Excellent build quality and vastly improved ergonomics, Quality stock cable and custom MCMX connectors, Very balanced hybrid sound, Highly resolving treble with abundant sparkle, Revealing, defined yet natural vocal presentation
Housings still on the larger side, Sacrifices a touch of energy and separation in its pursuit of coherence
The Solaris 2020 feels like a new earphone, removing all significant barriers holding critics and users back from the original.
Campfire Audio is a fan-favourite audio company from Oregon, USA. The friendly staff are highly driven and ambitious, with each release stepping forward at the forefront of acoustic innovation. The Solaris was their most ambitious project, a 4-driver hybrid implementing every one of CFA’s innovations. This came at the cost of dimensions, with a large housing that alienated many potential buyers. The Solaris 2020 is the company’s latest effort, implementing a new 3D printed internal acoustic structure to shrink down the housing without shrinking down the sound. The refresh has been subtly re-tuned too, appending common complaints of the original. The new Solaris 2020 comes in at the same $1499 USD asking price, occupying a firmly premium price point as its sophisticated design would suggest. You can read more about the Solaris 2020 and treat yourself to one here.
I would like to thank Campfire Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with Solaris 2020 for the purpose of review. As always, 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.
Frequency Response: 5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
Sensitivity: 115 dB SPL/mW
Impedance: 15.5 Ohms @ 1kHz
THD: Less than 1%
Driver Type: Specially tuned 10mm A.D.L.C DD (lows), single updated custom BA driver (mid), dual custom BA drivers + T.A.E.C (highs)
The Pitch –
Tuned acoustic expansion chamber is a 3D printed sound chamber for the 2 high-frequency balanced armature drivers. It’s a tubeless design mitigating the loss of extension and resonances of a traditional tube and damper system. It also provides the impression of a larger soundstage
Polarity Tuned Chamber
By controlling the cavity volume in front of and behind the dynamic driver, Campfire Audio are able to tailor the pressure, extension and frequency range of the driver. In the Solaris’ hybrid design, it functions as a low-pass filter which permits the driver to focus on reproducing low-frequencies with greater performance.
3D Optimised Acoustic Construction/Solid Body
Image courtesy of Campfire Audio
With a sophisticated driver array it’s important to ensure all work in harmony. The Solaris 2020 employs Campfire Audio’s new solid-body acoustic design whereby the drivers are arranged with a 3D printed array that gives them finer control over the sound output by each driver in addition to reducing resonances for an overall more refined and resolving sound.
20% size reduced, 25% weight reduction
The original Solaris was lauded for its sound quality, implementing all of the technologies Campfire had developed at the time. However, this came at the cost of ergonomics for many, being an especially large earphone. The new Solaris is considerably smaller and lighter. Its fit has been transformed while retaining the same unique aesthetic design and sound quality.
Retuned Sound/New Midrange Driver
The Solaris 2020 has been redesigned from the ground up and this applies to its sound too. Campfire make special mention of a new larger, rear-ported midrange driver in addition to a specially tuned DD both of which are reaffirmed by my measurements and subjective impressions. This provides a more linear and coherent sound.
The unboxing experience is identical to the recently released IO and Polaris II with stunning foil laminated shell that unfurls to reveal a protective hard box inside. Within box are the earphones protected within a zippered carrying case with each earpiece housed within a protective sleeve. These sleeves are super handy, compact and protect the earpieces not only from drops and scratches but also from each other with its two separate compartments. The zippered carrying case assumes the purse-like dimensions of the IO/Polaris II cases but implements an environmentally sustainable cork construction as opposed to leather. It’s been stained for a similarly striking aesthetic. The internal surface is still shearling, soft and protective.
Meanwhile, the other accessories are located in a separate box on top. Campfire includes 3 pairs of marshmallow memory foam tips in addition to 3 pairs of generic wide-bore silicone tips. They also include 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips that are some of my favourite on the market, providing a very coherent sound and excellent ergonomics. They’re shaped similar to Sony Hybrids but possess a flexible sound tube that articulates to the shape of the user’s ear canal similar to Spinfits, but without disrupting the acoustic pathway. As such, you reap similar ergonomics benefits but with a more transparent sound, excellent! Small touches such as a cleaning tool and Campfire Audio pin are pleasing touches that enhance an already premium experience.
