Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 Review

To say the events of 2020 have been unpredictable would be an understatement. Thankfully, audio brands such as Campfire Audio have powered through with their passion and innovation – releasing familiar yet refined offerings in a period of turbulence. An example of just this is the Campfire Audio Solaris 2020; a re-designed version of the original critically acclaimed Solaris IEMs. As with its predecessor, the Solaris 2020 represents a hybrid design featuring balanced armature drivers for the midrange-treble frequencies and a specially tuned 10mm dynamic driver for the bass. Rich with acoustic chamber technologies, the Solaris 2020 makes use of Total Acoustic Expansion Chamber (TAEC) for highs, as well as an Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon (ADLC) material for its diaphragm.

Priced at $1499, the Solaris 2020 is $400 dearer than the Andromeda 2020 and $200 more than the Ara. This places it at the exact price point as the original Solaris. However, the Solaris 2020 can easily be differentiated from the original with a 20% reduction in housing size and an overall greater fit. Moreover, the Solaris 2020 benefits from superior control of its driver interaction with an all solid-body acoustic design.

The Packaging

Campfire Audio have really stepped up their game with their overall brand, marketing theme and consistent aesthetics.

The packaging is very elegant, classy and bears a graphic of the Solaris 2020 amongst a backdrop of blue and green hues. The starry sky appearance can still be seen throughout the box with a gold border that ties the whole look together. A gold sticker on the rear can be removed to unravel the outer sleeve. Inside, a smaller box houses a cork carry case as well as a cleaning tool, set of ear tips, a user manual, Litz cable, Campfire Audio pin badge and Warranty Card. The mahogany cork carry case has a unique and pleasant texture to the touch. It is made from the bark of the Cork Oak Tree – an evergreen found in remnants of Southwest Europe and the Mediterranean.

Overall, the packaging is fantastic and a strong foundation of a high-end product.

Build & Design

The Solaris line-up have always represented Campfire Audio’s best-built and designed IEMs to date. The Solaris 2020 is no exception here. While it is more subdued than the ostentatious original with its golden faceplate, the Solaris 2020 features a solid black faceplate together with a concentric groove side body. The whole look is rather seamless and feels much less industrial than Campfire Audio’s other IEMs. The stainless-steel nozzle provides some nice contrast to the black finish to complete a premium looking product. It is nice to see that rather than placing screws in the faceplate, Campfire Audio have neatly tucked it away to the side. The beryllium/copper MMCX connections are robust and the cable snaps in nicely with a tactile click.

Fit & Isolation

Owing to the more compact form, the Solaris 2020 improves on a major trait which held the original back – its ergonomics. With the lighter weight and 20% reduced housing size, the Solaris 2020 feel much more comfortable and supported in the ears. Isolation levels as a result are more improved and above average for in-ear monitors.

Driver configuration

The Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 is a hybrid in-ear monitor which uses the strengths of both BA and dynamic drivers for a high-fidelity sound. Up top, the higher frequencies are outputted by two balanced-armature drivers within a Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (TAEC). The 3D-printed chamber negates the use of a traditional tube and dampener system to provide uncompromised extension without compression. A larger custom rear-ported balanced armature is used to drive the midrange frequencies and a 10mm specially tuned dynamic driver is utilized for the low frequencies. It is a smart move from Campfire Audio to have included a diamond-like carbon material for the dynamic driver to not only improve sound acoustics in the low frequencies but aid cohesion across the spectrum.

A Polarity Tuned Chamber has been incorporated to pull a ‘larger’ sound from the dynamic driver by targeting volume cavities in front and behind the driver. Finally, a patent-pending Solid Body design employs tuning chambers within a ‘crossover-less’ topology for superior driver control.

The Cable

It is useful that ALO Audio, the parent company of Campfire Audio, have shown an interest and have even released their own cables for many years. The new smoky Litz cable is derived from four conductors of silver-plated copper wire. The cable has great handleability and does not easily tangle. It is terminated in a L-shaped 3.5 mm jack and features beryllium and copper connectors along with shaped ear-guide. Overall, the cable is a great fit for the Solaris 2020 and exudes a high-quality charm.

Sound impressions

Tonality

The Solaris 2020 embarks on an engaging sound with a strong foundation in the low frequencies to boot. The vocal timbre has smooth and bodied tonality which harmonizes well with the sub-bass focus. To this extent, it has a slightly fuller sound with less bottom to top contrast than the original Solaris. As a result, the Solaris 2020 improves on the linearity and cohesion of its predecessor with a centered midrange presence that delineates a relatively warmer undercurrent.   

Lows

As aforementioned, the use of Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon (ALDC) for the diaphragm material of the dynamic driver was a clever choice since diamond-like carbon has a fantastic Specific modulus (stiffness to weight ratio). Hence, its use in the lower frequencies not only help the Solaris 2020 sound more resolute with great texture and decay but also brings it more in line with the speed and agility of the balanced-armature (BA) drivers. The Campfire Audio Atlas uses the same ADLC architecture in its single dynamic driver. However, compared to the Solaris 2020, the Atlas is significantly more explosive with more sub-bass presence. The Solaris 2020, on the other hand, retains more discipline in its low-end with incredible texture and realism. Compared to the original Solaris, the 2020 edition demonstrates more linearity as bass ascends to the midrange. As a result, there is a richer and slightly more balanced sound. In ‘Money For Nothing’ by Dire Straits, the bass is beautifully compelling with notes which possess the right amount of decay, depth and linger. Overall, I am incredibly impressed by the world-class bass that the Solaris 2020 offers.  

