Sound Impressions

Summary

The Atlas is an absolute beast. A bass monster of the highest order and a riot to listen to again and again. This is an IEM that grabs the Vega “presentation” and doubles-down on the physicality and irons out the upper mids and treble kinks. Importantly, it does all his without losing what was so great about the Vega in terms of resolution and holding onto that natural dynamic driver sound.

If anything CA have tipped the Atlas even more into the musical definition of excitement than the Vega ever was. The presentation on the Atlas even more V-shaped than previously found on the Vega. The larger driver also ‘brings it home’ in spades and actually it is more sensitive than the older Vega 8.5mm so it sounds more dynamic and exciting from weaker sources which I just love.

There are a couple of tweaks to the signature that makes a huge difference to the perceptible clarity of its presentation. The most notable tweaks in the FR is the great lower midrange dip on the Atlas which prevents that powerful bass response from bleeding but also just cools the lower pitched instrumental timbre a little more than the Vega.

The second tweak is a sustained elevation from 2-4k that was more muted on the Vega. As a result, the balance feels better for me on the Atlas with a more exciting sound from the upper mids and lower treble that provides a very nice level of contrast to the sub-bass dominant power that the Atlas can generate.

Staging

Being V-shaped and with such a heightened sense of sub-bass presence, the Atlas is going to give you a ton of depth to its soundstage. That dip into the lower mids will push the staging back somewhat but in doing so it produces a perceptible sense of space so it is not exactly front row listening.

Interestingly for a V-Shaped dip, I did not find imaging and spatial cues to be all that diffuse or vague. Far from it, the layering and instrumental separation was actually pretty accurate though not world class. Still nothing muddy or bloomed sounding on the Atlas and it does convey a fairly “grand sound”.

Height is a little better than the Vega though not by a huge amount. Not that the Vega was in any way attenuated but neither of them can really touch the Andromeda for ultimate treble clarity and airy extension. What the Atlas does do better than the Vega is a heightened lower treble presence and a slightly slower roll-off post-10k which catches your attention a little more than the Vega.

Bass

The general curve remains the same but the Atlas has marginally more sub-bass elevation in that it holds is boost just shade longer and higher than the Vega does. The difference is not huge maybe like 1-2dB from 60-125Hz in favor of the Atlas. You do have to be careful because this is a more sensitive driver than the Vega 8.5mm so volume adjustments are required to match well. However, its enough to give the Atlas a slight edge in sub-bass presence and power for me.

From 125Hz the Atlas follows a similar, albeit slightly steeper drop than the Vega, into the lower mids and bottoms out around 800Hz. That quicker drop is due to the slightly higher sub-bass boost up to the 125Hz marker.

There is something like a 25dB difference between the highest point of the bass response of the Atlas and the most recessed point of the curve at the start of the lower mids. This has an effect of preventing bass bleed into the midrange and muddying it all up. It also means quite a lot of lower-pitched instrumental work is going to draw heavily from the lowest order fundamental and deliver excellent power such as kick-drums.

It has to be noted this is not a strictly “punchy” sound. Think 15″ sub in a compact car kind of presentation. The Atlas mid-bass is elevated but always in deference to the sub-bass power so it whilst it does retain a hint of welcome warmth and excellent texture it doesn’t have that speedy punchy sound you get on BA drivers.

Mids

The lower mids dip is quite important for me in the Atlas presentation. Quite apart from preventing bass bleed it also prevents the Atlas instrumental timbre from becoming too thick and warmed up.

Nothing worse than a “bassy” low-end blooming into the mids and creating a muddy presentation, robbing it of clarity. Especially so if the stage is pushed a little further back as is the case with the Atlas. You need that clarity to shine through.

In the case of the Atlas, the lower mids pitched instrumental timbre is not rich or overtly euphonic sounding. It is actually more to the neutral or natural sounding side of things. To be honest, it is reasonably accurate sounding when the low-end is not pushing really hard. Throw on some 80’s mid-tempo rock or metal and guitar work is resolutely clean and clear sounding with superb texture and a very nice harmonic balance.

