Terrific end to end extension, Huge yet controlled bass, Grand soundstage, Flawless build quality, Can be worn cable up and down
Heavy and relatively large housings, Not for those wanting balance and realistic timbre, Midrange voicing is more track sensitive than some
The Atlas is undeniably an impressive and truly courageous creation executed with mastery.
Campfire Audio is a US based manufacturer who has achieved popularity through their strong sound tuning and charismatic designs. Their Vega is easily among the most popular high-end dynamic driver IEMs on the modern market; its deeply engaging sound alluring everyone from bass-loving enthusiasts to seasoned audiophiles looking for contrast to the reference style tuning more typical to high-end models. Campfire have recently made a wealth of changes to their product line-up, with the flagship dynamic driver Atlas and entry-level BA Comet showcasing a transition in design.
The Atlas replaces the Vega at the same $1300 USD price-point while the Vega receives a moderate discount to $1099, substituting the now discontinued Dorado. It implements the same diamond-like carbon driver and Campfire’s acoustically superior hand-polished stainless steel housings that also enable both over ear and cable-down wear. The Atlas introduces a new pure silver Litz cable, embellishing an already premium experience. You can read all about the Atlas and buy one for yourself on Campfire Audio’s website here.
I would like to thank Campfire Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Atlas for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The Atlas is packaged similarly to Campfire’s previous earphones with a speckled orange box and clean label showcasing the design of the earphones themselves. Upon opening the box, buyers are greeted with one of Campfire’s terrific zippered leather hard cases and the Atlas introduces a new variant similar to the Andromeda’s case but in black and with a new Campfire Audio logo zipper. It oozes executive style. As with the Comet, the each earpiece comes within a fabric pouch to keep the mirror finish flawless during shipping.
Other changes include the adoption of Final Audio E-tips over the Spinfits that came with previous Campfire Audio in-ears. 5 sizes are included and I do personally prefer the Final Audio tips, they’re actually my go-to ear tip, as they’re more transparent while providing similar ergonomic benefits with their flexible core. The Atlas also comes with 3 pairs of standard silicone tips in addition to two pairs of foam tips. As usual, buyers receive a Campfire Audio pin, a nice touch.
The Atlas is designed almost identically to the Comet but enlarged to accommodate its 10mm A.D.L.C driver that also represents a substantial increase in surface area over the Vega’s 8.5mm driver. It’s also likely that the internal volume of the housing had to be increased to accommodate the greater displacement of air created by the Atlas’ larger driver. The result is a medium sized earphone that’s slightly larger than Campfire Audio’s relatively compact aluminium DD housing but still substantially smaller than their previous BA designs, so most should achieve an ergonomic fit.
Build quality is impeccable as we’ve come to expect from Campfire Audio. The Atlas is handmade in Portland Oregon USA as opposed to the Vega that is assembled in the PRC. And though I hardly had issue with the Vega’s liquid metal construction, the stainless steel Atlas feels incredibly sturdy; don’t twirl your earphones in public kids! Like the Comet, it’s a 3-piece housing with even joins and perfectly rounded edges. Their striking mirror finish is simply superlative.
With bullet shaped housings, the Atlas accommodates both over-ear and cable down wear; a hallmark feature of Campfire Audio’s new earphone designs and something that will surely feel more familiar to newcomers in the hobby. That said, as the Atlas is substantially heavier than the Comet and more voluminous, so I personally found them more comfortable to wear over the ear where the weight of the housings was more evenly distributed. Interestingly, despite their weight, the Atlas’ fit is very stable in both wear styles, no doubt aided by their excellent seal and well-angled MMCX connectors that permit a deeper fit.
Each earpiece has a small vent at the rear. I didn’t have any issues with sound leakage, making the Atlas a fine choice for quiet environments, though isolation isn’t quite as good as the fully sealed Comet and other BA Campfire in-ears (that are admittedly class-leading in this regard). That said, they do isolate slightly more than the Vega, Dorado and Lyra II, making them a fine choice for public transport and still easily adequate for air travel, especially with foam tips. One could even argue that they sound more balanced when used on the go, their huge bass dispersing in ambient noise.
