Campfire is still a relatively new company in the portable audio world but what they have done in a short space of time is quite incredible. We have numerous reviews of Campfire's IEM's up on the site and every time we have come away impressed. Outstanding build, slick design, and wonderful tuning are what draws us to this brand and it's a huge reason that we were super excited to see them enter the world of full-size headphones.
The Campfire Audio Cascade is the first headphone from the Oregon based company and what an absolute banger for them to kick things off with.
What is the Campfire Audio Cascade Headphones
As mentioned the Cascade is the first headphone from Campfire Audio but you wouldn't know it from looking at them. These have all the hallmarks of a mature and experienced build, so much so that they manage to make other manufacturers look a little bit silly.
The price from Campfire Direct is $799 USD which puts them right in among some very respectable competition from the likes of Beyerdynamic, Audeze, and others.
I say it every time but the packaging of Campfire Audio's headphones is by far my favorite of any premium audio manufacturer. Its tastefully simple and cohesive right across the brand's entire range. There is little in the way of waste if you choose not to keep the box and the way the products are presented greatly enhances the feeling that you are getting into something special.
Like with all other Campfire Audio products the setup is the same. A simple high-quality paper box with the starry night sky printed on it. Peel off the lid and you are faced with another of the companies staples. The incredible quality custom carry case.
This one is obviously larger in scale than those that come with the IEM's but its essentially the same setup. A gorgeous leather outer stamped with the company logo, ridiculously over-engineered zippers and wool interior. The headphones sit inside awaiting you.
Beneath the carry case, one will find the bundled accessories.
Its a simple yet premium feel to it and consistent over engineering and attention to detail really make Campfire standout in a sea of companies taking shortcuts to service their bottom lines.
Last week when attending High End 2018 in Munich I was speaking to Caleb from Campfire. A thoroughly nice guy and you could see with people like him on board just why people rate their products so highly.
He explained to me that they even go as far as ensuring that the card the boxes are made from is dyed right through instead of printed.
Honestly, you wouldn't notice this yourself unless you deliberately ripped the packaging, but they know, they care about it. That, if anything is an indication of a company out to make the absolute best products they can. Compromises in quality be damned!
The Accessories - Going the extra mile
We understand that its hard to put together a comprehensive accessory pack with a set of headphones. There really isn't a lot you can do but what we do give bonus points to is the quality. Accessories should be worthy of inclusion but not just an afterthought.
Campfire Audio included some very nice little extras with the Cascade headphones and the best of the lot is, of course, the carry case.
To this day I don't understand how some companies choose to neglect the inclusion of a carry case with their headphones. Especially given some of the prices being charged. You would think it a nice gesture to give clientele somewhere nice to store their headphones when not in use.
The carry case for the Cascade is far beyond our expectations. Its a scaled up version of the one you get with Campfire Audio earphones. A rigid clamshell design made from premium materials and beautifully finished. Leather exterior, sheepwool style interior. This is a beautiful place to keep your headphones when not on the head and at the same time keep them safe from knocks when in transit.
Inside the packaging along with the warranty card and instruction booklet you will also find some filters that will allow you to tune the sound to your liking. This is done by sticking the filter to the inner earcup and adjusting the way air flows from the driver.
Other than that you get the Campfire Audio pin badge that we have seen on most other Campfire earphones. Another simple yet appreciated touch.
The Build Quality & Design
An Industrial Aesthetic
I personally like the styling. A lot. However, that doesn't mean that they are going to be for everyone. The styling is very much on the industrial side and they give a deft nod to their lineage from the IEM lineup. Angular, metal and edged. Those familiar and fond of the earphones aesthetics will certainly give consideration to the cascade if looking for a full-size set of cans.
A group that won't be big fans are the traditionalists. If you like your headphones carved out of wood, aka Grado and Fostex, then these probably aren't going to be to your taste. No these are far more modern, bold and individual.
On the head, they look ok. I personally think they are too big and bulky looking for use outside of the house but then I always have preferred a slimline tapered earphone or just simply use earphones when getting around. They flare quite wide from the headband and the thick padding on the earpads makes them sit quite far off the head.
There is a great blend of form and function. They have coherent design language complimentary of their other offerings without compromising on the way you use them. They are definitely an eye-catching and bold aesthetic.
The little things add up
Again, as with most Campfire Audio offerings, there is a lot that goes into the design which might not immediately catch the eye. It's only after spending a little time with them you notice the subtle, clever design choices which edge them ahead of lesser headphones.
Let's take the angle of the cable connectors. It would have been far easier to have these recessed into housing but then the cable would have hang too high on the head. By extending the entry point of the earcups and angling them forward the cable sits flush down to your chest rather than hanging onto your shoulders.
