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Campfire Audio Solstice Review – Two Point Woah

Pros – 

More linear signature than Andromeda with greater extension, Outstanding soundstage width and imaging,  Perfectly comfortable fit, Excellent accessories

Cons – 

Treble remains on the aggressive side, Fair price premium

Verdict – 

The Solstice is a well-realised custom from Campfire Audio that integrates each standout element of the Andromeda into a more coherent whole.


Introduction –

Campfire Audio is as venerable as they are unanimous within the audio hobby. Their stunning universal IEM housings caught our eyes while their mature sound tuning captured our hearts (and savings). With such a legacy, it may come as some surprise that Campfire, in late 2018, decided to redesign their philosophy with the introduction of custom models; not just options for their universal earphones but entirely new models with their own unique tunings. The Solstice is their latest model and will surely be one of their most appealing with a comprehensive 5-BA driver setup plus T.A.E.C. This comes alongside a $1499 USD asking price, representing a $400 step up over its universal predecessor, the Andromeda. I say predecessor as the Solstice builds atop the bedrock foundation of Campfire Audio’s most coveted model, featuring the same drivers with modified acoustics providing a more balanced and refined sound. In addition, Campfire has introduced 3D printed housings personalised to each user alongside their signature build quality with solid body designs, their signature Litz cable and stainless steel faceplates. You can read more about the Solstice 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 Solstice 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 –

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The Solstice has an unboxing consistent with all of Campfire’s recent releases, sporting the same dazzling packaging. Inside, users will find an enlarged leather zipper case with faux shearling interior that protects from bumps and scratches. Otherwise, no accessories are provided as this is a custom-fit earphone that requires no ear tips.

 

3D Printing  –

By implementing a 3D printing process with a hand-buffed finish, each surface is flawlessly smooth and glossy, and fit and seal are impeccable. Similar to Craft Ears, Campfire forgoes physical moulds, only requiring 3D scans of the user’s ears which omits shipping costs and optimises turnaround times, a modest 3 weeks in my case. They are also able to scan and digitise physical moulds should this not be available in the users country.

 

Design –

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You may note that there is no customization section in this review, and this is because Campfire’s current customs are only available in one design as pictured on their website. This means a solid-body piano black acrylic shell with stainless steel faceplate, an intriguing design, and surely an unconventional one. Nonetheless, what the solid-body design does yield is a magically dense in-hand feel and a sense of isolation within the ear that many customs do not provide.

 

Fit & Comfort – 

The fit is also a curiosity on these earphones as it is available in two configurations; a standard “Artist fit” similar to most CIEMs alongside a shallower and more comfortable “Audiophile fit” that doesn’t extend beyond the 2nd bend. I opted for the less traditional Audiophile fit that I found so immensely comfortable, it’s a wonder why this isn’t more openly offered by others. With solid bodies, isolation remains immense, however, there is also a total lack of pressure within the ear. The Audiophile Solstice embodies the sentiment of disappearing in the ear, delivering perfect long-term comfort.

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Up top buyers will also observe Campfire’s signature beryllium plated MMCX connectors that are extra sturdy and likely the most reliable MMCX connector’s I’ve come across. They are anchored into the stainless steel faceplates of the earphones to provide additional integrity for musicians and other professionals. The cable itself is also excellent and offered in both 46” for the smoky litz and 64” length for the artist litz. Both are a 4-wire cable with SPC litz conductors. The smoky cable is identical to Campfire’s latest earphones with pre-moulded ear guides, while the artist cable assumes memory wire ear guides. Otherwise, the same low-profile aluminium y-split and tank-like right angle plug can be observed, creating an impression of quality and assuring longevity.

 

Sound –

Tonality –

With the Solstice, Campfire has achieved a well-balanced signature with a musical full-bodied midrange and heaps of treble sparkle. While I haven’t heard their limited edition line-up, this is likely the most balanced model in Campfire’s standard line-up. The most pertinent reference here is easily to the vanilla Andromeda. Upon listening, it’s clear that the Solstice works atop the same foundation, however, the same earphone this is not. Bass is cleaner but also less present as emphasis shifts downwards to endow great sub/mid-bass linearity. Meanwhile, transition into the midrange is more linear with a bolstered lower-midrange imbuing full-bodied, lightly warm vocals. Highs have also been shifted away from a twin-peak to sole lower-treble peak creating more focussed foreground details and a cleaner background. The same alluring upper-treble sparkle remains granting the same magical staging properties.

