The Campfire Audio IO have just been through the review process and there is a lot to like about this entry level earphone but it won’t be to everyones tastes. Campfire is well knowing in the audiophile world and since their creation just a few years ago they have been consistently tweaking and updating their line with with various driver configurations and designs. The IO is one of the cheaper offerings from the Oregon based company at $299 but they are not what we expected for an entry level model. Read on to find out why.
Packaging and Accessories
There is going to be a common theme right throughout this review and that is value. Campfire has earphones that range in price from $300 to $1500 but what is remarkable from the bottom to the top the packaging, accessories and design are near identical.
The IO has what I would consider the second gentneration of the CA packaging.
Its shares the same essence as the original earphone boxes with the stunning night sky inspired cardboard box but it’s a little bigger. It also has a new way of opening it and boy does it look cool.
The IO’s box is a striking red and has a photo of the earphones on the front. The rest of the cardboard is peppered with the star sky pattern that other Campfire products are well known for.
What’s different here is the way you open it. You flip it upside down, peel off the CA sticker in the centre and the whole think blooms out like flower petals revealing a star bust pattern with the IEM box in the centre. I love that they add a bit of drama in the presentation and to be honest this sort of level of attention to detail is just par for the course with the company. I love it.
You are now faced with a secondary gold box which is even more beautiful than the outer. decorated in a gold outline of the night sky of a mountain in a forest. This is pure class the experience is like opening a set of Russian babushka doll. Each layer building to the next.
Crack open the gold box and now we are getting to the really good stuff. You are faced with a carry case and a second gold box that is full of accessories.
The carry cases by Campfire Audio have always been exceptional and this one is no different.
A red leather semi-circular soft case with brass zipper and topped off with the Campfire Audio logo on the zipper tab. On the inside the sheets wool style finish is still there to keep the IEM’s safe.
Its a beautiful case and far beyond what any other company offers at this price point.
The accessory set is again the same as you would find right through the Campfire line. The company seems unwilling to compromise user experience by saving a few measly bucks and cutting accessories short on their cheaper earphones. For the most part what you get on a $1000 set of CA earphones is what you will get on their $300.
So here’s what you get in the box:
5x Final e tips in various sizes (Narrow bore)
3x Comply tips
3x Silicone tips (wide bore)
3x earbuds sleeves (2 for the accessories 1 for earphones)
1x Cleaning tool
1x Campfire Audio Pin Badge
1x Leather carry case
1x Litz cable with MMCX adapters
1x Campfire Audio IO earbuds
It’s a comprehensive package and yet again you feel they have gone above and beyond. Most companies strip out their accessories and packaging but Campfire seem determined to offer cohesivness for the brand and have the price of their earphones be differentiated by the sound and internal design.
In my opinion these are the 3rd best looking earphone ever produced by Campfire Audio (1st Solaris, 2nd Chrome Andromeda S). So considering I also think they make the best looking IEM’s period that ranks them quite high in terms of looks.
Its the same continuation of the design we have seen on the Andromeda and Jupiter. You have to note they have not dumbed down the housing to match the price it is essentially the same design and build as you get on the $1000 Andromeda.
That design is now instantly recognisable but a new colour scheme makes for an exciting looking earphone. The anodised red finish is striking in person and I don’t think the photos justify just how good they look in real life. Its offset with beautiful 24kt gold plated screws and chromed tip section. These look incredible
They have managed to keep the industrial design I loved so much on the Jupiter but have softened it with tasteful colour choices and its hard not to see this being a popular earphone based on looks alone.
I praised the Orion earphones years ago for their tank like construction. I took the Andromeda on motorcycle trips the full length of Vietnam as well as through the Peruvian Andes and up to Colombia. They are pretty much a daily staple and used as references at Audiophile On for the past 2 years.
Apart from some paint wear from serious abuse they look like they are almost brand new and have never skipped a beat. I never babied them and pretty much traveled by stuffing them in a pocket of bag without the case. The have been dropped, dragged and even stepped on and they just keep going.
As I mentioned above the IO are for all intents and purposes the same earphones. Build quality is sublime. The multi piece metal housing feels robust and sturdy, they are without a doubt one of the best built earphones you can buy in 2019.
On the earphone housings themselves there is little that can go wrong. Realistically the point of failure over time might be the cable but this is no different than with any other earphone and the inclusion of the detachable MMCX standard means that if you do ever break your cable you just buy an aftermarket one either direct from Campfire Audio or via one of the many online 3rd party sellers.
Its worth talking about the new cable that is included on this earphone because its different than the Litz cable that is offered on other models.
