Holocene rides in at the crest of the new wave of Campfire Audio earphones. Launched alongside Mammoth, and shortly after Satsuma and Honeydew, Holocene promises a higher level of fidelity and technical performance. Let’s take a closer look and see if Holocene truly is set to bring about a new epoch in hi-fi earphones.
The Look and Feel
Holocene has an earthy look to it, with its matte brown finish on the aluminum shells. With the name, color, and shell design, it almost looks like a fossil of some prehistoric weapon that cavemen used to battle the wooly mammoth. The more staid colors are brightened up – and given a much less prehistoric feel – by the glow in the dark accents on the IEM shells and the cable.
Holocene comes with the typical Campfire Audio package, including the new “Smoky Glow” cable, a case made from upcycled marine plastic, and an assortment of foam and silicone ear tips. The package and presentation are top notch, with Campfire’s always fun unboxing experience. And the earphones themselves provide the level of build quality and comfort that we’ve come to expect from Campfire Audio.
Holocene is a well balanced IEM that delivers detail, clarity, space, and definition for the more discerning listener. The sound feels very natural, with a good balance between the various characteristics. The overall feeling is a sort of studio reference monitor with an added touch of musicality.
The bass is largely linear, without a ton of subbass, but with a nice touch of punch in the midbass. The lower registers provide good texture to bass instruments and excellent coherence in the lower mids. The bass is also quite fast, where you might not get the quantity of impact that more bass focused IEMs deliver, there’s an excellent speed and tightness to the delivery of drums and complex bass movement.
Instruments and vocals have a good weight in the midrange. There’s also good layering and separation, even with more complex mixes. Moving into the treble, Holocene has a good balance between pulling back ranges that create sibilance and emphasizing the ranges that create definition, sparkle, and air. I’d go so far to say that the tuning of the treble is one of the best aspects of Holocene. It’s crafted in such a way that it gives you all the sonic information you want, but holds back the tones that create fatigue or sound harsh.
The soundstage and imaging are strong for this price range. There’s a bit of the same feeling of the Andromeda in the way Holocene creates space and presents instruments in that space. Altogether, Holocene presents a well crafted 3D image.
The intro of Soundgarden’s “Pretty Noose” hits with tight cymbal crashes and the contrasting textures of the clean guitar sound and modulated overdriven guitar. As things get heavier and more complex on the verse, Holocene provides clear definition and excellent layering with various polyrhythms and counter melodies. From the vocals to the separate guitars and drums, each instrument is loaded with detail that Holocene lets you unwrap – or you could just sit back, relax, and let the crisp, heavy sound of the whole ensemble wash over you.
Herbie Hancock’s performance of “Round Midnight” starts soft, with quiet piano chords and the smooth, surprisingly effective vocalizations of Bobbie McFerrin. Holocene’s delivery of the vocals is detailed, textured, and dynamic, delivering all the emotion in each note. The piano has a delicate sound, with the upright bass providing support below it in the low end, but largely fading into the background. Holocene delivers the dynamics as the soft piano chords build and shift while the piano takes the lead in the second half of the song, and the bass builds along with it.
On Regina Spektor’s “Small Town Moon,” there’s an up close, personal feeling to her vocals. The mix places Regina and her piano up close in an intimate setting, with the band a little bit behind her in a nice big studio. The space feels alive, with Holocene presenting everything from the textures of the instruments to the dynamics in a realistic fashion, just-right sized soundstage, and solid imaging on the instruments.
On Martin Solveig’s “Places,” Holocene demonstrates that it can dig deep and provide solid low end impact and a bit of rumble. When the bass drops, there’s a solid physical impact, and it’s coupled with a detail and texture in the low end that provides a nice balance between the feeling of bass and hearing the detail of and separation between each of the instruments making up the low end. The higher pitched vocals and synths also test Holocene’s ability to presence higher registers without becoming fatiguing or sibilant, and with the exception of one or two of the sharpest spikes in the song, the treble remains present without getting harsh.
Comparisons: Final B1, Campfire Audio Andromeda
The Final B1 is an interesting comparison to Holocene as it demonstrates some similar characteristics to Holocene in its definition and layering, but has a v-shaped signature rather than Holocene’s more neutral tuning. Andromeda is in a class above Holocene, but Holocene shares some characteristics with Andromeda that almost beg the question, “Is Holocene a ‘baby Andromeda?’”
In terms of the basics of their tuning, the Final B1 is much more of a “fun” sound with a big midbass emphasis, recessed mids, and a treble that rises up to balance out the bass. What adds a stronger comparison to Holocene is that B1 has this little extra boost at the top that helps lend it a stronger sense of definition than you might otherwise get from that sort of v-tuning. Without a doubt there’s a thicker bass impact coming from the B1, but the thickness and weight of the vocals and instruments like piano and guitar isn’t there in the same way that it is with Holocene.
The soundstage on the B1 provides quite a bit of width, being perhaps a little wider than Holocene, but the depth is about the same. In terms of the layering and definition, B1 has a great sense of separation between instruments, which is similar to Holocene, but there’s a difference in the presentation where Holocene gives the instruments an extra level of texture and detail that brings the individual characteristics of each musical part to life.
The Andromeda strikes a balance between both worlds here. Its tuning isn’t as neutral as Holocene, nor is it as exaggerated as B1. There’s a smoothness and sweetness to the tuning, but also a detail and clarity in each instrument. By direct comparison to Holocene, Andromeda doesn’t have as strong a sense of definition, but it strikes a stronger balance between tuning and detail, along with exceeding Holocene’s performance in soundstage and imaging.
Of course, Andromeda is more expensive, so you would expect it to be better than Holocene. But if you want a total presentation of the 3D image that’s closing in on Andromeda, with some similar characteristics, Holocene delivers on – and even goes beyond – the promise of a “baby Andromeda.”
The Bottom Line
Holocene gives you strong technical performance with reference level detail, but doesn’t forget about listenability. It stands out in the current <$1000 IEM field with a great soundstage and absolutely out of this world layering and definition that’s part of an overall well constructed and balanced tuning.