Campfire Audio Cascade: A set of cans of which Bob would approve… ngoshawk
Head Pie 10:13 PM
Campfire Audio Cascade:
A set of cans of which Bob would approve…
Pros – Deep luscious bass.
Right. price point to enter.
Sound befitting a flagship.
Cons – Not the most comfortable.
Treble lacked a bit of sparkle (to me).
Not much else!
(intro written after about two weeks and 60+ hours)
Listening to Roger Waters The Tide is Turning, while my 7mos old Australian Shepherd “puppy” is underfoot kind of brings things into perspective. What an incredible album Radio Kaos is. Timely then, and as much so today. Begging me to play with her, I succumb, and it is good. She is a beautiful, fantastic partner for our family, and I am so thoroughly in love, that I feel pangs of guilt upon leaving for school each day. She knows, and she copes. Upon return each day, we rejoice in that partnership again, and again. Begging us to play soccer with her outside, no matter the cold or weather…she simply loves whatever the weather; we rejoice in that unabashed love for each other. I well up now thinking of that bond. That unbreaking unconditional love only a dog can bring (besides life partners and children of course). That incredible overwhelming feeling of love drives me through each bad day (and there have been many lately…), knowing she awaits our return. Willingly forgetting that we left her alone (and yes, she is sometimes not as well behaved in the house as she should…), but all forgiven when we greet. What an inconceivably fantastic feeling.
I mention the above not only because I love my dog. I love her very, very much; but because I do believe that this is the same love with which Ken and CO greet their workshop each morning. Guilty for having left at the end of each (most likely long) day. Guilt knowing there is still wares to be put together. Customers who have shown faith (both new and old) in those wares, with that wanting of NOW, that wanting of “I can’t wait any longer!”. I feel their anguish, those customers. Especially knowing of Ken’s reputation for somewhat upheaving the in-ear market with the excellent Jupiter, which I am lucky enough to own (now onto the Andromeda/Vega in that vein), but his uncompromising passion for what HE and company thinks is the best (notice I did not say ultimate, for a reason…) sound that they can provide. Not ultimate mind you, a craftsman such as Ken knows that they may never attain that “ultimate” sound. At least I like to think that, since I do not know of him other than what some acquaintances state through conversation regarding all audio. But, it is obvious that Campfire Audio strives to improve our sound and our relationship with sound through their products.
Having been lucky enough to hear not only my excellent Jupiter (and previously owned Nova) along with @Pinkypowers fantastic Dorado I do get from where Ken & CO are coming from. I get it, I understand it, and I do approve of it. Wholeheartedly. They do not submit “new products” for our perusal simply to keep up with the times. In fact, there was an almost stagnation of “new” for a bit. One, which was used to catch up on their popularity. A well-earned popularity, I might add. But, while that was being done (to criticism of some, good Lord give me a break…get over it, it’s their company they do as they want…), word was out that new products were of course in the works (of course they were!). Happily, the Cascade is the result of such work.
Initially word was that they were taking the Vega sound to a closed-back headphone, with the portability of a mid-fi priced headphone. Almost unheard of at this level (I do have the excellent VModa Crossfade ii, which are portable, wireless and significantly less expensive). Many scoffed (as I read the thread…) that it could be achieved, or that something had to give due to A) the price point, B) the portability issue, or C) the fact that it was their first foray into headphones. Lofty goals, would have been an understatement. Implausible would be a better descriptive. But, one thing of which I have observed from that distance to Campfire Audio, was that this could very well be what drives their psyche. The challenge to do something, which has not been done, or not done well-enough to their satisfaction. THAT is key to what drives them, and to why when @Wiljen asked, I jumped. He offered his pair before the tour, and until the tour is arranged for a long-term audition, Ken himself gave leave of Will to do the tour and offer the headphone for my consumption (or so I like to think…). It was through this, and I was afforded an extended listen of which I still harbor. Of which I still savor and listen. Happily, I might add. Whomever receives the pair from me after will have a fully broken in pair, with nie on 310ish hours (it came to me with 133hrs, so sayeth Will). Suffice to say it is broken in. To say I was also lucky, goes beyond that feeling of luck, into well treasure.
