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Universal Fit item created by FastAndClean, Oct 20, 2016
Pros - Excellent Sound, Comprehensive Package, Great Build
Cons - Large Housing, Bass Response Too Polite For Some, Vega's Timbre
Campfire Audio Andromeda And Vega
An Impressive Binary Sunset
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A LONG ABSENCE
Apart from getting 20 yards away from a bear, accidentally descending down a snow-packed couloir (via a controlled* 50-foot slide) at Denali NP, and driving on a seriously questionable road somewhere above the Arctic Circle, I’ve been fine. Mostly. Yes, I’ve been in Alaska for a month, putting myself in precarious situations and generally relying on "hold my beer" logic to survive; I almost qualified for several Darwin Awards as a result. Naturally, I was absent, for the most part, from the audio world. But I've returned, and in fairly good time. The number of reviews I’ve built up is certainly not insignificant, and it seems that a lot has happened since I was last in the Lower 48. Those who have been keeping up with the Sony MDR-Z1R thread will know. But that’s old news, and this certainly isn’t the Donna Reed show – so let’s get going.
*To the extent that sliding through waist-deep snow is "controllable".
My interest in Campfire Audio actually began a while ago at the first Canjam Singapore after a fellow audio enthusiast insisted that I audition his Jupiter. It sounded good, but lacked that je ne sais quoi that would have otherwise made me leap. Needless to say, I was interested in Campfire Audio’s various developments, and I wrote to them regarding covering their lineup. Well, a year later, I’m privileged to have finally gotten the chance to cover Campfire Audio’s flagship models. The good folks at CA are busy, and rightfully so, because they are certainly producing excellent earphones. But wait! One of the flagships is a dynamic too. EX1000 fans may now take a moment to briefly reminisce about the days of old.
For those of who are still (somehow) in the dark about Campfire Audio, here’s a quick primer. Based out of Oregon, Campfire Audio was actually a project conceived by the good folks at ALO Audio. Ken Ball and team have clearly set their goal on producing high quality UIEMs capable of competing with the best, all while introducing new driver materials and featuring a rather unique design philosophy. It’s an approach that stands in stark contrast with the increasingly astounding (and pricey) contenders of the ongoing driver count race. Nicely done, I must say. Interestingly, Campfire Audio’s product offerings are split into two lineups. One is comprised primarily of BA driver earphones, while the other features more varied dynamic/ hybrid offerings. I think it is fairly safe to conclude that the latter mixes sound signatures up a bit, but I’ll discuss that more when I compare the Vega and Andromeda.
A little while back, I mentioned the importance of flow in my reviews. This long trip certainly has given me more than a couple of ideas for future pieces and the fresh makeover of Head-Fi is good reason to do some spring cleaning. Prepare yourself as I attempt to break up an otherwise rigid review format and go on hopefully entertaining tangents. And watch as none of this comes to fruition (50% chance, give or take, especially if it’s a Monday). I’ll also be introducing my measurement rig in this review. I’ve been working on it for a while and I do have decent confidence in its capabilities as of now. It’s a rather big section, and for those who are not interested please do feel free to skip it. It is an interesting recap of the process and hopefully articulate enough to be helpful.
The Campfire Audio Andromeda and Vega were provided directly by the CA team for the purposes of this review. I am neither a paid affiliate nor an employee of Campfire Audio. As always, I do reserve the rights to the media in this review, so if you would like to use the photography/ videos please do drop me a line (at the very least please provide an appropriate attribution). I dislike watermarks on photos and would rather not use them. It’s been a blast putting these two earphones through their paces. It’s also been a great time for me to push forth on my measurements of IEMs (my expedition in headphones having temporarily reached a “satisfactory” point, as I await further findings). Once again, a big thanks to Campfire Audio for this opportunity and I hope you enjoy reading this review as much as I did writing it.
Editorial Note 1: Have posted a thread as well as a "review"- still don't fully understand the new showcase system yet and text formatting system, so I'm sticking to the tried and true thread post.
Editorial Note 2: Some of these photos had to be posted lower-res than I had initially wanted due to the fact that I can't seem to locate the "resize" function in the new editor. Thus, manually resized in Photoshop. If there's a workaround, please let me know immediately.
Packaging And Accessories
Quality! These are excellent products to unbox. The packaging is both functional and sensible, leaving little in terms of material waste. Arriving in a star-studded (literally) cardboard box and sealed in with plastic wrap, the Campfire Audio IEMs are nestled inside a leather carrying case. The interior lining is definitely a nice thought, and the case shuts compactly enough to the point where the earpieces will not be sliding and scratching each other. As added protection, the Vega features two earpiece pouches. Strangely, this is not present on the Andromeda (and it should be). Apart from that, the general package is fairly comprehensive and complete. A full list of items is provided in the description below the photo.
Package is fairly complete, featuring 1) Carrying Case 2) 2 x Earpiece Pouches (Vega Only) 3) IEM Cleaning Tool 4) Campfire Audio Logo Pin 5) 3 Pairs Comply 6) 3 Pairs Spinfit 7) 3 Pairs Silicone Stock 8) Earphones 9) Literature 10) Warranty Card
Build Quality And Design
The build quality on the Campfire products is quite commendable. It is certainly a highlight that must be mentioned. The Andromeda is made in the USA, and features a machined aluminum body with an anodized finish (Zirconium blast treatment). Some have asked if the earphone is really as green as it looks in the photos - the answer is yes. However, the carefully milled facets of the housing lend a very nice colored gradient to the earphone that changes with various lighting conditions. I suppose I know this because I spent too much time on the photography in this review. Other key design features include the 5-balanced armature drivers (2 low, 1 mid, 2 high) and a proprietary "tuned acoustic expansion chamber".
The Vega is comprised of parts from Taiwan and made in China. That said, the earphone's build is still high quality. It features a liquid alloy metal housing with a PVD (physical vapor deposition) finish. It's a type of finish achieved by evaporating a solid/liquid into gaseous form and depositing it back onto the target surface as a thinly applied coating. The nozzle is plastic, and there is indeed a faint injection mold line on it (more sanding?). A tuning port can be found at the top of the housing. Throughout my time with the Vega, I did notice driver flex manifesting itself as a crinkling sound depending on how I inserted the earphones. It has been mentioned on the forums that there is no danger of damage from this flex though. The Vega's driver is an 8.5 mm dynamic driver made from ADLC (amorphous diamond-like carbon).
Stock cable is very nice and is a silver plated copper litz wire in medical grade PVC jacket. There's a sturdy 3.5 mm plug with good strain relief, and the y-split is also quality, if not prone to scratching. Cinch is made from clear transparent plastic. The real star of the show is the ear guide, which blends heat shrink with a guide wire - it's simply the best of both worlds. MMCX connector is made from beryllium copper.
Those who have read /been following my reviews will remember that we discussed, at some length, my personal headphone measurement rig/ process in the Sony Z1R review. It is fairly obvious that the results of non-standard measurement rigs are far from absolute, and should generally be applied in relative comparisons for best effect. Given these various limitations, one may ask why we, as enthusiasts, should even be bothered to develop measurement systems at all, considering that we are generally unable to match industry-standard equipment, and can in fact potentially mislead ourselves with erroneous results. The answer is two-fold and quite practical in my mind. First, it is an undoubtedly enjoyable process. The ability to quantify the qualitative (i.e. subjective) is gratifying (and equal parts, frustrating). But in general, it provides us with a better understanding of the devices we are measuring, and this comprehension can make the pursuit of audio far more enjoyable. Second, when applied effectively, decent measurements can provide objective insight – and allow for many meaningful, tangential explorations. Did you ever wonder just how “distorted” distortion is? If yes, a rig can help in the understanding of that area of sound. The list continues. Furthermore, it allows us to avoid the serious issues that can arise from purely subjective descriptions and misunderstandings. In my mind, certain descriptors can be directly correlated with measurements, giving us very substantive evidence to assist in descriptions. This isn’t to say that numbers are everything, but when applied appropriately, they can account for much indeed. Henceforth, I leave this open to interpretation, and for use as the reader sees fit.
Editorial Note 3: I wrote the above section of the review a little while back as I was reflecting on the process. That is to say, over a month ago. Given the recent discussion about measurements, I've decided not to edit this section at all - this is, and has been, my perspective on measurements for a long time.
I use the UMIK-1 from MiniDSP, a measurement microphone with an onboard soundcard. It is quite convenient and comes with its own calibration file. There is, to my knowledge, a 3rd-party company called Cross-Spectrum offering further, more extensive calibration services, albeit at an increased cost. It’s certainly worth a look for those investing in a measurement microphone. Microphone aside, the coupler is probably the next most important aspect of a working system. As I describe my own system, do note that this isn’t meant to outline the construction of the definitive measurement system. Instead, it is an objective look at the capabilities of my system, its shortcomings, and what I feel confident in assuming/ sharing.
Meant for illustrative purposes only, this photo shows my rig with the guide on. Obviously missing is the foam surrounding, and clearly wrong is the fact that the rig is lying directly on the table.
There are three factors that I ran into quite frequently in assembling the rig – coupling distance, seal, and resonance. In describing the modifications/ build of my own measurement system, I will go over the issues I encountered with each of these elements and how they can be resolved. Let’s start with the microphone. It is very much possible to detach the head of the microphone from the body. Clasp it with a vice and give the body a hard tug. Have your soldering kit ready, because from personal experience, it is easy to snap the wire off the solder point. In fact, I had to re-solder two points on the microphone (one broke and needed repair, the second broke in the process of the repair). To detach the microphone from the head, push gently using a soft object (pencil eraser, etc.). The microphone capsule should come off easily. As per recommendation, I’ve applied a ring of glue around the microphone capsule. Do note that depending on the glue used, you could potentially make it impossible to remove the capsule from the head, so do take caution with those soldering joints. I’ve thought about it, and in fact it may not be a bad idea to put some hot glue down, sealing the microphone permanently to the microphone headphone compartment and more or less securing the solder joints. There were pieces of white foam that came out the head compartment as well, and looked rather skimpy. To replace that, I cut a foam tip and pushed it directly behind the microphone. It seems to be a needed upgrade. You’ll also notice a large tangle of wires that came out from the body as well. When putting everything back together, use a pencil to push the tangle back in, as opposed to pushing on the microphone head. You will break the wire (especially at the solder point) doing this.
The next step in the process is to build a coupler. I’ve got close to 10 iterations of “coupling” devices lying around. The one I’ve more or less settled on is shown in the pictures. I’ve used electrical tape to create a ring (just thick enough) such that the slightly larger ½ inch PVC tube can be sealed very completely with a bit of a push. The end of the chamber features a plastic flange that forms the PVC tube and enables better fits with certain types of IEM tips. This is where coupling distance really comes into play. As I will demonstrate in a graph below, it is very important that the coupling distance is correct, otherwise you’ll notice key FR landmarks (peaks, dips, etc.) in wrong places. I’d take a generally accepted uncompensated FR, and adjust your coupling distance such that the peaks align where they should. I’ve found that this will float in the ballpark of 1-1.5 cm depending on how you couple the IEM to the microphone. The further you couple your earphone away from the microphone, the more you see artifacts in the higher frequencies (repetitive peaks, and such). Resonance from the coupler discounted most forms of thin metal coupling for me. I’d stick with PVC and plastics for enthusiast measurement systems. Now, the Andromeda/ Vega present a very unique opportunity to adjust one’s rig. This is because Ken @Campfire Audio has provided uncompensated measurements that we can do comparisons against. Considering that his is a well calibrated, industry standard rig, I find this to be an interesting proposition. I do not believe my measurements to be better, so feel free to take note of the differences. And it is always fruitful to discuss your measurement techniques with other individuals - it provides insight/ means of improvement. One last mistake I made – don’t rush to take a bunch of measurements of tons of earphones, find one IEM to work with and go from there. Otherwise, you’ve but just a pile of fairly unhelpful numbers. IEM measurement is unforgiving, and can be more difficult than headphones in fact, so do take your time.
Coupling distance matters a lot! See how it has affected the FR, especially in the upper range.
Some things I noticed for the Andromeda – subbass attenuation feels like it should be 1-2 dB less. The region past from 1K-4K as measured is not perfectly flat, but has some dips and artifacts. I should note that higher frequencies, when measured on this rig, aren’t particularly accurate – best that the reader look and evaluate him/ herself. Third harmonic distortion exists on the Andromeda, but this is may be an attributable characteristic to the BA driver itself. Other measurements seem to support my measurements, at their current distortion levels. Overall, most things seem to check out fairly nicely. Vega came through generally unscathed and the difference between these two should be obvious.No smoothing has been applied in any of these measurements.
Green are the various trials performed, Purple is the average.
Ken Ball's measurements for the Andromeda. My rig has artifacts in the higher frequencies.
My distortion measurements for the Andromeda.
Green are the various trials performed, Purple is the average.
Ken Ball's measurements for the Vega. Differences in higher frequencies.
It seems that mine correlates to measurements from another site.
My distortion measurements for the Vega.
The Andromeda is a superbly balanced earphone, made even better by choice ear-tips. Bass performance is responsive and tight, but not lacking. Sub-bass is rendered as needed with detail cues demonstrating the reproduction capabilities of the earphone. Mid-bass is expectedly inoffensive. The midrange is linear and connects to the higher frequencies without a hitch. Upper frequencies are naturally well-extended and liquid without ever coming off as tiresome. Detail retrieval is excellent and soundstage and imaging are spot on. A touch of coolness tints the Andromeda’s tonality, and it’s certainly something that resonates with me. As a long time ER4 user, I’m truly impressed (I’ll explain a little later). This isn’t an earphone for specific genres or songs or setups. It’s a transducer that reveals and navigates almost all source material.