The Solaris 2020 makes no departure from the original in terms of the base design. It is a standout amongst the rest of Campfire’s shells varying in both shape and texture. To my eye, it’s slightly more shapely than its predecessor and indeed, comes across as substantially more compact; much more so than that 20% figure would imply. Once again, the metalwork on display is exemplary with gorgeous marrying of each component and texture. We observe stainless steel spouts similar to the Atlas that accept T400 size tips mated to glossy main housings that ripple like a gentle sea. The faceplates see noticeable revision, assuming a svelte murdered out aesthetic over the loud yet premium 24K gold plates on the originals. Sure, the gold is exclusive, yet Campfire assures that the new PVD gloss faceplates are substantially harder wearing.
The Solaris 2020 adopts MMCX similar to all of Campfire Audio’s IEMs. The connectors themselves are outstanding, of Campfire Audio’s signature Berrylium plated design with low tolerances and even tension between sides, they promise increased longevity over standard copper models. The Super Litz cable makes a return and assumes the smoke jacket seen on all of Campfire’s newer releases. The new jacket is softer and more pliable which makes it tangle-resistant and easily coiled despite its tightly twisted braid. The cable now has pre-moulded ear guides as opposed to memory wire that I personally find more comfortable and more stable, carrying the weight of the housings and larger cable very well. The right-angle 3.5mm plug is well-relieved and the entire package is very confidence-inspiring.
Fit & Isolation –
Anyone following the Solaris 2020’s release would have seen what a transformative difference Campfire’s new design has made to fit. The original’s larger housings hovered outside my ears, forming a mostly comfortable albeit not especially stable fit and the sheer size of them was certainly the most alienating factor for prospective buyers. By contrast, the smaller, lighter Solaris 2020 sits within my ear, making them considerably more planted and lower-profile. As such, they’re infinitely more socially acceptable to uninitiated onlookers in addition to being less prone to wind noise when out and about and jostling loose during movement. I find them similarly comfortable to the OG Solaris as they do remain a larger earphone in the grand scheme of things.
That said, their larger housings are well-shaped and contact large patches of the outer ear, so concentrated hotspots aren’t an issue, but dull pressure areas can form after several hours of listening. Fit depth is a bit deeper than before and isolation is noticeably improved too. Evidently, they are still not on par with the fully-sealed BA models from Campfire, but with foam or custom tips would surely suffice for loud environments such as public transport. As opposed to the transportable Solaris, the new Solaris 2020 is truly an earphone you’ll want to take everywhere. Though still not an especially compact earphone in and of itself, its fit is more traditional so it carries its dimensions more gracefully than its predecessor.
Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. Note that 7-9KHz peaks are often artefacts of my measurement setup. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalised to my best abilities. This graph may not accurately represent the earphone nor resemble measurements taken by others due to these factors.
Fans of the original will find a mostly familiar experience here and those critical of the Solaris’ midrange tuning may be enticed by the rework too. The Solaris 2020 makes key revisions to an already well-balanced and lauded signature that, in my opinion, will make it more appealing to a wider range of listeners. At a glance, we observe a balanced W-shaped signature, now more coherent and linear than before, also tipped slightly more towards the bass. The low-end is powerful with a slight sub-bass focus but good linearity through the mid and upper-bass for a clean tone. It’s a touch fuller than the original and more natural in voicing at the cost of separation.
There’s a subsequent centre-midrange prominence that brings vocals forward to sit in-line with the bass. The key change lies within the upper-midrange, where the updated model no longer has a sharp 4KHz dip to saps extension from its midrange. Instead, emphasis sustains with fair linearity into a mildly enhanced lower-treble. As before, the Solaris 2020 is vibrant and sparkly within the higher registers, showcasing its excellent technical ability. I found the included Final E-tips a very suitable companion, providing a coherent sound, especially within the midrange. I gave the Solaris 100hrs of burn-in prior to evaluation, my thoughts follow.
