Campfire Audio Solaris 2020: This “new” model rocks.
Pros: CFA build
Bass is superbly presented
Rich tonality suits my tastes
Cons: Large fit
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499):This “new” model rocks.
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 Aras just sounds right no matter the source music. It really does, and I can see why it is the favorite of some. And this one? 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 and 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.
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.
5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 6.54 mVrms
15.5 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion
Durable Black PVD Finished Body
Dual Custom Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C. (High)
Single Updated Custom Balanced Armature Driver (Mid)
Specially Tuned 10mm Dynamic Driver (Mid + Low)
Plasma enhanced Chemical Vapor Depostion (C.V.D.) Amorphous Diamond Like Carbon (A.D.L.C.) Diaphragm.
Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
Stainless Steel Spout
Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)
Campfire Ara 2020 ($1299)
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099)
Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
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
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.
The original Solaris was an extraordinary sounding unit, which to many had really poor fit due to the size. I can only take others word at this, and I trust their judgements. That said, the fit of the 2020 is very good. I start with that because it was such a conspirational point to many. Needlessly so in my humble opinion. If you liked it, and it fit, use it. But, the 2020 is noticeably smaller and I have no problem wearing it for long periods. I currently listen to Alex Fox’s excellent album Guitar On Fire through the Cayin n6ii mk2 and have no problem for long sessions. Fitting nearly flush, the Solaris does fit much better, even with a longer nozzle. The angle of which fit my average sized ear well. So, from the fit standpoint, CA took the criticism of the past and turned it into a positive.
Build is of course top notch. I have yet to see a subpar CA model, after owning and reviewing many. Made of three distinct parts to the shell, the fit together is top notch as you would expect. The larger (depth-wise) faceplate fits neatly onto the main shell portion, which has some nice edging, which I assume helps grip as well as the acoustics of the chamber. Both in black, the color compliments the silver nozzle, which has a nice lip to keep the tips in place. A vent hole on top of the main shell provides venting and pressure release when inserting into you ear. A single small starz screw in gold/bronze adorns the top as well, which holds the “halves” together. I will say that the glossy black does gather fingerprints but not like some of the acrylic models I have had in the past. Add in the subtle inlaid CA logo on the faceplate and you get an understated presentation in black. Reminiscent of that black on black on black car or SUV laden the same way, you appreciate the understated elegance and look instead of an “in your face” black presentation. Subtle but thoughtful and I like it.
Using the traditional MMCX connectivity, the Litz cables on CA models always come across to me as a bit thin. That is until I listen to them. The Solaris 2020 comes with the smoky four-layer silver coated copper Litz instead of the thinner cables. I like this cable quite a bit although it does keep its wound shape a bit. With no microphonics and a very tight y-splitter, the cable sounds and works well. I will admit I prefer copper cables (don’t go there…), but a silver-plated cable has its merits of which others can espouse the virtues, much better than I.
With a good over-ear bend and sheath the Litz cable lies nicely and without fuss, unlike some which give you an industrial strength bend and sheathing episodic dilemma. CA seems to get ergonomics right overall, even with the odd fitting shells of old. Tailoring to a bit of change is not bad, and CA continues to improve the user functionality aspect on demand.
Technicals (to a point) & sound:
Running the same technicals inside but fine-tuned, the Solaris 2020 “features 2 custom balanced armature drivers paired with our T.A.E.C for extended highs, without sibilance or fatigue. A larger single rear-ported balanced armature driver provides rich delivery of mid frequencies. A specially tuned version of our 10mm A.D.L.C. dynamic driver, optimized with our Polarity Tuned Chamber, anchors the sonic performance with deeply engaging mid-frequency tonality and visceral bass response,” so sayeth the website.
This is their way of stating that the insides have been fine tuned for greater accuracy and detail, while providing excellent resolution as well as clarity. I would agree as the Solaris sounds mighty fine through the N6ii mk2. Providing excellent bass depth, the dynamic driver provides the near-patented CA-level of bass but with greater control than in the past. Excellent reach is afforded as a result. Historia De Un Amor sounds sublime in its presentation, and the bass guitar lays down a carpeted ride for the rest. Such a sensuous song, that rings true through the duo.
More manufacturers are going for what CA calls their TAEC, the Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber, or the tuning of the shell to match the sound emitted from the BA’s and DD. One need only look at Fir audio and how they have gone tubeless to promote the sound characteristics of a listening room. In the Solaris, the final product of the TAEC tuning is an expansive listening “room,” which gives excellent soundstage as well, without becoming bloated or overly cavernous. Expansive is good here, because this allows the extension of the other characteristics to work in concert together for a thoroughly fine listening pleasure. Nothing steps on the other sound increments. The mids come across as vibrant and alive when called upon with either male or female vocals. I found myself enjoying Bonnie Raitt anew as well as Billy Eilish’s superb vocal presentation through the Solaris as a result. This level of tuning is meant to mimic your fine listening room, and the more this comes about, you clearly hear the definition and result of that tuning in more manufacturers. Relying on the “tried” technology of “only” balanced armatures and dynamic drivers, CA provides that incremental increase in sound, which makes the Solaris more mature in evolution rather than revolution. In a sense this makes it a revolution.
