Campfire Audio Ara ($1299): Is this really the middle child?

Campfire Audio Ara: Is this really the middle child?

Pros: A bit smoother tonality than the Andro
A bit less bass than the Solaris
Coherent signature

Cons: Missing that extra bit of vibrancy of the Andro
Fit is still old school
Middle child syndrome?
Tough market?

Campfire Audio Ara ($1299): Is this really the middle child?

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Ara

Intro (same as the Solaris & Andromeda):


As luck would have it, the tasty trio of new CA wares came my way, the Ara 2020, Andromeda 2020 and this; the Solaris 2020. Upon first listen of all three, I noted how they seemed similar to me. Then after closer inspection, I began to understand the intricacies of each and how they were different. The Andro is the detail king, rightly taking back its crown as an extremely detailed critter. My goodness, it really does. The Solaris? Not having heard the first or second gen, I cannot say how it is different other than reading the reviews of HeadPie, thecontraptionist and twister6. They are much more versed than I, but the Solaris to me proved why it is the flagship of the range. It is like Ken & Co took the criticisms in stride and produced an F-you, this is what we can do. All three-sound phenomenal, and I again appreciate what Campfire Audio has done to the market. They produced three winners of distinctly different signatures, enough so that you will find one, which fits your tastes. And this one? The Ara just sounds right no matter the source music. It really does, and I can see why it is the favorite of some.

I am a very lucky reviewer to have all three on hand and will do my best to discern the sound of each. As these are loaner units to me, I have no financial obligation whatsoever in this and simply appreciate and covet my time with the trio together.

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Specs:

Specifications


10Hz–28 kHz Frequency Response
94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 7.094 mVrms
8.5 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance


Features

Dual High Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C.
Single Mid Frequency Balanced Armature Driver
Quad Low Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers
Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
Machined Titanium Shell
Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber™ (T.A.E.C.)
PVD Black Stainless-Steel Spout
Black Screws


Gear Used/Compared:

Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)
Campfire Solaris 2020 ($1499)
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099)

Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
MBP/EarMen TR-AMP



Songlist:

Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA

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Unboxing:

This will be short. The units came to me in their new cork case, with drawstring “laundry-like” airy bag inside and some tips. That’s it. But from the website you note that you get the traditional Campfire Audio plethora of goodies, that are functional and needed. I have always preferred Comply foam tips on the CA models I have had and reviewed, and this is no different.

The cork case is a new thing, and I do appreciate how CA continues to think about their environmental impact. More and more this is becoming the trend, and Campfire is right up there at the forefront.


Technicals:

With seven BA’s per side, CA is taking a decidedly different twist with the Ara. Running dual BA’s up top, one for the mid and quad BA’s for the lows, there is ample evidence from the sound, that even though there is only one BA for the mids, that to me this might be the highlight of the show. Using the TAEC design for the upper realms, the highs are full but not harsh. The mids sound not lush but full and vibrant richness with passion to me as a result of the seven combined BA’s. The speed of sound emanating from the Ara are quite good as well.


Build/Fit:

The typical CA shape of blockiness continues, but on a smaller scale. After owning the original Nova, and still having the once TOTL Jupiter, I welcome that slimmed down shape since it does not hinder my ear as much. Still slightly large, but not out of the ordinary enough to bother me especially after some of the lunkers I have had of late. Yes MMR, I’m looking your way.

Made from three pieces, the faceplate with the familial CA logo graces the thinner than Solaris front. Held in place by the three-black tri-slot screws, the fit between the two halves is spot on. The black longer nozzle fits well, too and compliments the black screws to make a very nice two-tone look. The slightly angled nozzle fits well into my average-sized ear without fuss and due to the smaller shell, I can wear the Ara without bother for longer periods of time.

Adding to the overall look is the Litz silver-plated copper cable with beryllium-copper MMCX connectors. I will not go into whether this is pure beryllium or not, the point is moot since it is an alloy anyway. I trust CA and so should you. With a brownish color that compliments the blue-toned cork case, the overall appeal of the Ara is one of subdued quality and elegance. No shoutiness here, thank you very much.

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Sound:

I mentioned the mids above and will continue here. To me they present the character of the Ara most, and as such promote a richness that exudes throughout the whole of the sound character. On Alex Fox’s live version of To The Gypsies, the strings, which accompany the beginning sound sublime and full of rich character. Clean and concise with excellent speed as well, those mids are well worth the listen. Then later as the bass guitar kicks in, while not on Solaris level, nonetheless, the Ara promotes excellent speed again and depth to the bass present. Succinct and full of energy, with taut control would be a good way to describe the sound so far. I do wish for more bass, but this isn’t meant for that. This is a character defining IEM, and in that the Ara 2020 can hold its head high. Superb detail retrieval emotes a richness of personality to the note and sound heard.

