Campfire Audio Ara

asifur

100+ Head-Fier
Campfire Audio Ara : The Exceptional All-rounder
Pros: + Stunning Looks & Build Quality
+ Very Comfortable
+ Great Accessories
+ Great Staging capabilities
+ Outstanding Details Retrieval & Clarity
+ Great Imaging
+ Despite neutral tuning very enjoyable
Cons: - BA Timbre found on rare occasions but that is just me nitpicking
Campfire Audio Ara : The Exceptional All-rounder
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Disclaimer:

This review unit was sent by @CampfireAudio for the purpose of an honest review.
Everything mentioned in this review are purely my own based on my experiences with the IEM.

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Introduction:

In 2020 - Campfire Audio set out for not only a customary annual refresh, but to go beyond their already great IEM Andromeda.
The Ara was created by Campfire Audio as a neutral reference grade upgrade to their already great All BA IEM.
The Ara is the best All BA IEM created by Campfire Audio in terms of technical capabilities and it surely delivers accordingly also.
The Ara is priced at $1299.

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Tech Features:

The Ara is an all BA universal monitor. It comes with 7 custom BA drivers on each side.
Incorporating a ‘Crossover-less’ driver with Solid-Body acoustic design into a Titanium shell makes for an excellent earphone.
Ara has a speed and accuracy to its musical delivery that is exceptional.
The 7 BAs work as follows: two high (+T.A.E.C.), one mid, four low.
At first glance, 4 bass BA drivers would suggest a prominent bass signature.
However, the well-controlled bass drivers provides ample space for the mid and high drivers to shine brightly.
Ara is an earphone well suited for the regular audiophile and people who prefer reference grade IEMs.

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Specifications:

Specifications are as below:

  • 10Hz–28 kHz Frequency Response
  • 94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 7.094 mVrms
  • 8.5 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
  • Dual High Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C.
  • Single Mid Frequency Balanced Armature Driver
  • Quad Low Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers
  • Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
  • Machined Titanium Shell
  • Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber™ (T.A.E.C.)
  • PVD Black Stainless Steel Spout
  • Black Screws
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Design & Build Quality:


Looks are always subjective, but I think these are IEMS have stunning looks, that’s both striking and ergonomic. The Titanium based shell looks awesome & very premium. The shape of the IEM is nice & very light-weight that and provides a comfortable fit for for long listening sessions.
In terms of build quality & comfort - the Ara is amongst the BEST that I've come across so far.
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Packaging & Accessories:

The Ara continues the new and larger packaging styling Campfire Audio has been using since Polaris 2.
The theme is back to a classic faded tan look with the customary collage of colors and the Ara itself on the front label.

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Accessories:
Flip the box lid and inside you have the accessories inside a similarly colored cardboard tube and an all-new cork material carry-case inside of which you will find the Ara and the SPC Litz cable. As always with Campfire, the accessory line-up is just beautiful as well as plentiful.

The full lineup of accessories closely matches the IO and is as follows:

  • Final e-tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
  • Foam Marshmallow tips S/M/L
  • Silicone single-bore tips S/M/L
  • 3 x cushioned pockets (for the monitors and foam tips)
  • Cleaning brush/pick
  • New cork carry case
  • SPC Litz cable
  • Campfire Audio pin badge
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The Stock Cable:

The cable is the Campfire Audio Litz Cable – Silver Plated Copper Conductors with Beryllium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm plug which is good soundwise and also looks wise. Really nothing to complain about here - all good.
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Amp-ing Requirements:

Due to it's vert low impedance levels, this IEM requires does not any sort of amp-ing at all. Howver, it shines quite a bit when paired with a good & powerful source.

NOW LET'S TALK ABOUT THE SOUND....
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Items used for this review:

DAC/AMP:
@iFi audio Micro iDSD Signature,
DAP/Source : Cayin N6 Mk2 with E02 motherboard, Laptop & iPad
Streaming Source: QOBUZ

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Upgrade Cable:
Following upgrade cables used :
- CEMA Electro Acousti RX series (enhanced version): 24AWG*4 6N OCC copper cable

Moving forward... All sound impressions are using this upgrade cable as I found it to be much better than the stock cable.

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Ear Tips:
I've tried tip-rolling with a variety of tips including Final Audio E Series (both Transparent Red & Black ones), @SpinFit Eartip CP100+ & CP100 and JVC Spiral.
I've found JVC spiral to suit me preferences best and have used that mostly.

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Tracks Used:
The tracks I have used can be found from the below playlist that I have used and generally use for most reviews...

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Let's now talk about the quality of Sound....

The BASS:


The Bass on the Ara comes with ample clarity and micro-nuances from the sub-bass region. It is well defined and natural sounding. There's ample layering and texture all across and despite the fact that the Ara is neutral and not very Thump & slam heavy in the bass, it sounds great and enjoyable in most types of tracks.

The MIDS:

Midrange is where the Ara shines even stronger. The midrange is full of muscle and texture and layering. Piano, violin, guitar and other instruments sound great with good amount of transients and natural decay. The Ara shines in terms of details retrieval and clarity. The vocals are very immersive and both male and female vocals come with ample amount of layering and texture. Every instrument can be identified individually and the sound is very coherent also - which is a rare case in a multi-driver architecture.

The Treble:

Treble is no exception either and full of micro-nuances and details. there's ample clarity and layering and while there are peaks - they just make the treble more enjoyable. Cymbals sound very natural with the right amount of decay & air.

The SOUNDSTAGE:

The Ara has a massive Soundstage with a good width & height emphasis and also depth. The Ara offers a more neutral & well defined stage.
It is as great for acoustic based track as it is for Rock or Pop genres. The Ara is a superb performer when it comes to staging and provides whatever the tracks require.

Imaging & Timbre:

There is a beautiful solidity and balance to how the Ara’s delivers instrumental notes yet the staging in the mids is open enough to ensure neither vocal nor instrument is competing for the same space. You get a what I would call a classic hi-fidelity stereo presentation from the Ara with perfect positioning sense of each item.
The Ara’s timbre is certainly BA but the coherent tuning from top to bottom combined with a small emphasis on the mid-bass and vocal presence ensures it is not a dry BA timbre. There is a natural lilt in those articulate instrumental notes with some very nicely detailed texture to flesh it out also.
If your bag is jazz, the classics, or acoustical pieces the Ara is perfect for string, woodwind, and percussion reproduction.
Specially cymbal strokes are fast, detailed but never splashy or hot in tone.


Comparisons :
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CA Ara vs DUNU SA6 :

The DUNU SA6 comes with much lower price tag ($549) - but I'm including here as that is also an ALL BA IEM. It is a great IEM and very balanced performance in all departments. However, not to forget that the Ara comes with Finesse and can beat it quite handily.

Bass:
The DUNU SA6 has a punchier bass with more thump while the Ara comes with a lot more details and micro nuances and textured Bass performance.
Despite the amount of Bass being more in DUNU SA6, I prefer the Ara for its detailed bass experience.


Mids & Treble:
The DUNU SA6 is quite a performer within it's own price range and is amongst the champs there. However, when compared to Ara, the SA6 mids seem thinner and lacking texture in comparison to Ara. The Ara is far more detailed and muscular. The Ara wins in this category by a mile or more.

Soundstage & Timbre:
The Ara comes with a massive soundstage and in terms of imaging and timbre it is also great. The SA6 falls short in all categories.

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CA Ara vs DUNU ZEN :
The DUNU ZEN though higher priced than the SA6 but is still much lower priced ($699) than the Ara.

It is also a single DD based IEM. I'm including it here as the ZEN also has ample amount of details and expansive soundstage.
This has been a very interesting comparison though not really based on similarities or price range but more on traits.

