So here it is - my first speaker review! I finally convinced someone that my scribblings on their speakers, even if not best-informed (yet), would be a worthwhile investment. I’ve worked with iFi for a long time and am, jokes aside, grateful for their vote of confidence.Read More
As soon as I completed the review of Campfire Audio’s Comet, I immediately reached back out to my contact there, requesting to review their step-up from that product – the Atlas. This product occupies somewhat the same form factor, but a distinctly different market segment, with this product costing more than 6x the Comet.
True to form and cost, this is a premium UIEM and performs in leagues with some of the best that I’ve heard – but we’ll dive into that soon enough.Read More
I was very happy to finally get something for review from Beyerdynamic - I rarely review headphones from companies whose specific purpose is neutrality, particularly in the portable market. The Amiron Wireless is a classically utilitarian execution of Beyerdynamic’s house sound; the headphone is generally neutral, although the highs are somewhat bright, particularly in this closed context. However, for the mixer-on-the-go or the classical-music-fan or those that simply prefer uncolored sound, these are a very solid option.Read More
This review has been, quite literally, months in the making. That's mainly my fault, as a result of all of the time-management troubles that I've detailed at length, here, in the past. Regardless of that, though, I'd love to jump into my first official speaker review, although it may be a bit of stretch to put this product in such a conventional category.Read More
Alex Morris, who handles public relations for Brasstracks, very generously reached out to me on Wednesday, having sent over a pre-release copy of this new, follow-up EP from Brasstracks. Over the last couple days, I've listened to it myriad times through all the equipment to which I currently have access.Read More
Man, am I incredibly excited to get to write this post. A number of absurdly fortunate events conspired to allow this to happen - in the end of my time in China this summer, my friend (Kyle, actually! An editor here) and I have been traveling miscellaneously, a bit. The penultimate stop before heading back to the States was Shanghai.
While we were in Shanghai, we got to wandering. There's a lot to the city, not even a small percentage of which we explored during the short, three-day trip. On one outing, our first day, we walked past a very large, reasonably well-known hotel in the city - The Peninsula. As we circled around it, I looked across the street and saw, in their lobby level, a Sennheiser store. What a coincidence! We decided to stop in.
As I walked in, directly in front of me are not one, not two, but five HE-1s. All in glass cases.Read More
It’s always a pleasure for me to receive an email from Campfire Audio. This time, they sent over a pair of their newest IEMs, the Comet. They fall in CA’s more modest price-range, around $200. The last headphones I reviewed from them were their $800 Cascade which, while one of my favorite headphones of all time, are prohibitively expensive for many, if not most. Let’s jump in.Read More
It has always proved exciting for me to receive an email from iFi, and the same held true when they reached out to me regarding their new xDSD portable DAC/amplifier. This entry to the market seems to seek to directly compete with offerings from similar boutique audio companies, like the Chord Mojo, which I reviewed many months ago. Regrettably, the device has since left my hands, so I won’t be able to do a direct comparison. However, continue we must.Read More
It's been a while since I've just talked about the state of the site, and given my apparent disappearance for the past two months or so, I feel an update is warranted.Read More
It's been a year since the first official post on this page. Although that's technically not the accurate date, since I had to repost a few of my first reviews for format and platform changes, this still feels more like the milestone to me.
I'm going to try my best to not overstate anything in this post - I'm still, like I was when I started, some relatively two-bit blogger with a few thousands readers a month. But, this feels a little unique to me for a couple reasons.Read More
It seems oddly fitting that this review is being posted on the one-year anniversary from my first post on this website, for reasons that I think will become clear by the end of this review. Speaking of the anniversary though, I've thrown together some admittedly simple statistics and a bit of reflection that I think might be valuable, and that'll go up in about an hour after this does.
But beyond all that, let's get to the actual review.
Campfire Audio sent me their Polaris IEM a few months back, and I very much enjoyed my time with them, as well as the background I was able to get from Caleb on what exactly they had done, in terms of innovation and improvement, to create the headphone that they had.
But, as soon as I saw an over-ear pop up on their website, I reached back out. The fully closed-back form factor, the minimalistic, but somewhat industrial design, and the price-point - I knew I needed to get my hands on a pair. They shipped out, and I got them on my head. Spoiler (although more so for framing the review): these are my new favorite pair of headphones, and that's likely to be a theme throughout.
