Campfire Audio Atlas – Direct link to purchase
A Little Technical Stuff:
- 5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
- 105 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
- 19 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
- Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion
- Single Full-Range 10mm Dynamic Driver
- Plasma enhanced Chemical Vapor Depostion (C.V.D.) Amorphous Diamond Like Carbon (A.D.L.C.) Diaphragm.
- Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
- Stainless Steel Body
Campfire Audio Atlas
-MRSP: Universal fit $1299 USD
I want to thank Ken Ball, the brain trust and owner of Campfire Audio and ALO audio for providing me with the Atlas for review.
Ken is known in the industry for developing and producing top quality cables, amps, and state of the art IEM’s. The Andromeda IEM is considered by many to be the benchmark for one of the best all-around IEM’s in the industry. I love the Andromeda and miss not having it in my collection now. The company is based in Portland, Oregon and produced proudly in the USA.
I need to put this out there right from the start. The Atlas is one of the most engaging and enjoyable IEM’s I have had the pleasure to hear. Its sound is addictive and immerses the listener with an exciting, and eventful experience. I have other reviews on the horizon and I find it difficult to listen to the other offerings as the Atlas just checks so many of my boxes. That is not to say it is the most technically proficient in my stable, because it isn’t. What the Atlas does is what it is designed to do, deliver the goods and baptize you in a gratifying emanation of sound. That said, these are not a first listen IEM. On first listen, I was shocked at the level of the bass. It was as if there was a bass wall I felt I needed to climb over to be able to hear any of the other frequencies, but fortunately, they improved quickly. I am beginning to become annoyed with the number of people, experienced reviewers included, that say the Atlas are overly bassy and spikey in the treble. Everyone is certainly welcome to their opinion but some of these folks should know better than make blanket statements about sound quality on short listens only. I mention this because as a reader you should be very skeptical of anyone that says they listened to a loaner or a friend’s Atlas and the sound was not good. The first thought or question is how much time was spent with the Atlas.
I will touch on the sound quality later in the review but it is important to know that not everyone that is buying the Atlas, or any of the TOTL IEM’s available, is an audiophile. I think there is a certain amount of pressure on “audiophile” reviewers to gauge an IEM on its technical prowess but the enjoyment of the music is what hooked me on this hobby, to begin with. I attempt to bridge the gap in my review for folks that want to enjoy their music without being critical when they listen. In other words, it is okay to just enjoy music. It is human nature to want better and more, but it is also very important to understand there will always be better and more. If you find something that enthralls you stick with it awhile and enjoy.
A Little Marketing Hype:
Stainless Steel Body
Our new stainless-steel earphone bodies are drop forged and then CNC machined before being hand polished to a mirror finish.
MMCX designed to last
Our custom Beryllium Copper MMCX eliminates the traditional shortcomings of the connection and harnesses all of its benefits. Beryllium Copper provides a robust mating mechanism; one that is typically made from soft brass. This selection of a harder material extends the life of the component and the earphone.
Close attention to detail is critical to delivering you the superior musical experience from our earphones. We test and pair each individual earphone, Left and Right, to establish its conformity to our firmly established tuning and performance criteria. The result is a pair of earphones truly made for each other.
Gigantic and Fantastic Sound.
A truly massive sound. We’ve expanded our ADLC driver to a mighty 10mm and enclosed it in Stainless Steel – Atlas is a full range powerhouse. The result is a terrific sounding earphone with a dynamic signature that will convert even the most jaded listener to an Atlas fan.
New Stainless-Steel Body
Our new stainless-steel earphone bodies are drop forged and then CNC machined before being hand polished to a mirror finish. The weight of our stainless-steel earphones in your hand feels good. The durability of stainless steel gives you peace of mind in daily use, knowing these are going to last.
New A.D.L.C. Diaphragm Dynamic Driver
Expanding on the commercial and critical success of Vega, we returned to an A.D.L.C. diaphragm design for Atlas and super sized it to a new 10mm driver; up from 8.5mm utilized in Vega.
For a quick background, A.D.L.C. (Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon) is the hybrid of diamond and graphite carbon. It is a non-crystalline diamond. It is a material that has low density and high rigidity, important factors when considering diaphragm materials. In designing a dynamic driver, the diaphragm material used should be as rigid as possible to provide a wider range of frequency responses and lower distortion. Additionally, the density of the diaphragm material should also be as low as possible in order to increase fidelity.
The 10mm A.D.L.C. diaphragm driver at the heart of Atlas achieves these goals; superior fidelity, excellent frequency response, and low distortion.
