Campfire Audio is an offshoot of ALO Audio and probably needs little introduction to most head-fiers. They have been making earphones for some time and have recently started making an over ear headphone (the Cascade reviewed here). I was thoroughly impressed with the Cascade and the Andromeda but there is a catch. Typically, Campfire’s products have commanded a price that was simply out of range of a lot of us. I had promised Ken in an earlier conversation that if they came out with a budget conscious model, that I would be in line to buy it immediately upon release so the first payday after release, my order went in for the Comet. For those keeping score, I paid full retail price for the Comet and placed my order online so there is no reason to believe my order was given any special treatment. I did pay for 2 day shipping as I was really looking forward to hearing them.
After waiting the longest two days I have in quite some time, the Comet arrived. The Standard Fedex shipping box yielded a small rectangular tan/orange box with robin’s egg speckles. The bright orange label wraps from the top of the box to the front flap and clearly identifies the contents but stops short of listing all the specs. The box lists the Comet as a full range balanced armature driver while the web site is quick to point out that this is a vented armature so should not have the voids often associated with single BA earphones. Inside the box sits the standard soft case with the carpet style lining but unlike the other Campfire products I have tried, the earpieces were both shipped in their own individual grey cloth pouches inside the case. The earpieces are bright polished stainless and susceptible to scratches so this is a nice touch. Under the soft case, a cardboard flap hides the rest of the accessories. Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (S, M & L), silicone tips (S, M & L), SpinFit tips (XS, S, M & L), cleaning tool, Campfire Audio pin, warranty card and the instruction manual all rest under the flap..
The Comet is a stunning IEM for sure. Solid stainless steel made of three assemblies. The nose is the first assembly and even the screen at the front of the nozzle is machined stainless rather than an insert.
The main body is the second assembly and unlike most shells which present a left and right assembly, the Comet is assembled from the front and rear with the third assembly sealing the back of the unit. Seams are visible but no gaps were present and the polish on all components was first rate. The comet is smaller than average and fits fairly deeply.
I also found that quite a bit of tip rolling is needed to find what fits you best. The cable is a 4 stranded copper litz and is first quality as well. The only negatives on the cable are the chin slider is worthless as it is blocked by the controls and thus cannot be moved to a position where it is relevant.
The controls are small and lightweight and worked equally well on my HTC m9 and IPhone 6+.
Termination is a 3.5mm TRRS at a 90 degree angle and is nicely done as well.
I wish they would offer these with the tinsel cable as an option as I am not a fan of on-cable controls and quickly swapped the cable for that reason. The mmcx terminations have either a printed L or R as well as a blue or red dot on them to identify left and right. The earphone itself is not marked and since the two sides are exactly the same shape, no such marking is needed.
The first thing to make note of is that the Comet is higher impedance at 48 Ohms @ 1kHz and lower sensitivity at 97 dB SPL/mW than most of its competition. For this reason, it will likely require more power to drive them to the same listening level you are used to from other in-ears.
The second thing to note is that the sound quality is very dependent on the tips used and the seal in your ear. I had originally thought the Comet was somewhat dark, this only holds true if using the foam tips that come pre-installed. I quickly worked through the tips that came with the Comet and settled on the largest of the spin-fit (A size larger than I normally wear) as they gave the best seal and held the Comet the steadiest in my ear. Wearing the Comet tip down, they are heavy enough to want to pull slightly and break the seal during exercise so I used the larger than normal tips to offset this tendency.
Once any fitment issues are worked through, the user is rewarded with a very good sounding in-ear.
The Comet has some of the traits I expected from a Balanced Armature and a few that were surprises. In the category of expected, the bass has good fast attack and decay which leads to a very articulate sound. On the unexpected side, extension gives good depth and ample sub-bass. While certainly not a basshead iem, they do not suffer from the lack of extension so commonly seen in single BA designs. Mid-bass is well controlled with very slight bleed into the lower mids and adequate authority to produce a good hit when called upon. Overall, very clean lows with a good realistic timbre and quick clean sound.
Here again, some expected, and a few surprises. Surprises first this time. Detail is better than expected with really clean tone. Body is large and thick without getting muddy or sloppy. I expected the clean nature but not so much the thickness to the tone or the combination clean and thick. The lower mids produce a natural sounding guitar tone as well as good lower register vocals. Higher mids are definitely a bit forward and upper register vocals are engaging while still maintaining the same clean nature of the rest of the sound signature.
I didn’t find many surprises here. Extension is moderately good but not exceptional. True to every Campfire product I have heard, the treble is a bit laid back and avoids any sense of being aggressive or harsh while still managing to convey the overall signature as slightly bright. It is a strange dichotomy in that the treble does not seem particularly well extended, but still manages a good amount of air and sparkle that makes cymbals come off as less metallic and more musical. For those with previous experience with campfire, you’ll find a certain familiarity in the tuning of the Comet for sure.
