    Comparative frequency graphs

    I saved this one for last because it is the closest matched on price, and because the overall quality shows in both. In terms of build – I would call a draw. The Nova has the more visually appealing cable and overall aesthetics, but in terms of actual build I'd put the new Jays up against most other IEMs. They are small, unassuming and extremely well built. In terms of overall fit and comfort, it is not close – the q-Jays win by some margin. They disappear when worn, and unfortunately for me – the Nova's don't. And its not that the Novas are bad – its just that the q-Jays are better. Accessories are evenly matched.

    Sonically we once again have two similar sounding earphones with the comparative bass response being very evenly matched. In the upper mid-range, the Nova are very slightly brighter and sound comparatively cleaner – but the real difference is in the lower treble. The q-Jays have a peak at around 7kHz. If you're sensitive to it (I'm not), then you'll find the q-Jays too hot, and possibly a little likely to show enhanced sibilance – where the Nova will be just as clear and clean, but without the upper end peak. If the Novas had a rounded inner face (for comfort) and were around $100 cheaper, my preference would be the Nova's signature. But it's not, and the q-Jays do practically everything else right, plus I can wear them for hours. So for now the q-Jays remain my choice.

    CAMPFIRE AUDIO NOVA – SUMMARY

    So here we are again, and time to summarise my short experience with the Nova.

    The Nova is an incredibly well built twin BA IEM, with a very good ergonomic fit, and also one of the best quality cables I've come across. A quick note on the cable too – it retails on ALO’s site for $149 if sold separately.

    As far as fit and comfort goes, the fit for me is superb, but the comfort could be better with a few hard angles on the internal face making longer term listening sessions occasionally uncomfortable. YMMV in this regard. I know I sound like a broken record – but it is the one facet of the Campfire IEMs which if changed would have me looking at purchasing one.

    Sonically the Nova is wonderfully balanced and quite neutral with very linear bass, an extremely coherent and well-tuned mid-range which delivers very clear vocals, and a smooth but articulate lower treble. The thing which amazes me with the Nova is the clarity which Ken has achieved, and the resultant sense of detail – but also the way it is delivered. Sonically it is very clear, but also quite smooth. And how he does this and retains such realism in cymbal decay has me scratching my head – but in wonderment rather than puzzlement. In terms of tuning, the Nova is indeed a gem.

    At a current RRP of USD 499, the Nova represents reasonable value (in my opinion) in what it delivers in terms of overall quality of build, fit and sonics. Comfort could be better – but is manageable through tip selection. Where the Nova will struggle is with some of the comparative offerings which are available nowadays. I'm not suggesting at all that it is poor value – but I do think that Ken had the Massdrop price pretty much spot-on. At around the $400 price level it would make a much better overall value proposition compared to the competition.

    One thing I haven’t mentioned is the dedication and service of the Campfire Audio team. In my dealing to date, I have been very impressed by their willingness to take critique on board, and above all to constructively engage with their market audience, and ultimately improve the final product.

    So would I buy these, and would I recommend them to others? If the comfort issues are eventually addressed I'd definitely consider getting a pair. The Nova is very close to my ideal signature and is superbly versatile with most music I listen to. Four stars from me with the only question marks being on comfort and also price.

    Once again I’d like to thank Ken and Andy for making this opportunity available. I owe you gentlemen a debt of gratitude – and especially Ken for his generous help with my measurement set-up.


    nova27.jpg

    nova35.jpg

    Novas with L&P L3 and "Jazz EQ" = magic

    The beautifully clean and clear Nova


      Raketen, peter123, d marc0 and 9 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Andrei Sprogis
      Great Review, just ordered Novas :)
      Andrei Sprogis, Nov 23, 2016
    3. svetlyo
      That's one really thorough (and useful) review!  Are you familiar with ATH IM02? How do they compare?
      svetlyo, Jan 7, 2017
    4. Brooko
      Thanks - unfortunately no - haven't heard any of the IM range.  Maybe try Twister6.  I think Alex has heard most of them.
      Brooko, Jan 7, 2017
  3. Midgetguy
    Campfire Audio Nova - An Average Guy's Review
    Written by Midgetguy
    Published Aug 17, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Full-bodied sound, gorgeous looks
    Cons - Sharp edges can be a problem, shallow insertion
    About Me:
    I'm just your average guy making his way through college with a passing interest in audio fidelity. I'm NOT an audiophile, but I've got a little experience ranging from lower-end products to flagship designs. I don’t make professional reviews and by my own account, I’m not much good at describing what I hear either. But I’ll do my best and we'll just have to see how that goes.
     
    Introduction:
    Campfire Audio is relatively new to the game as a brand, but the people behind it have been in to industry for years. Recently (and by recently, I mean within the last couple of years), Campfire Audio was created to sell IEMs in the mid to upper tier of IEMs and it hasn’t been until now that I’ve gotten a chance to listen to one of their IEMs. Yes, this review is going to be about the Campfire Audio Nova, their new entry into the middle tiers of portable audio. It’s a dual-BA setup utilizing 2 of the full-range drivers that we saw implemented in their single-BA Orion design.
    DSC_2628.jpg
     
    Disclaimer:
    I’m not the most eloquent or well versed in describing what I hear, so take my words with a grain of salt. Also keep in mind that everyone hears differently; it’s not bad, it’s not wrong, it’s just different.
    I bought the Nova about 3 months ago during the exclusive MassDrop launch and have been putting it through the IEM rotation since then.
    For this review, the Nova is connected to my iPod Touch 5th gen supplying lossless and 320kbps .mp3 audio files.
     
    Packaging and Accessories:
    I wasn’t sure what to expect from Campfire Audio’s products having never purchased one before. When I received the package from MassDrop, my initial thought was “wow, small box, probably barebone essentials in there, the IEMs, the case, then maybe a pair of foam tips.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that Campfire Audio went the direction of maximum usage of minimal space. Included in the box was the Novas in the fabric exterior case with a wool-lined interior, several pairs of comply and generic foam tips, silicone tips, a brush/wax cleaning tool, and a classy-looking Campfire Audio lapel pin. It’s a nice compact slew of accessories. High quality, simple and almost purely functional (aside from that lapel pin, which just plain looks good); we’ll see soon that seems to be a recurring theme.
    DSC_2630.jpg
     
    Build Quality and Comfort:
    I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for a pretty shell and the Campfire Audio Nova has a very pretty shell. The angular CNC aluminum shell with three Torx screws holding the two halves together is just plain sexy in my eyes.
    DSC_2632.jpg
    They’re much lighter in weight than what one would expect as well seeing that it’s a full-metal shell, but I guess that’s the point of using aluminum right? Paired with the well-built shells is their own braided silver-plated copper litz cable with MMCX connectors on one end and a right-angle 3.5mm plug on the other. Important to note is that the plug fits through the relatively thin case I use on my iPod Touch, but you may have trouble if you plan to use a smartphone with a thicker case. The cable supplied is very supple and isn’t microphonic at all. To aid with keeping the Nova’s cable over your ear, it has a cinch above the y-split and memory wire for 2 inches leading up to the MMCX connector. If this cable didn't have memory wire, it would likely be my favorite cable ever ergonomically speaking.
    DSC_2634.jpg
    While it works for many people, I personally don’t like memory wire on my cables; it doesn’t work very well with glasses, I tend to get more noise because of it. The connectors aren’t proprietary so you can feel free to plug other MMCX cables in if you so wish.
     
    These shells are full-metal and shaped similar to many universal acrylic or plastic shells from the likes of Noble and Heir, but with some more angles. Naturally, with the angles, there are sharp corners and for some people, that could be an issue. I don’t have any problems with the sharp edges most of the time and if I do, it usually means I’ve got the angle a little bit wrong in my ear. The nozzles are pretty short so for me it counts as a shallow-insertion IEM, especially if you use the stock wide-bore silicone tips. I personally use Spinfits to help with comfort and insertion depth; I won’t comment on how or whether that changes the sound as I don’t think my ears are good enough to differentiate that. It’s just more comfortable and fits better for me, that’s all.
     
    Sound Quality:
    Let’s be honest, this section is gonna be kind of a mess so I’ll keep it short, but hopefully informative. I’m not able to describe sound very well and what I can describe is only going to make sense if your mental references of all the terms are similar to what I’ve got going on in my head. Nevertheless, let’s give it a shot anyway.
    DSC_2635.jpg
    The Nova is an interesting IEM from a technical standpoint. It uses two balanced armature drivers, but they’re both full-range drivers rather than having them each handle a specific range of frequencies. What does that mean for the sound? I have absolutely no idea. But outright, how does the Nova sound? Very good indeed. When I first bought them, I was enamored with the beautifully industrial stylistic choice and I was hoping they sounded as good as they looked. And in that respect, I’d say they certainly hold their own. It has a certain energy to it; somehow a laid-back, thick, and full-bodied presentation that excites and isn’t afraid of not being “reference.”
     
    The highs of the Nova are very reigned-in. They have appropriate amounts of detail but with no overemphasis, they lend a lack of clarity to the Nova. It’s not that these aren’t clear; make no mistake, the Nova renders treble notes as well as you’d expect once you acclimate to the lack of emphasis in those frequencies. Because of this, the Nova is a very easy-listening type of IEM: no sharpness, no fatigue.
     
    The Nova’s mids made the music, for me, a smooth deluge of bliss. Thick and full-bodied might be a good way to put it. The way the mids are presented, in conjunction with the treble, make for that laid-back presentation I talked about. It seems almost counterintuitive to think of a balanced armature IEM that way. That doesn’t mean everything feels smoothed over though; vocals and instruments are still accurate and depicted with appropriate amounts of detail if you listen for it. Yet the overall experience is one that relaxes while also trickling vitality into your system.
     
