I’ve been following Campfire Audio since the beginning and like so many others, I’ve grown very fond of their designs and tuning. However, there is a stigma in this hobby where people tend to gravitate towards the extremities of a product line, focussing on either the affordable Orion or the exquisite but cost prohibitive Andromeda. And while these models have received no shortage of acclaim, Campfire’s midrange offerings are far less popular, there is barely a mention of the Nova and even the Jupiter only receives the occasional nod every now and then. The dual hybrid driver Polaris thus serves as a pertinent statement, replacing the Nova as Campfire’s midrange in-ear. With an RRP of $599 USD, Ken designed the Polaris to be the most accessible earphone with the highest price/performance ratio in his entire line-up. Furthermore, the earphones feature Campfire’s signature build quality and excellent Litz cable, their fun sound signature a progression of everything Campfire has learnt over past years. Featuring the tried and tested T.A.E.C combined with a cutting edge dynamic driver chamber, let’s see how Campfire’s latest earphone performs!
I would like to thank JD from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Polaris for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The Polaris is packaged similarly to the rest of Campfire’s earphones in a small and simple but very distinctive box. Inside is one of Campfire’s signature zippered carry cases which are easily the nicest I’ve come across, the Polaris comes with the same style of case as the Vega and Dorado.
It’s an authentic black leather case with faux shearling interior that prevents the metal housings from scratching or chipping each other during transit. Just below are the other accessories, 3 sizes of authentic Spinfits, three pairs of memory foam tips and 3 pairs of regular silicone tips.
Since the Polaris has a revised nozzle from the other Campfire earphones, I preferred to use Comply T400’s, green stemmed Penonaudio tips and Dunu silicone tips since I wasn’t able to achieve a solid seal with the included tips. Spinfits also provided an agreeable experience though the earphones sat a bit laterally in my ear, producing some instability during daily use. Campfire also provide a pin with the company logo which is a nice little addition.
The Polaris pursues a design that is more in line with Campfire’s armature based earphones than their dynamics featuring their larger, more angular housing shape. However, the Polaris assumes an intriguing two tone, two texture colour scheme that provides a very unique look and one that reflects the hybrid nature of its inner workings. While their aesthetic isn’t as subdued as Campfire’s previous designs, their choice of a rich blue is tasteful and the gunmetal Cerakote lid provides stunning contrast that looks a lot better in person than in photos and renders.
In terms of build, buyers get to relish in a delicious all aluminium housing machined in Portland, Oregon USA. As always, Campfire’s level of finish is class leading and no corners were cut when compared to their higher end models. After using the Jupiters almost daily for the past few months, I can personally vouch for the hard wearing qualities of Cerakote; those earphones, while mostly pampered, have been hastily pocketed and struck together with no visual repercussions.
The Polaris is no different, their gunmetal Cerakote lids remained flawless after my month of testing though their blue anodized housings did receive some trace chips here and there. I definitely advise winding the earphones up from the housings and storing with the Cerakote lids facing each other to keep them looking pristine. Perhaps my only gripe with their design are those silver screws which look quite incoherent, I feel that black screws would have fit the design of the earphones better.
Ergonomics are very similar to Campfire’s BA earphones given that the Polaris’ housings are mostly identical. However, the Polaris features a new nozzle design that does give them a slightly different fit than before. The nozzle is now plastic though it is incredibly solid, it’s longer than previous designs and smaller at its extremity permitting a deeper fit. I actually struggled a bit to find an appropriate ear tip though I eventually settled on the softer silicone tips included with the Dunu earphones. The Polaris also has a small vent on its outer face that does affect isolation, they still attenuate noise very well, better than the 64Audio earphones and as well as most sealed earphones, but they aren’t vacuum quiet like Campfire’s fully sealed models.
Furthermore, the vents make the Polaris very susceptible to wind noise, they aren’t unbearable like the Sennheiser ie800, but it is clearly noticeable when out and about. In addition, the Polaris suffers from some of the worst driver flex I’ve experienced though Ken has assured that it is within tolerances and I didn’t notice any sound degradation during my testing. Otherwise, the earphones are just as comfortable and stable as past models, staying put during a long distance run and forming no hotspots during extended wear despite their angular housings. These are ultimately minor quibbles that don’t impede normal use and are quite insignificant when compared to the comfort issues of the DK-3001 for instance.