Moving up scale, the treble is again vibrant and full of verve. Not harsh or sibilant in the least, the notes up top through staccato guitar strums are excellent in clarity and response. This is a fine, honest representation of the sound coming forth. CA has done its job with this one. I would add that due to the clarity of the treble presence, the soundstage sounds open as well. Nice and wide, but not Grand Canyon wide, the height is good as well. Depth matches both, but I do believe the width is wider than the others, presenting a nice panoramic sound, but not too out of proportion. This also allows for the layering to come across nicely as well.

Instruments can be picked out in more detail than the Solaris, but that is to be expected due to the tuning. Mind you the Solaris is not bad, just that the Ara is better. This is a good balance between the Solaris and Andromeda as a result. Combining with very good instrumentation as well, I never felt a lack of definition as to where each instrument laid. Proper delineation was had in all spectra. The terms succinct and character come into my mind again when thinking of the overall signature here. Not delicate or finicky or lacking depth, but a richness and vibrancy that backs up what I hear.

Not that I have neglected the bass and I usually mention it first, but the Ara is a case where the other aspects deserve the front-page news, they are so good. If there was one “issue” with the Ara to me, it would be the lack of true depth in the bass sound. But that would be a disservice to how good it really is. Not the depth of the Solaris, but present in a succinct manner, that is tailored to compliment to others in support. I most always wish for more, but here what is present satiates my desires for more because what is there is so good. On Coldplay’s Clocks, the bass is succinct and (here’s that word again) vibrant. Yes, it provides me with that sense and the complimentary sound adds to an already enjoyable sound. Chris Martin’s vocals come across clean and crisp as well in a very fine manner.

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Comparison:

Campfire Audio Ara ($1299) v Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):

Not really a fair comparison here, but I will briefly add that the detail response from the Ara makes a valid point for “why spend more?” Well, if you do you get that added bass and warmth of sound, which the Ara hints at, but does not have. There is the richness of sound and that vibrant tonality present, but not the bass. So, this would be one where the complimentary nature of both might just justify the purchase of both. I’ll leave that up to you and your significant other to discuss…one for each of you!!


Campfire Audio Ara ($1299) v Campfire Solaris 2020 ($1499):

From my Solaris 2020 review:
Another fine reviewer calls the Ara his favorite of the trio, and I completely understand why. Listening to that IEM of traditional CA-block shape, I concurred for the detailed response of sound emoting from within is indeed extraordinary. While it does not have the punch of the Solaris down low, it more than makes up for that with detailed precision and clarity. Of the three, this to me would be the most “neutral” of the trio, and most “middle of the road.” That is not necessarily a bad thing, as my wife is a middle child, and for that comes a level of tolerance and maturity beyond the oldest and baby of those trio. I am thankful, indeed.

Running all BA’s, seven of them, one would expect a lesser bass performance than the Solaris. While the amount is less, the presentation is nonetheless impressive. If you want the bass monster, go Vega 2020. If you want that solid middle ground, with excellent detail retrieval and sumptuous male vocals, then you are hard pressed to find a better CA than the Ara 2020. See more in my review. If I had to choose here, I’d go with the Solaris 2020 due to the warmth of sound and that added bass, for it is so good.


Campfire Audio Ara ($1299) v Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099):

There is no denying that the Andromeda is the former king of detail. The precision of which the clarity of sound comes through is a hearing to be well, heard. I can remember from the original that I was “quite impressed” with the level of detail retrieval and clarity wrought from that boxy shaped IEM. It pretty much set the tone for me until much more expensive unit came across my computer.

It still holds a very high place with regard to clarity and to think it is the most affordable of the three makes you wonder why you would spend more. The Ara might be the case for justifying that extra money spent. You get an extra two drivers, which are oriented for the lower frequencies, so they have no benefit or addition to that clarity of the Andromeda. So, what makes the Ara better than the Andromeda? A bit better in the bass retrieval department and a wonderfully rich tonality and soundstage. Slightly different, but not necessarily better.

The Andromeda is easier to drive as well. And to me it presents a more vibrant signature than the Ara, along with a slightly lifted vocal presentation. So, it comes down to the smooth richness and vibrancy of the Ara versus the uplifting vibrant tonality of the Andromeda 2020. Both are fabulous and I really could not pick a winner.

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Finale:

The Ara is a tough one to quantify. The “lowest” priced of the trio, does that make it the least of the three? Or the “worst” of the three? To me the Ara 2020 has the hardest job of the three. It must prove its place in this vaunted lineup is worth the price of admission. Fighting for a spot at the big kids table is tough work, especially for the youngster in the lineup. But the Ara has the tricks up its sleeve to prove it belongs. That vibrant tonality, that is textured a bit better than the Andromeda gives it a bit better smoothness of sound. I would not call it laidback, and certainly not “mature,” but a certain smoothness comes out when compared to the other two. As such, it fully deserves its place within the trio, and when price is factored in, you could easily justify this as either the entry point into the CA lineup, or a very fine addition to what you already have. I close with Coldplay’s Everything’s Not Lost, which is fitting as the wonderful bassline hits and the vocals emote that smooth nature about it.

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