5Hz–33 kHz Frequency Response (attn -26dB)
100 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
38 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
13.5 oz (without cable) or approximately 383 g
Earpad Dimensions Outside OD approx – 2.75-inch wide x 4 inch tall
Inside ID is approx – 1.5 inch wide x 2.5 inch
42 mm Beryllium PVD diaphragm dynamic driver
Sheep Leather Detachable Headphone Pads
Circular ‘Push-Pull’ Connections
Cast + Machined Aluminum Cup and Hanger Arms
Steel headband, pivot and joints
Litz Cable – Silver Plated Copper with Cloth Jacket (4′)
With familiarity comes comfort. Complacency can also be wrought, but that need not be, nor is it the case here. Familiarity is at it should, what with the recognizable Campfire Audio green box, replete with stars, camping and mountains outside of Portland; the headquarters. Familiar and appreciated, for it pays homage from whence they come. Appreciated because of that remembrance. Why change something when it doesn’t need changing? As Yogi Berra said so many decades ago, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Knowing of this beforehand, I appreciated how concise the container was, and of how accustomed it was to see. Opening said green box, you are of course presented with the familiar rectangle zippered “box” of faux leather, complete with the Campfire audio logo. Giddiness led to the opening, and again I was met with Sheepskin-like material in which the Cascade lay. Not wanting to disturb the sleeping headphone, I carefully removed the two-plain dark gray envelopes. One of which contains the excellent Litz cable almost as soft & supple as the pouch itself, the other the tuning filters. With a two-way zipper, which could keep a tiger at bay in the container due to its girth, complete with logo-laden zipper grabs of quite the heft, a long grab handle rounds out the package. Simple, superb and top quality. Nicely done, indeed. But, it is what was inside, which draws all of us to Campfire Audio, even if the zippered cocoon is worth the price of admission.
I was taken aback at how compact the critter looked. From pictures, one gets the impression of something truly massive, of VModa-size (I say this now owning an excellent pair…). But, just like that brand, the Cascade surprised me with compactness belying the pictures. They are also fairly light. As Will aptly described, “Built like a tank, without the tank-like weight.” I would concur, as some of my personal headphones do in fact weight more. With a dearth of accessories, or at least the plain envelopes to me epitomizes Ken and CA. Classically represented. As it should be.
Placing the Cascade on my cranial matter, I was taken aback at the grab pressure associated with the placement. Almost too tight, I moved my head vigorously from side-to-side with no movement at all. Almost too tight. Cushioning my ears with real sheepskin comfort, the square pads enveloped my ears, just. Fit was good, but none-too-big/small. Those with bigger earlobes could be in trouble, and some have mentioned this after receiving theirs. I did find for a time, that due to the pressure, the pad/ear cups would “swivel” inward, at an angle to which the bottom would be almost touching my ear…almost. A simple rearranging of the cup angle took care of this. I had little problem with fit, other than the occasional readjustment needed.
Moving beyond the ear cup, the overall approach is one of quality. Quality exudes from the very first time you remove the Cascade from its cradle. Almost too afraid to pick up the critter for fear of disturbing it, I do, and I am engaged with the overall excellence of quality. No misfits here. Tightly sewn seams, tightly fit parts, with no mismatch. One comes to expect this when we spend our own hard-earned dollar; and Campfire Audio does not disappoint. Often companies will afit glamour with their ware, much to the detriment of keeping said ware clean…think of some IEM’s you have, which are a pain in the arse to keep clean and you understand. Or most anyone’s Smartphone screen. I clean mine several time a day as a result. I just can’t stand it, otherwise.
But with the Cascade, you need not worry. The matte-like finish of the ear cup does not warrant worry. It does not breed fingerprints like my iPhone X screen, which I swear is like a rabbit in heat when it comes to smearing…not a pretty site mind you. You needn’t worry. Not at all. With that quality construction, comes durable material and an aesthetically pleasing look.
Another nice feature is the magnetic ear cups. Used to access the four included filters, a simple pull takes the ear cup off, presenting you with the area in which you can access and change the filters. At first and after reading some, I was skeptical at how easily the cups may come off. This was quickly alleviated once I did it for myself. While the cup does remove quite nicely, there is no fear of it coming undone once remounted. A nice easy feature, without the use of pins/slots and twisting. I do like this and affords easy access/change of those filters. A nice touch. Do be very careful when removing the cup as the filter is small and can easily come off. Make sure the adjustment is perfect before returning said cup to driver housing.