To me treble presentation has been rather good and off-key to my ears in CA models of the past. While I have appreciated the rolling off of that end due to my limitations; it came at the cost of detail retrieval and that last bit of clarity, which can really define the character of an IEM. The Nova of old was my first taste, and while I really liked it, the maturation process is easy to see. The Solaris thankfully provides that amount of detail and clarity, which were missing form some in the past. Is it on Andromeda levels? Certainly not, but working together with what the Solaris’ forte is, beautiful sounding mids and a solid thump from the bassline; the trio works in concert. Guitar On Fire (Latin Disco Version) defines this perfectly. Since it is a disco version, there is plenty of which you could complain about up top, but the Solaris does not promote such sibilance or harshness, only top-class notes that would make others blush when taken as a whole. This is a really fine representation of that particular song and makes you understand that the Solaris is worthy of its place up top.
Layering is rather complimentary instead of defining. As you piece it all together, this would be akin to that fine five-layer cake, which promotes the whole. Each layer is distinct and tasty but taken together becomes the showstopper from the British Baking Show.
Sometimes the melding of those layers is more important than the definition of said layers. The Andro definitely separates and is meant for that. The Solaris compliments instead. While the TAEC takes care of the highs, the Polarity Tuned Chamber (PTC) takes care of the lows. Essentially building a special compartment for the dynamic driver allows the Solaris to mimic that listening room pleasurable sound. Especially working in concert as I mentioned with the TAEC. This would be a time where acronyms do in fact mean business and are not simply marketing. Think of the PTC as a built acoustic chamber, which can amplify the lower end, much like the proper placement of a good Paradigm subwoofer. And as we all know placement of the subwoofer is of paramount importance.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499) v Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):
My unabashedly all-time favorite IEM, The LX combined with the Eletech Socrates cable is a superb example of two companies’ finest wares combining to make my listen ing pleasures nirvanic in nature. Yes, the LX does not present the best upper end, but I do not care. Much like you take a saltine cracker between drinks at a wine tasting evening, the LX refines my senses before another review. Have I heard better IEM’s? Yes. Do I like those more? No. For to me when combined, the cost of my two outweighs any perceived benefit from those others.
And here is where you could call the distinction of the Solaris at roughly half the price of my combination duo well worth the cost. When compared to others “flagship” models, the CA flagship holds itself extremely well. Better presentation up top than the LX gives me notice that there are others out there, which can hold a candle to it, even if I like the LX more. Well done, CA.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499) v Campfire Ara 2020 ($1299):
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.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499) v Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099):
Having had the pleasure of hearing Pinky’s original Andro’s I was mesmerized by the crispness of sound and the clarity wrought from an IEM. At the time, I considered my short listen a lesson in clarity that withstood the time and test of many more expensive IEM’s. Detail is the name of the Andromeda 2020, and as such has huge shoes to fulfill the obligations wrought by its grandfather. Running “only five” balanced armatures per side (dual high, dual low, and one mid) the Andromeda benefits as well from the TAEC technology for the highs. I do think and quoting from memory, that the Andro 2020 has reclaimed its rightful spot as the detail king. Clarity of such is hard to surpass than this, even if those highs SEEM a bit tamed versus the Ara. Going back to back to back, I can clearly define the trio, and I was surprised that the Ara holds itself so well against the Andro. Maybe those two extra BA’s have something to do with that, but the Andro still holds its spot with regard to a clarity of which few can match, especially at this “entry-level” price into the realm of TOTL territory.
You could certainly do much worse at this price than the Andro, which makes you appreciate its heritage all the more.
I finish this review listening to Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb from The wall, of course. One of my all-time favorite songs, it defines that era to me. Cognitive dissidence along with passive protestations around the world in a time of change. Not like the 60’s/70’s and the Vietnam era mind you, but the final throes of Communism and those horrible eastern bloc dictators, which sprung from the ashes of discord. Pink Floyd was at their peak (which ran for well on 3 decades, mind you…), and The Wall concert was one of spectacular proportion’s such that only outdoor venues could do the concert justice. Arrowhead Stadium holds 80,000 people, and it felt like you were a painful part of that dissidence and made to almost feel like the kids marching through the education system.
Times have changed, and I find myself part of that “education system,” charged with teaching the youth of our society not only the conceptual knowledge but the ability to critically think through the process and problem solve. Too often, a quick fix is wanted, and this must be countered with a slow burn process of knowledge. This is where the Solaris 2020 has bridged that time effectively. Switching immediately to Alex Fox, the Solaris shows it can change with the music and with time. Taking that abuse such as the citizens of those eastern European countries (not really on par, but please stay with the theme), CA moved on from turmoil to produce these fine winners. The Solaris 2020 simply put, is one of the finest IEM’s I have listened to during 2020-21 and when you consider the price, actually blows right on past those of higher price and capabilities. Not really meant to compete against what I would call the hyper-TOTL, the Solaris provides the listener with a thoroughly satisfying production and presentation. Combining the bass of the Vega, but controlled with the character of the Ara’s mids and Andro’s detailed clarity to a point, the Solaris 2020 is one darn fine IEM, and I am thankful I was able to listen to it.