Like a Klingon ship racing through the galaxy. Federation be damned.
The Vega is certainly the Danny Zuko of the Campfire Audio line up. Featuring a prominent bass response that makes full use of the earphone’s dynamic driver, the Vega digs deep and hits hard. It’s a heck of a lot of fun to listen to. In certain ways, the Vega reminds me of the Sony Z1R in earphone form, the comparison being rather crude, of course. Given this, it is surprising that the Vega doesn’t suffer much bass spill, and midrange generally comes through intact. Higher frequencies are well-extended, but do fall behind the Andromeda. Overall technicalities of the Vega are slightly behind the Andromeda. Instrumental timbre was one of the Vega’s weaker points. That said, the Vega moves in ways the Andromeda doesn’t. I can’t emphasize it enough, but the Vega is simply tons of fun.
Together, these two headphones could complete a collection, providing a versatile toolkit that will satisfy even the most dedicated of enthusiasts. It is a rather refreshing look at IEMs, considering that recent developments have been marked by increasingly pricey offerings prompted by the informal driver count war. I’m not thrilled by all of these offerings – and some of my experiences with large multi-BA drivers have been quite negative. I’m not convinced that more is better, and I’ve tried some extremely expensive earphones where crossover points were audible and general coherency was atrocious. I’ve never quite given up on the merits of a properly executed single dynamic driver earphone, and the Vega has satisfied in this regard. In the course of this review, I’ve utilized the Onkyo DP-CMX1, theBit Opus#1, Teac HA-P90SD, and borrowed the Chord Mojo and Questyle QP1R from a fellow newly-converted audiophile. Sounded pretty good out of all of these sources. The earphones do have very low impedance though (Andro 12.8 ohms @ 1K, Vega 17.6 ohms @ 1K) so damping factor can be an issue. The sensitivity of the Andromeda means that noisy sources will be punished!
SELECTED LISTENING IMPRESSIONS
I’ve often been asked to be more narrative in my approach to reviews, and I do think that providing comparisons and walking through specific pieces of music will allow readers to get a better sense of what I’m addressing. I’ve picked moderately complex compositions that provide opportunity to showcase interesting aspects of each earphone, and will conclude on some general observations.
A typical mess as everything gets sprawled out during the listening/ auditioning/ testing process.
The Planets, op.32, Venus
Gustav Holst, conducted by Karajan and performed by BPO
The opening (00:00) features a horn call comprised of four ascending notes. It’s a smooth, haunting motive that is also texturally detailed. The timbre of the horn is appropriately rendered on both the Andromeda and ER-4S. However, the Vega portrays a mellower, smoother sound that reminds me less of a horn and more of a euphonium. Not exactly accurate. At 00:10, the second horn call is answered by a combination of oboe and flute chords. There’s a certain clarity conveyed by the Andromeda/ ER-4S – the reedy sound of the woodwinds being clearer and more incisive than on the Vega. At 00:37, the gentle rumble of the bass hints at a larger orchestration. The Vega and EX-800ST both deliver satisfying performances, while the Andromeda tends toward a more balanced portrayal. The ER-4S falls on its face. The violin solo at 02:05 is poignant and chilling. There’s a lack of bite from the Vega that reduces the realism of sound. The theme that begins at 03:15 is fantastically grand on the Vega though. Spot the celeste at the 07:36 mark. You'll notice that the Andromeda has more sparkle. I imagine that Karajan may have preferred the Vega. The smoother, more rounded sound, exemplifies the musical vision of the “emperor of Legato”. However, from a technical standpoint, I find the Andromeda to be better for classical music in general – it simply presents instrumental timbres better.
Time Out, Take Five
The Dave Brubeck Quartet
A jazz classic, Take Five features an instantly recognizable tune in the uncommon 5/4 time. The start of the piece (00:00) provides easily accessible comparison material. With Joe Morello on the drums alone, it’s clear that reproduction on the Vega and Andromeda differ greatly. The bass drum kick is emphasized, while the cymbal ride is smoother and less brassy compared to the Andromeda. Snare drums seem about the same. Beginning at 00:20, Paul Desmond enters with the alto saxophone, and here we have yet another point of analysis. The left/center/right recording method with single mic means that each of the instruments is panned hard to a side spatially. While modern methods may dictate this as being less than ideal, it does provide an opportunity to test the soundstage/ imaging of our transducers. Perceived width and depth on the Vega is still smaller (but not small) than on the Andromeda. At 02:30 where the drum solo begins in full, the Vega proves once again that while it may not be as technically proficient as its sibling, it can be great fun to listen to.
The Vega sports a sleek profile, one that seems to hide the fact that it can easily produce a massive sound.
It should be no surprise that the tonal balance of the Andromeda favors midrange performance over that of the Vega. Listening to Diana Krall’s East Of The Sun (West Of The Moon), there’s a certain spaciousness that pervades Krall’s voice. Appropriate rendering of vocal texture and linearity aid in the easiness of sound. It’s a fuller (and slightly wetter) sound than the ER-4S, which is a good thing. The Vega’s mids are smoother, and are slightly less defined and present. It’s well-executed considering the earphone’s impressive bass, but for those who listen exclusively to vocals the Andromeda is the go-to.
CHOICE OF EARTIPS
I've begun work on eartip measurements, though I do not yet feel confident in utilizing them yet. Here's a quick look at my general measurements (but should not be relied upon!). I urge readers to use the subjective impressions below.
This is simply meant as preliminary look into how eartips affect sound.
However, measurements not entirely reliable at this point in time.
Spinfit (Baseline) – I’ve chosen this as the baseline for observations as they seem to be one of the most popular, and I do find myself returning to them a fair bit. Tends to yield a brighter character to the earphone with a nice zing. Extension is excellent. Spinfit can be unpredictable between user-to-user, if not by its whole premise alone.
Spiral Dot – Another excellent choice. Doesn’t have the same sonic edge as the Spinfit, but doesn’t lack in extension and certainly adds extra weight to sound. Many will find this to be a nice and pleasant ear tip, provided it fits. I recommend buying ½ a size smaller than your usual as the diameter on these eartips is fairly large due to its wide bore design.
Sony Stock Silicones – Not bad, but between the Spinfits and Spiral Dots, I really don’t see what these do better. Higher frequency extension is weaker than the Spinfits, and lower frequencies are less clear. Vocals are less immediate too. Deeper fit brought housing into contact with the ear, which was uncomfortable.
Sony Isolation Hybrid – Clear improvement over Sony Stock Silicones. Brings extra isolation, slightly improved bass response, all while maintaining comparable extension and clarity. It’s a nice flavor. Fairly comfortable to wear, if not a little difficult to fit onto the nozzle.
Sony Foams – Available in Japan only (I think). If you need foam tips and have access to Japanese products (import/export, etc.) I’d use these. Featuring a foam eartip with a silicone backing, these eartips tend to last longer than Comply tips, are far less prone to ripping, and generally less icky. Complies do seem to isolate and seal better though. Similar to the hybrid tips, but adds slightly more warmth and bass. Highs less extended?
Stock Silicones – Somewhat similar to the Spiral Dot in terms of bore and insertion depth. Sound isn’t remarkably different, but I find the fit to be slightly less agreeable. Those who prefer a softer ear tip will probably enjoy the stock silicones better. They do tend to bring the housing closer (and into contact with the ear) too.
Comply – I don’t really like the way Comply eartips fit and feel. They wear out fast, have a tendency to rip, and just annoy me. That said, Comply eartips do offer a decent amount of isolation, and for me increase the bass. It should be noted that Comply eartips affect sound based on the amount that they are compressed. More compression leads to better seal, which in turn can increase bass and treble. Less compression can result in the foam attenuating the highs, etc. I’d suggest going with the former in most cases.
To me, the Andromeda and Vega are excellent earphones. The Andromeda's balance is very pleasant to me, and the Vega offers a similarly well executed signature that features a tonal balance that is indeed rather hard to pull off. Couple that with the excellent build quality of these IEMs, and it's just hard to argue with these earphones. If you're in the market for a new pair of high-performance IEMs, you definitely need to do yourself a favor and at least give the Vega and the Andromeda a try.
Pros - Incredible bass impact, fantastic resolution, and highly musical
Cons - Stock cable pairing might not be the best if you prefer something a little leaner. On silicone tips, there is a hint of sibilance on some songs.
Disclaimer: The Campfire Audio Vega was sent to me for the purposes of this review by Ken Ball of Campfire Audio.
For those unfamiliar with my history with Campfire, it all began when I first reviewed the Jupiter. It was not quite up my alley, but I could see how it did some things wonderfully. This led to me meeting Ken Ball at Canjam Singapore 2016, where I had the chance to hear the prototypes of the Andromeda and the Vega. That experience firmly solidified Campfire Audio’s place as one of the best IEM makers in my mind.
When the Andromeda was launched, I thought it to fix everything I was unhappy with on the Jupiter, and then some. It was, at that time, my favourite multi-BA IEM, and till now still remains among the small handful of my favourite multi-BA IEMs.
Then came the Vega, the Vega brought a totally different sound to my arsenal of earphones. It’s not quite the sound I typically go for, but I quickly grew to love it for what it does. Some experimentation with eartips and cables, and I could not be happier with how it sounds. Sure it isn’t perfect, nothing is, but it sounds remarkable.
I remember how excited Ken was when he showed me these prototypes, and when I heard that diamond driver, it just blew my mind. Anyone that knows me well knows that I am a sucker for Dynamic Driver earphones, and I’ve got a few in my stable right now. The Sony EX-1000, the Dita Audio Brass, Dream and Answer, and now the Vega. Till a few years back, there has been minimal focus on dynamic drivers as flagship material, and I could not be happier that that is changing. Why diamond? Anyone with a little knowledge about speaker design would understand the need for a few properties in drivers, light weight, good dampening, and stiffness, and what could be stiffer than an amorphous diamond like carbon?
Design, Ergonomics and Build Quality
The Campfire Audio Vega is extremely well built, just like any other Campfire product. It also appears to be one of the smallest top of the line IEM at this point in time. I’m not going to spend too much time on this, as anyone who has done any research on the Vega would know that it has a liquid metal chassis, a dense, strong and hard metal. True to Campfire’s claims, I have found the Vega’s shape, finish and material to be much more durable than the previous flagship, the Andromeda. Don’t get me wrong, the Andromega isn’t going to stop working, but the glorious green finish tends to come off a little in the corners, understandably so. It is my understanding that Campfire has revised the material for most of that line up, and with the Andromeda, the finish has been modified to allow for better durability. However, the Vega has stood almost 6 months of daily usage at this point in time with minimal signs of physical wear.
The Vega is very small. This works both for and against it in my experience. I’m not someone who typically has problems with universal IEMs, so use that to give you a little context. Being small, the Vega’s body doesn’t quite touch my ear. This is great, because this means that pressure points do not build up, and I don’t get sore spots on my ears. The disadvantage is this. On some days, when my skin is dry, the silicone buds aren’t so grippy on my skin. The lack of contact of the body of the earphone means that the earphones start sliding out. Now as far as I have heard, no one else seems to have this problem, so I may be the only one. Otherwise, once I get a fit, it’s great. And doesn’t cause me any discomfort.
Isolation is pretty average for an IEM. Not as good as something like the shures or the westones, but pretty decent, and I am able to enjoy a good listen on the public transport.
Campfire’s always stood out to me as a brand. An impeccable construction, beautiful industrial design, and a slightly less conventional way of doing things. The Vega is no different. The matt silver finish of the liquid metal is currently one of my favourites.
I’ll be writing about the Vega’s sound on the stock cable, as that is what it comes with. For my personal tastes however, the stock cable isn’t my favourite of pairings, and I’ll be attempting to describe the characteristics of the cable at the later part of the review, as well as the potential of the Vega with different cables.
Speakers with diamond tweeters often have a very airy, extended and sparkly top end. Imagine my surprise then when I put the Vegas into my ears.
The Vega is very different from anything I have heard before, It’s got a rich, lush and forward sound, very organic and musical, yet detailed and resolving at the same time. It’s a very emotive sound, one of the most engaging earphones I’ve heard just yet. It resolves complex passages very well, and never sounds congested. It has a stage that is wider than it is deep. Despite its forward sound and instrument placement however, you can still hear the space expanding pretty far out in all directions. Most earphones tuned in this manner lag behind on the technical front. The Vega doesn’t. Not only that, it’s got an incredible amount of control on the low end, something I find to be pretty remarkable.
The Vega manages to image like very few earphones I’ve heard. In fact, I’ve only really heard the best hybrids and dynamic earphones do this. While balanced armatures often give a very pinpoint and precise image, the best dynamics I feel often are able to reproduce a more realistic, visceral image. Instead of merely hearing the placement of the sound, it allows you to feel the presence of the instrument or the person creating that sound. I’m not certain if that comes from the tuning, but the Vega does it very well. The best way I can describe it, is that there is a certain physicality to the sound, you can almost feel it physically hitting you. I have yet to hear BAs give that character in the sound.
The Vega is pretty smooth in its upper registers. It’s extended, but it isn’t super sparkly or airy. To my ears, however, it does have a certain peak which can, on some songs, present with sibilance. It isn’t a sibilant earphone by any measure, but the peak is there. The presence of the peak also depends on the tips used. Ken recommends foam tips with the Vegas and this really helps smoothen the peak out, but personally, I prefer silicone tips, as it helps create an airier, more sparkly sound that lies more in line with my personal preferences. In any case, it’s a pretty gentle top end and that’s something you have to know when you’re going for the Vega.