Bass:
This is the DUNU ZENs strongest traits with ample amount micro nuances and details. it also has the thump that is enjoyable and comes with good layering and texture. Despite the Ara coming with quite similar amount of details and layering - This is where the DUNU ZEN wins with it's DD based Bass.


Mids & Treble:
The DUNU ZEN has a slight peak in its upper mids which may become bothersome for some people. Mids & treble is where the Ara excels and exceeds the DUNU ZEN in terms of layering and texture. The Ara is also more resolving and doesn't have any bothersome peaks. the mids & treble are very enjoyable on the Ara and this is where Ara wins handily.


Soundstage & Timbre:
I never thought that any ALL BA IEM would be able to match the massive expansive soundstage of the DUNU ZEN. The Ara does just that.

The Ara also comes with an equally expansive soundstage and positioning details are slightly better on the Ara. While there is that rare case of BA timbre in the Ara - it is not enough leverage for the DUNU ZEN to win here. I would call it a tie here with slight preference towards Ara.

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Conclusion :

Having said all that - The Campfire Audio Ara is surely the top performing all BA IEM that I have come across till date.

It is very musical despite being a neutral and reference grade IEM. The amount of details an finesse in its performance make it worth every penny of the price tage that it comes with. I have thoroughly enjoyed reviewing it and would highly recommend it to others.

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asifur
asifur
@AKabir No hisses with the ones I've used
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Riyan
Wow, Nice & Detailed review
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rabiulmiraz
Great review. 👍🏼
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ngoshawk

Headphoneus Supremus
Campfire Audio Ara: Is this really the middle child?
Pros: A bit smoother tonality than the Andro
A bit less bass than the Solaris
Coherent signature
Cons: Missing that extra bit of vibrancy of the Andro
Fit is still old school
Middle child syndrome?
Tough market?
Campfire Audio Ara ($1299): Is this really the middle child?

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Ara

Intro (same as the Solaris & Andromeda):


As luck would have it, the tasty trio of new CA wares came my way, the Ara 2020, Andromeda 2020 and this; the Solaris 2020. Upon first listen of all three, I noted how they seemed similar to me. Then after closer inspection, I began to understand the intricacies of each and how they were different. The Andro is the detail king, rightly taking back its crown as an extremely detailed critter. My goodness, it really does. The Solaris? Not having heard the first or second gen, I cannot say how it is different other than reading the reviews of HeadPie, thecontraptionist and twister6. They are much more versed than I, but the Solaris to me proved why it is the flagship of the range. It is like Ken & Co took the criticisms in stride and produced and F-you, this is what we can do. All three-sound phenomenal, and I again appreciate what Campfire Audio has done to the market. They produced three winners of distinctly different signatures, enough so that you will find one, which fits your tastes. And this one? The Aras just sounds right no matter the source music. It really does, and I can see why it is the favorite of some.

I am a very lucky reviewer to have all three on hand and will do my best to discern the sound of each. As these are loaner units to me, I have no financial obligation whatsoever in this and simply appreciate and covet my time with the trio together.


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Specs:

Specifications


10Hz–28 kHz Frequency Response
94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 7.094 mVrms
8.5 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance


Features

Dual High Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C.
Single Mid Frequency Balanced Armature Driver
Quad Low Frequency Balanced Armature Drivers
Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
Machined Titanium Shell
Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber™ (T.A.E.C.)
PVD Black Stainless-Steel Spout
Black Screws


Gear Used/Compared:

Empire Ears Legend X ($2299)
Campfire Solaris 2020 ($1499)
Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099)

Cayin N6 mk2
Shanling M6 Pro
MBP/EarMen TR-AMP



Songlist:

Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots album, Trench
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA


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Unboxing:

This will be short. The units came to me in their new cork case, with drawstring “laundry-like” airy bag inside and some tips. That’s it. But from the website you note that you get the traditional Campfire Audio plethora of goodies, that are functional and needed. I have always preferred Comply foam tips on the CA models I have had and reviewed, and this is no different.

The cork case is a new thing, and I do appreciate how CA continues to think about their environmental impact. More and more this is becoming the trend, and Campfire is right up there at the forefront.


Technicals:

With seven BA’s per side, CA is taking a decidedly different twist with the Ara. Running dual BA’s up top, one for the mid and quad BA’s for the lows, there is ample evidence from the sound, that even though there is only one BA for the mids, that to me this might be the highlight of the show. Using the TAEC design for the upper realms, the highs are full but not harsh. The mids sound not lush but full and vibrant richness with passion to me as a result of the seven combined BA’s. The speed of sound emanating from the Ara are quite good as well.


Build/Fit:

The typical CA shape of blockiness continues, but on a smaller scale. After owning the original Nova, and still having the once TOTL Jupiter, I welcome that slimmed down shape since it does not hinder my ear as much. Still slightly large, but not out of the ordinary enough to bother me especially after some of the lunkers I have had of late. Yes MMR, I’m looking your way.

Made from three pieces, the faceplate with the familial CA logo graces the thinner than Solaris front. Held in place by the three-black tri-slot screws, the fit between the two halves is spot on. The black longer nozzle fits well, too and compliments the black screws to make a very nice two-tone look. The slightly angled nozzle fits well into my average-sized ear without fuss and due to the smaller shell, I can wear the Ara without bother for longer periods of time.

Adding to the overall look is the Litz silver-plated copper cable with beryllium-copper MMCX connectors. I will not go into whether this is pure beryllium or not, the point is moot since it is an alloy anyway. I trust CA and so should you. With a brownish color that compliments the blue-toned cork case, the overall appeal of the Ara is one of subdued quality and elegance. No shoutiness here, thank you very much.

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Sound:

I mentioned the mids above and will continue here. To me they present the character of the Ara most, and as such promote a richness that exudes throughout the whole of the sound character. On Alex Fox’s live version of To The Gypsies, the strings, which accompany the beginning sound sublime and full of rich character. Clean and concise with excellent speed as well, those mids are well worth the listen. Then later as the bass guitar kicks in, while not on Solaris level, nonetheless, the Ara promotes excellent speed again and depth to the bass present. Succinct and full of energy, with taut control would be a good way to describe the sound so far. I do wish for more bass, but this isn’t meant for that. This is a character defining IEM, and in that the Ara 2020 can hold its head high. Superb detail retrieval emotes a richness of personality to the note and sound heard.

Moving up scale, the treble is again vibrant and full of verve. Not harsh or sibilant in the least, the notes up top through staccato guitar strums are excellent in clarity and response. This is a fine, honest representation of the sound coming forth. CA has done its job with this one. I would add that due to the clarity of the treble presence, the soundstage sounds open as well. Nice and wide, but not Grand Canyon wide, the height is good as well. Depth matches both, but I do believe the width is wider than the others, presenting a nice panoramic sound, but not too out of proportion. This also allows for the layering to come across nicely as well.

Instruments can be picked out in more detail than the Solaris, but that is to be expected due to the tuning. Mind you the Solaris is not bad, just that the Ara is better. This is a good balance between the Solaris and Andromeda as a result. Combining with very good instrumentation as well, I never felt a lack of definition as to where each instrument laid. Proper delineation was had in all spectra. The terms succinct and character come into my mind again when thinking of the overall signature here. Not delicate or finicky or lacking depth, but a richness and vibrancy that backs up what I hear.

Not that I have neglected the bass and I usually mention it first, but the Ara is a case where the other aspects deserve the front-page news, they are so good. If there was one “issue” with the Ara to me, it would be the lack of true depth in the bass sound. But that would be a disservice to how good it really is. Not the depth of the Solaris, but present in a succinct manner, that is tailored to compliment to others in support. I most always wish for more, but here what is present satiates my desires for more because what is there is so good. On Coldplay’s Clocks, the bass is succinct and (here’s that word again) vibrant. Yes, it provides me with that sense and the complimentary sound adds to an already enjoyable sound. Chris Martin’s vocals come across clean and crisp as well in a very fine manner.