    Bass is an area that the Nova does quite well in, even for someone like me who likes a little more bass. Here’s the thing: I’ve mostly discounted single and dual balanced armature IEMs because they just can’t feasibly produce low frequencies in enough quantity for most of the music I listen to. It doesn’t make any of them bad, they just usually don’t stray into my musical preferences. The Nova is one of the exceptions almost solely because of this category. It produced bass that was more energetic and in more quantities than I expected from two balanced armatures. Admittedly, the bass is still a little clinical in its production and doesn’t quite have the same tone or feeling as good dynamic driver bass, but it’s no slouch. Nor does it quite have as much quantity as I’d like for my EDM, but I do like to hear quite a lot of bass, so the Novas should satisfy most people in this department. It keeps the range low in bloat and high in control as one would expect from a balanced armature IEM, let alone one that costs this much.
     
    Music/songs used during the review:
    Rumours (feat. Mark Johns) by Gnash
    Halo 3 OST by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori
    Clear (feat. Mothica) by Pusher
    Cowboy Bebop OST by The Seatbelts
    Sunday Morning by Maroon 5
    Neon Cathedral (feat. Allen Stone) by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
    Ants by edIT
    25 to Life by Eminem
    Kick, Push by Lupe Fiasco
    Freaks and Geeks by Childish Gambino
    Flynn Lives by Daft Punk
    Stop and Stare by OneRepublic
    Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC
    Lost Stars by Adam Levine
    Beyond Monday by The Glitch Mob
    Darling VIP (feat. Missio) by Said the Sky
     
    Conclusion:
    I jumped on the Nova when I saw them launching on MassDrop. I had seen Campfire Audio’s previous IEMs and loved their aesthetic, but they hadn’t put out anything I wanted to try yet (that was in my budget). Then the Nova came along with its two balanced armatures and that same sexy industrial all-aluminum design adorning much of the rest of Campfire Audio’s lineup. Despite the shallow fit and sometimes troublesome sharp edges, it has enough good qualities to garner some well-deserved attention. For an energetic, yet laid-back, thick and full-bodied sound, I’d suggest to strongly consider the Campfire Audio Nova.
      B9Scrambler and tarhana like this.
  4. Jackpot77
    Solid aluminium build, all vinyl sound - an old school tuning from a new-wave design
    Written by Jackpot77
    Published Jul 19, 2016
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Beautiful construction, "real life" feel to the sound, balanced tuning, impressive depth to the sound for a 2-BA setup, evocative midrange
    Cons - Angular design can be uncomfortable for long periods, quite closed off treble, very specific tuning won't appeal to everyone
    DSC_0151.jpg
    Campfire Audio Nova – initial impressions
    I recently had a chance to pick up a pair of Campfire Audio Nova courtesy of our ever dependable friends over at Massdrop recently, so took the opportunity to get a listen to what the technical wizards over at Campfire audio have been cooking up over the log fire in Portland. Campfire Audio have been generating quite a bit of buzz over the last few months with models like the Jupiter, Orion and Lyra, so I was keen to find out if the Nova followed the trend, and to see which side of the fence I would fall on regarding their now-famous all aluminium (and all-angular) shell. After wavering between a few different opinions, I finally managed to come to some solid conclusions about these rather unique and engaging IEMs below. I can honestly say that these have been the most difficult set of in-ear monitors I have tried to write about yet, for reasons that will hopefully become apparent below.
    About me: newly minted audiophile, late 30s, long time music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Recently started converting my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. My ideal tuning for most IEMs and headphones tends towards a musical and slightly dark presentation, although I am not treble sensitive in general. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.
    DSC_0152.jpg
    Tech specs
    Frequency Range:         10Hz – 19kHz
    Sensitivity:                    114dB SPL/mW
    Impedance:                   22 Ohms @ 1kHz
    Connector:                    MMCX
     
    Novafreqgraph.jpg
    (graph courtesy of Campfire Audio website)
     
