The Holocene is rated at a very low 5.4Ω impedance level and is also in the sensitive category range for SPL at just 6.99 mVrms to 94dB @1kHz using Campfire Audio’s new measuring yardstick.
Both the Ara and the Andromeda 2020 are just a shade over 7 mVrms to hit the same SPL measurement and most of their dynamic driver infused IEMs tend to be more around 18 mVrms also. The only monitor that Campfire makes that I know is rated lower is the Solaris range with the Solaris SE and the 2020 variant rated at 6.54 mVrms.
What that means is a very easy-to-drive monitor with pretty much any source, DAP, dongle, or even a good quality smartphone.
The drawback is for some older DAPs with powerful outputs you might get a bit of noise such as the SE of the HiBy R8. Surprisingly, the Cayin N3PRO 250mW capable tube mode SE output was quite well behaved as was the stronger DX300 so credit to CA for using BA’s that do not shine too much light on any potential background hiss.
The Holocene is fairly flexible with pairings so the ideal match-up is going to largely depend on your personal preference. My preference is to maximize that midrange as much as possible and not have it pushed down whilst retaining a large sound stage quality.
DAPs such as the DX300/AMP11 with its stronger mids push and analog overtone to its timbre reflected quite well in the Holocene performance. Vocals, particularly lower-pitching male voicing remained relatively clear of any upper bass overtones and the staging was tall and suitable airy.
Personally, I would opt for the Cayin N3Pro over the DX300 with AMP11 MK1, however. Primarily due to its ultra-linear tube output which gave the upper mids a nice lift in terms of presence compared to more sedate midrange performers such as the DX160.
The DX160 clarity might be better, however, the PRaT on the low-end and better vocal presence with the N3Pro tube modes was a more satisfying listen with the Holocene.
Of course, the ultimate performer was the LP P6 Pro which was the perfect mix of dynamics and timbral detail but somehow I feel the price mismatch between the two would make the is an esoteric point.
Less well performers are any DAPs that might push a little too hard on the treble without compensating in the mids. The FiiO M15 and the DX160 will tease out a bit more treble than the aforementioned sources though not in an irritating manner. Rather it just tips the coloration a bit north of neutral giving a very high-fidelity type of experience in the case of the DX160.
The M15 balances it a bit better with a really nice low-end punch but the mids are a bit dry and lacking in energy for me with the Holocene.
Campfire Audio Mammoth
The Mammoth was launched at the same time as the Holocene this year and it’s also a triple driver IEM but this time a hybrid with a natural predecessor in the form of the older Polaris range.
The Mammoths hybrid uses a single 10mm dynamic for the lows and a BA each for the mids and highs whereas the Holocene is a triple BA driver configuration with an even split of one each for the lows, mids, and highs.
Both monitors share the same 3D printed acoustically optimized interior chamber though there is no port venting for the Holocene in the same way as required for the dynamic driver inside the Mammoth.
In terms of sensitivity, the Holocene is the easier of the two to drive at just 5.4Ω and 6.99 mVrms, (94dB SPL @1kHz) compared to the Mammoth which is rated at 8.1Ω and 18.16 mVrms.
There isn’t a lick of difference between these two monitors save for the color scheme and the venting port on the faceplate of the Mammoth for the dynamic driver to breathe.
That means both using machined aluminum bodies with edged curving, beryllium/copper MMCX connectors, and stainless-steel spouts with black PVD finishing. The Holocene does isolate a little better though due to the lack of venting ports in the shell design.
The color scheme for the Holocene is an ‘Umber’ anodized finish as opposed to the ‘Frozen Tundra’ of the Mammoth. Basically, brown vs blue and both finished with the new etched white glow-in-the-dark logo on the faceplate.
Both the Mammoth and Holocene cables also get the glow-in-the-dark treatment with matching Smoky Glow Litz wire as well as the glow-treated carry case zipper and CA logo on the front. All that’s aesthetically changed is the color scheme.
The Holocene has the better ‘reference’ balance between technical and tone and a more coherent timbre with its all-BA design compared to the dynamic/BA contrast from the Mammoth. I would describe this as ‘neutral to natural’ with a gentle but broad lift from the sub-bass peaking around 100Hz, then a smooth drop to around 1k.