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Comparison:

Campfire Audio Ara ($1299) v Empire Ears Legend X ($2299):

Not really a fair comparison here, but I will briefly add that the detail response from the Ara makes a valid point for “why spend more?” Well, if you do you get that added bass and warmth of sound, which the Ara hints at, but does not have. There is the richness of sound and that vibrant tonality present, but not the bass. So, this would be one where the complimentary nature of both might just justify the purchase of both. I’ll leave that up to you and your significant other to discuss...one for each of you!!


Campfire Audio Ara ($1299) v Campfire Solaris 2020 ($1499):

From my Solaris 2020 review:
Another fine reviewer calls the Ara his favorite of the trio, and I completely understand why. Listening to that IEM of traditional CA-block shape, I concurred for the detailed response of sound emoting from within is indeed extraordinary. While it does not have the punch of the Solaris down low, it more than makes up for that with detailed precision and clarity. Of the three, this to me would be the most “neutral” of the trio, and most “middle of the road.” That is not necessarily a bad thing, as my wife is a middle child, and for that comes a level of tolerance and maturity beyond the oldest and baby of those trio. I am thankful, indeed.

Running all BA’s, seven of them, one would expect a lesser bass performance than the Solaris. While the amount is less, the presentation is nonetheless impressive. If you want the bass monster, go Vega 2020. If you want that solid middle ground, with excellent detail retrieval and sumptuous male vocals, then you are hard pressed to find a better CA than the Ara 2020. See more in my review. If I had to choose here, I’d go with the Solaris 2020 due to the warmth of sound and that added bass, for it is so good.


Campfire Audio Ara ($1299) v Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 ($1099):

There is no denying that the Andromeda is the former king of detail. The precision of which the clarity of sound comes through is a hearing to be well, heard. I can remember from the original that I was “quite impressed” with the level of detail retrieval and clarity wrought from that boxy shaped IEM. It pretty much set the tone for me until much more expensive unit came across my computer.

It still holds a very high place with regard to clarity and to think it is the most affordable of the three makes you wonder why you would spend more. The Ara might be the case for justifying that extra money spent. You get an extra two drivers, which are oriented for the lower frequencies, so they have no benefit or addition to that clarity of the Andromeda. So, what makes the Ara better than the Andromeda? A bit better in the bass retrieval department and a wonderfully rich tonality and soundstage. Slightly different, but not necessarily better.

The Andromeda is easier to drive as well. And to me it presents a more vibrant signature than the Ara, along with a slightly lifted vocal presentation. So, it comes down to the smooth richness and vibrancy of the Ara versus the uplifting vibrant tonality of the Andromeda 2020. Both are fabulous and I really could not pick a winner.

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Finale:

The Ara is a tough one to quantify. The “lowest” priced of the trio, does that make it the least of the three? Or the “worst” of the three? To me the Ara 2020 has the hardest job of the three. It must prove its place in this vaunted lineup is worth the price of admission. Fighting for a spot at the big kids table is tough work, especially for the youngster in the lineup. But the Ara has the tricks up its sleeve to prove it belongs. That vibrant tonality, that is textured a bit better than the Andromeda gives it a bit better smoothness of sound. I would not call it laidback, and certainly not “mature,” but a certain smoothness comes out when compared to the other two. As such, it fully deserves its place within the trio, and when price is factored in, you could easily justify this as either the entry point into the CA lineup, or a very fine addition to what you already have. I close with Coldplay’s Everything’s Not Lost, which is fitting as the wonderful bassline hits and the vocals emote that smooth nature about it.

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rev92

100+ Head-Fier
Campfire Audio Ara
Pros: The build quality is a masterpiece
Stunning looks
Very comfortable
Great accessories
You could probably kill somebody with em
Outstanding clarity
Neutral and fun
Technical and romantic
It is actually better than the Andromeda
Value
Cons: Soundstage is very good, but not extraordinary
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Campfire Ara is a universal IEM using 7 balanced armature drivers per side, being heavily influenced by the legendary Andromeda. It is priced at $1299.


Sound quality for the price
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Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Build quality
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Rating: 10 out of 10.

Value
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Rating: 9.5 out of 10.




Packaging

Nicely done.

Starting from the unboxing experience, you know that you’re handling a Campfire Audio product from the first moment. I said it many times, and I’ll say it again – I truly adore the design of CFA’s products when it comes to the boxes. Colorful, fun, and ecological.

Inside you’ll find the Ara itself, a smoky litz cable, a case, and a lot of eartips, including foams and Final Audio Type E silicone tips. Also, there’s a CFA pin, cleaning tool, soft pouch ,and some paperwork inside, but I bet it’s not what you came here for.

I’d like to address some things about the case here – it’s made of sustainable cork dyed blue. It’s hand made in Portugal and it’s my favorite IEM case ever. Feels great in the hand, it’s well-made, ecological, protective, and just simply gorgeous. As usual, it’s lining is made of thick faux wool which will protect your Ara from being scratched, even though I still highly recommend using the soft pouch additionally for just the earpieces.

The case included is functional, protective, ecological and it looks great.

Build quality

It might be boring already, but the build quality is as usual with CFA…simply perfect.

Well, if you’ve been following me for a while now then you know, that I simply love the build quality of Campfire Audio products.

In terms of Ara…well, it’s even more striking. Full titanium shells, looking refined and raw at the same time, built to outlast an apocalypse or to use as a weapon in terms of one happening.

These are heavy, but not too heavy. Boxy, but not too boxy. The craftsmanship and design are simply put – spectacular, can’t really find any other IEM on the market to compete with these in that regard. Ara is the best made and greatest designed IEM I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of them.

They look stunning in every environment.

Comfort

Chunky, heavy, and very, very comfortable.

What could be even more impressive than that? Well, the fact that these are edgy, heavy and superbly comfortable at the same time.
A 6-hour-long listening session? No problem champ, the shape, and finish provide such a great fit I barely feel them in my ears.

Same as the new Andromeda, ARA has an elongated nozzle that goes deeper into your ear canal and thanks to that provide a better, more reliable fit. As for the outer shells, even though they are quite boxy I don’t really feel them thanks to the great finish and well-thought shape.


Tech

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Campfire Audio ARA by the Campfire…how convenient.

Everyone knows that the Andromeda is the Bestseller in Campfire Audio’s history. Then, there’s been quite a few iterations of these babies, including the Andromeda MW10 and Andromeda Gold.

I’m mentioning that because the ARA is heavily influenced by both the OG Andro and those special editions. Having the 5 driver Andromeda and a hybrid Solaris, CFA went for a “in-between” kind of IEM.

I believe it was a terrific idea. They had their fantastic Andromeda on hand, and they simply tried to improve it by changing the tuning and implementing two additional BA drivers for low frequencies. What could have gone wrong? Well…nothing.

Sound

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As raw as it gets. But there’s more into it.

The Ara is one of the most unique IEMs on the modern market – analytical but yet musical, raw but beautiful, crispy but thick. It really sounds like a well-tuned pair of in-ear monitors.

Starting from the bass response, I was instantly in a bit of a shock. Well, take the Andromeda, add two additional BA and you’re gonna have the ARA with that monstrous bass response? Well…no.
Surprisingly, it’s bass is lower in quantity than the Andromeda but the overall performance is just jaw-dropping.
These two additional BA’s aren’t there to boost the bass, but rather to ensure the highest possible level of detail, textures and to get as neutral as it gets.
The more drivers you’re going to use for the low frequencies, the less distortion you can achieve at the end, and that what happened here.
So, the amount of the bass is nowhere close to the new Dorado 2020 or even the OG Andromeda, but in terms of pure technical performance, it eats both of them for breakfast. It’s strikingly fast, neutral, layered, texturized…well, you get the point.
Sure, thanks to a very neutral and uncolored presentation you’re simply gonna miss a little bit of bass in some tracks or music genres. I highly prefer to listen to The Weeknd or Post Malone on the Dorado 2020, because it gives the music that huge impact and ridiculous fun factor. Nonetheless, a well-mastered Random Access Merories by Daft Punk showed Ara’s supremacy in terms of detail and speed. The bass isn’t small though, don’t get me wrong on that…it just is….how it’s supposed to be, whether you like it or not.

If there’s one single sound factor that’s bound to Campfire Audio, then that’s the midrange. I’m yet to hear a CFA product with the thin, unpleasant, and poor midrange, especially in the vocal area. Well, I’m gonna have to wait a little longer, since the Ara has a strikingly involving, romantic, and rich midrange presentation.
Even though the whole frequency response is dead neutral and uncolored, CFA just had to add it’s magic to the midrange, resulting in a very natural sounding vocals – and I’m glad they did it.
Male vocalists like Mariusz Duda from Lunatic Soul or Neal Morse from Transatlantic sound just exact, true to life, as natural as it gets (and I’ve heard Mariusz live for a couple of times). Thank’s to that slightest warmth and lushness in the midrange, their vocals are deep, physical and charming, which would have not been possible if CFA went for a full-blown neutral tuning for the midrange.
If you’ll get the chance to audition the Ara, then please – just play Nils Lofgren – Keith Don’t Go from the “Acoustic Live” album…if you’ll return the ARA after hearing that, you’re a crazy man.

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Ara pairs excellently with everything, but technical capabilities are key.

The Treble is yet again – technical, forward, crispy, and very detailed, but at the same time, it’s smooth and inspiring.
I mentioned the song “Keith Don’t Go” in the midrange section, claiming a rather big statement. Well, that’s because Ara’s performance with the acoustic guitar’s strings and Nils vocal is the best I’ve ever heard in an IEM. The amount of air, the crispiness of the strings, the body, and the liveliness is just out of this world. I’ve heard this song on countless audio setups, probably around a thousand, and as stated before – The Ara with Cayin N6ii/E01 is the best of all of them in this specific song.
Fleetwood Mac is also a true joy with the Ara, having that rhythmic and accurate bass, lovely and romantic vocal of Stevie Nicks, and the crispy treble being responsible for the hi-hats and strings.

The soundstage is not as obviously spectacular as the rest of the sound of the Ara.
It is not as wide as the OG Andromeda, and it images in a different manner. There the Andro focuses on giving you a sick amount of space around your head and between the actual instruments, the Ara is more…restrained, but not in a bad way.
It is simply a more intimate presentation in terms of staging, with the sound sources located closer to the listener and to each other.
There are songs, in which this kind of staging is beneficial – Prog rock, Trip Hop and Modern stuff sound more involving and natural, but while listening to some soundtracks or classical music I wished it was a bit wider and more airy.

VS Vision Ears Elysium

Vision Ears Elysium and Campfire Audio Ara are more similar than I originally expected them to be. Actually, I think that these play in the same league, with the Elysium being a bit more ethereal and fresh sounding, while the Ara is more down to earth and physical.
The Elysium has a clear upper hand in terms of the soundstage, but the Ara wins by miles in terms of the bass response.

VS Campfire Audio Dorado 2020

These two are very, very different. Dorado 2020 is all about that fun factor, providing a monstrous bass and a very focused, almost in your face sound. The Ara on the other hand is more neutral and sustained, providing better insight into the music with more natural timbre and faster bass response. Nonetheless, in modern music, Ara tends to sound too thin compared to the Dorado. If you’re wondering which one to get – the answer is both. But if you really can get just one, it’s gonna come down to your personal preferences in music.

VS Meze Rai Penta

Comparing these two is also quite easy. Penta is more laid-back and analog sounding out of two, but in terms of raw technical performance it’s no match for the Ara, with the latter providing better micro and macro dynamics, crispiness in the top end and an overall more resolving and accurate tone. If you’re a fan of a delicate and lush sound signature, then the Rai Penta is an IEM to die for, but for everybody else, the Ara wins by some margin.

Summary

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Campfire Audio did the impossible – they actually upgraded the beloved Andromeda.

Campfire Audio Ara is a complete package indeed. In terms of the design and craftsmanship, it’s an unmatched masterpiece, with a spectacular sound quality to pair with that. Fast, resolving, neutral and very, very clean sounding yet providing a high dose of fun and a beautiful timbre. What’s not to love?
Highly recommended.




Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
  • Headphones – Campfire Audio Dorado 2020, Vega 2020, Andromeda, Lime Ears Aether R, Vision Ears EVE20, Elysium, Meze Rai Penta, Audeze LCD3
  • Sources– Cayin N3Pro, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M15, Cayin N6ii, Cayin N8, JDSLabs Atom stack, SMSL SU-9
Last edited:
josesol07
josesol07
great review, thanks!!
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rev92
rev92
Thank you 😍

Wyville

Headphoneus Supremus
Campfire Audio Ara - Beauty and Sophistication
Pros: Build quality, stock cable, great mids, highly detailed, ergonomics, sensibly priced (within audiophile logic)
Cons: Can be a bit bright for treble sensitive people
Campfire Audio Ara

Disclaimer

I would like to thank Ken Ball of Campfire Audio for providing Twister6 with the Campfire Audio Ara and Alex/Twister6 for letting me borrow them for this review. No incentive was given for a favourable review.

Ara
  • Drivers: 7 balanced armature (4 x low, 1 x mid, 2 x high)
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz–28 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 7.094 mVrms
  • Impedance: 8.5 Ohms @ 1kHz
  • Shell: Machined Titanium
  • Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber™ (T.A.E.C.)
  • PVD Black Stainless Steel Spout
  • Connectors: Beryllium / Copper MMCX
Links
https://campfireaudio.com
https://www.facebook.com/campfireaudio/

Preamble
Campfire Audio, the last and longest stay on my list of “elusive brands”. Those brands who’s products I really wanted to demo and/or review, but never had the opportunity. In fact, as well as the last, it was also the first brand on that list. When I started out in this hobby in 2016 Campfire Audio had just released the Lyra II and those were firmly on my radar as my first set of serious audiophile IEMs. I liked what I read about their signature, the build quality looked superb and they felt like they would be a great investment to start this hobby out with. Alas, I did not get the opportunity to demo them and did not dare order them blindly through a dealer in Austria, while I was living in the UK (the best solution I could find at the time). Ever since, Campfire Audio remained on that list with a number of different IEMs I was very curious about. IEMs such as the Andromeda (of course), Vega, Comet, Atlas, Solaris and recently the custom Equinox with the shallow ‘audiophile’ fit as an option alongside the deeper ‘Artist’ fit. -I have had issues with CIEMs in the past and would love a shallow fit CIEM to get the benefits of a custom fit, but not the issues I had in the past. Plus, I am a sucker for a high-end single dynamic driver IEM.- Even the Cascade headphones keep drawing my attention now that I have developed a craving for a desktop setup. Last but not least, the Ara came on the scene and seemed to present something quite special. So when Alex suggested I give them a go, I leapt at the opportunity to finally spend some quality time with IEMs by Campfire Audio.