At the top, the Polaris utilizes a removable MMCX cable with beryllium copper connectors. Campfire claim they’re magnitudes stronger than the usual brass variety, they’re very snappy with even tension on both sides and I experienced no intermittency during my testing. The Polaris is the first to use Campfire’s black Litz copper cable rather than the silver plated unit on their other earphones. Ergonomically, the cable is as excellent as before with the same memory wire system, low profile metal y-split and beefy yet case friendly right angle plug.
I would have preferred pre-moulded guides as the memory wire is a bit fidgety and stubborn during shaping but I had no major comfort issues with the Polaris. The cable itself has a tighter braid than the silver Litz cable but resists tangles just as well. It’s also just as supple as the silver cable which is among the best I’ve come across. Due to the nature of the cable’s braid beneath the y-split, the cable is quite prone to becoming twisted though it does soak up a lot of microphonic noise in return. Campfire’s build and cable is as exceptional as always on the Polaris, their two-tone look may not suite every person and environment but it’s a sporty aesthetic that catches the eye.
Utilizing a single 8.5mm dynamic driver and balanced armature combination, the Polaris is the second hybrid driver earphone that Campfire have produced. However, the Polaris makes use of some new innovations by the company that seek to produce a compelling experience despite its status as a midrange model. Of note, the Polaris features Campfire’s new polarity tuned chamber that is similar to that used by the Flares Pro, balancing air pressure on either side of the dynamic driver to enhance transience. The single armature driver also uses T.A.E.C (tuned acoustic expansion chamber) to improve treble extension and soundstage similar to the Jupiter, Andromeda and Campfire’s higher end hybrid, the Dorado. So while the Polaris has one of the lowest driver counts around this price, they promise comparable if not superior performance. I’m personally all for Campfire’s approach valuing an optimal housing design and individual driver performance over sheer driver count, it’s a much more realistic approach that I feel more manufacturers will embrace moving forward.
Exploded Render courtesy of Campfire Audio
In terms of tuning, the Polaris will likely be the most universally pleasing of the entire line-up. Between the visceral but occasionally overzealous Vega, the balanced Jupiter and the ethereal but lean Orion, the Polaris is easily the most “fun” of the Campfire line-up. And where the more neutral Nova required a lot of adjustment when coming from other earphones, the Polaris is an earphone that is easy to just pick up and listen to and I think this is the main reason why it will be much more popular than its progenitor. Furthermore, their hybrid driver setup comes with some real advantages over the dual BA Nova with bass reach and power that these earphones simply can’t achieve. They aren’t perfect of course, but the Polaris is nonetheless a very mature progression of the popular v-shaped tonality with plenty of technical ability enhancing every detail.
The Polaris really needed some burn-in, it sounded a quite dry and a bit unfocused out of the box. This was quite unexpected for me since I know that Campfire can produce both excellent dynamic and armature drivers but the Polaris simply didn’t wow me like their other models. After extended burn-in (~200 hrs), the Polaris really evened out and their bass qualities came to the fore. It is a very coherent sounding earphone with excellent integration for a hybrid. I would surmise that I’ve also adjusted to the Polaris’ sound much like the Noble Django, the changes can likely be attributed to a combination of both.
A note on cables since the Polaris is the first Campfire earphone to assume a Litz copper cable as opposed to the silver plated unit included with every other model. In terms of sonics, I can definitely see the logic behind Ken’s choice of pure Litz copper since it does provide meatier bass, especially sub-bass, with excellent definition and texture though I found that the copper cable does lack the clarity, layering and outright resolution of Campfire’s silver cable. The silver cable really smoothed out lower mids and brought the midrange forward slightly on a whole. Treble detail and extension also improved as did soundstage space though this did come at the cost of some bass power. Subjectively, I feel that the Silver cable actually finds better synergy with the Polaris though I do personally tend to favour slightly brighter earphones. The silver Litz cable is definitely worth a look for Polaris owners looking for some extra high-end presence though users shouldn’t feel that the Copper cable is holding the Polaris back.