Fit and Form
Pictures fail to convey quite a bit of valuable information about a headphone, and that's what I was waiting to resolve once I got them in my hands. The headphones are incredibly robust, with almost all exterior surfaces being either matte-black anodized aluminum or sheepskin leather. The actuation of the headphone is something that really surprised me. The design is such that adjustments in the points of pressure of the earcup on your head (both horizontally and vertically) stay where you put them. This was something I had yet to see in a headphone that, it turns out, I really like. I feel that it's valuable for those that are irritated by certain positions of an over-ear headphone, just as a result of the shape of their jaw, etc., to be able to position the headphone exactly as they like.
Let's get through accessories real quick before digging into design of the actual headphone, though. Included with the headphones is a very nice, hard leather case. The zippers are black chrome, and the case has a removable leather carrying strap, all tastefully embossed with the Campfire Audio logo and/or name. It's as compact as could be for headphones of this form factor, and can pretty comfortably fit in a backpack.
The included cable was another surprise. From the pictures, it looked oddly stiff and seemed like it'd be an inconvenience. Quite the opposite is the case, thankfully. The cable is cloth-wrapped, and is very supple - I had no problems with kinking or stiffness. The connector at the signal-end is a 45° 1/8" TRS connector, and is as compact as possible, although there is still space for a CA logo. The splitter is also very minimal, although I don't foresee any longevity problems with either. The connectors at the headphone-end are circular push-pull connectors which feel absolutely great. The tolerances are good, and the rotational orientation-locking mechanism works very well. The click is also very satisfying - all around, great cable. Microphonics were minimal in use, although they can be heard with purposeful effort.
Because of their weight, along with the materials used, the headphones feel extremely premium. They aren't so heavy as to cause sore spots on the top of the head, thankfully, as that was always a complaint of mine on headphones like Audeze's LCD-series (although I'm aware that the Lohb strap can fix that). Comfort is extremely good, as the level of pressure conveyed through the luxurious leather pads is just right for me.
Speaking of earpads, there's another high point. The pads attach to the earcup with a very robust magnet that snaps them into position, along with an alignment pin on the top. The pads themselves are deep, rectangular, and my pinna fit very comfortably in them, with almost no pressure on them. This attachment system is a high point for me, as I've never been a fan of ring-attached pads, as swapping pads becomes such a chore.
However, it's not pad-rolling that's the motivation for this design - it's something arguably more significant. These headphones include a very cool acoustic element that I haven't personally seen in any other headphone. Speaking of, it turns out that I left out one set of accessories in the above.
When you pull the earpad off the earcup, on the face of the pad that connects to the cup, you'll see a hole that looks like a rectangle with a semi-ellipse cut out of its longest edge on one side. Included in the case of the headphones, there's a black envelope which contains four sets of black sheets of the same shape, although slightly larger. These are wrapped in plastic, and are accompanied by a small pamphlet that explains how to use them. They are acoustic filters with varying pore sizes, from 7μm up to 15μm. Depending on which one is used, the user can tune the headphone to their listening preferences - a smaller pore size allows more mid- and low-frequencies to pass through the dampener.
In the tuning guide, there's an interesting note, which reads, "All included values have acoustic merit and are worth your time to experiment with to find the right sound for you," which I initially found odd. However, having spent a fair amount of time with these headphones, it's a very valid clarification. None of these filters are thrown in there without consideration - CA is being accurate to say that they all hold acoustic merit. The adjustment is not night-and-day, but it's certainly a noticeable change. Each of the filters is good in its own right, and it really is simply a matter of personal preference. I found myself varying between the 7μm and 10μm (the missing option being 12μm).
The reason I find this so impressive is the following: not only did Campfire Audio properly damp and implement design to make a single, good-sounding headphone, they figured out where the best placement was, what the best size was, and what the best screening material was in order to be able to tune the sound to four fairly different versions, while retaining quality in all of them. Huge props to them for this.
In this section, I'll try to give a bit of a picture of what the comparison between the different acoustic dampeners presents as in listening. With all of them, there is a slight bass tilt to the headphones, but with none of them does the bass ever overpower or cloud out the mids. That bass tilt increases fairly noticeably as you step down in pore size, and with the 7μm filter in place, I think that these could at least satisfy the wants of a basshead, although there are those that would still be looking for more.