I actually prefer this one because it is so much more resistant to tangles. My criticism of Campfire earphones in the past has really only fell back to the cable. Its technically excellent and uses top quality materials but it had too much spring in it and retained far too much memory when compared to the cables on some of my other earphones.
The new one sounds just as good as the old one but in day to day use its just nicer to use and I really like the new colour as it just makes for a more cohesive aesthetic.
The IO are a good sounding set of earphones but to get the most out of them they ar very dependent on the type of music you listen to. With some genres they sound amazing and others they really don’t.
I was surprised by the tuning. Most companies when introducing an entry level earphone will tune it with a bit of bass and warmth emphasis. A gateway drug to the companies other offerings, think of it as a mass pleasing approach. Given this is Campfires lowest prices earphone with their traditional housing I was expecting an Andromeda light or a Vega light both earphones that I really enjoy. This one though isn’t tuned like any of the other Campfire Audio earphones I have heard.
Its top end heavy and mid forward with less of a natural sound than the Lyra or Andromeda. its bright in both the treble and upper mids and very light in low end punch. It’s similar to the way asian earphones were tuned about 10-15 years ago.
Before the ChiFi revolution most of these earphones would never see the light of day outside Asia. I remember going to Akihabara to test headphones back in 2005 whilst living in Japan and it took some time to find a good set of IEM’s with my preferred signature. The IO remind me of these days.
I don’t know if this tuning and the combination of red and gold color scheme that maybe they are targeting the Asian market with this release where K-pop and J-pop still reign supreme but they don’t sound versatile enough to be used for the wide variety of genres I enjoy.
Yet with the right music they can sound very good and very detailed.
This very much typified my experience with the earphones. One minute I would be listening to Diana Krall (Night and Day) and they sound good but then I go to switch to Token (Code Red) and they lacked the low impact to fill out the track.
The IO are very genre dependent and perform best with Jazz, high focussed classical, rock and traditional asian genres like K and J pop. For EDM, Rap, Hip-Hop-R&B, Pop Electro, Industrial etc then the IO are 100% not the earphone you should be looking at.
So realising that very early on in the review process I went on to testing exclusivley with those latter genres.
They actually performed very well. They are visceral and clear and retrieval lots of detail throughout those top ends. The highs are really quite excellent and far more refined than we are used to at this price point. Crystal clear and very detailed.
The midland is pushed forward front and centre and it sounds like there is lots of detail but there isn’t a full body presence to them. The forwardness of the midrange combined with the very light application of a low end is perhaps the most defining feature of the earphone.
The are ruthless at exposing bad mastering and high quality recordings are essential but at the same time they themselves will struggle to represent any music with a bass-line. Tracks with poor compression and or low res streamed tracks sounded sucked out and hollow through the midrange, it was almost like you could feel the detail lacking in the bitrate. These definitely benefit from good source material
Soundstage was about average as was imaging. The are not particularly wide or deep but they do have a bit of air about them mostly carried through the separation in the upper frequencies.
In 2019 there’s a new elephant in the room that is going to cause a lot of problems for a lot of earphone companies and that of course is the advancement of the asian hifi products. The Chinese and others asian companies seem to be content with letting KZ control the low end of the market are stepping up to take on more heavy hitting competition. They are targeting both the mid and upper end of the IEM market and honestly, in most regards, they are winning.
The IO have an RRP of $300 and that puts them right in line with something like the excellent BGVP DM7. The BGVP takes it handily on sound and truth be told they should be compared to $400+ earphones from the established brands. However the sound isn’t everything.
Campfire have the more beautiful looking earphones, they are better built, they have that luxury brand name attached to them, they are an all around more premium brand. The accessories and packaging is better and no doubt so is the warranty and support and all that all counts for a lot.
The Chinese have low overheads and as such they are able to punch well above their weight.
The IO can be a brilliant sounding IEM at times but overall the tuning for me is far too light on bass and lacks versatility as a mainstream IEM. Thats my personal view on it of course. I am someone who listens to extremes of the musical spectrums. I will be listening to classic one minute and industrial electro the next, I need versatility and the ability to go low when called upon but the IO just isn’t tuned that way. If you are a fan of bass lighter genres, an aggressive top range with a high ability to draw detail and clarity then the IO might be a good earphone for you. As I alluded to above this earphone could very well find its place in the Asian markets.
The build quality as with all Campfire Audio’s products is second to none. In my opinion the make the best hardware right across their range and I love the fact that the IO come with the same build, attention to detail and accessory set as the more expensive models.