Thankfully a user tuning manual is included: https://campfireaudio.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Cascade-Tuning-Manual.pdf
A softish leather band graces the headband. One in which many agree (as do I) that there was more adjustability fit-wise and a bit more cushioning. But, not all can be please no matter the price, and this certainly wouldn’t be a deterrent for me. My Elear gives better cushion, on the bottom, but not quite the adjustability of the Cascade. Stainless steel hinges makes for quite the durable critter at what can be a troublesome spot. No worries here, though.
With ample vertical adjusting, the Cascade should fit any head this side of Herman Munster. I had four notches out on each side, while wearing a hat. No problem, good fit. Again, not quite the comfort of my Elear, but ahead of the more economical Crossfade’s. With near 90-degree swivel to the rear, and what I think is about 20 degrees to the front, there is ample adjustment to fit most heads. And with about 40-45 degrees vertically, most can achieve a parallel fit to their cranium. Good stuff, indeed.
As for the cable, Campfire Audio took the same approach as with all of their wares…it is the Campfire Audio designed Litz wire and of plenty good quality. While I would have liked a bit more “sturdiness” to the cable, one cannot complain about the quality, nor that it WILL indeed last a good long time. And with the ability to order other cables, you shan’t be disappointed. It is a cable befitting the Cascade, and you need not worry. It does not tangle and can easily fit back into the envelop. But knowing said envelop is paper, will soon disintegrate, and need to be recycled. I simply unplugged from the headphone, wrapped carefully, and placed on top of the headphones in the case. No problem.
Putting the whole package together, one is privy to the entirety of Campfire’s quantity to date. And it is good. Knowing that this is their latest iteration into our pleasures is a good thing. And knowing this is their first foray into full-sized headphones, one can only think of what lies ahead. That said, I would be jumping into a future of which I would rather be surprised, so I will keep “grounded” with the Cascade.
thebit Opus #2
thebit Opus #1S
Focal Elear (similar priced now, and model level)
Focal Listen (closed-back portability at an “affordable” price)
VModa Crossfade ii, wireless & wired (compared for closed-back portability, too)
Unique Melody Maestro V2, w/ Effect Audio Ares ii balanced cable
64Audio U8 (comparison of bass)
Campfire Jupiter (Norne Vorpal SE & bal, flagship to flagship, same price)
Bob & Ziggy of course. Bob would be proud
Roger Waters- The Tide is Turning
Twentyonepilots- Guns For Hands, Trees
Dave Matthews-Jimmy Thing
10,000 Maniacs- Candy Everybody Wants, These Are Days
Stevie Ray Vaughan- I Ain’t Goin’ Give up on Love (live and studio versions)
Overall Sound sig:
* Disclaimer: I used the 2T filter, which was mounted for the majority of the time. Wanting to note if there was more bass and mid response with the 1T, I switched for the last of my time. Due to my inabilities, I was unable to discern a difference. Switching to the 4T, I could discern a bit more openness to the treble. Do not take that as gospel as it could very well have been placebo/brain trickery in my case. Those with better ears will probably be able to discern differences. *
I am always loathe to give an abstract of sound, for I feel it hard to boil down into a fair bit of words the overall sound, which pervades the unit in question. There is so much more than what can be provided in a short summary, but as a good Scientist, one must be able to digest down the best qualities of their research into the pertinent. I shall try.
Knowing this unit was still of the “less than fully burned in” I was taken by the dichotomy of the first two songs I played: Guns For Hands & These Are Days. A full deep rich sound was heard from the first, and a BOOMING bass from the second. So much so, that I had to remove the Cascade and draw down the volume. I was astounded by this utter loudness of bass. It was huge. To the point, where I immediately wondered of what I was entering into…After what I would consider an adequate brain-burn and afforded extra 10 hours or so, that harsh AMOUNT of bass settled. Running the same song, through the same volume and set up after about another 10 hours, I can report that it seemed to be an anomaly of burning in. I blame the Beryllium driver, stupid rare earth metal… (absolutely joking there…)
So, to boil this down into not so few words, I would describe the Cascade as full, rich warm and deep of reach. This is certainly not reference quality (I’m not even sure what that might be really, as each has their own “reference” sound…smh). A sound, which can put a smile on a dog’s face when their owner comes home. A sound, which when listening to Natalie Merchant’s sweet, sweet melodic voice indeed brings a smile. Oh, my goodness, this has the richness of a triple-layered chocolate cake at a fine restaurant. You know you shouldn’t but do simply because to not do so would insult the chef and restaurant. And both are glad you did.
