Review written by Tyler Manuel (@DarthPool)
The Cascade is the only non-IEM in the Campfire Audio (CA) lineup, it is in very good company if you are an IEM aficionado, you know they produce some of the very best, if not the best, quality IEMs on the market today. The Campfire Audio (CA) Andromeda is one of the most sought after “Top of The Line” (TOTL) IEMs on the market currently. The CA Cascades have a lot to live up to in that regard.
The CA Cascade is considered a closed back portable solution; CA states that it performs like an open headphone. It is driven by a 42mm Beryllium PVD driver. Everything is custom designed and created by Campfire Audio, using lightweight aluminum and stainless-steel components. There are currently two pads available sheepskin pads come with the headphones, but a cloth option is available to order. Currently only the litz cloth covered cable is available and comes with the headphone but can also be ordered separately. The CA Cascade also comes with custom fit acoustic dampeners to customize the bass response, and a very nice travel case.
About Me: Background & Disclaimers
I purchased the CA Cascades for my own listening pleasure, and this review is from an enthusiast’s point of view. I do not have a background in audio, or really anything to do with headphones or their accompanying technologies (amps/DACs), other than enjoying the technology and music, and how when put into different combos, how/what they change in the music delivery.
I am a collector and gamer at heart, very eclectic background in a lot of different hobbies. To expand on that, basically I don’t really care where a thing/item/whatever comes from, as long as it is good, and I personally like it, that is what matters the most to me. I got into audiophile headphones and equipment based on a desire to find the best solution for headphones while gaming. I had multiple a-ha! moments starting with Astros different options and more recently while gaming with Sennheiser HD700/HD800.
I have had the CA Cascades for a couple of months now and feel that I have traversed a wide path over my audio collection, but for the sake of this review I will narrow down the playlist to a handful of tracks:
- Busty and the Bass – The Real
- Tom Odell, Zwette – Another Love, Zewette Edit
- Riot Jazz Brass Band – Suspicious Bulge
- Goldwash – Rhythm is Frozen
- Jorja Smith – Goodbyes
- Jimek – RF1
- Superorganism – Everybody Wants To Be Famous Spotify recording session
- Christine and the Queens – Tilted
- Headphone Activist – North End Nightlife
- Kevin MacLeod – Volatile Reaction
I listened to more tracks over my time with these headphones but these are the specific ones I used for this review; I’m new to understanding and finding good tracks to review headphones, but these ones seemed like a good way to evaluate the CA Cascade. I used Spotify Premium as the source for these tracks. I will continue to grow my FLAC files as I better understand what I am listening to.
Amps & DACs Used
I used a mix of RME ADI-2 DAC, iFi Audio Nano iDSD LE, JDS Labs Element (amp only), Massdrop x Cavalli Tube Hybrid (MCTH). For my listening sessions. I spent a lot of time with the RME ADI-2 DAC and the Element due to the neutral nature of those two. I also plugged directly into the headphone out jack of the RME ADI-2 DAC which did a great job powering these.
I find the CA Cascade to be one of the best built headphones as far as quality of materials that I own (Sennheiser HD58X/HD700/HD800; Fostex TH-X00 Purplehearts; Focal Elex; Hifiman HE 4xx; Monoprice M1060/C). The cups are solid and feel good in the hand. The sheepskin pads are plush/soft and feel nice on the head (can get a little warm on longer sessions). I also have the cloth pads and find the material not to my personal preference, it is scratchy and rough on the head.
Also due to the folding nature and dimension of the headband, it sticks out quite far to the sides of the head, making you look ridiculous if in public (had people on a plane mention it). The cable is very nice, feels good in the hand and looks good. But I can see it getting beat up pretty easy in daily use and is somewhat unwieldly. It isn’t the easiest to maneuver, not as bad as say the Focal Elex cables but not as good as say a Fostex cable.
The biggest issue I have with the build is how the cup inputs stick out and if you don’t pay attention will damage the cables when they are slotted in. This is especially the case with the stock cloth litz cable they come with. This issue pervades into traveling with them. You may have to remove the cables if you plan on folding up the headphone for travel as the inputs can add unnecessary bends on the cable. Along these lines those same inputs when folded have high potential for scratching the finish on the cups or pads. Your mileage may vary with these issues, but I tend to put my headphones face down on my desk subconsciously when going on quick breaks.
But overall mechanically solid and amazing quality in all the details.
You can see in the below picture what I was talking about in regards to placing the headphone facedown and how it would be problematic. It puts a lot of the weight on the cables. Now that being said the “duh” moment is “well place it with the cables up or on a stand”…I do this but on occasion, I need to quickly put them on the desk and this can be the result of not paying attention to how I put them down.
I think these are interesting on the comfort level, the sheepskin pads are really nice and plush and soft on the skin. The cloth pads are slightly stiffer, with for me not the best material. I find it scratchy and rough, not sandpaper by any means, just rougher then what I would like. That isn’t to say they are not comfortable; they do just fine; I just personally do not like the material used. I look forward to the next set of pads they put out, and hopefully they will be a Vegan style pad or velour pad.
The clamp force is of a medium strength but pervasive and could get uncomfortable over long listening sessions.