The midrange is very thick and forward, and very lush indeed. It carries a certain weight to the sound, with an emphasis on the lower midrange. Vocals are lent a little more weight than I hear on other earphones, but it sounds lovely. Midrange textures are also rendered in a very natural manner. It gives a very immediate and intimate sound. Instruments have lots of body and power behind them as well as a result.
Now the bass of the Vega is something that everyone talks about, and for good reason. The Vega is a bassy earphone, unapologetically so. It has a pretty significantly boosted bass quantity. It extends incredibly deep, and the sub bass rumble is thunderous when called upon. Despite the quantity of the bass, it isn’t fat. In fact, it is remarkably well controlled for something with such a large quantity of bass. It’s not the quickest, but it is reasonably tight and controlled. The bass slams very hard, one of the hardest I’ve heard in an earphone. I spoke a little about the physicality of the Vega previously, and this is one area where the Vega never ceases to amaze me. When called upon, the Vega’s bass crashes upon you like a giant wall. It may not have the largest driver, but it sure does slam the heck out of songs.
I absolutely love the Vega, but as it stands, it’s not a sound for everyone. If you’re expecting shimmery, airy highs, a tight and quick bass or a more uncoloured sound, the Vega isn’t going to do it for you, and you’re better off going with another earphone.
Now remember what I said about cable pairing? Those of you who don’t believe in cables, feel free to skip this segment. I would however, still recommend you give it a go, because the Litz stock cable has a very strong character to its sound. It’s incredibly forward, smooth up top and thick in the midrange and the bass. While I believe in cables, this is one of the few times I’ve heard such a large effect of cables on the sound. In fact, I would go as far as to say that a large amount of the Vega’s character is actually contributed by the cable.
The Dita Audio Truth cable is one of my favourites, and is a cable I use on most of my top earphones. Just a brief description of the truth cable, it lies slightly on the leaner side in the midrange, has a very sparkly and airy top end, and a slightly boosted, but very tight bass. It also sounds very open, pushes things back and opens the soundstage up, and is one of the most detailed, transparent cable’s I’ve heard to date.
With this cable, the Vega changes quite drastically. It is no longer a really forward sound, the soundstage expands remarkably, and while the bass remains boosted, the midrange becomes more linear, and the highs take on a much more shimmery character. Now you don’t need to get the truth cable. I’ve tried a couple of other silver cables, and they do seem to shift the Vega in a similar direction. With the Truth cable, the Vega also becomes very resolving. It’s not the king of the hill in this regard, I don’t think that ever was its aim. It does come pretty close though, and is definitely among the best.
The Vega isn’t for everyone. It’s a coloured earphone, with a very strong character, and you will either love it, or you won’t. If you’re looking for an emotive, rich and musical sound though, you should definitely give it a shot. It is all around an incredibly well designed product, not just in the sound, but down to the fit and the finish. If your preferences match what I describe above, then I think you’re in for a treat with the Vega.
Pros - overall sound, especially bass and treble; stage, especially depth; design, wear comfort, build quality
Cons - require lots of tips rolling to find best option; source picky
Campfire Audio are a perfect example of brand development from scratch. Their IEMs lineup blew the market up, offering excellent quality for reasonable money. First 3 models — Lyra, Orion and Jupiter became a huge success, but CA continued expanding their lineup and offered full range of IEMs with unique single dynamic driver model Vega as a flagship. In this review, I'll share my impressions about Vega.
First of all, I'd like to thank Campfire Audio for providing me a sample in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
Usually, at the review's beginning, I should write about 50 lines of text, describing the box, IEMs design and unboxing impressions. I won't do this because you can easily see all that in few photos, saving read time. So, I'll try to be as laconic as possible in this part. Vega's retail price is $1300, so creators did their best to provide as much value as possible.
The box is standard for all CA products: small, plain cardboard box with stylish polygraph. Inside you'll get IEMs themselves (quite surprising, isn't it?), a perfect leather case for storage, three pairs of foams (different sizes), three pairs of single-flange silicone tips (also assorted), standard pack with spinfits, cleaning brush and metal badge with CA logo.
Earphones build quality is also superb. CA uses "liquid metal" alloy to cast small and comfortable cases that will fit any ears with ease. With appropriately selected tips you can wear them long without any traces of discomfort or fatigue. Sound isolation is on average level typical for this form-factor: it will be enough for almost any circumstances except noisiest ones (plane, subway, Formula-1 racing track, etc.).
Of course, Vegas have replaceable cable with MMCX connector. Creators have found probably best possible connectors with beryllium plating, offering excellent durability. New stock cables are softer than old tinsel wire, and this adds even more comfort in wearing. Definitely, CA's cables are one of the most comfortable wires available on the market: soft, lightweight, easy to untangle.
But let's go back to what's important: sound.
For this IEMs evaluation, I've used following gear.
- NuPrime DAC-10H and Resonessence Labs Concero HP as DAC/amps
- Apple MacBook Pro Retina 2016 as a source
- Audirvana+ as a player
- Lotoo PAW Gold, A&K AK320, TheBit OPUS#2, iBasso DX200 as DAPs
I've given earphones about 100 hours of burn-in before evaluation.
I'm not sure, should I say that proper tips selection is very important here? It's obvious for all IEMs, but for TOTL ones it's crucial. I've tried different options, but stock single flange silicon tips gave me the best possible sound (at least to my taste).
Campfire Audio decided that they don't want to make "typical" neutral sounding IEMs (they have Lyra II for such sound fans), so Vegas are colored IEMs, but they are a perfect example of coloration done right.
Bass. A lot of basses, it's punchy, it's weighty, it's controlling well. Despite that, bass in this IEMs stays below the level where it became bloating and muddy. Lows here aren't fastest, and they are a bit smoothed (a really tiny bit) to sound meatier. Anyway, bass here is fast enough to provide perfect texture representation and exceptional instruments separation.
Mids are a bit recessed, and upper mids are slightly smoothed to make the sound even more "fun." Vega entirely separates vocal and move it forward, giving listener overwhelming sense of imaginary stage depth. Width is also good, but a bit narrower then Andromeda's. Mids resolution is good, but not absolute, like in balanced armature IEMs. I think this smoothing is done on purpose, as it perfectly fits general sound representation.
Treble is designed to balance lows and succeed in that. Highs here are prominent and have splendid resolution and attacks. Despite treble's quantity, it's not fatiguing and doesn't sound harsh. Highs here perfectly complement lows, giving a good overall balance. Treble in Vega shines, especially with high-quality recordings, having lots of treble details.
Of course, they are exceptionally picky when it comes to source selection. These earphones need immaculate control all over whole frequencies, but most of all I liked them with A&K. Its signature mids gives perfect synergy with this IEMs. Another good option is iBasso's new DX200, with it Vegas became fun bass cannon.
Style-wise, these earphones sound better with jazz, classical music, rock — styles where "fun" sound is better then "correct." But anyway, it's subjective and is a matter of taste.
So, to summarize all the above. Vegas are unusual earphones with unique and tasty sound. Of course, this sound representation isn't "one size fits all," but it's the best IEMs with colored sound, offering excellent built quality and unusual, engaging presentation. There are lots of fans of this model, and I definitely can understand them.
P.S. As usual, I've also made a fist impressions video.
Pros - BASS, resolving detailed organic sound, unique shell material, premium ALO cable, leather case, accessories.
Cons - the sound is eartip depended, the bass quality could be source dependent.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion. The review was originally posted on my blog, and now I would like to share it with all my readers on Head-fi.
Manufacturer website: CA Vega.
* click on images to expand.
The design of single dynamic driver (DD) IEMs is a dying art. I’m not saying that multi-BA or hybrid designs are a piece of cake, after all it's not easy to bring together number of different drivers under an umbrella of a coherent tuning. But in my opinion, the task of finding and tuning a single wide bandwidth dynamic driver is a real challenge because you are dealing with only one building block. Just look back at all the IEM releases from the last 4-5 years. Typically, DD is associated with earbuds or budget IEMs, and lately it became a part of many hybrid designs. Only a small handful of manufacturers stepped up to the plate and delivered TOTL single DD flagship IEMs, with Campfire Audio (CA) being one of them.
It did come to me as a bit of a surprise when CA announced their next flagship model. After my review of CA Andromeda and PM exchanges on Head-fi with Ken Ball, who is running ALO and Campfire Audio along with his VP Caleb Rosenau, I already knew that Ken and Caleb think outside of the box. 5xBA Andromeda was released almost a year ago, and it’s still in the spotlight of many audiophile and audio enthusiast’s discussions. For some reason, I thought the next logical step after Andromeda would be a hybrid design with an additional DD, but instead Ken surprised us with an announcement of the next flagship utilizing only DD.
Per CA website, Vega is not an ordinary design with off-the-shelf components. The power is drawn from a very compact neodymium magnet (3.8mm x 1.2mm x 1.3mm) which provides the magnetic field for the 8.5mm driver, just 9um thick and coated with ADLC non-crystalline diamond-carbon material. And if that wasn’t enough, they also introduced world’s first liquid alloy metal earphone housing. This liquid alloy offers a superior mechanical strength, even higher than titanium, high level of resistance to scratching and dents, anti-corrosion resistance, and very important – excellent damping and vibration characteristics. The housing of DD shell plays important role in sound shaping, and Ken and Caleb went straight for the kill with a synergy of two worlds’ first: non-crystalline diamond DD and liquid alloy metal housing.
All this reads great on a paper and feels premium in your hands, and along with quality accessories justifies more than enough the asking price of this flagship, but at the end of the day it’s all about the sound performance and the challenge of a single DD tuning. Was CA able to deliver it? Let’s find out.
With Andromeda review behind me, unboxing experience of Vega turned out to be nearly identical, so I will quote some of it here in unboxing, accessories, and the cable sections.
Arrived in a compact sturdy cardboard packaging, there was something about this box that felt rather crafty. I’m not talking about rough edges or sloppy construction, but something different that stands out from a traditional glossy packaging with flashy images and spec bullets. It was the sense of a custom touch, exactly what goes behind all Campfire Audio products. All CA models come in similar boxes with the only difference being the picture and the color which reflects the theme of the corresponding model. The entire CA lineup is named around constellations, stars, and planets – something you would naturally enjoy by the campfire at night while looking at the starry skies!
With the box cover lifted, you’ll find a custom dark leather zippered case hosting earphones and the cable. Don’t assume that all accessories will be inside of the case. The bottom of the packaging box comes out like a secret trapdoor with the rest of the accessories hidden underneath. Considering such a small compact packaging, you will be surprised how much it fits in when everything is out of the box
I still find the leather case and the premium cable to be the highlights of the accessories, but more goodies were included. You get a set of generic foam eartips (S/M/L) and another set of soft cap shallow silicone tips (S/M/L). While Andromeda included a set of genuine Comply tips, Vega replaced it with a set of genuine silicone SpinFits eartips (XS/S/M/L). These eartips are not cheap and lately became quite popular, so I think it was a great idea to include them stock. Also, you will find a cleaning tool with a magnetic tip (can attach it to your desktop audio components or somewhere else where it’s easy to find it), and a custom pin with Campfire Audio logo to show your fanboy/girl support.
When it comes to the leather case, it’s fully custom, premium quality, and lined with a soft fleece material on the inside. The case has a hard shell to protect your investment during transportation, and once you unzip it – opens like a coin wallet with protected sides so nothing falls out. Some might find it an overkill, but even with a liquid alloy finish of the shells, you don’t want these to toss and slide inside of the case. Thus, a fleece lining is not just for the looks but also to protect the shell finish. And if that’s not enough, Vega arrived with two little drawstring pouches in red velvet material to protect each shell individually.
For those familiar with ALO Audio, another Ken’s company which is a parent of Campfire Audio, you probably aware that in addition to amplifiers he also makes custom cables. Though some of his earlier CA releases featured tinsel wire, starting with Andromeda he introduced all new stock 3.5mm Litz SPC (silver plated copper) cable.
I usually consider replacement cable for sonic improvement rather than the looks, but in this case both goals were met. Starting with a translucent (frosted) 90-deg gold plated jack, you can take a glimpse inside to see how wires are soldered, and the rubbery housing has a nice grip with a decent strain relief. The 4 braided wire conductors have silver finish with a medical grade PVC jacket, and the cable still feels soft and pliable. Four separate wires also mean that ground of each earpiece is isolated down to the connector, which is asking for a balanced cable jack. As a matter of fact, now ALO also offers 2.5mm TRRS balanced wired version of Litz SPC cable which I have been using interchangeably with Vega. While testing Vega with these cables, the microphonics was down to minimum.
The y-splitter is slim and aluminum, like a silver bullet, and it has a clear plastic chin slider which retracts back into 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 have a traditional stiff piece of a memory wire wrapped in a soft flexible clear heat-shrink 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.
The same matching mmcx beryllium copper alloy connector is used in the shell of Vega, and you get snappy and secure attachment. Mmcx connectors have a bad rep due to intermittent contact issues or while accumulating 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. Just a matter of personal preference, but I like to put earpieces in first and then wrap the cable over my ears without distraction of moving ear hook.
