Portland, Oregon takes great pride in its status as an outlier. ‘Keep Portland Weird’ isn’t just a slogan along the lines of ‘I♥NY’ - it’s an instruction and an ambition.
Campfire Audio could only be a Portland company. Since its inception in 2015 it’s delivered a succession of entirely uncompromised and uncompromising products, with particular emphasis on elaborately sculpted, vividly coloured and exhaustively specified in-ear monitors. Once you open the unmistakably vibrant packaging of a pair of Campfire Audio IEMs you’re first greeted with the statement “Nicely Done” - and after that things take a turn for the even more individualistic.
The Andromeda 2020 embodies the Campfire Audio ethos - designed and hand-assembled in Portland, they look good and feel great in a slightly self-consciously hipster sort of way. But given that hard-wired headphones are currently about as fashionable as rickets, is it possible that Campfire Audio has confused ‘uncompromised’ with ‘irrelevant’?
No matter how you react to the price or the configuration of the Andromeda 2020, there’s basically no arguing with the way they sound. Give them an appropriately talented source of music (with a headphone socket) and they have what sports fanatics might refer to as “an all-court game”.
Cramming numerous drivers into an enclosure as cramped as this one can sometimes result in too much of a good thing, but that’s not the case here. Five balanced armatures per side deliver a sound that’s expansively full-range, integrated more smoothly than those numbers might suggest is possible, impeccable where tonality is concerned, and organised with a combination of effortlessness and authority that never stops being a pleasure to listen to.
Low frequencies are swift, textured and deep in the manner of a lift-shaft. The opposite end is absolutely as bright and assertive as it dares to be, but it’s equally detailed and equally rapid. And in between, the Andromeda 2020 do tremendous work with vocalists, giving them a little space in which to emote and communicate with something approaching abandon.
Dynamic potency is impressive across the board, and the soundstage the Campfire Audio establish is big and solidly defined. Although the overall presentation can be quite tightly knit, there’s nothing cramped or crowded about the sound of these in-ear monitors - rather, they’re a coherent and cohesive listen.
If you don’t feel good about ownership of a pair of Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020, that says quite a lot more about you than it does the product itself.
They arrive in a sustainable rubber-backed cork carry case that’s lined with faux wool. The ‘smoky’ Litz cable is silver-plated and terminated with beryllium copper MMCX connectors, so it can easily be swapped for a cable with a balanced connector or what-have-you. The emerald green anodised finish of the zirconium-blasted aluminium earbuds is distinctive and tactile, and the ‘buds themselves are a solid-body, printed design with precisely sculpted inner spaces. A stainless steel spout supports each eartip - a selection of Final Audio and Campfire Audio alternatives are provided.
So while it’s not easy to make a product that by necessity needs to be small and light to seem like a premium proposition, Campfire Audio has nevertheless done its damnedest. The facts that Andromeda 2020 is light and comfortable in situ, and that the cable is much quieter than the norm if it bumps against your body, only add to the impression of quality.
The Andromeda 2020 are about as niche a product as it’s possible to buy in 2022, but those who take portable listening seriously owe it to themselves to give them an audition pronto.
Brian Eno Burning Airlines Give You So Much More
The amount of insight into the carefully arranged harmonies, the beautifully judged prominence of the percussive element as the back and sides of the soundstage, and the control of the bluntly squared-edged rhythm, all serve to demonstrate these headphones’ credentials. It’s not easy to sound scholarly and entertaining at the same time, but here we are.
Julia Holter I Shall Love 2
When a recording is as hazy-going-on-narcoleptic as this, it can be tricky to bring order to bear. But there’s structure behind the droning, and the Andromeda 2020 have more than enough about them to make it plain. It’s also a brilliant demonstration of their dynamic potency and responsiveness.
Townes van Zandt To Live is to Fly
A more guileless and earnest song it’s hard to imagine, but there’s musicianly rigour to this recording too - and the Campfire Audio are able to give the rolling tempo, the front-and-centre vocal and the simple unity of the performance full expression
“The return of the King”, reckons everydaylistening.net - which we can all agree is unequivocal. AV Forums can’t get enough of the “superlative sonic performance”, and What Hi-Fi? Acknowledge the “fine build”.
Because corners are quite obviously uncut, because sound quality is as good as it gets at the price, and because no other product this sort of size makes quite such a big statement.