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Campfire Audio has been designing and building high-end in-ear headphones (IEHs) in Portland, Oregon, since 2015. The current lineup on its website includes no less than 15 models, most with a price tag higher than $1,000 and many others very near that lofty figure. The company employs high-quality materials and eschews wireless connections and other convenience features in its pursuit of the best possible audio quality.
Recently, Campfire added two new IEH models with the same commitment to audio excellence, but at much more down-to-earth prices. Dubbed Satsuma and Honeydew (left and right in the image above, priced at $199 and $249 respectively), they offer distinctly different sonic signatures for different musical tastes. They’re both excellent performers, but I unexpectedly found myself preferring the Honeydew, and that’s the model that earns the editors’ choice award.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of non-ANC headphones, where you’ll find reviews of the competition’s offerings, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product. Looking for the best noise-cancelling headphones? Just click the preceding link too see our top picks.
Honeydew and Satsuma headphone features
Whereas most of Campfire’s IEHs have metal housings, the Satsuma and Honeydew utilize customized, 3D-printed Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chambers (TAEC) within ABS plastic earpieces that reflect the company’s distinctive design aesthetic. The spouts are stainless steel, and a wide variety of bundled eartips include five sizes of Final Audio Type 3 silicone tips, three sizes of Campfire Audio silicone tips, and three sizes of memory-foam tips.
Both models also come with Campfire’s detachable Smoky Lite Litz cable that uses four silver-plated copper conductors and custom beryllium-copper MMCX connectors. In addition, the company offers balanced cables as an option, and both new models take full advantage of such a connection. There’s a tiny red dot on one of the earpiece connectors and a tiny blue dot on the other connector, indicating the right and left channels, respectively. The ends of the right and left cables have a stiffened curve that goes over the ears, and you connect the earpieces so the bulk of each earpiece is behind the spout so it fits in the concha (bowl) of the ear behind the ear canal.
The Satsuma sports an “orange-fizz” color, and it employs a single, full-range balanced-armature driver within a TAEC that’s ported into the body of the earpiece. The frequency response is specified to extend from 5Hz to 18kHz (no tolerance given) with an impedance of 46.4 ohms at 1kHz and a maximum SPL of 94dB at 67 mVrms. This model is tuned to present a balanced, natural tonal signature, which Campfire describes as “characterized by highly focused mid-band frequencies, a tightly controlled bass response, and slightly enhanced highs—without harshness.” The company says it’s well suited for almost any musical genre, particularly rock, pop, classical, and jazz.
By contrast, the “mellow-yellow” colored Honeydew is tuned with a more bass-forward tonal profile that’s designed for R&B, hip hop, and EDM. As the company explains, “Built expressly for music lovers who crave a punchy and highly detailed bass response that is both fast and dynamic, Honeydew has the lower frequencies covered thanks to a custom-designed 10mm dynamic driver.” That single dynamic driver delivers a frequency response from 5Hz to 18kHz (no tolerance given) in a sealed TAEC, though the outer casing is ported. The impedance is specified to be 17.4 ohms at 1kHz, and the maximum SPL is 94dB at 17.7 mVrms—in other words, it will play louder than the Satsuma at a given power level.
Also included is a sturdy, padded carrying case and dual-pouch net bag for the earpieces as well as separate net bags for the eartips. I don’t normally comment on product packaging, but Campfire does an excellent job of that with these IEHs.
Honeydew and Satsuma performance
With all IEHs, it’s crucial to find eartips that completely seal the ear canals to assure the best possible sound quality. The Satsuma and Honeydew come with the medium foam eartips preinstalled, but they were too small for me. I tried the largest size of all three types of included eartips, and found that the Final silicone tips provided the best seal for my ear canals.
Interestingly, the largest memory-foam tips were the best-fitting foam tips I’ve tried, but the Final tips were the best. I also tried my favorite eartips, the 14.5mm silicone tips from 1More, but the Campfire spout is thinner than 1More spouts, so they kept slipping off and staying in my ear when I removed the earpieces.
For this review, I listened to high-res audio tracks from Qobuz playing on my iPhone XS connected to an iFi hip-dac. I listened to each track on the Satsuma and Honeydew as well as my reference IEH, the Sennheiser IE 300, which I’ll discuss in the next section.
First up was “In Too Deep” (24/96) from Djesse Vol. 3 by Jacob Collier. This track features vocals by Collier and Kiana Ledé enveloped by expansive electronics and deep bass. The Satsuma sounded exceptionally clean and clear with entirely natural vocals and great imaging as well as excellent rendition of some delicate sound effects. The only drawback was slightly weak bass.
As expected, the Honeydew was much louder at the same volume setting, and the bass was much more pronounced, though not overbearing. The sound was generally richer and thicker but not at all congested, and the vocals and imaging were still wonderful. The delicate, subtle sound effects might have been a bit less present.
For some more vocals with electronics, I cued up “Chemical” (24/44.1) from Hyperspace by Beck. Here, the vocal is highly processed, so it’s difficult to assess its naturalness. The Satsuma sounded clean, lean, and expansive with great detail, especially in the lone acoustic guitar within a wash of synths. As before, the bass was a bit weak. The Honeydew was louder with a richer sound and more bass with no congestion and no loss of detail or imaging.
