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Campfire Audio Solaris Review – The Unstoppable Force

Pros – 

Massive soundstage, Massively revealing of micro-detail, Class-leading build quality

Cons – 

Huge housings, Sculpted midrange sacrifices timbre for clarity

Verdict –

The Solaris sacrifices an accurate midrange timbre and inviting low-end warmth to achieve a sound that is simultaneously powerful, revealing and grand.


Introduction –

Campfire Audio have been hard at work in recent years and their handful of in-ears has quite quickly become a diverse range. Along the way, Campfire Audio introduced some unique technologies; their tubeless tweeters (T.A.E.C) that extend the treble, polarity tuned chamber that enhances bass control and a ported midrange driver as seen on the Comet. Nonetheless, the timeless value of their (now former) flagship Andromeda, with its refined tuning, remained undeniable.

In turn, the Solaris sprung onto the scene late last year, combining all of the technologies Campfire has developed into one juicy package. Sporting gold faceplates, some of the most impressive machining work I’ve witnessed on an IEM and the best sound quality from a Campfire in-ear, the Solaris makes a strong case for its $1499 USD price tag. You can read all about the Solaris and treat yourself to one here.

 

Disclaimer –

I would like to thank Campfire Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Solaris 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.

 

Accessories –

Unboxing

The Solaris’ status as a supercharged conglomeration of Campfire’s best hits is immediately apparent from the initial unboxing. The box is twice the size as is the iconic CA leather/shearling zipper case inside. The Solaris also comes packaged with Campfire’s new compact bag that has two compartments for each earpiece to protect them during shipping. It is also a nifty addition for those that like to pocket their IEMs. Users will find the usual inclusion of silicone and memory foam ear tips in addition to 5 sizes of Final E-tips. The Solaris is the first IEM to include the super Litz cable, sporting a thicker gauge and a twisted braid similar to the Polaris.

 

Design –

In line with the new Comet and Atlas, the Solaris employs a unique design realised through the same meticulous machining processes as before. It’s immediately the largest Campfire earphone but one that is smoothly sculpted so as to minimise contact with the outer ear, thereby preventing hotspots. Aggressively textured 24K gold faceplates and undulating smoke alloy bodies are a testament to Campfire’s ability to realise a challenging and intricate design. Seems are smooth and finish uniform, Campfire’s work here is akin to art.

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In the ear, wearing comfort is surprisingly good. They protrude extensively from the ear, picking up a fair amount of wind noise as a result, they also aren’t the sleekest looking earphone. However, due to their angled, protruding nozzles, the earphones provide a medium to deep fit and a solid seal that keeps their bulky housings seated securely within the ear. I didn’t experience any hotspot formation and though they will shake loose with vigorous movement, they were perfectly stable during daily use.

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Campfire’s berrylium reinforced MMCX connectors make a return and once again, I found myself impressed by their reliable connection and impressive QC with even tension on both sides. The cable itself is of their Litz variety but is now thicker and with a twisted texture like the Polaris cable. The insulation remains just as soft and the cable is very compliant, though it is slightly more prone to twisting than their former models.

 

Sound –

Tonality –

The Solaris is more in-line with the more balanced BA flagships from Campfire. In fact, the Solaris has less bass than the Andro when measured, however, it appears to have similar quantity in listening due to its adoption of a dynamic driver. Overall, it strikes as a W-shaped signature with prominent sub-bass, vocals and upper-treble sparkle that, in particular, really defines its presentation. The result is a tonally neutral, open and energetic sound with great engagement if not absolute linearity and balance.

 

Bass –

Utilising the same technologies pioneered by the Vega and Atlas, the Solaris provides the same visceral rumble and low-end quality. In fact, as it isn’t as bombastic in its presentation, the Solaris unveils fine bass details better than its progenitors by a noticeable margin. Extension remains just as excellent, providing awesome kick and slam at the very bottom. A modest sub-bass emphasis reaffirms the driver’s excellent quality. Meanwhile, mid-bass sits on neutral as does upper-bass, resulting in fairly accurate tone and notes size a few ticks north of neutral.

When switching from the Andro, it’s apparent that decay isn’t quite as lightning fast, bearing its dynamic driver’s more natural ebb and flow. Still, it lies clearly on the faster side for a dynamic driver which, combined with its terrific control results in truly outstanding definition and detail retrieval. Bass has a smoother texture than the Vega which prevents its sub-bass bias from becoming fatiguing, though it is quite an aggressive low-end overall.. The result is an impeccably detailed yet tonally transparent low-end that also offers concise slam and a toe-tapping sense of pace.

