This week we reviewed the Campfire Audio Ara, Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 and Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 in-ear monitors, three models that are entirely designed and assembled in the American manufacturer’s Portland workshops. The Ara and Andromeda 2020 IEMs are sold for €1,299 and the Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 are sold for €1,799. They all feature an elegant metal shell, but have different acoustic designs: the Campfire Audio Ara use seven balanced armature drivers, the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 use five alongside an expansion chamber, and the Solaris 2020 use three balanced armature drivers and one dynamic driver. How do these three models differ from one another?
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: the brand
Campfire Audio is an American brand founded in 2015 in Portland, Oregon. It is the in-ear monitor design branch of ALO Audio, a cable manufacturer known for handcrafting some of the best audio cables in the world. Campfire Audio is the result of the same passion for audio reproduction. The brand has a small team of highly skilled craftsmen to design IEMs using new materials and techniques. In its first year, the American brand released three pairs of in-ear monitors: the Campfire Audio Orion equipped with a balanced transducer, the Campfire Audio Lyra with a dynamic driver and the Campfire Audio Jupiter with four balanced armature transducers.
After these first three models were well received, Campfire Audio rapidly expanded its range of balanced armature IEMs with the Campfire Audio Nova (two full range drivers) and the Campfire Audio Andromeda (five drivers), the 2020 version of which is the subject of this review. In fall 2016, the brand began designing dynamic armature in-ear monitors, with the Campfire Audio Lyra II (one dynamic driver), the Campfire Audio Dorado (one dynamic driver + two balanced armature drivers) and the Campfire Audio Vega (one dynamic driver).
Building on this momentum, the American brand’s flagship Campfire Audio Solaris IEMs were launched in 2018. Equipped with three balanced armature drivers and one dynamic driver, they were a big success in the audiophile world. Campfire Audio didn’t stop there and has updated the Solaris IEMs this year with a new, more compact and ergonomic shell that, in theory, optimizes comfort.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: packaging & accessories
The packaging of the Campfire Audio in-ear monitors is pretty original. The first part of the very compact box (135mm wide and 45mm high) opens up like the petals of a flower, revealing a second part inside. Inside this second part, the IEMs are stored and protected in their carry case. The three pairs of in-ear monitors come with the same model of removable MMCX to 3.5mm angled mini-jack cable that is about 1.3 meter long. In addition, there are 11 pairs of silicone and memory foam ear tips in different sizes for the Campfire Audio Ara and Solaris 2020 and 10 pairs for the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020.
The carry case that comes with the Campfire Audio in-ear monitors differs from the leather case of the previous models. More ecological, the new case has a cork structure covered with rubber to ensure that the IEMs are perfectly protected during transport. The inside is covered with a thick synthetic wool lining that protects the anodized finish of the in-ear monitors. Each case is made in Portugal by a small team of craftsmen.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: visual design
These three pairs of Campfire Audio IEMs have a very similar design. The Campfire Audio Ara feature two titanium shells that are assembled by hand. The shells of the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 and Solaris 2020 have a similar shape but they are made of aluminum. This material is produced close to Campfire Audio’s American workshops and is beneficial to the sound as it reduces unwanted vibrations and distortion. The aluminum used for the Campfire Audio Andromeda features a zirconium coating. This rust resistant material provides excellent protection for the green color of the IEMs, which is achieved by anodizing the aluminum. Lastly, the shells of the IEMs feature a deep stainless steel nozzle at their extremity that precisely channels the sound through the listener’s ear canal.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: acoustic design
Campfire Audio Ara: 7 balanced armature drivers
The Campfire Audio Ara IEMs are a 3-way model which solely use balanced armature drivers. Unlike dynamic drivers, balanced armature technology uses a coil that moves in response to changes in the electrical current. The coil is connected to a very thin diaphragm that oscillates to produce the sound transmitted to the ear. The Campfire Audio Ara in-ear monitors are equipped with seven of these drivers. Four are used for the lows, one for the mids and two for the highs. The two high frequency drivers are coupled with a proprietary Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (TAEC). The concept of this technology is to connect the drivers to the cannula with a 3D printed chamber rather than a tube and filter to extend the sound spectrum in the highs and improve spatialization. The Campfire Audio Ara IEMs are therefore able to produce a wide frequency range from 10Hz to 28kHz. Their sensitivity rating is 93dB for an impedance of 8.5 ohms, which means they can be easily paired with any device equipped with a headphone output, whether it’s a smartphone, a tablet, a computer or a DAP.