    Unboxing
    As a headphone retailing in the $500 price bracket, the Nova arrive in a very understated (and physically small) package, with the cardboard box being barely larger than the enclosed carry case. The box has a nice starry panorama on the front, and opens simply to reveal the standard Campfire Audio zippered carry case in a nice grey fabric finish. Unzipping the carry case, the Nova and attached silver litz cables can be seen nestling inside on a faux-fur lining, with no other accessories or paraphernalia to distract from the initial impression. If the finish of the IEMs or the case were of a lower quality, the whole experience might be considered a little underwhelming, but due to the simple aesthetic appeal of the angular Nova casings and the unusual and highly practical carry case, it still manages to feel like a premium unboxing experience. Removing the carry case, a cleverly designed false floor in the packaging lifts up to reveal an assortment of tips (Comply foams with waxguard, some Campfire “own brand” foam tips without the wax filter and some wide-bore silicon tips in various sizes) and a Campfire Audio badge. The company slogan also appears prominently, and appears quite appropriate to describe the whole experience: “Nicely Done”.
    DSC_0158.jpg DSC_0146.jpg
    Build quality and ergonomics
    Starting from the moment you open the solid zippered case, the Nova feels like a premium piece of gear. The IEMs themselves are machined from a solid block of aluminium, with the finely jewelled edges and overall solidity of the all-metal construction giving an excellent impression. The fit and finish matches the aesthetics, with the two parts of the shell joined together with three screws in a seamless manner, matching exactly and without any hint of imperfection. Looking at these IEMs, the shell gives the impression of an emerald or other precious gem, with the angled corners giving the Campfire series a look that is different to anything else currently on the market. The cable continues this trend, being a tightly wound silver-plated copper litz design, with four wires woven together in a flexible and beautiful looking braid, terminated in MMCX connectors and a transparent L-shaped plug at the appropriate ends. The cable alone retails for $149 on the Campfire site if purchased separately, and is of sufficient audio and visual quality to make purchasing an after-market cable an unnecessary task for most new Nova owners.
    The unusual shape of the housing serves another purpose as well, with the team at Campfire stating that the gemstone geometry has been calculated to dampen and control the internal vibrations, leading to a clearer and more accurate sound. The Nova has a two-bore nozzle, implying that the output of the BA drivers is channelled internally as well – this leaves the Nova firmly in the “wide bore nozzle” bracket of in-ears, so may not be the most comfortable for those with small ear canals.
    In terms of ergonomics, the unusual shape of the housings has been pretty polarising, with some bemoaning the lack of comfort and others claiming the unusual shape is actually more comfortable than standard designs. To be honest, I fall firmly in the “lack of comfort” camp. This is not to say the IEMs are incredibly agonising to wear, but if worn with a reasonably deep insertion, the solid and sharp edges of the inner shell do chafe my ears after protracted listening, and leave me aware at all times that I have a sharp metal object sticking out of my skull. Wearing foam tips can alleviate some of this, but I have found it actually does so by leaving the IEM being supported by the foam tip and “floating” a few mm off the surface of my ears rather than being flush with the bowl of the ear. The additional isolation offered by foam does offset the slight loss of “blockage”, but almost seems to defeat the purpose of the allegedly ergonomic design. Also, the designer (Ken Ball at Campfire) has stated that silicon tips are his suggestion to provide the ideal sound – this requires the IEMs to be placed more flush to get the maximum seal, leading back to the chafing issue. As everyone’s ear anatomy is different, this may be an issue particular to me, but I feel that a slight rounding of the external edges would go a long way to making these IEMs more comfortable for the majority of users, without affecting the overall cosmetic appeal or unique design too much. The only other gripe I have (and it is a minor one) is with the litz cable – the right angled jack seems to have a thicker than usual diameter than other right-angled jacks I possess, leading to issues using it with mobile phone cases over a certain thickness which the other jacks have no issue slotting into. For people intending to use this solely with a DAP this probably won’t be too much of a dealbreaker, but as these are very easy to drive ‘phones, it seems unusual to exclude a portion of your target iPhone or Android phone listeners with this particular jack design.
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    Sound quality
    Test gear:
    Sony Xperia Z3 Compact (via Neutron Player)
    Cayin C5 amp
    Sansa Clip+ (Rockboxed)
    Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack)
    Main test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC/Tidal HiFi):
    Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time
    Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)
    Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)
    Slash & Beth Hart – Mother Maria (vocal tone)
    Richie Kotzen – Come On Free (bass tone)
    Elvis – various
    Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
    The Chemical Brothers - Go
    Rodrigo y Gabriela – various
    Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
    Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
    ZZ Top – La Futura
    Chris Stapleton – Chris Stapleton
    Maroon 5 – Songs About Jane
    The Winery Dogs – The Winery Dogs
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    General impressions on the sound signature
    This was the most difficult section to write, with my opinions changing constantly over the time I have been listening to these before finally crystallising into one solid thought. When first plugged in to my ears with the enclosed Comply waxguard tips, the Novia sound was flat and came across as blunt or veiled in the treble and muffled in the vocal ranges. There was an almost analog quality to the sound that reminded me of old vinyl, with a warmness and dullness to the sound that didn’t really blow me away, especially at the price bracket these are competing in. I persevered over the next few weeks with different tips, songs and even EQ, and as my brain adjusted and the Everest-sized pile of tips (both Campfire and non-Campfire options) whittled down, I came to notice that the Novas were starting to sound more “real” to my ears than some of my other IEMs, and the detail I thought was missing was starting to filter through into my brain. The signature still sounds a little “vinyl”, but I have now come to appreciate that there is plenty of detail and separation in the music, with a very rare sense of reality to the overall tone which can surprise you when switching back to other IEMs. I am no stranger to tunings similar to this (I have been a Flare R2A owner and my current “endgame” over-ear is the Audioquest Nighthawk), but the Nova is definitely an in-ear that takers some time to adjust to, and won’t be for everyone. If your brain does “get it”, however, it will slowly but surely become something that you will find yourself reaching for more often compared to your other ‘phones, with a warm and forgiving neutrality and naturalness to the sound that takes you into the music rather than dissects it in front of you for your listening pleasure.
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    Tip rolling
    When first commenting on these IEMs, the creator recommended silicon tips to bring the best out of the sound. I have come to that conclusion as well – the tips packaged with the Nova are quite good, but don’t seal particularly well with my large ear canals, so I was finding the fit too shallow and leaky to get the proper sonic benefits. After trying the included Comply (too much dulling of the already smooth treble), the other foams (same issue, although less extreme) and Spinfits (not solid enough to keep a seal with the weight of the shells), I finally settled on some wide-bore tips I have in my collection from Trinity Audio. The combination of the wide bore and slightly deeper tip length than the frankly stunted Campfire silicons was just right for getting a good seal in the outer ear, and the open bore allowed the sound to breathe properly, giving a more natural and open slant to the sound that is much needed. Ear anatomy differs for each individual, so if you can’t get a good fit with the initial tips, it is definitely worth persevering, as the correct tip can make a significant difference to the overall enjoyment of the sound for this particular IEM.
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    EQ (and why I don’t recommend it for this IEM)
    My initial reaction to the bluntness I first perceived when I slotted these in was to reach for the parametric EQ to see if this would “pop” the vocals and high end a little to bring back some of the life I thought was missing. While the Novas are easy enough to EQ, every tweak I made actually left the IEM sounding worse, as it seemed to bend some of the other frequency bands out of whack and took away the natural sound the Novia excels at. I am no audio science guru, but to me this indicates that the two full-range BA drivers have been very carefully tuned to complement each other and deliver a very exact sound, and any adjustment to the overall tuning will take away far more in overall impression than it puts back in terms of dB boosting in a certain frequency range. I am not a massive fan of EQ in any case (why spend this sort of money on something if you don’t enjoy the way it sounds out of the box?), but for this particular IEM, I would suggest steering clear of it altogether unless you have a far better understanding of it than me. Ken and his team at Campfire should be applauded for producing something tuned so deliberately that any tweak leaves it sounding less that it should be.
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    Highs
    Veiled. Clouded. Foggy. These were all words I would have thrown at the Nova at first listen, with the treble the main culprit for me. As outlined above, I have come to appreciate and enjoy the signature on offer, but the treble will never be one for fans of wailing soprano and glass shattering high notes. It simply isn’t tuned that way.  Comparing this to the Fidue A83 (another IEM I am currently putting through its paces), the difference is apparent, with the same songs sounding sharper and clearer through the A83 at first listen. The best way to describe the difference is to imagine the Nova treble as being a live recording, with the A83 playing the refined and polished studio version. To me, it sounds like a real-world attempt at playing the music, without the emphasis on frequencies that would not be audible outside of a studio environment. The Nova has a laid back treble tuning that keeps the detail intact, but pulls it back from the listener and scatters it into the background like a careless toddler, rather than etching it into your frontal lobe like the A83. The stated frequency range goes up to 19kHz, and this is presumably true, but the lack of emphasis generally means than the highs “feel” a little more muted than they actually are. That being said, there is no lack of detail and definition, with the Nova having a similar ability as the Audioquest Nighthawks to keep the detail level high despite the lack of sparkle. Air and space are also at a premium in the higher registers – the soundstage is reasonably large for an IEM with this type of tuning, but these will never be the airiest of listens. Testing the Novas with my usual high end sibilance tester (“Starlight” by Slash & Myles Kennedy), the natural treble actually does a great job at keeping control of Kennedy’s voice as it hits the high registers, smoothing off the notes nicely and never tending towards sharpness. It also goes without saying that a lottery win is more likely to happen to the average Nova user than a case of treble fatigue.
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    Mids
    The midrange of the Nova is where this IEM starts to really hit its stride, with a nice sense of fullness and texture that makes you forget it is only two balanced armatures providing the grunt to this piece of audio engineering. String instruments sound particularly true to life, the timbre and decay of cello and violin bow strokes sounding fantastic when listening to more orchestral music. “Burning Love” by Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra sweeps in majestically, the strings combining with the rest of the music to bring the opening bars to life and complement the tone of Elvis’ crooning perfectly. Switching up to something a little more uptempo, rock guitar is presented with adequate but not exceptional crunch and energy, “Shadow Life” by Slash losing some of the diamond edge to the main riff due to the smoothed off treble, but gaining a nice sense of thickness to the body of the notes that still allows the song to come alive. In terms of overall positioning, the mids are neither forward or recessed, carrying a nice balance between the bass and treble and a good overall sense of warmth and depth. As mentioned previously, this IEM reminds me of a slab of vinyl sometimes (especially with older rock tracks and guitar based music), and this “analog” vibe does bring a unique flavour to what you are listening to, without actually colouring the music much. Detail-wise, the midrange of the Nova is much like the treble, with a high level of detail living further back in the mix rather than being pushed up into the forefront. That being said, they are still clearly audible due to the increased presence of the midrange in the overall tuning, with the guitar scuffs and chair creaking on the Foy Vance album “The White Swan” and the boxy room-echoes on Leon Bridges’ debut album both adding a sense of clarity and detail to the sounds being played without overwhelming the listener with analysis.
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    Bass
    The only other dual-BA IEM I have heard to date is the Nuforce HEM4, which was a very textured and rapier sharp affair, but rather thin in the lower registers (to put it mildly). The Nova seems to be the polar opposite to the HEM4, with a smooth treble and plenty of bass for a twin balanced armature arrangement. In fact, I would say the Nova is definitely a little north of neutral, with a very impactful and present bass tuning more reminiscent of a single dynamic driver on some tracks. It isn’t a sub-bass monster, but frequencies are still clearly audible (or “feelable”) down into proper sub-bass territory, giving a nice backdrop rumble to tracks like “Go” by The Chemical Brothers. Pulling further up the register to the mid-bass region and the quantity increases slightly, handling “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel better than some single dynamic drivers I have previously owned. The bass on this track is quite liquid, underpinning the whole bottom half of the song with a good mix of volume and texture without bleeding into the midrange at all. Drums are represented well, with only the telltale puff of air into the inner ear missing from the sound of “Elevate” by The Winery Dogs as the bass drum pounds away through the track. The only thing lacking from the drum presentation is the cymbals, which can sound muted and a little dull due to the relaxed treble. Bass texture is good on the Nova, with plenty of rasp when needed and smoothness when not. Again, the “live” impression is prevalent here, with sounds coming across like you imagine they would in a gig environment, but still preserving the background detail and separation if you listen out for it. “Bad Rain” by Slash is a good example of the live sound, with the signature rasping bass that pushes the song along coming across with texture and impact, but without the studio sheen a more clinical IEM would impart.
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    Soundstage/separation
    The soundstage of the Nova is decently wide, extending out in both directions outside the confines of the listener’s ears. Separation is also quite good, with instruments being able to be identified as they pan from left to right across the stage and individual licks popping out of the mix if you focus. The natural tone doesn’t lend itself too well to extreme separation, and there are certainly more clinical IEMs in this price bracket if you want to follow each strand of the music individually, but due to the tuning, the separation adds to the overall tone of the IEM rather than detracting from it. The overall sound is not as 3D as some IEMs I have heard, but is still quite good for an in-ear solution, with a reasonable but not mind-blowing stage depth.
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    Isolation
    This is very much dependent on the fit you are able to achieve with these IEMs without discomfort. If you are able to slide these fully into the bowl of your ear without doing any damage to the real estate, the solid metal construction and size of the shells will block out a considerable amount of the outside world. IF you have to wear them in a more shallow manner, isolation will suffer slightly, but is still pretty good just due to the sheer size and solidity of the IEM casing and the lack of venting in the all-BA design. Bottom line, they won’t cut out all of the outside world, but unless you intend to wear them on a construction site, they won’t leave you cursing unwanted intrusions into your musical landscape either.
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    Amping
    Due to the high sensitivity and low impedance on offer here, these are not an IEM that needs amplification to sound loud. In fact, all they probably need to sound louder than the surrounding environment would be to be hooked up to a cup on a string, such is the output you can get from the merest spark of current. Adding a portable amp to the solution can seem like overkill (especially from the point of view of controlling the volume), but it does seem to bring the best out of most songs. My verdict: not required, but small gains in performance may be possible.
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    Comparisons
    Aurisonics ASG-2.5 – the now discontinued 2.5s are a triple hybrid IEM, with one 14.2mm dynamic driver and a dual balanced armature array, and one of my all time favourite IEMs. These are famous as being some of the most accomplished basshead IEMs in recent memory, but due to their tunable nature, are actually excellent at a more “audiophile” sound as well. They retailed for around $699 when new, but can be purchased for between $400-500 on the for sale boards at the moment, so sit quite close to the Nova in pricing. The overall tuning of the 2.5 is a mid-forward and bass heavy tuning, with a dash of clarity in the treble due to the balanced armatures. Compared to the Nova, the 2.5s have a warmer and bassier sound, with the massive 14.2mm dynamic filling the lower frequencies with considerably more presence and slam than the all-BA Nova, even on ¼ open on the tunable bass port. Texture and tone are similar, with the 2.5s edging the Nova on overall detail and extension down low. To be fair, there are very few IEMs outside of things like the Sony XB90EX that can compete with the ASG series in bass quantity or quality, so not really a fair fight there. Moving on to the mids, and the ASG have a more forward midrange than the Nova, with more emphasis on the vocals (the Aurisonics “house tuning”) – allied to the heftier bass, this brings a more warm and soulful sound to the music, although it does feel more coloured than the Nova’s more “true to life” and laid back tuning. Detail is more apparent on the 2.5, although levels of retrieval are actually pretty similar, and in some cases won by the Nova if you listen carefully. Treble is airier and more prominent on the ASG 2.5, with the dual BA concentrating exclusively on the higher frequencies compared to the full range BA drivers in the Nova. The treble is still not too sharp on the 2.5, but for fans of a more laid back and smooth treble, the Nova would probably be preferable. Soundstage is won by the ASG, with a wider span from side to side and a deeper feel to the presentation compared to the still above average Nova. These IEMs are vastly different in tuning – if you are looking for a warm and coloured sound, with creamy vocals and bass that could start a war, then the 2.5s are your go to. If you are looking for something more neutral and tonally accurate, with a more “real life” tuning and laid back sound, the Nova will be the winner.
    Nuforce HEM8 – these are a 4-driver all-BA model from the new HEM range produced by Optoma Nuforce, selling for a current RRP of $499. The overall sound signature of the HEM8 tends towards smooth and slightly dark, so is a good match for comparison with the Nova. In terms of sound, the HEM8 is not overly airy, but still manages to come across as slightly more open than the Nova, with the four BA drivers working well together to give a rounded sound with a greater feel of treble extension and clarity. Soundstage and imaging are reasonably similar, with both IEMs managing to take the music slightly outside the confines of the listener’s head. The detail levels are also similar, with the HEM8 having a slightly more refined and “denser” texture to the notes than the more vinyl-sounding Nova. If anything, the HEM8 have the edge in perceived detail retrieval due to the clearer overall tone, but the actual resolution is very similar. Bass is slightly more present on the HEM8, with the quad-BA configuration providing slightly more thickness and grunt to the sound than the 2 BA Nova for bass heavy tracks. The mid-range presentation is also different, with the HEM8 giving a clearer yet still darkish tone to proceedings, with a similar feel of detail. Treble is clearly won by the HEM8, with a cleaner presentation which is still far from airy, but more forward and audible. Soundstage feels slightly wider on the Nova, but imaging feels more 3D on the HEM8 for me. Ergonomics are won easily by the HEM8, with the coffee-bean shaped shell slotting easily into the ear and remaining comfortable over hours of wear. On the other hand, aesthetics and build quality are won by the Nova, with the solid aluminium shells and high class litz cable looking markedly more impressive than the more understated industrial design on the HEM. Overall, the main difference between the two is more tonal than technical, with the Novas providing a reality to the sound in contrast to the more technically accomplished sounding but traditional tuning of the HEM8. For my preferences, I would choose the HEM8 if I had to pick between the pair, but that is due in part to the fact I already own a “real” sounding over-ear solution in the Audioquest Nighthawk – if that wasn’t the case, the natural sound of the Nova would be a compelling factor in the decision between the two.
    Audioquest Nighthawk – this may seem like an unusual comparison to throw up against an in-ear monitor, but as they live in roughly the same price bracket and both go for an easygoing and natural tuning with a smooth treble, I thought it would be worthwhile. While both share a similar “real world” feel to the presentation, the Nighthawks are noticeably more bassy, with a higher mid-bass presence and greater feeling of warmth in the lower end compared to the warm but more neutral Nova. The mid range is slightly more forward on the Nova (most likely due to the reduced bass presence), with a similar tone to the vocals which is quite addictive. The Nighthawks produces more audible detail than the Nova while still retaining the same smooth and natural delivery, highlighting little micro-details against the blacker sonic background compared to the more blended sound of the Nova. Treble is clean and clear on the Nighthawks, and feels more succinct than the Nova, although the overall presentation and tone is similar. Soundstage is surprisingly similar, with the Nighthawks not having a massive stage width for a semi-open headphone. The Nighthawks produce a more fleshed out and 3D sonic image, however, clearly showing the benefits of the over-ear design compared to the IEM characteristics of the Nova. Separation is also won by the Nighthawks, with the jet-black background helping individual instruments to pull out of the main soundscape without losing cohesion. Overall, the Nighthawks win on quality of sound and overall tone, taking the natural timbre and tuning of the Nova and cranking it up a notch to produce something just a little cleaner, richer and more compelling – for fans of the Nighthawk tuning, the Nova are certainly something worth checking out, however.
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    Overall conclusion
    In order to write this review, I had to rethink a few things regarding how I assess quality in sound, and how perception and bias makes it difficult to give an impartial view sometimes. In other words, I needed to work out whether I loved these things or hated them. In the end, I have fallen on the positive side of the fence, and have come to respect and appreciate the rather unique sound on the Nova, and the technical tuning excellence exhibited in getting to that signature. Even though I am a fan of slightly dark treble tunings, the Novas can at times feel a little too blunted for me, however the smooth and old-school sound does a wonderful job of sucking you into the music rather than trying to impress you with the technicalities of it. It sometimes does leave you yearning for just a little bit more clarity and punch in the mid and higher ranges to really bring the sound to life, though. That being said, I have not heard an IEM so definitively tuned before, and the remarkable precision with which Ken Ball and his team have brought all elements of the sound together in this package to present a smooth, lifelike audio landscape is nothing short of outstanding. These will be a polarising IEM, and for good reason – they have been crafted to produce a very specific sound, and if that resonates with the listener, then they will love this IEM like few others they have heard. For me, it is just lacking an undefinable “something” that I need in my music to bring it to life between my ears, so I have awarded these 4 stars – as a rating based just on my personal preferences, they would probably only be a 3.5, but just because the sound isn’t ideal for me doesn’t mean it isn’t close to ideal. In fact, if it wasn’t for the lack of long-term comfort with the blade-edged shells and gripes with the cable jack, these would probably score even higher. In summary, these are a very technically accomplished and specifically tuned IEM, so if you gel with the sound, you will be very happy – for me, if Ken and his team can smooth over the sharp edges, change the plug to something more case friendly and possible take the lid off the treble container and splash a bit more into the shell before closing it up at the factory, these would be a solid-aluminium 5. I am very much looking forward to trying some of Campfire’s other constellations at some point in my audio journey to see what they can achieve with a few more drivers and a different coat of paint.
    1. senorx12562
      Thanks for the review. How would you say the sound signature compares to the R2a?
      senorx12562, Jul 21, 2016
    2. Bennet P
      excellent review! this appears to be a very unique sound signature for a dual BA iem
      Bennet P, Jul 24, 2016
    3. hellfire8888
      listen to it and dont think it is a neutral iem
      hellfire8888, Jul 25, 2016
  5. ngoshawk
    I have reached Campfire Audio Novana
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Jul 3, 2016
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent build, warm, open, honest sound, let's the music talk!
    Cons - fit can be tough with sharp edges, nozzle is shallow, quite a few competitors
    Introduction: I won’t bore you again with my re-entry into the head-fi process, other than to say that I would have been very, very happy with my first purchase(s) after losing my Klipsch s4ii’s, the wonderful MEE M6 Pro and the fantastic airy Dunu Titan 1’s. Except that once you go down the road of Head-Fi, there really is no turning back…when you plunge into the chasm of choices, it can be as if you have entered that valley of King Kong’s island…what with those man-eating insects the size of REAL VW Beetles, and Dinosaurs that run in packs running from a larger predator, all the while trying to eat you, too….These are the choices that nip at us, that reach out and try to grab us, and bite our head off…You get my point.
     