 

Mids –

The midrange quite unlike other Campfire Audio earphones and sounds rather unique in general. Of note, it has a pronounced centre midrange push that biases vocals, producing its W-shaped signature. Like the Comet, the Solaris employs a sharp 4K dip which is almost becoming a characteristic of newer CA earphones. Though this style of tuning usually produces a smoother, fuller, even warmer voicing – as the higher frequencies have been brought up, the Solaris sounds very extended and quite velvety. Vocals are more forward than the Andro, though they don’t bombard the listener as the upper-midrange tuning imbues additional smoothness.

Vocal clarity is very high, which combined with its excellent presence produces excellent intelligibility and brings midrange nuances to the fore. Nonetheless, due to a sharp 4KHz dip and an upper-bass and lower-midrange that are recessed by comparison to the vocal region, timbre isn’t perfectly realistic. So though the Solaris has a smooth, clear and revealing midrange that also has zero raspiness or sibilance, vocals can sound a touch truncated and honky, especially noticeable on Asian tracks. The Solaris, therefore, appeals to the buyer searching for excellent vocal extension, a raw sense of detail and intimacy over warmth and perfect timbre.

 

Highs –

The Solaris’ top end is defined by its abundant upper-treble sparkle combined with a small lower-treble peak that prevents the foreground from becoming overshadowed. The result is a crisp sound with an aggressive detail presentation, both with regards to background and foreground. Nonetheless, it doesn’t fatigue with its brightness as the Solaris has a dip in the middle-treble that increases composure and creates a cleaner background. Meanwhile, upper-treble emphasis maintains a sense of openness and energy. Background/foreground separation remains excellent as a result, and this rather unique style of tuning is enabled by the Solaris’ standout extension.

Upon first listen, treble instantly impresses with its extension, a trait brought to immediate attention by its aforementioned upper-treble lift. The Solaris is open and sparkly, with great micro-detail retrieval and presence. Instruments sound somewhat tizzy, however, this style of treble tuning isn’t sharp like earphones with an isolated lower-treble peak. The end result is an earphone with a well-detailed foreground and an immensely clear background all the while maintaining great separation and sense of space.

 

Soundstage –

Likely the greatest strength of the Solaris is its soundstage expansion, possessing immense width and excellent separation. With outstanding extension, the Solaris’ presentation expands well beyond the head, offering a markedly more expansive presentation than even the Andromeda. Imaging is sharp and concise with a holographic quality as a result of copious sparkle. Layering is excellent through a culmination of a crisp foreground, clean, dark background and copious micro-detail glittered in between. With a neutral tone and mostly neutral note size throughout, separation is also excellent, and its dark background prevents the Solaris’s emphasized upper and lower treble from encroaching upon one another. Such an ability to emulate grand scale within tracks that can take advantage of the earphone’s technical prowess round off a powerful and immersive presentation.

 

Driveability –

The Solaris has a high 115dB sensitivity and a low 10-ohm impedance making it very efficient as is quite typical for high-end Campfire IEMs. In fact, the Solaris reaches higher volumes at the same source level than the Andromeda. This makes it very easy to drive from portable sources. On the contrary, as its impedance is so low, the Solaris is rather sensitive to output impedance. Connecting the Hiby R6 with 10-ohm output impedance resulted in a loss of bass extension and a brighter signature. Though still detailed and expansive, the Solaris became thin and dispersed sounding. Similarly, when comparing the Solaris running from my Pixel 3 and iBasso DX200 with AMP5, for instance, the differences were immediate; the DX200 offering greater bass extension with a more concise hit, a more balanced signature and larger, more layered soundstage. Thus, a resolving, low output impedance dedicated source is something to strongly consider for extracting maximum performance from the Solaris.

 

Comparisons –

Flagship Comp

Hyla CE-5 ($940): The CE-5 offers a similar style of sound achieved through different avenues, it is overall, a more V-shaped in-ear. The CE-5 offers a warmer bass, with similarly strong extension but a slightly softer sub-bass slam than the concise, hard-hitting Solaris. In return, it is slightly more linear through its mid-bass which makes it sound a touch more natural. It is just as detailed here and even has a touch more mid-bass texture. The Solaris is more powerful sounding and more aggressive, giving it a higher energy low-end presentation. Both have clear midranges, the CE-5 has a bigger lower-midrange dip and its vocals are slightly recessed. The Solaris has the more revealing midrange, and as it has that 4KHz dip, it is also smoother.