The Atlas ships with a newly designed pure silver cable over the silver-plated copper and pure copper units on Campfire Audio’s other IEMs. It’s similar in design to the Polaris’ cable, twisted beneath the y-split with a standard braid above. It’s very supple and resists tangles well, easily one of the best stock cables I’ve had the pleasure of handling. Highlights include the custom beryllium MMCX connectors on both the IEMs and cable that promise greater longevity in addition to a super beefy 3.5mm plug. All terminations are well relieved and the excellent cable rounds out a nicely positive experience on a whole.
I used the Custom Art custom ear tips during evaluation as I found them to provide a tighter bass response and slightly higher micro detail retrieval than my next preferred tip, the Final Audio E-tips. They also provided the most reliable fit in my case. The Atlas received over 200hrs of burn-in prior to review to ensure optimal performance.
The Atlas has been described as a refinement of the Vega, and in many instances, it very much is. However, the two deviate to a degree where I feel they may cater towards different audiences; the Vega assuming a W-shaped signature and the Atlas a more traditional V. What both maintain is a fairly neutral/natural midrange tone, a notable feature of Campfire’s recent models that makes them so appealing. However, where the Vega achieves this through fairly substantial treble elevation, the Atlas instead attenuates the lower-midrange to avoid bass spill.
To maintain an even midrange, centre midrange presence is also reduced, avoiding vocal thinness, while clarity is increased through greater upper-midrange presence. This leads fairly naturally into an enhanced lower-treble. So where the Vega was bright, clear and airy, the Atlas is more grounded with a significantly more natural, if also more recessed midrange and a high-end that is simultaneously more detailed and less fatiguing. Its slightly more pulled-back vocals and even greater bass emphasis may not appeal to some, but it does represent a more mature style of tuning than the Vega in addition to a fairly substantial upgrade in technical ability that one would not expect given the Vega’s prowess.
The Atlas’ bass drives its sound; a force of thunderous yet meticulously controlled rumble. Bass quantity encroaches upon bass-head territory, with huge sub-bass that slopes smoothly down into a more modestly enhanced mid-bass and lightly enhanced upper-bass. As sub-bass feeds gradually into mid-bass, the Atlas doesn’t carry the tubbiness and bloat of most bass emphasized IEMs while retaining the same kind of fullness. Sub-bass extension is flawless, delivering sublime depth and slam that very few earphones can muster. They can sound a touch excessive on first listen simply due to the nature of their tuning, but given adjustment, the Atlas hits like a well-integrated home theatre sub; not as fast as a BA, not neutral, but tight and physical impact that does enhance the listening experience. As upper-bass begins a smooth decline into the lower-midrange, bass/midrange separation is heightened, thereby avoiding spill and over-warming of the Atlas’ sound.
This hearty bass emphasis is set to impeccable control and accurate decay that helps to retain a very detailed presentation. The Atlas keeps pace well with faster tracks and more impressively, avoids droning on slow ones such as Radiohead’s “No Surprises” where Thom’s lingering bass tones remained well defined. Though notes are undeniably huge and boldly presented, they’re impressively tight and focused, delivering a more aggressive texture than competing models such as the Xelento and ie800S. Some competing armature in-ears, even Campfire’s own Jupiter, are able to provide greater separation and speed, however, none deliver the same extension and sheer quantity that the Atlas musters. Its low-end is huge but its quality is immensely good. Though bass is undeniably the main attention grabber within the Atlas’ presentation, its nuanced qualities are worth showcasing first and foremost.
The Atlas sounds distinctly more natural than its predecessor with greater body, a slightly warm tone and similarly great clarity. This is achieved through attenuation of the lower-midrange that prevents over warming and congestion. However, as upper-bass still has fair emphasis, vocals are full-bodied and warmth permeates throughout the Atlas’ midrange; flattering acoustic and indie. A very slight centre midrange bump redeems some vocal presence, though both male and female vocals remain laid-back relative to the Atlas’ massive bass. This precedes a gradual upper-midrange incline into the higher-frequencies, imbuing excellent clarity that prevents overshadowing of vocals. On the contrary, though clean, clear and nicely transparent, the Atlas’ vocal presentation can vary depending on mastering style; an example being the explicitly warm vocals in Courtney Barnett’s “Nameless, Faceless” compared to the slightly cool, thin vocals in Beck’s “Dear Life” and touch of over-articulation on some Asian tracks such as HEIZE’s “Sorry”.