That said, there is ample detail present. To me, when one talks of bass, and plenty of it such as the Cascade has clarity or detail does not come into mention. This is too often the case in my short ride, and humble opinion. Too often bass overtakes the overall sound quality. The VModa of which I have somewhat defies this, but with a certain sparkle up top for compensation. And it can become tedious with the wrong songs. There is no such compensation with the Cascade. None, period. The sound is allowed to speak the CA song and method, without the addition of tuning to compensate. This is a bass heavy sound, and warm as mentioned, but one would be silly not to try if that was one’s not preferred signature. It is of that quality, which it can pervade other’s preferences to the good. There seems to be no lack of quality across the board, just some enhancing. And this can be put down to the closed-back nature of the Cascade as much as tuning (OK, to a point, but I do hope you understand…).
Noah’s Dove is a very good example. Building piano provides each note with detail and clarity of sound. Bring in that bass guitar for depth, and the acoustic guitar for more detail and you get it. You get what drove Ken & CO to do what they did. There, I said it. That’s my abstract…
I also struggle when pulling out the separates…due to my inadequacies and lack of formal training, I simply provide what I hear. And what I don’t, I cannot. This has saved me from entering some arguments of which I would surely lose. I provide what I hear, and that is it. Someday I will add formal measurements, but I have not the time to learn another expertise at this present time.
Staying with that bass point, Ziggy & Bob sound simply magical on the Cascade. Dragonfly Ziggy’s seminal song to me is as detailed and of excellent quality as I would expect. I found myself playing that song over and over, as I did 10,000 Maniacs. That sound out of my Opus#2 is deep, rich and booming, while not losing too much of the upper end. Detailed, separated, spacious-yet intimate as with a good closed-back set. A sound worthy of being called a TOTL from a company, and one which aims to “go after” several of the bigger headphone companies.
Bass: A am enthralled with the bass presentation to the point at which I could consider this a basshead representation. Someone else mentioned that this is their “endgame,” and being a basshead that says a lot. I may not go that far, but I am still smitten with how the Cascade can present such wondrous bass, while holding excellent control of that. Too often with models such as this, there is that compensation of which I spoke before. The need to compensate by taming or uplifting another sound to match the bass. Too much, too hot treble can be encountered to balance the deep delving bass. Not here though. Control and detail are the end of that. It is one thing to enjoy thunderous bass. It is another to enjoy it AND get the clarity of a detailed presentation as complimentary. I would consider this classic Campfire Audio bass, evident especially in the Dorado, and somewhat in the Jupiter. I really wish to spend more time in the Dorado for comparatives sake, but memory will have to suffice for now. Excellent bass presentation when you need it, and an excellent foundation on which to build. Well done, Ken & CO.
Mids: Of all the sounds, I have the hardest time discerning differences of the mids. I just cannot separate enough of that to competently draw conclusions. I will do my best, and you can take it as you may. That said, I do find the mids to be presented in an exemplary manner befitting a flagship. To me there can be a shouting match when one describes the flagships…“I am the flagship for a reason!!!” or “You had better listen to me NOW!!!” Not here, though. Just wonderfully presented, and a fit into the overall signature that ties all together nicely. There is a slight cow-towing to the bass, but only in reverence to how wonderful the bass really is. This would be the example of a Mother telling her three kids to all get along and play because company is coming. And they dare not cross what their Mother says…and it would be that middle child who holds all together in unison and harmony, even at the expense of themselves. My wife is a middle child…
There is a little bleed of bass into the mids from my perspective, and with the closed backs I have or have heard (albeit limited) this is somewhat refreshing. Sometimes bass heavy closed headphones can overpower the mids to the point where the mids throw up the white flag, knowing resistance would be futile. Giving up completely. Here though, the mids are almost completely copacetic with that and willingly take the bass into the fold, despite the overshadowing. Without a cross word, without a cross sound, and tying nicely into the overall signature. Again, think that middle child who doesn’t want to be a bother, nor any attention drawn. Their work represents themselves. And here is where the mids shine, on the upper end. Simply sublime presentation of guitars and male vocals represent to me the highlight of those mids. When I can hear Stevie Ray Vaughan or Ziggy Marley almost completely open and with natural warmth, then something has been done right. Done right, indeed. I really dig this warm sound.