Aside from the IEMs themselves, I think Campfire Audio is a really interesting brand. It is one of those companies that started out by one man slaving away in his basement on something he was absolutely passionate about. In this case it all started in 2009 with Audio Line Out, better known these days as ALO Audio, by Ken Ball. ALO produces a variety of products from cables and interconnects to some very interesting amplifiers. I always loved the look of the Continental Dual Mono portable Tube/Solid State hybrid amp. (And indeed, I never had the opportunity to try one out.) Campfire Audio developed from the same passion that drove ALO and it introduced some really innovative IEMs with outstanding build quality and a surprising commitment to keeping prices at fairly sane levels. At the moment of writing the most expensive IEMs that Campfire Audio have on offer are the Solaris Special Edition at US$1,899 and while still expensive, they sit considerably below the general trend for flagship IEMs. The Ara I am reviewing here go for US$1,299, which feels almost cheap if we forget that we audiophiles have a rather warped understanding of value in our pursuit of sonic bliss. I personally find it a very attractive price point and can only applaud Campfire Audio for keeping prices accessible for us mere mortals.

Unboxing
Campfire Audio have done a very nice job with the box by keeping it simple and effective. The Ara come in a small neat box that looks like it is a box of luxury chocolates, which unwraps and opens up to reveal a blue case and a box with accessories. The case is a very nice one made from sustainably harvested cork. It feels great and it is a perfect size for carrying around while keeping enough space to store the Ara even with a bigger aftermarket cable and an adapter (or something like that). The Ara can be stored using a small bag with two pockets to prevent the IEMs from bumping during transport. There are three such bags with two holding a healthy selection of tips. These are a set of silicone tips, foam tips and my favourite Final E-tips. Further included are a cleaning tool, a Campfire Audio pin, instruction manual and warranty card. Simple, effective, nicely done.

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Build Quality and Fit
If there was one thing that had me interested in Campfire Audio for such a long time, it would be the build quality. Just from looks alone I loved what I was seeing and now that I have the Ara in hand, I can safely say that they live up to expectation. The whole design is quite intricate, but exceptionally well executed to the highest standard and competing comfortably with IEMs like the MMR Thummim that cost well over three times the price. I actually see several similarities between those two IEMs in terms of build quality, as aside from both having titanium shells, the Ara use a similar 3D printed interior onto which the drivers are mounted. The Ara do not use typical crossovers, but instead optimise the drivers’ performance through what Campfire Audio call their Solid-Body internal chamber design. This incorporates the tuning chambers directly into the final earphone’s print. The dual high frequency drivers further benefit from Campfire Audio’s Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (T.A.E.C.) to produce better extension and clarity. This finely tuned interior is then placed inside the Ara’s Grade 2 titanium billet shells that look and feel absolutely amazing. This is the way to this reviewer’s heart. Using titanium and leaving the machined material raw, while combining that with a design that screams “use me, use me as much as you like”. Yes, the end result feels darn good. The Ara are IEMs that I have no doubt will take intensive use in their stride and only become more appealing as wear and tear changes the finish to reflect the use. At least, I personally really like that and feel that gear that is loved should be allowed to tell the story of many hours of use, rather than by being kept in pristine condition.

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The Ara come with a silver-plated copper Litz cable that feels really rather good. It might at first glance be mistaken for a cheap stock cable, but when you look more closely and (importantly) use it, the cable proves itself to be a much higher quality. It is fairly thin and supple to make for a very comfortable cable to use and thankfully there is no memory wire to ruin the experience either. The MMCX connectors have also received a boost by being made from Campfire Audio’s custom Beryllium Copper to improve strength and durability. Despite my love of flashy aftermarket cables, I really like this one, as it was clearly designed to do a job and do it well for a long time. A perfect match for the shells.

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The fit of the Ara is a dream for my ears and I rarely get such a good fit so quickly with IEMs. I went straight for the Final E-tips because I generally end up using those anyway and never felt the urge to change anything. I get a very secure fit with a great seal and even after hours of use the Ara are still comfortable. It will no doubt vary from person to person, but as far as I am concerned Campfire Audio nailed it with the ergonomics of the shells. They are as light and comfortable as they are strong.

Source
As Campfire Audio is known to produce highly sensitive IEMs, I decided to do a brief test and see how the Ara would perform with various sources. For this I used a streaming service I discovered recently called Idagio. Idagio is dedicated to classical music and so right up my alley. I started with my Sony XA2 phone and while I believe the XA2 is a pretty decent phone for sound (as far as mobile phones go), it was not a great pairing at all. The Ara had a constant ‘waterfall’ hiss that was quite prominent and they sounded brighter with brittleness in the treble. Switching to my MacBook Pro (mid-2012) reduced some of the hiss although still quite prominent to the point that I personally would not use it like that. The MacBook also maintained a similar brighter, somewhat brittle signature. Switching from my MacBook’s 3.5mm headphone out to the Lotoo S1 (connected to the MacBook) removed the hiss completely to my ears and the Ara became a little warmer and smoother. I still did not quite get to where I heard them with my usual review DAP, the Lotoo PAW6000. Part of this was down to the lower resolution streaming that Idagio’s free service offers (at 192 kbps) compared to my own lossless CD-rip files (when comparing the same album). This illustrated that the Ara are also quite revealing and benefit from a quality source in terms of both hardware and the music itself. Just as I was finishing up this review I also got in the Topping E30/L30 DAC and amplifier stack, and decided to give that a go with the Ara. I used the PAW6000 as a transport and found the Ara became noticeably warmer and lusher sounding, although with some brittleness in the treble again. Surprisingly, the E30/L30 stack was very clean and no noticeable hiss at any gain setting. I found this pairing more musical with a bit more emotion to it than with the PAW6000.

All listening was done with the Lotoo PAW6000 through the 3.5mm SE out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Comparisons
-DITA Fealty-

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

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

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

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

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

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

B9Scrambler

Headphoneus Supremus
CAMPFIRE AUDIO ARA: A NEW DIRECTION
Pros: Impressive detail and clarity - Bass extension and quality - Titanium shell is a masterpiece
Cons: Tiring at high volumes - Cable is great but I can't help but want for something nicer for Campfire's flagship BA model
Greetings!

Today we're checking out the new top dog model in Campfire Audio's armature-only lineup, the Ara (air-ah).

Campfire's gear in my experience has mostly been about providing an entertaining, but not necessarily accurate experience. The Atlas and Polaris were hella fun, v-shaped bass monsters, the IO a bright little beast laser focused on mids, and the Andromeda a killer all-rounder with a little bit of everything and some warmth to round it out. The Ara takes a new direction, one that is much more analytic and accurate, without abandoning the entertainment value that makes Campfire Audio's products so special.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

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What I Hear While the Ara's low end isn't strong in terms of raw emphasis, it is still very impressive. Extension is stellar for an armature-only unit, or four in the Ara's case, since four of the seven drivers are dedicated to bass. The drivers used here don't provide the same level of raw, visceral feedback as a big dynamic, but you can still feel extremely deep notes rumbling away, The opening bass line on Kavinski's “Solli” is usually absent through armatures, but not on the Ara. Not only is extension great, but the texturing is also fantastic helping to give the Ara a lot of range and depth to it's low end presentation. I found it particularly satisfying with some speedy jazz, such as “Moanin” by Mingus Big Band. Lastly, the Ara's low end is insanely quick and well controlled, qualities that are present through to the upper ranges. It doesn't matter how congested or complicated a track got, I couldn't find anything that upset the Ara's impressive stability.

