There has been a somewhat limited number of choices lately when it comes to high-quality portable, closed-back headphones. The Campfire Audio Cascade looks to fill that gap and that is what we’ll be looking at today.
Anyone who has an interest in high-end earphones surely knows the Campfire Audio name. Heck, even those who don’t own any TOTL IEMs are likely familiar with it. In almost all earphone discussions from the budget entry-level to the pinnacle products, you’ll see the brand mentioned again and again. People are always asking how X, Y, Z compares to something from Campfire Audio’s lineup.
Mention things like Andromeda, Vega and Lyra in any conversation among audio enthusiasts and people know exactly what you’re talking about. Anyway, enough with the preamble. Let’s get into the review.
Earpad Dimensions Outside OD approx – 2.75-inch wide x 4 inches tall
Inside ID is approx – 1.5-inch wide x 2.5 inch
42 mm Beryllium PVD diaphragm dynamic driver
Sheep Leather Detachable Headphone Pads
Circular ‘Push-Pull’ Connections
Cast + Machined Aluminum Cup and Hanger Arms
Steel headband, pivot and joints
Litz Cable – Silver Plated Copper with Cloth Jacket (4′)
Package and accessories
The Campfire Audio Cascade comes in a tasteful cardboard box with the familiar Campfire Audio styling. It’s predominantly green and speckled with stars, while the top and front sides have a swirling grey and white pattern. On the top, you can see the model clearly printed, along with a brief description and some of the key features. The front flap has a small image of the headphones with some branding and a barcode.
What struck me at first sight of the box was its small size. I knew the Cascade was dubbed as a portable headphone but seeing the box made me think they must be quite small, like a cross between supra-aural and full-size. However, that is not the case, as you will see in just a bit.
Opening up the outer cardboard box reveals a semi-hard faux leather, zippered carry case with a carrying strap. It’s quite compact; easily small enough to carry around in a backpack or travel bag. On the top side, the Campfire Audio branding is embossed onto the lid.
When you open the carry case you’re presented front and centre with the gorgeous headphones, nestled snugly into a sheepskin-like padded interior. The case’s lining feels soft and luxurious and it’s a really nice change from the usual foam padding we see so often. Apart from the headphones, there are only two black envelopes which contain the accessories. Here’s what you get:
Faux leather carry case
4 x sets of tuning filters
Acoustic Dampener tuning guide
Use and care instructions
Detachable Litz Cable with Cloth Jacket
Campfire Audio pin
The supplied cable is a Litz silver-plated cable with circular push-pull connectors and special cloth jacket which reduces microphonics and adds durability. Only time will tell about the durability but it does look and feel very sturdy so should not be a problem.
As far as microphonics go; there’s practically none whatsoever. This is a very, very quiet cable, in fact, one of the quietest I’ve ever (not) heard. The cable feels strong but at the same time, it has just the right amount of suppleness, so it sits and rolls up really nicely. I’m usually not fond of fabric-covered cables but this one is excellent.
I’m also really pleased that CA went with the HD800 connectors. The cable plugs in really securely and firmly, so there’s no fear of it coming loose or falling out, yet it’s extremely easy to connect and disconnect from the headphones with very little effort or force. And of course, it also means that should you wish to use a third party at some time, there are plenty of options to choose from.
The connectors are colour coded for easy identification and have very good rubber strain reliefs. At the Y-split is a hard rubber strain relief embossed with the CA logo. It’s small and unobtrusive but works perfectly well and adds to the overall satisfaction I get from this cable. Finally, the cable terminates in a 45° angled 3.5 mm, Gold-plated plug with another solid strain relief.
A quick glance at the Campfire Audio Cascade or even a picture of the Cascade gives you an immediate impression of solid build quality. Once you get the Cascade in your hands any lingering doubts will be swept away as it is clear that this headphone is built to last.
Constructed from stainless steel and lightweight aluminium, the headphone is unquestionably premium in materials and engineering. Those robust materials do add some extra weight to the headphone but not enough to be a burden in any sense.
The headband consists of spring steel, covered with black pleather. On the top side, the Campfire Audio branding is embossed into the pleather in a subtle and tasteful manner. Beneath the pleather cover is a layer of foam for comfort.
Inside the headband is a steel adjustment slider that clicks into place at your selected extension. This connects to the steel joint. As you can probably guess, the joint is what enables the headphones to be folded.
Next is the pivot, which allows the earcups to oscillate in both directions. This serves to provide a better fit on your head and also lets you lay the headphones flat around your neck or on a surface. This pivot connects to the arm that attaches to the earcups. At the bottom is another pivot that provides roll and pitch movement of the earcups.
