It takes about 5 seconds to realize that the Atlas was a labor of love for the Campfire team. This juggernaut is the culmination of their wealth of experience, trials, tribulations, user feedback, and technological discoveries. The Atlas doesn’t pull any punches, so take your blood pressure medication because there will be heart palpitations.
As with all things in audio, the whole doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. There will inevitably be comparisons to the Vega because they both utilize an A.D.L.C. dynamic driver (8.5mm vs. 10mm), but that would be selling the Atlas short based on what I’m hearing. I can concede that upon first listen this appears to be an incremental upgrade across the FR over the Vega, but I also know that some minor refinements in this hobby create the pricing chasms between competing products and can subjectively impact the overall enjoyment of the music. As I give the Atlas more listening over the next few weeks, I strongly suspect the Vega will be supplanted as my favorite dynamic driver IEM.
We are in the age of a headphone renaissance with so many manufacturers jumping at the opportunity to provide the best possible equipment at any given price point. Campfire Audio exemplifies this philosophy by infusing their Portland culture into marvelous metals, unique topologies, and original sound signatures. They stand out in a sea of homogenous me-too products. I could not be more grateful that Ken and Co. dropped the money on the roulette table and took that gamble to bring their products to market. It’s a great time to be alive!
The Atlas and Comet are arguably the most visually striking models CA has conceptualized. It’s all in the small details. The hand polished stainless steel looks good even when mottled with fingerprints. Unlike the zirconium blasted aluminum shells of the BA models or the liquid metal alloy of the DD models, the Atlas and Comet have a matching finish 3D printed tip and applying/removing ear tips is quite effortless. The overall fit and finish looks and feels second to none.
The new silver cable is wound with a twist and purported to reduce tangling and micro phonics. I can attest that it works exceptionally well. I’m certain CA sought to address this since the Atlas is designed to be worn down and that will inherently make any IEM more susceptible to micro phonics.
Comfort is going to depend on a few variables: ear tip type, ear tip size, and wear preference.
Unlike the other CA offerings which are designed to be worn over ear, the Atlas is designed to be worn down. The closest comparison I’ve personally experienced with this design would be the IE 800 / IE 800 S. Spending the necessary time to get the fit just right will make or break the experience for some and I don’t want anyone to miss hearing what the Atlas can do.
There are three different types of ear tips: CA stock foam, CA silicone and Final Audio E Series edge style. I recommend checking your prejudice for a specific type of ear tip and take the time to try each one in all available sizes. In addition, cinching the chin slider up high and using a shirt clip definitely improvethe overall comfort.
Personal ear tip preference order:
- CA stock foam
- Final Audio E Series edgestyle
- CA silicone
The Final Audio Series edge style is made of silicone and has a thick ribbed stem for rigidity similar to the Spin Fit tips. There are 5 different sizes available for this ear tip, sothe experimentation options are endless and I actually preferred using two different sizes for the left and right.These ear tips render a slightly different sound compared to the CA stock foam, but I ultimately found myself adjusting it every few minutes as it slowly worked its way out of my ear.
The CA silicone is the only ear tip that is almost flush with the Atlas’s tip barrel and as a direct result means you will get a deeper insertion. I couldn’t get these to sit in place for me, regardless of the size. If you have experience with the IE800 and had trouble with the fit, then this will be a similar affair.
The Atlas can definitely be worn over ear with success, but it’s not as comfortable or ergonomic as popping them straight in your ears.
Naturally I couldn’t wait to hear these straight out of the box and throw the burn-in caveats to the wind. I promised myself that I wouldn’t provide anything less than helpful impressions to potential listeners and curb the emotional commentary, but some promises were meant to be broken. I will be the first to admit that when I heard reports regarding sonic improvements across the FR versus the Vega, I winced a little. More isn’t always better. Better is better.
My initial impression of the Atlas in comparison to the venerable Vega after 10 hours of listening through my Hugo 2 is that it simply does everything better across the gamut. It could be the increase in driver size, the polarity tuned chamber, the new silver braided cable, but I can’t unhear these noticeable differences in detail, speed, texture, and nuance.
The high frequencies cleave instrumental notes with aplomb while simultaneously supplying more detail. The timbre has increased to a degree I can only describe as liquid realism; the treble appears in the mix and decays fast enough to tickle my eardrum at times. I don’t want it to come across as hyperbole when I say it’s some of the finest treble I’ve ever heard, but it is beyond reproach on even the most sibilant of test tracks.
The mids have increased definition and stand more in the spotlight.They even manage to steal the show during complex passages with the other two frequencies in full effect. I’m hearing the male vocals as having more bite and rasp in the chest while female vocals are angelic and smooth, which is exactly how I like them.
The bass to end all bass. The bass other bass wishes it could be. There are plenty of people who don’t enjoy a lot of bass and I was in that same camp years ago. I didn’t even know I liked bass this much until CA came along. I now subscribe to an old GM slogan: it’s not more than you need, it’s more than you’re used to. That being said, the bass is indeed larger in both scale and physicality than the Vega, but irrationally embodies more textural detail and impactful speed. These elemental improvements together create a unified, organic whole across a wider range of music genres. It’s also worth noting that the bass will inevitably settle down and become more refined with more hours of use.
This is a little more difficult to articulate, but the Atlas is more spacious and every frequency yields more delineated notes. The Atlas can at times feel like you’re drowning in a sea of detail and that renders moments of serious emotional engagement. It’s a good thing we’re all here to feel feelings because with the Atlas they will be felt.
I can’t say I’m speechless after writing down so many thoughts, but my heart is racing with excitement. The Atlas commands your attention from the very first listen and sets out to accomplish things that I didn’t think were possible with a dynamic driver: (a) treble with unmatched breadth and realism, (b) effortless and unencumbered mids, and (c) bass with speed, impact, and textural detail. CA further proves that you really can have it all.