Stage and Imaging
The soundstage presented is wider than deep and again presents kind of an odd thing to describe. It manages at the same time to be intimate without feeling closed off which is a rare trait in my experience. Imaging is extremely good with each instrument and vocal being easily identified and placed on the stage. Layering is better than expected and separates the Comet from the likes of the Brainwavz b150 or the Etymotics 4p. If there is a drawback to the Comet, it is that exceptionally busy passages can overwhelm it a bit and it loses ground to some of the multi-driver iems at around the same price point.
Comet vs Magaosi K5
While hardly a fair comparison, the Magaosi K5 and the Campfire Comet share nearly exactly the same price point so inevitably will draw comparisons. The K5 is a 5 BA design and as such has more reach at both ends than the Comet. The K5 is one of the most sensitive iems I have ever used and will run well from low powered sources while the Comet needs either a high powered source or an additional amp to do its best work. The comet is much more intimate while the K5 feels more like sitting 10 rows back from the orchestra in the main hall. Both share the typical high speed attack and decay typical of BA arrangements but the Comet is a whisp clearer in the overall. Detail retrieval is better on the k5 but not by the margin one would expect in a 5 vs 1 fight. The Comet scales better than the K5 as the K5 tends to pick up a bit of hiss as power increases that keeps it from being able to take advantage of additional power. Overall two very different animals, the Comet is big and bold and intimate while the K5 is near neutral, a bit shy and reserved in comparison.
Comet vs B400
Again, the comparison of the Brainwavz B400 to the Comet is more due to similar price than similar features. (Later notes vs the B150 are much closer to same features). The b400 is a quad BA design vs the single vented BA of the Comet. Perhaps oddly, the comet manages to have slightly better extension than the b400 at both ends of the spectrum. While the Comet may go slightly lower, the b400 hits with more authority as it has a bit more sub-bass quantity than the Comet. The b400 has a bit more bass than the Comet, but the Comet has a bit cleaner bass than the b400. Again, mids are fuller on the b400 which results in vocals being better textured and timbre being a bit more realistic on the b400 than the Comet. The boost of the upper mids on the Comet give high register vocals a bit more intimacy than the b400. Treble is similar on both units with plenty of sparkle to both. The Comet is a shallow U shape while the b400 has a more neutral signature. Soundstage on the b400 is similar to the Comet as both are wider than deep and height seems to be about the same. I have a hard time picking one over the other in this regard as it seems to be somewhat source dependent and they tend to leapfrog each other.
Comet vs LZ A4
Another lopsided comparison to be sure, the Comet and LZ a4 have little in common other than price. I used the Black rear and red front filter on the A4 as this is my preferred tuning. The Comet is definitely warmer and thicker sounding than the A4 while the a4 has a bit better extension at either end. Extension is only slightly better at the top end but is more noticeable at the low end of the spectrum. The layering and detail are close although the A4’s treble extension makes it seem more detailed than the Comet’s warmer signature. Soundstage is deeper on the A4 as well as having some extra height when compared to the Comet. Attack and Decay (especially in the bass/mids) are enough better on the Comet to be noticeable. Overall, the two have very distinct tunings and the Comet delivers a thicker, fuller sound while the A4 digs a bit of extra detail out at the expense of body in the mids.
Comet vs B150
The B150 and Comet is as close to a fair fight as the matchups go. Both boutique vendors, both single BA offerings, and both with their share of fans. Low end extension is slightly better on the b150 but the Comet is cleaner. The comparison vs the b400 has flipped and now the Comet is the warmer/thicker of the two when comparing mids vs the b150. Where the b400 makes the Comet look u shaped, the Comet makes the b150 look like the mids (particularly the lower mids) are recessed. For guitar rock the extra energy the Comet brings to the mids produces a very natural tonality. For classical piano, the b150 does a better job of producing the timbre of a baby grand. Layering is better on the Comet with instrument positioning being a bit cleaner than the b150 while the soundstage is larger and more evenly shaped on the b150. This one comes down to personal preference but I wont be selling either of mine anytime soon.
I will admit my bias right up front. I like the Campfire house sound. That thick bodied, intimate, make you feel like the singer is singing directly to you kind of feeling is exactly what I want when listening for pleasure. The real question for me was could Campfire maintain that house sound using only a single BA to do it and within a $200 price point without sacrificing too much of what made the more expensive models truly great listens. I was a bit concerned that this might be the Mercedes 190 or the Cadillac Caterra of the Campfire line (AKA a Campfire in name only but not really deserving of the name). I am happy to say that my money was well spent and the Comet is every bit a Campfire. For those who haven’t tried Campfire yet due to price, this is your chance. For those who want an earphone they can take out in the woods and not risk their $1800 flagship, this provides a very listenable alternative at a price point that won’t result in nearly the level of distress that a lost u18 might. I think the Comet may well become the best-selling Campfire model to date and I know Ken is having trouble keeping up with demand now. My advice to Ken; “Don’t plan on that slacking up anytime soon”. They called it Comet, but in reality, it is a star.
Pros – Gorgeous build quality, top shelf materials, good kit, and surprisingly good sound. A gateway drug for Campfire’s other products.
Cons – Would like to see other cable options or at least move the mic and slider to be useful. Can get overwhelmed, lacks extension of flagship models, somewhat temperamental fit.