Review written by Precogvision
In 2016, Campfire Audio captured lightning in a bottle. And yeah, I’m talking about the Andromeda - who doesn’t recognize this iconic, emerald green IEM? They’ve released so many iterations of it since that you could be forgiven for thinking it was Campfire Audio’s only product. To this effect, four years is a long time to be sitting on the same design in an industry that moves so quickly. But I would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested to see what their latest iteration of the Andromeda brings to the table. After all, there are few IEMs that enjoy such a lauded reputation; it remains the de facto, kilobuck benchmark despite waning popularity. So let’s find out: Does the Andromeda 2020 have what it takes to play in today’s competitive market?
This unit was loaned by Headphones.com for review and will be returned at the end of the review period. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.
Source and Drivability
All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 with lossless FLAC files, and I stuck with the included Final Audio eartips and stock cable. The low OI (output impedance) of the Andromeda 2020 will influence the frequency response depending on the source you’re using; however, I do all my critical listening off of the same source for consistency. Along these lines, the Andromeda 2020 is very sensitive, enough to give your ears a nasty shocker if you’re not careful! You’re not going to have trouble powering it off anything, but I do recommend picking up something like the iFi iEMatch to match the impedance (and kill any hissing) if this is a concern.
Nothing too crazy for the packaging; it’s clean and reminiscent of opening a luxurious candy box. Campfire Audio also includes a wide-range of accessories with the Andromeda 2020:
- Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl), Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l), standard silicon tips (s/m/l)
- Campfire Audio Litz Cable – Silver Plated Copper Conductors with Beryllium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug
- Campfire Audio Sustainable Cork Earphone Case
- Campfire Audio pin and cleaning tool
The Andromeda 2020 is using a solid, aluminum shell for the housing. Both the nozzle grills and screws are stainless steel while the MMCX connectors are beryllium copper. The build gives off a very robust impression, and if I understand correctly, they’ve implemented a new, single-body process. Theoretically, less parts means less room for failure. It’s also cool to see Campfire Audio eschew the more common, acrylic/plastic trend. Just be aware that the fancy, emerald green paint job will likely chip over time if it's anything like previous Andromedas.
I had no issues when it came to comfort; however, the same might not hold true for everyone else. The ergonomics are, well, unique. In the past, Campfire Audio has made efforts to clean up the design by chamfering the housing’s edges. But some friends have mentioned that the Andromeda’s fit is still uncomfortable to them which I can’t say I’m surprised by. Luckily, there’s quite a few tips included so you can find what works best for you.
In terms of overall tonal balance, I’d consider the Andromeda 2020 to follow something of a U-shaped frequency response. It has a “let’s just hang out and chill” vibe - sophisticated description, I know - that maintains a high level of coherency and crispness to its notes. Campfire Audio has mainly toned down some of the creative liberties they took with the original Andromeda, and I think the safer tonality is well-worth the trade.
If the Andromeda has a weak-link, though, it’s in the bass. I hear a punchy, midbass emphasis, more subtle subbass, and good extension. But it’s a double-edged sword when it comes to the intangibles. On Tiffany’s “I Just Wanna Dance” the fast attack has no trouble scaling the rapid, successive beats. Is it good enough to get by here? Sure. But on more bass-heavy tracks, like Illenium’s “Hold On,” the equally quick decay function neuters dynamic slam and texture on the drops. This characteristic is only exacerbated further with subbass-emphasized drops. Andromeda 2020’s low-end simply lacks authority, presence relative to a good dynamic driver IEM. These pitfalls are to be expected with a full-BA setup; however, it stands that the Andromeda 2020 is not a basshead’s IEM.
Fortunately, things look up from here as we move to the midrange. I wouldn’t describe the midrange as lush or wet, but something closer to “crisp” with a slightly thicker note-weight to the lower-midrange. Campfire Audio has also discovered a beautiful thing called pinna compensation, and as a result, the Andromeda 2020’s upper-midrange notes are delivered with quite the clarity while maintaining sufficient body. In terms of locational placement, Andromeda’s vocal presentation is pushed further back on the stage. I find that this aids in creating a realistic sense of depth which is something I’ll come back to later.
One of the original Andromeda’s calling cards was its sparkly treble, but this doesn’t seem to be present on the Andromeda 2020. Campfire Audio has removed that polarizing, upper-treble spike, and I hear a fairly smooth treble response. It’s worth noting that BAs often struggle with upper frequency extension; fortunately, just playing around with an online frequency test, I could clearly hear the test-tone at 20kHz. This lines up with my critical listening impressions; extension and upper air are of no issue. But while these characteristics present the notion of a more mature, balanced sound signature, there’s also ample treble presence to keep things from getting stale.
Still, I find that Andromeda 2020’s technical capabilities are where it really makes its mark. Terms like “3D imaging” and “holographic presentation” are frequently thrown around in audio, and I’ve learned to temper my expectations when I see these buzzwords. In this vein, the Andromeda is probably not going to magically transport you to the set of your favorite artist. But the Andromeda 2020 does excel at positional cues, and its imaging capability is up there with the best I’ve heard. Anything that plays with soundstage, like Sawano Hiroyuki’s “A/Z,” is a real treat. There are various, electronic beeps that at times feel like they’re actually reverberating stand-alone throughout the stage, around the vocalist. And remember those further pushed back vocals? It’s terrific for re-creating a sense of depth; the stage is startlingly open, sonic-wall free.
When it comes to other intangibles, the Andromeda 2020’s happy to play ball too. I hear good transient speed to prevent congestion, and likewise, layering has ample air to distinguish between notes. For example, on one of my test tracks, Taeyeon’s “Fine,” there’s a series of vocal overdubs as she enters the chorus. But here’s the kicker: They all come from slightly different points on the center-soundstage, so lesser IEMs have a tendency to smear and image the overdubs hazily. Not so with the Andromeda 2020. I was instantly hooked by the level of nuance and coherency with which it handled this instance, not to mention other crowded tracks in my library.