3D Modeled Awesomeness
Tuning a high fidelity earphone is both an art and a science. To make something really special many critical factors need to intersect perfectly. This is why we choose to design and iterate with 3D modeled parts and take those parts into our final builds. It gives us an unprecedented level of control to capture the sound we’re trying to achieve. We think you’ll appreciate this refinement when you hear them yourself.
New Pure Silver Cable
We’ve created an all-new pure silver cable for Atlas that allows you to get the very best sound possible from your earphone, right out of the box. The pure silver conductors provide additional resolution and refinement to an already exceptional sound. This cable is also wound with a twist that reduces tangling and microphonics improving your daily experience with Atlas.
WHAT’S IN THE BOX:
- Campfire Audio Black Leather Earphone Case
- Campfire Audio Pure Silver Litz Cable – Pure Silver Conductors with Beryllium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug
- Final Audio Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl) – Campfire Audio Marshmallow Tips (s/m/l) – Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l) –
- Campfire Audio Lapel Pin
- Cleaning Tool
Unboxing and Accessories:
I have always thought there was something very hip and retro in the packaging of the CA IEM’s. The Atlas carries on the same tradition. The box is simple, very simple. However, it is very cool.
The accessories are more than adequate. A semi-hard, zippered carry case embossed with “Campfire Audio”, ample ear tips in a variety of different styles, materials, and sizes, including my favorite silicone tips, Final Audio. The standard cleaning tool and a lapel pin with the CA logo are also included.
Ear tip wise, if I am using included tips my selection would be the Final Audio. I also find the JVC Spiral Dots to do an adequate job of delivering, but they are not included. Another worthy mention is that my preference of all tips is a custom sleeve that is produced by another CA company, Custom Art in Poland.
If I am sticking with stock tips, I thoroughly enjoy the Final Audio as I felt they seal well and accentuate the tones and frequencies as they were meant to be heard.
The cable is awesome. It was created for the Atlas and is a Pure Silver Litz Cable with Pure Silver Conductors with Beryllium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug. I love the ergonomics of this cable and it is so comfortable to wear. In fact, this is my favorite cable that I have used from ALO or Campfire Audio. It is very pliable and it is designed to be worn straight down as opposed to around or behind the ear. Many IEM companies are starting to outsource their pack-in cables, which I love, but this one is certainly one of the better all around designed and sounding cables I have heard. There truly should be no upgrade itch to scratch with this offering.
Build and Quality and Fit:
The Atlas is truly unique in its design and appearance. It is a steampunk look that is highly polished stainless steel. The nozzle end opening strikes you as it belongs on the end of a steam pipe or as a circular vent grate on a wall in a boiler room setting. The shape of the Atlas is like a pistol I had in my youth that shot a ping pong ball, it is a squatty pistol-shaped housing, think Buck Rogers. Now that I have described something to you that sounds atrocious and you would never consider putting it in your ear, it really is attractive and it is just my lack of writing skills that make it sound ugly. It is highly polished stainless steel with the CA logo engraved on each side of the housing. I love the look but you will have to decide if it is attractive or not, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
The build, as mentioned is Stainless Steel, and such these things are built like a tank. The heft and sturdiness are impressive. The Atlas are the type of IEM you can feel confident in taking with you wherever you go and not worry that your $1300 investment will become scratched or crack as you may with an acrylic shell. Not only do they have an industrial appearance they have an industrial, durable feel about them.
I have never been a huge fan of MMCX connectors, as a matter of fact I love 2-pin connectors, but the Atlas connectors are very snug and there is a certain solidity in how the connection feels. Perhaps that is where the Beryllium Copper MMCX comes into play. Only time will tell if the connector will continue to fit snug, but for now it is the best MMCX connector I have sampled. The down side for me is all of my after-market cables are 2-pin so I am not able to test other cables with the Atlas, but as I mentioned previously the sound and ergonomics of the stock cable are fantastic.
As mentioned, a couple of times the is cable is fantastic. It is terminated with a 3.5mm right angled plug. The cable is supple and complies with the user and is not frustrating due to being unruly. I experienced absolutely zero microphonics and I do use the Atlas for my dog walks. The cable is lightweight but not frail, it is perfectly and comfortably weighted. I think it sounds great, is aesthetically beautiful and has perfect ergonomics and remains tangle free.
I wear the Atlas with the cable down but if you prefer you could wrap the cable around ear. The weight of the Atlas might be a challenge for some. The stock Final Audio tips hold them in place fairly well, but during a 3-mile dog walk I may have to adjust them a couple times as they can have a sensation that they are sliding out of your ears. It is not really an annoyance as I am accustomed to universal IEM’s but these are heavy and I have felt the sensation with the Atlas more than other IEM’s.