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020: 5 balanced armature drivers
The Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 IEMs exclusively use balanced armature drivers as well. Two are dedicated to the highs, another two are used for the lows and one for the mids. Here, the high frequency drivers are also coupled with a 3D printed Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber to extend the restitution in the highs and optimize the soundstage. This 2020 version differs from the original because all of the internal components are integrated in a single body. To improve the acoustic performance, the interior is more precisely sculpted and there are fewer moving parts. The frequency response of the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 IEMS ranges from 10Hz to 28kHz. Their sensitivity is 112 dB with an impedance of 12.8 ohms. They are therefore very easy to drive.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020: dynamic and balanced armature drivers
The Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 IEMs are the flagship model of the American manufacturer’s in-ear monitor range. They differ from the Aras and Andromedas with their hybrid design that combines both dynamic and balanced armature drivers. Consequently, the IEMs are equipped with three balanced armature drivers (two for the highs and one for the mids) and a dynamic driver for the lows and mids. The combination of the balanced armature driver with a dynamic driver provides the best of both technologies. The Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 IEMs have a frequency response that easily ranges from 5Hz to 20kHz for a sensitivity rating of 115 dB and an impedance of 15 ohms. They are also just as easy to drive as the other models.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: ergonomics & comfort
The Campfire Audio Ara and Andromeda 2020 in-ear monitors are very pleasant to wear. They are designed to sit in the cavity of the ear as snugly as possible. The support is excellent, in particular thanks to the reinforced parts at the ends of the cable that allow you to place it behind your ear. They are light and comfortable and can be worn for many hours without causing any discomfort or fatigue. For this 2020 version, the earpieces of the Campfire Audio Solaris have been completely redesigned in order to be more compact. Although they are lighter, they have become a little less comfortable and stable than the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020s and Aras. Of course, this can vary depending on the shape of the user’s ears.
To ensure a good fit for all ear shapes, the Campfire Audio in-ear monitors come with numerous silicone and memory foam ear tips. The silicone tips provide great comfort, while the memory foam tips compress the ear canal more to optimize passive isolation without affecting the sound. As with any pair of in-ear monitors, choosing ear tips that are adapted to your ears is essential for optimal sound reproduction. Tips that are too small allow outside noise to filter through and deteriorate the sound: lack of detail and bass, narrow soundstage, etc. Conversely, ear tips that are too big can cause discomfort in the ear canal and affect the fit of your IEMs. It is therefore recommended to try the different pairs that come with the Campfire Audio IEMs to find the pair that is the best for you. In our case, we were happy with the M size silicone ear tips.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: audiophile cable
These three pairs of Campfire Audio in-ear monitors come with a removable cable that features MMCX connectors at one end and an angled 3.5mm mini-jack connector at the other. This 1.3 meter long cable has a Litz wire design with four silver-plated copper conductors. The connectors are beryllium and copper plated to ensure great durability and a longer lifespan. Each cable is equipped with a flexible sheath at the end with the MMCX connectors to allow the user to adjust the cable to fit their ears. Two detachable velcro strips are placed on the cable to keep it rolled up and prevent it from becoming tangled during transport.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: listening conditions
For our review of the Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda 2020 and Solaris 2020 in-ear monitors, we paired them with the Shanling M6 and FiiO M11 Pro DAPs. These two DAPs have an output power of 160mW and 200mW into 32 ohms respectively. Consequently, they had no trouble correctly powering these three pairs of low impedance, high sensitivity IEMs. With these DAPs, we listened to music via Spotify (mp3 streaming, 320 kbps) and Qobuz (Sublime+ subscription, streaming up to 24-bit/192kHz), as well as DSD files stored on a microSD card.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: listening impressions
Campfire Audio Ara
We decided to carry out our review by moving up the Campfire Audio IEM range from least expensive to most expensive model. Therefore, we began with the Campfire Audio Aras. As soon as we began our listening session, we were struck by the vastness of the sound. The soundstage was incredibly wide, allowing the different sound layers to be well laid out. This was particularly beneficial when listening to concert recordings as the acoustics of the venue very perfectly reproduced. We could clearly tell that the Campfire Audio Ara IEMs were able to reach high frequencies (up to 28kHz) with ease. The highs were crystal clear, transparent and extremely nuanced. The acoustic design, based entirely on balanced armature drivers, ensured perfect tonal coherence and balance. The voices were flawlessly extracted and properly separated from the musical composition. The level of detail was such that we were able to distinguish every single breath. Lastly, the lows were nicely controlled and deep. Each bass note was reproduced accurately and perfectly sustained until it faded completely.