I probably going to disappoint some of my readers who are used to me featuring pair ups with different aftermarket cables, but like Andromeda I also found Vega to have a perfect synergy with SPC Litz cable. To my ears, ALO Ref8 gives some improvement in clarity and resolution, but it also enhanced the mid-bass impact which I found a bit overwhelming with some songs. Going with Pure Silver cables added too much sparkle to the sound which can push upper mids to a harsher tonality. Pure Copper gave more body to the sound which can take away from resolution. I have a few other flagship cables, but was unable to test them due to 2pin connectors.
At the end, this is another example where I kept coming back to the stock ALO SPC Litz cable which to my ears provided the best balance between low end impact and upper mids/treble brightness.
Single ended vs balanced termination:
I already listed the highlights of Vega design in the intro of my review. Everything from a compact neodymium magnet to 9 um thick ADLC coated non-crystalline diamond-carbon material are part of a unique 8.5mm single wide bandwidth driver which fits inside of a very compact liquid alloy metal housing design. The housing has a neutral colored “clear sky” finish, smooth rounded corners, and no more complaining about bold colors like some had with Andromeda. You still have beryllium copper mmcx connector securely inside of the shell, used with all CA IEMs. On a side of the shell, you will find a vent for a dynamic driver, though the port itself is plastic with a small pinhole opening – reassuring a flex free driver performance.
The nozzle is angled and made of a hard plastic material. The top of the nozzle has a lip to keep eartips from sliding off, important design element. The tip of the nozzle is covered with a fine metal mesh to keep your earwax away. Also, you will find CA logo symbol on the faceplate, while inner side of the shell has a clearly stamped L/R marking.
The design is small, compact, and very comfortable. With a rounded “liquid” edges it feels very nice to the touch, and the small shell doesn’t put any pressure inside of your ear. In comparison to Andromeda, it’s almost half the size. But despite its small shells, don’t expect to be able to put your head down on a pillow because due to a nozzle length they stick out just enough for you to feel them with your ear on a pillow.
The expected way to wear Vega is with wire up over your ears, but if you are brave enough to remove memory wire (not an easy task since memory wire is soldered inside of the connector, and you can easy damage it and void the warranty) – you can wear it wire down. With a right selection of eartips to keep it secure inside of your earcanal, it worked quite well and I still had an excellent isolation and no sound leakage. Personally, if you are not a fan of memory wires, I would contact CA and talk to them about modifying it for you.
And speaking of eartips, after reading some posts on Head-fi with people referencing their test tracks and mentioning about sibilance, I decided to test Vega with Spinfits, Spiral Dots, and Ken's foam tips to figure out what’s going on. I’m very sensitive to bright frequencies and usually can’t tolerate it. While listening to some of the poorly recorded tracks, I was still unable to hear any irritating sibilance, though I did hear pronunciation of "sss" being a little more accentuated in some words. It was more noticeable with Spiral Dots due to a wide bore and lack of "filtering" like you have with Spinfits. The foam eartips also had a little wider bore, but to my ears the sound was closer to Spinfits performance.
I confirmed the same across multiple DAP sources while tip rolling between these 3 pairs. Spinfits and Foamies had a closer sound, while Spiral Dots always sounded brighter. Obviously, it’s a subjective opinion based on my sound preference and ear anatomy, but I want people to be aware that it’s not just a design of the Vega but an equation with other variables including a design of selected eartips and your individual earcanal anatomy which acts like a filter. I’m not dismissing concerns of those people who think there could be an issue, but rather suggesting there is a solution if you try different eartips, preferably with a narrower bore opening.
SpinFits vs Foam tips vs SpiralDots (took these pictures during the day, with a different background lighting).
After 200hrs of burn in, I found Vega to have a smooth, natural, resolving tonality with a signature that pushes L-shaped boundary. It has a full bodied lush sound enhanced with a sub-bass rumble and mid-bass punch that can put a smile even on a face of a certified basshead, but at the same time you can clearly hear a rather detailed natural resolving mids and well defined treble in a single dynamic driver that feels like a hybrid with a separate sub-woofer. While listening to Vega, I could easily shift the focus from sub-/mid-bass to mids and back without being distracted. The impact of the bass doesn't come into play until its being called for. For example, in instrumental, vocal, or live acoustic performance tracks where you don't have a pounding 4x4 bass drum beat - the power of a strong bass impact will not be fully unleashed, though the bass gives a natural body to acoustic instruments. But once you switch to EDM and Urban pop hits, the bass will come alive with analog power.
In more details, Vega has a deep low end extension with a noticeable sub-bass rumble and a strong impact of a visceral mid-bass. The bass is pure analog, with a slower attack and a longer decay, the kind of bass you can both hear and feel, like floor standing speakers. I wouldn't say it's a very well-controlled bass like you’ll find with BA drivers, but at the same time it doesn't spill into lower mids, just gives some weight to mids by adding more body, and surprisingly not muddying the sound. I found Vega's bass scale up with more power, and while switching my sources to high gain I noticed low end becoming more controlled, with cleaner edges around note on/off transitions. I'm not sure if the higher gain brings up mids a little more forward while balancing out the low end, or the bass itself gets affected, but either way I found marginal improvement in bass performance with some of my sources in high gain.
The lower mids have full body, complimented by clear and detailed organic upper mids. Mids are warm and smooth, not veiled or congested. They are not revealing or analytical, but have a great resolution, natural tonality, and instrument separation, though not as much layering. Vocals, both male and female, sound a little warmer but still realistic to my ears. I gotta admit, I didn't expect this level of details and resolution from IEM which is tuned so smooth. It's a totally different beast with plenty of clarity and details, just not micro-details.
Treble also has plenty of clarity, great definition, and a moderate amount of crunch, sparkle, and airiness, but it's under control and with SpinFits there is no harshness or sibilance. With a wide-bore opening eartips (Spiral Dots), I can hear more brightness and some of my sibilant test-tracks were more pronounced, so I would recommend staying with either SpinFits or Foam tips. As I already mentioned, I have read a few comments with people questioning if Vega is sibilant. My ears are very sensitive to brightness and sibilance, and with a right selection of eartips I had absolutely no issues, and could enjoy fatigue-free listening for hours.
Vega has a super wide soundstage expansion, also with plenty of depth and height. The depth is not exactly far out of your head, but you don't feel like being too close to the performer and can appreciate the natural 3D space of the sound. I typically notice that for me a brighter treble with more airiness can improve the perception of soundstage expansion. Vega doesn't have a bright airy treble, meaning we are talking about the actual physical performance of a single dynamic driver which spreads the sound wide around you, not just a perception of it.
With such wide staging, you can also expect a decent imaging with an accurate placement of instruments and vocals, and the accuracy of the positioning was rather convincing. In some songs, you do have to shift your focus to mids (from the bass) to appreciate the quality of imaging and sound positioning.
For me personally, layering and separation go together, while in case of Vega I find a rather good separation of instruments and vocals where I can shift my focus to easily distinguish everything, but the layering and transparency of the sound was typical of a smooth lush signature where it's not exactly on a high level like you would find in analytically tuned revealing IEMs.
In the following comparison, I made sure to keep both IEMs under test matched close in volume, and disable EQ and effects in my sources.
Vega vs Andromeda - Vega has a wider soundstage, while the depth is the same. Vega has a deeper low end extension with more sub-bass rumble and higher impact of mid-bass. Andro doesn't lack in bass department, but in comparison its bass feels more balanced and less enhanced. Both have similar fuller body lower mids, while Vega is a little thicker due to higher low end impact. To my ears, both have a very similar detailed organic upper mids with a very similar characteristic of the sound. Lots of similarities in treble as well, except Andro has a little more sparkle and airiness. The main difference I hear between these two is the impact/extension of the sub-/mid-bass where Vega is clearly dominating. That should be the main deciding factor when choosing between these two Campfire Audio flagships.
Vega vs SEM9 - Vega has a wider staging, while SEM9 has more depth. Vega has a deeper sub-bass rumble and a touch more mid-bass punch, while SEM9 bass feels leaner and faster in comparison. Lower mids are a little thinner in SEM9, while Vega has more body, and upper mids are also a little brighter and thinner in comparison to more organic lusher Vega mids. Treble was very close in comparison.
Vega vs U12 w/M15 - Vega has a wider staging, while U12 has more depth. Vega has a deeper sub-bass rumble with more quantity, while the mid-bass is similar, though U12 is a little faster due to BA drivers. Vega has just a touch more body in lower mids while upper mids are a little smoother and more organic in comparison to U12 being a little brighter and more transparent in comparison. Vega's treble is a little crisper with a touch more sparkle in comparison while both have a similar definition.
Vega vs DITA w/TWau mod - Vega has a little wider staging, while DITA has a little more depth. DITA has a similar quality of rumble, but can't match the quantity of Vega sub-bass. Vega also has a little more mid-bass punch. DITA lower mids are leaner and upper mids are brighter, thinner, and more transparent in comparison to a fuller body lower mids of Vega and a smoother and more natural organic upper mids of Vega. When it comes to treble, even so Vega has a good definition and crunch, DITA extends further and has more airiness.
Vega vs W900 - Vega has a touch wider staging, while W900 has a little more depth. The mid-bass punch between Vega and W900 is nearly the same, though W900 is a touch faster, and both have a very similar sub-bass rumble but Vega's sub-bass has more quantity which adds more weight to the bass in comparison. Lower mids are similar, though Vega has just a touch more body, while W900 has more revealing and transparent upper mids where Vega felt warmer and smoother in comparison. Both have a similar treble in terms of definition and sparkle, but W900 treble extends a lot further in comparison. I'm currently using W900 with 1960 4-wire cable which gives advantage to the sound, but with its original SPC cable the sound is warmer and smoother, bringing mids closer to Vega.
Vega vs Pinnacle 1 - Very similar soundstage, in both width and depth. Mid-bass punch is a little stronger in Vega, while sub-bass once again goes to Vega with a more superior rumble quantity. Lower mids body is a little fuller in Vega, while P1 is a bit leaner, and P1 upper mids are thinner, brighter, a little more analytical, while Vega is smoother, more natural and organic. P1 treble is also thinner, brighter, and with more airiness while Vega treble is smoother and more controlled.
Vega vs W80 - Vega has a little wider soundstage, while both have the same depth. Vega has more sub-bass rumble and a little stronger mid-bass punch, while W80 bass is less aggressive though mid-bass is a little faster. W80 lower mids are a little leaner in comparison to a full body Vega, and upper mids in W80 are a little smoother and a touch more organic. Vega's upper mids are a little brighter and the same goes for treble were Vega's treble is brighter and crisper in comparison to a smoother W80 treble.
Vega vs Zeus XRA - Totally different signature and technical performance, not even close, but I will mention it here anyway because I know people will ask for it. Zeus and Vega are both great in their own way, per their unique tuning. It will not make sense to compare neutral-revealing more mid-forward sound of Zeus to a more L-shaped full body lush organic Vega, especially when one (Zeus) has a neutral bass with more overall revealing transparency while the other (Vega) has a beautifully texture deep bass slam and organic smooth tonality.
Vega vs Andromeda.
In my testing, I used SpinFits which attenuate upper frequency harshness, and I also volume matched while gain switching. In general, due to sensitivity of 102 dB and impedance of 17.5 ohms, Vega is not hard to drive, though you do need to push volume a little higher to compensate for slightly lower sensitivity, and as I already mentioned – in some cases bass performance scales up in high gain.
Lotoo Paw Gold - super wide/deep staging, smooth clear full body sound with a deep low end impact and excellent retrieval of details in mids along with a great treble definition. Switching from low gain to high gain slightly attenuates sub-bass impact while keeping the same quality of rumble.
DX200 - super wide/deep staging, smooth clear full body sound. Bass has a deep sub-bass rumble, and a faster mid-bass punch, lower mids are a little closer to neutral and upper mids are very detailed and clear. Treble is crisp and well defined. Switching to high gain, bass is more under control, tighter, a little less aggressive, and mids are a little more forward. Excellent pair up.
Opus#2 - wide/deep staging, smooth clear full body sound. Bass hits hard, especially sub-bass rumble, and mids are slightly pushed back. Treble is crisp and detailed. But once I switched to high gain, bass attenuates a little bit, not as boomy, and mids came more forward, balancing out the sound.
FiiO X7 w/AM3 - super wide/deep staging, smooth detailed full body sound with a nice sub-bass extension and faster mid-bass punch. Here, the bass was not as overwhelming, and when switching to high gain, it balanced out very nicely with upper mids that have a great retrieval of details. Treble was crisp and well defined. I did enjoy this pair ups.
Plenue M2 - wide/deep staging, sound is too smooth, too much body. Bass is too boomy in either low or high gains. Mids are too laid back, smooth, and treble has a nice definition and sparkle, but overall sound sig is too L-shaped to enjoy upper mids and treble. Of course, with JetEffects you can sculpture the sound to perfection, but without dsp effects it wasn't my favorite pair up.
AK120ii - wide/deep staging, smooth detailed sound with a better controlled bass, still a great impact of mid-bass and a nice sub-bass rumble, but bass is not too much in your face. Lower mids have full body, but sound cleaner, and upper mids is revealing and nicely balanced. Treble is crisp and well defined. Surprisingly, this was another great pair up.
Cayin i5 - super wide/deep staging, smooth clear full body sound with a deep low end impact and strong mid-bass punch, lower mids have a nice full body and upper mids are clear and detailed, but pushed a little back. As soon as I switched to high gain, bass became more controlled, not too much in your face, and mids came up and became more detailed, more revealing. Treble is crisp and well defined.
