Not very long ago I spent some time – and I must say, highly enjoyable time – with the Campfire Audio Honeydew in-ear monitors. They were the new nearly-entry-level models from this Portland Oregon brand. But the very, very entry level is the equally new Campfire Audio Satsuma IEMs. Which are, of course, the subject of this review.
- Campfire Audio Satuma in ear monitors
- Designed and hand-assembled in Portland, Oregon, USA
- Full-range balanced armature driver
- ABS earphone body with 3D-printed acoustic chamber
- Stainless steel “spout”
- 7 grams (without tip or cable connected)
- 5 to 18,000 hertz frequency response
- 104dB @ 1mW sensitivity
- 4 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, two sizes of memory foam tips, three soft accessory bags, Campfire Audio lapel pin, canvas carry case
- Well built, attractive styling and capable of delivering fine detail, the Campfire Audio Satsuma earphones deliver a great listening experience with things like solo acoustic guitar. But they fail to satisfy with music with significant bass content.
- Price: $339
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor's retail division here
More about the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs
So, do we have all that? ABS body with carefully designed interior to support the single balanced armature in each. The bodies are mostly finished in a bold orange – Campfire Audio calls it “Orange Fizz”. The “spout” – the protruding section over which the tips are placed, is shiny stainless steel. The cable connections and the tips are black. They look rather handsome to my eye.
I guess I’ll simply repeat part of what I said regarding the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs since it precisely applies: “as is Campfire Audio’s way, the [Satsuma] 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.”
“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.”
Having dwelt on similarities, I should note the big difference between the Satsuma and the Honeydew. The present earphones employ a single balanced armature driver. The Honeydew IEMs employ a single 10mm dynamic driver.
One effect of this is that the nominal impedance the Campfire Satsuma IEMs is relatively high for the category at 46.4 ohms at 1kHz. Above I’ve shown their sensitivity as 104dB for 1mW input. I calculated this figure from the company’s own somewhat idiosyncratic measure of 67mV for 94dB. The company routinely specifies a voltage for 94dB output, rather than the output for 1mW of input. With a specified 46.4 ohms impedance at 1kHz, and assuming linearity, that converts to 104dB for 1mW at 1kHz.
Listening with the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs
I did almost all my listening using the superb Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 digital audio player (review here), with just a little with an iPhone using the Apple Lightning adaptor. That covers the range from just about as good as it gets to pretty basic.
So, here’s my very first impression, having pulled these out of the review pile half an hour ago and plugged them in the A&K and set some music playing. It turned out that the last played album on the SE180 was King Crimson’s Islands, and since that’s one of my many favourites, I set that playing moments after I placed the Satsuma buds in my ears. I used the largest memory foam tips for my listening. Once they were on the stainless steel spouts – they slid on quite smoothly – I had scrunched them down, inserted them into my ears and waited a few seconds for the foam to expand. I could feel the excellent seal. They also felt very secure.
With earphones of any kind, an excellent seal is vital. Even the slightest loss of seal integrity means diminished bass. Earphones should be interacting virtually directly with the interiors of your ears, with no mediating influences.
So, how did Islands sound? Very, very different to the Campfire Audio Honeydew earphones, which I really enjoyed. And immensely different to the (extremely expensive) Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 IEMs, which delivered in every respect a magisterial performance.
Yet, somehow, they were pretty revealing of the source material in their own way.
The differences I mentioned? Those other earphones delivered an extremely accurate tonal balance with either respectable or unimpeachable bass. The Campfire Audio Satsuma earphones deliver a sound that clearly favours the treble and midrange. Or, perhaps, steps the bass down a significant level.
As I listened to this album – and it is one with which I am extremely familiar – I felt like I was listening to extraordinarily high-quality satellite monitors. Such devices can deliver amazing midrange and treble. But no bass. But that’s night quite fair. There was some bass. To my ear, I’d say the bass was delivered at the appropriate level down to perhaps 150 hertz. Below that it rolled off. Slowly, I’d say. I could still pick out the double bass, with careful listening, in Art Blakely and the Messengers’ track “Moanin’”. Since this is a 1958 recording the bass isn’t particularly challenging.
This kind of makes me want to dismiss the Campfire Audio Satsuma earphones out of hand. Except that the midrange and treble bands are delivered with such clarity and transparency and dynamism.
I went through quite a range of music. With fine solo guitar – there’s not much deep bass there, of course – the Satsuma IEMs sound like a thousand dollars. But with any music relying on significant bass content, they felt too light.
I guess this is to be expected. Balanced armature drivers are known to be relatively weak in the bass. That’s why high-end IEMs either use a dynamic bass driver, or several balanced armature drivers devoted to bass in order to deliver an accurate balance.
I should just note that with the iPhone and dongle, the volume levels were ample. The Apple Lightning adaptor should be good for around 700mV into their impedance, which translates into 10dB above earphone sensitivity for this load. That is a solid 114dB.
The Campfire Audio Satsuma IEMs are specified to have a 46.4-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:
If you’ve been following these reviews, you’ll see that this graph is very different to the other ones in two different ways. First, I had to use a different technique. My usual software – I tried a dozen or more variations, with a validation of the technique with other headphones in the middle of them – simply failed. I think the triggering signal for the I use software was too low in level, but to have it any higher pushed other parts of the test into clipping. So the above graphic shows a simple recording of a 10 hertz to 96,000 hertz sine wave sweep (the horizontal axis is logarithmic, and I’ve cropped it down to 37 to 20,000 hertz) through the usual rig, which places a 466-ohm load in line with the earphones. I’ve manually placed a few frequency numbers on the result so it makes sense.
The other way in which it is different it that previous measurements have generally been one of two types: either flat, with little to no variation across the frequency spectrum, or with a marked rise somewhere in the mid-bass. As you can see, this one is far from flat. It rises gently from the bass, before accelerating to reach a peak at 2623 hertz, some 15dB above 100 hertz. And then it drops down by 9dB by 3390 hertz before increasing again. What that means is that with the kind of headphone outputs you find on some amplifiers and home theatre receivers, you’re going to get a huge emphasis at around 2600 hertz, and again from around 5,000 hertz and up. Indeed, at 20,000 hertz, the level is a full 20dB above what it is at 100 hertz.
The curve was much the same whether I the earphones were open to the air or whether I had them pressed up against a surface to provide an acoustic cushion to their operation.
I wondered what effect all this might have on, you know, the actual sound. I don’t have one of those high-impedance-output amps anymore, so I had a thorough listen via the 466-ohm in-line load box that I use when generating these graphs for, oh, maybe five seconds. That’s all it took to make clear that these earphones are most definitely not to be used with those kinds of amplifiers. The lower treble, upper midrange was supercharged and very harsh. That peak around 2.6kHz had a huge effect. Use these with an amp with a low output impedance. Even the iPhone dongle is fine since its output impedance is only 1.5 ohms.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy the Campfire Audio Satsuma earphones is very much a personal decision. Me? I’d wait for next paycheck – or two or three – until I could afford the Campfire Audio Honeydew IEMs.