Speaking of harmonic balance this is one of the traits of the Atlas that CA have been very cute on. Especially in terms of how they tuned the lower treble where some guitar notes upper-harmonic order tends to hit. There is a sustained 2-4k elevation and a more prominent 5-6k peak on the Atlas that brings a bit more odd-harmonic presence in instrumental timbre on the Atlas. The Vega dipped in the very same area so its instrumental timbre might actually sound a little more muted and softer in tone. This makes micro-detail and spatial cues a little easier to pick out also on the Atlas.

Vocals

Vocals tone on the Atlas is neither overly rounded nor too sharp. There is still a tiny edge to the attack on both male and female vocals, perhaps being drawn from the livelier elevated upper mids and lower treble.

However, interestingly, I tended to find the vocals on the Atlas exhibited less potential for sibilance than the Vega. I must emphasize, as I did with the Vega, that I do not find either to be inherently sibilant IEMs per se, but rather the Atlas deals with brighter recordings in a more pleasing and consistent manner.

In terms of positioning, they are actually fairly neutral and if they have a higher register pitch they do sound a little forward, especially if you don’t excite the low end that much. Throw on Maiden and Priest and vocals will take a back seat to the ‘thunder from down-under’ but switch to something more relaxed like a Halie Loren vocal session and not once does it sound like it is struggling for air or behind the accompanying piano arrangements. In fact, the likes of Halie Loren’s vocals sound very engaging and very accurate to my ear on the Atlas.

Treble

Overall, the Atlas is in actual fact, the livelier of the two for treble. Perhaps even the brighter of the two if you take that 2-4k mute into consideration from the Vega. Yet, at the same time, the treble is more even sounding with a bit more body and that coherence makes all the difference to the Atlas presentation.

The achieve that the treble on the Atlas has a couple of tuning tweaks which reminds me of how Hifiman changed up the HE1000 V1 treble in the V2 a few years back.

The upper treble peak around 8k has not been changed for me from the Vega. Instead, what CA have done is raised the upper mids and lower treble so it is not as dipped and muted sounding in the Atlas.

They have also brought up the 5-6k level a bit more so overall, the treble is more consistent sounding, more solid, and more coherent. On the other side of the 8k emphasis, the attenuation on the Atlas is a little slower to roll-off than the Vega with a bit more 9-10k energy. That Vega sparkle in the brilliance region does not seem so isolated on the Atlas.

Campfire Audio Atlas

Matchability

Efficiency

The Atlas is rated at 19Ω and 105dB, which on paper is actually pretty good for a 10mm dynamic driver. This is also a driver that is more sensitive than the Vega. The output impedance is marginally greater than the Vega at 19Ω compared to 17.5Ω.

Given that the Atlas is packing a much bigger driver I actually think CA have done a great job addressing some of the original concerns from Vega users that they really needed some strong amping to get the best out of it. I remember from my original review I was working my way through desktop tube amps such as the Sustain84 before I found a sound that I felt was truly optimal for the Vega. Everything sounded so well defined with an even more 3-dimensional soundstage with that setup.

With the Atlas, that seems to be much less of a concern now. For example, the Sony NW-WM1Z, not the most powerful of DAPs, churns out at a louder level with the Atlas and perceptibly a more dynamic sound than the Vega offers. The need to revert to an external amp with the Atlas is less persuasive.

Campfire Audio Atlas

Scaling & Synergy

That does not mean it cannot scale. Indeed it does and some of the traits of the Vega scaling can be found when you plug an Atlas into a desktop or portable amp. It is just the difference is not as stark as before. Aspects such as better bass definition, increased dynamic range all still come to the fore. However, what I do find with the Atlas is just how controlled the treble can really get with a quality amp.

