Nostalgia Audio Camelot - $2,599 (tribrid)
Introduction & Disclaimers
For those of you who may not know, Camelot is a legendary and mythical Castle which dates back to as early as 12th century literature and is centred around the wonderful story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table - I've no doubt the story evolved in various ways thoughout the years, and it includes everything from knights in shining armour to witches and fire-breathing dragons... oh and of course the wonderful wizard named Merlin. I have very fond memories of watching the 1981 movie 'Excalibur' which was based on this story countless times with my brothers when we were children.
A lot of my IEM journey has centred around single dynamic drivers, and I've often found multi-drivers just haven't ticked all the boxes for me - or indeed in the case of the kilobuck sets, they ticked most but not enough to justify the high cost. This has changed recently with first of all the Custom Art Fibae 5 that I reviewed just a couple of weeks ago, a spectacular hyrbid that truly represents incredible value before stepping up to the much higher cost sets. Camelot is over twice the price of the Fibae 5, but still as much as 50% cheaper compared to many of the top-tier sets on the market - many of which I've had the luxury of trying, be it on loan thanks to generous members of this community, or indeed those that I purchased myself: these include the infamous Traillii, the briefly famous Jewel, the wonderful KR5 and XE6 from Fir Audio, and the technical powerhouse that is Ragnar from Noble Audio. I've tended to lean towards single DDs due to an overall preference for how they sound, and having built a collection that cater for various segments of my audio library which is quite diverse, and I rarely find a single set that can cover it all and do a good or even great job.
I had considered buying Camelot late last year - the few impressions and reviews out there were all incredibly positive, I don't think I read a bad word about them. I was hesitant however due to my difficulty generally with larger shells. We all know how the price of a brand-new IEM is like driving a new car off the forecourt, the price plummets rather sharply. This set was arranged via @MusicTeck
and Nostalgia Audio for me to audition and review - as always, with no input, payment, private jets, speed boats or luxury holidays in return. I would like to thank them both for their trust in me, and of course delighted to have the opportunity. Camelot is available HERE from MusicTeck
My other disclaimer as always is to point out I am not a professional reviewer, this is my hobby, once my career, and links back as always to a lifelong passion for both music and technology, brought together in absolute harmony through this wonderful hobby. Needless to say also, we all hear differently, and while I do my best to express what I hear in a way that I hope is useful to the community, please remember your individual experiences may differ from mine for all sorts of reasons... music preferences, age, frequency tolerances, sources, etc etc etc... so buckle up, and sharpen your swords as we march on in to this review... (I'll try hold back on too many kings, and knight related puns...)
So who are Nostalgia Audio? - Not one I had heard of before anyway up until late 2022, and rather than type it all up, I borrowed a snip from their 'about us' on their website. A relatively new brand based in Hong Kong, with an appetite it seems to offer more value for audiophiles hard-earned cash.
Unboxing & Accessories
- 10 Individual Drivers, Tribrid Design
- 2 Dynamic Drivers - Sub-Bass, Bass
- 4 Balanced Armature Drivers - 2 Mid, 2 High
- 4 Electrostatic Drivers - 4 Ultra-High
- 5-Way Crossover Design
- Extreme Bass System
- Spiral Flow Device
- Impedance: 13 Ohms @ 1kHz
- Frequency Response: 15 Hz - 40kHz
- Sensitivity: 114dB @ 1kHz, 1mW
- Bespoke Avalon High Purity OFC and OCC Copper Cable, Multiple Strand Design
Let me start by saying I must say Nostalgia Audio certainly do have fantastic attention to detail in their branding. I only really fully noticed this when I was taking photos recently for this review, and will point out what I mean as we proceed with the unboxing.
The outer box artwork is as one might expect around the theme of Camelot, with a castle nestled in a medieval looking setting, surrounded by trees and with of course the famous sword lodged in a stone.... ultimately extracted by Sir Lancelot, or at least Lancelot at that point, soon to be knighted thereafter by King Arthur.
The flipside of the outer box includes a blurb about the story behind Camelot. Probably a bit small for people to read here, especially if on a phone - but you get the jist already.
Upon removal of the outer sleeve, we are greeted with an embossed logo which was tricky to capture in the photo, but it has a nice shine to it in the right light and has a really premium finish, as does the cardboard material used in this inner packaging.
Sliding off this inner section then reveals the IEMs themselves, and some further impressive artwork showing a 3D impression of the IEMs.
Under this final sleeve, we then see the puck style / faux leather case, IEMs, and a selection of tips, notably including the excellent (in my opinion) Symbio W in small, medium, and large - plus the same in what I assume are a stock branded tip, fairly typical silicone style. I like how the tips are in a metal tray, not entirely unique but equally you do see quite a few that arrive in a bag, and this is just one example of the branding attention to detail - along with the logo and brand name on the tray.