The Polaris is a mildly V-shaped earphone, they have relatively even bass with slight sub and mid-bass focus and a lower treble bump that grants them with a little more treble energy. Mids are perfectly present and very clear though lower mids, in particular, are recessed and a little dry in tone. That said, the Polaris never sounds overly sculpted and both vocals and instruments are realistically voiced and clean. And while the Nova before it was technically brilliant, it was missing some character and engagement. The Polaris is a very effective resolution, providing plenty of engagement without sacrificing too much on quality either.
I’ve become quite a fan of hybrid earphones, there are still some little niggles to figure out and some are clearly better implemented than others, but when done correctly, the results can be truly stunning. And luckily, the Polaris is a well-done example indeed with a combination of that polarity tuned chamber and an ultra-thin membrane dynamic driver doing good work. Sub bass extension is up there with the best, even the Andromeda doesn’t match the power and visceral impact of the Polaris’ sub-bass response though they still aren’t quite as thick and muscular as the Cardas A8, favouring more balance and quicker decay. Rumble is well-defined and sub-bass is tight, bass is very clean with minimal bloat. Lows do sound slightly rounder than more linear earphones like the Dorado but this is simply a by-product of their tuning and not something that irks during listening. Bass has nice fullness without sounding muddy, the Polaris’ are pretty fast for a dynamic earphone and have great bass resolution that prevents lows from getting flabby. Definition is standout and texturing even matches the better armature earphones like the 64Audio U3 which is no small feat.
My only issue is that bass doesn’t have the greatest separation and delineation between notes despite being fast and having great definition though the Polaris remains my favourite bass performer around this price. Of course, earphones like the Vega and Dorado do hold a notable advantage in terms of control and power though they are also much more expensive. The Dunu DK-3001 is probably the Polaris’ most notable competitor with its 4-driver setup featuring a 13mm bass driver. The Dunu does indeed have more bass power and richness though it sounds tubby and its sub-bass a little flabby when compared to the Polaris. Of course, in isolation, there is certainly nothing wrong with the Dunu’s presentation, but when listening to songs such as Illy’s “Catch 22”, the Polaris had a tighter reproduction with greater definition to rumble and faster transience. Bass is the Polaris’ trump card, they are very articulate, dynamic and defined within their low-end without sacrificing any fullness or solidity.
Despite its V-shaped tuning, the Polaris doesn’t forget to service midrange elements, approaching these frequencies with clarity and finesse. The Polaris does have more of an upper midrange focus reminiscent of Japanese in-ears such as Audio Technica’s CK100, leaving lower mids a little scooped, however, they are still a modestly balanced earphone overall. That said, male vocals sit a little too behind for my tastes though they sound well integrated into the sound and the Polaris’ general midrange presentation is very clean and surprisingly natural given their level of clarity. And while plenty of people tend to confuse quality and tonality, in this instance, the recessed lower midrange of the Polaris is indeed the weakest aspect of its entire sound. While some may love the tuning of these earphones, to my ear, the Polaris’ lower midrange did tend to sound slightly dry and a bit uneven, missing out on certain details when compared to other in-ears around this price regardless of tip choice and source. Some tracks were more affected than others, for instance, Coldplay’s “Hymn For The Weekend” came across as quite artificial while “The Scientist” sounded perfectly natural if slightly thin and distant. I must restate that these are a $600 set of earphones and that all comments are relative, this isn’t a deal breaker simply blemish on an otherwise immaculate canvas.
And upper mids do much to redeem the Polaris’ midrange, the earphones have a bump in clarity throughout, granting vocals with a smooth, glossy character that enhances modern pop, acoustic and rock while slicing through the muddiness of poorly mastered tracks. Female vocals are delightful in quality and tuning, sitting well balanced with the fuller low end and crisper treble response. Vocals are clear, immediate and extended with defined layering. The Polaris is imbued with Campfire’s signature high-resolution tuning with great retrieval of background details and smaller nuances. Furthermore, the Polaris is a very detailed earphone and quite naturally so too, they do err on the side of aggression but they sounded consistently more refined than the Dunu DK-3001. When listening to PSY’s “Last Scene”, the Polaris produced delightfully smooth vocals with excellent detailing to guitars. Strings were well textured during the chorus and both male and female vocals had great layering and definition. The Polaris is ultimately an engaging yet refined sounding earphone with well-integrated components creating a coherent experience. Their lower midrange isn’t flawless but works within the realm of the Polaris’ tuning and upper mids are just as compelling as the class leaders around this price.
