Campfire Audio Orbit: A first TWS from CFA
A version of this review will be posted on eCoustics in the near future.
Senior Headphone Editor Jennings, EIC White and I have tried pretty much all of Campfire Audio’s offerings. Some of our all-time favorites come from the Pacific Northwest company including the superb basshead Cascade headphone and Ara IEM along with the custom Supermoon. But one thing missing from their offerings was a TWS (True Wireless) earbud. Often at the forefront of technological breakthroughs, the Orbit comes about after careful scrutiny from CFA. While it lacks some of the other manufacturer’s controls and tricks, one should not discount it for that. Why? Well, because CFA has always had a hankering and history for not only surprising us, but making that surprise well worth the wait.
5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
Bluetooth 5.2 with Bluetooth LE Support
Supported Codecs: SBC, AAC, AptX Adaptive
USB-C Wired Charging and Qi Compatible Wireless Charging Case
IXP5 Water Resistance Rating
Stainless Steel Spout
Golden Logo – Plated
Matte Finish Dual Tone ABS Body and Case
10mm Dynamic Drivers
Liquid Chrystal Polymer (LCP) Diaphragm
Orbit ABS Case by Campfire Audio
Marshmallow Tips (s/m/l) – Orbit Silicone Earphone Tips(s/m/l) – Campfire Audio Lapel Pin – USB-C to USB-C Charging Cable – User Manual
Campfire Audio (CFA) started in Portland, Oregon in 2015 with the Jupiter (I had one and really loved it), the Orion and the Lyra. All three were critically acclaimed for quality sound, unique design and superb construction. 2016 saw the addition of the Nova (had one as well, really liked it), the bass-oriented Dorado and new flagship the Vega; a superb bass-heavy unit; which took many by storm (and surprise). But the real winner was the initial offering of the Andromeda. Widely regarded as one of the world’s best details & clarity driven sound, it rewrote the book on a dynamic, vibrant, detailed sound signature. What many pined about as a “bright” signature was simply that incredible amount of detail, which had not been heard on this scale and by this many. Yes, customs were available and sounded good by comparison; but to bring this level of sound and commitment to the “masses” had not been done but by a very few (Shure 846).
Fast forward to 2020, and the trio of Andromeda, Ara & Solaris (2020) models again set the tone for Ken, Caleb & company. The Solaris & Ara are currently two of my favorites. 2022 saw the release of the custom Supermoon (review here) and Trifecta, again utilizing “new” technologies. 2022 also saw some custom colors (PURPLE!!!!) and the release of the Orbit, their first TWS. As with any company, there were hit & misses, but mostly hits. CFA has weathered the “storms” nicely.
Wearing them while listening to Tidal on my 2023 13” MBP (literally wore the battery out on my 2017…) I have aptX activated for songs when needed. Fairly diminutive in size, the Orbit fits deeper into my ears than many other CFA offerings.
Using single 10mm dynamic drivers with a Liquid Chrystal Polymer (LCP) diaphragm, CFA has not strayed too far from their roots on this one. BT 5.2 with Bluetooth LE support helps keep the unit current. Supporting SBC, AAC, AptX Adaptive codecs makes it fairly current, but with no LDAC support. The Orbit can handle audio up to 24-bit/48kHz as well.
An IXP5 water resistant rating makes the Orbit good for working out or running in fairly nefarious weather. To me, this is not meant for true water protection, simply making it protected. With a tan build, stainless steel nozzle (pretty much a trademark of CFA) and gold-plated logo, the earbud fits comfortably inside my ears. Choice of tips ranging from silicon to foam tips (yay!) makes finding fit easy. More and more manufacturers are offering foam tips, which actually fit into the charging cases, which is nice. Sony was among the first to do this, and I welcome CFA in offering that fit. I’m told the light caramel/tan colors are hip as well by my former students who have commented on the looks.
With USB-C AND Qi wireless charging capabilities one can expect roughly 8.5 hours per charge with 30 total hours including the case. Details below on that claim.
The Caramel & tan color of the case, earbud and tips makes for a very understated look, and I especially like the Qi charging, having used both our Prius & Tacoma’s ability to charge the case. I will note here, that the earbud with its rounder-than-normal-CFA-angular-shape is quite slippery. It took me several tries to get used to removal without one shooting across the room. Just know that the typical angular shape of most CFA IEM’s is softened here, which helps with fit. Overall, this is a plus to me.
The CFA app is fairly robust with a tutorial on touch controls right up front. You can turn on/off various features, but not tailor or personalize them. Equalization is included, but only pre-determined mixes. And with numbers like a tic tac toe board, one must remember what each stands for. Pressing on each brings up that specific curve but other than the numbers, I do not have a clue what each is oriented towards. Typical curves do include vocals, rock, pop, classical and others; but remembering the numbers makes it difficult.