This discrepancy isn’t as emphasized by more balanced IEMs with a more linear bass/midrange transition. I am nit-picking, I’m allowed to when reviewing TOTL products, and it’s clear the Atlas doesn’t appeal to listeners wanting perfectly life-like timbre and superb balance. As with the Vega, the Atlas’ instead pursues great engagement while upholding tonal excellence and immense technical ability; delivering strong micro-detail retrieval and excellent resolution accented by great clarity. This is exemplified by comparison to the Hyla CE-5, another technical masterpiece but also an IEM with a notoriously thin midrange. This statement isn’t intended to undermine the Hyla, but to illustrate how the Atlas, with even greater bass presence, employs effective tuning to produce a more natural midrange and more accurate timbre than similarly engaging models. This is a testament to Campfire Audio’s constant refinement of the engaging yet tonally neutral tuning pioneered by the Vega and deliberate decision to forgo what is “correct” for what is decidedly epic.
As the Atlas mitigates over-warming through attenuation of the lower midrange as opposed to elevation of treble, its high-frequencies are notably less fatiguing and more refined than its predecessor. In place of the Vega’s elevated middle-treble is a well-integrated lower-treble emphasis. Resultantly, the Atlas delivers very crisp instruments with great attack and, combined with its upper-midrange that feeds more smoothly into treble, most instruments are endowed with organic body. Notes are more textured than the Vega and instrument timbre is more realistic. The Atlas is very detailed as a result, accentuated by its more aggressive presentation of said details. As aforementioned, the Atlas no longer has the same middle-treble emphasis, instead adopting a cleaner background that permits a more composed image making smaller details easier to discern.
Through this tuning, the Atlas effectively alleviates the fatiguing properties of the Vega with instruments lacking its occasional shrillness entirely. Upper-treble preserves emphasis, though it’s lifted to a lesser degree than the Vega. Still, the Atlas retains that sparkly Campfire character carried by essentially all of their high-end models. These changes characterise the Atlas’ refinement of the Vega formula, favouring a more focused instrument reconstruction over a smoother foreground set to elevated air and shimmer. Through greater linearity and improved extension, the Atlas achieves very impressive micro-detail retrieval in addition to excellent resolution, and though not explicitly airy, shimmer and atmosphere are well-realised. Again, the Atlas is still a brighter earphone but in addition to being revealing in its tuning, it is also very resolving of fine detail.
With great treble extension combined with a more even midrange and high-end, the Atlas delivers a huge soundstage that retains nicely coherent placement. Width stands out in particular, stretching well beyond the head with the right tracks while depth is less expansive, compromising a perfectly rounded stage to bring vocals slightly more into focus. This will surely please many listeners as vocals can easily become lost in a large stage, especially on IEMs with a V-shaped tuning. Besides that slight vocal push, instruments are well placed and directional cues are tack sharp. The Atlas’ background is fairly laid-back, but also very well-detailed and it is a well-layered presentation both with regards to separation between said layers and resolution of the instruments that reside within them. The Atlas also provides a more separated response than one would think as its voluminous bass is counteracted by the sheer amount of space on offer. From a poorer source, the Atlas’ bass can lose some control and spill over other details, but when properly driven, lows occupy their rightful place leaving other frequency ranges their own space to breathe.
The Atlas has a high 105db sensitivity and low 19ohm impedance making it one of the more sensitive IEMs out there. It easily reaches ear-splitting volumes from portable sources as a result. That said, the Atlas really needs a good source to shine, specifically one with high current output from subjective testing. A lot of this comes down to the bass response, which sounds substantially less controlled from a smartphone for instance, and ultimately midrange which becomes noticeably warmer and drier with less powerful sources. Select pairings below to illustrate and demonstrate synergy:
HTC U11: Slightly sloppy bass with greater sub-bass emphasis and mid-bass warmth, slower decay. Okay control, pleasing definition and detail, smoother bass texture. Vocals pushed slightly forward but midrange sounds dry and generally lacking dynamics. Pleasing detail retrieval, slightly uncontrolled compared to dedicated sources, nice resolution. Soundstage is more one-dimensional, okay separation and layering, decent expansion but lacking width.