As with the original, the 2020 Solaris exemplifies the same excellent extension and quality showcased by Campfire Audio’s other high-end dynamics while demonstrating greater restraint in its tuning. The Solaris 2020 showcases excellent balance for a dynamic/hybrid earphone but may come across as bassy coming from BA in-ears. Nonetheless, the low-end is pleasantly linear with a moderate wide-band lift and slight tilt towards the sub-bass that provides great physicality at the very bottom alongside generally bold, full notes. Though the mid-bass is quite flat and the upper-bass carries only a hint of additional fullness, this will never be mistaken for a bass-light or anaemic sound. Rather, the Solaris has great energy alongside a natural bass tone and enhanced note size, completely devoid of bloat, muddiness or congestion.
Due to its slightly warmer tone than its predecessor, instigated mostly by the upper-bass, the Solaris 2020 sounds notably smoother and less aggressive. The same excellent technical traits remain, sub-bass is concise and slightly less pressurized for a more natural and balanced rendition. Bass control is terrific delivering excellent note definition, while decay is slightly quicker than most DD’s, heightening separation. You don’t get the fine detail retrieval of a good BA earphone, but notes that linger just a little more, crafting inviting weight, dynamics and texture. Bass surely occupies a little more presence on the Solaris 2020 than its predecessor, trading some energy and separation for a smoother, fuller and ultimately more natural performance.
In addition to the large housings, the midrange timbre was a chief complaint of mine with the original. Luckily, Campfire has been very receptive and though bass only received small tweaks, the midrange has been transformed. Fans of the original will similarly find slightly enlarged vocal size and slightly forward positioning in addition to similar overall balance. It’s also important to note that the 2020 is neither brighter nor more forward in the context of its bass tuning. Vocal clarity and definition remain brilliant performers, but separation is slightly reduced compared to its thinner and more neutrally toned predecessor in favour of greater coherence. These changes can be attributed towards two factors, principally, the upper-midrange has been most reformed. Where there was once a very sharp 4KHz trough, there is now appreciable linearity.
A small dip can still be observed around 4KHz though it contributes only towards smoothness and taking the edge off its forward lower-treble. As the Solaris 2020 has a more linear bass/midrange transition the tone is slightly warmer and body is enhanced so the midrange isn’t thinned out or sharp due to this tuning. Still, the 2020 is more open and extended, lacking the nasal character of the original. As the lower-treble remains similarly forward on the 2020 and there is less density to mitigate its effects, a bit more emphasis on articulation and a touch of raspiness is to be heard. Still, this is a very sound step forward overall and I do wholly prefer the new voicing. The Solaris 2020 provides the resolution, refinement and delicate balance of the original without the caveats.
The more forward upper-midrange provides a greater foundation for instruments in the treble and, similar to its midrange, better coherence between each element. Where the original had a crisp and aggressively detailed lower-treble, the Solaris 2020 continues its theme of sounding smoother and more natural. Lower-treble is slightly more laid-back, retaining the same excellent fine detail retrieval but without the sense of isolation from the midrange that the original carried. There’s greater instrument body alongside more natural note attack and decay set to a similarly clean transient response. I hear slightly more fine detail retrieval due to the 2020’s more accurate portrayal of instrumentation. In the grand scheme of things, the Solaris 2020 remains a crisp, defined performer with strong detail presence. It isn’t sharp or metallic in the slightest, with excellent texture and control.
A small dip in the middle-treble aids the impression of a clean and composed top-end before picking up in the upper-treble to provide the signature Campfire sparkle that drew so many to the original. The new Solaris retains strong foreground/background contrast as a result, deriving its open, airy soundscape from outstanding extension and sparkle over any overt brightness. Micro-details are abundant in its presentation though, as before, instruments can sound slightly tizzy due to this tuning. Still, never did the Solaris 2020 come across to me as splashy or strident. Top-end extension and resolving power remain just as strong as the original Solaris, now imbued with a more coherent and natural tuning.
This is where comparisons get interesting, the original Solaris provides a wider stage, but the Solaris 2020 is altogether a more three-dimensional earphone. Its fuller bass tuning lends the impression of greater volume and space while similarly strong treble extension creates a spacious stage that easily stretches beyond the head in all axis. Imaging is also improved on the Solaris 2020, it is more coherent and its notes are more wholly resolved making them easier to localise. The original has a sharper lower-treble that draws more attention to directional cues. Meanwhile, the more linear Solaris 2020 represents distance more accurately and its presentation is, therefore, more organised. The downside to its fuller tuning is separation, which is actually better on the original throughout. As such, on first impression, the original Solaris can seem more spacious and even more detailed. However, during critical listening and AB comparison, the 2020 is able to more accurately localise and extract more micro-detail from tracks despite having bigger notes that occupy more of the negative space in its presentation.