Treble: this to me, is where the Cascade falls behind my Elear, and Crossfade. Not as present, not as well defined, either. But, if I have to quibble, it really is of a minor one, as this is still quite a good presentation of treble, albeit a laid-back version. To me, the Cascade is a bit of rolled off on the top. Again, that is where my deficiency is (I know you are most likely tired of hearing that, but…), so please take a listen for yourself. What could have been the icing on the headphone cake goes a bit flat. I wish a bit more sparkle was present. And of all the sounds, I dislike peaky treble the most, as this absolutely bothers me. So, in that vein the Cascade is quite good…no harshness, not sibilant, just a bit too mellow for me. If CA had incorporated the excellent treble of the Jupiter, this darn well might be perfect. But they did not. And typically speaking something has to give, or there is that one “fault” we find, which does not suit our tastes. And, if this is the high-end Campfire Audio was after, then I do applaud them for staying true to their sound. I really do.
But, compared to the VModa or Focal, it is a bit flat. Compared to the Crossfade, I welcome that mellowness, as the VModa can come across as harsh after a good listen. Nothing of the sort with the Cascade. It is really quite pleasant in that vein. Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down epitomize that dichotomy. WELL too harsh on the VModa, simple melodious on the Cascade, and I listen to my anthem of the year (personal reasons, PM me and I will tell…) over and over and over. If this is the treble in which Ken & CO strove to achieve, I approve. And I would hold the same on the Elear, the song simply sings perfectly to me through the Focal, better than the Cascade. But, comparing a really excellent open-back headphone to a closed-back isn’t really fair. But, that is what I have at that price-point. Again, I approve of the effort and cannot wait for V2.
Soundstage/Separation: While quite good for a closed-back, this really isn’t a fair comparison. While decently wide, one would not purchase this set for the soundstage. The sound would be key. And on Bob’s seminal I Know, he is speaking directly to those interested. Ain’t it good to know, defines what Cascade owners can expect, and indeed it will be good. Everything is neatly in place and does not crowd for the most part. I will call this “good enough,” and quite good for a closed-back.
Sources: Using mainly the Opus#2 provided me with a sound worthy of two flagships. And I would hope so. Excellent detail, excellent clarity, excellent separation. All three were superb. If I had to describe in a bit more detail, it would be one of grace, melody and comfort. The two melded together in such a manner that this could be not only my home unit, but I would make it work for commuting (if I did), and office critter. I spent many hours using the combo at work, unfortunately only for about 45 minutes at a time due to my schools structure, and interruptions during plan (DRAT!!). But every evening I could, the pair was my go to set up. And I was not disappointed.
Combining with the Shanling M3s was not as pleasant to me. While quite acceptable, the two didn’t meld as well to me. With an overt tonality of ME FIRST!!!, I found that instead of working together, the Shanling wanted to take front and center. For something such as my FLC8S, this is fine as that is the pair I use in running and lifting. But for pure listening, it just didn’t work.
The Opus#1s was also quite good, as I would expect. With “less” of the above Opus #2, the pair fell behind, but in keeping with the Audio-Opus tradition of clarity, and an honest open sound, the pair was very acceptable. I used this pair before shipping the Opus off to Will for his perusal, so it was only in fleeting, the two together.