Shanling M0 ($90): Firm sub-bass slam, hair of additional mid-bass warmth but nicely controlled and defined overall. Mids are a touch cooler in tone and slightly dry similar to the M7. Nicely detailed up top and reasonably well extended delivering pleasing resolution. Above average soundstage expansion, well-layered and layers are nicely delineated though not very separated as the M0 doesn’t have great space to play with.
Fiio M7 ($200): Slightly sloppy bass, less focussed, softer-edged notes, well defined but not as controlled as more powerful sources, smoother bass texture. Well-toned midrange, well positioned and refined but vocals can sound very slightly dry and lacking dynamics. Nicely detailed high-end, middle treble is slightly one-dimensional. This can be attributed to the M7’s mediocre soundstage expansion, its sound is not very layered and just modestly spacious
Hiby R6 ($480): Firm sub-bass slam, touch of emphasis. Mid-bass is more neutrally toned and bass is well controlled overall, not quite as tight as the X7 MKII or DX200. Mids are layered and clear, notes lack a touch of body. Treble is slightly aggressive, slightly splashy, as such, vocals are more hard-edged on the R6. Nice soundstage expansion with good layering and separation. Imaging is solid with well-placed instruments, sounds a touch forward up top.
Fiio X7 MKII w/AM3A ($650): Firm sub-bass slam, touch of mid-bass emphasis results in slightly less definition. Well controlled bass overall. Mids slightly warmed but otherwise nicely linear and well-positioned. Nicely detailed, well-controlled treble. Well extended, high resolution with above average soundstage expansion. Coherent stage with accurate imaging, good separation.
iBasso DX200 w/AMP5 ($900): Solid, hard-hitting sub-bass slam, more neutral mid-bass and very controlled throughout, very defined. Mids are more neutrally positioned, this pairing yields a smoother vocal reconstruction, very refined. Very detailed yet controlled up-top, well extended with high resolution. Soundstage expansion is excellent and imaging is sharp, extremely well-layered and separation is enhanced relative to most other sources.
Campfire Audio Comet ($200): The Atlas is more V-shaped with significantly better extension at either end. It has both considerably more bass extension and emphasis, most notably with regards to sub-bass in addition to more mid and upper-bass. The Atlas has a more even midrange than the Comet, but it is also more vocally recessed by a fair margin. The Atlas is a lot more detailed, both due to greater lower-treble emphasis and its more linear upper-midrange/treble transition.
The Atlas has less middle-treble, sounding more focused. It has much more extension and sparkle, sounding more pristine and delivering higher resolution. The Atlas has a significantly larger soundstage in addition to a more layered presentation. The Atlas separates better due to its greater expansion and more precise imaging.
Acoustune HS1503AL ($450): The HS1503AL is a more V-shaped earphone though it is considerably brighter due to its greater upper-midrange presence. The Atlas has greater bass presence throughout, especially sub-bass. The Atlas extends slightly better and demonstrates a higher level of control and detail despite its greater emphasis. The HS1503AL has a thinner, brighter midrange with a similarly attenuated lower-midrange and more laid-back male vocals set to a more emphasized upper-midrange.
By contrast, the Atlas is more even and its greater bass presence imbues more natural body. The HS1503AL has great clarity but its timbre is less realistic. The HS1503AL also has an emphasized lower-treble, similar to the Atlas, it doesn’t sound spiked due to its emphasized upper-midrange that provides a little more instrument body. That said, the HS1503AL has a brighter background with a more enhanced middle treble where the Atlas is cleaner. The Atlas has higher resolution and extends more at the very top, its soundstage is more spacious and layered
Campfire Audio Lyra II ($699): The Lyra II actually has a fairly similar tuning to the Atlas though it’s a little more balanced and notably less technical. It has notably less bass presence, especially with regards to sub-bass, though both are warmer earphones on behalf of modest mid and upper-bass emphasis. The Lyra II also has an attenuated lower-midrange and climbs into its upper-midrange. It is slightly more neutrally bodied and toned than the Atlas due to its lesser bass presence but also lacks the same clarity as the Atlas has greater upper-midrange presence.