Detail across all ranges is very good, with almost every small detail with which I've become so acquainted in my test track set coming across with good fidelity and faith to source. Although the soundstage is comparatively small (to most open-back headphones that I've heard), imaging and separation are extremely good. Every track within the mix comes through as distinct and separate, even in extremely busy tracks (see: most of Animals as Leaders discography, as well as much of Snarky Puppy). Something that these headphones do especially well is handling of texture - these headphones presented among the most pleasant rendition of Yosi Horikawa's Wandering EP that I've yet heard.
Leakage is minimal, given the fully closed-back design, and isolation is pretty good. These don't match the likes of any noice-cancelling over-ear, but they certainly do well enough to combat the noise of a busy room.
Something that I'd like to touch on here is that these headphones sounded great off of every source that I ran them through. They sound almost 100% as good out of my Pixel's headphone jack as they do out of Neurochrome's $1299 HP-1. This was great for me, since, when coupled with their relatively high portability, I was able to use them on-the-go just as easily as I was as dedicated, desk headphones.
Note: the remainder of the sound portion is conducted with the 10μm pore size acoustic dampener on the earpads.
Songs used: Three Ralphs by DJ Shadow, I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before by Hans Zimmer, and The Way It Was by Coast Modern
These headphones do bass very well. Although they don't quite match the likes of some very good ortho or biodynamics, they get very close. The first mental note I made was actually that I no longer felt as bad about having sold my personal pair of Fostex's TH-900 Mk II, since these get damn close to matching the sheer thump and force that I got out of those headphones.
In terms of more granular description, with the 10μm filters in place, the bass has very good slam and impact, without losing detail. Although they hammered their way through, "Three Ralphs," showing off some very good sub-bass extension, they don't lose their pace in a faster, more demanding track, like, "I Never Woke Up in Handcuffs Before". As mentioned above, texture generally is very good, and this range is no exception. Because of their speed, these headphones are very good at conveying the subtle and small variances that make a side-chained sawtooth synth so satisfying as a driving bassline.
Key descriptors: detailed, powerful, and controlled
Songs used: From Darkness by Avishai Cohen Trio, Tadow by FKJ & Masego, and Nocturne (Live) by Julian Lage
The mids are actually the highlight of these headphones for me. They remain detailed enough to find almost every subtlety of the recordings that I know best, but have just the right amount of lushness and flow to them to keep them engaging and pleasant to hear. Vocals of both genders come across as natural, with good detail and clarity. Instrumental lines are well controlled, allowing for good fidelity to source, and an overall sense of pervasive realism in the listening experience. The staging comes through in this range particularly, with instruments and vocals forming an intimate, but very clear picture of where everything was intended to be.
Key descriptors: natural, accurate, and engaging
Songs used: Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, Whammy by Death Grips, and Helix by Flume
This range serves as a great compliment to the former two. Extension is very good, with almost no peakiness to speak of. All of the detail sensitivity that I refer to above is supported by the quality of this range. I experienced almost no sibilance in my time with these - although these may be my overall favorite pair of headphones, they haven't dethroned the Kaiser Encore as one of few to get a zero-flaw mark in the treble. Cymbals have very good fidelity, with every element of the attack and decay of all types coming through clearly and accurately. Apologies for this always being one of my metrics for this range, but as I've said before, I've usually found it representative of a certain sense of fidelity for a headphone, and it is in this case. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I've got a lot of live exposure to them.
Key descriptors: extended, detailed, and poignant
I don't exactly know how to approach this wrap-up section for these headphones. I will admit that my opinion has been somewhat flavored with time, but I feel that the above qualifications of the headphones are accurate to my experience and representative of what motivates my opinion. These truly are a wonderful pair of headphones, and an incredibly impressive first shot at over-ear headphones for a company that has never approached that market before.
Campfire Audio has delivered an extremely competent headphone that is anything but boring. The inclusion of four swappable acoustic dampeners still boggles my mind a little bit, as that acoustic design element is anything but simple. The price point is high, but for that price, Campfire Audio delivers supremely good build quality, with no exposed actuation points, and nothing but the highest-quality materials available. Everything, from the cable to the case to the headphones themselves, screams quality. If what I described above seems like the sound signature, form-factor, and implementation for you, these should be at the top of your list.