Coming into my last night or two, I decided to bring an old friend out of the storage bin, the Fiio x5iii. Remembering when this was the Cat’s Meow flavor of the month, I awaited the updates, and virus scanning in order to run the critter. As an interesting note, I had not used the FiiO in well over two months. And it lost only 7% battery…incredible. And yes, it was powered completely off. So in power off mode, that equates to well…a darn long time! Since I was too lazy to pull an SD card from another player, I chose to stream Tidal Premium, since many of us stream as much as we do play from SD. And…I was shocked. Simply taken aback. If I had to, I would say the meld of the pair was right up there with the Opus#2, my favorite. And yes, I know even Tidal Premium isn’t the best quality sound, but the deep rich tone from the stream added into the right places with the Cascade. Me brain is still wrapping around the concept of streaming and the two together as Hometown thunders and strains from the Cascade. Except it isn’t strain. It is melodious commuting near-perfection. This is bloody cool! Heathens, might be for enjoying this pair, but isn’t that the point?! If one cannot enjoy what one has, or must have the newest greatest, then you really should find another hobby. I have fallen prey to that myself, but the Shanling M5 and the FiiO x5iii keep me grounded. And yes, I know the FiiO is “only” two years old…an eternity in portable audio I might add. While the sound from Heathens highlights the limits of each…too boomy of bass, lacking that fine detail, it is still a raucous good time! Tyler is singing directly to us in this pair, and it is a worthy listen.
Other stuff: I can define layers pretty well here, again for a closed-back there is a very good detailed layered presentation. Imaging speaks volumes, and is worth it’s wait (weight?…). If we had to boil this whole schpeel to one word, it would be detail and clarity. OK, two. The detail representation is very, very good. Each layer can be deciphered like that fine five-layer chocolate cake, and it is good. And, to top it off? Well…clarity. The way those details are presented is pretty clear, except for the aforementioned treble miss (to me). So there you go, detail and clarity in a closed-back headphone.
As usual, I wandered, pondered, worded, scribbled, verbiaged way too much…but that is what this critter can do. The more I listened, the more I had to write about it. That is the “spell” the Cascade has me under. Call it Brain Damage, by Pink Floyd and you will most probably get it. I listen…I write…I listen some more…I write some more…then I just listen. And listen for a good long time…Pretty much everything I threw at the Cascade sounded good. Very good. Very few times did I fast forward to the next song. And that was mainly because the song did not fit the mood. And I thought about one of my initial thoughts/feelings…that odd shape and the comfort factor.
The longer I listened, the more I became accustomed to the Cascade fit and feel. It didn’t bother me nearly as much as the early feel. But, occasionally it did become a bit warm around the cups. Even in moderately cool temperatures it was a bit warm. Well, it is a closed-back after all. I’m not sure what could be done without ruining the sound signature, but maybe something in the future…I also enjoyed the varied personality of the Cascade per each source above. The wondrous detail of the #2 to the raucous good listen of the x5iii, I thoroughly enjoyed it! I haven’t had this much fun since trying to make the Apex Pinnacle2 falter…a fruitless ploy, I might add.
And, the longer I listened, the more I had that thought…the same one as when I first listened to the loaner Focal Elear, and the loaner Grado GH-2…that what can I sell so I can purchase this beauty feeling and thought. Again, it was so powerful back then, that I ended up purchasing both eventually. And that nag hits me with the Cascade…not quite as hard, but just like that itch on the shoulder blade or small of your back, which you cannot reach; eventually it will need scratching. My hope is I hold out until V2 comes out, or I break down. I consider it Dirty Pool, from Campfire Audio, and I will eventually lose that game. And the bet? Well, I will let you figure that out…
I want to graciously (gratuitously?…) thank @Wiljen for the loan of the Cascade. Without provocation, he offered, and I jumped. I do believe that I will be unable to repeat exactly what I said then, but suffice to say, my extended time with the Cascade was a treat, a very, very good treat. I finish this listening to Willy Nelson with Susan Tedeschi’s most excellent version of Kansas City. If you have seen neither in concert, find a place close NOW and go. Both are well worth the price of admission, and dare I say the Cascade is too. I also want to thank Ken & Campfire Audio for allowing me the honor of a “pre-tour” listen. Suffice to say, that between Will & I the critter is broken in, putting myself through close to 175hrs of “torture.” Quite gracious, generous and just plain nice. It is the companies of this character, which allow us the pleasure of their wares, and I am glad, very glad. Think Ziggy’s live version of Redemption Song, from Live at Soho, and Bob would indeed smile on this pair.