The Solaris 2020 is just slightly more difficult to drive than its predecessor with a higher 15.5ohm impedance (up from 10) and the same 115dB sensitivity. Still, this means that it remains a very, very efficient earphone that doesn’t require much power to reach ear-splitting volume. That is not to say that the Solaris 2020 is necessarily easy to drive, requiring some key source qualities to realise maximum performance. Select pairings to demonstrate below:
Pixel 4 & DD TC35B: A good demonstration of a lower-powered phone source with low OI. Slightly blunted sub-bass slam but great control and definition. Mids are slightly dynamically flat but otherwise, clean and clear. Highs are slightly smoother but with good detail retrieval. Soundstage is more intimate though imaging and separation remains great performers. Very minimal hiss on lowest volume setting.
Shanling M2X: Slightly reduced sub-bass extension with lighter slam at the very bottom. Strong control with enhanced mid-bass definition. Mids are clean and transparent, a touch warmer and smoother. Highs are well-detailed with very clean transient response and good extension. Soundstage is wide with sharp imaging, good separation overall. Very faint hiss on vol 8, low gain.
Hiby R6: The R6 has a 10-ohm output impedance that can skew the signature of multi-driver IEMs. The signature becomes a lot thinner with substantial sub-bass roll-off. Driver control remains strong with great definition but lacks body. The midrange is similarly affected, being thinner and more forward. Meanwhile, highs dominate the mix, brought to the fore. Realistically, the Solaris 2020 requires a low output impedance. No hiss.
iBasso DX200: Strong bass extension, slightly quicker mid-bass decay for a more defined presentation. Transparent midrange, clean and slightly forward. Aggressive detail presentation, excellent resolution and detail retrieval. Wide soundstage with great separation and imaging, enhanced separation. Faint hiss on vol 22, low-gain.
THX 789 + Khadas Tone Board: My current reference setup with a transparent sound and heaps of clean power. Excellent bass extension, tight with terrific control. Transparent midrange, smooth and refined. Clean top-end with great resolution and detail retrieval. Wide soundstage with sharp localisation and excellent separation.
Suggested Pair ups
The Solaris 2020 benefits most from a low output impedance and noise floor, picking up hiss on some very clean sources. Of these, the only sources that were dead silent was the THX789/JDS Atom and the Hiby R6, potentially due to its higher OI. The Solaris 2020 was also hugely affected by output impedance, so a value below 2 ohms, preferably lower, is highly recommended to achieve a balanced signature. Though better than its predecessor on paper, in real-world listening, it is just as picky. Power isn’t a huge factor given the sensitivity and as seen by the DD pairing. Though most power does help to provide a bit more drive to its bass. In terms of synergy, I preferred the THX desktop setup most for its transparency and dynamic range, followed by the Shanling M2X. I found the iBasso a bit too forward and cool, the Solaris 2020 already being a touch forward in its midrange and lower-treble. The M2X provided a slightly smoother sound that yields a highly pleasing timbre. Similar sources will give similar benefits here.
Campfire Audio Solaris OG ($1499): The OG provides a more vivid, separated sound with greater energy but also reduced coherence. It has less bass presence but with more bias towards the sub-bass, granting is a cleaner tone and a bit more separation. However, it also sounds less linear and natural than the 2020. Decay and attack properties are similar as is driver control. Through the midrange, the OG is noticeably thinner and again, slightly more neutral in tone. The 2020 has a slightly more natural rendition of male vocals with more accurate body and tone in addition to a touch more definition. Its female vocals are quite the opposite, being more open, extended and of more natural timbre. The OG has a lot more density, sounding truncated and a bit nasal but also sounding fuller and smoother despite having less bass presence. The lower-treble is more isolated on the OG as its sharp upper-midrange dip provides more mid/high contrast. As such, it is crisper and thinner, but also may sound more detailed on first impression as the treble is more separated from the rest of the sound. By contrast, the 2020 has more instrument body and a slightly smoother articulation. It is more refined and coherent sounding with a more accurate timbre, unveiling small details that are overly thinned out on the original. The background is a little cleaner on the 2020 and top-end extension and sparkle are similar. The soundstage is a touch wider on the OG but imaging is sharper and more stable on the 2020.