The Andromeda 2020 has that magic, engagement factor nailed by virtue of its out-of-head imaging and other technical capabilities. But I wouldn’t be a very good reviewer if I didn’t have some critiques. To this end, I’ve already noted its anemic bass which will probably be the biggest hurdle for most listeners. So let’s talk about the little things - far from being dealbreakers - that present themselves as chinks in the Andromeda 2020’s robust, sonic-qualities:
- Balanced-armature (BA) IEMs are often characterized by a sense of weightlessness, plastickyness to their notes. Sometimes, this can veer straight into “smothered” territory in which the timbre is littered with BA artifacts. But I was pleasantly surprised by the Andromeda 2020. While it’s certainly no exception to this phenomenon, it’s one of the better offenders I’ve heard. It mostly suffers from the “weight” issue; thankfully, the timbre is near devoid of any coloration. This is more noting the lesser of two evils than a straight critique.
- Macro-dynamic compression. The Andromeda 2020 is quite resolving which makes it easy to overlook this issue, and it’s why I didn’t catch it immediately. In particular, the midrange sounds very rigid and struggles to scale vocal inflections and cues. The Andromeda 2020 simply doesn’t do dynamics - either detail or slam oriented - as well as I’d expect.
- The lower-midrange seems to be thicker, less resolving than the upper-midrange of the Andromeda 2020. This will probably come down to personal preference as to whether it’s a good or bad thing. Personally, I’d consider it a coherency issue with the tuning. Stuff like Joe Nichols’ “Sunny and 75” has a hint of blobiness for me with his gruffer, deeper voice. I still wouldn’t go so far as to call it bloated, but I did find myself gravitating more towards female-centric tracks instead.
Moondrop Blessing 2: I was most interested to see how the Andromeda 2020 stacks up to the de-facto king of the sub-$500 bracket, the Blessing 2. After all, the Blessing 2 is touted as something of a giant-killer. I do think that the Blessing 2 is more balanced when it comes to tonality. You get some of that dynamic impact in the bass that the Andromeda lacks and there’s a little less fuzziness (or bloat) to the lower midrange.
But a good frequency response is far from qualifying a flagship IEM, and this distinction presents itself all too clearly in practice when it comes to the intangibles. Perhaps the one edge the Blessing 2 has on the Andromeda is in macro-dynamics. For all the hype around the Blessing 2’s imaging capability, it’s only slightly better than average, and it doesn’t quite break the head-stage barrier for me. The Blessing 2 also runs into the roadblock of many a hybrid IEM: Coherency. Its textureless bass and timbral coloration chip away at an otherwise excellent tonality, and for this reason alone, the Andromeda 2020 comes out a solid peg above for me. In all fairness, we’re comparing apples-to-oranges here, and the Blessing 2 practically dominates its respective price-bracket.
Sony IER-M9: Following a recent price-cut, this is one of the most consistent recommendations in the kilobuck bracket. The IER-M9 is a much warmer IEM that manages to circumvent many of the pitfalls of a full-BA setup. To this effect, it has more weight to the timbre, a more dynamic bass response, and thicker vocal presentation than the Andromeda 2020.
Pure sonic-wise, if I was forced to choose, I would give a slight edge to the IER-M9 because of its very safe tonality. However, it’s severely lacking in that “musical” factor. It doesn’t quite match the Andromeda 2020’s out-of-head imaging or depth, and the IER-M9’s timbre is in a weird cross between a DD and BA. The Andromeda 2020 also has a clear edge in transient speed, although the IER-M9 is quite resolving nonetheless. Both are very safe recommendations in my opinion, and I could see it going both ways.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020: Well, this is a tough one for me, and maybe not for the reasons you’d think. The Solaris 2020 certainly might appeal to those who want an engaging, colored tonality. It has a more powerful sub-bass emphasis and a thick, thick midrange that makes the Andromeda 2020’s sound anemic. But as a consequence, there’s substantial cutbacks in technical performance. Both layering and imaging capability collapse relative to the Andromeda 2020, and the thick midrange leads to loss of pure resolution. If it has one intangible advantage over the Andromeda 2020, it’s in dynamics, but it runs into some pitfalls there too.
The Solaris 2020 isn’t a bad IEM - not by a long shot. I mentioned earlier that Campfire Audio captured lightning in a bottle with the Andromeda, and really, it’s more so a testament to how good the Andromeda 2020 is. I have a strong preference between the two of these IEMs, and it’s not the Solaris 2020.
Despite some minor nitpicks - hey, I have standards to uphold - the Andromeda 2020 is a terrific IEM in this reviewer’s humble opinion. I’ve heard a number of IEMs I would consider safe, but I personally wouldn’t want to own because they're, well, boring. The Andromeda 2020 seems to hit a sweet spot: A more laidback tuning with broad, listener appeal that doesn’t sacrifice an engagement factor. It’s imaging capabilities are a force to be reckoned with, and I’ve had to re-evaluate my expectations of what’s possible from an IEM in this regard.
Value is where things get considerably more difficult to assess. The IEM world has made great strides in the last four years; the Moondrop Blessing 2 is a prime example. It really does play ball with a lot of the IEMs in the sub-$1000 bracket. And to this effect, I think it would be a stretch (a fat one) to consider the Andromeda 2020 a game changer like the original was. Make no mistake, though: The Andromeda 2020 easily holds its own in today’s market. I’d consider it a very good, safe recommendation if you don’t mind sacrificing an authoritative bass response.
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