The driver is a single 10mm A.D.L.C. dynamic driver. It truly is impressive how these single DD can be tuned to deliver the quality of sound that the Atlas does. I will further touch on the sound later, but the 10mm driver can deliver a tooth rattling experience.
Overall, I have no complaints with the comfort of the IEM. I would not use it for serious exercise due to its weight and that whole coming out of the ear sensation, but for moderate exercise, walking and other low impact activities you should be fine. As I mentioned previously, I have some custom silicone sleeves that solve any issue with the fitment of the Atlas. Don’t think custom tips are a necessary purchase but not only have they increased the fit but they really showcase the sound capabilities of the Atlas. I have heard whispers that Campfire Audio is going to begin to produce custom sleeves, but I personally haven’t verified that info. You certainly can inquire on the Campfire website, if that sort of thing interests you.
Suction and driver flex have been reported by some users. I have had suction “cutout” a couple of times that appeared to cut the sound of one the monitors but the sound reappeared fairly quickly. A shallow insertion and Marshmallow tips can alleviate the sensation, as well as custom tips, but it is not really an issue for me as the driver flex does not damage the IEM.
This review was written utilizing multiple sources, Opus #2, LG V30, QP2R. I listened using the stock cable and its 3.5mm connection. I mostly utilized the Final Audio and JVC Spiral Dot ear tips for review purposes, but I also used my custom tips. My sample music consisted of 320kb and FLAC as well as streaming Tidal Masters, Spotify, and Deezer.
Moving on to the sound section….
As I gushed over the sound of the Atlas in my intro, I know you are thinking there must be some faults with the sound of the Atlas or else this guy is just a serious fanboy. Actually, it will depend on the type of sound signature you are searching for. The Atlas is super addictive and engaging. When I write any review, I listen to whatever equipment I am reviewing, as I write. During the writing of the Atlas review, I revisited for about the 1000th time, the Beatles White Album in all of it’s lossless glory. Paul’s bass rumbles with a sub bass delight that gives me goose bumps. Meanwhile, the other bass frequencies are so resolving and have so much texture it is a special listening session. To be able to clearly distinguish all of the frequencies and their layers clearly, and not just in the sub bass realms, across the spectrum is a music lover’s dream.
With time and DD burn-in, the sound becomes decidedly more balanced and more defined and precise. Everything sounds grandiose and full with the Atlas. I would not refer to it as a coloration but more of a refinement to the initial listening’s. The sound is never harsh and delivers an organic feel that can extend far in the treble and rumble the filling out of your back molars. With many bass tilted IEM’s the bass can bleed or mask some of the other frequencies, with the Atlas this is not the case.
The power requirements are fairly normal for a DD driver. That said, they are not as easy to drive as many BA driver IEM’s but comparable to any DD that are average to drive. The more power you give them the more they respond. My LG v30 can drive them to ear damaging levels so beware, but you will find yourself inching up the volume controls because they sound so damn good.
The presentation of the Atlas is a mixed bag of goodness. The soundstage is not the biggest I have heard. It has average width, unless the music itself has incredible separation, such as the Beatles, I mentioned earlier. The stage, when listening to the Beatles is very wide and has an incredible depth. The song Revolution 9 can make a sober man feel as if he has visited the caterpillar and partaken in a few swats off of the hookah while sitting on the mushroom as it deliver a holographic presence. When the music is produced with an incredible stage presentation, the Atlas unveiles it as such. When the music has an average stage it presents it as well. I have heard larger rectangles of stage and on an average, I would place the Atlas in the middle of the pack. There is plenty of air between instruments and notes to distinguish each note and nothing is muddy or congested.
The placement of instruments however is spot on and with your eyes closed you can patently visualize where the sound is coming from on the stage. The tone and timbre of the instruments is good and accurate. The Atals is not an IEM you need to listen to critically to enjoy, in fact, just freaking enjoy, don’t be critical. I must say that there is a real complexity to the presentation and overall delivery and everything is very coherent and enveloping.
I feel it is important to mention that the sound is not colored in the basic sense, that it changes what has been produced. What the Atlas does is reach into the song and extracts the frequencies and creates an audible fiesta. When listening to a group such as REO Speedwagon, which generally is produced balanced, the bass resolution is easily discernible. I listen to that group because the tone of Gary Richrath’s guitar is incredible, so underrated. When listening to Hi-Infidelity by REO, the bass line is clear and evident, and of course the mid-range is front and center. Many times, when listening to REO the music is lacking in the bass and sub bass regions.