FiiO X5iii - wide/deep staging, smooth clear full body warm sound, bass is a little too boomy, spilling into mids, while upper mids are pushed back and a little less detailed. Once I switched to high gain, bass settle down a bit, became tighter and faster, and not as aggressive, while mids came up, being more detailed and brighter. Treble is crisp and well defined.
iDSD Micro - super wide/deep staging, smooth full body detailed sound, keeping it in Normal gain, bass has a great sub-bass rumble with a nice fast mid-bass punch, but bass is not as aggressive, nice impact but not overwhelming. Lower mids have a nice full body but not as thick. Upper mids have a great retrieval of details, very organic and clear. Treble is crisp and well defined. Excellent pair up.
Galaxy Note 4 - soundstage still wide/deep, but not as wide as other daps, though definitely above average. The bass is deep and with a noticeable level of impact, but I don't hear it as overwhelming. Mids are full bodied, clear, smooth. Treble is a little smoother as well, not as crisp or airy, but well defined. Over all, sound is more L-shaped, but surprisingly not too congested. It's not as resolving as with other higher res DAPs, but still not bad for a smartphone.
Andromeda and Vega - two flagship releases with each being a homerun for Campfire Audio. I’m enjoying both and lately find myself using Vega more often. I guess we all go through different listening cycles where sometimes we want more neutral revealing signature, and other times something more balanced. And on some occasions, you want to feed your inner-basshead craving to satisfy a guilty pleasure of deeper low end extension and more aggressive mid-bass punch. That’s where Vega comes into play with its unique smooth, resolving, and very natural tonality enhanced with an excellent sub-bass rumble and dynamic quality mid-bass punch. And if you are allergic to extra bass, Vega responds well to EQ. I recently reviewed another pair of IEMs where I admitted about not being a fan of EQ, but I didn’t mind enhancing the bass to finetune the sound. Here, it’s an opposite experience where if I get tired of sub-bass, I can always apply a little bit of EQ cut. But for now, I’m enjoying the sound way too much to even think about it. And of course, you can’t talk about the sound quality without mentioning the technology behind it, with world’s first non-crystalline diamond-carbon coated driver and liquid alloy metal housing. Vega sound signature and design are quite unique, and if it’s your cup of tea – hold on to that cup when you hit the play!
Pros - Great resolution, great non-IEM-like treble, clear mids and bass, great coherency, small size, high quality materials and cable.
Cons - Some people wrong like the endlessly swivelling MMCX connector. Bass and v-shaped sound can be too much with some music.
It's not unusual to find a headphone or IEM manufacturer to branch out into making their own amps, and then their own cables, but Ken Ball is one of two people who have gone in reverse, at first making after-market headphone cables, then amps and DACs, and now IEMs.
To that end he has been quite successful with his range of balanced-armature IEMs, topped by the Andromeda. It was to my great surprise to hear that he had designed a range of dynamic IEMs as well.
When I go to the Tokyo Headphone festivals, I get asked to try a LOT of gear. I don't doubt that I could come home from the show, if I desired, with a few dozen pairs of IEMs if I desired. Not only would I have to review them all, but I'd probably have to do so not liking many of them. Out of everything I try, very little ends up inspiring me enough that I'd want to, and feel good recommending them. In the case of the Vegas, my first impressions at the show were overwhelmingly positive, so I immediately asked Ken if I could review a pair.
The pair used in this review is the same one that Anakchan reviewed, after which he sent them to me.
Similarly when I first tried Dita Audio's The Answer I was impressed by what they'd managed to get out of a single dynamic driver. However I felt that the best results had been from Tralucent Audio's 1plus2, which combined a dynamic with a balanced armature. At the time I still hadn't heard treble as good as one could get from a well-designed balanced armature IEM. The Tralucent was no doubt helped by the quality cable which cost more than the IEMs themselves.
That is one area where Campfire Audio did well with their range: The cables. I've had too many pairs of IEMs that didn't shine until the cable was upgraded, most often because they turned green inside and the sound became harsh and unpleasant. No such problems with the Andromedas which have a sweet treble that previously I'd only experienced on top-of-the-line IEMs from JH Audio and Ultimate Ears.
One area the dynamic driver IEMs have a great advantage is in the bass delivery. They seem to be able to deliver both quantity and quality at the same time. As well, they don't have to be large, so a single dynamic driver IEM can be simpler and even smaller, which is true in the case of the Vega versus the Andromeda. That leaves us with the actual technology. From the Campfire Audio site, the Vega has:
– World’s First 8.5mm non-crystalline Diamond Dynamic Driver
– World’s First Liquid Alloy Metal Earphone Housing
– Highest sound conduction velocity of any IEM driver
– Premium Litz Wire cable; Silver-plated-Copper Conductors
Adding to that is the beryllium copper MMCX connector intended to ensure a reliable cable connection over a longer time (not that, given the quality of the stock cable, you need to ever replace it for sonic reasons at least) and Ken's focus on hand-checking everything carefully for quality and you have what comes across as a very seriously designed and made product.
Given the impressive-sounding features, I'm almost surprised (but glad) he didn't charge $2000 for it, given the market.
If I appreciate the attitude of the manufacturer, it's because I also appreciate the result. Let me put it in perspective. Not long ago I reviewed the $50 Meze 11, another single-dynamic-driver IEM, which has no right to be as capable as it is, let alone as well-made. It was capable of picking out the difference between DAPs over and under $1000. Now imagine I'm just as surprised by the Vegas, as $1,200. Everything I've disliked about dynamic-driver IEMs isn't there.
The ergonomics, to start with, are pretty good for comfort but a bit troublesome when trying to get them to stay in place. Much smaller than the Andromedas, and more round, they are pretty small. The ear-tip section of the housing is plastic, and angled forward slightly (assuming the plugs point forward from one's ears) for the optimum insertion direction. The endlessly swivelling MMCX connector is a bit annoying. I find that I have to use the choker to hold the cable in place. This is troublesome on the optional Reference 8 cable as it is too thick for the choker to slide easily and so I have to rely on the memory wire. As my ears sometimes have issues getting a good seal with silicon tips, it takes me a bit of fiddling if I don't want to lose all the bass, which is what happens with a dynamic driver IEM.
By default, the Vegas come with long-nozzle foam tips, and default to a particular sound as a result. Initial impressions are of thundering bass. If you listen to anything with a strong bass line, look out if you turn the volume up. The bass is clean with precision and doesn't interfere with the mids in more than quantity. Compared with other tips, the treble is let down slightly by the long nozzles. The overall tone reminds me of the Fostex TH900s, but with more detail.
Switching to SpinFit tips doesn't change things much, as the nozzle width is similar, but may be more comfortable. The real changes came with JVC's Spiral Dot tips, which use a series of indents on the inside to reduce sound turbulence. The treble is brought out more and presented more cleanly, but ends up a bit stronger than ideal. The thunder is also turned down a degree. While sibilance comes out in tracks, the quality of the treble is good enough with this combination that it didn't end up bothering me where it usually might.
Upgrading to the Reference 8 cable spreads the tonal balance out more, making it more even, especially with the Spiral Dot tips. Then the result is a quite spacious, somewhat v-shaped sound with delicious treble, still with quite a strong bass presence but without as much intrusion as before.
Clarity at this point, no doubt emphasised by the treble, is on a degree that I found it easier to distinguish the differences in some gear using the Vegas and Reference 5 than the HE1000 V2 and Studio Six, even if for enjoyment I'd rather listen with full-size headphones. For example, using my Pico Power as the amp, the dead-neutral and slightly forward presentation of the amp is clear versus the more relaxed and subtle Continental V5. When it came to battling off the Cozoy Rei with Chord's Hugo, the characteristics of each were readily more apparent listening with the Vegas. Not to mention, the difference between my iPhone direct and via the Mojo was startling.
Until recently I didn't think that dynamic-driver IEMs could be as good as what I have experienced with the Vegas, which makes them another sure hit for Ken.
Pros - Seriously musically enjoyable signature that has a classy bass thump wow one's ears yet to maintain a nice airy treble extension
Cons - A little pricey however sonically very rewarding if one had the budget for it
Thank you's This pair of Campfire Audio Vega is courtesy of @KB for review and to be passed around to others for their review. I blame @Currawong for putting me onto this 'cos I initially had no plans to review the Vega's at all this until Amos asked me for help to pick them up from Ken Ball at the e-earphone Winter 2016 Porta Fes show and to ship to him as he couldn't make it himself. I used the Vega's as the main earphone to demo the other DAP/Amp products and comparisons to other earphones at the e-earphone Winter 2016 Porta Fes show.
And how I'm hooked on the the Vega's, it'll be sad to see them go to Amos but will be excited to see his thoughts and review of it.
Introduction The Campfire Audio Vega is the world’s first 8.5mm non-crystalline Diamond Dynamic Driver in a liquid alloy metal housing. In this current day and age where different makers are putting in more drivers, mixing balanced armature and hybrids, or putting in different configurations of dynamic driver pairs, the Vega has gone for a very simplistic single driver approach.
However the quality of sound it produces simply has to be heard to be believed. It challenges a lot of other makers (and in my opinion, even other Campfire Audio offerings) that more isn’t always better. It shows that with the right design and construction what a single dynamic driver can do.
Design Unlike the Andromeda model which has more F117-like angular lines, the Vega has gone for what I feel to be a more eclectic design. It’s beautifully finished with with a simpler semi circular curve mixed with an odd angular bend and bevelled design to remind one it has a very modern touch to it. It’s small and fits in the ear easily, with very little fiddling. Despite having a port at the top it has decent isolation.
Once in my ears, it just disappears and I forget it’s there. In short it's s simple classy design and very practical to use.
Sonics The first thing that hit me when I popped the Vegas into my ears is “Wow the impact of that sub bass!!”. It definitely grabs one’s attention, yet it’s a classy presentation. There’s sufficient decay to enjoy the sub-bass but not excessively so. The mid bass is also quite tight and doesn’t bleed into the mids which to my ears is just a hair touch laid back and comes back in the trebles which is sparkly and airy. Overall compared to the other IEMs i have, the Vega is a shallow U-shaped signature with a strong bass impact and an overall thicker presentation without wooly bass. I wouldn’t call it a warm signature but just a heavier signature.
Compared to the MH335DW-SR, I would categorise the FitEar MH335DW-SR to be warmer with a woolier bass, and on the opposite end of the line would be the Tralucent 1Plus2.2 where feels more neutral than the Vega’s from a tonal response perspective.
The Vega seems to have a more closer to the front row stage presentation with a decently sized theatre. The Tralucent 1Plus2.2 would still have the edge in terms of size of presentation (which to me is more like a few rows back of a large concert hall) but the Vega’s aren’t far behind.
Despite having a musical toe tapping signature, the Vega’s are quite detail especially with the shimmer of percussions in the treble region, and with the textured layering of the bass. It’s also quite a speedy and fast IEM. To me, it’s a dynamic driver at it’s finest.
The overall signature to my mind is reminiscent to the Fostex TH-900 but in an isolated earphone form.
Conclusion To me, it’s surprising that the Vega is able to present such classy and fun signature with just a single 8.5mm dynamic driver. It is somewhat a little on the pricey side however for the quality of sound it produces it's very rewarding. For the past 2+ weeks of having them, they're easily my daily earphones community to/fro to work and listening at cafes and at home. They'll be sorely missed for sure after I pass them on to the next reviewer.
Pros - Huge bass presence while still managing to sound balanced, texture, incredible fullness,detail retrieval, treble clarity, emotional delivery of vocals
Cons - Might be too bass heavy for some die-hard fans of a lean sound signature, not much else
Campfire Audio Vega – initial impressions
As you will know if you read my recent review on the Lyra II, I have recently been lucky enough to get the chance to hear the three newest models from the Campfire Audio IEM range (the Lyra II, the Dorado and the Vega). After spending some quality time with the Lyra II, the Vega was the logical next choice for another story around the Campfire as another dynamic driver offering. Considering how much I enjoyed the Lyra II, I was very keen to hear exactly how much improvement the engineers at Campfire could make with their new uncrystallised diamond diaphragm on their dynamic driver technology, and to see if this IEM is rightly deserving of its current “TOTL” tag.
Disclaimer – the Vega were provided to me free of charge by Campfire Audio on a loaner basis for the duration of this review solely for the purpose of listening and writing up my honest and unbiased impressions. If I want to keep them afterwards, I will need to purchase them off Campfire Audio.
About me: been into music since I was old enough to walk, and now been into the audio gear scene for a couple of years. I’m in my late 30s, a long time rock music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Converted most of my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.
Frequency – 5 Hz to 22 kHz
Sensitivity – 102 dB SPL/mW
Impedance – 17.5 Ohms @ 1kHz
Driver – single 8.5mm ADLC non-cystalline diamond-carbon dynamic driver
Housing – Liquidmetal alloy
Connection type – MMCX
(If you have read my review for the Lyra II, feel free to skip straight to the sound section – the Vega shares both identical packaging and shell design to the Lyra II, so some sections are pretty much identical to the Lyra II writeup)
The Vega follows the usual Campfire Audio presentation style, coming in a small box just marginally bigger than the hard leather carry case it contains. The box is a dark burgundy colour, with silver constellations patterned on the outside and a nice picture of the IEMs on the front. There is also a brief description of the technology inside and the Campfire branding, but no major graphs or specifications. The box opens up to show a nice black leather carry case inside, with the usual Campfire Audio embossed logo and zippered closure. Removing the carry case, there is a false floor on the box, underneath which the various loadout of eartips (foam, silicon and Spinfit in various sizes) and a Campfire Audio pin are nestled, along with a cleaning tool, warranty card and small booklet with more technical information on your purchase and instructions on how to use them for those people unfamiliar with operating high tech ear-gear. Opening the carry case completes the gear list, containing the IEMs and silver litz cable, some Velcro cable ties and two small velour bags to keep the heads of the IEMs from clunking into each other when they are stored, all nestled in the fluffy fake wool interior of the case.