Lower-mids do not sound as scooped as the Mammoth but they do not need to be as the bass weight and warmth from the low-end BA driver is very tight, controlled, and articulate. That allows midrange instruments to come to the fore with plenty of space to breathe.
On the flip side, it’s nowhere near as heavy or planted as the Mammoth’s dynamic driver. The Mammoth will give you much more authority and a stronger bass fundamental and in doing so creates a deeper soundstage.
Vocals are actually imaging a bit further forward on the Mammoth compared to the more neutral placement of the Holocene midrange. However, the Holocene has a much better upper treble extension which creates a bit more shimmer and sparkle on the mids instrumental and vocal timbre.
That can often bring out a perception of improved clarity and space and indeed this is the case here. The Mammoth has a rounded darker timbral tone and better note body but the Holocene has that ethereal airy quality consistent with a dipped lower treble and enhanced upper treble presence.
Lime Ears psi
We review the psi last year and its price point, though in euros, is not too far away from the triple BA Holocene.
The psi is also a triple balanced armature driver with a 3-way passive crossover design with each driver covering its own distinct frequency range. That means one for the lows, one for the highs, and one for the mids using a two-bore acoustical design.
The Holocene also has a similar independent driver grouping with that 3D-printed acoustical chamber though listed as customized so it is likely both companies have had their driver tweaked for preferences.
That would seem to be the case given the wide disparity of impedance and SPL with the psi rated at 46Ω impedance compared to Holocene’s 5.4Ω and a traditional 109dB SPL rating. The SPL measurement for the Holocene at 6.99 mVrms is harder to directly compare but in our real-world testing, it is definitely the more sensitive of the two monitors.
The final big technical difference is the psi’s bass switch which I find useful for genre flexibility. I suspect there is something like an 8dB rise from 20Hz up to around the first crossover in the upper bass and 1-2dB more through the mids using the switch. In any event, it produces much more coloration compared to the Holocene when switched on.
The psi here is the custom version and not the universal format so not the ideal comparison. Suffice to say the exact acrylic mold of the psi will produce a more accurate and comfortable fit as well as offering superior isolation compared to Holocene’s universal form factor.
On the flip side, the Holocene’s aluminum shell and stainless-steel spout materials are far more durable and should handle knocks and bumps and bit better. It is also the smaller and more compact of the two monitors though to be fair, the psi isn’t that bulky either. The universal psi I believe also has a stainless-steel spout so might be a shade tougher.
The psi does use a 2-pin 07.8mm socket compared to Campfire Audio’s beryllium/copper MMCX connectors. Some prefer one, some prefer the other so not a huge advantage for one or the other.
However, the stock Smoky Litz cable for the Holocene is a step up on the Plastics One detachable 1m 4-wire copper cable that comes with the psi. Though both handle well and are quite light I just find the dynamics of these P1 cables to be somewhat compressed sounding compared to the Smoky Litz.
There are quite a number of tuning differences but I just wanted to dwell a little on one technical difference that stood out between these two and that’s the imaging.
At times the psi can image a very strict left/right taking some of the focus away from its central imaging presence. The ‘bass on’ filter strengthens the center imaging more compared to keeping it off but overall, the psi feels like its needs a little bit of a Crossfield tweak to reduce that wider stereo imaging into something more life-like.
That doesn’t take away from the response differences with the psi with the bass filter off sounding a bit warmer with a more analog-like timbral quality compared to the higher contrast and slightly cooler lighter tone of the Holocene.
With the filter on, the psi is the denser and thicker of the two in terms of note body and bass elevation. The mids timbre is also richer but loses a bit of treble presence and shimmer with the Holocene the airier and more articulate of the two.
There is some ear gain from 1-5k on the psi so vocals are more to the fore but not hugely pushed unless the bass switch is on. The small 5k bump on the psi will also inject a bit more bite into the vocal timbre also. The Holocene vocal imaging is a bit lower, drawing your ear down a bit, and actually, can sound a bit smoother if voice pitching is a bit lower.
Overall, the psi is the weightier and richer of the two with a bit more bass warmth and vocal presence but the Holocene is a little more articulate with more headroom and treble sparkle.