Changing earpads are another key point. Other companies require you to pull and tug the leather or foam into a small channel with the risk of irreparable damage. The earpads from the cascade are attached by magnets making a change near effortless.
Oh and then there is the angle on the pads. A rather aggressive slope from back to front is chosen over a uniform volume. More padding is found toward the rear and this better helps the headphone conform to the natural shape of your head.
It's all very clever, meticulously planned and confidence inspiring.
Built to Last
Build quality is exceptional, if not for the sound I would say that it is the clear standout reason for buying these headphones. Every swivel, folding or articulating joint is made to high tolerance standards and the Cascade look like the could survive an artillery barrage and still push out the tunes.
There are 4 points of adjustment on the Cascade. 1 for headband length, 1 for collapsing the headphones at the headband anchor point (making for easy storage) and 2 for the articulation of the earcups (On 2 axis for a comfortable fit).
Over the long term, these are the points, other than the cable, that will fail on most headphones. I don't have any doubts about these over the long haul.
The headband is on a metal rail, a rather thick one at that, and has solid tactile clicks at every incremental adjustment. I would, however, like to have seen a number system on it to make it easier to match the length on ear side. The folding mechanics are excellent with a very reassuring feel when locking them out straight.
The 2 swivel points allow the Cascade to pivot so that they naturally find the best fit to your head without any added effort. You put them on and they find their way. The action on these articulation points is butter smooth and shouldn't require re-greasing or replacement in the future.
The cable is simply excellent. I don't believe for a second that a cable will affect sound quality but that doesn't mean that there aren't good and bad cables. The tradition in recent years would suggest that braided cables are more desirable for audiophile headphones. They have that premium feel and look that people want and, for better or worse, manufacturers have in the most part catered to the consumer.
I don't like thick braided cables as I find them often poorly implemented and cumbersome.
On the Campfire Audio Cascade, you get quite a different experience. It's a very simple yet elegant solution. They have what seems to be a braided cable set inside a cloth sleeve. The cable is flexible and holds nothing in the way of memory. It is extremely low on micro-phonics and passes no sound to the ear-cups when moving around.
It is also incredibly well behaved. It hangs easily from its dual entry points (far preferred by us over single entry designs) to the ear-cups and is very lightweight. In all honesty, the best thing about the cable is that you simply forget its even there. You don't spend much time untangling when you want to use them nor do you have to spend time adjusting it so it sits right on your body.
If I was being a little picky I would like to see a few extra inches added to the length but I am definitely at the extreme side in my needs being 6'3 tall. I still have plenty of slack when carrying a DAP in my trouser pocket but a little extra wiggle room is always appreciated.
The connectors are essentially the same that I have on my Sennheiser HD800's. I don't have them here in Germany to test out my aftermarket cables on the Cascade but will update this review when I have them back in the UK and can have a bit more of a play.
Campfire Audio do offer their own aftermarket cable, I believe in a balanced configuration and simple silver braid so if you don't get on with the stock offering (I see no reason why you wouldn't) there is always the option to further personalize the headphone to your taste after the fact.
Comfort - Earpads & Headband
I touched on the earpads and headband above but let's dive a little deeper.
The ear-pads are an absolutely top draw and truly as good as I have used on any headphone at any price point. An ultra-soft, deeply padded leather is what gives contact around your ears. This makes for a comfortable pair of cans but at the same time sits them quite far off the head.
This has both positive and negatives. On the plus side, they sit your ears far enough off the driver that they will never come into contact with the hardware. It also allows air to circulate more freely in the chamber and dissipate heat a bit better. On the negative, it means the Cascade is not the most streamlined fit from an aesthetic, on head, standpoint.
Touching back on the heat buildup we found very little and were able to easily push past the 2-hour mark before things got sweaty. That's good for a set of closed back headphones and we put this down to the choice to go with real leather as opposed to synthetic.
The Cascade is circumaural headphones which means that your ears sit inside the earpads as opposed to having them sit on the ears. I found I had plenty of room with my fairly normal sized ears. A little bit bigger and you should still be ok but I don't think people with Dumbo lugs will get buy due to the rectangular shape of the enclosure.
The headband is thickly padded but up here we do have synthetic leather with an almost paper-like finish. It doesn't feel as plush or luxurious as the earpads but we see this choice on a lot of headphones and the reason is usually associated with the long-term durability of the headphone.
Synthetic leather (the right types) will last longer without cracking or ripping and given the earpads are replaceable but the headband is not it seems like a smart choice over the long term.
Again there were zero issues with comfort. The padding extended wide enough across the band so that the point of contact always remained padded.
Short of going with a set of noise-canceling headphones you would be hard-pressed to find a better isolating headphone than the Cascade. This means they are perfect for use in any environment where external noise may be an issue. It also means that you can listen to your music significantly louder without disturbing people around you.
