Campfire Audio ARA

Sound Analysis.


When I first started listening to the Ara they reminded me of the Vision Ears VE5 and so I initially felt they had a strongly mid-centric signature. That is perhaps not entirely so, but my initial reaction highlights two key aspects in the presentation of the Ara. First, the Ara have a kind of “black tie event”-type of presentation similar to the VE5. Second, the mids of the Ara are really nice, especially the upper-mids are excellent and give power to female vocals. Where the VE5 emphasised the mids, the Ara are by comparison more flat throughout, especially in the bass and lower mids, lifting slightly from the upper mids into the lower treble. This creates a somewhat brighter signature with a reference quality that is not too clinical either, as the Ara have enough warmth to prevent that. It balances between clinical and musical where the music feels very sophisticated, like sitting at a black tie event listening to a meticulously rehearsed performance. Positional information is precise and clear, nuances in tonality are presented cleanly and the level of detail is outstanding. Detail retrieval is easily on par with much more expensive IEMs.

The stage of the Ara is a decent size, but not very big compared to some of the IEMs I have heard recently. It is a fairly cube-shaped stage with perhaps a little more depth than width so that it still feels spacious (out of your head). With a lovely airy presentation the Ara manage separation with ease even without the extreme width some IEMs are able to present. I generally prefer a letterbox-type stage where there is plenty of width and depth to help separate instruments and vocals, which I find works best with classical music. The Ara don’t do this to such an extent and so in choral pieces such as Bach’s Cantata #140 the choir feels like it is placed on a much smaller stage. This could result in congestion, but the Ara manage to maintain air around individual groups within the choir so that they are easily heard, yet at the same time manage to blend the vocals in a very natural way. It creates a more intimate setting that once again feels like an exclusive private performance. Even though I personally prefer the grand scale of IEMs such as the DITA Dream XLS (my current favorites for classical music), the Ara deliver a beautiful performance that still draws me in completely.

Tonality of the Ara is what I would call neutral natural. Instruments have a natural tone without too much added warmth so they don’t sound full, yet still maintain clear tonal distinction even among similar sounding instruments. While there is some brightness to the Ara, they still maintain a smoothness that feels easy going. Brass instruments for instance on occasion lack some authority in my opinion, although violins on the other hand do have very nicely textured strings that makes them quite powerful and very exciting to listen to. It is here where I found something that surprised me a little. While the Ara feel wonderfully smooth, when I listen for longer, a couple of hours perhaps, I will unmistakably feel fatigue setting in. This means the Ara are likely on the bright side for treble sensitive people such as myself. While it is there, it still does not prevent me from listening for longer sessions because the Ara are just that enjoyable and I will take the little fatigue for what it is. For people less sensitive to treble I think it will not be a problem at all.


With four bass drivers I think most people would be inclined to expect a prominent bass with a lot of power and extension to generate a deep growling rumble, but the Ara have none of that. It is a much more linear bass with plenty of detail, but not much in the way of physicality when it comes to impact. I also find that there is some lack of texture, but that could simply be because I have recently been listening exclusively to IEMs with dynamic drivers for the bass. When listening to cello solos such as Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach Cello Suites it certainly does not feel like the Ara are missing anything in this regard, as the cello sounds accurate and very detailed. It simply feels more restrained; all the information is there, but is presented in a way that feels like everything is being held back a little. What I mean here is not that the bass feels rolled off in any way, rather it is toned down a notch. When I listen to Carbon Based Lifeforms’ Polyrytmi the Ara give this sense of the bass tone digging deep and extending quite well, but there is just that reservation to it. It feels like a balance has been found where the information is conveyed accurately and yet care has been taken not to push that information forward too much. This level of control generates a highly articulate bass that is very capable of generating fast and exciting drums. As such the Ara are great at conveying the drums in metal music such as Disturbed or punk such as Green Day. There is not a whole lot of color there and so it might not be ideal for some, but for those who enjoy a linear bass response with a reference quality to it, the Ara certainly deliver on that.


As I indicated earlier, the Ara are somewhat mid-centric IEMs, although not too strongly. The Ara’s mids shows a slightly more pronounced emphasis on the upper mids and this is quite noticeable with vocal music where female vocals have a more power to them and as such are capable of overpowering male vocals a little in choral pieces. This is not to say that male vocals are lacking, it is more a matter that those do not have quite the power female vocals have. At lower volumes (of the voices) the balance is just fine, but once voices start to rise and the power of female vocals becomes more apparent, male vocals start to fall behind a little in my opinion. Male vocals solo sound excellent and have a great sense of realism to them.

There is not a lot of warmth throughout the mids, just enough to add a hint of naturalness and that works to the benefit of timbre, which I think is accurate, natural and pretty much uncolored. I really enjoy listening to piano’s with the Ara, whether it is a Haydn Piano Concerto or Agnes Obel. With piano’s though you get a good sense of where the Ara start adding their brightness, as keys higher up get a hint of sharpness and do not sound as smooth and natural as lower down. This seems to be the case with a lot of instruments. Woodwinds generally sound smoother compared to violins. Violins have wonderful texture to them, but again can bite a little in the upper registers.