The accessory package is simple but comprehensive, with the beautifully designed carry case and the well thought out cable and tip selection giving a premium feel to proceedings, proving that you don’t need to inundate the buyer with technical data or hundreds of add-ons in order to give a high-end unboxing experience. The small footprint of the outer packaging also has more practical use, as it makes it far easier to store than the usual foam filled presentation boxes you tend to get with other IEMs in this sort of price bracket.
Build quality and ergonomics
In contrast to their other co-flagship IEM the Andromeda, the Portland-based manufacturer have decided to go with a Liquidmetal™ alloy housing for the Vega rather than machined aluminium, with a smaller footprint and more curvy appearance than the Andromeda, and echoing the new shell design of the Lyra II and Dorado models.
The use of Liquidmetal is an interesting but logical choice for the high-end IEM market – the substance is actually an amorphous alloy rather than a literal “liquid metal” (such as Mercury), but it brings various qualities to the table that normal metal shells find difficult to match. It is lighter and stronger than titanium, extremely durable and resistant to both corrosion and wear and has a glass-like melting point due to its densely packed atomic structure that allows it to be moulded almost like plastic while hot. For a company known for its finely honed internal tuning structures and excellent shell designs, this is a logical evolution, allowing production of high volumes of complex casings with greater ease than traditional metals. In practice, the shells are light, very strong and fit beautifully in the ear, giving the feel of a piece of machinery designed to last.
Campfire Audio also deviate from the norm with the connectors, using a standard MMCX style socket but bolstering the connection points with a custom beryllium copper fixing, which they claim is more robust than the usual brass connectors found on most IEMs. This should lead to increased longevity of the connector over multiple cable connections and disconnections. In use, the cable clicks into the housing with a very solid sounding thud, and seems to be pretty locked in, with less play or wobble than most other MMCX style IEMs I have used. A few weeks is obviously nowhere near long enough to test the claims of the manufacturer about how long the connectors will last, but initial impressions definitely don’t give me any cause to doubt Campfire’s marketing copy here.
When mentioning build and ergonomics, the Silver Litz cable included as standard with the Vega is befitting of a top of the line product, and is also sold as a standalone item on the ALO Audio site for $149, which should give you some indication of the comparative quality. When looking at IEMs in this price bracket, some may feel the need to break out a more expensive “upgrade” cable to get the most out of the sonic capabilities – I am neither a believer or disbeliever when it comes to cable theory, and don’t have any more expensive MMCX cables in my inventory to try with the Vega, but in terms of quality and sound I am certainly not left with the feeling that these NEED upgrading out of the box to unlock the potential in the IEMs. The only gripes I have are with the memory wire portions around the ears, which I always feel don’t play brilliantly with the rotating connection offered by an MMCX connector, and the L-shaped plug at the end. While the L-plug is a nice and sturdy example of this type of connector, I find the pin just slightly too short to fit comfortably into the audio jack of my phone with a thick third party phone cover fitted, due to the circumference of the connector housing where it meets the pin – one possible area for improvement in an otherwise excellent design.
Overall, the unusual metallic build, ergonomic and light shape and excellent cable give a very strong impression of quality – a pretty good start.
LG G5 (with HiFi Plus 32-bit Sabre DAC add-on)
Fiio X7 (with AM2 module)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack) and with iFi iCan SE
Test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC/Tidal HiFi):
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time
Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)
Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)
James Bay – The Chaos & The Calm
Sister Hazel – Hello, It’s Me (bass tone)
Chris Stapleton – Whiskey And You
Elvis – various
Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album)
Aerosmith – The Definitive Aerosmith
Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
Twin Atlantic – The Great Divide / GLA
The Darkness – Permission To Land
Led Zeppelin – Mothership
Shawn Mullins – Soul’s Core
Sammy Hagar & The Circle – At Your Convenience (live album for audience sounds)
General impressions on the sound signature
When you think of a TOTL earphone, you imagine something with crystal clarity, endless extension and great grasp of detail and timing. One thing you don’t necessarily imagine coming with that TOTL tag is enough bass to blow a hole in the side of your head the size of Kanye West’s ego. If the thought of that offends you, feel free to stop reading now – the Vega is one seriously bass-capable IEM, with enough low end grunt to satisfy most basshead listeners. It is also an IEM for fans of a forward and vocal-centric midrange, to keep the mid-kids happy. Treble junkie? The Vega has you covered there as well, with a sweet and crunchy top end that doesn’t shy away from being crisp when it needs to be and clear when it doesn’t. Confused? I was – the tuning on offer here seems to be forward in all three categories (to my ears anyway), with more bass than you ever thought you could need but which never clouds or warms the song unnecessarily and always stays clear of fraternising with the mid-range. It has a clear and emotionally charged vocal delivery and instrument portrayal that has bags of definition and detail, topped off with a smooth but extended and highly detailed upper frequency response, with no audible roll-off or tapering.
The team at Campfire have managed all this with one unusual single dynamic driver, bringing what would normally be the defining characteristic of three completely different headphones together to form one overall signature that feels forward in all ranges but doesn’t crowd the listener or the stage, and still manages to be balanced while doing it. Reading the above, the Vega should probably fit into the “neutral” bracket, but it just doesn’t feel right for something with this much bass and mid-range punch for that tag to apply. In short, this tuning is not quite like anything I have heard before, and is very skilfully done to bring the best out of all parts of the sonic spectrum you are listening to in order to achieve a musical balance that is quite addictive. Kudos to Ken Ball and his team in Portland for that – no small feat, but a very welcome one.
Starting with the highs, the Vega produces a clear and strong treble with goof note weight and great extension through the usual listening ranges. It isn’t overly “sparkly” compared to some all-BA IEMs I have heard, but doesn’t roll off through the spectrum, presenting the high notes with crispness and authority. In terms of airiness, it presents a nice sense of space between each instrument, but doesn’t feel overly “airy” as such (if you can understand the difference). I think of a typically airy IEM as creating the sound in my ears as if I was listening to it in a massive auditorium, where you are aware of the walls being very very far away. With the Vega, you can hear the gaps between each note, but the feel is more like you are standing in a concert played in an open field, where the notes drift off into the space rather than echoing back off a distant surface. Make sense? No? Well, tough – that’s the way it sounds to me anyway.
Moving back to less ethereal comparisons, playing some of my usual comparison tracks through the Vega yielded some unsurprising results. “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy was first up, the helium-infused vocals reaching up into the stratosphere with a thickness that I don’t usually hear, squeezing every drop of treble out of Kennedy’s vocal delivery without adding any grain or harshness. The dissonant guitar opening is always a good indicator of how an IEM handles treble in my “uncomfort” zone, but again, this sounds thick and full, delivering the highs with a level of detail and substance that is again unusual for me. Going on a final hunt for sibilance, “Whiskey And You” by Chris Stapleton again failed to turn up any unpleasantness, the booze-fuelled song (about booze) sounding raw and gravelly, without sandpapering my delicate eardrums as Stapleton’s voice practically chainsaws its way through the second chorus. Delivering texture without harshness is a difficult trick to pull off, but the Vega has it in spades here.
Switching to percussion, cymbals and other metallic instruments sound crisp and very realistic, shimmering just long enough in the ear to leave a sense of presence without sounding too tizzy or dominating the upper echelons of the music. Listening to the Adiemus collaboration, the mix of chimes, flutes and other high stringed instrumentation used sound crystal clear and positively glow against the audio background, cutting through the track without sounding hot or over-emphasised. In fact, this tuning reminds me of the clarity and lack of distortion achieved by the Audioquest Nighthawks, but with an added dose of presence and crispness that really sets it a notch above in my ears. Treble is always defined, never too aggressive or overdone and just right for my personal sonic preferences. A very good start.
Drifting down from the treble, the midrange is clean, crisp and energetic, with a forward vocal presentation. Voices are rendered with excellent detail, the responsiveness of the driver allowing a real sense of feeling to come through when listening to more heartfelt tracks, and raising the hairs on my arm on more than one occasion with a phrase or inflection from the singer that really caught my ear. Quantifying how the IEM captures “emotion” is something I am certainly not qualified to do, but much like the soul, it is something I believe is there in music, whether we can see it on not – the Vega are certainly more adept than most at exposing it to the metaphorical light. Listening to “And The Grass Won’t Pay No Mind” by Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic, Presley’s soft crooning explodes with real angst when the strained chorus kicks into life, making you believe in the words he is singing and seeming to convey what the singer was thinking as he pronounces the words. “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” from the same album showcases the same vocal prowess, with the huge bassline (yes, you heard that right – check the track out) never encroaching on another impassioned vocal, blending together perfectly with the gospel style backing chorus to give the impression of actually being at a live performance, the sound surrounding the air around you and lifting you up into the heart of the song.
Strings and other orchestral instruments are handled beautifully by the Vega, with the soaring string into to “Burning Love” from the same album building into the body of the song with authority, each violin and cello singing out clearly around the vocals and bass, with plenty of texture and definition. More traditional orchestral music also sounds great – playing the first Adiemus album by the composer Karl Jenkins is an enthralling experience, the strings sounding rich and delicate at the same time, complementing the lilting harmonies of Miriam Stockley drifting through the track and captivating the attention with the beautiful phrasing of Jenkins’ imaginary language all the songs are sung in. This album really highlights the capability of the Vega to marry the epic bass substance of the timpani and drums with clear and crystalline flute and vocal lines, the mid range and treble acting like a cooling splash of water on the ears over the rumble of the world-music inspired rhythms while still remaining coherent.
Switching up to more traditional rock fare, the jangling guitars of “What Do You Do To Me” by Don Broco ring out clearly, the sound of fingers sliding up and down the fretboard on the nylon-stringed Spanish guitar refrain melding into the sound without causing distraction, and not diverting attention from the more crushing riffs that kick in when the chorus appears, the heavyweight midrange (bolstered by the outstanding heft of the bass performance and the clear and solid treble foundation sitting above it) really adding crunch to the guitar work. Putting some Slash through its paces again, “Shadow Life” and “World On Fire” both absolutely roar with this IEM, the quick downtuned rhythm of the former firing through the musical foreground, thick slabs of riff landing one after the other like blows in a heavyweight world title fight and being shrugged off just as quickly. The combination of weight and note speed is something that really shows up on more complex or intricate tracks, and makes the Vega an excellent IEM for fans of rock or metal, allowing the songs to have some of the “turned up to 11” wall of noise of a Motorhead amp-stack while still retaining the definition and clarity of a piece of chamber music, never veering towards congestion or muddiness. A perfect example of this is “Everybody Knows She’s Mine” by Blackberry Smoke – the opening guitar sounds thick and honky-tonk meaty, with the acoustic riff that kicks in over the top being crisply layered on top of the chunky bar room blues riffing and capturing just as much attention in the ear as the thicker slabs of sound it is sitting on. That isn’t to say that the Vega can’t do delicate, with the subtle guitar noodling of “Noam Chomsky” by Foy Vance playing off against the subdued horn section and the jazz style stand-up bass throughout the song without feeling overpowered by the other instruments or Vance’s gravelly roar of a voice.
Piano and synth are unsurprisingly dealt with in a similar manner to guitar, with a realistic timbre and tone, making any piano-based electronica absolutely sing. Kicking “Go” by The Chemical Brothers into high gear, the presentation is crisp, clear and captivating, with the euphoric chorus being done full justice by the delivery of the Vega’s driver. In truth, there is very little the Vega doesn’t excel at in the midrange, with texture and micro-detail being presented alongside energy and emotion to provide an almost perfect package. I say almost – the presentation of the mids is always engaging, sometimes so much that it can seem a little too forward for more relaxed or acoustic songs, dragging you fully into the music rather than let you float alongside it with your brain in low gear. It is a small nit to pick, but in much the same way you probably wouldn’t go to a live gig to relax with your head on a pillow, the Vega can have that same effect sometimes.
As a former owner of the Aurisonics ASG-2.5, I am pretty familiar with sticking an IEM in my ears that could probably turn my brain into soup and vibrate my fillings out of my head. I certainly never expected to be hearing the same level of bass authority (and sheer volume) from something being talked about as a “Top Of The Line” contender among the current batch of flagship universal IEMs on the market. The bass will probably be the most divisive (and perversely the most enjoyable) thing that people discuss when talking about the Vega as a “TOTL” in-ear (where mega-bass doesn’t usually get considered as a true audiophile tuning trait) – it is powerful, physical, rumbles like an elephant with indigestion and slams like a WWE wrestler. It extends down to a very believable 5Hz threshold, and holds equally strong as it rises from the deepest sub-bass to the top end of the mid-bass, avoiding the dreaded mid-bass “thumb” that can dominate the lower end of some tunings. All this is achieved without the bass bleeding into the midrange or dominating the sound, which is the real trick here – IEMs with this sort of bass artillery don’t usually feel so well balanced, with the mid-range and treble holding ground easily against the onslaught from the 8.5mm of uncrystallised diamond that Campfire have sprinkled onto the driver diaphragm. This alone makes the signature unusual, allowing the rest of the frequency range to provide the detail and sparkle, served up with a steaming heap of bass to wash it down with.
