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Playback Pioneers 2018: Ken Ball / Campfire Audio

  • Best in show awards as they relate to sound quality – this publication gave them up several years ago. Experience tells us that they’re a silly side effect of a play act undertaken by commentator and (unwitting) exhibitor. Show-based awards flatter both parties whilst remaining meaningless for the rest of us.

    This audio reviewer’s self-imposed brief for Munich High-End 2018 was not only to take a snapshot of what’s new and to go long on video in the process but also to un/cover and profile manufacturers whose work stands out as markedly different. Campfire Audio is one such manufacturer.

    At the core of Ken Ball’s Campfire Audio philosophy sits 2007 animated movie Ratatouille — a tale in which cartoon rat Remy has taken a restaurant kitchen hostage for one night so that he can work as head chef. His goal: to make Ratatouille so delicious that it bowls over notoriously hard-to-impress food critic Anton Ego. Remy succeeds, not only because of his careful selection of fresh ingredients, their careful preparation and combination but because the dish causes Ego to recall the home-cooked meals made by his mother that he enjoyed as a child. Food as a time machine.

    Campfire Audio’s aim is to create earphones and headphones whose sound quality transports the listener to another time or place. Audio hardware as a teleportation device or time machine. Here Ball points to the importance of each preparatory step: careful driver selection; driver tuning; and paying close attention to what sits on either side of the driver.

    For the new Atlas IEM, a co-flagship with the more neutrally-voiced all-BA Andromeda, we note a single lightweight dynamic driver, coated for additional stiffness. And yet for the smaller, more affordable Comet, Ball has gone with a (more challenging) single balanced armature driver, applied an acoustic damper to its rear for better driver excursion and, up front, Campfire’s Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (TAEC) for superior high-frequency extension. (More details in our preview post here).

    And yet for Ball, great sound is only half of the Campfire Audio story. His intent is not only to walk that well-trodden clichΓ© – “it sounds as good as it looks” – but to stomp it into the ground. Both Atlas and Comet’s earpieces are Drop-Forged: liquid stainless steel is poured into a mould, extracted, CNC-d and hand-polished (more than once), assembled and polished again (more than once).

    Atlas and Comet look and feel like no other IEM being made today – no mean feat given the copycat nature of certain Chinese manufacturers and the onslaught of disposable IEM culture at the very entry-level. Ball points to his wristwatch as an indicator of his product’s intended longevity; Comet and Atlas’ stainless steel earshells will apparently age in a similar fashion: with style and grace.

    Like Antonio Meze and Kostas Metaxas, Ken Ball, ever the self-deprecating gentleman, consistently places equal value on engineering and art to put every other IEM manufacturer in his rear-view mirror. Inside and out, Campfire Audio’s IEMs connote pure luxury.

    Further information: Campfire Audio

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    Playback Pioneers 2018: Antonio Meze

    Colour me smitten with Meze’s 99 Classics