From humble origins, Campfire Audio have become a tour de force in the world of personal audio. In particular, their in-ear monitors have captivated worldwide audiences for their rigorous tuning, bold designs, and commitment for perfection. Each model is hand-assembled from a small team of skilled and dedicated craftspeople in a workshop in Portland, Oregon. Throughout the years, Campfire Audio’s strive for continual perfection has led to a series of models catering for all audiophile tastes. This year, they have released three high-end models for 2020 including: Campfire Audio Ara, Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 & Campfire Audio Solaris 2020.
The latter two are iterations of two well-regarded in-ear monitors whereas the former Ara is an altogether new venture. This review shall be focusing on the Campfire Audio Ara which retails for $1299 placing it in the middle of the 2020 trio pricewise. The Campfire Audio Ara features 7 balanced armature drivers with T.A.E.C configuration in a universal body design.
Campfire Audio have created a seamless packaging experience with their polished theme and intricate branding. The box hosts silver speckles to simulate night stars which surround an imprint of the earphone casings. This is amidst a backdrop of rich hues of purple and green which convey the Ara theme. Overall, the clean and sharp silver lines of the border as well as Campfire Audio’s logo add an incredibly refined look to the brand.
Included within the packaging are: a selection of Final Audio tips, Campfire Audio Earphone tips, Silicone Ear Tips, a lapel pin, cleaning tool, Campfire Audio Litz cable and a cork carrying case. The sustainable cork case is made in Portugal and harvested from the outer bark of the Cork Oak Tree. The abundance of accessories, together with the well-constructed case, bear the hallmarks of a premium product.
Once the outer box sleeve is unwrapped, the inside box houses the earphones and accessories. The process feels rather reminiscent of origami and although intricate and beautifully designed can be easily susceptible to tears or scuffs.
Build & Design
The Ara is machined from Grade 2 Titanium billet and bears resemblance to their original designs. Three screws hold the faceplate in place and the aesthetics are rather industrial in nature. The Campfire Audio logo is embossed on the outer faceplate of the gun-metal body. The outer housings connect to angled black nozzle which can also be seen in the Solaris monitors. The angled MMCX connectors allow an optimal fit with the over-ear cables and can be found across all Campfire Audio monitors.
The Campfire Audio Ara incorporates a pure 7 balanced-armature (BA) driver design. Four BA drivers are used for the low frequencies, one for the midrange and two (+T.A.E.C) for the high frequencies. The ‘Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber’ utilizes air space to act as an acoustic resonator enabling for extension of higher frequency sounds.
The Solid Body Design is a patent-pending technology which uses tuning chambers in a ‘crossover-less’ topology. Together, with the 3D optimized acoustic construction – the Ara has been designed with a certain reference tuning in mind.
The Campfire Audio Ara comes complete with a new Silver-Plated Copper Litz in a smoky jacket finish. The cable features a tangle-resistant twisted weave with Beryllium/Copper MMCX connections. The end termination is a L-shaped jack in a 3.5 mm connection. The cable is neither obstructive nor weighty and adopts a rather subtle profile with reduced microphonics and improved handleability.
Fit & Isolation
Despite the angular design, the Campfire Audio Ara are very comfortable in the ear as well as for long listening periods. The ear tip nozzle contours to fit the inner ear and is by no means the deepest. Compared to the original Solaris, the fit is much more improved with the housings of the monitors sitting flusher against the outer ear. It is appreciable that Campfire Audio have listened to customer feedback and refined nozzles in current iterations to achieve a more universally secure fit.
The foam tips add to the comfort factor and are in my opinion, the best of the tips supplied. However, some may prefer the Final E tips or the supplied Campfire Audio stock silicone tips to achieve their perfect tip.
Owing to the crossover-less design and single body design construction, the Ara offer a completely coherent and linear sound from the get-go. True to BA-driver nature, decay is appreciably fast with plenty of energy in the mid to treble frequency ranges.