 

Bass –

Sub-bass extends very nicely for a BA earphone, delivering noticeably more slam and rumble than the Andromeda in addition to greater linearity. It’s no dynamic driver, and quantity is just lightly enhanced, but depth and power certainly leave little to be desired. As aforementioned, the Solstice is more balanced than its predecessor, mid-bass has been slightly attenuated, creating a cleaner low-end presentation. Notes are just a touch enlarged and lie a smidge on the warmer side in terms of tone. Upper-bass was also a prime source of warmth on the Andromeda, here, it is executed similarly though to a less extent, creating a more neutral image overall.

Lows are portrayed with superb control, the increase in linearity heightening detail retrieval and definition. Notes are well resolved and textured, aided by a quickly decaying mid-bass alongside strong depth through the sub-bass which imbues a defined rumble. The combination of range, balance and technical ability enable the Solstice to achieve dynamics that its universal counterpart is unable to achieve, despite possessing less quantity. Though few had problems with the Andromeda’s low-end, the Solstice builds atop an already solid foundation by introducing greater extension and balance whilst upholding some of the Andro’s warmth that contributed to its euphony.

 

Mids –

The alluring warmth and body of the Andromeda is retained while vocal presence is bolstered. This hasn’t been achieved with any large emphasis’ or spikes, rather, the Solstice retains a similar midrange tuning to the Andromeda with few notable revisions. Firstly, as bass is less present and not as warm due to less mid-bass prominence, the Solstice instead derives body from a bolstered lower-midrange. As such, this is a perceptibly cleaner tuning that remains full-bodied and engaging but is no longer so overtly warm, working to the benefit of transparency and consistency between tracks of varying mastering style.

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And beyond comparison, the midrange itself upholds a winning combination of characteristics that made the Andromeda such a hit. Vocals are full-bodied yet portrayed with excellent clarity, a result of strong upper-midrange extension and ample centre-midrange quantity. Tone is clean, still warm but never muddy, chesty or veiled. A forward lower-treble puts an emphasis on articulation contributing to their excellent vocal clarity but also skewing timbre. Thankfully, sibilance isn’t a notable issue with these earphones and the added lower-midrange body prevents them from ever sounding thinned out even if they are slightly raspy. It is with regards to timbre, linearity and overall balance that the Solstice takes a welcome step forward.

 

Highs –

Now this is where things get interesting. The Andromeda’s high-end is one of its headline features, being crisp with heaps of sparkle and headroom. The Solstice keeps that intact but introduces a substantially darker background by nullifying the Andromeda’s middle-treble peak entirely and instead placing greater focus on the lower-treble. With strong linearity from the upper-midrange, this imbues greater instrument body. There is more texture and a slightly warmer tone. Foreground details are almost as crisp and retrieval remains just as strongly discerning of minutiae, however, no longer is the sharp, tizzy character of the original present. The darker background also creates a substantially cleaner presentation which enables the listener to focus on small details and makes the Solstice an appreciably more composed listen than the Andromeda.

It does sacrifice some background detail presence in return, however, it possesses the same outstanding extension and sparkle as the original. The result is a slightly enhanced sense of space as the background is perceived as more distant. This also works to the benefit of layering while abundant sparkle and air, achieved by strong upper-octave extension, retain the outstanding headroom and transients that played a large role in the Andromeda’s infamy. This is a very mature evolution of the original sound; retaining a lot of the same magic while introducing newfound balance and organisation.

 

Soundstage –

The soundstage is something special, and this can be expected given that the staging properties of the Andromeda are so coveted. With excellent treble extension and a dark, clean background with enough resolution to flatter small and distant details, the Solstice crafts a very wide stage that extends easily beyond the head. Depth is also impressive but is more intimate than width, crafting an oval stage. Imaging is standout, instruments are very well resolved and have plenty of space to play with. The Solstice is well-organised and each element is easy to pinpoint. Directional cues are sharp though the centre image is occasionally slightly diffuse, with a tendency to push laterally.