Having had these headphones on my head for the past month or so, I could not be more excited to see what Campfire Audio has in store next - maybe an open-back? I can't say, but if they apply the brain and design power that it's clear they have in spades, I'm sure whatever comes next will be everything but anything bad.
These headphones were provided to me by Campfire Audio. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.
These headphones were powered by an Astell&Kern AK Junior, a Google Pixel, a Neurochrome HP-1, and by whatever soundcard is in the motherboard of my computer.
I have had these headphones for about a month, and I have put about 60 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.
I've been waiting to get these in for review ever since the HeadFi meet back in the fall of this year. I came into that expo with Taction marked as a stop, since they had claimed quite a lot about their products on their website, and I wanted to briefly put them through their paces. I'm fully willing to admit that after having heard many "bass boost" headphones, the only commonality between them being their almost-universal terribleness, I was skeptical, at the outset.Read More
Fostex sent me a pair of their newly released T60RP to test out about a month back. This is the next iteration in their RP (Regular Phase) series, following the famous T50RP, which I have only heard as modifications. This employs some of the same orthodynamic technology that has served Fostex well in the past, and I'm glad that I was able to take the time to really put them through their paces.Read More
After coming home from school for winter break, I found waiting for me this package. I’ve seen a lot of prior attempts at multi-driver over-ear headphones, but in full candor, they mostly suck. The drivers always seem haphazardly and nonsensically arranged in some arbitrary geometry, and that randomness is usually reflected in the acoustic qualities of the headphones. But, I’d heard a lot from 1More in the past, almost entirely good, so I suspended my prior experience as best as I could and went in with the clearest head that I could muster.Read More
This is one of my many favorite jazz fusion albums, and it certainly won’t be the last on which I write. This is relatively unique though, blending elements from Israeli and other world music with traditional jazz instrumentation and harmonic/melodic methodologies. It was released in 2015 and features a trio of Avishai Cohen, an Israeli bassist, Omri Mor on piano, and Itamar Doari on drum set. There are some noticeable influences from the Middle Eastern Region in terms of instrumentation and some of the harmonic structures, but for the most part, it falls deftly into the category of post-bop, which evolved from an amalgam of hard bop, modal jazz, and free jazz in the early- to mid-1960s.Read More
A lot of listeners and fans of BROCKHAMPTON who tend towards Spotify, Google Play, and other streaming services for their listening (no harm in that) may be wondering to what the title of this review refers. The group released a box set, which featured 4 CDs and a DVD - obviously included was the full SATURATION trilogy. Also included was a documentary about the making of the trilogy. The fourth CD is called, "DRAFTS". It features the original versions of many songs that ended up being changed considerably in their release on their respective albums, demoes, unnamed tracks that never made it onto albums, and other unreleased work.Read More
Released a month or so ago, this EP comes from Brasstracks, a group known for blending elements of jazz and instrumental horn music with modern pop and EDM. Robert Glasper worked with the group on many of the songs on this EP, and his experience in jazz and jazz fusion certainly shows. The album is an interesting mix of rap over Brasstracks’ instrumentals and pop-ey, slightly adjusted vocals over the same. There are some hits, some that I’m only lukewarm on, and one particularly bad miss, but in general, it’s a pretty good EP.Read More
Just over 4 years ago, this 8-part composition was finished by lead composer Martin O’Donnell, a veteran composer for Bungie. It was intended to be a companion to the then-new Destiny universe that Bungie had created in the form of the Destiny series of games. There were a series of struggles between O’Donnell and Bungie, one primary point being Bungie’s failure to use O’Donnell’s music in their trailer at E3 in 2013. This eventually resulted in O’Donnell’s firing from Bungie, and the disappearance of this album. After his firing, hope was lost that it would ever see the light of day. O’Donnell expressed on Twitter that he, “gave away nearly 100 copies of Music of the Spheres,” and that while he didn’t have the permission to allow it to be shared, “no one in the world can prevent me from giving you my blessing.”Read More
I stumbled onto this album while I was looking for artists similar to a group that I’ve recently become a big fan of. I’m in the middle of writing up a much longer-form piece on them, so I’ll leave the suspense as to who it is – maybe you can backtrack from this artist they share a nationality, which should actually make it fairly obvious. Regardless, Júníus Meyvant is the artist name for Unnar Gísli Sigurmundsson, who performs with a backing of about 10 musicians, two of which are his brothers. Together, the ensemble plays something that Jim Beckmann has dubbed, "arctic soul". This is the only album that they've released to date, but they intend to release another in 2018.
