Introduction - What is the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020?
The Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 is a five-way balanced armature in-ear earphone. It is not a completely new design but instead takes the existing Andromeda model and delivers a selection of considered improvements. As the general consensus seems to be that there wasn’t much wrong with the existing Andromeda, the expectations that this revised model is going to be a good listen are fairly high.
The Andromeda 2020 is rather further up the Campfire Audio food chain than the Io that we looked at recently and this means that some of the standard whinging I do about it being a cabled design will be reined in a bit. If you are looking to drop four figures on a pair of IEMs, it is fairly likely that the supporting hardware you have in place for them will be entirely (or at least, predominantly) designed around the use of a physical cable.
It’s also interesting just how far in ear earphones have come in the last few years that I’m looking at a pair of earphones that costs £1,099 and they aren’t the top of the Campfire range or even the second highest rung. This is a whole new ecosystem of listening to music that is generating sophisticated supporting hardware of its own and that is attracting a number of companies to come and compete. Does this latest version of the Andromeda stack up?
Specification and Design
The Andromeda 2020 is a five way design, meaning it is considerably more complex internally than the Io. It groups its five armatures into three groups. A pair of armatures are responsible for high frequencies and another pair manage the bass. This intriguingly leaves a single armature to handle the midrange; a section of frequency response generally considered fairly demanding in its own right. No information is given about frequency crossover points or the nature of the network that controls it (small wonder given how vital it is to the function of a multidriver IEM) but the overall frequency response is quoted at 10Hz - 28kHz which is entirely adequate for covering off human hearing (and well beyond) but it is rather lower than some of the herculean figures being quoted by some rivals.
The frequency response is shaped and augmented by the use of the T.A.E.C (Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber) system that is key to the Campfire Audio design philosophy. New for 2020 is that this is now matched with what Campfire Audio calls a solid body internal acoustic chamber. This is patent pending and details are on the sparse side but it seems to be a slight tweak to the overall philosophy in that the chambers are now surrounded by a denser and more solid internal mass than before. The claim goes that this new system enhances the detail retrieval and vocal presence from the drivers.
The enclosures themselves are in keeping with the Io meaning they are a three piece assembly. There are two aluminium sections; a deeper section that the output ‘spout’ connects to and a shallower lid. These are secured by a trio of bolts visible on the outer edge of the earphone. The spout is made from stainless steel and is relatively long to allow the body to sit a little clear of the ear itself. The body is the same size to the millimetre as the Io which presumably allocates more internal tuning volume to each of its drivers than the Andromeda does to its.
The enclosure attaches to the outside world via a pair of MMCX connections made from beryllium infused copper. This isn’t something dreamed up in a lab; almost all copper seams on Earth have differing quantities of trace elements in them. While the usual aim of the game when it comes to refining the copper ore is to remove these impurities (hence the ‘N’ figure for the purity of the copper referring to the number of nines in 99.x% pure), some of these other elements can be beneficial in specific instances. Beryllium infusion makes for a harder copper that is less prone to tarnishing, making for a better connection; a property sufficiently well recognised that the practise exists outside audio circles. The use of the MMCX connection means that aftermarket cables can be substituted, including one from Campfire Audio themselves.
The Andromeda 2020 doesn’t, in all honestly, feel any different to the Io but this is reflective of the nature of two different things. The first is that making an earphone ‘feel’ special is very tricky. They are small and their form is governed by their function. Deviating too far from the ideals of making it a comfortable and reassuring device to cram into your ear is unlikely to be very successful. The other is more specific to Campfire Audio. The Io feels outstanding for the money and given their commonality of parts it isn’t much of a surprise that the Andromeda 2020 feels similar. It is the easy equal of other devices I have tested at the price.
The ancillaries that support the Andromeda are very similar too. There is the same selection of Comply and silicone domes that should be sufficient for most people to secure a decent fit. The spout is sized in such a way that many aftermarket models will fit too. I’m less sold on the case though. It’s made (handmade in Portugal no less) from cork and it has the same encouraging balance of capacity, protection and size as the one that came with the Io but, sadly, it doesn’t feel anything like as nice (although, I appreciate if you are not keen on animal product, it would be a useful step forward). If you put them side by side, I would assume that the case that comes with the £349 model is the one that comes with the £1,099 one.
Most importantly, the Andromeda is comfortable and easy to wear. It uses the longer spout to stand the body off from the ear and the looped cable fitment on swiveling MMCX connector is secure enough to ensure that it is an earphone you can happily wear for hours at a time (as the truncated process of getting this review out for launch day has required a compressed listening schedule, this is no bad thing). It makes no more demand on its owner than the Io does and, arguably, the attractive green finish with silver fixings is less conspicuous than the red and gold combo of the Io. The Andromeda doesn’t quite have that ‘those that know will know’ quality of the Sennheiser IE800s but they aren’t far off.
Most importantly, the Andromeda is comfortable and easy to wear
How was the Andromeda 2020 tested?
The Campfires arrived and spent fourteen hours running in on the end of an Onkyo DX-A1 DAP on loop. Some listening was also carried out on the Onkyo but the bulk of testing has been carried out via a Chord Electronics Hugo 2 and (for reasons I’ll expand on) a Hugo with both devices connected to a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad running as a Roon Endpoint via a Roon Nucleus. Mobile testing has been via a Sony Xperia XA2 smartphone and an Audiolab M-DAC Nano Bluetooth DAC. Material used has included FLAC, AIFF, DSD and some Qobuz, Tidal and Deezer.