For example, the remastered Def Leppard Animal recording. The dynamic range is just ok but I tend to find Elliot’s vocals to be on the brighter side of the original recordings. The Atlas tends to make them shine through most DAPs but to me, they sound smoother and more accurate once I switch to amps such as ALO’s V5 or the Sustain84 desktop (1W). The additional power seems to benefit the level of control the A.D.L.C. diaphragm has over the treble performance.

You can also create a “smoother” and slightly darker effect with warmer sources such as the DX150 from iBasso and the AK380 though not quite to the same level of performance as those aforementioned amps. Still, closing the loop, amping for performance on the Atlas is not as pressing as it was with the Vega.

Select Comparisons

Campfire Audio Vega

$1099 (discounted from $1299)

Technical

The Vega is the predecessor to the Atlas though it still on sale, albeit at a reduced price. The form factor is what I would call MK2 of the Campfire Audio evolution with the curved ear shape, directional connectors and over the ear only design. The Vega uses a liquid metal allow material finished in a more muted silver/grey PVD finish compared to the stainless steel chrome finish of the Atlas.

I honestly still love the design and fit but it is not as flexible as the Atlas in regard to wearing it straight down or over the ear. The seal is slightly less tip dependent as it hugs the contour of your ear a bit more and in that regard, it could vary a lot more for fit issues from person to person.

The driver inside is the same ADLC composite, just smaller at 8.5mm compared to the 10mm of the Atlas. It also uses a braided SPC Litz 1.35m cable as opposed to silver Litz for the cable. I find the new silver design to be a bit more refined in looks but still otherwise very easy to work with and quiet.

Performance

Most of the audible differences and power related issues with both the Vega and Atlas have already been covered in our Sound Impressions and matchability section. However, I did want to just allow a momentary pause to reflect on the Vega because after testing them both I do think there is still a place for the Vega in terms of preferences and setup.

For those that do love that physical side of bass but perhaps shy away at the more decidedly V-Shaped nature of the Atlas, the Vega is still very much a relevant option. The lower sensitivity rating also means the Vega can also pull off desktop setups just that little bit better.

Paired with tube amps the Vega can scale and at times sound the more neutral of the two IEMs. It can also handle slightly higher noise floors that some of the bigger or more powerful amp pairings can bring with them. It is a nuanced rather than clear-cut choice because not everyone wants to strap an amp into their setup for an IEM. However, for those that do the Vega is still very rewarding.

Rhapsodio Galaxy V2

$1250

Technical

The Galaxy V2 is a fairly bulky single 10.3mm dynamic driver IEM encased in a 2-piece brass shell which accounts for much of the additional weight. The driver has a titanium-coated diaphragm which also has excellent rigidity properties but does produce a very different sound quality. The fit is less precise than the Atlas due to that bulkier nature and a fairly short nozzle. It does mean you will find it is tip dependent on the seal and does affect the presentation also.

Rhapsodio has included a really nice aftermarket Pandora Dwarf cable which is an in-house build. This is a copper Litz (OFC) 4-wire with TPU shielding and a translucent PET jacket. The 1.2m cable is terminated with a Rhapsodio branded chrome finished aluminum barrel housing the 3.5mm TRSS jack.

Performance

The Galaxy V2 is rated at 16Ω and 103dB which, on paper is not that far off the 19Ω and 105dB of the Atlas. In reality, they are miles apart in both tone and efficiency. The Galaxy V2 needs more gain and even then it does not have the power, muscle or body of the Atlas. Instead, this is more of a gentle u-shape with much more of an emphasis on the upper mids and treble due to the lackluster low-end presence.

In a way, both have a similar treble curve with peaks at both 5-6k and 8-9k or close enough to those points. However, the Rhapsodio dips, much like the Vega at 2-4k and it also rolls off a little from 60-70Hz compared to the steep upwards rise of the Atlas low-end. This robs the Galaxy of a bit of body, giving it a much thinner and slightly ethereal timbral quality, especially in the treble. The Atlas displays more power and body with a superior upper mids presence and a more coherent treble tone.

