Commonplace for musicians, stage performers and presenters, in ear monitors (IEMs) are not so well known among music listeners. To be honest, they seem a bit weird and hipsterish for the uninitiated – a camp I inhabited before I saw the light...
Enter the Campfire Audio Supermoon, a custom IEM designed for your ears only, made in its entirety in Portland, Oregon, USA, using some incredibly sophisticated tech. The city is ranked, by the way, as one of the hipster capitals of the world, with its slogan, “Keep Portland Weird”. So, the rather individualistic nature of the CIEMs shouldn’t come as any surprise. Rest assured though, this isn’t marketing nonsense, the Supermoon is superb in every respect.
There is a process to follow to get a customised Supermoon, and therefore a commitment. It’s very personal in every sense, you can’t just pop into your local hi-fi shop and order a pair. These are made for your lugholes only.
The first part of the IEM conversion path is to find a specialist audiologist to take moulds from the inside of your ears to ensure that the IEMs fit precisely. Simple; the better the fit, the less the sound can escape.
I chose Harley Street Hearing Clinic in London where clinical audiologist Lulu Mohamed carefully syringed a lime green goo into each ear, which set within a couple minutes. The result that she carefully removed looked like it could have a supporting role in a sci-fi B movie (See below). The experience was nowhere near as puke-inducing as it sounds, it just felt a bit weird.
The technicians at the clinic scanned the moulds and produced a digital record of each one, ready to be sent to Campfire for the build process to get underway. The cost for all of this was a reasonable £50 and the whole process took less than 30 minutes.
A few weeks later my personal Campfire Audio Supermoon CIEMs arrived, thankfully via the UK distributor so we weren’t clobbered with wallet-punishing import duty and tax.
The guys back in Portland clearly have a sense of style, the packaging is exquisitely cool, a matt black backdrop to a sparkly silver starry night sky. As the Campfire tagline purrs: 'Nicely done'.
The Supermoons are supplied with a 1m, extremely quiet cable with 3.5mm jack; quiet because there is absolutely none of that annoying clunk and rustle in your ear if the cable is brushed against something.
For most people, this cable will keep them happy. However, it is easy to swap to a 4.4mm balanced variety, for example, simply by disconnecting from the MMCX Connections at the top of each IEM. This is a standard connection so if you want to buy a different cable, there should be no problem getting the right connection.
The MMCX connections are Beryllium/Copper, an alloy chosen by Campfire because of its 'mating' strength, so to speak. The selection of a harder material (brass, for example) is designed to extend the life of the connections and the IEMs.
The indication of which is right and left is subtle to say the least: A tiny red dot on the cable connection indicates right, blue for left. In a good light, you might be lucky enough to spot a slightly raised R and L on the cable termination as well.
To be honest, out of your ears the CIEMs aren’t the most attractive looking of devices with the jet black resin moulds that fit inside your ears dominating the form. Slot them in though, making sure the twisted wire cable is tucked behind your ears, and they are no more obtrusive than a conventional pair of wireless ear buds.
From the outside all you see of the 3D printed solid body is a small bevelled polished stainless cap with a tiny, subtlety-etched Campfire logo. It’s all tastefully designed and produced, absolutely nothing looks or feels like a 'could do better' feature.
At the heart of each IEM is an incredibly sophisticated, custom-constructed full range planar magnetic driver, designed and built by Campfire. This measures just 14mm across with an incredible 2 micron thin diaphragm vibrating between a double array of magnets to produce the sound. Campfire’s technology and engineering prowess is in no doubt; to produce a driver of these minute dimensions and getting it to sound so fabulously large is a feat of artistry, or sonic sorcery even.
Magnetic Planar drivers are noted for their fast response compared with traditional dynamic designs, thereby producing an incredibly lifelike sound. Some have commented that the soundstage can be less expansive than with a more conventional driver, although that isn't a characteristic that I recognised with the Supermoon.
Out of the box, the Supermoon sound is sublime, a revelation, with a level of detail and clarity that creates a truly uplifting experience, with nothing leaving the confines of your head. A very personal experience from your very personal CIEMs.