A single armature handles the midrange which is forward and uber clean sounding. While the upper mids see a rise in emphasis, it is not extreme. The result is a reasonably natural, if not mildly bright timbre. Vocals come out smooth and rife with detail, with both male and female vocalists being well represented. Don't expect forgiveness with sibilance-prone tracks or artists though, as the Ara does nothing to hide it. That unfortunately knocks one of my favorites (Aesop Rock) out of the running during Ara listening sessions. His vocals on “Blood Sandwich” end up much too aggressive with piercing tees and esses that are very tiring. That said, on tracks that are not naturally sibilant, vocals absolutely shine. Take Celine Dion on “ashes” for example. Her power and passion shines through. Percussion instruments are also very satisfying through the Ara thanks to the rapidity of their attack and the energy it brings to every track.

Treble is where I see the Ara dividing listeners. Lower treble is smartly emphasized and aids heavily in the outstanding detail and clarity of the Ara's output. Fine details are picked up with nothing being smoothed out or glossed over. The brilliance region sees a peak that gives the presentation the most character with lots of shimmer, sparkle, and air between notes, but it can also be quite tiring at higher volumes. At low volumes it sounds amazing since you still experience plenty of energy and spaciousness between notes. This upper range tuning is ideal for low to moderate volume listeners. Notes attack and decay with impressive speed allowing the Ara to retain incredible clarity and cohesion even on very busy or congested tracks, like the improvisational jazz sections common to many King Crimson tracks. The dual armatures handling the treble region have been dialed in well, though some will undoubtedly find the Ara too bright. The most impressive aspect of the treble region is just how tight and well-controlled everything is. No splashiness, just razor sharp cohesion.

The Ara's sound stage is slightly larger than average with a well-rounded presentation. Thanks to that upper treble boost and somewhat lean presentation, there is a ton of space between notes. This certainly helps with keeping individual instruments and effects separated from one another, and individual tracks elements dynamically layered. At no point did the Ara even come close to sounding congested. Imaging performance is also some of the best I've experienced with very fine movements being clearly displayed. I highly doubt the average buyer would be looking at these for gaming, but if they do they will be rewarded with an extremely accurate presentation that can be used to track movement and sound with great precision.

Overall I absolutely adore the Ara's neutral-bright signature. While it's bass quantity is low, the quality is outstanding. Notes go deep, are heavily textured, and the speed is intense. The midrange is very crisp and clean with flawless vocal clarity, but unforgiving of sibilant recordings. Treble is bright thanks to the brilliance region spike, but pending you listen at low volumes or are tolerant of such a boost, adds plenty of energy and air to the presentation. This keeps the Ara from sounding sterile or overly safe and dull.

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Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Campfire Andromeda 2020 (1,099.00 USD): The Andromeda and Ara certainly sound like sibilings but while there are similarities in how they present, they each have their own character. Starting with upper frequencies, the Ara is the more energetic of the two thanks to additional energy in the brilliance region. This gives the Ara a cleaner, crisper sound and improved clarity. They are both exceptionally quick and well-controlled. Dipping into the mids the Andromeda has more presence with vocals having a thicker, warmer presentation. I also find it has ever so slightly superior timbre thanks to the additional warmth on tap. Bass is where the two are quite similar in terms of quantity, extension, and tonality, though I find the Ara to offer more texture and an even more rapid attack and decay. Sound stage goes to the Andromeda which comes across wider and deeper with more space between layers. That said, I still prefer the Ara's imaging which is somehow even tighter and more nuanced. Instrument separation is similar, as is layering, though the Andromeda has a slight edge in the latter.

When it comes to build I have to give it to the Ara. They use the same cable and have more or less the same shell design. The Andromeda rounds off the edges a touch more though which gives it a slightly softer look and a barely perceptible edge in comfort, also helped along by the lower weight. So why do I prefer the build of the Ara? Well, the materials. The Andromeda is made from anodized aluminum versus the Ara's smooth, unpainted titanium. The Ara's materials are straight up denser and more durable, and will be less likely to show scratches and dents. Plus, paint chips and wear won't be a concern, though I do expect it to weather over time.

Overall they are both amazing earphones. While the Andromeda is no longer Campfire's flagship armature-only model, that takes nothing away from how competent it is. That said, they cater to two different listeners. Go for the Andromeda if you want a neutral-warm earphone with good technicalities. Go for the Ara if you prefer neutral-bright with a focus on detail and clarity.

Dunu Luna (1,699.99 USD): The Ara is notably brighter than the Luna, particularly due to a significant amount of additional energy in the brilliance region. This gives chimes, cymbals, etc. a ton more presence in Campfire's offerings vs. the much more downplayed output from the Luna. While notes seems to attack and decay at a similar speed, impressive given the Luna has a single dynamic, the Ara goes about it in a more obvious and aggressive way. The Ara's midrange is more forward, though not to the same extent as the treble region. Vocals out of the Ara are a bit thicker and more weighty with a warmer tonality, with the trade off being that they are not quite a detailed and articulate. Timbre is more natural out of the Luna, but the differences are mild. Bass out of the Luna is only slightly more prominent than on the Ara, but thanks to the lack of treble to counterbalance ends up feeling more boosted than it really is. Both have a very linear presentation with a similar drop in emphasis in subbass regions. The Luna's low end is slower and can't quite match the Ara's lightening quick response, nor does it output as much detail and texture. It does, however, carry more weight and move more air providing a more viscerally satisfying experience on bass-reliant tracks. When listening for soundstage differences, I was surprised to find the Luna felt wider and more spacious allowing additional air between notes and resulting in tracks feeling more layered. The Ara comes across more intimate which plays well to it's razor sharp imaging that the Luna couldn't match.

When it comes to build they are both outstanding examples of top of the line products and I cannot say definitively that one bests the other. They both utilize Titanium for their shells with the Luna having the more understated design compared to Campfire's iconic and awesomely angular look. The Luna's simpler, smaller, lower profile shells lack the visual flair and do not isolate quite as well, but are definitely the more ergonomic and comfortable of the two, and I have zero issues with comfort with the Ara. The cable is where the two separate. Campfire's cable is thinner, lighter, and more flexible. It does a better job of staying out of the way while also being less prone to memory and tangling. On the other hand, the Luna's thicker cable design is more encouraging for long term durability, plus it utilizes Dunu's Quick-Switch modular plug system meaning you don't have to wear out the MMCX ports with cable swaps should you decide to run it balanced.

Overall they are both some of the best sounding products I've ever used. Since their tuning is so different, they compliment each other well and choosing one over the other really comes down to your personal preferences. Do you like a warmer, more mellow sounding earphone? The Luna ticks those boxes well. If you prefer a more analytic, detailed sound the Ara should be the one you look at.

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In The Ear Campfire's iconic design language is present in full force, with clean angles wrapped around a low profile design. Whereas other models are aluminum, the Ara goes all-out with titanium, and you can tell. As good as other models sharing this design feel in the hand, like the Polaris II and Andromeda, the Ara's physicality is a step up. There is a weightyness and solidity to it that belies the compact size. I also like the way light spills across the earphone. It seems to dull as it approaches the edges which gives the Ara an oddly ethereal visual appeal. Additional qualities of the Ara are shared with other models in the lineup, such as the long black nozzle with a slatted grill. Campfire's extra-durable beryllium infused MMCX ports make an appearance too. They feel as solid as ever with a tight hold on the plug and clean integration into the body of the earpiece. Unexpectedly, fit and finish is virtually flawless with every part fitting together perfectly and without blemish.