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099): The Andro has a fuller and more linear sound, a bit more balanced too, with less of that DD pressure. Still, it has a reasonably similar character overall. Being a BA earphone, it lacks the same drive, power and extension in the sub-bass. The Solaris 2020 is bassier overall with more extension, and information in the sub-bass. Meanwhile, the Andro is quicker decaying with greater definition while carrying a little more mid-bass fullness and a warmer tone with more upper-bass bias. The Andro has a more organic midrange. Both have similar vocal presence and balance between male and female, but the Andro 2020 is noticeably more full-bodied and a bit warmer while the Solaris 2020 is cleaner with higher definition. The Solaris 2020 also has slightly larger vocals.
The Andromeda is slightly more layered while the Solaris 2020 has better detail retrieval and separation. Now that the upper-midrange tuning has been appended, the Solaris 2020 is a much more logical step for Andro users or potential Andro buyers. The treble is a bit crisper on the Andro with a slightly more forward lower-treble. Both have similar detail retrieval, a hair more fine detail retrieval on the Solaris 2020. The Solaris 2020 has more headroom with better foreground/background contrast and a bit more sparkle and resolution at the very top. The Solaris 2020 has a slightly larger soundstage, reinforced by its more powerful, voluminous bass. The Solaris’ more resolving treble grants it sharper imaging while the Andro is a bit more coherent with more defined layers. The Solaris 2020 offers greater separation with its more neutrally toned sound.
Campfire Audio Ara ($1299): Definitely a comparison many were waiting for, the Ara and Solaris 2020 represent the latest flagships from CFA. The Ara is immediately a brighter, leaner sound; though not to say that it is anaemic in and of itself. The dynamic driver Solaris 2020 provides a bit more extension but the Ara represents a big step up over the Andro in sub-bass depth and power. The Solaris 2020 is bassier, both are similarly voiced, however. That being slightly full in the sub-bass but otherwise, mostly linear. The Solaris 2020 has a bit more info in the sub-bass but the Ara is not far behind, it has faster decay and higher definition through the mid and upper-bass. The Ara actually has a very similarly tuned midrange to the Solaris 2020 but with a touch more upper-mdirange presence and less bass. As such, its sound is more vocal-focussed and less balanced, but the midrange itself is more neutrally toned, dead neutral to my ears, and is generally more revealing than the Solaris 2020.
The Solaris 2020 is a bit warmer and more full-boded due to its greater bass presence, relative to its more prominent bass, its vocals are also more laid-back, if balanced in isolation. Both are naturally voiced, they just vary in body and prominence. The Ara is slightly more aggressively detailed than the Solaris 2020, with more bite and sharper note attack. The Ara has similar amounts of headroom and sparkle to the Solaris. Both have terrific extension and resolution, I hear it being reasonably similar on both offerings. The soundstage is slightly larger on the Solaris 2020 though imaging is noticeably sharper and more concise on the Ara. The Solaris 2020 justifies is greater asking price with its hybrid design, which makes it a lot more difficult to manufacturer. It also has a more balanced overall sound to my ear. That said, when it comes to sheer resolving power and spatial positioning, the Ara takes the win.
MMR Homunculus ($1699): A 3-way hybrid with estat tweeters and a similarly gorgeous design alongside a full titanium construction. The Homunculus is less balanced overall, being more mid-forward. The Solaris’ bass is a bit more pressurized and deep-reaching while the Homunculus’ bass has a small drop-off in the sub-bass for a softer slam and rumble. Regardless, both offer sound linearity and a similarly natural tonality here. But where the Solaris’ low-end roughly sits in line with the rest of its sound, the Homunculus’ low-end is a touch laid-back. The Solaris is harder-hitting and a bit more defined with quicker decay. The Homunculus’ low-end has slightly longer decay and thicker notes but similarly strong detail retrieval overall. The focus lies more on the midrange on the homunculus and vocals are warmer and fuller. The Solaris 2020 is more revealing with higher clarity and a cleaner tone. Though itself lightly full-bodied, the Homunculus offers a fuller sound yet. And beyond tonality, the presentation also differs greatly.
