Of the Sun!
PROS: natural detailed tonality, hybrid design combining the tech of all previous Campfire releases, high quality premium cable, excellent selection of accessories including premium leather case.
CONS: the fit of the larger universal shell might not be for everyone (custom is not available), hissing with some of the sources due to sensitivity.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
If you have been following Campfire Audio releases in the last few years, you can clearly see the evolution of their designs which led to Solaris. From 5BA Andromeda (reviewed here), which set a high bar in build and tuning quality and introduced their patented T.A.E.C. tech, to a single DD Vega (reviewed here), with a unique 8.5mm A.D.L.C. diaphragm driver which later evolved into 10mm used in Atlas.
Ken Ball, the man behind ALO and Campfire Audio, along with his VP Caleb Rosenau, are well known in audiophile circles for thinking outside the box and not being afraid to take a risk by pushing the envelope with new drivers, new shell materials, and other new design elements while continuing to hand assemble all IEMs in the house, crafted in their local US workshop. But when you look at the spec of their latest hybrid flagship Solaris, it feels like “the greatest hits” album since it combines the best of all their previous releases.
So how is Solaris hybrid design turned out to be? Let’s find out in the following review of Campfire Audio latest flagship release.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Not every audio product unboxing experience is fun, and I’m aware that some of my readers skip that section of the review. But I feel it’s a different story with Campfire Audio IEMs because of a unique nature of Ken’s astronomy-themed compact packaging boxes and their custom artwork touch which makes you feel like a kid, unboxing a Xmas present.
Inside, you will find a lot of goodies, starting with a premium leather case (more about it later), a custom premium cable (will go into details of Super Litz cable in the follow up section), a set of foam “marshmallow” campfire eartips (S/M/L), a set of generic silicone eartips (S/M/L), a set of premium brand name Final Audio Type-E eartips (XS/S/M/L/XL), a cleaning tool, Campfire Audio pin, and a protection sleeve for IEM storage. That protection sleeve has a very simple yet brilliant idea of using two individual pockets to keep the shells separated during transportation.
I’m sure many are familiar with Campfire Audio signature leather cases, included with many of their IEMs, but Solaris case is doubled in size to a square shape instead of a smaller rectangular one. It’s still has a vintage look, zippered, premium quality leather, lined with a soft fleece material on the inside. The case has a hard shell to protect IEMs during transportation, and once you unzip it – opens like a coin wallet with enclosed sides, so nothing falls out.
By now, everybody expects ALO cables with all Campfire Audio IEM releases since Ken is behind both companies. Their stock cable went through a few transformations with some of the early releases featuring tinsel wire design and the latest ones using Litz SPC (silver plated copper) wires. In this release Ken decided to introduce an updated Super Litz SPC cable which doubled the strand count of a standard Litz cable. As a result, each of the four conductors of Super Litz cable is thicker in comparison to the original one, reducing the cable impedance, though the cable itself is still relatively flexible and comfortable to use with IEMs, and nearly microphonics free.
The stock Solaris cable is 3.5mm TRS terminated, with a translucent 90-deg connector mold and a gold plated jack, and a rubbery housing that has a nice grip and extended strain relief. The 4 twisted wire conductors have silver finish with a medical grade PVC jacket. The y-splitter is slim and aluminum, like a silver bullet, and has a clear plastic chin slider which retracts from the splitter. The wires going to each earpiece after the splitter are twisted, and closer to mmcx connector housing you will find a memory wire section. Here you a have a traditional stiff piece of a memory wire wrapped around in a soft clear tube which you can shape for over-the-ear fit. The mmcx connector itself uses a high quality beryllium copper material, and the housing of the connector has red/blue dots corresponding to Right/Left sides.
If you prefer a balanced termination, ALO/Campfire offers Super Litz SPC cable with 2.5mm and 4.4mm plugs which could be purchased here.
The same matching mmcx beryllium copper alloy connectors are used in the shell of Solaris, and you get a snappy and a secure joint. Mmcx connectors have a bad rep due to intermittent contact issues or accumulated specks of dust or just premature wear off. Here, an extra attention was paid to choose components with a premium quality material.
The only thing I’m not too crazy about is combination of memory wire hook spinning around the connector as you trying to put these monitors in your ears. Could be a matter of personal preference, but I like to put earpieces in first and then put the cable over my ears without distraction of a moving ear hook. For those who are into DIY, be careful if you decide to remove wire by yourself because you can damage the connector housing since the memory wire is jammed tight inside. Here is how it looks after removing the memory wire.
I’m a cable believer because I hear the difference, either a subtle or a more pronounced, and I have mentioned in many of my other reviews that intent of my testing with different cables is not to stir up a controversy, but rather to share my experience of what I hear. Feel free to skip this section if the talk about cables offends you. In this test, I used Solaris with a stock Super Litz SPC and compared it to a few other cables. I did volume-match to make sure the setup is consistent. Also, as I usually mention, despite the sound changes during cable rolling, nothing is night’n’day. In theory, cable shouldn’t function like an EQ to drastically change the sound, it’s there for refinement of it.
Super Litz SPC vs Litz SPC – very similar sound performance except I hear a small difference where a regular Litz has a little more sub-bass rumble and leaner lower mids with a slightly more distant presentation, while Super Litz has a more balanced bass tuning, and more body in the lower mids with a slightly more forward presentation, making vocals sound fuller and more organic. I assume the difference in impedance, with thicker Super Litz bringing the impedance lower, is what accounts for a sound change I’m hearing in this comparison.
Super Litz SPC vs ALO Ref8 hybrid – in this comparison I hear a little more difference where Ref8 boosts both sub- and mid-bass, slightly pushing mids a little back (at least the perception due to elevated bass), and adds more sparkle and airiness to the treble. I liked this pair up, except Ref8 cable has some memory effect and more microphonics in comparison to Super Litz. In comparison, Super Litz bass is more balanced and less boosted, and mids are a little more forward.
Super Litz SPC vs iBasso CB12s hybrid – very similar sound performance with the main difference of CB12s having a little deeper sub-bass extension and a little more mid-bass impact. Also, with Super Litz the mids/vocals are just a touch more forward. iBasso cable is soft and comes without a memory wire, convenient upgrade if you prefer to remove it from Super Litz but don’t feel comfortable to DIY.
Super Litz SPC vs Linum SuperBaX – nearly the same performance, where it’s actually hard to tell these apart.
Super Litz SPC vs EA Leo II – Leo II improves the soundstage, making it wider and more holographic, and also brings up mid-bass impact and sub-bass rumble, giving bass more authority. Mids are still natural, organic, but with some improvement in retrieval of details. A rather pricey upgrade, plus you have to be sure to get mmcx since many EA cables come by default with 2pin connector (I was using 2pin to mmcx Rhapsodio adaptor).
Super Litz SPC vs EA Ares II – Ares II lifts the bass a little higher, especially in sub-bass region, pushes mids slightly back, and also has a little less sparkle in treble. Was testing it with Rhapsodio 2pin to mmcx adaptor.
Super Litz SPC vs PlusSound Tri-Copper – very similar sound performance with the main difference of Tri-Copper adding more sub-bass to the sound and slightly more mid-bass impact. The rest is very similar. Also, this one was tested with Rhapsodio 2pin to mmcx adaptor.
Super Litz offers a unique sound signature, but if you want some improvement in bass impact, the most cost efficient upgrade is iBasso CB12s (I was using their 4.4mm version). For an ultimate refinement in sound, Leo II really steps it up, but at a significant cost.