Before I get stuck into the nuts and bolts of the performance of the Andromeda, permit me an anecdotal observation. At the core of many activities and pastimes is the largely futile effort of recreating the incredible feeling of experiencing it for the first time. For petrolheads, it means a slippery slope of ever more exciting vehicles as you try and get back to that gratifying moment the first time you had something with a bit of poke and kicked it in the guts. It’s why climbers troop off to the Himalayas and downhill bikers hurl themselves off steeper inclines on ever pricier bikes. Audio and home cinema is no different; we’re consciously or otherwise chasing the same buzz as the first time it really worked for us. The reality is that our brains are devious sods though. It doesn’t really matter how much better the stuff you have now is, a combination of nostalgia and the numbing effect of repeating the same experience means it can’t ever be as good as the first time.
This is very relevant for me and earphones. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time using them and I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time with some outstanding examples over the years. I still crave the hit of the first ‘real’ IEM experience I had though; a combination of iRiver IHP-140 and Shure E4C. The combination of lossless audio and well sorted armature IEM was revelatory; comfortably better than my main system of the time (itself a never ending chase of a different original experience). Everything I have to hand now in 2020 is immeasurably better and, somehow at the same time, not as good.
Why does that 278 word deviation from the point sit here? Simple; the first hour of listening with the Andromeda 2020 is as close as I’ve ever got to that original mythical ideal since it happened. The reason for this is that they embody every single strength of the in ear monitor. Judged objectively, £1,100 for an earphone is absurd. Considered from a different perspective though - a transducer that has an advantage of position and scale that is so great, you need to spend an exponentially greater sum of money to reproduce their output with a conventional speaker - they make more sense.
The Andromeda 2020 takes five armatures and utterly and consistently melds them into a single cohesive output that has a linearity, cohesion and scale that transport you to the music itself, effectively bypassing the perception of there being any transmission at all. They are the first multiple driver design I’ve used that matches the sheer togetherness of the single driver Sennheiser IE800S or the planar designs from Audeze. I cannot wrongfoot them or discern their crossover points. They simply deliver. Anything I’ve listened to that bests them at some point of the frequency response, has to give ground at some other point.
Within this cohesion is a richness and tonal realism that is exceptionally good. Listening to the monumental opening So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth by Grimes, the (hopefully) happy mother of X Æ A-12 Musk, the Andromeda 2020 delivers the sledgehammer weight of the bass while letting Grimes’ almost ephemeral vocal turn soar above it. The separation and scale on offer allows for the vastness of the track to be delivered despite the limited space of the ear canal. Like the Io, the Andromeda is able to push information in front of you to an extent that always seems unlikely until you hear it yourself.
Something that is also worthy of note is that some of the slight edge that the Io demonstrated under some conditions seems absent here. With the Hugo2 on hand, this was unlikely to be an issue - the Io also sounds excellent used here but the experiences with the original Hugo were interesting. I still use the Hugo because it has a pair of 3.5mm outputs which makes comparative testing with other earphones an entirely simple thing to do. With the older, more matter of fact Hugo, the Io has a slightly hard edge to the upper registers - not unlistenable but present nonetheless. The Andromeda 2020 is not affected. It is revealing enough to show that the older DAC is a little more warts and all in its music making but the partnership is a good one. Slam your way through AC/DC’s Fire All Your Guns on the Io and you - consciously or otherwise - nudge the volume down slightly. On the Andromeda, you don’t.
What is no less impressive is that the Andromeda 2020 is no less practical that its little brother. Sensitivity remains exceptional. The Sony XA2, hastily pressed back into service after the long suffering Essential died, has a headphone socket but it is nothing to get terribly excited about. Even so, listening to the Andromeda is still a tremendously enjoyable experience because it can be comfortably used in its performance envelope. You can listen to compressed music too if you want because that same forgiving edge of the Andromeda ensures it tends to play music rather than dissect it. I’m not sure it would be worth buying the Andromeda to do so exclusively but it works when you need to.
Perhaps most importantly, this is an earphone that still knows how to have fun. The massive, anthemic Conqueror by Aurora is an absolute riot on the Andromeda because the technical virtues; the scale, the space, the sensational low end all show up to let this joyous rampage of a track do its stuff. You are never an observer of what the Campfire Audio does - it is simply too involving for that. You’re a participant, pulled into the mix and experiencing it with a startling lack of perceivable involvement from any hardware. It doesn’t really matter whether your passion is an orchestra on the rampage or the mile a minute lyrical delivery of the best MCs, this ability to be transported there remains in wholly intact.
Judged objectively, £1,100 for an earphone is absurd. Considered from a different perspective though- a transducer that has an advantage of position and scale that is so great, you need to spend an exponentially greater sum of money to reproduce their output with a conventional speaker- they make more sense.
- Superlative sonic performance across all sample rates and genres
- Very well made and comfortable
- Extremely easy to drive
- Odd case
- Heavily dependent on a decent seal to perform
- Not cheap
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 In Ear Earphone Review
Campfire Audio did a fine job with the Io for £349 - it’s a fine earphone and its Highly Recommended badge is well deserved. It is ultimately just an aperitif for this though. The Andromeda 2020 is a truly mighty line in the sand for IEMs. I’ve tested more expensive designs and, as I do not have the Audeze LCDi4 here to compare it to, I can’t make the final absolute call on it being the best in ear I’ve used here but, in some ways that’s irrelevant. The Audeze is more expensive, has some noise leakage issues that make it a thorny proposition for use on the move and requires rather more power to do its thing.
The Andromeda 2020 doesn’t have those issues. It’s barely more demanding than its little brother on equipment, is comfortable to wear and use and is built to a standard that suggests it will delight for years to come. It is pricey for an earphone but given the scope of its abilities as a transducer it’s, comparatively at least, a bargain. Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the new Best in Class.
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