Although the Ara have a brightness to them that at times can be a little sharp, I still feel the treble is fairly linear and well extended. There don’t seem to be any particularly noticeable peaks, there is a fair amount of sparkle and lots of air. It is not perfectly smooth though and that is of course what I mentioned before. There can be some sharpness in the lower treble, which is where I am most sensitive and what is likely causing the signs of fatigue I experience after a while. However, because it is only minor and the rest of the treble is smooth and a little toned down (much like the bass), it is not a big problem for me and I will happily enjoy the Ara listening to sparkly and treble-filled music like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.



– DITA Fealty –

This comparison was the first that sprang to mind because the DITA Fealty are similarly priced and I consider those neutral-natural in their tonality as well. However, the Fealty are based on a single dynamic driver instead of the balanced armatures of the Ara and so present a different approach with a seemingly similar goal.

In terms of build quality the Fealty are made out of aluminium instead of titanium, making them a little lighter while still durable. I think the Ara feel more durable because of the titanium, but the Fealty give me that feeling of luxury a little more, which I think also has a lot to do with their outstanding cable. The stock cable from the Fealty is the first cable I have never seriously considered replacing with an aftermarket one because of the excellent ergonomics and the highly versatile Awesome plug that allows easy switching between balanced and single ended plugs. It feels more like an aftermarket cable and won’t be mistaken for anything cheap, like I had with the Ara’s stock cable at first glance.

The Ara and Fealty both have a neutral, natural tonality, with the difference that the Fealty are more forgiving and push details less forward, which results in a sense of liquidity in the notes. Notes on the Fealty flow more organically and it makes them more inviting for sitting back and immersing yourself in the music. I absolutely love that quality, but it might not be for everyone and in my opinion requires some time to adjust to, where the Ara are more obvious in their character, with more clarity and air around instruments and vocals. The Fealty have less emphasis on the upper-mids, which I think balances them a little better. To me a big difference in presentation is in the stage, which with the Fealty is more like a letterbox; wide, deep, but not much height, where the Ara trade some of that width with height in order to get more of a cube shaped stage. I personally love how the Fealty’s presentation works for classical music and jazz, but I also find that the Ara have more versatility in the types of music they work well for.

– FiR Audio M4 –

The FiR Audio M4 are a considerable step up in price, but an interesting comparison nonetheless. The M4 also have an uncoloured signature with some brightness to them, although there are some notable differences between the two as well. In terms of build quality and accessories I think the two offer very similar propositions with excellent build quality that feels like it was designed to be used and both include an excellent quality stock cable. Both also have great cases included where the FiR case feels a little more premium because of the leather, but Campfire Audio include a larger selection of tips, which is not very expensive, but is very practical. All in all very similar and not something to make much of a difference between the two.

In terms of sound I find the M4 less mid-centric and they have a brighter signature that is lacking that hint of warmth that makes the Ara feel more easy-going and natural, resulting in leaner notes with the M4. The M4 compensate for this with a larger dynamic range that can add emotion more strongly. The bass of the M4 is perhaps similarly linear to the Ara, but at the same time it is considerably more physical, textured and is more dynamic where it can go from seemingly absent to very energetic and engaging. The mids of the M4 are similarly uncoloured, although a bit less warm and not as smooth as the mids the Ara, neither are the mids as forward on the M4. Vocals on the Ara give more a sense of intimacy compared to the M4, something I personally prefer, but the vocals on the M4 have more density making them more clearly defined. Despite having less warmth, I find the M4 can produce more nuances in tonality than the Ara. In the treble the M4 are less forgiving than the Ara and I generally don’t use the M4 with the PAW6000 because that pairing is too fatiguing for me (switching the stock cable for the DITA Oslo cable resolves this for me). The stage of the M4 is considerably bigger and feels more open due to the tubeless design and Atom pressure relief module. In terms of the level of detail, I think the Ara come especially close and that is quite a feat because the M4 are very detailed to begin with. The main difference is that the Ara present that detail in a slightly more forgiving way.



I have really enjoyed my time with the Campfire Audio Ara. After such a long time wanting to try out some of Campfire Audio’s IEMs, I can happily say that the Ara have lived up to expectation. The Ara are slightly mid-centric, neutral-natural sounding IEMs with a reference character, but enough warmth to avoid sounding too clinical. The Ara give a sense of sophistication to their presentation that feels precise and with intent, everything is exactly where it belongs. They have some brightness to them that can be a hint fatiguing for those of us more sensitive to treble, but a general smooth and easy-going character still makes them a joy to listen to. Build quality is outstanding and I think the Ara have a lot to offer for their price point.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s