    I write this dripping in sweat, yes even on the keyboard, after a hard workout of lifting, running and cleaning the house…kind of my trifecta of Olympic workouts…and I listen to twenty one pilots on not my Nova’s, but those wonderful M6 Pro’s. You should try it, even at my age they are really, really good. The whole time, as my heart rate rose (I’m old….), I was thinking of the Nova’s; of their impeccable sound, their deep dark, rich sound (IMHO) their machine/handmade industrial look, and how I arrived at such a lofty purchase (to me)…and the fact that I would never, never dare to wear the Nova while exercising.
     
    The M6 Pro’s would have been enough to satisfy me for a long, long time, they really would have…. Except I kept reading, I kept ingesting, I kept digesting, ruminating over the knowledge one can gain from the Head-Fi site…and this led me down that d…..that darn valley. Along the way, I reached the Pinnacle (see my P1 review for that reference), the peak of what might have been my head experience, except I kept reading, God I hate reading….it leads me to knowledge and incredible products such as the Monk, the RHA’s and finally to the thread bearing quotes, posts and thoughts of the “new” Campfire Audio Andromeda and Nova. I could not justify the Andromeda (some day, he sighs….some day…), but came across the Massdrop on the Nova. Without much thought to my fingers or my bank account I pulled the trigger. This would be it, I made the promise, this would be it…(ummm, no I have added the excellent Fostex T40RP Mk3’s to “complete” my arsenal…sure, he thinks, suuuurrre….). I had to promise myself that.
     
    I thought of all that, and could get a sense of what Ken (@KB) had poured into their products through ALO (http://www.ALOaudio.com) and the Campfire Audio product line of In-Ear Monitors. Now, maybe he poured sweat onto the keyboard, or grease smudges as they labored to create their vision of the perfect headphone line (maybe perfect is a poor choice, but their “vision” gets the point across). The industrial shape makes me think of my father-in-law who opened and closed the old AT&T plant in Lee’s Summit, MO as a Tool and Dye maker (literally the first shift/day it was open and closed for good). The incredible care he took to make the product needed. In his “spare time” at the factory, he created some of the best tools I have ever used and owned…they are impeccable in quality and utility…nothing wasted. Functionally perfect, minimal in material, and crafted with the care of an artisan…The same Ken and his cohorts do for the products which grace our ears. While I have never had the honor of conversing with Ken, others have and he is very receptive to suggestions and thoughts. A quality he shares with my Father-in-law. I consider this a good thing.
     