The CE-5 sounds more natural on first listen, its warmer bass adding some body to its vocals, however that lower-midrange dip results in a slight hollowness on certain tracks and it is raspier than the Solaris in return for being more extended in the upper-midrange. The CE-5’s treble is just as crisp, yet as its lower-treble spike is lower at 5KHz, its treble sounds slightly warmer. It lacks the same upper-treble sparkle, with a darker background, however, it also isn’t as revealing of micro detail. The Solaris extends further at the very top and it has the clearly larger soundstage.

Campfire Audio Andromeda ($1099): The Andro is very well renowned and offers a more linear and arguably more balanced sound making this a more interesting comparison than many would think. The Solaris immediately has better sub-bass extension and power in addition to greater quantity; rumble is more visceral and slam is a lot more solid. The Andro meanwhile has more mid and upper-bass, it noticeably warm and fuller than the neutrally toned Solaris. That said, as the Andro has faster decay, it is just as detailed and it is also more defined. The Andro has a more natural midrange, more smoothly sculpted with a slight dip in the vocals. Vocals have more body and a touch of euphoric warmth from its enhanced bass. The upper-midrange is more extended so it lacks the slightly nasal and occasionally truncated quality of the Solaris.

In return, as the Andro has a similarly forward lower treble, female vocals are raspier and it isn’t quite as dense sounding. The Solaris provides more vocal clarity and its presence is more balanced with the bass and treble. It is more revealing through the midrange at the cost of timbre. Up top, the Andro has become acclaimed for its excellent extension and sparkle, making the Solaris somewhat of a super-Andro. It has more foreground detail and more contrast between treble and midrange which draws attention to this trait. Middle treble is cleaner on the Solaris making its layers more delineated while upper-treble is more present and appreciably more extended enabling even greater soundstage expansion. The Solaris is larger and it is more layered while the Andro has more coherent imaging as a result of its more linear midrange.

Campfire Audio Atlas ($1399): The Atlas is immediately a fuller, more bass orientated in ear. Both have excellent bass extension and quality, the Atlas has considerably greater emphasis throughout, especially with regards to mid and upper-bass making it substantially fuller. It does come across as somewhat bloated compared to the neutrally toned Solaris and clearly does not offer the same level of definition and detail retrieval as a result. Still, detail retrieval is very impressive given its vast quantity and its low-end offers an expansiveness the Solaris doesn’t. The midrange of the Atlas suffers from a similar issue to the CE-5 in that it draws its body from bass warmth rather than linearity. As such, it is inconsistent between tracks. It is noticeably thinner than the Solaris and less refined. Still, vocal clarity is maintained by upper-midrange emphasis, however, vocals are less present and slightly more veiled.

The Solaris is smoother, more transparent and more revealing even if neither is perfectly natural. Both earphones also have lower-treble emphasis, the Solaris strikes as a brighter earphone on behalf of its more prominent higher octaves, while the Atlas offers more isolated foreground crispness and energy. The Solaris provides the more detailed image in addition to greater treble extension, and it has more micro-detail in the highest registers. The Atlas meanwhile, is more organic and isn’t as sharp within the lower-treble so instruments sound slightly more natural. The Solaris has a larger soundstage and more holographic imaging, its background and foreground are more separated provided a more layered soundscape.

Noble Katana ($1800): The Katana offers a more diffuse-field neutral tuning, being leaner and brighter. It has less bass extension, but offers solid sub-bass nonetheless. It’s low-end too centres around a slight bolstering of the sub-bass in addition to slightly enhanced mid-bass warmth but nonetheless, it has less bass throughout than the Solaris. The Katana has faster decay and more definition though detail retrieval is similar on both. Meanwhile, its upper-bass and lower-midrange are quite neutral and linear, producing a strong foundation for the vocal range. The Katana has a slight inclination approaching the upper-midrange and it has just a small 4KHz dip to aid smoothness. It has a revealing, tonally neutral and transparent midrange with well-balanced vocal presence.