Though difficult to grasp, I can only describe the Solaris 2020 as having more forward vocals, sitting closer to the listener, while the Homunculus has larger vocals occupy more of its presentation but in a slightly more laid-back stage position. The Homunculus is more coloured certainly but reasonably natural and euphonic while the Solaris 2020 carries more mainstream appeal with its cleaner and more defined midrange. The Homunculus has a slightly more aggressive detail presentation, with a touch more attack and fine detail retrieval in the foreground. Meanwhile, the Solaris 2020 has more headroom and air with more abundant sparkle and micro-detail. The Homunculus achieves similar top-end extension and resolution but with a darker background. The Solaris 2020 has a larger soundstage while the Homunculus appears to taper off more smoothly at its extremities. Both have very sharp localisation and imaging, the Solaris has sharper directional cues.
Empire Ears Phantom ($1800): The Phantom offers a highly coherent, dark, smooth tonality that contrasts to the more vivid Solaris 2020. Its bass is fuller, with more mid and upper-bass emphasis, however, it doesn’t have the same extension as the Solaris 2020 nor the same slam in the lowest registers. The Phantom is quicker decaying, possessing similar definition to the Solaris 2020 despite being fuller. This theme continues through the midrange. The Phantom is a touch warmer, noticeably fuller and a lot denser. It has similarly large and forward vocals but they are more filled-in with greater structure. Meanwhile, the Solaris is more revealing, being brighter, clearer and more defined.
That said, the actual resolution is similar between the two despite the Solaris having more separation and clarity. The Phantom has a bit more focus on foreground detail presentation than the Solaris 2020. That said, the Solaris 2020 strikes me as being a bit more resolving up top which is further compounded by its brighter tuning. The Solaris 2020 has a lot more sparkle and headroom, the Phantom have a flat black background. The Phantom has a similarly wide soundstage but more intimate depth. The Phantom has slightly sharper imaging and better layering, being more coherent overall. Meanwhile, the Solaris 2020 has better separation.
Perusing Campfire Audio’s latest line of flagships has been a humbling and awing experience and I felt similarly privileged when I reviewed the original Solaris mid last year. Unfortunately, that in-ear hasn’t received nearly its fair share of listening time due to its hulking design that simply felt a bit awkward to my ears. Campfire Audio has since demonstrated great receptiveness to their buyers and critics, with the Solaris 2020 making us feel heard. The new design is worlds better than the original and the ergonomics alone make the 2020 refresh so much more pleasurable to use. The sound too showcases a sound step forward; not universally, but where it matters. The bass is a touch fuller without offsetting the balance the original was lauded for. Meanwhile, its midrange timbre is much improved, while carrying similar refinement and delicacy. The top-end is slightly more resolving on top.
I’ve included extensive comparisons to Campfire Audio’s triple-threat flagship line-up as finances permitting or not, one ultimately only has one pair of ears. For rather than dilution, these models exemplify CFA’s pro-choice ethos; promoting the individual to buy according to their preferences rather than simply maximising their finances. Ironically, I found the priciest Solaris 2020 to occupy my ears most during the evaluation period, convincing in both ergonomics and tonality, set to the excellent technical ability CFA has become known for. There’s a negative stigma about refreshes, especially one released so soon after such a significant product launch. However, the Solaris 2020 feels like a new earphone, removing all significant barriers holding critics back from the original.
The Solaris 2020 is available from Campfire Audio (International) for $1499 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Campfire Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Billie Eilish – don’t smile at me
Crush – NAPPA
Dirty Loops – Next To You
Emotional Oranges – The Juice: Vol. II
Eric Clapton – Unplugged
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
Keshi – blue
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Nirvana – Nevermind
NIKI – zephyr
Radiohead – Pablo Honey
Rich Brian – Amen
The Cranberries – No Need to Argue
The Velvet Underground – Loaded
Winner – Remember
ZICO – THINKING Part. 2