Astell & Kern is known to collaborate with different IEM brands. In the past, they’ve worked with JH Audio and Empire Ears to release a high-end IEM under the A&K banner. Now, Campfire Audio has teamed up with them to release the Pathfinder. For $1699, is this A&K best collaborative effort yet?
What You Get
- PATHFINDER Earphones L/R x 1
- 2.5mm Silver-Plated Copper Cable x 1
- 3.5mm Silver-Plated Copper Cable x 1
- 4.4mm Silver-Plated Copper Cable x 1
- 5 Pairs of Final Audio E-Type Earphone Tips (XS/S/M/L/XL)
- 3 Pairs of Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (S/M/L)
- 3 Pairs of Silicone Earphone Tips (S/M/L)
- Earphone Cleaning Tool x 1
- Leather Zipper Case x 1
- Earphone Protection Sleeve x 1
- Earphone Tips and Cable Storage Pouch x 1
Look and Feel
The design of the Pathfinder combines motifs from Campfire and A&K very well. Its face has the edged pattern seen on many A&K DAPs, and the housing harkens back to Campfire’s Solaris except with a much smaller size. This helps out the fit a lot, as they don’t feel as cumbersome when sitting in your ear. The housing still floats about your ear cavity a little awkwardly, but I never felt discomfort at any point while listening to the Pathfinder.
For the insides, the Pathfinder incorporates newly customized dual-balanced armature drivers with a T.A.E.C. system. This is the first system of its kind, operating two separate diaphragms through one voice coil. They hope this results in a more powerful output, and it definitely works. I mainly used the Pathfinder’s 4.4mm cable when doing most of my testing, and it supplied me with a ton of volume. Using the Fiio Q3 with the Pathfinder gave me great results with gain, leaving a ton of room for adjustment.
On the Pathfinder, you’ll find a spacious soundstage that communicates intricate layering almost effortlessly. It’s got a shoulder-length width and great separation between the left and right channels. The imaging feels large but most of the sound elements are displayed closer to you. I would liken the Pathfinder more to a great closed-back over-ear headphone, as they both share a similar intimacy with their reproduction of performances You get the sense that each part of the mix is intricately woven between its organized stacks of frequency ranges. The Pathfinder showcases finesse between each placement of sound and give them depth and dimension. Instruments and effects can dance around the sound field freely and with plenty of room to operate in. Vocals feel like they are coming from above and resonate all around you with harmonies and reflections.
No matter the genre of music you’re testing with the Pathfinder, the bass will always find its place in the sound signature. You’ll always feel a deep foundation in the sub-bass that offers a great form to its tone. There’s no real accent to the bass, and the Pathfinder doesn’t add any additional gain to most of the region. However, the frequency content is there, and it’s clean and detailed. At its best, the Pathfinder can deliver some expressive impact, lifted up by a subtle rumble forming a natural body of vibration.
You’ll find small areas of emphasis in the midrange. The Pathfinder excels mostly in providing excellent balance and evenness between each expanding portion of the frequency response. Everything coming out of it is lushly detailed across the spectrum. Textures are wonderfully clean, with instruments expressing individual notes that are full and bodied. It has a rich amount of drive that propels each section of the midrange forward. This highlights the space between sound elements, and it grants each part of the mix its own distinct definition.
While you may enjoy it, the highs can get considerably hot. It has some peaks and slight harshness in specific areas. Some sibilant qualities can sound like general noise, but this didn’t occur enough to hamper my experience. For the most part, the highs have a good amount of crispness, but sometimes the tone can get ahead of itself, and the Pathfinder doesn’t know how to convey its brightness all that well without stumbling into the piercing territory.
Even though the treble is a bit of a hurdle, the Pathfinder has the magnificent sound you’re expecting with a collaboration between these two brands. If you’re missing the Solaris, and don’t mind some harshness in the highs, then the Pathfinder might satisfy your tuning needs. I think compared to other high-end IEMs in this price range, there is a lot more competition to consider, but as a collector’s item, the Pathfinder is a great effort.
The Astell & Kern Campfire Audio Pathfinder is available at Audio46.