Oh MY! The sub bass is simply some of the best I have heard. The sub bass can dig deep to sub-woofer home system levels. The incredible thing is there is never any distortion. The more volume I give, the more the bass rattles, but maintains it clarity and definition. Time heals all wounds with anything that may be ailing the bass in the Atlas, give it time. The sub bass, can be bone rattling, but is quite layered and textured. The sub bass is not snappy and punchy, it is more like that of a sub-woofer on a home system with a deep resonant tone.
The higher range frequencies of the bass are punchier than the sub bass so the mix and blending of all of the bass levels is quite impressive and makes for an outstanding bass experience. I think the transitions between the layers of bass stands out in higher quality recordings. There is no bleeding into the mid-range so the sound, while full, remains clear and never obscured.
The Great Wall of Bass that is ever present upon first listen is slowly torn down so please do yourself a favor and give these a little time for your head to take in the goodness that is the Atlas bass.
I could continue to extol the virtues of the Atlas bass, but in a snap shot, it digs down deep, has incredible rumble in the sub bass layers and presents levels of well-articulated organic bass as we move north in the bass range. If you are an EDM fan this would be the IEM for you, without a doubt. As mentioned previously, the sound is not colored but if there is bass in a song the Atlas is able to reach down into the music and bring the bass to enjoyable and well defined audible levels.
While the description may sound as a bass head dream, the ability to stretch and extend throughout the register is what sets this IEM apart. It may not be a balanced IEM, but it creates balance when given the opportunity. The bass could easily bleed into the midrange or overpower the entire signature but thankfully the tuning by Ken and his team is masterful and it doesn’t happen. Check out YYz by Rush if you want to hear a sublime track, made for the Atlas. The more you listen the more balanced it becomes.
As you listen to the Atlas you realize that the mids have an impact on the balanced signature that the Atlas delivers. I think that the mids deliver an experience that perfectly aligns with the signature on the whole. The mids are not the focal point, it is really the bass that is the focal point. The mids don’t attack hard, they have more of a laid-back style which makes the stage appear a couple of rows back from the stage. The mids are smooth and non-abrasive. There is a wee bit of heft to the mids, just enough to round out the fullness of the sound. These are not analytical IEM’s, nor do they have the resolution of other TOTL IEM’s I own/owned. However, they weren’t designed to be the king of resolution or detail. Do not think that the details are lacking though because the details are ever present. While the resolution and detail are not the intended focus, the sound that the Atlas delivers has a lot of complexity.
The signature is not muddy or does not throw another frequency over the details, the details are ever present and gloriously delivered, and are a perfect blend with the rest of the signature. The tone of the mids is fairly accurate and on the smooth side while the timbre is above average and fairly natural. The bass may guide the signature to appear larger than life, and the treble may extend well and slightly sparkle, and I find it difficult to say the mid-range is a weak link because the mids do what they are tuned to do to complete and round out the entire package. That said, the mids are not the focal point.
Both male and female vocals excel because of the tuning of the mids. Vocals are perfectly placed and not too recessed or in your face, just rich and delivered to you in a natural, splendid package. The placement of the vocals follows in line with the perfect placement of the instruments, no gripe here.
Guitars, in rock tunes, are crunchy and full, with tons of expression. Give a listen to Van Halen Fair Warning and hear Eddie’s guitar tonality as it was meant to be heard. Engaging and addictive, that is the Atlas.
The treble actually portrays how multifaceted the Atlas is. The positives of the treble far outweigh the negatives.
The treble has a sparkle, a twinkle in the top end. It is not a sharp, harsh or unnatural. Cymbals have the proper “chhhh” sound with a natural decay. The twinkle in the top end displays the ability of the Atlas to extend and show the complexities of whatever genre you may be enjoying.
Had the treble not been tuned with this sparkle, I would guarantee the sound would have been too bloated. While the bass will receive the trophy to the vast majority of consumers, I feel the treble should receive the trophy for the best in show with the Atlas. Clearly, the bass is superb, but the treble is what controls the signature flow of the Atlas. The transitions between the treble frequencies are obvious and there is plenty of space(air) between notes. Again, the air is created by the treble extension. The treble has me forgetting that this unit is a single dynamic driver IEM. The treble sparkles with the equivalency of many balanced armature models.