    Unlike the initial hate with my P1’s, there was no such feeling upon putting the Nova’s in my ears…maybe it was that I have “re-trained” my ears to something new, or maybe the initial sound signature (we will not debate burn in here, suffice to say I will go with “brain burn in”) was quite pleasing to me. I really didn’t care, I liked them…I liked them a lot. Using the enclosed (and mounted) foamies, I did not change the tips for over 12 hours. I wanted an unchanged sound, not muddies by different tips. Those enclosed tips are very good. Mimicking Comply’s, they are slightly tighter of composition, but still pliable. I found a good fit, and just listened. I dealt with the harder-fit, due to the industrial shape, knowing my ears would accept, and accommodate the Nova once an agreement was reached between the two.
     
    It was like I was hearing sounds for the very first time. Not even with my P1’s did I get this kind of clarity (to me). The separation, the individual keystroke, or keynote of instrument was phenomenal. I know my ears have lost a bit (too much loud music as a teenager…), but it was like I was hearing sounds and music for the first time. I can still remember putting my old Sennheiser’s on my nephew’s head when he was a toddler (very careful with the volume), and the look of wonderment on his face was priceless. He would not let me take the phones off for a good bit of time. THAT is the look, the feel I had when I first listened to the Nova’s…that pure, unadulterated joy of just listening, and to hear what was meant to be heard…It was what I will call “Novana”, the pure joy of hearing. I also read a good bit about the differences of the Andromeda v Nova, and refused to taint what I heard by stating “but the Andromeda is that much better”…I refused. The Nova’s were to be judged as stand alones…albeit the comparison with the P1’s and the RHA MA750’s, the only IEM’s I have remotely close to the Nova.
     
    It is with that sweat, that loves driven into the Nova, that I write this review. Are there better? Yes. Are there more expensive? Yes, again. But, to me this is as far as I need to go. Anything beyond this will be compared to the Nova, and it will be tough to surpass them (to me).
     
     
    Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with ALO, nor Campfire Audio. This purchase was of my own, on the aforementioned Massdrop, for a darn good price I might add.
     
    Review
     
    Packaging:
     
    A small uninviting envelope arrived from Massdrop (with which I was a might bit disappointed, due to the cost of the item). Shirking that off, I carefully opened (like heck I did…I tore the damn thing open!!!) the package to find a tiny box. A very tiny box. My packaging fears were alleviated because of the small size (once I got past how small it really was). My daughter did a project in 7th grade where the students were given a single Pringle’s, and maximum dimension for a container of their making. The homemade container would then be mailed to themselves at the school, to see how well the chip survived…I will be honest this thought crossed my mind upon looking at the box. But this isn’t a Pringle, and it was packed very well. Suddenly I was hungry…
     
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    IMG_1732.jpg
     
     
    The gray Cordura fabric of the case greeted me with the words CAMPFIRE Audio centered almost perfectly on the lower 1/3 of the top. A massive (for this size container) zipper, which was hard to unzip was my next fortune. After carefully opening the zipper (those of you who have older convertibles with zip rear windows, will know exactly what I mean…our 1990 Miata is on it’s 3rd top), I was greeted with the cradle…A cradle in sheepskin of which a Norwegian warrior would be envious in winter. I had seen @ExpatinJapan’s picture of the container, but a picture does not do it justice. Think a cradle lined with the fur of the finest sheep you would happily crawl into on a cold winter’s night, and you will get the idea. Already mounted were the mentioned foam tips. Who was I to judge Ken’s choosing…I left them alone.
     
    IMG_1817.jpg
    Oh that Sheepskin!
     
     
    IMG_1818.jpg
    Extra Foam tips, and velcro cable straps
     
    Under the zippered pouch is a cardboard “shelf” which shields all from the zip locked bags containing the accessories of tips, a cleaning brush and a CA pin. Pretty nice pin, I might add. Nothing spectacular, but the options are not the point. The site of the IEM was a near-angelic-calling moment for me…after all of the “noise” made on the Head-Fi thread, I can say that the Nova was all that I expected.
     
    IMG_1808.jpg
    Cordura pouch is a really nice case
     
    I plugged the right angle jack into my non-75ohm-adaptor-extender (due to the XDoria Defense case on my iPhone 6+)…its just an extender, and put the IEM into my ears. Queuing Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain, I listened…but you will have to wait.
     
    IMG_1809.jpg
    Translucent plastic allows the ability to see the cable
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Technical Specs:
     
    Directly from the Campfire website: https://www.campfireaudio.com/nova/, the specifications are straightforward and simple:
     
     
          Specifications
    10HZ–19 KHZ
    Frequency Range
    114 DB SPL/MW
    Sensitivity
    22 OHMS @ 1KHZ
    Impedance
    DETACHABLE CABLE WITH MMCX
    Cable Connection Type
     
    Very good frequency range, highly sensitive, and low in “ohmage”, the Nova is quite easy to drive. In fact, switching between IEM’s, I have forgotten to lower the volume more than once…a painful experience!!! My sources (iPhone 6+, Fiio x3ii) can easily drive the Nova, something I am thankful for, as my excellent Pinnacle P1’s are quite hard to drive.
     
    An extremely flat response curve lend to a neutral sound. Neither harsh of treble, nor boomy of bass, the sound to me is warm, inviting and fairly neutral across the three ranges, as evidenced by the frequency response graph provided on the same page:
     
    Nova-freq-CF.jpg Near flat frequency response curve
     

     
    A roll off at approximately 6kHz can be heard, with a further drop between 9-10kHz lends to clear, but not harsh trebles (to me). I do have high-end hearing loss, so others who still have their hearing might hear differently. To me, the overall sound is even, warm, wide, with nothing trying to outcompete the other sounds. I really appreciate this as when needed, the song provides the details meant by the singer/group. True of sound I would call the signature.
     
     
    Commentary:
     
    As I stated, I was lucky enough to get in on the Massdrop…it pretty much was an impulse purchase for me. But one, I was confident in after reading the whole Head-Fi thread (http://www.head-fi.org/t/805107/campfire-audio-introducing-2-new-models-hello-andromeda-and-nova ), as well as reviews of the other models in the CA range. I longingly looked over the excellent pictures of @ExpatinJapan even though the pictures were of the Andromeda. The photography really did the green marvels justice. His pictures of the Nova (when he received them) further justified my purchase. I was not disappointed.
     
    I do not have much experience (ok, VERY little) in high end IEM’s. My Pinnacle P1’s up until now were my highest priced IEM. Hard to drive, but excellent of sound they really are a gem in the sea of headphones. With the arrival of the Nova, I have seriously upped my game. Foraying into the “mid-fi” experience is not to be taken lightly, not without consternation, either. A purchase of several hundred dollars cannot be toyed with (even though mine was an impulse…) and the expectations run high. Research allowed me to pass the time until arrival, and the musings of others along with my experience upon opening did not disappoint me. I was happy.
     
     
    Design/Build:
     
    Industrial, is the first word, which comes to mind. As stated, my father-in-law was a tool and dye maker allowing me to appreciate the finer points of handcrafted tools. The CA Nova didn’t disappoint me, either. One of the first things I do upon arrival of a new piece of kit, is go over the fit-and-finish and build quality of said item. I learned from my P1, that others gushed at the impeccable quality of build. I really liked the build, but was not over the top either due to what I will call “functional fitting”…the ability to marry both halves of a bud with no imperfections. As was my review of the P1, I unfortunately had the same functional fitting issues with the Nova. Marrying the two halves should be perfect, each angle matched seamlessly to the other. One line matching the other without break. The tight unit is darn near perfect. Seam lined up to seam. No overlap of top to bottom, bottom to top or mismatched seam.
     
    IMG_1810.jpg
    Worn Comply tip, but excellent machining, cannot see "misfit" halves here
     
    IMG_1813.jpg
    They are really nice looking IEM's
     
     
    IMG_1811.jpg
    Right IEM, still excellent machining
     
     
    The left is not as clean, with mismatched seams. Upon very close inspection, the mismatch to me looks to be simply the way the two were put together and finished with the Torx screws. Sometimes (like MAYBE when you have a large order…) seams tend to drift slightly when screws are tightened. This slight mismatch in no way hinders the sound quality (based upon my ears, subjectively). I will write this off as a SMALL anomaly due to the large order, and torqueing of the mentioned Torx screws. I do not have a bit that small, nor do I want to chance that the halves are sealed in order to fix the mismatch. Again, this is upon close inspection, and I am not worried about it. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this, though.
     
    I liken the look of the bud to the character Kryten in the BBC series Red Dwarf. Not a bad thing at all in my book, as he is my favorite character in the excellent series!
     
    kryten-7l.jpg
    There IS a strong resemblance...
     
    I also like the look of the bud, for the fact it IS industrial in design. A “fresh” looking IEM (yes, the CA line has been out for a bit), going against the organic look of other quality IEM’s. With all that said, fit can be a serious issue. Someone on the above thread mentioned how in their conversations with Ken he wished for more rounded edges, to limit to pressure within the ear. I was hoping that this would be part of the MD Nova’s, but it wasn’t. My first few days, I did limit myself to 1-3 hours at a time due to the pressure of the unit itself on my ear. Combined with a shorter nozzle, this pressure can be a limiting agent. Thankfully, my smaller ears have adjusted, and can confidently state that those with small ears need not worry. Your ears will accommodate the bud, nicely.
     
    Finish is another matter all together. I would claim the finish to be darn near perfect…Granted it is aluminum, but when you start working small pieces of aluminum such as these, imperfections in finish can result due to the manufacturing process of the IEM without care being taken. I can happily state there isn’t one issue with the Nova, it is immaculately finished.
     
