The Campfire Audio Solaris is the latest flagship earphone from the Oregeon based company and I am going to start this review off by saying it is truly something special.
Since the companys launch just a few years ago they have been producing one excellent earphone after another and gained a bit of a cult following in the audiophile market. Unique design, stellar build and fantastic sound quality are all hallmarks of the brand.
They have numerous earphones on the market many of which would shine as other brands sole flagships so it is quite hard to imagine how Campfire could possibly take their IEM’s to the next level. Would this just be a subtle upgrade to the Jupiter, Andromeda or Lyra that I loved so much? A new housing and the same old sound? Not even close because as beautiful as the new shells are its the sound that make these, in my mind, at this present time, the best sounding IEM’s in the world.
Package & Accessories
Campfire Audio have been consistent right through their earphone line and offered what was basically the same box on every model. The box for the Solaris is essentially the same design but is now a little bigger… oh and its square. Its a recyclable cardboard box with a star map designed to mimic being out on a clear night by the campfire. Its simple, its clean and it gets the job done in transit because all Campfire Audio earphones come inside their own carry case when purchased.
Carry case included
Open the top and the first thing you see is this rather large beautiful dark brown leather carry case. Campfire audio have always had some of the best accessories in the earphone world and this new model very much keeps up with that tradition.
It feels extremely high end and is beautifully constructed, lined with sheeps wool on the inside and adorned with a robust brass zipper on the outside with a Campfire Audio logo on the pull tab.
Now the new carry case is much larger than on previous models and my guess is that is to accommodate the larger earphones. I will talk later in this review about how the IEM housings are a dramatic increase in size over the Andromeda and Jupiter and if you try and fit them into one of the standard cases you feel like you are stuffing them in rather than placing them in.
This of course means that the new case is no longer pocket friendly so if you intend on taking the case with you when you travel you will have to keep it in a backpack, carryon or man purse.
Campfire Audio Solaris – Whats in the Box?
Underneath the case in a seperate compartment of the box you will find all the other accessories that Campfire Audio include. They are all very high quality and give a range of options for securing the best fit possible with your new earphones. Here is whats in the box:
- Silicone tips (various sizes)
- Comply Foam tips (Various sizes)
- Final Audio tips (Various sizes and a great inclusion… best tips on the market IMHO)
- Campfire Audio pin badge
- Cleaning tool
- Litz Cable
- Carry Case
- Earphone bag ( a small pouch to put each earbud in individually for extra safe storage)
The Solaris marks a new direction in design for Campfire Audio?
There comes a point where some audio brands stop creating items that can only be classified as form meeting function. They reach a level where the earphones themselves become like pieces of art or jewlerry. Final Audio have done it as well as Noble Audio and a few others. Campfire Audio, I think with the Solaris earphones, have entered that realm.
Yes, Campfire Audios products have always been good looking, and yes, they are immaculately constructed but they still grab you attention as tech item. I can hand a set of Andromeda to non Hifi people and they are impressed but ultimately reel back when I mention the cost.
They don’t understand what is going on in regards to the sonic properties, the driver layout or the time and dedication that goes into making such items. To most people an earphone looks like an earphone. However, over the past few weeks I have repeatedly handed the Solaris out to people outwith the portable HiFi hobby and had a feeling that they instantly recognize that this is an extremely luxury offering.
The design feels special, its unique and thanks to the machining and exterior finishes/materials it looks like something that would not be out of place in a designer boutique.
Fully Premium Build Quality!
Campfires original earphone designs are still today one of the most solid constructions I have tested. From the Orion to the Andromeda these earphones are bombproof. The Solaris feel that way as well. Everything is maticulously put together and finished beautifully with no gaps or oversights seen anywhere on the IEM’s housing.
They feel more that capable of withstanding years of abuse and despite over 3 weeks of use, including multiple overseas trips and daily use there is not one single mark on them. In fact the majority of the photographs included in the Solaris review were all taken after testing so you can see for yourself that they are holding up well.
Detatchable cables has of course now became par for the course on premium earphones and that itself adds to the life span of an IEM. The cable I suspect will fail long before the earphones ever do and its nice that if that happens (either via accident or wear and tear) you can buy a replacement straight from ALO audio or play around with the wide variety of aftermarket cables now on the market.
The included cable is excellent and is a real improvment on the companies previous offerings because it retains a lot less memory than before. It is not good straight out the box however, it has a lot of memory retention and is somewhat hard and springy. Through use this tempers down remarkably and whils I still prefer a slinkier cable like he one from the Tin Hifi T3 this is a very good hardwearing design and it is a good aesthetic match for the IEM’s.
The Solaris are a huge set of earphones. Despite that they are not uncomfortable to me in the slightest. Despite the large housing they are also not very hard to install but these will not be earphones well suited with people who have small ears. Myself despite being 6’3 still have mormal to small sized ears and they fit very nicley to the shap of my outer ear. However when girls in the office tried them they just didn’t sit easily enough in that pocket between the tragus and anti-tragus. This is kind on essential because despite the assistance of the over ear cables the weight would still be enough to pull them out when moving around.
So myself with my normal ears and everyone else I let try them out had no problems at all. The cable guide helped to further lock them in place whilst at the same time reduced an possibility of microphonics. Tip wise they came with some comply style earbuds preinstalled and whilst I initially got on with them fine they quickly lost their shape and became unuseable. So I switched to the included Final Audio tips and boy what a difference. Extremely easy to get a good tight seal and it had the added bonus of brining the low end up even further.
The Solaris sit at about a medium depth in regard to position in the ear canal. This for me is where I find the optimum balance of comfort and isolation is found on the majority of my earphones. The big body of these IEM’s covers a lot of area on your outer ear and combined with the metal construction this greatly reduces the ingress of unwanted sound.
I found them to be very good isolators and one that I would happily travel with on my daily commutes.
Ok so there is quite a lot going on with the Campfire Audio Solaris that makes them a very interesting earphone from a technological standpoint. A lot of the inner parts will be what contributes to the overall size of the earphone but my god is it worth it when it comes to the sound.
The Solaris are a hybrid IEM meaning they employ 2 types of drivers, in this case Dynamic and Balanced armature. This means that they can draw on the best charecteristics of each technology and make something beutiful.
Now it isn’t a case of simply slapping these drivers together and hoping for the best, many, many companies have messed this up in the past. It takes tremendous skill to get the 2 working in harmony and to be tuned correct to your desired sound profile.
Campfire Audio and Ken Ball are in my opinion the absolute best when it comes to tuning IEM’s. He has proved time and time again with products the Andromeda, Lyra, Comet and Cascade that he sits right at the top of the heap when it comes to crafting a musical and engaging house sound.
Campfire Audio Solaris – Sound Quality
For the price your would expect them to be rather good sounding. You would be right.
These are by some margin the best earphones I have ever heard. For the past Month, in between a Mammoth 200 hour burn in and the course of the review process I have been going back and forth with the Solaris and some of the best in ear headphones on the planet.
At the end of the day the one that I would pick up to enjoy music, every single time, would be the Solaris. It is truly an incredible pice of work that oozes refinement and class right accross the spectrum. It displays music with width and depth, in a 3D environment like no other. My first listen was with the Carmen Ballet Soundtrack and I was floored with how life like the presentation was. For listening to live recordings, concerts, clubs etc the Solaris are in there element presenting such a vivid image or the recording you will soon be grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
Extreme width in the soundstage lends itself to an almost surreal imaging. The space between instruments and the ability to distinctively position them around your headspace goes even beyond the capabilities of some expensive full size headphones. The sense of space and open air clarity hits you instantly, even before you get into listening to any of the other technical areas.
The bass is perhaps an even harder thing to wrap your head around. Massively impactful yet with a tightness and speed almost befitting a balanced armature. But this isn’t a BA handling the lows its a 10mm dynamic driver that you will find in other Campfire Audio earphones.
The way it has been utilised here though gives such control over the lower frequencies that it makes the Solaris extremely versatile. Jazz and the bass resonates beautifully and trails off into an empty chamber, EDM and it will mash your brain into a smoothie, Rock and Pop it can impart deep drops when required or bop along handily. Whatever you need it to do the Solaris seem to match up well.
Many earphones I have reviewed in the past, even from campfire themselves, lend themselves to one genre or another. Usually that suitability is a result of the bass being tuned lighter or heavier but the Solaris almost shape shifts and adapts itself to play well with each track I throw at it. Its very impressive and can only be truly appreciated by logging a number of hours with them.
The Midrange is again excellent and the quality of its performance can be seen In areas detail retrieval and a slight forwardness from the treble. Despite my love for the lows on this earphone the midrange is just captivating. In fact it is mids perfect mids that I associate with a lot of Campfires products like the Lyra and its lush intimate weighty presentation or the Andromeda with its clarity and hints of warmth through this section.
The midrange of the Solaris gets a slight boost int the mid to upper mids and that creates a beautiful balance with the backdrop from the low ends. Vocals sound airy, full of detail and clarity. You combine that with the holographic overall presentation and it you get this goosebump inducing tingle from the realism of vocals and string.
Detail throughout the mids is top of the line and micro details such as the pressing of dampening pedals on Robeto Caciapaglia’s Piano, Lips parting on Carolina Chocolate Drops ‘Leaving Eden’ and fret pushes on Rodrigo y Gabrielas guitars in Tamacun add another dimension to your listening experience. Yes other earphones like the Fearless Audio S8 Pro, Campfire Audio Andromeda and the Shure SE846 are all capable of drawing out this detail as well but its the way it combines in the chamber of music that is the solaris that makes it scarily realistic.
To further illustrate this point anyone who gets time with the Solaris should throw on Dr Chesky’s binaural album test tracks (an old favourite of audiophiles everywhere). Never has an in ear sounded so realistic in my testing as this one and the track where the man walks around saying “i’m in your left ear” etc is seriously creepy.
The highs are laid back from the bass and midrange which to my ears seems pushed further forward. They still display lots and lots of detail but its a smooth sounding treble. This will please a lot of people because it makes the earphones so enjoyable to do real world listening to. Its smooth and clear and again lends to making that giant sense of air and soundstage. Its never fatiguing and never sibilant.
Pairing and Review Equipment
Pairing was a breeze with the Solaris. I went into this review off the back of the BGVP DM7 review and that earphone absolutely necessitatied high quality recordings and was somewhat picky on sources.
The Solaris just seemed to work with everything. In terms of driving I used them with a number of sources such as the Naim DAC-V1, Lotoo Paw Gold, Astell & Kern SE100 on the high end right down to the Xduoo X3 II and Specta X DAC on the low end. They just worked and they sounded great.
They do have this quality to bring out the difference in sources like no other. So while they can sound good out what is considered a low quality or entry level source the step up like no other as you progress through to more advanced amps, days and daps.
Cable wise the majority of the review was done with the included Litz cable but
I did also use the cable from my Tin Hifi T3 (worth buying this earphone for the amazing cable alone) and the almighty Hulk cable from Dunu.
Sound was dramatically altered and butterflies flew out my eardrums….. not really a cables a cable and unless there is something impedance wise it all sounds the same. What I did find though is I preferred the Hulk cable because I feel like it better suits the overall aesthetic of the Solaris but given I have so many sources the ability to switch the jack points was really cool.
Rolling tips had a slight effect on the sound which is often the case with a dynamic driver earphones. Ultimately, I settled on the Final Audio tips which gives a very slight bump on the lows due to the narrower nozzle size.
Track wise just like with the DAP’s the Solaris performs very well even with bad quality files. I expected a massacre on this front but was pleasantly surprised how the compensated for a tracks deficiencies. Yes it shows them up but low res Spotify or poorly mastered recordings are still listenable.
As I get more time to do direct comparisons with other top of the line earphones I will be sure to keep this list of select comparsons updated. If you have any requests for a side by side please let me know and I will try my best to get hands on with both.