Treble is interesting with a similar style of tuning to the Rose BR5 MKII; energetic in some regions and smoother/more laid-back in others. Upper mids feed smoothly into the lower treble, both are hyper detailed and a little more aggressive granting acoustic guitars and cymbals with great crispness. Further yet, the Polaris has quite a lot of treble body which grants these instruments with plenty of texture and a realistic timbre. However, above that, the Polaris smooths off placing higher details further in the background. As such, treble doesn’t sound flawlessly extended and higher details can sound distant. They don’t roll-off necessarily, listening to Elton John’s “Rocketman” and Radiohead’s “No Surprises” and the Polaris provided surprising detail to high hats and atmospheric effects, they just sat further behind in the mix than the Jupiter’s, U3’s and DK-3001. The Polaris has much more air and treble separation than their style of tuning would suggest which ensures that complex passages never become overwhelming, and I would consider them to be a refined performer with an almost effortless quality despite not being the most nuanced overall. Those sensitive to treble will love this response because the Polaris provides gobs of detail where the majority of the information in most songs lies but takes the edge off of higher elements which can wear on the ear during longer listening.
As a result, the Polaris is both very detailed and completely unfatiguing, treble isn’t peaky at all and sibilance is a non-issue. When listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” which can quickly tire on more treble boosted earphones, the Polaris provided a very pleasing response; each guitar strum was crisp and accurate with perceptibly more micro detail than the U3 and treble was smoother and more refined than the DK-3001. However, high hats were definitely distant and some smaller details that were clearly resolved by these earphones were pushed too far into the background for my liking. It is a trade-off because the clarity and detail is there but the extension is not. I’m unsure whether this was an intentional tuning choice or a limitation of the driver setup (that I find unlikely), either way, the Polaris sits more on the natural than analytical side. They are still an instantly resolving earphone but they don’t illuminate the smallest nuances like some others, rather they just reproduce them. Again, this is perfectly fine and no details are actually missing, it will come down to listener preference.
Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –
Being a vented hybrid earphone with T.A.E.C, I was expecting the Polaris to be quite outstanding in terms of space, but the earphone is instead more on the coherent side. Space is still impressive, they are pretty well rounded with great width that can reach beyond the periphery of the head and depth that extends well beyond most earphones. That being said, they are not as immediately spacious as the APEX touting 64Audio U3’s nor the more open Dunu DK-3001 though the Polaris is easily the best fitting/sealing of the bunch. Imaging is very good, they were noticeably sharper and quicker than competing earphones but still failed to encapsulate the almost holographic response of the higher end Jupiter and Andromeda. Booting up a game of Overwatch and directional cues and effects were spot on in their placement and even fine details such as footsteps were clearly audible thanks to the Polaris’ great clarity and resolution. Furthermore, centre image was strong and thanks to their vented design, soundstage elements at the boundary of their stage extended naturally. Separation isn’t the Polaris’ strongest asset, they never sound congested but lack the layering and breadth of other earphones around this price. On the contrary, I did find them significantly more vibrant and immersive than the Nova.
The Polaris has an average sensitivity of 97.5dB combined with a low impedance of 16.8ohms. Despite this, the earphones are easy to drive and reach high volumes from portable sources, they are just slightly harder to drive than the U3 and DK-3001, both sensitive earphones. Ken states that the Polaris was designed to be driven off a smartphone and while they do sound perfectly fine, the Polaris really sings from a dedicated source. They scale terrifically with higher end sources, gaining considerably more bass definition from my X7 II in addition to a bump in resolution and separation across the board. The Polaris’ tasteful V-shaped tonality does ensure that they never sound uninspiring or wonky from a portable source, potentially with a higher output impedance, and the earphone’s lower sensitivity does make them more hiss resistant than competitors, but this earphone definitely deserves a resolving source. Of the sources I had on hand, I found the X7 II to be the most pleasing with its neutral tone really complimenting the Polaris’ finely sculpted sound where the more full-bodied Mojo and iFi BL tend to be better suited towards drier, more neutral earphones.
