Using “budget” as a way to characterize consumer electronics as cheap does not make sense than using “diet” to categorize low calorie food products. After all, just as a diet consists of everything you eat, a budget is based on what you are willing and able to spend.
It’s also silly to draw a line defining how economical a product is in a specific tech category, especially since we’ve seen this in recent years with laptops, truly wireless stereo headphones, and the like. gadgets, because the common tendency is that their median price decreases over time, sometimes even as their capacities increase.
And finally, the relative affordability of a particular device is in part based on the particular vendor. For example, Campfire Audio, based in Portland, Oregon, and highly respected by audiophile communities around the world, sells most of its IEMs (in-ear monitors, a fancy term for headphones) in the $ 900 to $ 1,500 range. So when he recently released his shiny blue Mammoth model for $ 549, it was remarkable. And while I wouldn’t call them bona fide headphones, they certainly present significant value, given the top-notch audio they offer.
Packaging and accessories
Normally, I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the packaging of the products. This is usually just a practical and functional way to achieve an end. But sometimes, as is the case here with Campfire Audio, the presentation makes a lasting impression: it conveys the details and thoughtfulness of how the product will be experienced holistically. Rather than just a routine unboxing, opening the Mammoth wrapper felt like encouraging a prized flower to bloom and I revealed something special. But rather than erring on the side of excess, garish or wasteful, the packaging has also remained exquisite in its simplicity. And ultimately, it made me feel good about everything I was about to discover in the box, which as you’ll see is a lot.
To complement the cable and the headphones themselves, Campfire Audio includes (count them) 11 pairs of eartips: three sizes of silicone, three of its own Marshmallow foam eartips, plus five foam eartips from Final Audio. Perhaps in a little over-organization, I hid each of the tip types in one of the three small double-chamber mesh bags provided, and then separated them into each of the two chambers of the bag depending on whether ‘they were best suited or simply Supplements. Now, if I want to change the tip type for some reason, rather than repeating the whole extraction and alignment process, I can just go straight to whatever pocket chamber I want, and voila. I’m also glad Campfire included a small brush and hook tool to help solve the problem of cleaning up any (natural but nasty) wax buildup on the tips.
The included All-seeing eye case wraps around all the accessories and is not only functional but beautiful. Featuring an outer layer of recycled marine plastic and an inner compartment lined with soft wool, the design on each case is a unique blend of yellow, blue and green shapes (including, of course, the infamous all-eye light that you might recognize on US dollar bills) on a bright orange background. No Mammoth owner will receive identical-looking cases. This uniqueness definitely adds to the mystique of the headphones as a premium product.
Cable and headphones
Just like with a car, the body lines of an earphone either light you up or not. When I look at Mammoth, I see a faceted azure anodized machined aluminum shell (officially, Frozen Tundra) that looks airy, sleek, and perfectly in tune with the Campfire Audio branding. And the thin-film black coating on the stainless steel mouthpieces (where the music comes out) cleverly completes this distinctive look. In other words, I am a huge fan. They certainly don’t look plasticized or cheap. And the final metallic touches come in the form of custom beryllium copper MMCX connectors, the shiny little inputs that let you connect and detach the audio cable with confidence.
At one end of this cable, hook moldings designed to be worn around the top of each ear help these headphones feel light and comfortable for extended periods of time. And in contrast, the headphones end with a standard one-eighth-inch headphone jack. It wouldn’t surprise me if, like other mid to high-end headsets, the company included a quarter-inch adapter (i.e. for use with a desktop headphone amplifier and / or a high-end hi-fi system) among their various accessories. Still, those blue buttons worked fine with my laptop and two portable digital audio players, but not natively with my phone. (More on this below.)
How they sound
In short, they are fantastic. Since they clearly favor the low end, as much if not more than the other Campfire models, as illustrated graphically in this painting—I wouldn’t consider them “gold standard” headphones. Or to put it another way, they color the sound more than a strictly flat or “neutral” in-ear monitor. But I happen to like that bump in the bass. Mainly because it’s done with so much taste, thanks to a new dynamic driver with personalized bio-cellulose diaphragm. And the mids and highs are each gloriously detailed, thanks to dedicated Armature Balanced (BA) drivers. In other words, these Mammoth headphones are three-pilot hybrids. They deliver a ton of detail, powerful yet clean bass and highs that sizzle in the highs but stop just before the whistles.
Where the Mammoth really sang was when I played high-resolution audio tracks, either straight from a digital audio player or broadcast on Qobuz. And they sang the tunes even bigger and better when I attached Helm Audio Lock on my phone. Far beyond just being a USB-C input-to-output adapter to an audio jack, this dongle-sized digital audio converter also manages to squeeze an amp into its small bezel. Everything I played sounded richer and fuller, especially when the tracks were CD quality or better.
While I don’t have much experience with other Campfire Audio products, I do know they have a great reputation based on a heritage of handcrafted products. So when they say Mammoth’s 3D printed interior chambers are acoustically optimized for peak performance, I believe them. Because they seem precise.
The fact that they shine
I’ll be honest, I don’t know why I would ever want some parts of these headphones to shine. But here are the ones that do: the Campfire Audio case zipper pull and plate, the audio cable’s MMCX connector and audio jack covers, and a teenage company logo on each earbud. While I would definitely wear these EMPs when traveling or when I relax, I wouldn’t tend to wear them to sleep. And if I ever did, I wouldn’t want them to glow. Although this is only a small disappointment for me, since I only wore them in the dark to confirm that they actually glow. And while it’s a little confusing, it’s nothing that I allow (literally or figuratively) to keep me awake at night.
Should you buy Campfire Audio Mammoth headphones?
These are clearly not for everyone. For the obvious beginners, you need to be prepared to spend over $ 500 on headphones. The main problem is, if you’re a self-proclaimed audiophile who’s willing to invest that much (considering the value hinted at above), you might be put off by Mammoth’s signature bass-focused sound. But if you overcome these two hurdles, if you tend to listen to your music on the go, and if you subscribe to a high-resolution streaming service because you value premium audio quality, then these seem to be the perfect fit for you.
With my apologies to all the vegetarians in the audience, it’s kind of like when you have a craving for meat. Sometimes you’re okay with the instant gratification of a fast food burger; but other times the presentation, the quality of the products, the service and the overall experience of a meal in a good steak house is the only way to achieve full and happy satiety. If you want a big, beefy, and fulfilling audio experience, Mammoth is a great headphone.
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