The Solaris is more layered and denser yet, it is slightly warmer than the Katana due to its sharper upper-midrange dip and more present bass, though it is also less linear. Both earphones have a lower-treble emphasis, however, the Katana is less emphasized here, instead focusing more on middle-treble air and shimmer. The Katana, therefore, sounds just as open despite its upper-treble being less present. Both extend terrifically, the Solaris provides the impression of greater extension with its greater sparkle and energy. Both offer excellent extension, however, and also expansive soundstages. The Solaris presents as more holographic with more sparkle and sharper directional cues, it also has more background/foreground separation while the Katana is more coherent in its imaging.

Empire Ears Phantom ($1800): The Phantom is the inverse of the Solaris, smooth, dark and full. The Solaris offers greater bass extension and power, the Phantom has similar sub-bass quantity but isn’t as aggressive or concise. The Phantom is warmer through its mid and upper-bass, it is fairly warm overall but very controlled and defined with a faster decay than the Solaris so it is similarly defined. The Solaris is more neutrally toned and more aggressively textured with a touch more bass detail. The Phantom has a considerably more natural and linear midrange. Its immediately more linear bass/midrange transition gives it a slightly warm voicing while retaining excellent vocal clarity with a slight inclination into the upper-midrange. It similarly has a 4KHz dip and a small vocal push though both are more progressive emphasis’ than the Solaris. It isn’t nearly as clear or revealing as the Solaris but it is more coherent and without a hint of hollowness, raspiness or sibilance.

Both are very well layered, the Phantom achieving this with its pitch black background. The Phantom has a small lower-treble spike before a considerable middle-treble trough that grants it an impeccably dark, clean sound. The Solaris is immediately brighter and it is slightly more detailed. It also has a much more aggressive presentation of background details on behalf of its significantly greater upper-treble emphasis. The Phantom actually resolves a little more fine background detail and it the cleaner and more composed sound. However, its much smoother presentation makes it sound flatter than the more energetic Solaris. The Solaris has a larger stage overall though the Phantom has similarly strong width. Both have excellent layering and imaging, the Phantom offering a strong combination of defined layers and coherence at the cost of having limited depth, the Solaris being more rounded and holographic.

Hidition NT-8 ($2500): The NT-8 is roughly similar to the Solaris in signature, but with a more linear midrange and a middle rather than lower and upper-treble focus. Both have impeccable sub-bass extension, the hybrid Solaris offering a tick more extension and noticeably more power with its greater emphasis. Both the Solaris and NT-8 are neutral through their mid and upper-bass, providing neutral tones and just slightly enhanced note size. The NT-8 is lightning fast, it has more definition and detail than even the Solaris. The Hidition is more linear into its midrange and has a smaller vocal bump. As such, though both are W-shaped, the NT-8 is slightly more balanced overall. It also has a more accurate midrange timbre, being more refined and with more consistent body. It has no sibilance and excellent vocal clarity and presence.

Both are layered and impeccably revealing. The Solaris has more forward vocals, but as it is more heavily sculpted, it isn’t as natural nor as consistently voiced between tracks. Up top, the Solaris has the more aggressive foreground, it is more aggressively detailed while the NT-8 is smoother but with a brighter background. This produces an interesting effect, the NT-8 sounds just as open as the Solaris and, as it too, has excellent extension and a smaller upper-treble lift, both have excellent expansion and atmosphere. The NT-8 has less contrast between its layers but both are just as grand in terms of space and both have sharp imaging and excellent resolution that ensures their large space is immersive and teeming with detail.

 

Verdict –

The Solaris continues Campfire’s tradition by providing TOTL quality at a premium but not TOTL price point. With earphone manufacturers releasing new models every few months, it can be hard to believe that innovation is progressing as fast as claimed. The end result cannot be argued with when listening to the Solaris, however; this is a sound that has immense extension, expansion and control. Of course, part of this immersion is crafted through particular tuning, yet it remains that such quality cannot be attained without a proper foundation ossified by real acoustic engineering.

Macro

The Solaris does sacrifice the timbre of its midrange and the inviting low-end warmth of the Andromeda in achieving its simultaneously powerful yet revealing sound. It is not for lovers of a smooth, laid-back sound nor those searching for perfectly natural vocals. Instead, the Solaris offers engagement, energy and a presentation of sheer excitement. Listeners are rewards with one of the most spacious soundstages on the market, outstanding resolving power of the smallest minutiae and build quality that can be  likened to a work of art.

The Solaris can be purchased from Campfire Audio for $1499 USD. I am not affiliated with Campfire Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.

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