Separation is excellent overall on behalf of balance throughout combined and hyper-defined layers. As the midrange is full-bodied, some definition of individual notes and vocal layers are reduced, though bass and treble are outstanding. The holographic character of the Andromeda is also present here by virtue of its abundant sparkle and extension, though as the earphone is not as bright, it does trade some of this quality for increased organisation and separation. It is certainly easier to discern small details on the Solstice as a result, despite them being less upfront.

 

Driveability –

As expected with the same 5-drivers, the Solstice tells a similar story with regards to source pairing as the Andro; sporting a very high 112.8 dB sensitivity and low 12.8-ohm impedance. The Andro was renowned for being picky and the same behaviour can be observed here; the Solstice is incredibly sensitive to hiss and output impedance, losing bass presence and skewing bright. While the hiss issue is less of an issue with modern sources, low output impedance is essential to maintain bass presence, especially as the Solstice has less quantity than the Andromeda. It benefits from a little more power within the low-end too, with my desktop setup providing a slightly deeper sub-bass. As such, a dedicated source or IEMatch is recommended to extract the greatest fidelity from the Solstice. For portable listeners, the new wave of audiophile Bluetooth receivers will do just fine too. Select pairings below:

Fiio BTR3: Slightly softer sub-bass slam, good control with smooth mid-bass texture. Mids are smooth and well-layered, neutral tone with slightly more neutral body. Highs are crisp and well-detailed, losing just a little retrieval to wired sources. The soundstage is wide but imaging is not as precise as wired sources nor is there as much sparkle. Very slight hiss.

Shanling M2X: Softer sub-bass slam, strong control with defined mid-bass, slightly reduced bass note size. Mids are slightly warm and full-bodied, clear with accurate vocal presence. Highs are crisp and well-detailed. Wide soundstage, good sparkle and accurate imaging, defined layers. Very slight hiss.

Hiby R6: With a 10-ohm output impedance, the Solstice sounds substantially brighter. Bass loses some extension but most notably is not nearly as present. Mids are brighter and clearer but also thinner. Highs dominate the presentation, they are very crisp and well-detailed but too upfront. Moderate soundstage width, compromised layering. No hiss.

iBasso DX200 w/AMP5: Bass has strong extension, agile decay and excellent control, slightly more neutral tone benefits definition too. Mids are clear with slightly more neutral body. Highs are very detailed, crisp and with excellent resolution. Very wide soundstage, excellent layering and holographic imaging. Slight hiss.

Khadas Tone Board w/JDS Atom: Excellent sub-bass extension, slightly warm bass, well-controlled and highly detailed. Mids are linear, full-bodied and well-resolved. Highs are nicely detailed, crisp with a dark background. Very wide soundstage with excellent layering and holographic imaging. No hiss.

 

Comparisons –

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Campfire Audio Andromeda ($1099): The original smash hit, features a more W-shaped sound with more laid-back vocals. Sub-bass extends better on the Solstice, with greater solidity and more defined rumble. Both mid and upper-bass are cleaner on the Solstice with the Andromeda favouring greater warmth and punch with its more humped tuning. The Andro has a lower-midrange dip to prevent midrange colouration whereas the Solstice transitions linearly as it has less warmth to compensate for. Both closely resemble each other through the midrange, just interchanging where they derive body from. As the Solstice is more linear, especially with regards to the lower-midrange, it has a more accurate timbre and is more consistently voiced. The Andro is warmer, stemming from its bass, but not quite as full-bodied through the lower-midrange so its vocals can sound dry on certain tracks where the Solstice consistently upholds its clear, full voicing. Both are slightly over-articulated on behalf of their lower-treble tuning.

The Solstice is more focused here, with more instrument body and texture, it has slightly superior detail retrieval. Meanwhile, the Andromeda derives its crispness from twin lower and middle-treble peaks of lower magnitude. This grants it a more pristine clarity but also a sharper and thinner character that some users found fatiguing. The Solstice handily appends this, it is no less crisp or detailed but is considerably cleaner with a darker background that creates a more effortless detail retrieval. Both extend very well and have copious sparkle at the very top. The Solstice has a wider soundstage with better separation and substantially more defined layers while retaining holographic imaging.