The Nair was part of a dual universal monitor launch by boutique Swiss audio specialists Gaudio in mid-2020. You can find our full review of both it and the hybrid Clariden here.
Both monitors are triple BA drivers with the Nair using a dual acoustical path and a 3-way crossover system and the Holocene focusing on the 3D printed acoustical chamber for airflow and aspects of the tuning.
Both triple drivers are grouped in the same manner with a customized independent driver each for the lows, mids, and highs. In terms of ratings, the Nair is the more demanding of the two at 26Ω compared to just 5.4Ω for the Holocene.
Gaudio does not list the SPL for the Nair but in our testing, (HiBy RS6 low gain SE output), it did require a higher volume level to match with the Holocene so we presume the Holocene has the higher SPL rating.
The Nair is a bigger and heavier monitor but the crafting and materials used are not a million miles away from the Holocene. The two monitors use aluminum with an anodized finish. The Holocene switches to an umber tone for a darker aesthetic whereas the Nair goes with a matt silver.
Now what I like about the Nair is the smooth cornering so despite its size it feels very comfortable in the ear. The Holocene doesn’t hit my ear though but if it does its edgier finish might be less comfortable.
I also have to give the edge to the Nair in terms of isolation. Both isolate really well with non-vented designs but the Nair’s thicker and deeper nozzle seems to fill up the canal a bit more and does dampen down on the low Hz background noise more aggressively.
The Nair does use a 0.78mm 2-pin aftermarket cable from Satin Audio called the Hyperion. This is a 1.2m 28AWG wire using SP-OCC Pure SPC Type 2 Litz geometry, a nylon damping core, and audio grade Cardas Audio Quad Eutectic Solder.
I am not too sure about the AWG of the Smoky Litz but it is also a Litz 4-wire SPC, slightly lighter and leaner, and with MMCX connectors. Of the two, the Hyperion is visually the more impressive but the dynamic range on both is definitely comfortable with neither sounding compressed.
Two solid examples of why sometimes triple driver tunings can be so likable but sound different at the same time. Both are clearly aiming for a reference type sound signature but in the case of the Nair, it’s more mid-centric with a stronger ear gain around 2-5k compared to the more laidback but grander and more delicate sounding Holocene presentation.
Neither of these monitors has a huge amount of presence around 6-7k which is why I think those mids on both sounds very clear but well behaved with few if any unnatural sharp overtones for vocals. The difference in the mids and vocal timbre though centers on the stronger Holocene upper treble from 8-10k, a region where the Nair tapers off a bit.
Combine that with the dipped mids you get this airier grander staging quality but with a more diffuse midrange alongside those ethereal highs on the Holocene. This in turn gives the mids a slightly glassier overtone, a bit more shimmer but again, unless you have super bright recordings with those wide bore silicone tips the Holocene won’t kick up any unwanted sibilance.
The Nair’s faded upper treble and slightly flatter bass line bring in a more intimate quality to its staging. Vocals are much more to the fore on the Nair whereas with the Holocene they are clean and clear but with a much more relaxed imaging quality to them.
The Holocene has a little more bloom and warmth on the low-end though both are what I would call on the light side in terms of physicality and slam. Definitely, the Nair and the Holocene are not breaking the barriers of bass BA in terms of power but I give an edge to the Holocene for fleshing out the sub-bass a bit more.
The Holocene is a clever release from Campfire Audio and I can understand well why Ken Ball thought of it so highly despite being a well-known dynamic driver fan.
It excels in terms of technical capability with a tuning that will appeal to those who are looking for a distinctly ‘audiophile’ experience. This is a monitor high on detail and articulation but without spending huge amounts of money to get there.
I would say, however, that the Holocene is not a hugely pro-vocalist sound signature with that accolade perhaps staying with the Andromeda or perhaps even more so with the Ara on the high-end. However, it retains some impressive clarity and airiness to get away with it, particularly female vocals which can see carry the day, especially on acoustical tracks.
I do genuinely hope the Holocene has some legs in the same manner as the Andromeda has over the years. It is clearly something Campfire Audio can build on for those looking for an affordable and very competitive step up from entry-level monitors.
Campfire Audio Holocene Specifications
- 5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
- 94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 6.99 mVrms
- 5.4 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance