Campfire Audio Lyra Review: Best earbuds 2015?

Campfire Audio Lyra Review!

Conducting the Campfire Audio Lyra review has been a joy.  Sitting on the balcony of my family house in Carnoustie, Scotland, overlooking the famous 18th hole of the great championship golf course has to be one of my absolute favorite places to test new audio gear.  

I’ll usually fire up a cigar, drink in hand, and sit back to watch golfer after golfer knock it despairingly into the water or leave with a triumphant smile after breaking 100 on the beast better known as CarNASTY. Well, for the past week, I have had the pleasure to sit out there every night with a new earphone, perhaps the one that has had me most excited all year. That earphone is the Lyra, and it’s from a completely new company known as Campfire Audio. I am usually a little wary of newcomers on the scene; everything is taken with a pinch of salt, especially when it’s priced the way the Lyra is at $750 in the US.  

We’re talking some hefty competition in this price range but what alleviated most of my concerns was that this earphone was from the people behind long-term portable HiFi staple ALO audio.  What has unfolded in the past couple of weeks with this outstanding earphone is a rekindling of my passion for portable audio.  You see, the Campfire Audio Lyra has gone in at the absolute top of the pile and the best earphone I have ever used for enjoying my music.  So if you want to know why I rate this earphone, so damm is high, you will have to read on.

 

The Campfire Audio Lyra is a universal in-ear monitor (IEM) featuring an 8.5mm Beryllium Dynamic driver inside a zirconium ceramic driver housing assembly.  Its got a detachable cable and featured an over-the-ear design.  There has been a lot of talk about the drivers in recent months, and while the beryllium units do deserve their part in the discussion, I think it might be the housing that is being overlooked.  You see, I have used 2 zirconia ceramic earphones in the past.

Both were absolutely outstanding and shared some very similar characteristics with the Lyra that notes decay and timbre are created.  What are the earphones that I am talking about?  Well, the Sennheiser IE800 and the long-forgotten Panasonic HJE900.  You see, the ceramic used in these headphones is super hard and has its own unique resonance that is far different from the normal housing options such as plastic or aluminum.  

In fact, I recently did a Flare Audio R2Pro review, and while as a whole I was greatly underwhelmed, it did have a unique presentation.  I mention the flares because they claim that the use of titanium for the driver housing, being harder than conventional materials, creates a different sound.  Well, Campfire Audio has used zirconia ceramic, and that is an even harder material still.

 

Campfire Audio Lyra: What’s in the box?

Not much… but in a good way.  The box itself is a really cool styled minimal cardboard effort that does its job just fine in getting the goodies to you, and to be honest; it’s what inside that counts. So on opening the outer packaging, you are created with a head and shoulders above every other case I have seen.  

The light brown color is not quite to my taste, but it has a rigid structure and a nice campfire audio logo on the outside.  The inside is what sets it apart, though, with a wool lining; both look cool and make a very safe home for your new earphones.  At the bottom of the box, you will then find a selection of eartips that is comprehensive and should cover most fits.  

Oh yeh, and did I forget to mention you also get the earphones?  Well, they come packaged in that awesome carry case, so you know they will reach you safe and sound.

 

Campfire Audio Lyra: The Design?

The Campfire Audio Lyra is beautiful earphones when you get them in hand; the dark grey shiny ceramic looks and feels premium.  Over-ear is, of course, my preferred choice of earphones due to both a reduction in micro-phonics and less of a strain on the cable that might cause me to lose a seal.  

The cable is, of course, something that ALO audio does well themselves, so it’s no surprise that the cable here is perfect indeed.  It’s super thin but also very tangle-resistant and a good length to keep even tall people happy.   A metal filter on the tips is a great choice for the sake of longevity, and further to that point, the inclusion of detachable connectors will mean that the Campfire Audio Lyra will last you for years to come.

 

Campfire Audio Lyra Review: The Fit?