Oriveti New Primacy ($300): The New Primacy is a really solid sub $500 hybrid earphone that is well rounded in all regards. Both the Oriveti and Campfire earphones employ a completely metal construction though the New Primacy is much smaller and boasts a lower profile fit, perfect for sleeping. The New Primacy is also vented though the vent is on the inner face to they don’t suffer from wind noise. Both have fantastic MMCX removable cables, though I did prefer the Polaris’ cable ergonomically since it felt a little sturdier and had a smoother texture.
Sonically, the two are quite different, the New Primacy pursuing a very balanced yet smooth sound and the Polaris aiming more for engagement and clarity. Both have very defined bass responses though the New Primacy sounds slightly more controlled and better balanced with the midrange. On the flipside, the Polaris has much better extension and better definition throughout, it also produces more solidity to its sub-bass and considerably more mid-bass fullness which will suit more listeners. Mids are more even on the New Primacy without the lower midrange dip of the Polaris. Lower mids are comparable, the New Primacy doesn’t quite have the clarity or resolution of the Polaris but it is more natural and linear. Upper mids go to the Polaris, clarity is increased and the detailing is considerably improved over the Oriveti without sounding noticeably less natural. Highs are probably the most comparable, both have a little extra lower treble energy with a smoother high end though the Polaris is much more detailed than the New Primacy and more aggressive. The Polaris also has slightly more extension and increased resolution to upper treble instruments in addition to a more spacious and airy presentation. Of course, the New Primacy is half the price and features many of the same strengths as the Polaris though the Campfire does provide plenty of improvements to justify that price jump.
Dunu DK-3001 ($500): Dunu have been working on some really interesting models lately and the DK-3001 is definitely one the most notable. At face value, the Dunu’s compact stainless steel shells would appear to be much more ergonomic than Campfire’s but during wear it’s quite the opposite, the Polaris conforms much better to the ear while the DK-3001 tends to produce hotspots. Both have removable MMCX cables, the Dunu also comes with a balanced cable from factory though the Campfire cable is easier to live with due to the strangely long memory wire on the Dunu. The same can be said when it comes to sound, the Dunu has the upper hand on paper with its 3 armatures mated to a mammoth 13mm dynamic driver though again, in real world testing, the Polaris’ finely tuned dual driver config comfortably keeps pace.
The first thing listeners will notice on the Dunu is its mid-bass richness and definition that the Polaris can’t match. On the flipside, the Campfire rewards listeners with a faster, cleaner and considerably tighter response that resolves more detail overall though its more balanced tones may not suite those craving outright power and lushness from their low end. The Polaris has more midrange clarity while also being more natural and consistent in its voicing where the Dunu is a touch more detailed and slightly more layered. Treble is interesting, the Dunu has more extension and appreciably more foreground detail though they are slightly peaky and tend to get crunchy when the track gets complex. The Polaris is still very well detailed but is otherwise on the smoother side. The Polaris doesn’t extend effortlessly like the DK-3001 but it does have some nice air and sounds generally cleaner like the 64Audio U3. I did find this to be a very interesting comparison though ultimately, the Polaris is a more coherent sounding earphone than the Dunu. It isn’t quite as detailed or technical but it is more balanced throughout, cleaner and more concise. Most importantly, the Polaris’ ergonomics are leaps and bounds ahead where the Dunu is only really suitable for shorter listening sessions in quieter environments. If you can manage the ergonomics of the Dunu, it is a very real competitor with more bass fullness and treble detail at the cost of integration.
64Audio U3 ($500): Along with Campfire, 64Audio are cherished within the audio community though I feel that their products have failed to capture the same audience as CA. Their earphones are also tonally excellent and their proprietary APEX modules grant them with sublime soundstage and separation that is truly unique. I think the reason for this comes down to the build and design of their earphones, the U3’s housings are all plastic, unorthodox in shape and very large in size. While I had no issue finding a comfortable, stable fit, I know many others that really struggle. The Polaris has no such issues, though sharp in looks, the Campfire shell fits ergonomically and isolation is superior to the semi-open 64Audio earphones.