The combination of the solid metal closed back housing and the thick earpads mean that we had to give them top marks in this department. Side by side they even outshine the Sennheiser HD-25, a headphone notorious with DJ's around the world for its ability to isolate you from your environment.
If you, like me, are a lover of natural tones and an elevation on the low end you will quickly grow to love the Campfire Audio Cascade. It has a soulful quality to its sound that engages and grips you into wanting to keep listening. The reason I have been and most likely will continue to be such a big fan of Campfire is not simply excellent hardware or the attention to detail. It is the tuning. In my opinion, very few companies craft the sound in the way that they do.
People often talk about house sounds. Audio Technica crisp, Shure dark, Ultrasone.... often painful. Campfire has a sound that you can hear right through its line and its natural.
I don't know if its the Beryllium drivers that draw my mind to the Campfire Audio Lyra but you get a lot of that. A push to the low end that engages fun and movement into tracks. Yet at the same time, there is more of a tightness. A higher strung detail throughout the midrange and into the treble that brings a lot of energy.
Highs - Highs surprisingly for such a mellow headphone have a sparkle and top end tightness to them that makes them work well with almost any genre. If you are into EDM you can get that a fizz from the high notes that precede a deep bass drop and if you are into jazz high hats will rap along keeping time.
Sibilance is non-existent and even when we really tried to push them to the limits the managed to put out just enough to display energy a track required yet it didn't sizzle or cause fatigue.
Midrange - The midrange is clear smooth and detailed yet it is not as prominent as the lows or highs. It sits just a tad back from center stage. There is a definite shade of warmth thrown over the midrange which I really like. It makes listening to rock, indie, classical and acoustic tracks an absolute pleasure.
You get the good detail right across this range with instruments and vocals displaying things you might miss on other headphones like the drawing of breath from vocalists or dampening of strings from pianists.
Lows - The low end is the high end. So many headphones in this price range go for the flat response low end which is great for critical listening but often leaves the listener wanting more when it comes time to unwind. It's here that we see the prowess of the Cascades drivers swing into action. They can hit hard and have a lot of power that can be driven when the occasion requires it yet at the same time there is a tightness that keeps them refined, fast and separate from the other frequencies.
Who are they for - The Cascade is definitely not tuned for people who want to do critical listening or monitoring. The tuning is far removed from that of a flat and balanced headphone but Campfire knows this. The headphones are great for those wanting to unwind and be engaged by our music.
Soundstage is on the upper side of what we consider good for a closed back headphone. The lack of venting will always be a drawback of such designs when it comes to width and depth but the Cascade still manage to convey space well. Imaging is top draw and we were able to easily place each instrument.
*Primary testing was carried out with stock filters. We found that the adaptable filter system to be good at making refinements to the sound rather than completely changing the overall sound. This is good because users who like what the headphone offers can set the headphones up to perform with even more customisation to their requirements.
Pairing - Easy to Match - Does Shine With A Good Source
Pairing the Cascade headphones was fairly easy and at 32 Ohms most modern day DAP's and smartphones should be capable of driving them.
That said we did see significant gains when we paired them with some higher quality source components like our Astel & Kern AK320, Chord Mojo, and even our 02 Amp.
Truth is however that you don't even need to get crazy with the sources to make the Cascade sound good and was plenty happy with just the Xduoo x10 or and AudioQuest Dragonfly and some good quality files.
Pros & Cons - A lot to love nothing to hate!
As you can see from above I really enjoyed the Cascade headphones they don't just stand out as a good first effort, they hold their own against any of the established brands and, in many cases, outperform them.
That said let's have a quick rundown of the Pro's and Cons of the Campfire audio Cascade:
- Exceptional build quality
- Design cues follow the popular IEM line
- Clever ergonomic touches (Angled earpads, External cable connectors)
- Excellent sound performance
- Top of the line accessories.
- Adjustable tuning filters.
- We understand the price is a high ($799 USD) barrier to entry for most but the headphones in our opinion worth every penny.
- Not the lightest
- A bit too large for portable use. Best used at home or when not moving around.
Conclusion - A stunning Debut Headphone
Am I surprised a how good a headphone Campfire Audio have managed to produce in the Cascade at the first try? No, not at all. When I heard they had a headphone on the way I expected it to be excellent. All the more chance for me to be let down then. Many other companies have announced things that got me excited but ultimately left me feeling a bit let down. None of that here as the Cascade exceeds expectations at every turn. Stunning build, comfortable, good looks and great sound.
The Cascade won't be for everyone, it's not a purists headphone and its styling may be a bit too modern for some. However, for how I like to enjoy my music it's hard to think of another headphone that competes in this price range. Either you are going to have to go for an awkwardly bulky Hifi model or sacrifice in other areas of the design. All in its an outstanding headphone and one well worth your consideration.