The pads have a unique over/on ear style and unless you have very small ears the pads will be pressing on them, but they are plush enough to not be overly uncomfortable for me (I prefer full circumaural headphones that don’t touch my ears).
The most uncomfortable part of these headphones is the band, it is so far the only headphone that has given me a hotspot on top of my head, until using these I didn’t fully understand what people meant by hotspots with headphones. Now having experienced it, I am careful to place these just right and to remove them if I begin to feel the pressure on top of my head and take a break. I think this occurs due to the narrow headband and the weight of the headphones. But when adjusted properly I can listen for extended periods with no hotspots. Practice safe listening folks!
Imaging & Soundstage
The CA Cascade has very good imaging even for a closed back headphone. I can generally pick out where instruments are coming from and roughly how far away they are. In the track “Suspicious Bulge” by Riot Jazz Brass Band, I can easily pick out the trumpets and drums in the space. Drums are front and center while the brass is on either side of the drums.
The soundstage isn’t as wide as I would like but does a really good job of creating that space. I don’t find them claustrophobic by any means. On the track “RF1” by Jimek you can get a real sense of the stage the orchestra is playing on, it is wide enough to give a feel of the stage and where the different instruments are (this track does a good job with showcasing imaging also).
This one is difficult for me to describe as I’m still learning how to recognize and define it. I feel like nothing outside of the bass has too much “color”, I get a very flat timbre that is uplifted and put right in front of you. It has a very, “here I am, take me as I am!” feel to the presentation. I would not call these bright or breathy, more neutral and flatter; but in your face, and un-apologetic.
The highs are actually quite good, they are accurate, though are presented more forward than you might expect; probably to help them shine through the epic bass.
The highs have a nice quality to them and really sparkle with crispness when they need to, then recede when the mids need to shine. I enjoy how snares snap, and trumpets ring with these. They are not piercing, in my experience with them at least. They are just present and accounted for.
The mids are warm and have a distinct presence, which is an odd experience with these cans because you don’t expect it. Then all of a sudden you have this strong mid presence in the middle of all that sparkle and bass. A perfect track that showcases this is “The Real” by Busty and the Bass. The first 18 seconds are trumpets and percussion then the singer drifts in and has a “presence” and even with the kick drum and snare, you feel the performance. The trumpets are shining, the bass is kicking and the vocals are there right along with them. It is a fun ride! It makes you want to have another go!
Thwomp from Super Mario, wears these on a daily basis (gamer reference). These things are bass cannons multiplied by BASS CANONS! The bad, it pervades into everything and surrounds it with oomph. The good, it is accurate and clean, but tend to create this overbearing presence; that once acclimated to is actually kind of fun and nice, like a nice weighted blanket. Just be aware like all blankets in the wrong situation they can be too hot. The surprising part about the bass is that even though it can be overpowering, Campfire Audio was still able to push the mids and highs through it and let them have a place on the stage alongside the star of the show. Because make no mistake the bass is the star of this show.
The next thing you can do to change this up is add the dampeners into the mix. I am not the biggest fan of these mostly because they are not the easiest to deal with. I think they can get lost easily. While pad swapping and testing the different dampeners (there are 4) it was rather irritating putting them back into their packaging. They don’t change enough of the sound signature to make a terrible difference for me. I will say that the 4T dampener and the cloth pads are a decent enough combo, I could see myself leaving those on in the summer when leather pads aren’t ideal for hot sweaty weather. The 4T dampener allows for the highs and mids to shine through the bass, and at the same time extend the bass almost to the leather pad levels. I personally like the stock sound on these but if you pick up a pair I highly recommend playing with the dampeners, to find your favorite sound signature. If nothing else it is a fun little experiment and a built in mod to play with.
The Cascades have a very distinct W sound profile. While listening they put the Highs/Mids/Lows on a pedestal. It is an odd listening experience noticing how they present the Highs/Mids/Lows like they are each an eager kid in class that always raises their hand and is all “NOTICE ME!!!” and fights for your attention. But then when you do pay attention they have this great quality of “sharing the spotlight” and melding together. Well outside of the bass (it’s an attention hog). I have grown to really prefer this headphone as my “fun” listening pair.
The statement by CA that these act-like open backs in performance is fairly accurate, they have good soundstage and imaging, and really push the Highs/Mids/Lows into your consciousness, and make you pay attention to all of them. Once acclimated to their sound signature these are a very enjoyable pair of headphones.
Last Words/The End
I had a very love hate relationship with the CA Cascade for the first couple weeks with them. I think that the bass would get too overwhelming and I could only listen to them for shorter sessions. With time and burn in (both brains, and mechanically) the bass is less overwhelming and I found my groove with the Cascades. The bass is still very in your face, but I appreciate it. It has become less a drunk guy in your face wanting to fight, and more of that curvy jazz singer you can’t take your eyes off (to your wife’s chagrin).
I also enjoy using the cloth pads even though I’m not a fan of the material, due to their ability to mellow out the bass even more.
The Cascades are a powerhouse that present Highs/Mids/Lows on individual pedestals that are on one big pedestal (I put pedestals on my pedestals…what!) presented to you front and center (okay so the bass is a standing a couple feet in front of the other two). It is one of the most fun headphones I have listened to and at the end of the day I will be keeping them in my stable of daily use headphones.
-Tyler Manuel (@DarthPool)