Campfire Audio has undoubtedly risen to become one of the most prominent names in audio with their former flagship Andromeda achieving almost universal recommendation.
From the same minds comes the IO, a new value-orientated model that offers the Yin to the Orion’s Yang. Where Campfire’s former value model utilises a single BA driver to produce a reference sound, the IO implements an oversized BA woofer + tweeter with TAEC housing to provide a more extended sound with a more engaging signature at the same $299 USD asking price.
Keen-eyed folks will also find a new Polaris that implements a larger 9.2mm dynamic driver (up from 8.5mm on the 1st gen Polaris) with the same polarity tuned chamber. It also implements a single BA tweeter with TAEC to deliver extended highs. Similar to the original, the Polaris II delivers a very fun sound with big bass, energetic treble and a high-clarity midrange. It has a stainless steel nozzle and comes with a new colour scheme that looks rocking! The new Polaris receives a $100 price cut, now offered at $499 USD.
You can read more about the Polaris II and IO on Campfire Audio’s website here.
New Designs and Accessories –
Both models feature Campfire Audio’s signature build quality with entirely metal housings, now with slightly more rounded corners. A new cable also makes an appearance on both models with silver plated copper Litz conductors and the same twisted weave as debuted on the original Polaris. It has a new smoked jacket that feels even softer than the previous Litz wire and the same Beryllium MMCX connectors and well-relieved 3.5mm right angle plug. Users that had issue with Campfire’s memory wire ear guides will be delighted to hear that the new cable has pre-moulded guides that hug the ear more elegantly. The new case has a similar leather construction to previous iterations but now adopts a purse-like design with more internal room. It retains a faux shearling interior and has some internal reinforcement to protect the enclosed IEMs.
The IO has a fast, slightly vocal-forward sound. It is a notable departure from past CA tuning, favouring absolute clarity and separation over density and warmth, in this sense, it is likely most similar to the Orion it replaces. Its bass is lightly warm and incredibly punchy, offering quantity just a few ticks up from neutral. Extension is quite good, but this isn’t always apparent as sub-bass tends to take a backseat to the mid-bass. Otherwise, bass is immensely quick, controlled and hard-hitting. There is zero bloat or muddiness while retaining a nice impact and plenty of note body to nicely fill in its sound.
Entering the midrange, we see a slight lower-midrange dip to aid separation preceding two centre midrange peaks around 2 and 4KHz. This is responsible for the forward vocals of the IO in addition to its more open soundscape, delivering excellent upper-midrange extension and vocal clarity. The IO has a very clean vocal presentation but also one that is somewhat off-timbre. Chiefly, tone is slightly cooler and vocal body is on the thinner side so female vocals can sound a touch metallic while male vocals are less affected, sounding only slightly honky on certain recordings. Meanwhile, treble is crisp, pristine and, again, clean seems an applicable descriptor.
This stems from a small bump within the lower-treble set to a generally emphasized middle-treble that aids air and provides the impression of greater headroom but also a thinner note body. Though the background is bright and layers tend to blend together, the IO is indeed very open, airy and quite spacious on top. It isn’t a particularly linear earphone, but the IO has reasonable balance overall. I am of the mind that the IO will appeal most to fans of Chi-Fi, IEMs that tend to lie on the brighter side with an emphasis on vocals. It isn’t smooth or warm, but the IO is clean, crystal clear and hyper-separated if at the cost of natural body and a perfectly accurate timbre.
Ken’s new blue beast is a creature of energy and slam sporting a slightly more V-shaped signature than the original. With a hybrid design and polarity tuned chamber, the Polaris II provides thumping bass, with great extension and sizeable quantity both with regards to sub and mid-bass. As such, bass notes are enormous, and tone is undoubtedly warm. The sound is bloated, a byproduct of its large mid-bass boost, however, bass isn’t muddy as the driver’s higher control and quick decay retain a surprising amount of definition. Regardless, the earphone is clearly tuned for fun and seismic impact over accuracy, nothing wrong with that! The midrange, in turn, takes a backseat, especially the lower-midrange that receives a large dip to prevent colouration from its emphasized bass.
And indeed, this tuning decision redeems midrange tone, creating vocals that have a lightly warm resonance from the bass yet also sound slightly strained as they lack some midrange body. A modest centre midrange hump bolsters vocal presence and clarity while a small upper-midrange dip aids density to prevent over-articulation and alleviate some of that aforementioned thinness. Female vocals are presented well without excessive raspiness or over-articulation while male vocals are more laid-back. However, unlike the original Polaris, they avoid sounding sterile as the Polaris II’s increased bass creates a noticeably warmer image. Still, though powerful, the earphone’s newly bolstered male vocals can sound a touch muffled on certain recordings.
The high-end is also brighter than the original, and the peaks have shifted from 5KHz, closer to 6KHz which provides a bit more bite without becoming too metallic. The middle-treble has a small bump for headroom while the upper-treble rolls off smoothly to yield a reasonably clean background and a more grounded representation of foreground elements. The Polaris II is crisp and generally well-detailed. Instruments have decent body as the lower-treble is well integrated with the upper-midrange and the emphasis’ aren’t too high. However, as there is a lower-treble spike, the initial clash of cymbals and bite of strings is noticeably aggressive. Nonetheless, the Polaris II has heaps of energy and it does so without coming across as overly bright due to its well-controlled background. It has better extension than the previous model and a wider soundstage.
Early Verdict –
There has been some contention with recent Campfire releases, dismissing positive impressions as hype after the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut created in wake of the Andromeda. However, that hype is dying down and with it comes a clearer image of the actual performance of the product. The IO, despite some wonkiness on its FR, doesn’t sound all that wonky in person, in fact, it is plenty pleasing to my ear. The Polaris II also presents as a markedly more refined product than its predecessor. It is unfortunate that we no longer see huge leaps in earphone performance. Rather, we are experiencing an age of refinement and that is showcased here. It also goes without saying that our expectations should be tempered as such. These two new models from Campfire are enjoyable and show promise, I look forward to spending more time with them as I approach my dedicated reviews.