One of the comfiest earphones I have ever used.  It’s no secret that I prefer an over-ear style earphone instead of a cable down unit, and happily, Campfire Audio has obliged.  The housings, while not small, have great ergonomics allowing them to sit comfortably in the cymbal cavity of your ear without applying any pressure to your tragus and anti-tragus (like I have found in long-term use of the Shure 846 earphones).  

The earphone’s nozzle is also nice and long, which allowed the Lyra to sit deep enough in my ear canal so that I never once had issues with breaking a seal.  The cable guide behaved very well, and I believe has abolished any issues with the prototype version as it now just sits comfortably being the ear and holds its shape well when not in use.  

Finally, as the Campfire Audio Lyra’s cable is so light, there is very little pull, and the 56cm length is more than enough for even tall people to use in, say, a back pocket.   

 

Campfire Audio Lyra Review: The sound?

The Campfire Audio Lyra is by far one of the best earphones I have used all year.  If it had not been for my recent purchase of Shure’s outstanding SE846 in-ear monitors, there is little else that even gets close to how good Lyra sound is for all-out musicality.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that they even outperform my Shure SE846 in that regard (although falling shy on the detail due to the 846 multi-driver system).  

Music, when played through the Lyra, really comes alive.  It’s intimate and engaging, with vocals and instruments rendered beautifully.  I don’t know exactly what the process was in tuning the Lyra, but to myself, it seems like it was a passion project, and someone who really loves their music has spent countless hours refining the end presentation.  

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a tonne of measuring and tweaking has been done to get it to this point, and whoever put in those long hours, my hat is off to you; this is a stellar bit of work.

So enough gushing; it’s time to get a little bit more technical with my listening impressions. If anyone wishes to follow along, please read about my review procedure that I put every earphone through and the breakdown of the terminology I prefer to use.  

The Campfire Audio Lyra’s presentation is an intimate one with just over a touch of warmth to its signature.  It’s smooth, incredibly smooth, with nary a hint of sibilance and an awe-inspiring textured/layered bass response.  It’s an engaging sound, one that will draw you in and make you forget about any critical listening; this is an IEM to enjoy your music with first and foremost.  

The soundstage is large in both depth and width alike, but it is a good few rows back instead of a full back of the room experience.  Hiss and background noise are nonexistent even when used with a range of sources such as my JDS 02, Aurender Flow, Fiio X1, Oppo HA-1, or even my Blackberry Passport.

I was left alone with nothing but my music on an infinitely black background. Imaging is incredible and one of the strongest points of the Lyra, which makes it easy to identify and especially define the position of a performer. This latter point was startlingly evident when listening to Ludovico Einaudi Live at the Albert Hall, even with an accompanying orchestra’s ability to isolate and identify notes and instruments, was thoroughly enjoyable.  

Finally, before we get into the frequency specifics, we should mention the decay and timbre portrayed by the Lyra as good or better than any other earphone I have heard.  Notes break down pass away beautifully, and if you haven’t heard an earphone that is strong in those qualities, you are truly missing out, especially if you are fans of acoustic, jazz, or classical music.

The Highs – The highs are buttery smooth, and I never experienced any issues at all with sibilance. That’s not to say there isn’t any detail. There are tons of it.  When you get into listening to Classical and Jazz music, as I have,e you can find that many earphones (especially those with a dynamic driver) can leave a lot of details missing from the highs, usually due to the driver just not being fast enough.

The sound becoming cluttered or the other frequencies smothering the upper end. On the Campfire audio Lyra, the treble remains clean, clear, and independent from the mids and is not drowned out by the low end.  The choice to employ a smoothness to them is one of my personal preferences as if highs are overly emphasized I find it harder to listen for enjoyment.

Bright and sparkly is great for critical listening and has its place in certain earphones. Still, for pure pleasure and enjoyment, the Lyra has hit the spot.

The midrange is the standout feature of one of the top 3 universal earphones that I have ever heard.  It’s almost as if the Lyra were specifically designed to make mid-tones come alive with intimacy.  Rich, detailed and smooth is what it is, and no more does this shine than in indie, blues, and acoustic genres.  Sungha Jung’s Acoustic fingerpicking album is littered with detail and sounds unbelievably realistic.  