In terms of texture, the driver technology provides a richly detailed lower end soundscape, sharply defining each note in the listener’s ear and blending the rasping vibrations of the bass guitar notes into the overall smoothness of the delivery to add substance and a physical dimension to the musical foundation. Listening to “September In Seattle” by Shawn Mullins, the honky-tonk style bassline bounces around the track, thickening out the sound nicely without drowning out the subtle crooning of Mullins or the gospel chorus. Switching to “Bad Rain” by Slash, the familiar rasp of the bass guitar gives the song a thick, raw feeling of menace, playing beautifully against the main guitar riff and blending with the thudding impact of the drums to give a sense of fullness to the notes that feels almost palpable. My other favourite for bass texture is “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel, which is a great mixture of texture and smoothness when done right. The Vega certainly have no issue “doing it right”, with the vibration of the bass guitar strings feeling so clear you can almost picture them in your head as the plectrum hits them, tickling the outer edges of your eardrum as the smooth and velvety bassline slowly fills the space around the instruments with the riff that drives the song along.
Flipping genres to electronica, “Nobody To Love” by Sigma highlights the sub-bass chops on display, with the occasionally anaemic sounding track taking on a real sense of life and impact with the thrumming sub-bass foundation underpinning the main piano refrain and adding a good sense of punch to the drums. “Heaven” by Emile Sande gets the same sort of treatment, the opening hum of sub-sound feeling like a passing juggernaut on the road as the rumble builds in your ears. It truly is very difficult to describe the bass the Vega produces without resorting to various clichés or hyperbole, but for once, the bass just is THAT good that only the well-worn superlatives will apply. It is super-quick, defined, never sloppy, textured and so well done that it just seems to bring each track to life without over-cooking it or drowning it in bass. There is more bass presence here than fans of a neutral or lean sound will be used to (or indeed look for in an IEM) so this may not be the holy grail for everyone, but the speed and definition produced by the driver manage to keep the bass under control so well that I suspect even fans of more “audiophile” tunings like the HD800 could be beguiled by the power and majesty on display here. Again, hyperbole, but again, probably true.
In summary, when taken in context with the rest of the frequency range, this IEM has the best bass I have heard, beating the ASG-2.5 and the Cardas A8 for speed, texture and just sheer enjoyability. I freely admit I haven’t heard many IEMs in this price bracket, so please take my views with the obligatory pinch of salt, but this is truly a great piece of tuning by Ken and his team, and brings a welcome does of bass-driven musicality to the TOTL table.
Soundstage is an “out of head” experience, not huge by any means but pushing outwards from the ears by a small margin in all directions, and being more spherical than oval when listening for front to back stage depth. The solidity of the musical presentation is suited by the size of the staging, or possibly even defined by it, with the whole soundscape feeling quite “real” and solid (a common theme), and varying in size depending on the recording. Fans of an arena-sized sound may not be impressed by the comparative “smallness” of the Vega on some tracks, but the organic nature of the sound more than makes up for that for me. Separation is top notch, with the diamond driver providing layer after layer of cleanly defined notes, stacking them like a world champion Tetris player in perfect order in your ears, allowing you to pull apart any strand of the music you want to concentrate on with ease. The driver also copes easily with complex passages of music, packing a Tardis-like amount of information into the sound in some more orchestral passages from bands like Nightwish without sign of strain or congestion.
Tip and cable choice
The recommendation from the Campfire Audio founder Ken Ball is to run these IEMs with foam ear-tips, and like with the Lyra II, after trying various other configurations (single flange silicone, SpinFit and other assorted goodies from my tip collection), I have come to the unsurprising conclusion that he knows what he is talking about. The overall sound and comfort offered by the included foam tips seems just about right for my personal tastes and ear anatomy, so for once there has been no need to resort to external help (not even Comply tips added anything major to the seal). A close second is a hybrid tip from Trinity Audio (the Kombi), which adds a little in treble sharpness to the mix while retaining the same basic overall signature due to the foam / silicon mix. Close, but not quite as enjoyable as the foams for me. The cable is a similar story as the foamies, being of sufficient quality for me not to think about resorting to a third-party solution. In the interest of “science”, I have run these balanced using a cheap Fiio balanced cable I have from the Hifiman Supermini, but the difference wasn’t drastic enough for me to be audibly worth it from that source, as the single ended output was able to drive them sufficiently loud with its high voltage output – I may retest this if I get a balanced amp section for my Fiio X7 at some point, however, to see if a more powerful balanced out makes any difference.
The specs on the Campfire Audio website indicate that these should be reasonably easy IEMs to drive, and I haven’t had any issues with that in practice. As with the Lyra II, my comfortable listening volume sitting just above the half way mark on my LG G5 and in the 50s on the Fiio X7 (AM2, low gain). The diamonds used in the driver coating do seem to glitter with some extra power behind them, so where possible I run them from the Hifiman Supermini (with its powerful single-ended output) or in high gain and slightly lower volume setting on the Fiio X7. As you would imagine, the technical capabilities of this IEM really benefit from a decent source chain, so they will definitely scale with the capabilities of your DAP or amp if given the chance. Playing these through my LG G5 (without the HiFiPlus module) is still a great sounding combination, but just serves to remind me what the gear is capable of when driven properly.
Astell & Kern / Beyerdynamic AKT8IE – this is another bassy single dynamic driver I have recently acquired, based around a miniature version of Beyerdynamic’s reknowned Tesla driver technology and sitting in the TOTL bracket for dynamic drivers at time of writing. This is the “Mark 1” version of the IEM, which is purported by some so be slightly more bassy than the latest “Mark 2” revision, just for clarity. Original retail for the Mk1 was around the $1000 mark, although these can now be had cheaper on the second hand market (like mine). In terms of presentation, the Astell & Kern packaging is definitely a high-end affair, with a large multi-sectioned hardboard box and multiple areas to unbox, compared to the slick but minimalist approach of Campfire. If packaging matters, the AKT8IE will definitely turn more heads than the unassuming Campfire box. Moving on to the build and ergonomics, the AKT8IE is made out of an unspecified material that looks like a cross between metal and ceramic (and is probably neither) – they are a “concha-fit” style IEM, so are designed to fit in the outer bowl of the ear rather than inserting further in. For my own physiology, they provide a shallow but secure fit, and are actually more comfortable than the Vega in that aspect, but do provide less isolation as a result. Moving through to the sound, the AKT8IE is a more laid back tuning than the Vega, with a slightly less present but warmer sounding bass and less treble energy in comparison. Starting with the bass, the AKT8IE is no slouch, providing a good amount of mid and sub-bass, with the weighting slightly more towards the lower end of the midbass to my ears compared to the more even bass throughout the spectrum on the Vega. The bass feels softer and less crisply defined than the Vega, still far from sloppy but feeling less nimble on more uptempo tracks in direct comparison and exhibiting slightly less physical “slam” or viscerality. It can also sometimes feel like it is starting to overshadow the lower midrange on particularly bassy tracks, where the Vega stays more clearly defined and never feels like it is crowding or colouring the track. Moving through to the mids, the AKT8IE feels roughly similar to the Vega, roughly the same in terms of forward positioning on most tracks but slightly less thick in overall note weight, leaving the notes sounding a little more delicate and fragile. Both IEMs are very good at conveying emotion in a vocal track, but the Vega take a slight edge here, with an additional layer of crispness to the vocal delivery that engages the listener more than the softer and more laid back delivery from the AKT8IE. Detail levels are too close to call, with the AKT8IE presenting high levels of detail with the right source, but layering them further back in the background of the soundscape, whereas the Vega extracts every detail from a track and lays them out a little more openly for the listener to appreciate. Treble tuning is where these two IEMs diverge, with the AKT8IE exhibiting a more laid back and almost rolled off sounding higher end (it isn’t, with a stated top end extension of 48 kHz), compared to the crisper and more present signature of the Vega. The lower emphasis on treble for the Beyerdynamic / A&K product allows a more relaxing and laid back feel to the music, and actually manages to give a greater sense of air with the high range it does produce due to the excellent actual extension, rather than the perceived extension (for me, anyway). In terms of power, the Vega requires slightly less volume steps on my various pieces of gear to produce the same volume as the A&K/Beyerdynamic collaboration. In summary, both IEMs provide a bassy and emotional sound, with the Vega sounding crisper and more energetic, with more presence up top and a more balanced sound. The AKT8IE gives a slightly thinner feeling midrange and more delicate but less prominent treble, leaving it sounding more soothing with acoustic music and less energetic tracks but losing out to the lively and more forward and balanced overall sound on the Vega. The differences stated above are all small, and both IEMs are at the summit of the in-ear monitors I have heard to date in terms of clarity and overall presentation of the music, and would both find a use from me for different types of music. Personally, if I had to choose just one, I would plump for the Vega, with the more engaging sound and slightly more emotional vocal delivery winning for me over the laid-back beauty of the AKT8IE. These are fine margins, however, and both IEMs certainly produce a sound that will keep the listener enthralled with the right source and music. One point to note – I compared the AKT8IE using a spare Campfire Audio SPC Litz cable from the Lyra II review I have just finished. This appears to me to bring slightly more out of the IEM than the stock cable in terms of treble, but that is just a perception rather than a measured fact – in either case, the comparisons above are based on using this cable on both IEMs.
Campfire Audio Dorado – this is another new IEM from Campfire Audio, sitting just below the Andromeda in their pricing structure at $999. It is the only hybrid IEM currently on offer in their lineup, utilising the same 8.5mm beryllium dynamic driver from the Lyra II in conjunction with the dual high-frequency balanced armature drivers used in the Jupiter and Andromeda. In terms of signature, the Dorado is more of a traditional V or W shape than the Vega, with a relatively more laid back mid range, a thick bass and great airy treble. The only thing stopping it from being a traditional V shaped tuning is a lift in the vocal region which brings the vocals further forward. In comparison to the Vega, the bass feels a little more boosted in comparison to the lower midrange, giving a bassier “feel”, even if the volume of output is actually pretty similar. The bass descends just as deep as the Vega, but feels a little boomier in direct comparison, losing out slightly to the technical prowess and snappiness of the diamond driver in the Vega. Moving through to the mids, there is a more laid back feel to guitar and instrumentation, sitting a little further back in the sound compared to the vocals, which have been brought forward to almost mirror the Vega’s forward style, sitting just a shade further back overall. In direct comparison, the lower and higher midrange don’t sound as thick or textured as the Vega, tailing off on either end of the vocals and leaning more towards the “V” shaped landscape familiar to most audiophiles. Moving on to the treble, the Dorado has an airier and more “sparkly” feeling treble, the dual-BA tweeters taking up most of the workload in tandem with Campfire’s patented TAEC technology (Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber) to provide an airier sound to the high notes, with a good feeling of space. It loses out a bit on note weight in the higher range as a result, but for fans of a more traditional BA style high end tuning, this may appeal more than the more grounded and solid feeling treble of the Vega, with more of a sense of “fizz” to proceedings. In terms of driving power, the Dorado are easier to drive than the Vega, but only by a small amount (probably due to the comparative bass “boost”. Overall, the Dorado provide a more “fun” and V/W shaped tuning, pushing bass and treble more to the forefront, and losing a bit of richness in the midrange as a result. Both are definitely up there in term of overall signature, with the Vega just edging it for me personally due to its better balance and richer sounding mid-range, with slightly better micro-detailing apparent through the middle of the sonic spectrum as well. For fans of a crisper and less rich sound or an airier high-end, the Dorado may well prove to be the sleeper hit of the new Campfire range, however, and rightly deserves to be talked about in a similar bracket to the Vega purely on technical achievement. The only area where there is clear daylight between the two models for me is fit, with the Dorado’s giraffe-like stems causing my very wide but apparently not incredibly deep ear canals a bot more difficulty getting a good seal then the more ergonomic barrel design of the Vega.
Campfire Audio Lyra II – the Lyra II is the “other” new dynamic driver IEM in the 2016 Campfire Audio range, priced at just over half the Vega’s total cost at $699 and sharing the name and housing shape with its predecessor the Lyra, the original dynamic driver offering from the campfire stable. It shares an identically shaped housing and also uses a single 8.5mm dynamic driver like the Vega, but uses a beryllium driver rather than the more exotic diamond driver in the flagship model, which contributes the only major difference to these two pairs of IEMs. So, is the price difference of $600 worth it? Looking at the bass frequencies first, there is a notable difference between the Vega and Lyra II, with the Vega producing considerably more bass than the Lyra II, with more emphasised sub-bass and a tighter overall delivery (not by much, however). The Vega just has the edge in terms of speed as well, compared to the textured and thick but comparatively more laid back bass on the Lyra II. Switching to mids, both IEMs are well matched in terms of emotion, with the Vega just adding an extra layer of micro-detail and expression to the sound – the difference is more subtle than vast, but the slightly more energetic signature is more engaging (I find it “pulls” me into the song more), but as a result it loses some of the soothing nature of the silky midrange on the Lyra II. Put simply, the Lyra II is an IEM you can relax with, the Vega is an IEM that gets your pulse racing. Highs are definitively more forward on the Vega – it is actually rated slightly lower in terms of “final” extension, topping out at 22kHz, but the treble isn’t pushed back into the soundscape like the Lyra II, which shares a similar level of forwardness in the bass and midranges but scales back the treble to provide a smooth and less emphasised top end. As a result, music that relies on cymbals and other percussion sounds crisper on the Vega, and it brings an extra layer of crunch to guitar heavy music over the similarly weighty Lyra II. Micro-details and dynamics are noticeably better on the Vega (although again, the margins we are talking about are small rather than glaring), and the separation and layering is noticeably better on some tracks, the “wall of sound” carrying more positional detail as it smashes you with music. Listening to “Freak On A Leash” by Korn gives a good example of the difference between the two IEMs, with the Lyra II handling the drop at the 2 and a half minute mark with aplomb, but the Vega managing to keep pace with the Lyra II and making the hairs on my arms stand up every time. Finally, the Vega appears to be easier to drive than the Lyra II from all of my sources.