    IMG_1807.jpg
    The "warm-organic" sound belies the industrial shape
     
    Something I do notice is that when I push the bud into my ear further, there is, even to me, a noticeable increase in the mids and trebles. I have not investigated whether this is due to the actual nozzle placement, or that by pushing the nozzle in further, it is overcoming to longish enclosed and Comply foam tips. The are quite hefty, and when the excellent T-500 (earwax version) Comply does give up, I will take an Exacto to the tip, cutting off as much of the “front” as I dare. I will report changes accordingly.
     
    My thought is that the latter is the case, and by shortening the actual tip, I will overcome the issue. The change does not bother me, but it may others. I do know that others report the silicon tips help with the highs, so this could be an option. I personally DO NOT like the silicon tips. I lose the bass, and the mids/treble becomes overwhelming TO ME after a very short time. I think this is due to my treble sensitivity. YMMV.
     
     
    Features:
     
    9 sets of tips (3 each of Silicon, Comply’s and furnished foam) of small, medium and large size are included along with the cleaning brush and the CA pin. The cable is the now not-so-new Litz cable, which alone sells for $150. Not knowing quality cables other than the enclosed P1 cables, I did draw upon the expertise on the Head-Fi thread, which stated the Litz was a step up from the older Tinsel cable. Whatever Ken and Company did, I wholeheartedly approve!
     
    Earphone-Tips-1690-800x600.jpg
     
     
    The cable is simply fantastic. It does not tangle (I am extremely careful when wrapping), and opens nicely. Quite often cables such as these are overly stiff and unwieldy. This is not the case, in fact upon my first trial; I thought it was very “soft” and took extra caution. Compared to the P1 cable, this is like a satin pillow with top class workmanship. The braiding is impeccable. No flaws at all. Since I use an extender on my phone, the right angle jack works quite nicely. I really have no preference in jack, whether it is right angle or straight. It doesn’t bother me. What I will say is that without the extender, the cable sits closer to the source, which can protect the jack and cable. I neither dislike nor like the memory portion of the cable. It is much better than some, worse than other. No complaints here.
     
    Just world-class quality on the cable and the unit overall, regardless of the small fit issue I mentioned.
     
    800x600-Case-and-Cable.jpg
    The cable is simply put, beautiful and excellent of sound
     
     
    Use:
     
    My main usage for the Nova will be every chance I get! I will not use these for mowing/exercising, due to the cost, but I will use these pretty much everywhere else. This is now my go-to pair for everything. Isolation is excellent, and this unit can be used for commuting, without problem. My thought though (maybe unfounded) would be that the Nova is quite large, and can draw attention to it. My hope was that the color would be the gray hinted at in some stock photos on the website. I do believe this was due to the angle in which the photo was shot. The green of the Andromeda will most definitely draw attention, like a fine emerald necklace. Just something to be aware of for those commuting with the Nova/CA-brand. But the sound….oh the sound…
     
     
     
     
     
    The Sound
     
    Sources:
     
    All listening was done on either my iPhone 6+, or my Fiio x3ii, using the Fiio A3 and E6 amps. Auditioning was done with and without amps, as well as the “line out” on the Fiio x3ii so the A3 could be isolated for impressions.
     
    A partial list of testing songs include:
     
    Adele- Set Fire to the Rain (female vocals, clarity)
    Adele- He Won’t Go (vocals)
    Adele- One And Only (electric piano/SENSUOUS vocals/drums)
    twenty one pilots- Hometown (male vocals/beat/overall sound)
    twenty one pilots- Fall Away (vocals/beat/soundstage)
    twenty one pilots- Taxi Cab (piano/vocals)
    twenty one pilots- Isle of Flightless Birds (harpsichord?, beat, vocals, instrument separation)
    Los Lonely Boys-Senorita (guitar, vocals, instrumentation, placement of instruments)
    Los Lonely Boys- Staying with Me (live) (acoustic guitar, vocals)
    Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (separation, clarity)
    Coldplay- Clocks (separation, sound stage)
    Coldplay- A Message (acoustic guitar/male vocals, instrument separation)
    Coldplay-A Sky Full of Stars (passion, sensual vocal, overall MUSIC)
    More by Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lyle Lovett, Junior Brown, Coldplay, Dave Matthews
     
     
    Initial:
     
    Unlike my P1’s, which I really had a hate/love relationship with; there was no such anxiety from the Nova. From the first song by Adele, Set Fire to the Rain, I was in love…no not with her even though she is fantastic, with the NOVA. If I had to describe the sound in one word initially, it would be purity. A pure sound can be the death of some headphones, because there is nowhere to hide. You either make it or you don’t. The Nova made it. I wont say it was a “chorus of angels” (that will come) moment, but it was absolutely everything I was looking for from the purchase. Tight bass (not overwhelming, just right), mids, which didn’t shout at me (I would agree with @Expatinjapan that they are slightly recessed), but complemented the overall sound wonderfully, to the trebles which just said “hello”, I’m here.
     
    IMG_1812.jpg
    MMCX connection with "memory wire"
     
     
    My first listen was a pleasure, nothing taking the front row, nothing shouting for attention. I liken this to the win by Coastal Carolina in this years NCAA baseball College World Series…something the manager stated just stuck with me; “We are just a bunch of boys who like to play baseball. We don’t have any stars, we all pull together.” And they did, much the way the Nova does. The presentation lays all out there for your pleasure. Nothing to hide, take it or leave it. Many people on the Head-Fi thread stated that while the Nova was good, once they compared it to the Andromeda, the Andromeda was THAT MUCH BETTER. Well…I would hope so for twice the price and over twice the number of BA drivers. I respectfully ask that the Nova be given a chance ALONE. Do not compare it to the flagship of the line up. You may show the heritage, which comes “down to the Nova,” but don’t compare them. That to me would be like comparing a Mustang GT to the Fiesta ST simply because they have shared parts. It is a disservice to how really good the Fiesta ST really is. The Nova is that good.
     
     
    Overall:
     
    I really, really love the Nova. Maybe someday I will purchase the Andromeda, and I debated during the MD wait, but I can say that I am unequivocally satisfied with the Nova. They are good, really, really good. If you can afford only one “mid-fi” which comes from a manufacturer of high-end too, you cannot go wrong with the Nova. Yes, I know YMMV, but even with that gushing reward I just stated, I mean it. These are the best IEM I have ever heard (limited, yes…). The clarity of sound coming from these makes me tear up, when the right song comes on, it really is an emotional high, which the Nova produces in me. I don’t say this lightly, as there has been huge debate about the sound qualities of not only IEM’s but also ear buds on the Head-Fi site lately. When someone speaks out against a phone with which we are passionate about, some take it as a personal affront. I would NOT take it that way. Our sound spectrum is different, as are our tastes.
     
    IMG_1815.jpg
    Subtle CA logo highlights the back
     
     
    A case in point: I am listening to the Coldplay song A Sky Full of Stars at this moment. I teared up, knowing what this song means to me…that my sons college soccer game is nearing the end again, and we must make the long travel back home away from the sport we love, and our son. THAT SONG can only convey the passion involved and listening to it through the Nova’s is an emotional moment to me. It really is. THAT describes how the Nova sounds. If the instrument of our listening can instill that kind of passion, it has won. It has won me over forever.
     
    IMG_1816.jpg
    Sharp edges do take getting used to, but it is worth it!
     
     
    Bass:
     
    Some hint that this is the Achilles of the Nova. I would somewhat agree…while this is not a basshead, the bass really does show itself when needed. In the just mentioned song by Coldplay, the bass is perfect. I am not left wanting more; otherwise it would overwhelm the complete sound. Bass is there when needed; it is tight, fast and present down to the near sub-bass level. I think this is due to the overall flat response of the sound-curve. Just the right amount when needed. The bass aides in the overall sound nicely, not drowning out any of the other signature sounds. Too often on the web, a lack of bass is taken as a sign of weakness in the IEM. I would disagree completely. One need simply look at the excellent Dunu Titan 1 and that argument is settled. The Nova gets the bass just right, not thumping, not weak. It’s there when called upon by the artist, backseat when not needed. A good EQ can draw more bass out if needed or desired. Sometimes, I do this when the feeling arises.
     
     
    Mids:
     
    As I stated earlier, the mids are probably the furthest from the front sound-wise. I have some very forward mid-sounding IEM’s in the excellent RHA ma750’s. The draw of those is that the forward mids enhance the overall listening pleasure of the 750, and I would agree. I like that signature in them. If the Nova were to follow that path, the signature would be destroyed in my mind. The mids don’t necessarily “prop up” the sound, but support the sound quality. Again, when called upon, there when needed, highlighting the excellent vocals of Tyler Joseph (twenty one pilots) exceptionally. He has a fantastic voice, and it quite often comes through in the mids. A good IEM will take the voice and let it be heard, naked no hiding, no muffling, no muddiness. The Nova lets the voice come through, even the imperfections that come through the voice in the recording (I’m talking about ½ missed notes, or beats). I’ve never had an IEM, which can allow the highlights to shine through, and have the MISTAKES come through as positives…allowing the reality of the voice to show. We are in fact humans (duh), but often we are subjected to “perfection in sound”, which bugs me even though I have used it in the review. The real highlight of the mids for me is the ability to show the flaws and get away with them…showing that mistakes are good; mistakes can enhance and DO enhance the overall sound. Hearing a voice fluctuate, or a missed note (subtle it might be) make the Nova REAL. Some liken it to an “organic sound”…I’m not sure I fully understand what that is, but if it means a real sound, then yes, quite organic of sound.
     