The Cascade’s lightweight, machined, aluminium earcups have an anodized finish with the CA logo embossed in silver just above the cable jack. Speaking of the jack, this is the only fault I can find in the Cascade’s physical design: If you want to lay the headphones flat around your neck or on a surface, the connectors meet end to end. This can put a lot of stress on the cable just below the strain reliefs as it basically bends the cable at a 90° angle. It probably won’t be an issue but it’s worth consideration IMO.
Finally, we have the soft, sheepskin earpads. They’re attached via magnets which is by far my favourite method because it makes removing and attaching them so quick and easy. The earpads are angled to give you a better fit and seal on the side of your head. These are really lush and luxurious and the sheepskin leather feels divine.
Comfort & Isolation
I personally find the Cascade to be a very comfortable headphone. The headband does stretch out quite wide, so only a small area rests on the top of your head but this doesn’t really bother me unless I’m wearing the headphones for a long time.
As for the earpads, they are just fantastic. They’re super soft and deep enough to prevent my ears from touching the driver cover inside the earcups. Some people have complained that they’re too narrow but I have no issues with that at all, even though I have fairly large ears.
When it comes to isolation, the Cascade performs fairly well but doesn’t eliminate as much external noise as you might expect. This isn’t really a negative though because once the music starts playing you’ll barely hear anything else.
What the closed backs do extremely well, however, is prevent noise leakage, making the Cascade perfect for public transport or use in an office environment. You would need to play your music at ear-damaging levels before it would bother anyone else nearby.
The Campfire Audio Cascade Sound
For the majority of my testing, I was using the 4T / HD15 filters (more info on the filters below). This tamed the bass a little bit which was more fitting to my preference. Although the midrange did lose a hint of richness in the process, this was my preferred setup.
As recommended by Ken Ball from CA, the Cascade was given over 150 hours of burn-in before I started any critical listening. All testing was done using the stock cable.
The Campfire Audio Cascade gives a first impression of being unabashedly bold and boisterous. It’s rich, full-bodied and energetic. You’ll notice its powerful bass right off the bat but the more you listen, the more you’ll come to appreciate its other subtleties.
Having said that, the bass is always the star of the show, regardless of which tuning filters are applied or how many hundreds of hours of burn-in you’ve administered. In short, if you don’t like a heavily accentuated low end, the Cascade is probably not for you.
As I alluded to above, the Cascade’s bass is pretty huge. It’s definitely leaning towards the realm of the basshead and overshadows the overall presentation. That might sound like a condemnation but I assure you that is not the case. What makes the Cascade outstanding is its ability to have that massive bass but retain clarity, resolution, separation and a natural tonality throughout the rest of the spectrum.
The sub-bass digs deep. Really deep. Deep enough to make you think that Godzilla is stomping around your backyard. But again, the magic is that the overall tonality is still very accurate, making the Cascade a rare beast.
With the HD15 filters in place, even Trevor Morris’ The Vikings (OST) did not sound too bassy. In fact, that entire album has never sounded so good to my ears. Listening to “Journey to Kattegat” with the Cascade, it’s not difficult to imagine yourself setting out across the sea in a Viking ship under a blue sky or traversing the cascading (see what I did there?), rocky hillsides around Denmark.
As we get into the midrange the Cascade flexes its muscles once again. Despite the bassy overtones that are always present the mids remain clear and detailed with a very natural tonality. Naturally, the low midrange carries over some warmth from the bass and this fills the sound with a natural amount of body and richness.
Another surprise is how resolving the Cascade is and its ability for layering and instrument separation. Vocals are rich and smooth and tracks like Lalah Hathaway’s mid-focused “Forever, For Always, For Love (Live)” highlight the Cascade’s mastery of the midrange. Her sweet vocals simply ooze forth with a lush density, while the guitars sound clean and uncoloured. They are incredibly textured and have a physicality, almost as if you could reach out and touch them.
Although the Cascade’s treble is fairly relaxed in its presentation, achieved by sitting further back than the bass and mids. It has very good extension and wonderful, crisp notes. This is an important factor, as it gives the sound airiness, retains a hint of sparkle and is non-fatiguing at the same time.
Just like the rest of the Cascade’s presentation, the treble notes have good tonal accuracy. It is linear in its transition from the lower to high treble without any noticeable peaks or dips. Despite its laidback nature, the treble doesn’t struggle to keep up with the bass or midrange thanks to that great extension and definition.
While the soundstage is not particularly wide, it’s still good for a closed headphone. Fortunately, the Cascade provides a good amount of depth as well and this greatly enhances its layering and instrument separation. While the bass notes are decidedly thick, those in the midrange and treble are not, so the stage maintains space and doesn’t become congested or adversely affect the dimensions too much.
Vocals are positioned quite forward and intimately but there is sufficient space between them and other instruments to keep the stage from feeling crowded. With its solid mids and treble definition, the Cascade has a solid grasp of imaging and positioning.