Being honest, when I got the chance to listen to the Vega, I wasn’t sure if the jump from mid-fi to a true “TOTL” contender would be worth the increased price tag over something like the Lyra II (which at $699 is already in a price bracket that most non-audiophiles would consider crazy for a pair of in-ear headphones). Add to that the universal law of diminishing returns and my natural scepticism over anything that gathers as much hype as is currently surrounding the Vega, and I was almost hoping for this to be an unimpressive but competent listen, so I could pat my wallet with a sigh of relief and carry on as I was, blissful in the knowledge that the extra cash outlay wasn’t worth it for the marginal imrovements. Sadly for my wallet (and future listening habits), the Vega has taken a shiny Liquidmetal hammer to my preconceptions, and produced hands down the best sound I have heard so far from an in-ear monitor. Is it perfect? Not if you consider perfect to mean “everything to everybody” – it will have too much bass for some, not enough sparkle or extreme treble for others, and the midrange will be too thick or too forward for certain people. For the vast majority, the musical balancing act that Campfire Audio have pulled off with their new shell and driver technology is something that will get close enough to perfect to make them happy, and bring a sense of life and joy to their music collections that is sometimes breathtaking. Could I ask for anything to be done differently? In all honesty, yes – the beautiful energy of the Vega doesn’t suit every single type of music, and can sometimes make relaxing into a song harder than with other high-end IEMs I have been using recently like the Lyra II or the AKT8IE. That is a small price to pay for something so compelling and musical, though – hype or not, this is a great example of a top of the line sound in a top of the line casing, and if the rest of the TOTL bracket sounds like this, I can finally understand why so many Head-Fi’ers are now poor. In summary – stellar bass, detailed and emotionally involving midrange and crystal clear treble, all in the same IEM. Truly a package worthy of its flagship status, and just a great sounding headphone. In the words of the firm themselves: Nicely Done.
Pros - Fast, defined bass, punchy, yet even
Cons - none.
Viva La Vegas! Campfire Audio Vega Review - Expatinjapan Head Pie
Viva la Vegas! Campfire Audio Vega review -expatinjapan https://www.campfireaudio.com/shop/vega/ Dead Kennedys `Viva las Vegas` and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-HST. Whats in the box?
As usual no nonsense packaging from Campfire Audio. A beautiful leather case for transporting your precious Vegas. The Vegas come protected with each earphone piece within a soft, red velvet bag. Build
Like all Campfire Audio products each comes with the excellent Litz cable. Robust and strong MMCX connectors Nice nozzles, not too short nor too long and angled just right. A wire screen to prevent wax etc from spoiling your drivers. Liquid alloy metal earphone housing Specifications
Vega combines a single 8.5mm non-crystalline Diamond dynamic driver and a unique liquid metal alloy housing to flawlessly convey high fidelity music.
– World’s First 8.5mm non-crystalline Diamond Dynamic Driver
– World’s First Liquid Alloy Metal Earphone Housing
– Highest sound conduction velocity of any IEM driver
– Premium Litz Wire cable; Silver-plated-Copper Conductors
5Hz–22 kHz: Frequency Range
102 dB SPL/mW: Sensitivity
17.5 Ohms @ 1kHz: Impedance
Comparisons with the other DD earphones Campfire Audio just released.
NOTE* Also in the Dorado http://headpie.blogspot.jp/2016/11/campfire-audio-dorado-review_11.html and Lyra II reviews
I received the Dorado from Ken Ball at the Fujiya Avic headphone show in Tokyo in October, 2016 for review. I had a chance to listen to all new models at the time and listed my short impressions as thus:
(Short time at the show impressions):
`The Vega, Dorado and Lyra II
The Vega is deep and full sounding. It has excellent clarity and sound stage. The bass hits but is also clean, tight and fast.
The Dorado is deeper, and has a medium v shaped signature. Bouncy and energetic. It has a good weight to the sound. Fun but still CA smooth.
The Lyra II is more flat...in a sense, it has more mids, warm, even and with great instrument separation. Full with an excellent low end.
In terms of sound signature to my ears (And Ken confirmed I was pretty much on the Ball - excuse my pun).
Vega = XXX
Dorado = XxX
Lyra = XXx`
Of course short impressions at a show or in store can give a hint of what is to come, more is revealed with concentrated and analytical listening and more layers and nuances are discovered.
I also did not ask how many hours they had on them. They had stock foam tips fitted.
What one has to realize with these new earphones that Campfire Audio has released is that they do increase in sound quality by price point.
Each of their sound signature is well designed and incremental, the Dorado whilst definitely a V shaped earphone isnt strictly so in the usual sense, it is more of a flattened V which retains some body and soul of tracks recorded.
And the Lyra II whilst presenting itself as a low and mids focussed earphone certainly doesnt lack in the highs department.
It isnt extreme tuning at the expense of all else, it is a controlled and measured tuning to present the best that can be reproduce concerning certain traditional choices of sound signatures, being the XxX, the XXx and the XXX of the Vega. No sharp rises or drop offs here.
Smooth, measured and timely.
The new Campfire Audio line up of Vega, Dorado and Lyra II Fit
*Excuse me again as I recycle once more this photograph to illustrate the CA DD fit.
The shorter nozzle is similar to the BA IEMs of Campfire Audio, you need to have the right tip to get a good seal to maximize the performance of the Vega and therefore your enjoyment thereof.
The Litz cable comes with a chin slider so one can adjust for fit. Stock foam tips on the left, the Comply Tx-400 I got from the Andromeda/Nova boxes. I settled on the Comply Tx-400 tips for the Vega in the end, silicone did the trick with the JVC Spiral tips and also Ortofon, But as Ken Ball at Campfire Audio said, foam is best for these earphones. Campfire Audio Vega and Opus#1 Dap (With stunning new November firmware) Value
At US$1,299.00 the Campfire audio Vega is relative to ones wallet size and commitment to audio quality.
It certainly is a level ahead of its DD siblings the Dorado and the Lyra II in terms of sound quality and ability.
Build as usual is excellent by Campfire Audio, and the sound from the Vegas is truly addictive.
If I had to choose three IEMs to take traveling with me, the Vega would definitely be one of them.
Campfire Audio Vega with Shozy Alien Gold Dap. Sound Testing of the Campfire Audio Vega was done with a variety of Daps and dac/amps from the Opus#1, Hifiman MegaMini, ipod touch 6G, Shozy Alien Gold, CEntrance DACportable, Hifi-Skyn to the CEntrance mini-M8. Ipod touch 6G 128GB when with the DAC/amps I used Dan Leehrs Flacplayer app. FLAC used was mainly 16/44. The Vegas had a burn in period of over 100 hours before commencing with the review. The Vegas, the Vegas... the stars of Campfire Audios new line up of dynamic driver earphones, the one that has been creating the buzz, the one everyone wants reviewed and to sample. Is it better than this earphone or that? What is all this about the bass and so on ad infinitum... Campfire Audio Vegas, not necessarily hotter than the Andromedas, just a different level of brilliance.
Vegas baby, Vegas!
Initial impressions as noted before was a quick demo at the Fujiya Avic headphone show:
`The Vega is deep and full sounding. It has excellent clarity and sound stage. The bass hits but is also clean, tight and fast`.
I described it as a XXX sound as compared to the Dorado XxX and the Lyra II XXx signatures.
I started reviewing the Dorado but couldnt keep my hands off the vega early in the game and scribbled down a few early burn impressions.
Using the JVC Spiral Tips for easy insertion I found the Vegas to be intimate, and reminded me slightly of the DITA Dream I had tried a few days earlier.
Vocals not creamy but kind of rolling, rolling hills over me like solid waves.
Overall smooth, organic but not swampy. Early days.
Ghostly, otherworldly at times.
The Vega needs more hours to settle down in the lows and mids mainly.
Its a bit thick at the moment.
BEAST FROM THE EAST
I hooked up the Andromeda and the Vegas to this double stack balanced out to see what would happen.
Andromeda: Silicone tips. More airy than I remembered, and vocals forward.
Vega: Foam tips. First thing I notice is more bass, the vocals are more around the same volume as the music.
Different beasts: Vega, clear, even.
I broke out a SPL app and did a bit of volume matching and checked out the Andromeda and the Vegas with different sources.
OPUS#1 Dap (before the firmware update).
Deep full bass, sub bass has med decay, upper bass fast decay.
Vocals just ahead of the music.
3D, not holographic.
V large sound stage.
Nice soft mids, lingering.
more width than height.
Spacey, airy, clear, clarity.
Not linear flat, but kinda even.
Softer bass than the Vega.
Fast sub bass decay.
Upper bass fast.
Vocals more forward.
large sound stage.
Great width and height.
Full, wall of detailed and separated sound.
A short guide to expatinjapans rather opaque 3D/holographic descriptions by Mimouille. Shozy Alien Gold
Very even (not boring flat).
Deep full bass (but not basshead bassy).
Nice soft treble.
Well balanced, smooth sound.
needs less volume.
Interesting lows and peaks.
Great bass, not overpowering.
Nice soft treble, but sparkly and extended.
The five drivers are well tuned, balanced.
More sensitive, louder.
deep, full bass, but also clear and concise.
But still more fuller and has excellent separation.
Great soaring highs.
(Couldnt get a good clear reading between the two).
Plug in and forget.
Medium to deep bass.
Light soft highs.
Deeper, fuller sound.
Vega a few days later after another days Dorado session....
Clear, airy as in it creates a sense of space between the instruments.
Not congested, excellent clarity.
Not airy in the sense JOMO 6R is airy.
Superb instrument separation.
Full, dense but still retaining a subtleness with an effortless brilliance.
A high level of overall coherency.
Sometimes airiness can be interpreted as a lack of power or dynamics, with the Vega this is not the case.
A few days later I took the Andromeda and the Opus#1 for another spin...
I can see now that the Andromeda has a lighter bass and bigger soundstage than the Vega.
Warm mids, highly coherent, but not as coherent as the Vega.
Music is not so defined as with the Vega.
I think the Vega is a step up from the Andromeda (Using JVC Spiral Tips atm on both).
Going from the Andromeda to the Vega I am struck by how dense the Vega is. Full at its low end.
Opus#1 Dap just got a new firmware update, so i tried with the Vegas balanced out with the ALO Reference 8 cable.
better resolution, more airiness and space, great treble sparkle.
More space and separation between instruments.
Is it the cable? is the update? is it going from 2Ohm output impedance to 1Ohm?
The choice still is If you want V excitement get the Dorado.
If you want something a bit warmer and perhaps a bit laid back get the Lyra II.
If you want the whole shebang of fullness, even and a bit linear get the Vega.
Another few days later.
Viva Las Vegas!
Its like I imagine the sound of listening to the master tapes of a band.
The bass has tamed and now is fast, it now has great texture and is well defined.
The Campfire Audio Vega is truly a majestic earphone to listen to.
Tight, responsive and textured bass.
Subtle yet present mids that sneak up from below.
Highs that reach out but not to the point of sibilance.
Turn up the volume and the Vega retains clarity.
Fit is easy and comfortable and light.
The Litz cable is a great match for the Vega.
I love the medium to large sound stage.
Fairly even soundscape, but full of life and musicality.
The impeccable instrument separation is a joy to listen to my favorite tracks on.
Effortless, natural, highly resolving. Viva Las Vegas!
Overall The Campfire audio Vega earphone is a winner on all fronts, it is really hard to fault it overall. Many early commentators have centered on the bass, whilst this a feature of the Vega it does tame down after a bit of play time to become defined and detailed. Although I mainly used JVC Spiral Tips due the easy insertion I believe as Ken Ball of Campfire Audio does that the Vega really shines when used with foam tips. The bass does become more fuller and the highs receded, with a little of the airiness removed. But I am lazy and prefer the quick fit of a silicone tip, also the change of sound signature the silicone brings is also pleasing. The Vegas, have excellent detail, the bass is full but not the be all and end all; after a time it becomes more defined and textured, the sound stage is medium to just under large, instrument separation is brilliant and clear, fantastic timbre and resolution. Also the benefit of dialing it up or down depending on the tips one uses is also a plus. They are insert and forget, just a treat to to listen to music with, I dont find myself notice any need to look for any faults when listening (although of course I did inspect a few trees for the review, the Vega is a truly an enjoy the overall view of the forest earphone). With so many Campfire Audio products to choose from now, deciding which one is best for oneself is the first fun stage. Price and sound signature. Simply once one has decided on a budget then the parameters of what one will purchase grow narrower, from there its simply a choice of sound signature preferable paired with a decent fairly neutral player with a low output impedance. The choice still is If you want V excitement then get the Dorado, If you want something a bit warmer and perhaps even laid back get the Lyra II and If you want the whole shebang of fullness, balanced, linear even then get the Vega. Viva las Vegas! Like the Andromeda, the Vega hits the ball out of the park and will have a place on the top shelf with the other best earphones. A select few champions. It truly is a little wonder.
I feel like I have missed something, but one must stop somewhere. Thank you to Campfire Audio for sending Head pie the Vega for review -expatinjapan
ExpatinJapan, Nov 24, 2016
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