Despite packing in 4 balanced-armature drivers for the bass, the Campfire Audio Ara maintains an even and level-headed bass profile. There is no particular bias directed towards the mid or sub-bass regions. Instead, low frequencies are rendered with a no-nonsense approach devoid of artificial enhancements and bloat. Fans of a reference tonality will be pleased here with bass that curtails rapidly while still maintaining good body and depth. However, those in search for thunderous bass may be better pleased with the Campfire Audio Atlas. Despite the linear approach, bass from the Ara is engaging and punchy. Texturing and detailing are all present and do not encroach on the lower midrange territories. In ‘BOSS’ by The Carters, for example, bass note is large with good dynamism capitalizing on a snappy but detailed low-end performance.
With a slight upsloping trend from the 1K to 2K territories, the slightly forward midrange flows from the bass with ease and seamlessness. Carefully positioned, the overall tonality is neutral with a great emphasis on tone which does not resort to embellished coloration or thin leading transients. In fact, some slight thickness in the lower midrange gives the sound some weight and solid grounding. In ‘Heron Blue’ by Sun Kil Moon, vocals possess good depth and texture which avoid a dry analytical sound. Having said that, the Ara tone is not the most natural and there is an element of timbre unevenness. However, there is a touch of smoothness which delivers a sound without grain and etch. This is echoed in ‘Warwick Avenue’ by Duffy, where the mid-forwardness and elastic sound work favorably in rendering an engaging yet inoffensive listen.
The treble of the Ara retains a fluid, linear and well-balanced sound character. There is excellent headroom and plenty of detailing in the mix to keep high-fidelity fans pleased. Compared to the Tia Fourte, the Ara maintains a level-head to its treble. While detailed and extensive, it employs less contrast than Tia Fourte’s more energetic and vivacious top end. To that extent, while the Tia Fourte crafts some more sparkle the Aras demonstrate excellent control while still demonstrating resolve and technical prowess.
Soundstage & Imaging
The Campfire Audio Ara hosts a similar soundstage in width and depth compared to 64 Audio’s Tia Trio. Owing to the mid-forwardness, the Ara does not possess the largest soundscape but continually demonstrates excellent layering and projection of sonic cues.
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099)
The Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 represents an update to their classic award-winning product. Compared to the Ara, the Andromeda 2020 hosts a larger soundstage and an overall smoother tonality. However, the Ara presents better detailing and a tighter grip on the lower end. The top-end has similar levels of resolve but the Ara retains more transparency and air compared to Andromeda 2020 edition’s smoother tuning.
Campfire Audio Atlas ($1299 retail, now $899)
At the same retail price, the bullet-shaped Atlas is an equally unique offering in the Campfire Audio line-up. However, both define a different vision. The Atlas aims to wow with its explosive and powerful bass whereas the Ara is built with reference and hi-fidelity in mind. The drivers used are also different with the Atlas employing a single full range 10mm dynamic driver whereas the Ara features 7 balanced armature drivers in tandem.
64 Audio Tia Trio ($1699)
The Tia Trio is 64 Audio’s answer to a more coherent flavor of their flagship Tia Fourte. Compared to the Ara, the Trio boasts more elevated bass presence while the Ara maintains a typically faster albeit fuller low frequency response. Tonality wise, the Tia Trio has a smoother and richer character whereas the Ara leans towards neutral with a more elastic sound. Both share the same proficiencies of fantastic detailing, depth and imaging.
The Ara has an 8.5 Ohms resistance and a sensitivity of 94 dB. While the impedance troubled some people in the past, there is a lack of hiss noticeable on the newer 2020 models. The Ara, for example, pairs well with all DAP types and smartphone devices with the Lotoo PAW 6000 pairing working particularly nicely.
The Campfire Audio Ara is an exemplary in-ear monitor which demonstrates how far the company have come when they first burst into the scene of portable audio. With impeccable build and durability, Campfire Audio have always challenged industry standards with their own take on high-fidelity. To this extent, the Campfire Audio Ara is a top of the line product with a reference sound. The crossover-less design aids its incredible coherency and the detailing from the 7 balanced-armature IEM is nothing short of spectacular. The tonality is not the most natural however and something which should be considered in the next re-tuning. For $1299 then, the Campfire Audio Ara is worthy of an audition for those in search for a balanced, reference and detailed sound. Other reviews of the 2020 series of Campfire Audio IEMs soon to follow…
Campfire Audio Ara