Campfire Audio, the in ear monitor firm based in Portland Oregon, has recently released two new entry level IEMs: the Satsuma and the Honeydew. I’ve spent a week or so doing a lot of listening using the Honeydew earphones, and here’s what I found.
- Campfire Audio Honeydew in ear monitors
- Designed and hand-assembled in Portland, Oregon, USA
- Custom 10mm full-range dynamic driver with liquid crystalline polymer film diaphragm
- ABS earphone body with 3D-printed interior tuning chamber
- Stainless steel “spout”
- 9 grams (without tip or cable connected)
- 5 to 18,000 hertz frequency response
- 5dB @ 1mW sensitivity
- 44 ohms impedance @ 1kHz
- Silver-plated copper Litz wire, 1.2 metres, terminated with beryllium copper MMCX connectors and gold-plated 3.5mm stereo jack
- Supplied with five sizes of Final Audio tips, three sizes of silicone tips, three sizes of memory foam tips, cleaning tool, three soft accessory bags, Campfire Audio lapel pin, canvas carry case
- The Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs deliver a smooth, warm sound with powerful bass. They’re laid back rather than in your face, but a good level of detail is there for your enjoyment, should you want to listen for it.
- Price: $419
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here
More about the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs
As is Campfire Audio’s way, the Honeydew IEMs come in whimsically festive cardboard packaging, with stacks of accessories. The middle-size memory foam tips are already fitted, but there are plenty of options to meet just about any preference. I found that the installed tips worked well for me, providing a good seal, great comfort, excellent noise isolation, and decent security.
The included cable has a shaped sheath covering the last few centimetres. This forms the cable into soft ear hooks for greater security, and to keep things tucked nicely away. Campfire Audio aims these IEMs as much at musicians as it does at music listeners. Litz cables use multiple individually-insulated conductors, braided together, to eliminate the skin-effect which causes cable resistance to increase for higher frequencies. Since the cable uses industry-standard MMCX connectors, you can replace it, upgrade it, or switch to a balanced cable if you like.
Above I’ve shown the sensitivity of the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs as 111.5dB for 1mW input. I should note that I calculated this figure from the company’s own slightly idiosyncratic measure of 17.68mV for 94dB. The company it seems always specifies a voltage for 94dB output, rather than the output for 1mW of input. With a specified 17.44 ohms impedance at 1kHz (such precision!), and assuming linearity (a safe assumption I think), that converts to 111.5dB.
Listening with the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs
I did much of my listening using the excellent Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 digital audio player (review here). But, in a departure from my usual practice, I also spent a lot of time with these earphones pIugged into an Apple Lightning adaptor, which was in turn plugged into iPhone. I figured that the SE180 would provide a pretty much perfect signal for any IEMs, but that with the pricing of these ones, they could well end up being used with an iPhone or something similar.
So let’s start with what I’m listening to right at this moment. That’s Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, specifically “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers”. This one’s from Apple Music on the iPhone. In “Hi-Res Lossless”, in fact, with 24bit 176.4kHz sampling in theory. Since I was using the Apple adaptor, it would have been most likely delivered at 48kHz, but possibly 44.1kHz. I use this track and the next one on the same album a lot, so I’m very familiar with its sound.
And here’s what I heard: 95%. If I were to say that the sound quality of some set of headphones were as good as it is possible to get, I’d say 100%. So, high praise indeed, especially given the price.
So, I suppose the relevant question is: why not 100%?
Let’s go back to Jeff Beck. It was almost as though the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs were designed and tuned to appeal to my preferences. The treble was controlled. It seemed extended, but lacked significant artificial emphasis, which made for a pleasing, comfortable listen. The term of art for this kind of sound is “warm”.
Apple Music has its own mind, so instead of the next Beck track, it moved onto a track – this time, 24-bit, 96kHz – from Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. I could hear the analogue tape hiss, and occasionally the snare drum was just a touch forward, thanks to a very slight emphasis on its upper frequencies. But … I’m stretching here for imperfections.
Apple Music rolled on relentlessly, and Billy Joel moved onto the title track from the album. The detail – every little thing – was superb. The bass was powerful; more powerful than strictly accurate. The bass grind was authoritative and the kick drum was strong. That authority and that drum were, I think, a little more forward in the mix than is entirely accurate.
This was a theme with the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs. The bass was clean and strong. But in fact a little stronger than that from a truly accurate representation of the source.
Like a bit of nicely recorded prog rock? Rush’s 1980 album Permanent Waves is available on TIDAL in MQA format in high resolution. This time I used the TIDAL app on the A&K player. The drumming on “Jacob’s Ladder” was superbly conveyed by the Honeydew IEMs. There was zero dynamic compression, which let them truly sing. A big part of the brilliance of Rush is the intricate patterns delivered by Neil Peart. I found it easy to follow every little tap.
Something completely different is Music for Queen Mary, lossly ripped from an Erato CD and stored on an SD card in the A&K player. The Queen Mary here is the Queen of England who was co-monarch with Prince William of Orange around the end of the 17th century following the Glorious Revolution, so this is early Baroque. Bach was still a child. The first half is Henry Purcell’s music for Mary’s birthday in 1694 while the second half is his music for her death later than year. The brass and tympani marches which open and close the latter will be familiar to those who’ve seen A Clockwork Orange.
The delivery of “Come, Ye Sons of Art, Come Away” – a piece with two female vocalists weaving their voices into a beautiful upbeat celebration, accompanied by a slightly distanced harpsichord and bass – was delightfully sweet. That was also the case in the various string-heavy sections, including “Strike the Viol”. I mention this one because shortly before two minutes in, there was some extremely deep spurious bass noise revealed by the Honeydew earphones. I likely bought this CD sometime in the mid-1980s and ever since it has been one of my favourites. I’ve listened to it way more than a hundred times over those years, and never once noticed that noise.
These earphones are revealing of deep bass. More than they should? Maybe. But since they deliver it so very cleanly and musically, with no sense of it being overblown, all I can do is note that there may be a bit more there than, theoretically, there should be. But that it does nothing to detract from musical enjoyment, and indeed often adds to it.
So, moving to something just as familiar to me – same A&K platform, from what was a 24-bit, 96kHz version on DVD Audio – but of a rather different genre, I went to King Crimson’s album Islands. On the opening track, “Formentera Lady”, again the super-deep bass was a little forward compared to when listening with the great majority of other equipment. But again, the Honeydew earphones were wonderfully revealing of everything that was going on, and while the deep bass was forward, it was controlled and far from overblown.
How can I summarise all this? I’d say that the sound delivered by the Campfire Audio Honeydew earphones is smooth and understated. Yes, there’s detail there but it’s not delivered in a showy, in-your-face way. You have to listen for it. Meanwhile, the bass comes with real authority.
The earphones are specified to have a 17.44-ohm impedance at 1kHz. Combined with their very high sensitivity, that should make them an easy load for virtually all modern gear. But how smooth was the impedance curve? Here’s how that looks:
As you can see, with the earphones out in the open the impedance is smooth across the spectrum, with only an insignificant 0.5dB bump at 5kHz. With them pressed up against a surface to simulate them being worn, even that bump is smooth out.
All of which means that you can use these earphones even with headphone amplifiers with very high output impedances, and it will have no effect on the delivered frequency balance. (See here for why.)
The Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs are best suited for those who most seek a rich, musical performance. The detail is there, and available to be heard, and the dynamics are strong. But I most enjoyed just leaning back and letting the music flow with these ones.