If the cable looks familiar I'm not surprised as it can be found included with a number of different Campfire Audio models. The 90 degree angled jack is smartly designed with an extension to permit compatibility with a wide variety of device cases, though strain relief is still stiffer than I find ideal. That said, I still have yet to experience any issues with it on the numerous cables I've used with it. My experiences with Campfire's cables have shown them to be plenty durable. Within the small, relief-less aluminum y-split, the cable divides sending two strands on each side to the ear pieces. Slotting into the top of the split is a small plastic chin cinch. It moves much more smoothly here than on older Campfire cables and as a result is much more useful. Also useful is the retention of the preformed ear guides we saw on the 2019 Andromeda. While the memory wire used on past Campfire Audio cables worked, I found the “memory” aspect of that title limited at best which led to the wire straightening out over time. Ditching that entirely and sticking with preformed guides has resulted in a much more pleasant experience since I'm not constantly rebending the wire to ensure it stays behind my ear. I am glad Campfire Audio has stuck with this cable and is using it with numerous models in their lineup, however, something more akin to the Solaris 2020's cable would be even more fitting for Campfire's flagship BA model.

Since the Ara uses Campfire's iconic angular shell design, those who have had issues with it in the past won't experience anything new here. For myself, I find it extremely comfortable, though I prefer the short, stubby nozzles of the 2020 Andromeda. Further comparison to that model shows another ergonomic enhancement over the Ara. While at first glance they seem to use the same shell, save for the Ara's additional weight, a closer look shows the Andromeda's edges have been softened up and rounded off giving it a softer, less prominent feel in the ear. Even so, I have had any issues wearing the Ara for very long periods. This shell design and the shape of my outer ear are very much compatible with each other. When it comes to isolation I found the Ara to be pretty outstanding. The shells are sealed and titanium doesn't let a lot of sound through. Pair that with tips that give a decent depth of seal and you can listen to the Ara in noisy environments at normal volumes quite comfortably. Sure, some noise still bleeds in, but I never found it intrusive enough to warrant raising the volume to compensate.

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In The Box The packaging for Campfire Audio's 2020 trio follows the format set by 2019's releases with the earphones arriving in a squat, square box, protected by an exterior sheath that is sealed shut by a Campfire Audio seal on the back. While past releases had a clear astronomical theme to them, this year things have gone more psychedelic Hawaiian. On the front of the sheath is a large sticker with an image of the earphones along with the usual branding and model info, all set over top of a vibrantly coloured floral pattern. Another sticker is present around the front edge containing another image of the earphones, some company info, among other details, all set over the same wild background.

Breaking the seal allows the sheath to unfold in four segments revealing the main box within. Lifting it out reveals the same uplifting interior to the sheath that we saw last year; the CA logo dead centre with rays exploding outwards in a dramatic fashion. Looking back at the main box we see Campfire's familiar mountainous scene along with more CA branding. Lift the lid and you're greeted to “Nicely Done” printed on the front flap and their now standard half-moon carrying case, though this time it is made from sustainably harvested cork instead of leather. You also find a smaller cardboard box containing the main suite of accessories. Tucked beneath it all is a warranty card and manual. In all you get:
  • Ara earphones
  • Cork carrying case
  • Smoky Jacket Silver Plated Copper Litz Cable
  • Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
    Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l)
  • Medium bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
  • Campfire Audio lapel pin
  • Cleaning tool
  • Mesh accessory case (x3)
Overall a pretty fantastic unboxing experience, as I have come to expect from the brand. Their use of recyclable, sustainable materials is a brand standard and a welcome departure from the needlessly complicated (though fun to disassemble) and less environmentally friendly packaging of the competition. The accessory kit is right up there with the best I've experience thanks to the inclusion of a wide variety of tips and styles. Final Audio's Type E tips are durable and provide a fantastic seal, giving most earphones you pair them with a slight low end boost thanks to the small bore. The included wide bore tips are fairly standard but they too provide a good seal and are a more balanced sounding option. Campfire's Marshmallow tips have shown themselves to be fairly resilient for a foam tip and do a great job of boosting isolation and softening treble peaks. The inclusion of a number of mesh bags to store everything in is awesome too.

Final Thoughts The Ara is a strong addition to Campfire's lineup and with it's neutral-bright sound, brings additional variety to the tuning options available. The Atlas is hugely fun with it's bombastic low end and sparkly treble. The Solaris 2020 has shown itself to be the best all-rounder thanks to it's hybrid setup and balanced presentation. The Ara is for those that like to analyze and deconstruct, picking apart a track and every nuance it offers.

It doesn't hurt that Campfire's iconic design is present once again, but dressed up further in a flawless titanium suit. The included cable is great, as it the impressive unboxing experience and plentiful accessory kit. As always, the presentation is as strong as the product, which is to be expected from a flagship product playing in this price range. Once again, nicely done Campfire Audio.

Thanks for reading!

- B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Caleb for arranging a sample of the Ara for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on over two months of routine use of the Ara. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Ara was retailing for 1,299.00 USD: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/ara/

Specifications
  • Frequency Response: 10Hz-28kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB SPL@1kHz: 7.094 mVrms
  • Impedance: 8.5ohms @ 1kHz
Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, FiiO BTR3K, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes
Supertramp – Crime of the Century
Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
King Crimson – Lark's Tongues in Aspic
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy
Steely Dan – The Royal Scam
Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

Watermelon Boi

100+ Head-Fier
Campfire Audio Ara: Succeed to the throne
Pros: Advances beyond Andromeda's sound signature
-Weighty lows, sexy mid-highs
-Full titanium cavity
-Great set of accessories
Cons: A tad vulnerable to white noise (although now lesser than previous models)
-Possibility of having fitting issues
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Campfire Audio Ara Review: Succeed to the throne

The popular brand from the portable audio industry, Campfire Audio, has come up with a new stream of products - Ara, Andromeda 2020, and Solaris 2020. The Andromeda was not only the flagship model from their full-BA lineup but also CA's most popular product of all times, keeping its flagship title for a long period of time while other their other lineups were featured with the new successors - such as Atlas or Solaris. A rumor has been lingering upon us that CA is engineering a 7BA IEM since several years ago which turned out to be true as their announcement of a special limited edition named Andromeda Gold. Finally, after a year or so, CA announced the official, new flagship from their full-BA lineup, the Ara. Let us now take a look and see how this performs, sounds, and compares to its competitors.




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Packaging

Campfire Audio finally went through some revamp with their packaging and I am happy about it. There are lots that do not pay much attention (or not at all), which is very reasonable. But I believe better packaging and boxing do matter when talking about premium IEMs. The size of the new packaging still goes for a reasonably small box but roughly twice the bigger than the old ones. Once you remove the CA sticker on the rear of the box, the outer packaging would unfold and reveal the inner box which includes all the belongings. I very much enjoy this new packaging as they are beautifully designed inside out and gives a feeling as if you are unboxing a present. This phase of lineups has a flower theme to it as it is apparent to the box design.


Other than the earpieces, it includes 1 set of 3.5mm stock cable, 1 leather case, 3 pairs of earpiece pouch, 5 pairs of Final Audio eartips, 3 pairs of CA eartips, 3 pairs of CA foam tips, 1 CA Lapel pin, and a cleaning tool. CA used to provide only 1 pair of earpiece pouch before, but it seems like they have realized the demand for it and started to throw in an extra 2 pairs – which I appreciate a lot. The lather case is also newly designed to have the same color as the earpiece. The size also got appropriately larger with a wider opening, now making it more convenient when storing the IEMs with thicker cables. It is also worth mentioning that the case material has now changed to sustainably harvested cork which is economically friendly and even durable than leather. The size increase also happened to the earpiece pouches as well, making it easier and smoother to store the earpieces.




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Earpieces

Ara houses 7 balanced armature drivers per side, comprised of four lows, one mids, and two highs that are topped with +T.A.E.C. chambers that are once again advanced from their original chamber structure. Not only Ara but all three new products went through changes where they no longer use any crossovers or passive electronic components for the internals - which CA refers to as the Solid-Body chamber design. Each driver is controlled and tuned based on acoustic housings installed with the driver in order to produce a more natural, accurate sound.