All of the contents laid out:
- A shell mesh protection bag
- Leather cable organiser
- Tray plus tips
- IEM brush cleaner
- Packet of Dekoni 'Bulletz' foam tips, just medium size
- Cable, and of course the IEMs
Just to highlight again here the attention to detail - the cable organiser, mesh pouch, and tip tray all have the Nostalgia Audio branding. One could argue 'no big deal', but I really respect this extra mile from a branding perspective, and for me demonstrates the passion and pride from the brand.
The case appears to be faux-leather, and is a good size to store the IEMs in the mesh along with the cable. I've found some of these mesh bags almost useless in the past where the shells don't fit, or indeed they fit, but struggle then to house in the case along with the cable. Yet again, we have nice branding on the exterior of the case.
The 'Avalon' stock cable is of high quality, with a nice material exterior which is comfortable to wear and reasonably low microphonics. Just a quick note here while I think of it - when Camelot arrived, there was a lot of static noise upon insertion to my DAPs - I thought I might need a replacement, but it went away after twisting the jack in a socket gently a few times.
The cable comes as default with a 4.4mm balanced connection.
Design & Fit
The shells are quite big, and normally speaking this size would be a huge problem for me. They are certainly not perfect, and I do need to take a break after maybe 60 minutes or so as they can become slightly uncomfortable, but thankfully not painful as has been the case with some other sets. I've tried quite a few tips and as always these do of course make a significant difference to both comfort and sound performance - I've recently landed on Tanchjim T300, a go-to tip for quite a few sets over the last couple of years, and they work their magic again here in terms of fit and without any negative impact to sound. The shells are 3D printed resin, and feel very robust but still reasonably light. Thankfully also they have recessed 2-pin sockets, I really can't understand when that's not the case - it makes a huge difference in feeling the cables are securely plugged in.
I've had Camelot for about 5 weeks now so a lot of time to get to know them. Sources have been quite varied to include Shanling M6U, Cayin N7, and LPGT Ti - in summary, they all sound excellent in various ways, but I would probably lean towards N7 first, followed by M6U as Camelot in my experience benefits from the analogue wonders of the N7, or that Shanling hint of warmth from M6U - that is absolutely not to say LPGT Ti doesn't pair well, it indeed does, but with an emphasis on that clear, neutral sound - an injection of analogue or warmth works really well, especially for longer sessions.
Overall it has a clear somewhat neutral signature with a big stage, great detail retrieval, imaging and layering - but still wonderfully coherent. While it’s very technically competent, it’s not at all clinical - nice deep sub bass, impactful mid bass with fantastic distinction between them due to 2x DDs. Mids are clear and with a good amount of body, very nice treble from the ESTs which give just the right amount of zing without being harsh - a nice sweet spot for me, which I find very visceral and addictive. Again, incredibly cohesive considering how many drivers are packed into these shells.
While it's boosted, it never sounds boomy or overpowering - it complements the generally neutral profile of the tuning with excellent control and definition, and I hear that as being due to how they've integrated the two dynamic drivers for sub and mid bass. The dedicated driver for sub often gives that sense of a separate sub-woofer and crucially, with plenty of space between mid bass as noted, this is really key to ensure we can enjoy the sensation of both elements of the low frequencies, utilized in various ways depending on the track requirements. Genres such as techno with a good solid kick drum are captured perfectly, the mid bass kicks with spectacular authority and to my ears recovers as quickly as the track demands - sounding snappy as needed, or stretching out that bit longer, even indeed to deeper registers into the sub realms.
There’s clearly a large space on stage for mids to occupy by way of the 4 BAs. First of all, and very importantly for subjective reasons, there are no upper mid peaks which often become glaring for me. I would say neutral and clear with plenty of detail and space is a reasonable way to describe the overall midrange. There is the needed touch of warmth injected to ensure sufficiently emotive and not too dry, but balanced well with clarity and the ability to handle any compexity with absolute ease. Both male and female vocals are rendered perfectly, and instrument timbre sounds absolutely wonderful in anything from strings to synths.
This in my opinion is EST treble implemented to perfection: it has zing, pizazz, bite, energy, air and never too sharp or piercing. I often stop and smile in acknowledgment of the visceral sensation achieved in the delivery of elements of my music in these upper realms. Also, there is excellent cohesion, it never sounds pushed too far or separate from the rest of the FR. I’ve realised I’m quite a sucker for treble, which has made me quite fussy too - I give Camelot a solid 5/5 here.
If you are after a set with a large, 3D holographic soundstage with distinct/pinpoint imaging, and as many layers as the music dictates, Camelot will deliver - and it will do it in a cohesive, highly engaging, and musical manner. This has consistently amazed me over the last few weeks - so many sets lean a bit too technical and become a little tiring, while others might lean too much towards musicality, leaving us craving some more details - Camelot hits a jackpot sweet spot (bit of a mouthfull, but you get the message!).