A complete surprise from the outset was the depth that these can attain, the bass extension reaches right down to become a feeling rather than a sound. And all this from a gadget that weighs just 10g.
But this performance of discovery isn't confined to the low stuff. All through the range you are treated to a cohesion and clarity of low end bass, mid range and extremely high treble. As an example, opera arias (Mahler) have spine tingling consequences; but in this case everything holds together, nothing breaks up, with not a sign of the irritating thin reedy reproduction of high notes and muddy mids that some earphones subject you to.
There are no distractions from background sounds either, all you hear is the music. If nothing is playing, you are treated to complete silence. The moulds are highly efficient at blocking out all external sound – forget noise cancelling, these are a highly efficient alternative.
One of the absolute joys of the Supermoon is the simplicity, stripped back to the barebones, with no need for fiddling because there is nothing to do. Into your ears, into the source and off you go.
The hugely important aspects of comfort and wearability both get a big thumbs up. The IEMs only weigh a few grams so there is no worry about carrying extra weight around which can be fatiguing. And as they are tailor-made for your ears there is absolutely none of that discomfort and frustration of trying to get an earbud to fit comfortably, or worse, the damn thing falling out.
This convenience, combined with the high quality of the output, means you can comfortably listen for hours without any strain.
There are a couple of aspects of housekeeping to be aware of though.
Firstly, whatever your source – be it phone, hi-res player, or amp – make sure that the volume is turned right down before you begin any Supermoon listening or you could do yourself some serious harm. Once in your ears, the volume can be adjusted to taste: I found them super-efficient, barely managing anything over 50% output, irrespective of the source. And it was a surprise just how revealing, engaging and involving the music was at modest volumes, you really don’t need to crank them up to a tooth-rattling level.
And secondly, the magnetic planar drivers are delicate instruments and the concise instructions warn of the damage that can be caused if the IEMs are dropped, so be careful.
There are no two ways about it, these are niche products and many will say: “oh, nerdery, not for me thanks”. That could turn out to be a shortsighted view, wallet permitting.
The Supermoons were tested in a wide range of environments – trains, planes, at home, out walking – and they never disappointed in delivery of an utterly wonderful experience. Maybe effortless sonic tranquillity isn't such a daft description after all. However, because of the complete blocking out of external sound, they certainly wouldn't be suitable for cycling and scooter riders - much too dangerous...
For many, the price may be a barrier but it is what it is. You are buying a custom-made, individual device, what else do you expect?
The Chambers Brothers Time has come today
At first, a load of confusing nonsense from a bygone era, typified by the line ‘my soul has been psychedelicized’. And yet the Supermoons make sense of the separation of space and timing of the constantly clanging cowbell and over-exuberant vocal style, transforming it into some good listening fun.
If you were ever in doubt that music conveys emotion, just listen to this lesson in controlled anger. What a track, what a performance, what a voice! It was perfectly delivered with every nuance of emotion and anger drilled straight into your head and heart. The carefully layered instrumentation underlying Lissie’s crystal clear vocal style was underpinned with a solid, focused, deep low end. With Supermoons in position, this track is virtually on repeat play for me.
Gustav Mahler Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection", New York Philharmonic/Bruno Walter
A wonderous experience, the New York Philharmonic playing in the privacy of your own head, all perfectly positioned, and sounding lush, rich, detailed and dynamic. A fabulous remastered (1958) recording, requiring some careful consideration with the volume. The finale will leave you vibrating, with a bass so profound, it rattles your frame.
If you are a serious music lover (we appreciate that the price is a huge determining factor), the Campfire Supermoons are a revelation in all aspects of delivery, depth and engagement irrespective of genre. They are as happy delivering a fantastic experience with a classical symphony as with a Moroccan rapper.
Yes, they have a cable which may not be to everyone’s taste these days but rest assured, this is a necessity to get the quality. No matter how good true wireless may be, it won’t attain these levels of subtlety and really experiencing the heart of the music.
As you would expect, getting custom IEMs isn’t something that you can do by just walking into your local hi-fi store. These are the specialists: https://www.hifiheadphones.co.uk/products/campfire-audio-supermoon