As a result, I tend to find myself using the Galaxy more for quieter numbers or tracks that simply do not need low-end power but rather a little more focus on intricate passages. Tracks where micro-detail come to the fore over massive presentational brute strength. Vocalists such as Daya, Katy Perry, Beth Ditto, and Lorde do rather well with the Galaxy V2 clean and precise presentation.

Sennheiser IE800

$799

Technical

A classic that has been superseded by the IE800s but nevertheless one worth throwing into the comparative melting pot. The form factor is tiny compared to the Atlas and much lighter.

However, the design combined with the lack of detachable cables and proprietary tips means it was never a comfy fit. The cable length was too short and the positioning led to a difficulty getting a good seal. So much so I went and got some custom tips from Snugs for them years ago.

The drive inside is a 7mm micro dynamic driver encased in an attenuated dual-chamber absorber to help provide a very low distortion level. It never really sounded tinny if you are thinking that, its a very capable driver.

Performance

The IE800 is rated at 16Ω and 125dB which is no way indicative of how much more juice you need to give it to make it sound louder than the Atlas. It is much less sensitive sounding than the Atlas which will get louder much faster on weaker sources.

In some ways, this is the battle of the dips. The Atlas for me has an accentuated sub-bass and upper mids and treble with a neutral to slightly dipped midrange. The IE800 has a recessed midrange with only a warmish mid-bass elevation and a slight sub-bass roll-off. Its upper mids are dark, dipped and muted with a subtle rise in the 5-6k region and a much greater boot from 8-10k.

The IE800 will convey a bigger soundstage than the Atlas for sure with an airier top-end and better width. However, it is not as deep as the Atlas nor does it convey the same level of power. The treble is a little brittle for me but sometimes I do enjoy its articulation and level of detail. The 2-4k dip is the Achilles heel for me on the IE800, it just dulls the presence region and some vocals a bit too much when I want them to stand out more.

Preferences

The Atlas will sound the livelier of the two from the upper mids to the lower treble and has a bit more body about it. It is also, by far, the more powerful of the two IEMs for low-end rumble. Now that is going to be a preference thing for many.

The more studied detail orientated listen is going to jump on the IE800 over the Atlas. It makes for a great Classical Music specialist in many ways. Those who want the better power, more forward vocal and stronger treble body for modern rock and pop may gravitate to the Atlas.

Our Verdict

The journey continues with the Atlas. Part two, if you will, on the monstrous sound that was the Vega from a few years back. The sound is bigger in many ways. The larger driver is surprisingly more sensitive than the smaller Vega. More people will get to enjoy what the Atlas can do off lesser sources than the Vega. Yet it still scales, still has some nuanced change-ups that I enjoyed with desktop amps. It also looks cool, interesting and very durable.

That is not to say there is not a place still for the Vega. I still like, I still use it and most of all I think it does sound more at home with powerful amps than the Atlas. I am personally glad the Vega is not off the retail shelf, just yet. There is life in the old dog yet.

If balanced thunderous bass and coherent treble extravaganzas are your thing, then the Atlas is the liveliest iteration yet from the house of Campfire Audio. It is pretty much where I think CA wants their dynamic driver house sound to be.

Atlas Technical Specifications

  • 5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
  • 105 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
  • 19 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
  • Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion
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3 Responses

  1. Headfonics

    I think it does to be honest but its going to come down to individual preferences. The bass is powerful with tons of depth so for large drum sequences in classical I think it portrays that with a lot of authority. However its a bit moot with a violin quartet where mids might be more prominent. The little edge Atlas has in the upper mids and lower treble might be better than the Vega for plucking though. They say the IE800 was always great for classical stuff so I think if you like that sound the Atlas is going to do just as well as if not better in the upper mids.

    Reply

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