In terms of sound, the best I can say is that they are a combination of blues, folk, and funk, with a little bit of Electric Light Orchestra thrown in there. The general atmosphere and ambiance of the music is very similar to old big band jazz, again mixed with a bit of ELO. The group is very cohesive, and I particularly appreciate that every member of the group seems to know exactly what their role is within the ensemble. There are no heroes here, which is a good thing in this case. The drummer, especially, does a very good job keeping a solid backbeat, while still remaining musically interesting and, essentially, not just sitting, playing four-on-the-floor.
In terms of standout tracks, there are a few. The first I’d think of is the first track on the album, “Be a Man”. It’s an instrumental opener, with a very good, driving bassline in the horns and woodwinds that comes out periodically. This is a very accessible example of this genre, and I can’t say that I don’t find myself nodding along to it, most times.
Other standouts include, “Color Decay,” which features a very interesting instrumentation of guitars, bass, and orchestra in its introduction, along with a very soothing vocal line, “Manos,” a seven-minute exploration fo the group’s instrumentation that very fluidly builds in instrumentation over its runtime, and the eponymous track, “Floating Harmonies,” which features a very interesting use of electronic drums in this musical setting, and some very tasteful use of the accessory instrumentation in this more closed, piano-vocals-and-drums context.
There are a few bits of the album that feel a little bit too much like Mumford and Sons to me, if that’s as communicative of what I’m getting at as I think it will be, but it doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience. Not to say anything negative about Mumford and Sons in general, I just feel that that particular atmosphere of music was out of place in the context of the rest of the album.
Overall, it seems a very solid effort, and is certainly relatively unique in terms of what I’ve been hearing of late. Pretty solid, 7/10.
The long-awaited completion to the SATURATION trilogy was released last week, and man, is it a douzey. BROCKHAMPTON have marathoned through this year, producing three full length albums. The first two were unsurprisingly well-received, especially considering the strength of their first mixtape, All-American Trash. There was a bit of controversy surrounding this album, however, as Kevin Abstract claimed that this would be the last studio album from BROCKHAMPTON. We have since learned, in an interview with Zane Lowe, that that is not the case, with another album titled, “TEAM EFFORT,” to be released in 2018. As much as I hate the term, Kevin can be a pretty great troll when he wants to be.
But, regardless of all that pretext, the album itself.
First, the production style is off-the-charts awesome. Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Isaiah "Kiko Merley" Merriweather are doing a tremendous job pushing the group forward, without venturing too far into uncharted territory that it becomes pastiche or overbearing. Particularly in this album, they brought in more distortion and were more willing to take risks, making the beats busier and denser. Some could argue that there were a few missteps (even I’d have to admit that the vocal mixing on, “BOOGIE,” is a little bit low), but I feel that on the whole, this was a good step forward. Additionally, I’m happy to hear that the group isn’t stagnating, even between the few months that separate each of these albums.
Second, the diversity of vocal styles is, just as with past albums, very refreshing. I particularly appreciated the group’s willingness to bring in what is closer to singing than rapping in their hooks and bridges, over this album. Those were some of my favorite moments, and that isn’t something that’s super common to this sub-genre of music.
Third, and final, is the highest-level opinion that I’d like to give. The reason that I like this album as much as I do is very much the same as the reason that I liked their past efforts so much. This group touches on so many topics. They cover their personal struggles, the struggles within the communities from which they come, the struggles of their cultures in modern society, social issues of the day, and problems within the rap community. They talk about a lot, and they do it well - concisely, and without ever seeming contrived or preachy. That’s surprisingly tough to do, and I feel that they don’t get enough recognition for it.