I've chosen a small selection to highlight here as already noted, Camelot is competent with any genre I've tested, and I've tested far and wide in the last few weeks.
First up is 'Full Moon (Clean Mix) by Zen Baboon, a beatless track with beautiful melodic synths that radiate outwards across the 3D stage - hugely captivating and visceral, we are mostly sitting in the mids with this track and you are not left wanting for that important emotive factor in a track like this, nothing is dry or clinical. I adore this track, and have heard it on so many sets, and this is without a doubt up there with the very best.
Next up is the beautiful piano piece 'Eden' by Hania Rani. Wonderful timbre, wonderful spaciousness, and a delightful sense of moving through the frequency ranges from lows to highs, all captured with great distinction. I've mentioned a few times how clarity is a theme with Camelot, and this is again absolutely evident here - such as a sense of space even between the piano key strikes, really hair-raising stuff.
Something a bit more upbeat now with 'Asphyxiated' by Manfred Hamil. I'd probably class this as deep house, and it has a nice simple percussive element along with numerous supporting syths, with some basic lyrics scattered here and there. Again, I really couldn't ask for better - we have that clarity, that emotion, and incredible spaciousness for each and every element.
And now for something completely different, as Monty Python used to say. This could blow your head off - it is a huge test for any IEM, complex and crazy fast percussion, with all sorts of other noises firing about the place - it really is hard to imagine a better track for testing the speed of a set, and the ability to not sound harsh. If you are feeling brave and decide to give this track a whirl, do so with your most capable set in dealing with speed and complexity. Oh and I nearly forgot, Camelot passed this hard test with ease.
Some vocals now with Japanese Breakfast. This is a go-to for me with female vocals, as I get a good mix also of at times busy instrument passages - testing a set for all sorts of attributes. This is one of these moments when I just want to stop listening for the sake of a review, and sit back to enjoy the music. It's wonderful to hear such lifelike percussion, beautiful deep bass, and lovely visceral vocals which sit beautifully right in the middle of the mix.
Finally, a gorgeous chilled jazz workout from the brilliant Matthew Halsall. Yet again the clarity and huge stage jump out, all of the instruments so wonderfully distinct as individual components, yet all still part of a cohesive presentation. When the double bass rolls in, it literally puts shivers through me, and when the sax joins, I'm back as above where I just want to quit the review, kick back with a glass of wine and immerse myself in the music.
These are very short and quick comparisons based on my memory of a few sets.
- smoother, but less engaging or exciting and far less clarity and air. Easily complementary sets, especially with the DD bass (one for each sub and mid remember...) in Camelot. I did find always with Traillii that I had to allow dedicated time to fully appreciate, I needed to be in the right zone - which ultimately was part of the reason I sold the bird, too much money invested in a part-time set - plus I had issues with pressure due to the lack of vents.
- I think Jewel leans more towards technical than it does emotive, where Camelot dials it back a bit in the other direction. Again, one could happily own both to serve slightly different purposes. I recall with Jewel I did sometimes get a bit of upper-mid glare, and Camelot definitely digs deeper on the low end. I'd love to compare both again though, it has been a while since I owned Jewel.
- a much more relaxed presentation and while highly competent from a technical perspective as a single DD, it definitely can't compete with Camelot in that regard. Again from a bass perspective it won't stand a chance either. Yet again, I could happily exist with both, and Turii Ti still has the edge here when focusing on some modern classical and ambient albums.
'All-rounder' often suggests a set does any genre and does a pretty good job - but maybe not as good as a specialist set for a specific genre. Camelot almost bucks this trend for me, managing to allow any genre I’ve tried sound fantastic - this is truly a set worthy of an ‘end game’ tag, and without costing a royal sum in comparison to the existing top tier sets. To be clear though, that's not to say I don't still have 'specialist' sets that do a better job for specific genres - that is absolutely the case, but with far less of a gap than I've encountered so far. I have typically found a 'deal-breaker' element with sets twice the price of Camelot in some shape or form, often the dreaded upper-mids issue - from a sound quality perspective, I honestly cannot fault these - they meet all of my requirements, and are without a doubt my top choice to reach for out of my entire collection over the last few weeks, making them a firm number 1 in my collection, above my usual choice of single DDs.
Ironically, but not intentionally, I conclude this review on the day of the coronation of King Charles the III in England - while I've zero interest in the monarchy, I will say that in my experience, the Camelot is indeed fit for a King, and Charles would surely enjoy them - who knows, maybe he's sitting back in Buckingham Palace as I type, chilling with a few tunes
In my opinion, Nostalgia Audio have achieved what they set out to do in offering top-tier quality for a far more attractive price point, offering fantastic value in this wonderful set. The attention to detail is evident in every way with Camelot, right from small touches from a branding perspective, all the way to the excellent execution of tuning. This set deserves more attention, and I do hope others have the opportunity to try.
I received the 'Lancelot' cable about a week ago, and will post separate impressions of this cable in the coming week or so...