I’m just going to touch briefly on the filter system here. The changes in sound between various filters are fairly minor so doesn’t drastically change the overall presentation. It is always nice to be able to customize a headphones signature more to your preference though, without having to resort to modding it yourself.
There are 4 sets of tuning filters provided, and they’re basically just little fabric pieces with different pore sizes ranging from 7 microns to 15 microns. The filters are named 1T, 2T, 3T and 4T. In a nutshell, the higher the number, the more the bass and to a lesser extent, the midrange are slightly attenuated.
Changing the filters is really simple. You just remove the earpads (super easy with the magnet system) and place the chosen filters in the space provided above the driver. That’s all there is to it.
Although the Cascade is described as a portable headphone, I’m sure there will be many people who, like myself, use them primarily at home or with a desktop setup. For that reason, I’ve added some desktop DACs for comparison.
Aune X1S 10th Anniversary Edition
The X1S has an energetic, transparent signature that works well with the Cascade but demands a lot of your attention. Its 32bit Sabre DAC provides excellent resolution and instrument separation. The soundstage has good depth and imaging is great. Despite being a more affordable DAC, the X1S performs really well, with a clean, dark background and excellent sense of timing and lack of jitter.
With the irDAC-II, the Cascade’s soundstage is wide and spacious. Layering and separation are superb, as is the timbre and sense of rhythm. Strangely, this DACs smooth presentation doesn’t dull the Cascade’s sound or further ‘thicken’ the bass. Great dynamics and extension at both ends round up the presentation, making this an awesome DAC to pair with the Cascade.
The DX7 brings out a fuller bass and less sparkly treble. Smaller soundstage and less instrument separation. This was surprising as the DX7 is generally lean and resolving but this matchup was pretty ordinary. It might be due to an impedance mismatch or something else causing the lack of synergy.
Acoustic Research AR-M200
AR’s newest DAP has a neutral and airy sound that brings out the best in the Cascade. It has a very wide soundstage and excellent layering and definition. Bass notes are faster and leaner but still have lots of impact, making this one of my favourite pairings.
Acoustic Research AR-M20
Excellent definition and imaging. Lots of depth in the soundstage. Vocals have extra density and instrument separation is really strong. Treble notes have a bit less sparkle. The layering and imaging are what stands out to me most with this DAP, along with the clean, black background and potent driving power.
This little DAP is a bit of an unsung hero, in my opinion. Although its feature set is basic and the battery life average, it has a great sound. Soundstage is very large and maintains good layering throughout. It’s a linear and transparent sound that works really well with the Cascade. The bass feels less dominant and more in balance and there’s an added airiness that makes the Cascade sound a little less in your face.
Ultrasone Performance 860
The Performance 860 is vastly different in sound to the Cascade but they do share some similar physical traits. For example, they both have rotating earcups so the headphones can be laid flat around your neck or on a desk. They both also have a similar size and shape and are meticulously crafted, though the Ultrasone is primarily plastic compared to the Cascade’s metal construction.
The Performance 860 has a much more linear presentation in comparison to the Cascade. Its bass is close to neutral but has very good extension and is able to dig deep without significant roll-off. The midrange is leaner with less richness, which at times can make the upper midrange a little aggressive but female vocals tend to have more prominence.
Both have a relaxed treble but the 860’s is slightly more forward. In regards to resolution, the Cascade holds up really well considering the fullness of its bass. The 860 has a wider soundstage with less density in midrange instruments and vocals.
Meze 99 Neo
Meze Audio’s Neo has a similar sound signature but there are some key differences. It has a comparable amount of bass but with less weight and impact. The midrange has less density, making vocals less rich but gives them an airier feel. This makes the stage feel a bit more open, at the expense of some resolution and layering. It’s in the treble where these two headphones sound most similar to me, both being laidback but with nice, clean edges and good extension.
If you like the sound of the Meze 99 Neo or 99 Classics, you’re sure to like what the Cascade has to offer. On the other hand, if the Cascade is out of your price range, the Meze headphones are a very solid and more affordable alternative.
Campfire Audio Cascade Conclusion
In recent times it seems like Campfire Audio can’t put a foot wrong, and the Cascade looks to continue that trend.
Something to keep in mind is that this is CA’s first attempt at a full-sized headphone. When a first attempt is this good, it more often than not points to good things to come in the future and I can’t wait to see what they do next.
There can be no doubt about the Cascade’s solid construction. You’ll know this as soon as you touch it.
The Campfire Audio Cascade has a bold, energetic sound, defined (on the surface) by its dominant bass. But it’s bass done right. A resolving midrange and clear but relaxed treble seal the deal.
Currently, there simply aren’t many other closed-back headphones in its price range that can compete.
The Campfire Audio Cascade is a hot topic and people (including myself) are loving it. You can get it from Amazon HERE.