But, simultaneously just as important, the music is pervasively good. It’s innovative, interesting, and engaging. Put concisely, even with all of the content covered in the music, it’s still music that I could, would, and probably will dance to. This album, and the two before it (and their mixtape!) are absolutely enjoyable both on a surface and an analytical level.
Massive props, 9.5/10.
The album opens with the previously released, single, “BOOGIE”. This has been one of my favorite songs from them since it was released, and it remains as such even in the context of the full album. This song is absolutely energizing, with a flurried, busy beat and short verses from most of the self-titles boyband’s members. This song features sporadic themes from verse to verse, covering the members’ opinion of the group, listeners’ reactions, and how the group perceives itself, publicly. All this is underlied by this driving, intense bassline with deeply distorted and twisted horns covering the melody.
Next is, “ZIPPER,” a very overt shift in tone. This track drops the tempo considerably, opting for a more harmonically dissonant melody with a more flowing and light bassline. This is accompanied by some trap-influence hi-hats and snare, which is a bit of a theme in this album. The first verse in this song is a favorite of mine across the album, where XXX discusses how he can’t tell if he’s crazy, that he can only describe what he sees through his own perspective – essentially meaning that his perception of himself is inherently subjective because, well, it’s his perception of himself. This song also features a verse by XXX that I love simply for the demonstrated diversity in his voice. I would never have recognized it as XXX had I not been following along with a lyric guide. This is also a common theme across BROCKHAMPTON’s work, in general: they play around with their own voice’s timbre and tone, to great effect.
Seventh on the track-list and another of my favorites is, “BLEACH”. This features a hook by Ryan Beatty that is simply beautiful, and this is part of why I generally like BROCKHAMPTON so much. They don’t restrain themselves to the current norms of their genre, and allow for a wide range of experimentation, as we’ll see again at the end of the album. It keeps me constantly engaged in the music when it doesn’t simply fall into patterns and predictable molds. The beat is also particularly good on this track, with interesting use of samples and sound effects integrated into a very engaging, liquid, and saturating (hardy har) melody and harmony. The standout verse on this song belongs to XXX, as he discusses how he perceives reforming himself, and how he approaches making changes in his life. For an album that makes me nod my head as hard as this one does, this song is oddly beautiful, without seeming out of place or inappropriate.
Next, “ALASKA”. Here, Ameer Vann opens by discussing how he views his self-worth in the new context of his pop-stardom. The beat kicks in quickly, with another entrancing melody, underlied by hard-hitting bass and well-put together drum parts. In the same verse, Ameer brings up some interesting commentary that I think is worth highlighting, “The coupe is mustard colored / What the fuck is Grey Poupon?” There’s another element of my appreciation for BROCKHAMPTON – they continuously make interesting commentary on every aspect of their lives – Kevin Abstract, often on his sexuality, and the rest of the group, on anything that troubles them in the culture in which they’re now steeped or in their personal lives. This album particularly heavily emphasizes some of the issues that some of the group members are going through, and that’s something that I very much appreciate. The music is mustard, not Grey Poupon (excuse the clunky metaphor).
“RENTAL,” is a miss for me. It doesn’t seem to touch on much, and the vocal composition and beat just don’t really grab me. Additionally, the lyrics are extremely repetitive, with almost half of them being the hook. And that hooks consists of the same two lines repeated four times.
I will admit that it’s not all bad, and that in that other half, there is merit. Dom talks about a past relationship of his, and very directly brings up what he feels he needs to change about his approach to the world.
But still, I feel that this is one of very few songs on this album that is a general miss for me. It just doesn’t grab me the same way that the other tracks do.
As we get close to the end, with the third to last track, titled, “STAINS", this is my second miss. This was also released in an interview with Zane Lowe, just 10 hours before the album dropped. BROCKHAMPTON sure likes to keep us on our toes, and I couldn’t complain about getting another tidbit early.
This is another track that doesn’t particularly grab me, but I certainly don’t harbor the same animosity to it that I do towards, “RENTAL”. It’s a pretty good song – good production, an interesting skit with a very funny reference to Lil’ Wayne, and well-put together verses. But, it lacks some of the uniqueness that I love to much in most of the other tracks on this album.
Certainly not terrible by any means, just not a song that struck me as particularly excellent, in comparison to the rest of this album.