Meze Rai Penta ($1099): The Rai Penta is a cleaner, smoother and more vocally forward monitor. Being a hybrid, there is noticeably more sub-bass presence alongside a better extension and greater resolution of deep rumble. The Rai Penta has a slightly warmer mid-bass followed by a less present upper-bass, making it a touch fuller while its tone is similarly quite natural due to that upper-bass fall off. The Solstice has slightly quicker decay and both are well-control with excellent definition and detail retrieval, the Solstice slightly more so as it is more linear. Through the midrange, the Rai Penta is notably less full-bodied and vocally forward. It possesses a more neutral body and a cleaner presentation but is also considerably smoother and denser with an attenuated upper-midrange and lower-treble.

Meanwhile, the Solstice is quite a bit fuller, possessing more lower-midrange presence and a more neutral centre midrange. Its vocals are richer and more laid-back, yet as its vocal extension is better, creating a sweeter presentation. The Rai Penta’s lesser extension is somewhat counteracted by its added presence and neutral body that grants it superior vocal definition. As the Solstice has a substantially more present lower-treble, its high-end has a lot more detail presence. The Rai Penta is considerably smoother in its delivery of treble details, however, actual detail retrieval within the foreground is almost as good. The Rai Penta also has more middle-treble, granting it more air and more pristine clarity at the cost of instrument body.

Still, it isn’t splashy or uncontrolled, quite composed if not as focused or detail dense as the Solstice. There is good micro-detail retrieval on both, the Solstice has better extension and a lot more sparkle which emphasizes this quality to a greater degree. The Solstice has a cleaner background and represents the more aggressively detailed performer where the Rai Penta is a lot more laid-back which, in culmination with its deeper and more dynamic low-end, suits easy listening with the Solstice appealing to more critical listeners. The Solstice has a larger soundstage, especially with regards to width. Both have exceptional separation and imaging, the Rai Penta being a bit more stable with a stronger centre image, the Solstice having quicker transients and sharper directional cues granting it a more holographic presentation.

Custom Art Fibae 7 ($~1225): The Fibae 7 possesses a mostly reference tuning that is slightly vocal forward to my ear, also take note that my Fibae 7 is a universal. This is a highly competitive comparison between two of the most outstanding options on the market. It has slightly more sub-bass extension and a more neutral mid and upper-bass, granting it a similarly more neutral tone. The Solstice has a bit more mid and upper-bass granting it a slight warmth and fuller notes. Both are well-controlled, the Fibae 7 has a slower sub-bass decay giving it more weight and slam with a smoother mid-bass. The Solstice decays a bit quicker here, with more definition while the Fibae 7 offers slightly more range and is the more dynamic earphone.

Through the midrange, the Fibae 7 is noticeably more forward, it is more vivid and revealing where the Solstice is warmer, fuller and more laid-back. The Fibae 7’s timbre is just a tad off as the upper-midrange, around 4KHz has been brought forward where the Solstice is denser and smoother with a lot more body. The Fibae 7 is rather neutral in body and very slightly bright, it has more clarity and vocal definition and a bit more resolution of background vocals. The Fibae 7 has a smoother lower-treble so it has more accurate articulation but again, that upper-midrange tuning will be polarising. The Solstice is more relaxed and still upholds a high level of clarity augmented by additional richness and body, it is more organic. The Solstice has a substantially more aggressive lower-treble where the Fibae 7 is just a touch attenuated but maintains enough presence for accurate crispness and attack. The Fibae 7 is more linear up top, the Solstice imbuing a bit more character with its greater crispness and foreground detail focus.

The Solstice is similarly well-bodied, a bit warmer in the treble and percussion is noticeably crisper. The Solstice has a touch more foreground detail retrieval too. The Fibae 7 is more neutral, very slightly smooth in the foreground but with stunningly accurate air and linear extension. The Solstice has a touch more extension at the very top combined with greater sparkle that highlights this. The Solstice has a darker background whereas the Fibae 7 has slightly more background detail presence and balance with the foreground at the cost of the foreground detail density that the Solstice excels with. The soundstage is the Solstice’s trump card, being larger in all dimensions. The Solstice has more holographic imaging where the Fibae 7 layers more accurately on behalf of its greater foreground/background balance. The Fibae 7 has better separation within the midrange, in particular, while the Solstice’s treble has better contrast.