     
    Treble:
     
    I have a well-documented deficiency in the treble sound. Too much loud music on my teenage car stereo (excellent though it was…) has led me to a loss of the high’s hearing in “middle age.” Something I still have though, is the ability to hear sounds, which are different from the background sounds…When I used to do songbird surveys, I had the ability to pick out new bird songs quite quickly. In fact my peers accused me of making up the sound, until they could isolate it…and they had MUCH better hearing than me. This can be a curse trust me, but a blessing when reviewing headphones.
     
    There is simply no hiding bad treble. They can be course, grating, sibilant, and piercing all at the same time, or separately; but equally bad to me they can be. The Nova doesn’t necessarily “lay bare” bad treble, but highlight it almost like a butler saying, “Excuse me sir, but it is time to go,” quite politely. The song Princess of China by Coldplay highlights this politeness. Rihanna’s voice is impeccable, but can be harsh when highlighted in the treble range. In fact, on some of my IEM’s, this song is intolerable. I can’t listen. The Nova’s change this. “Taming” the treble with that drop off at 6kHtz, then again at 9-10kHtz. This is just my personal taste, but if the IEM helps me listen to a song which I really like, then I am all for it.
     
    Los Lonely Boy’s Heaven highlights this again. The Nova allows (bad choice of word…) the treble to shine through in the excellent guitar of Henry Garza. MAN, he can play! From the beginning chord, you simply appreciate what the Nova brings; again that ability to let the musician decide what we hear, what we are listening to…no covering up, just unadulterated bliss. Then the explosion of sound warms up all over the stage. I can actually “see” Henry slightly stage right, while Jojo ply’s his bass slightly stage left, leaving Ringo (great name for a drummer!) to support from the center, and behind. Just phenomenal to picture and hear this.
     
     
    Soundstage/ Separation:
     
    This was tougher, until a couple of nights ago. No really, it was. Initially my thought on the Nova was that the soundstage was somewhat limited. Then a song, which defines the soundstage as very wide came on, and my opinion changed (somewhat). I cannot remember the song, but the width of stage was quite large. The Nova does have a wide soundstage. That said, on Adele’s evocative He Won’t Go, there is a sense of intimacy, which belies my claim. It is almost as if the Nova is trying to mess with me. But of course, it isn’t. The Adele song has a small soundstage to begin with, instruments placed where they need to be, but smaller than other songs I have mentioned. To further mess with my mind, Hello provides both (!), close when Adele sings to us, further, much further when the Chorus is sung. Just plain awesome.
     
    This goes back to my reference of the Nova letting the musician decide, not the IEM. I do have some IEM’s where THEY decide what we are to hear, and those will leave my stable shortly. That is how the Nova has almost redefined how I listen. I very much appreciate the honesty in which the Nova provides me the opportunity listen, neither gearing me towards a certain sound signature, but presenting an honest “opinion” about what we hear. Very appreciated, it is.
     
    On Stevie Ray Vaughan’s fantastic Live at Carnegie Hall album, the song Letter to My Girlfriend defines the separation capability the Nova’s afford. Playing support to SRV’s magical vocals is the timeless horn line from Roomfull of Blues. MAN, they can play, but it is obvious they are support to SRV’s vocals and guitar. A concoction melded perfectly ensues. Stevie’s rifts up front where they should be, supported by Double Trouble and the extra weight provided by the brilliant horn section. Just a perfect definition of the soundstage the Nova delivers.
     
     
     
    Isolation:
     
    As mentioned, with the correct tip, isolation is quite good. I can have these at a fairly high volume, without much leakage. Only at ridiculously high volume is there a problem. These would be a very good commuting pair, except for the cautions noted above. With your music off, but the IEM still in, a conversation can be had, minimizing the ingress/egress of the Nova in your ear.
     
     
     
     
    Presentation:
     
    Clarity rules the Nova. But you should already have that figured out by my statements above. There is no muddiness, no over-encumbering of any sound. No veiled sound…its just there for your liking (or dislike if that is not your cup of joe).
     
     
     
    Comparisons:
     
    I only have two IEM’s which are remotely close to the Nova, in the MEE Pinnacle P1 and the RHA MA750’s (non-mic). The two cannot compare, but are both worthy of explanation.
     
    Nova v P1: The clear winner is the Nova, but maybe not the way expected. Both provide a warm “fairly” neutral signature, with decent to good bass (Nova wins here, hands down), clear sound, excellent fit and finish (please see my finish issues with the P1 for more), and an overall signature I am quite happy with. Until the Nova came along, the P1 was my “end game.”  I was finished, done, no more. Then well….
     
    While the Nova’s are quite easy to drive, the P1 takes a good amount of power. Under certain circumstances, my iPhone 6+ is maxxed out. If you can get by that, the P1 provides an exceptional sound signature. Overall brighter than the Nova, it really is a good first foray into the “high-end” fidelity world by MEE. Fit is much better, and many have stated (I would agree) that the lack of memory wire in the MMCX end of the cable is a godsend. People really appreciate the lack of wire. Where the P1 loses out, is in that bright character. It highlights the trebles too much for my tastes. My MEE M6 Pro’s are the same in that regard, in fact they can be sibilant sometimes. While the P1 is not sibilant at all, the highs can be piercing sometimes. Those who value good trebles would not be wrong in choosing the P1, it is an outstanding unit overall, belying the “relatively” inexpensive cost of $199. I could have quite happily lived with the P1, even with the to me troubled highs.
     
    Bass is less than the Nova, but not lacking at all. It is there, but clearly plays second string to the treble and mids. A good EQ setting is a must if you desire more bass. Or a bass setting on your amp, much like the A3 has. Combined, this brings out the bass quite well, overcoming that deficiency. I keep going back, but it is true, I would have been quite happy with the P1 it is that good.
     
    IMG_1819.jpg
    CA Nova v RHA MA750 v MEE Pinnacle P1
     
    But the mentioned A Sky Full of Stars highlights the limitations. Complex music can be burdensome on the P1, as the mids and treble fight for space, drowning out the bass and hindering the overall signature. This even narrows the soundstage more than it should. It is like a backseat of kids on vacation that cannot decide what movie to watch…You just wish that moment was over.
     
    There is no such fight in the Nova. All have their own devices, or a re reading peacefully as you cruise along the miles. Almost antithesis to this is the A Message song by Coldplay. There is no fight what-so-ever…everything working together as it should. Not as well as the Nova, but quite good. To me, this means the P1 is quite good at acoustic music, but less complicated music. I would be very happy with the P1, in fact my son has taken them over, even though we said we would “discuss it.”  
     
    Nova v RHA MA750: The only other IEM I have close is the wonderful sounding MA750 (non-mic). While the Nova lets the musician decide how we hear the music, the RHA (as mentioned in my P1 review) is the kilted Scot who knows better than we do. While sipping his single-malt Scotch, he bellows, “I know better how it should sound!” And you dare not cross him. That may be a harsh assessment, but I do not mean it that way (I’m part Scottish, so…). The RHA announces itself to the party, and it is the one all like at the party. There is not jealousy had by anyone. “He” would be the one that everyone likes, and gets along with just fine; there are no problems with the 750 being loud and boisterous. In fact it is what draws you to the party. This is the set I will keep as my Nova back up, not the P1 (OK, because of the son…sheesh). But even before the “takeover,” I had all but decided the RHA’s would be the back up pair.
     
    The mids are the highlight of the RHA, and they come through quite bold. Not overly boisterous, but announcing their presence in all songs. Isolation is not as good as either the P1 or the Nova, which can mean they are not as good for commuting. But they sound so good, you really wouldn’t care! An honest open sound highlighted by the mids is the story. There is no apologizing for the way they sound (much like you wouldn’t apologize for the Scot at your party). Separation isn’t as good as either the Nova or P1, but the honest sound overcomes that quite well. It could be called a really “fun” signature, but I think that would be an insult. I would call them straightforward and sincere. There is not an untruth or fraudulent bone in their body. There is a small note of sibilance, but it is not hidden. Vocals, which present that sound, are already known to the user, so it is not a lie. While the Scot at the party would be called fun, it is because he is so sincere, much the way the RHA is held by me. I really like their signature, even though it is a might bit bright for my tastes.
     
    IMG_1820.jpg
    Top to Bottom: Nova v MA750 v P1, I really like all three
     
    Bass is there as needed, and quite good, choosing to show only when needed. A sonic character I very much appreciate. Full, and almost robust, it only shows when the song calls.
     
    I hold them in such regard, that while I was taking the pictures, I was listening to the 750’s, a testament to their sound. You cannot go wrong with them.
     
    All that said the Nova tops them in pretty much every category. Open sound, unhindered by any need to show themselves as being there. They would be the intellectual who happily sits at the back of the party, taking it all in smiling, while imbibing on the same single malt Scotch as the RHA. In fact, they would be quite good friends if they were people. An excellent compliment to each other.
     
    To summarize:
     
    Bass:
    Nova 7.75
    P1 7.25
    RHA 7
     
    Mid
    Nova 9
    P1 8
    RHA 10 (but can overwhelming)
     
    Treble
    Nova 9
    P1 7 (too harsh)
    RHA 8
     
    Soundstage
    Nova 10
    P1 8.5
    RHA 8.5
     
    Instrument Separation
    Nova 10
    P1 8.5
    RHA 8.5
     
    Clarity
    Nova 10
    P1 8.75
    RHA 8.25
     
    Overall:
    Nova 9.29
    P1 8
    RHA 8.375
     
     
     
    Conclusion:
     
    If you are still reading this by now, I truly appreciate it. When I do a review, it takes me several days to complete. I then go back and digest what has been written, taking a few more days. I listen again to the same and different songs, trying to find something I have missed (it does happen). I have had the pleasure of owning the Nova’s for a little over a month, and my opinion of them just grows. They are my “end game” for the foreseeable future, until I can justify the purchase of the Andromeda. Those who say the Andromeda is that much better than the Nova intrigue my thoughts. Of that, I do not doubt, but it will have to wait.
     