The Lyra II has a slightly more prominent lower-treble emphasis, it sounds more spiked than the Atlas’ more gradual climb to emphasis. As such, instrument body is considerably thinner on the Lyra II and the Atlas is more detailed by a fairly large degree. The Atlas also extends much further and it has final octave energy and resolution that the Lyra II lacks. This makes a significant difference when it comes to soundstage where the Atlas is a lot more spacious and layered with greater separation despite its more sculpted sound overall.
Custom Art Fibae ME ($820): The ME is more balanced overall with a more L-shaped signature. The ME has less bass presence in all regards and its sub-bass doesn’t extend to the same degree. The ME is slightly more controlled and defined down low, it is more agile. The ME has immediately more midrange presence than the Atlas, but it’s also a lot mellower in its voicing, lacking the same clarity. Most notably, the ME is more linear through its midrange with greater vocal body due to its full-bass and neutral lower-midrange. It has slightly laid-back vocals that are positioned more in line with instruments where the Atlas slightly biases vocals.
It lacks the upper-midrange presence of the Atlas and has less clarity as a result. The Atlas has a significantly more aggressive high-end than the ME which rather has a touch of additional detail presence set to a very clean, linear top end. It lacks the air and sparkle of the Atlas but extends just as well, delivering similarly high resolution. The Atlas has a larger soundstage and slightly better separation than the thicker ME while the ME images and layers better due to its more linear midrange.
Sennheiser ie800S ($1000): The ie800S is more balanced overall with a brighter high-end. It has less bass presence throughout and is more linear through its low-end, delivering a more neutral tone. It’s a little faster and similarly well-controlled, delivering a defined low-end presentation. Due to its more neutral upper-bass, the ie800′ midrange isn’t as full-bodied as the Atlas, I also hear slight attenuation of the Senn’s lower-midrange which contributes to a sligthly thinner midrange. The ie800S also has a clear, slightly vocal biased presentation though not quite as clear as the Atlas.
It is more even through its midrange than the Atlas but also has a more present lower and middle-treble, creating slightly over-articulated vocals and a brighter background. Instruments are also thinner on the ie800S and it is less detailed than the Atlas overall despite being brighter. Still, the ie800S sounds a little more open and has greater air. It extends well if not quite as well as the Atlas, delivering high resolution. The Atlas has a larger soundstage and it’s more layered. The ie800S sounds slightly less focussed due to its high-end though its dimensions are more rounded.
Beyerdynamic Xelento ($1000): The Xelento is a warmer, more balanced earphone overall though in isolation, it can still be considered lightly V-shaped. The Xelento has considerably less sub-bass combined with a similar level of mid-bass emphasis. It doesn’t extend quite as well but demonstrates almost as much control and definition. As the Xelento’s upper-bass is less present and its lower-midrange less recessed its midrange, though still on the warmer side, is more natural and consistently voiced. The Xelento also has slightly more vocal presence and similarly climbs into the upper-midrange to imbue clarity though it is more even than the Atlas overall.
The Xelento has a less enhanced lower-treble, it is more even between midrange and treble creating a more organic treble instrument body. It is almost as detailed as the Atlas despite its less aggressive delivery. Both earphones have a clean background, the Atlas has more upper-treble energy and air which makes it more exciting where the Xelento suits longer listening better. The Atlas has a larger soundstage, it isn’t quite as rounded as the Xelento, both separate similarly well.
Campfire Audio Vega ($1099): The Vega is more W-Shaped with less bass and more present vocals. It is also more neutral in tone at the cost of a brighter background and less realistic timbre. The Atlas has more sub-bass than even the Vega, it also has more upper-bass, the main source of its full-bodied sound. The Vega’s bass is a hair less controlled, and both are similarly defined despite the Atlas having more quantity. The Atlas has a more aggressive bass texture which exposes fine details more. The Atlas has a fuller midrange while the Vega is more balanced with more present vocals.