Custom EQ settings can be added (by a large number as well) by clicking the “Add” button in the top right corner. Then by long pressing on the corresponding letter, you can tailor a 7-band equalizer. I added up to the letter “H” and stopped, so one could easily tailor for most (all?) genres available to them.
Rudimentary in options, but functionally well-designed, the app allows you to tailor some of the Orbit’s features. Plus, it will show battery charge as well as Codec currently in use.
With the potential for 8.5hrs on a single charge and a total of 30 hours with the case, the Orbit falls squarely in the current TWS range. I can verify both on repeated tests. I achieved over nine hours on my first full charge and about 8-8.5 on subsequent charges. I also verified the 30 hours total +/-1 hr. Not the best, and not the worst; the Orbit were well within competitive range.
The Orbit with its 10mm dynamic driver plays the full spectrum of sound reasonably well, providing the user with a pleasantly fun tonality that also reaches fairly low. This can be aided by utilizing the “Bass Boost” EQ setting on the app, which gives a good rumble, with fairly good control (tip dependent). Not the highest of treble reaches, and a somewhat confounding midsection makes the Orbit a pleasant, but not overly detailed or vibrant signatured sound structure. Those mids tended to push forward when needed, making for a more energetic sound, but it was well within listening tolerances.
As mentioned, the bass goes fairly deep and controlled (tip dependent) with a decent amount of grunt, keeping my interest, especially with the Bass Boost turned on. Little to no bleed into the mids was a definitive plus to me. Too often of late, good bass has ruined itself by moving into the mids, trying to compete. Not here and I am thankful.
The mids are a conundrum. Decently detailed, but not all that vibrant; there is still a certain fun factor to them, which kept me engaged. On “The Dance Of The Messors,” by Amir Bresler, the cymbal & drum hits were taut with energy and a certain level of macro detail emerged. Micro detail melded into the background providing a smooth sound, but lacking a bit of vibrancy. Energetic, but lacking that overall fun factor (even though I used it above). Nonetheless, the mids were fairly even in their presentation, which could be construed as boring, even if they were not.
Treble notes rang out with a finely tuned punch to them, which helped move the mids into the top layers of sound. Not overly reaching, even with silicon tips, the treble notes provided a smooth character, but WITH energy. On “Bohemia After Dark,” by Cannonball Adderley & his six musicians; the cymbal strikes were present, but a bit subdued. They were also laid behind the trumpet & sax solos. The upright bass provided the perfect blend with the percussion though, with more energy than the drums. If meant by design, the Orbit portrayed this mix well. When the horn section comes on, the energy comes forth as do the sax solos, but again with a smooth texture. As a result, timbre might be called average at best, but with smooth character.
Soundstage was also on the intimate side, making jazz sound like you were in a nice small venue. Width bested depth, and height gave a good ceiling to the sound signature character. When the piano solo enters, you have no doubt that it is center stage. Dead center. As a result of this, layering made for a rather good mix of layers instead of separated individualistically. The word smooth comes to mind. Again.
In this range, you have pretty much everything. From the Sennheiser Momentum 4, to the discounted Sony WF-1000XM3 or even the new XM4, as well as the custom UE Drops. As a result, the market level is really tough. Therefore, individual comparisons would be tough, but summarized as follows.
The Sennheiser & Sony are the undisputed ANC kings. Both also provide excellent sound characteristics as well, bettering the Orbit. If I had to choose, either of the Sony’s would win for me. I also prefer the overall tone of the custom Drops, but that is no surprise as they cost 2/3 more. Here, the Drops win out to me in overall character and detail, only lacking true ANC. But, since it is a custom, that need not matter that much, since it still has a transparency mode and pretty decent app.
If we were to go another route, the B&W Pi8 comes into play at a higher price point as well as the M&D MW08. Both provide a better sound and darn near impeccable ANC characteristics. But they are well beyond the Orbit’s affordable price.
From the comparisons above, you might think that the Orbit fails on all accounts. You would be wrong. Many other TWS buds come in at $99 or so, but lack so much in build quality, that their benefits are outweighed by their downfalls. Here is where the Orbit can grab that end of the market. For those looking into their first (or second) TWS pair, but not wanting to spend a month’s rent; they are quite good. You get a smooth character as well as CFA’s typically good value & build. The ability to wirelessly charge the case is a benefit to me as well. This gives you a chance to charge the case at work instead of your phone or smartwatch as a benefit, minimizing cable use if needed.
So, if you are looking for a first decent pair of TWS earbuds, and want to go up to this price point, the Orbit should be looked at against the others mentioned above at this end of the scale. You may just end up with a pair. They are not perfect, but when taken into consideration of CFA’s audiophile history, it might be worth a look to you.