Campfire Audio Solaris vs Shure SE846
One of my long running favourite earphones besides the Andromeda the SE846 is an outstanding earphone which at the time of its release stood head and shoulder above the competition.
To this day it is still one of my most used earphones, many would consider it near perfect. Its testament to how good the Solaris is that the SE846 seem uninteresting when put side by side. The Shure are technically excellent but they are lacking that holographic sound and extreme width.
Build quality wise the Solaris win again but not by much as the SE846 are still a very well made IEM but then it goes to Aesthetics and Campfire wins by a huge margin. They aren’t even in the same ball park looks wise.
At just (lol just) under 1000 the Shure are significantly cheaper than the Solaris but really if you want everything, the looks, the build, the prestige and the sound are you sure you don’t want to upgrade?
Campfire Audio Solaris vs Westone W80
As a side note before I compare these 2 earphones I want to say that I much prefer the sound of the SE846 to that of the Westone so if that was the choice I would go in that direction. The Solaris vs the W80 should be interesting as both earphones command the same ballpark price. One is from a relatively new company made by a small and passionate team and the other is made from a large multinational company with decades of experience. It should be a wash then?
Not even close because side by side I take the Solaris every time. Build quality, Styling, Accessories, Packaging, Prestige, Sound they call go to campfire and the only winning area for the W80 is that they are more comfortable.
The sound of the W80 is extremely laid back and I prefer the upper range shine that the Solaris puts on things I also think the bass is better and the midrange more pleasant for more genres.
Campfire Audio Solaris vs Campfire Audio Andromeda
The Andromeda is one of the all time great earphones and honestly without the Solaris next to them I would be hard pressed to find any flaws. They are technically brilliant earphones but the biggest difference between the 2 lies in the way the sound is presented. Again it comes down to the Holographic staging and serious width that is the most glaring difference between the 2.
The Andormeda are no slouch in those areas and for their price still remain one of the best options on the market. Other than the increased spacing and imaging capabilities of the Solaris tuning wise its the bass where you wills see the most difference. The Solaris hits harder and feels more volumes although both resolve equal detail in the low.
Positives vs Negatives (Plus the in between)
- Exceptional Tuning – Possibly the best I have ever heard from and IEM
- Ultra Wide Soundstage
- Outstanding build, style and design.
- Top tier accessories
- Ability to make almost anything sound good
- The price is obviously going to put these out of most peoples reach.
- The cable is very good but I preferred others from my own collection like the Dunu Hulk and Tin-Hifi T3
- Large housing size might be problematic for small ears.
Conclusion – Campfire Audio Solaris Review – Something Very Special
A lot of companies that have entered the world of the portable audiophile over the past decade have felt like a cash grab. Some milk the willing buyers for every penny via placebo, marketing or hype. Campfire Audio make expensive earphones but every single one feels like a product of passion. A product of true craftsmanship and with an uncompromising approach to the aesthetic, construction and fidelity. The Solaris is more than just an earphone, it’s an experience and one that I think any hobbyist would be lucky to have at least once.
The Packaging and accessories are carefully designed to adhere to the Campfire’s design ethos with the finish and material choices being of the highest order. This is a truly luxury product but it has the sonic performance that is able to back it up. Ken Ball has proved once again that he is a master of tuning earphones and headphones to sound engaging and encaptivating. After reviewing the Andromeda it was hard to think how another level could be achieved but the Solaris sound unlike any other in ear I have ever heard. Wonderfully spacious, massively detailed and just all out brilliant.
The price will mean that few will ever get to enjoy such a product but those that do should count themselves very lucky. With a brand like this you are paying for a small batch passion project that will only ever be made in limited quantities. Big brands have marketing budgets to gain traction in the market yet brands like Campfire are succeeding because of their stellar reputation. The Solaris is a masterpiece and will only further it.
These are a special, special earphones in so many ways that it is easy for me to recommend them.
The Campfire Audio Solaris are available to buy a the Campfire Audio website.