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020
The 5 balanced armature driver design of the Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 in-ear monitors mainly benefits the midrange and highs. These frequency ranges were even better defined and controlled. With the Campfire Audio Ara, we noticed a slight brightness in the highs with more complex tracks. However, this was not a problem with the Andromedas, and this frequency range was always perfectly balanced, smooth and sumptuous. There was also an improvement in dynamics and reactivity. Other than that, the sound was generally very similar, with a wide and spacious soundstage as well as perfect tonal balance. The lows weren’t quite as deep as those produced by the Campfire Audio Aras, but they remained superbly controlled.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020
As we mentioned earlier, the shape of the Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 IEMs proved not to be as well adapted to our ears despite trying all the different ear tips. They sometimes became loose, which inevitably affected the sound. However, when they were properly inserted, the musicality of these in-ear monitors was unquestionable. The balanced armature drivers provided a detailed and accurate reproduction from the upper mids to the highs, while the dynamic driver offered a rich midrange and nice bass response. This frequency range also gained more depth and nuance. The sound stage was wide but not as extensive. However, this didn’t prevent the instruments from being correctly rendered. We let ourselves be carried away by the music to join the artists at the foot of the stage.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: compared to…
Earsonic Purple: sold for €900, the Earsonics Purple in-ear monitors are a 3-way model equipped with five drivers per earpiece. They have the advantage of incorporating a variable tonal balance and impedance to make them easier to associate with the source. Regarding sound, the Earsonic IEMs provide a balanced soundstage and an excellent level of bass. The three pairs of Campfire Audio IEMs offer more detail in the upper mids and highs. The soundstage in these frequency ranges was also fuller and more spacious.
Technics EAH-TZ700: sold for €1,199, the Technics IEMs feature a large 10mm magnetic fluid driver. This technology maximizes the movement of the membrane and provides an even more energetic sound. These in-ear monitors also provide more details in the highs, a frequency range that they are able to correctly reproduce up to 100kHz. However, the Technics EAH-TZ700 IEMs aren’t as balanced, with subdued and shallower lows.
Sony IER-Z1R: sold for €1,899, the Sony IER-Z1R in-ear monitors are the flagship model of the Sony Signature series. Certified Hi-Res Audio, these 3-way IEMs use two dynamic drivers, a 12mm magnesium dome membrane for the lows and a super tweeter with a 5mm membrane. This design allows the IEMs to provide a balanced sound and a wide frequency response ranging from 3Hz to 100,000Hz. Therefore, the Sony IER-Z1Rs offer more details and nuances, in both the lows and highs.
Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda, Solaris: conclusion
With the Campfire Audio Ara, Andromeda 2020 and Solaris 2020, the American manufacturer presents three pairs of in-ear monitors with a spacious and detailed sound. Whether you’re listening to rock, pop or jazz, these IEMs offer a realistic approach that is true to the intentions the artists had while recording. The comfort is excellent for the Aras and Andromeda 2020s which can be worn for many hours without any discomfort. The Campfire Audio Solaris 2020s are a little less comfortable, at least for us. For this reason, if you usually have difficulty wearing in-ear monitors, it is best to choose either the Ara or Andromeda 2020 models.
What we liked
- The tonal balance
- The clear sound
- The spacious soundstage
- The deep lows
- The design
- The hard carry case
What we would have liked
- A balanced cable
- A better fit with the Solaris 2020s