Speed and muted aggression with a dash of Campfire Audio Andromeda thrown in has been the description of the Atlas. The threads are drawing comparisons to the other Campfire Audio models, the Vega for bass and the Andromeda, overall. Many feel the bass is close to as strong as the Vega and some feel it is much more refined than the Vega. Some think the Atlas treble is a notch below the Andromeda and others only acknowledge similarities in the treble. I owned the Andromeda, but I have never heard the Vega, so the only thing I can compare is the Andromeda. Ask my preference, and I will say hands down the Atlas, because its overall signature checks every box I have. The Andromeda has a little harshness in its treble, especially when the seal is not perfect. The stage of the Andromeda is larger than the Atlas and its bass is very good, but not to the level of the Atlas. The tale of two different IEM’s, more different than similar to my ears. The Andromeda is one of the best all-arounders I have heard, but my foot taps more with the Atlas.
The Atlas can be driven with moderate power, but when given more power they really show their true colors. This is a DD IEM and as a rule they appreciate and respond to power. The Atlas is no exception and will they scale exceptionally well with higher end gear.
All of my sources drove them perfectly fine from a power standpoint, the majority of my sources have a more neutral to slightly warmish profile.
The Opus#2 paired incredibly well, however, when I wanted to push the Atlas it was the QP2R that would deliver the sound quality that I most preferred. One of my favorite pairings was the Shanling M3s because it appeared to accentuate the sound where it needed.
The Opus#2 delivered a clean organic sound. The stage was wide and accurate and the tone provided an excellent pairing. The treble extended well and of course reproduced the music without providing any additional peaks to the music.
The QP2R broadened the stage a slight bit more than the Opus#2. The sound was only a hair richer and fuller than that of the Opus#2, which surprised me a little, knowing that the QP2R is so full sounding. The differences between the two DAP’s were slim and your preference will come into play here.
The Shanling M3s delivered an excellent pairing. While to my ears, the M3s has a bit thinner sound and a little more extension in the treble than the two previous DAP’s mentioned, I really enjoyed the pairing. I will say if you find yourself sensitive to the bump in the Atlas treble, the Shanling might exacerbate that treble and make it sharp. Since I don’t find anything harsh with the Atlas treble, the Shanling was a fine pairing. The M3s might be the perfect pairing for someone that felt the Atlas was a touch too full for their liking, because the M3s slightly thins that fullness. If you are looking for a bit more treble it might just be your perfect pairing.
Volume levels were fine with any of the pairings as they all could drive the Atlas perfectly well.
I have two other models of IEM’s in my possession that are supposed to be bass kings. This is the first one of the blessed trinity I have reviewed and since I have yet to do the formal reviews of the other IEM’s I do not want to offer spoilers. I do not have anything else that even remotely compares to the Atlas, so doing any real comparisons provides me a challenge. Suffice it to say that to me the Atlas is super special.
I need to keep this real, because that is what you have grown to expect from my reviews. If you are looking for a TOTL option or an upgrade that will not be bested by a newer model in the next six months, the Atlas is truly the IEM for you.
If you are a music lover and wish to be engaged and receive one of the most pleasurable listening experiences possible from your music, the Atlas is the one for you.
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to hear a lot of IEM’s and for those of you that follow my reviews know that I enjoy my gear for audiophile excellence but I also try to connect with folks that are trying to get into this hobby.
Terms like “end game” are thrown around and in my vocabulary “end game” doesn’t exist because I keep falling down the rabbit hole. However, after the outlay of cash for the Atlas you can begin to save for a long time for your next investment, because the enjoyment level is a 10+ with the Atlas.
The Atlas does not provide the most resolution or best in class detail retrieval, but it doesn’t have to. It is one of the kings at what it does. While writing, I was listening to a master of David Bowie Low and I will say that as many times as I have heard this recording the Atlas had me bobbing my head and hearing sounds I don’t recall hearing, after 41 years since its release. God, I am old.
The build quality is first class, the design is chic and hip, with the steampunk look. It can be worn around the ear, but it is designed to be worn down and I find the fit and weight to be fine, but I do see how someone may think they are heavy in the ear. The weight may pull the Atlas out of your ear with wearing time, but as recommended, a custom ear tip solved any woes.
The stock cable is my favorite that I have used from Alo, and there is no need for more investment as the sound quality is spot on.
Unfortunately, designers and developers generally don’t seem to get the complete package right. You either need to buy something to enhance sound or ergonmoics as you chase the “best there is”. Suffice it to say, with the Atlas, you buy it, plug it in, and play it. DONE!
I apologize if this appears as an ad or a fanboy rant, but if you notice I didn’t review or gush about my experience with the Andromeda. Now that I have reviewed the Atlas, I may review the Andromeda for a Campfire comparison but, we will see