Campfire Audio Solaris ($1499): With the price bump, the Solstice is now the same price as the Solaris. So how does it compare to the big daddy in the Campfire Audio line-up? The team’s efforts paid off with the Solaris’ more complex driver array and it must be considered that part of the additional cost of the Solstice goes towards the custom enclosure, not just refinement of the Andromeda’s sound. The Solstice has a more linear signature and sounds a little more balanced to my ears. Being a hybrid with a very solid bass DD, the Solaris offers immediately greater sub-bass extension and presence, with more aggressive slam and rumble. Both possess similar mid-bass quantity though the Solaris has slightly less upper-bass presence so its tone is closer to neutral even if its notes are almost as full on behalf of its more present sub-bass.

The Solaris has great bass control and more natural decay. As such, the more agile Solstice is a little more defined and textured while the Solaris is more dynamic with noticeably more depth and range. It is through the midrange that the Solstice excels and though the Solaris is very resolving, it is more sculpted which will make it more subject to personal listener preference. The Solaris has a more forward vocal presentation due to its forward centre midrange. As its lower-midrange and bass are not as present by comparison, it has more neutral body and a more neutral tone where the Solstice is fuller, slightly more laid-back and slightly warmer. On the flipside, the Solstice has a large 4KHz dip that grants it great density and smoothness; so though its lower-midrange is not too present, never does it sound thin nor over-articulated or raspy. The Solstice has substantially better upper-midrange extension, permitted as it is able to derive greater body from its low-end. However, as its lower-treble is enhanced, the Solstice sounds a little raspier than the Solaris.

Nonetheless, as it is generally more linear, I consider the Solstice to carry a more accurate timbre while the Solaris is a bit more up-front, vivid and revealing. Within the highs, the two are more alike and actually, the Solstice resembles the Solaris quite well demonstrating how Campfire Audio’s acoustic developments have progressed over the years. Both sport fairly large lower-treble emphases and both are well-bodied, almost organic, and with similarly strong detail retrieval. Both also possess a clean background, the Solaris possessing a little more air and extension. The Solaris also has even more sparkle at the very top granting it more background detail retrieval. As such, the Solaris has an even larger soundstage and takes holographic imaging to the next level. It is more layered and, as its notes are also more neutrally sized, the Solaris has better separation too. So ultimately, the two trade blows, the Solaris taking the cake in terms of technical ability and cleanliness, the Solstice being more balanced and naturally voiced through the midrange, both exemplifying the magic of Campfire Audio’s signature TAEC sparkle and imaging.

 

Verdict –

Many would be inclined to reduce the Solstice to a custom Andromeda, and for good reason as that model has achieved unparalleled dominance in the high-end IEM space. However, it’s clear that is not the case, and the Solstice earns its unique name through its revised sound signature and acoustics that bring welcome refinements to the winning formula of the Campfire Audio’s original home run. Additionally, though hardly veterans in the CIEM space, the Solstice is a well-realised custom product, utilising the latest 3D printing techniques alongside a flawless hand-finish to achieve the most comfortable fit I’ve experienced to date. Meanwhile, the solid body design circumvents the loss of isolation experienced with a shallower fit while the same excellent cables and connectors ensure a wholly positive experience with regards to fit and sustained reliability.

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Some may lament at the lack of customizability, yet what Campfire Audio are offering here is a highly focussed monitor who’s stark, professional exterior houses all of the magic of the Andromeda augmented by newfound range, accuracy and composition. Fans of the Andromeda apprehensive about its ergonomics are sure to be elated while those cautious of its sharper treble may find the Solstice appends this gracefully. This remains a full-bodied, aggressively detailed and sparkly earphone, however, it is not defined by these characteristics but integrates each standout element of the Andromeda into a more coherent whole. The Solstice perhaps most impressively demonstrates that the team at Campfire Audio are receptive to criticism and have both the know-how and passion to realise the wants and dreams of its fans and critics alike.

The Solstice 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.

 

Track List –

BoA – Starry Night

Chance the Rapper – The Big Day

David Bowie – Black Star

Eagles – Hell Freezes Over

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

John Legend – DARKNESS AND LIGHT

Kanye West – Ye

Massive Attack – Heligoland

Pete Rock – Center of Attention

SOLE – RIDE

Steely Dan – Aja

TALA – nothing personal

The Rolling Stones – Some Girls

The Velvet Underground – Loaded

The xx- xx

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