The Vega actually has less clarity even though its tone is closer to neutral as the Atlas has greater upper-midrange presence. The Atlas also sounds more natural as it has greater body and sounds less coloured by its treble. The Atlas is immediately more detailed up-top due to its greater treble body and linearity. The Vega sounds quite a bit brighter up top and it has a brighter background that can detract attention from foreground details. The Atlas also extends further and delivers more resolution. The Atlas has a larger soundstage, it layers better. The Vega is slightly more separated due to its more neutral bass and midrange tone, however, its high-end is more cluttered due to its brighter background.
Noble Audio Katana ($1850): The Katana is significantly more balanced and slightly high-frequency focussed. The Katana has considerably less bass presence throughout and doesn’t touch the Atlas when it comes to extension. In return, its low-end is a lot faster and slightly more detailed, its more neutral tone also aids definition. The Katana has a more even midrange than the Atlas. It has less upper-bass body, but also a more linear lower and centre midrange which provides more present vocals and a more consistent voicing. It still sounds a touch thin due to its modest treble emphasis despite the Katana’s low-end being fairly neutral, even slightly boosted in some regards.
The Atlas is warmer and fuller-bodied, it also has more upper-midrange emphasis resulting in higher clarity though not by a large degree. The Katana’s high end is more detailed, micro-detail retrieval is higher and extension is better, resulting in higher resolution. Interestingly, both have similarly expansive soundstages, the Atlas perhaps slightly more so with regards to width. That said, the more balanced, linear Katana layers and separates better, it also images better.
Empire Ears Phantom ($1850): The Phantom tells a similar story as above, it is a lot more balanced, but it’s more L-shaped vs the treble focussed Katana. The Phantom has less bass presence than the Atlas throughout, its sub-bass extension is good but not as strong as the Atlas by a long shot. The Phantom has light mid and upper-bass emphasis that contribute to a slightly warm, full-bodied sound. The Atlas is more full-bodied and vocal recessed where the Phantom can even be considered slightly mid-forward. The Phantom has a considerably more linear, coherent midrange, its notes are more wholly resolved and vocals incredibly natural in timbre, its speciality.
The Atlas has greater clarity and power, it is the more vivid earphone. The Atlas has a notably brighter high-end. It is a touch more detailed up top and considerably more energetic where the Phantom has a very dark background and less emphasized, even de-emphasized sparkle. Both extend terrifically, the Phantom a little more producing higher resolution and micro-detail retrieval despite its smoother sound. Both earphones have huge soundstages, the Phantom is more width biased though it is also a lot more layered and its imaging is more precise.
If someone unacquainted with the hobby asked for one IEM to understand just how engaging music can be, I would hand them the Atlas. Campfire’s new flagship dynamic driver in-ear has the most “wow” factor of any earphone I’ve listened to in recent memory, and it continued to engage me over my months of testing with its immense technical ability that cements it firmly as a TOTL product. As with the Vega before it, the Atlas is not designed for balance or timbre, Campfire even flaunts its “gigantic” sound on their website, so it really shouldn’t be penalised for falling a little short in those criteria. Rather, it carries a tonally pleasant signature with a full yet clear midrange and very detailed high-end with great energy.
To round off its awesome tuning, the Atlas creates a spacious, immersive soundstage that prevents congestion. Smaller eared buyers may struggle with fit due to the Atlas’ heavy and slightly bulkier housings and again, those searching for absolute balance and linearity will not find it here. The Atlas, therefore, appeals to those searching for what is simply a delightful auditory experience; its bass tuning is unorthodox in the high-end IEM space, however, it will be more in-line with what headphone and speaker users are accustomed to. Campfire Audio’s Atlas may not sound perfectly balanced, but it is undeniably an impressive and truly courageous creation executed with mastery.
The Atlas can be purchased from Campfire Audio for $1299 USD. I am not affiliated with Campfire Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.