“Itchy Boo” (24/44.1) is a super-funky instrumental track from Where Do We Go From Here by Dumpstaphunk. Again, the Satsuma was clean, clear, and crisp with great imaging that allowed me to hear deep into the mix. The bass, however, was a tad anemic. Not so on the Honeydew, which was quite a bit louder with more bass in a richer tonal presentation. It had the same great imaging with no congestion.
Turning to some country, I listened to “Lonely Alone” (24/96) from Threads by Sheryl Crow with guest Willie Nelson. The vocals sounded fantastic on the Satsuma—forward and entirely natural. As I had come to expect, the overall sound was clean and lean with great imaging and slightly understated bass. The Honeydew presented a louder, richer sound with more bass, but the vocal sound was still superb, as was the imaging and detail.
I love “Eretseretse” (24/96) from An East African Journey by Omar Sosa. The title translates as “Inspiration” from the Ntandroy language, and it features an instrument called the marovany, a box zither with 24 steel strings. Other instruments on the track include piano, drum kit, percussion, and bass. The marovany’s notes bounce all around the soundfield, which was rendered beautifully by the Satsuma’s superb imaging. The piano was a bit bright, and the drums were slightly thin, but the overall sound was clean and clear. As expected by now, the Honeydew had a bigger, richer sound with more presence and bass, though it was still clean and clear with great imaging.
Another favorite is “Spread Love” (24/96) from the eponymous first album by a cappella vocal group Take 6. The Satsuma’s light, lean sound rendered the vocals beautifully, though again, the bass was a tad weak. The Honeydew was louder, richer, and more present with stronger bass, while the vocals were still entirely natural.
For some classical, I started with Giovanni Maria Trabaci’s “Gagliarda del Principe di Venosa” (24/96) as performed by Les Récréations on Scarlatti Sonate a Quattro. It’s a delicate piece for a few strings and theorbo, and the Satsuma is perfect for it—clear, light, and lean with great detail for all the nuances of those instruments. The Honeydew is louder, fuller, and richer but with no less detail.
Next came the big guns: Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition as recorded by the Wiener Philharmoniker under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. The Satsuma sounded light, lean, and bright with underwhelming bass—not as well suited to big orchestral music as to small chamber ensembles. Still, the instruments all sounded entirely natural with great detail, allowing me to hear each section quite clearly. As anticipated, the Honeydew was louder and richer with more bass but no less detail.
Honeydew, Satsuma compared to Sennheiser IE 300
In addition to the Satsuma and Honeydew, I listened to each track on the Sennheiser IE 300, which is my current reference IEH. Also, it’s street price is right in the same price ballpark as the Campfire models: $199.95. (When I reviewed it last May, it was nearly $300.)
In general, the IE 300 sounded very similar to the Honeydew, with even a tad more bass. And like the Honeydew, that did not get in the way of the rest of the frequency spectrum at all, and there was no congestion whatsoever. In some cases, the bass was ever-so-slightly muddy, but it had the same excellent imaging and detail. Interestingly, the IE 300 was not quite as loud as the Honeydew at the same volume setting.
I noted a few minor differences between the IE 300 and Honeydew. For example, on “In Too Deep,” the vocal was not quite as forward on the Sennheiser, and the delicate sound effects were a bit more evident. And on “Great Gate of Kiev,” the IE 300 sounded just a tad more mellow.
One more comment about the IE 300: It felt a lot more secure in my ears than either of the Campfire models. Not that the Satsuma and Honeydew were insecure, but the IE 300 has much sturdier ear loops that felt like they held the earpieces in place more securely.
Balanced vs unbalanced performance
As I mentioned earlier, Campfire offers fully balanced cables to use with its IEHs, and I was interested to see what, if any, difference that might make on the sound of the Satsuma and Honeydew. The company sent me one of its Smoky Litz cables with 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connector ($99), which I could use with the iFi hip-dac’s corresponding output.
Unfortunately, disconnecting and connecting the MMCX plugs on the earpieces is not easy; the locking mechanism is quite strong. Plus, I wanted to be very careful not to damage the connectors, or the whole review would be dead in the water. So, I didn’t swap out the cable for each track, but I did for “In Too Deep” and “Chemical.”
Using the balanced connection, both models were slightly louder at the same volume setting than they had been with the unbalanced connection. Also, they sounded brighter overall, and the bass had about the same balance. On “In Too Deep,” the vocal was more forward, and the delicate sound effects were more evident. On “Chemical,” the Honeydew had a bit more presence.
To my ears, the difference was not enough to warrant spending an extra $99 or more. I was perfectly happy with the sound of the unbalanced connection.
Honeydew and Satsuma bottom line
Before starting this review, I fully expected to prefer the Satsuma, which is described as having a balanced, natural tonal signature that’s well suited for almost any musical genre, particularly rock, pop, classical, and jazz. By contrast, the Honeydew is said to be tuned with a more bass-forward tonal profile that’s designed for R&B, hip hop, and EDM.
Well, I surprised myself by preferring the Honeydew in every case. I would describe the sound of the Satsuma as refined and polite, which is fine, but the bass always seemed a bit anemic. On the other hand, the Honeydew’s sound is richer and more robust, with plenty of clean bass that doesn’t overpower anything else. Both exhibit exceptional imaging and detail, but the Honeydew is much closer to the sound of the Sennheiser IE 300, which is my current benchmark.
The Satsuma and Honeydew—priced at $199 and $249, respectively—are both excellent IEHs. If you enjoy a light, lean sound, you can save some money with the Satsuma. But if you crave a richer sound, as I do, the Honeydew is well worth the extra $50.