    The Nova is quite tip dependent. I can even hear sound differences between the included foams and the Comply. That said, this is the first pair of included foam tips, which I really like. They are quite good, and are my backup to the Comply’s l when I am out and about. That said, the difference in sound between tips (silicon, foam, Comply) is almost startling. Maybe it is the honest nature of the Nova which leads me to this, but until now I have never had that stark difference between similar tips (the foam and Comply, both quite good, though), nor disliked the included silicon’s that much (I REALLY don’t like the sound).
     
    Is it worth the regular price? Most definitely, and I would have seriously considered the Nova even without the Massdrop. They are that good. To combine the qualities of excellent fit and finish along with the overall warm, but slightly neutral sound is something to behold. Added bonuses of excellent instrument separation, wide soundstage, and a clarity which belies the price (it does to me) together with an honesty often left behind by other IEM’s brings me back to what I will call “Novana.” I am a truly satisfied customer, and wholeheartedly give my first 5-star rating.
    1. B9Scrambler
      Stunning review. Detailed, entertaining, and well-paced. I look forward to seeing this on the front page shortly. Thumbs up for days man!
      B9Scrambler, Jul 3, 2016
    2. ngoshawk
      That would be more than I could hope for! And thank you, I really appreciate it. Without the help of peeps here, including you I would be stuck in audio mediocrity. Keep the passion!
      ngoshawk, Jul 3, 2016
  6. onyxwulf
    Campfire Audio Nova's Amazing IEMs!
    Written by onyxwulf
    Published Jun 15, 2016
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Balance Sound, Quality, Soundstage is amazing, Cable is outstanding, Carrying case is solid
    Cons - Fit and bass is lacking
    NOTE: Remember I am not an audiophile and am new to this world, looking for mid-fi stuff.  I mostly listen to electronica and movies on my home system.  I am just a normal guy trying to find my sound!!!!
     
    The Nova is by far the most balanced and wide soundstage of any IEM I have tried in the last two months (RHA T20, VModa ZN, Focal Sphere, Trinity Atlas, 1More Triple Driver, B&W C5 S2, Sony MDR-XB90EX, Sony XBAH1, and another I can't remember).  I have been on a mission to find a mid-fi set of headphones that are awesome.  I have bought and returned all of the above for a variety of reasons except what is listed below.  My go to right now is the Trinity Atlas, due to the V shaped sound and comfort.  So I am basically comparing my Nova's to all of these.
     
    Current gear:
    1. Sony MDR-XB90EX - For when I want bass, bass and more bass.  These can't be beat for that for $80
    2. Trinity Atlas - My carry arounds.  Durability mixed with awesome sound! When I go out or am at a sports event, these are my go to!
    3. VModa ZN - These are what I sleep with.  Yes I sleep with them in every single night listening to my Spundose, Hallucingen, or Psilogod!
    4. Fiio X3ii - My go to Hi-res player
    5. Fiio e12a - My go to amp'
    6. Fiio A1 - What I use at night with my ZN to listen to plugged into my Fire Tablet
    7. Vmoda Verza - Use as a DAC out of my computer to listen to Spotify and watch movies
    8. Droid Tubro 2 - For Spotify and my Poweramp
    9. Fire Table - for reading and sleep
     
    IMG_20160613_122521.jpg
     
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    IMG_20160613_122646.jpg
     
    IMG_20160613_122651.jpg
     
    IMG_20160613_122706.jpg
     
    IMG_20160613_122711.jpg
     
     
     
    The Good:
    • Balanced sound.  Man when I am watching my movies these thing bring sound to life like I have never heard.  When I listen to non-electronica these things sound like I am in the concert.  I am able to use my EQ to find the sound that I like depending on what I am listening too.  They might be a bit too balanced for me as I prefer a V shaped sound for my music but I would rather have balanced (and change the EQ) then a V shaped that I am stuck with.  If I want some bass I use my Sony's.  If I want overall punch I use my Atlas'.  If I want the best sound quality I go to these. 
    • Quality - The quality of this product is second to none.  They look good, the feel good, they are lighter then they look and I expect them to last a long time!  I could write a whole article about the quality of these things.  Every single person that I have shown them to was just blown away on the quality and the aesthetics.
    • Source independent - No matter what I plug these into they sound pretty good.  Note, they do sound best coming from my Fiio setup but no complaints plugging them straight into my phone when I have too!  Now this is both a plus and a negative as they won't sound as good on a phone but to my ears they still sound good enough.
    • Soundstage - I am just learning what this means but after getting these IEM's I think I finally figured it out.  The sheer amount of sound and different sounds that I hear with these earphones is just amazing to me.  I am hearing music in a different way! I have not heard or tried any real TOTL gear so I don't have a reference point and I may never because that stuff is just expensive!
    • Isolation - Is decent.  The Comply tips helped but I can't get them to fit me comfortably.  
    • Cable - Not too long and not to short!  Great cable with great sound.  I have seen a lot of back and forth here about the cable and I wouldn't change it for anything.
    • Carrying case - This thing just rocks.  Hard case that looks nice that doesn't scrunch or compress the earphones!!! What more could I want.
    • Initial Reveal - Man, getting the packing.  Seeing it for the first time.  Opening in and seeing the case, opening the case and seeing the unit.  My heart was going like it was Christmas time!
    • Overall Feeling - I paid just under $400 for these off Massdrop.  Usually I have buyers remorse but for the most part I haven't.  I got frustrated with the fit until I found the right tips but overall these make me feel good and makea my music come alive.  That being said, I am not sure I would spend $500 for these.  I think this is the most important category because if I don't feel good or I have buyers remorse, then no matter how good they sound, I won't like them. Now to be fair, for now these are my end game IEM's so I really really wanted these to be my everything, they are like 90% there.  A little bit more bottom line and a little more comfortable and these would be 110% AWESOME.
     
    The Bad:
    • Overall fit -  It is hard to get these in my ears so that after an hour or so they aren't hurting.  I cannot use the foam or the Comply tips at all.  They push the unit out of my ear and make it rest on my ear in a way that it hurts.  It got so bad and I was so frustrated that I almost sold them as I was not 100% happy.  I kept trying to force the Comply's to work and they just didn't with these.  These aren't going to be for everyone.  Once I figured out that the medium rubber tips fit the best, this problem got a lot better.  Like others have said, you really have to JAM these in to get the best sound.  Honestly if these just had a little bit less sharp edges I wouldn't have a real complaint with them.
    • The bass -  The bass, to my tastes, is just lacking.  I am pretty much an electronica guy, EDM, psytrance, dubstep, etc and these just didn't compare to my Atlas' or my Sony's.  As noted by other reviewers I have seen, it is there and a bit punchy but lacking in depth or detail. "Fast and lean" - Midgetguy describes it best to me once I read that!
    • Isolation - Is decent.  The Comply tips helped but I can't get them to fit me comfortably.  
    • Bad tracks or bad recording sound really bad.  This really brings out the bad in bad tracks.  I have been forced to find much better quality recordings of albums that I like because these are so good.  I guess this would be a both positive and negative.  Nit picking here.
    • Chin strap thing - Doesn't grip tight enough for me.  Again nit-picking here.
     
    Overall:
    I bought them.  I was REALLY happy.  Then I was super disappointed.  Now I am content! I went as far as to start to sell them but decided to wait it out and give them a couple more chances.  I am glad I did.  While they aren't the most comfortable (Trinity Atlas are SUPER comfortable) the sound quality is something that I keep coming back to.  I wish I had enough funds to get the Andromeda, maybe someday.  I have toyed with the idea of trading these for something else of similar value, but after looking around and reading reviews, for this price range, I doubt I can do much better!  It will be interesting overtime if I reach for these or my Atlas' when I want my psytrance pumping?  Right now it is the Nova's because they are new and I want to see how they do, but who knows in future.
     
    Half a star off for the fit and the fit only.  If they fixed this....man.....
     
    Would I recommend these?  Hell yes.  Would I recommend them to a bass head like me?  Nopers!
      tarhana likes this.
    1. onyxwulf
      After my first write up and listening insistently for almost 2 weeks I think I have changed my opinion about the Nova's.  I had two initial major complaints with the Nova's - Fit and Bass.  
       
      The fit doesn't bother me as much as it used to now that I have gotten used to them.  The edges don't rub me even when I wear them for 4-5 hours straight.
       
      The bass has really come alive.  I don't know if because I burned them in (I am not sure that I believe that this makes a difference) or more importantly I found the right tips.  I CANNOT believe the difference the tips make on these IEMs.  I have tried between 10-15 different tips and the Spinfits and modified Comply tips are the only two that produce bass.  I am currently using Comply (non-wax guard) tips that I cut the ends off of to make them shorter to fit better.  It took me two tries to get it right but man what a difference it made.  The stock rubber tips that came with the set just didn't produce the sound that I liked even though the hole in them were the biggest.  The Spinfit tips have a small hole but for whatever reason they sound as good as the Comply tips. 
       
      My initial write up was 4.5 stars but after two more weeks of listening to these and comparing them to my other IEMs these really are the best set that I have.  I personally would give these 5 stars now that the bass has really come alive (not V shaped but punchy and nice) and the fit I have gotten used to.
      onyxwulf, Jun 23, 2016
    2. TasticBubble
      Do the Nova's hiss when you plug them into your phone?
      TasticBubble, Jun 27, 2016
    3. onyxwulf
      Not me.
      onyxwulf, Jun 27, 2016