Seasick Steve absolutely rips out jam after jam leaving a massive smile on my face.  I threw all my favorite vocal tracks at the Lyra, and I kept getting more and more impressed with how the music was portrayed. Boccelli’s power, Krall’s subtlety, Everlast’s Grit, everything that made these artists there was present.  

There was no leaking from the lows into the mid-range, and instruments in this frequency were easy to pick up and identify.  Mid detail was also excellent, and again no sibilance was detected in the sometimes tricky upper mid-range.  

When specifically testing the mids, I could put my finger on why I was enjoying the Campfire Audio Lyra so much.  It was because they sounded a lot like a perfect set of speakers in a well-built listening environment.  

You might be familiar with people saying that x earphone sounds so good it is almost like full-size headphones in this hobby.  Well, the Lyra come out and sound a whole hell of a lot similar in many ways to my full-size Dali Lektor 8, its unreal, and as far as I could tell, it’s down to the mids and timbre/decay characteristics.

Lows – Lows are rich and textured.  There is a fair amount of power sitting in them volume-wise, and when the earphone needs to go low, it can keep up with some serious bass drops from the likes of Skrillex, Angelspit, and Chaos Royale.  

What was extremely impressive was the earphone’s ability to display a tonne of sub-bass when required, yet the Beryllium driver being able to remain tight enough so that the low end doesn’t just turn to complete mush and bleed into the mids.  

Other earphones seem to suffer from one of two issues: they will go low and hard with the sub-bass yet not retain composure and become sloppy, or will simply not be able to get low in the first place.  Im sure the low end’s performance comes down to the material choice in the driver, it’s tight, and for a dynamic, it is fast and clear.  

Fans looking for a fully flat balanced sound should move on as the bass will most likely be put off, but for people looking for relaxing and immersive sound, I im sure you will enjoy Lyra’s low end.

 

Campfire Audio Lyra Review: Conclusion

You can probably tell by now that I am completely enamored with the Campfire Audio Lyra earphones.  They have made me fall in love with the hobby again and excited me in a way that I thought I would never get back.  Having now done well over 300 reviews, I thought I was getting a bit jaded.  

You see, the site is genuinely a passion project to try and cut through some of the BS.  I don’t allow other writers to post here as it gives zero substance when you cant compare earphone and headphone reviews side by side (different people prefer different things making those sites worthless to me). Audiophile On is not my job, and it doesn’t exist to make money.

It is purely here as a way to express my feelings and share my thoughts. This, I feel, allows me a certain amount of freedom to express my feelings on a product exactly how I see them.  Numerous times a long time, readers have been amused to have seen me rip products to shred (Flare, Perfectsound, Meze, and of course, who can forget me calling out the serious BS on the part of HiSound).  

I don’t enjoy writing those negative reviews. In fact, it makes me pretty uncomfortable.  Thankfully, most of what I now get in is very good for the most part, but few ever really get my juices going in the way that the Campfire Audio Lyra has.  You might notice above that I haven’t mentioned any negative points on the Lyra, and that is just because I don’t see them anything would be nitpicking in the extreme.  

As a Shure 846 owner, I don’t think the Lyra is technically better than them (just), but I think I prefer the Campfire Audio more for enjoying my music, and that’s about as strong a commendation I can give them. It’s frightening to think about the upcoming Campfire Audio Jupiter if it can retain the signature while adding BA refinement.

Still, for now, if you are in the market for a highly musical and smooth earphone with a unique and engaging speaker-like sound, I highly recommend the Lyra.  It’s great to be back and enthusiastic about audio again! 

Update 2021: The original Lyra are long gone but Campfire Audio replaces them with a Campfire Audio Lyra II in 2017. They are great earphones but if you really like the sound we recommend checking out our review of the Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 which follows on from this amazing earphone and refines its concept even more.

Audiophile Onhttp://www.audiophileon.com
Audiophile On is a website dedicated to high-end audio products. With over 15 years as a reviewer, all articles are hand-written by one person to allow the comparison of products. Headphones, earphones, speakers, amplifiers, or DAC's we cover here.

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