Mids

There is a moderate upswing from the 1K to 2K regions bringing the midrange more forward in the overall mix. As a result, the midrange of the Solaris 2020 is centered and slightly more intimate excelling particularly well in vocal-orientated tracks. Since the Solaris 2020 has a sense of speed to its midrange coupled with its micro-detail retrieval, tracks sound even more engaging and addictive. Yes, there may not be as much air to its presentation as the Tia Fourte but the solidity, texture and pace remain its secret weapon. In the upper midrange regions, there is a smoother transition in the upstroke compared to the original Solaris allowing the 2020 to be dialled down a tone or two in brightness. Yet, the Solaris 2020 still sounds wonderfully open in the higher frequencies with plenty of detailing along the way.

Treble

The lower treble of the Solaris 2020 follows a more laidback path compared to its more forward lower midrange. Consequently, the timbre here remains natural and less vivid than the Campfire Audio Andromeda. However, the upper treble retains the same elevation as its predecessor allowing sparkle to flourish when the highest frequencies are called upon. Overall, the treble of the Solaris 2020 adopts a slightly thicker note compared to the likes of the Tia Fourte and Andromeda 2020 but manages to output a high degree of resolution owing to the tubeless acoustic chamber.

Soundstage & Imaging

Although the midrange is brought more towards the forefront, the Solaris 2020 manages to demonstrate world-class three-dimensionality, layering and pin-point localization. This is an impressive feat considering that the Solaris 2020 relies on a slightly thicker and rounded note presentation compared to the likes of other flagship IEMs. The upper treble gives the Solaris 2020 some added height and the high levels of separation allow for distinct spatial cues to be appreciated.    

Comparisons

Campfire Audio Solaris Original ($1499)

The original Campfire Audio Solaris rests more in line with a hybrid signature sound with its slightly increased bass-to-treble contrast and energy in the higher frequencies. The Solaris 2020 remains more coherent with vocals that sound fuller and more natural in tone. Both share excellent micro-detail retrieval and extension. On first impressions, it may seem that the original Solaris articulates higher details up top with its more decisive leading-edge transients. However, on closer listen – the Solaris 2020 is just as capable albeit possessing a more refined and smoother sound from the outset.   

Campfire Andromeda 2020 ($1099)

Both the Andromeda and Solaris 2020 tackle high-fidelity in different ways. While the Andromeda 2020 has an upper midrange/lower treble appeal, the Solaris 2020 focuses on its grounded and established midrange to tempt aficionados. Both possess a remarkably detailed low-end with the Andromeda 2020 sounding slightly faster whereas the Solaris 2020 possesses the better heft and texture. Overall, the Solaris 2020 has the better three-dimensionality, layering and separation. While the crispness and brighter signature of the Andromeda give a sense of perceived detail, the Solaris 2020 are ultimately more resolving. Tonality wise, the Solaris 2020 offer a slightly more natural approach whereas the Andromeda 2020 craft a neutral-bright affair.   

Campfire Audio Ara ($1299)

The Campfire Audio Ara represent one of the latest flagship IEMs from the Portland-based audio brand. Both share excellent technical prowess with a similar sounding midrange. However, the Ara focuses on neutrality whereas the Solaris 2020 crafts a slightly more organic tone. As a hybrid, the Solaris 2020 is able to recall more heft in the lower frequencies whereas the Ara is appreciably flatter in this region. Imaging wise, the Ara hosts more definition and separation in its soundscape compared to the already three-dimensional Solaris 2020.

64 Audio Tia Trio ($2299)

Both the Tia Trio and Solaris 2020 are hybrid designs which utilize tubeless design for the higher frequencies to reduce resonance (the tia in 64 Audio’s case and the TAEC in Campfire Audio’s). Down low, the Solaris 2020 outputs a punchier and more resolving bass with a faster decay compared to the more voluminous and relatively more powerful Tia Trio bass. Overall, the Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 has a more intimate midrange with more weight and density to its note. By comparison, the Tia Trio manufactures a slightly lighter yet rounded tonality with airier and more extensive highs.

64 Audio Tia Fourte ($3599)

The Tia Fourte is 64 Audio’s flagship product and the culmination of the company’s years into research and development. Like the Tia Trio, it a hybrid IEM that uses the tia tubeless technology. In the lower frequencies, the Solaris 2020 is better textured, detailed and faster than the dynamic driver of the Tia Fourte. The midrange is very different with the Tia Fourte opting for a more u-shaped imposition with a slightly pulled-back and ethereal tonality whereas the Solaris 2020 prides itself on a more solid and intimate character. Up top, the Tia Fourte resolves like no other with better extension, detail and air compared to the Solaris’ top end.

Matching

The Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 has an impedance of 15.5ohm and 115 db sensitivity. Campfire Audio IEMs are no stranger to efficiency and careful pairings should be issued to avoid hiss. Luckily, the Solaris 2020 is a versatile transducer and pairs well out of the laptop and smartphone device. If users wish for that extra detail, resolution and air – the Cayin N8, Fiio M15, Lotoo PAW Gold Touch and Lotoo PAW 6000 are fantastic DAPs to pair.

Conclusion

There is no doubt about it – the Solaris 2020 are a spectacular offering that compete with in-ear monitors far above its price tag. While my preferences are inclined towards neutral-bright transducers with an abundance of space and air, the Solaris 2020 unequivocally capture my interest with its beautifully detailed bass, compelling midrange and upper treble focus. The exceptional three-dimensionality together with the pin-point spatial cues complete the sonic picture from these premium high-end monitors. To date, the Solaris 2020 is arguably the most well-built and suitably constructed IEM from Campfire Audio’s selection. It is impressive to see how far Campfire Audio have come since their first models released in the summer of 2015. With all things said, the Solaris 2020 will be replacing the original Solaris IEMs in our best in-ear monitors of 2020 list and certainly deserve a wholehearted recommendation.    

Campfire Audio Solaris 2020

Available from:

Campfire Audio 

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