In terms of sound, the U3 is one of 64Audio’s u-shaped earphones and a direct competitor to the Polaris. Though sub-bass is tight and impactful for an armature earphone, the BA based U3 lacks the bass depth and rumble of the hybrid Polaris. Both have exceptional bass definition and texture though the U3 is slightly clearer within the lower registers since bass is leaner. Mids are more balanced and linear on the U3, especially lower mids, though both have similarly high levels of clarity without thinning out or sounding unnatural. Due to those APEX modules, the U3 is more separated than the Polaris with improved layering and similar if not slightly better resolution. The Polaris still sounds more realistic to my ear with more midrange body and a cleaner response, they are an exceptionally well-integrated hybrid. Treble is again similar to a point, they both have a little more energy and aggression heightening engagement. That being said, the U3, like the Dunu, extends more than the Polaris which smooths off after lower treble. The Polaris does actually resolve more detail in its upper midrange/lower treble but after that, higher details are more defined on the U3. Finally, both have excellent soundstage presentations with the U3 providing slightly more space and separation and the Polaris excelling with imaging precision. The U3 is an excellent and rather underappreciated earphone around this price that falls into the same trap as the Dk-3001. It is more sonically comparable to the Polaris, only lacking the bass depth and upper midrange detail of the Campfire, but it is ergonomically hit or miss depending on individual ear anatomy; again, I found them to be perfectly fine if not quite as comfy as the Campfire’s over longer sessions.
Campfire Jupiter ($800): The Jupiter was Campfire’s first armature flagship and one that played an integral role in the company’s popularization. And while it may no longer be as cutting edge as it was at its inception, the Jupiter remains a very strong performer. Both share the same aesthetic and basic design with the Jupiter assuming a more coherent colour scheme, full Cerakote finish and a shorter metal nozzle. Unsurprisingly, both have similar levels of comfort and stability though the vented Polaris is noticeably more susceptible to wind noise and isolation suffers slightly.
Sonically, the Jupiter still holds a notable lead on technical ability, the Polaris simply doesn’t have the balance, resolution and detail that the Jupiter possesses. In return, the Polaris has appreciably more bass extension and rumble in addition to a generally more accessible tonality. Chiefly, the Polaris has more bass heft and increased clarity throughout its entire midrange, treble is also a little more aggressive to imbue the sound with some extra engagement. This highlights the importance of tonality and personal preference in this subjective hobby because I can see some listeners preferring the Polaris due to tuning alone. However, when compared to the very balanced Jupiter, lower mids are recessed on the Polaris and vocals don’t quite sound as natural. Treble also takes a hit, extension and body don’t match the Jupiter nor resolution or detail. The Jupiter is a lot more nuanced and images considerably better. Mids have a large bump in resolution with layering and space that the Polaris fails to match. This outcome isn’t unsurprising given that the Jupiter is considerably more expensive, but the same general style of sound and exquisite build quality underpins both models. Buyers will also have to consider personal preference since the Polaris’s V-shaped tuning is a lot more accessible and I think a lot will appreciate the longer nozzles too. That said, those looking for a more balanced, technical listen will definitely find it with the higher-end Jupiter, it very much remains pertinent despite its age.
The Polaris might be a polarising model for some critics but will find a comfortable home with many listeners. It isn’t the most technically profound earphone around this price nor is it particularly neutral or balanced however, that was not Ken’s intention when designing the Polaris. Instead, what Campfire provide is an incredibly enjoyable, engaging and simply fun listen with their latest hybrid. The Polaris is a big statement towards other manufacturers, it is an incredibly well-considered take on the immensely popular V-shaped tonality that retains plenty of versatility. In addition, their focus on tonal excellence over pure technicality does indeed make them a great choice for those that prefer to drive their in-ears from a smartphone or other portable source. And as always, Campfire’s build quality doesn’t fail to impress and though their two tone look won’t be as universally pleasing as prior models, few will have issue with their finely sculpted sound.
Verdict – 8.5/10, The Polaris is a beast of coherence and tonal fineness. They are exceptionally well integrated for a hybrid and will be sure to put a smile on your face whether driven from a $1000 DAP or streaming Spotify from a smartphone.