With IEMs like the Andromeda and Solaris, Campfire Audio has cemented its status as one of the top creators in high-end IEMs. In the past, they’ve also released models like IO and Comet that bring some of that quality into a more affordable price range. Satsuma, alongside Honeydew, is one of their least expensive models to date, and aims to expand Campfire Audio’s market to a new generation of audiophiles and musicians.
The Build and Design
Amazingly enough, Satsuma comes with the complete package that you would expect for one of their $1000+ models even at the $199 price point. From the presentation to the accessory package, the only difference is that Satsuma is bundled with a “Smoky Lite” litz cable, which feels just a touch thinner than the standard Smoky Litz.
“Satsuma” is a type of mandarin orange, and the IEM looks very much like a mandarin slice or maybe a piece of orange candy. Rather than a ceramic, aluminum, or stainless steel shell, Satsuma’s body is primarily made of plastic. The plastic doesn’t provide quite the level of premium feel of the rest of Campfire’s line (save the also all-new Honeydew) or even previous budget models like the IO had, but they have a pleasant feel to them, and are very lightweight. The Satsuma, as a single balanced armature IEM, is quite small – almost too small. I actually found that I wished it was a tiny bit bigger so that it would rest on my earlobe more effectively, but passing them around the office, some people found them to be an almost perfect fit and among the most comfortable IEMs they’d ever tried.
Satsuma is characterized by a somewhat balanced sound with strong midrange performance, lighter bass response, and a smooth treble. The soundstage is small, but has a good feeling of symmetry between the depth, width, and height, and the imaging has good placement for general positioning, if not pinpoint precision. There’s a surprisingly strong sense of definition which lends Satsuma some stronger imaging characteristics than you would expect in this price range.
Satsuma’s biggest strength is the way its midrange is crafted and realized. There’s a transparent, natural timbre with vocals and acoustic instruments that can trick you into thinking you’re listening to a much more expensive IEMs with some songs or genres. Folk, singer-songwriter, and a lot of indie and acoustic rock perform very strongly with Satsuma providing a realistic, intimate performance with more low key genres.
Satsuma’s weakness is that its bass response is a little bit shallow, causing heavier rock, EDM, and more electronic leaning pop to sound a little thin. There’s a good presentation of detail into the lower midrange, and even a little bit of punch in the mid to upper bass ranges, but there’s a pretty steep rolloff, which leaves out lower and subbass frequencies.
Often IEMs with a more rolled off bass end up being overly bright in the treble, but Satsuma avoids this. The treble is very tasteful and well balanced. It has good presence and helps give Satsuma its strong presentation of definition, but it isn’t too strong, nor does it venture into “bright” territory.
John Mayer’s “Gravity” hits a sweet spot for Satsuma. The bass is just deep enough and clear and coherent, the guitar has a smooth tone to it, and the drums are tight and snappy. The cymbals are crisp and the snare snappy, and there’s a nice touch of impact on the bass drum hits, but not a lot of physical characteristics overall. The vocals are just a touch nasally, but otherwise natural and up close. The layering and definition is nicely done, allowing the listener to pick out the interplay between the bass guitar and organ.
The performance of “Seven Samurai – Ending Theme” on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Three album showcases Satsuma’s strengths in presenting a natural instrument timbre, and delivering strong midrange detail. Each instrument is presented with a sense of fullness and depth. The soundstage is small, but consistent, creating the feeling of an intimate and up close performance.
For an IEM sporting only a single balanced armature driver, I was surprised at the level of groove Satsuma was able to deliver on Charlie Hunter’s “Speakers Built In.” The guitars and keys were well defined, and the bass and drums provided just enough impact to get you into the groove, even if it could have been a little bit thicker and deeper.
On “El Scorcho” by Weezer, Satsuma demonstrates excellent clarity and separation between the instruments and vocals with strong definition for each part. The timbre and presentation with the electric guitars is excellent, while the bass and drums sound good, but are lacking in impact. As an example, on the first verse there’s a sort of floor tom drone that left me thinking “Wow, I can really hear the texture in the toms here where I don’t usually notice it, but I can’t quite feel it.” Those with less basshead tendencies that are focused on things like the vocal presentation will not be disappointed though.
Comparison: Meze Rai Solo
In the quest for $200 audiophile IEMs, there are a few takers, but not many that are backed by brand pedigree that Meze Rai Solo and Campfire Audio Satsuma are. Both are the entry points into lineups that go all the way up into the kilobuck range, but how do those brands compare at lower price points?
Rai Solo has the more traditional tuning of the two with a somewhat neutral leaning v-shape coming out of its single dynamic driver, while Satsuma has stronger mids with more roll off in the subbass. In casual listening, Rai Solo presents a more physical low-end – though the bass is certainly not strongly accentuated – while Satsuma has thicker mids with a more natural instrument timbre. Rai Solo has a little more treble presence as well, while Satsuma has a smoother treble response. In some cases, this gives the Rai Solo a little more sense of air, while in others – particularly with violins – it can come across as slightly sharp.
In terms of soundstage, neither has a particularly large soundstage, but Rai Solo feels just a bit wider, with a bit more air up top. The imaging and layering are more precise on Satsuma, which just has an overall stronger sense of definition and placement. Satsuma also feels a touch faster, with tighter feeling on cymbals.
Overall, Rai Solo has the more accessible tuning, and is a really strong, balanced, versatile IEM for the price. Satsuma takes a different approach, doing a handful of things really well without the same level of versatility. For hard rock, EDM, and genres more driven by bass and electronic instruments, Rai Solo is going to have the edge. For music focused around vocals, piano, and acoustic guitar, as well as classical, Satsuma provides a natural, lifelike sound, and an intimate, emotional presentation that exceeds expectations.
The Bottom Line
Satsuma gives you something pretty close to the full flagship Campfire Audio experience at a highly accessible price point. It’s not going to satisfy the bassheads, but its performance with orchestral instruments, guitars, and vocals, along with its smooth presentation exceeds expectations at the $199 price point. If you’re looking for an IEM to kick back and relax with on a summer night, Satsuma has the looks and the sound.