Campfire Audio also applied Ara with a housing material that they have not used before which is titanium. With the same design and form factors as IO or Polaris II, Ara's cavity uses a CNC machined, grade 2 titanium with the surfaces kept raw. Of course, the edges do not feel sharp at all as they are polished smooth and round. Since the surface is not coated with extra layers, it actually feels smoother and more comfortable to the touch than other Campfire IEMs. Selecting titanium as the material sure made CA's steampunk design to look even cooler.




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Cable

The cable went through some changes too. First the shielding. The previous silver-plated Litz cable had a transparent silver color which looked good, yet vulnerable to discoloration and stains. The new version has a smoky grey jacket that solves such problems as well as being even softer. Metal memory wires are gone too and replaced with a simple ear hook design.



I am glad that they have made this change as the metal rods used to make the earguides feel a bit odd. Super Smoky Litz is made of thick silver-plated copper Litz wires, braided to have 4 cores. The cable is terminated as MMCX-3.5mm, just as usual. It would have been better to see some extra functionalities or accessories regarding the cable termination as an IEM in this level of price would have no small amount of needs for balanced outputs. I wonder if CA will have plans for applying changeable plugs later on. Perhaps the future will tell.




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Sound impressions - Lows (Spiral dots normal)

Ara sports a W-shaped sound signature. With having a mildly elevated quantity, lows are maintained leveled and flat. But before moving on, I would like to make sure that this does not mean that the term "flat" is not being referred to the bass quantity but the overall intensity throughout the low range. Lows show instant reaction speed with clean, mild splashes happening evenly throughout the low range. It is also thick in density that adds intimacy and stickiness to the dynamics. Despite all that, the bass quantity itself is only emphasized adequately (around 20~25% depending on different tips), having it to be similar to or minutely lesser than slightly v-shaped IEMs.



Since that, now it may come to you as a concern if you wanted a plentiful amount of bass - however, the way how Ara presents the bass is more than enough for making a strong impression as the music goes. While Ara makes a leveled bass flow as I mentioned above, lows are consistently kept bold and clear all the way down to the ultra-lows, managing to easily pull up those deep, energetic bass rumbles. The rock-solid density makes the core of the bass to be distinctively hard which is then surrounded by the tender body. This ables the strikes to be extremely tight and dense without turning stiff since the smooth body and reverbs relieves it. Since that, every note of the beat is driven by this solid core and makes the bass to show strong impressions throughout the music, even with a mild bass quantity. Of course, these rumbles do not bounce up high or get rough in order to keep the linear altitude, though lacking depth or the low-end presence have no means of worrying unless you are a basshead.




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Sound impressions - Mids

Mids are forwarded made by a natural build-up from the lows. Other than the lower mids being forwarded mildly lesser, no audible dips are being made as the transition is being done and keeps the phasing perfectly coherent. A mildly husky and sensual tone is one of the strongest charms that are found from Ara. Mids also forms a well-bodied and meaty thickness. However, instead of a warm tone like most IEMs that show meaty vocals, Ara sports a cool, airy tone throughout the range. On top of that, Ara also keeps the vocal surface leveled without forming a big lump that bulges out. Hence Ara's coolish, leveled vocal presentation breaths in gentle freshness and transparency that does not lead to fatigues even after a long listening session.



As we move upwards, vocals gradually gain more air, making them bloom with fluffiness. A metallic glimpse is noticeable as it crosses the sibilance area that serves to add rigidity to the texture. This does not escalate into spikes or warp the timbre but only gives a sleek, crusty bite at the end. Speaking of sibilance, I have noticed that eartips with slimmer bores (such as the stock Final E-Types) could cause the upper mids could get thinner or marginally sibilant once in a while, so in that case, I would recommend using wide bore eartips (Spiral Dots, AET07, etc.) since these tend to not cause any sibilance or thinning out in vocal thickness. The tight density continues on mids as well but relatively smoother than lows (which were rock solid), not leaving a hint of getting loosen or muddy in the presentation.




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Sound impressions - Highs, etc.

The crisps are very detailed with excellent layering and texture retrievals which I consider as the biggest highlight from the trebles. Ara's analytical highs produce smooth and fine treble grains that stay apparent as the music goes which is addictively good. While highs are tight and dense like the lows did, here the notes are a lot more bouncy and elastic that makes themselves more adaptable to the flows. This also benefits how the treble strikes sound. Highs show distinctive analyticity but definitely not mechanical or cold-hearted as the impacts are being made lively and soulful.



They are distanced similar to the mids and similar in quantity. However, interestingly enough, fatigues are not a problem as they are amazingly well controlled. CA must have paid no small effort tuning the trebles as they stand out vividly without heating up or getting intense in certain parts. As Ara did with their lows, the intensity on the highs is kept very calm and evenly distributed. Ara sure does not forget on forming a large, but not overdone, headroom. While having the overall sound rush in close to the ears, it maintains an adequate distance from the ears, keeping the sound immersive without the mess. The phasing and positional details are well fetched and respect the natural atmosphere. Each instrument is distinctively separated and organized on their intended place but does not get choppy or too "mechanical".




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Comparisons

-Campfire Audio Andromeda (Original)-

Simply speaking, Ara approaches to the music more in-depth and in a wider spectrum. Lows are agile and slimmer that does not fall behind in thickness or dynamics. The reverbs are further controlled which results in the overall bass quantity to slightly decreasing, yet Ara puts thorough enough attention to the body and the thickness and would not get lacking in bass response - however, the quantity may not be fully enough in the case of a basshead user since the bass quantity is about 30% elevated from flat or <10% lesser than Andromeda. The bass response from Ara is still plentiful, which that it now got even accurate, and covers the spectrum wider and clearer, ultimately achieving better performance than Andromeda.



Trebles are opened and further cleared up that the sound achieves higher transparency and airiness. Mids are cleaner and take a clear step forward, enforcing the vocal presence. They are now also more revealing and neutral in thickness meanwhile Andromeda carries a warm, thickened vocals that gently rings with reverbs. The gentle, airy splashes are now vivid and easily audible from Ara, making the transition from Andromeda to Ara to feel as if we cleared up the fog from the atmosphere.





-Campfire Audio Andromeda Gold-

As we compare Ara to Andromeda Gold, we can see that these two IEMs share the same DNA yet with distinctive differences. Lows from Andromeda Gold are more plentiful in quantity with a larger body. On the other hand, Ara's lows maintain a well-bodied, meaty bass, they show a quicker and snappier response. The bass strikes are clearer-cut that retain a denser core in the middle. Since the strike and decay are more firmly and confidently done, the low-end atmosphere is kept cleaner and better organized.



Andro gold's mids sound more soothing and organic while in the case of Ara, mids are clearer, brighter, and crisper. This also means that the peak around the sibilance area is relatively stronger, yet the extent is small from the get-go. Mids are thicker and moister on Andromeda Gold with that classic full and rich Andromeda vibe, while Ara is closer to neutral with less reverbs or bloatedness. The upper ends, in general, are a lot tighter/harder and blatant in exposing the surface textures. Highs are visibly clearer and transparent that poses liveliness. The fine strands of layerings are better separated and analyzed on Ara, along with carrying much more air with that open-field, breathable environment going on. Ara's treble strikes are crispier and protruding but get nowhere near to giving fatigues. The stage size is similar - Andromeda Gold takes a lead in the lower-end fullness while Ara shows its superiority in the upper-end openness.





-Noble Audio Kaiser Katana-

Ara sounds interestingly similar to Noble Katana throughout the range. Both IEMs use a full-BA setup that sets analyticity as their characteristics that, in the end, sound beautifully musical. Both IEMs are quite blatant and revelatory to the finest level, precisely picking up every bit of detail. Yet when it comes to the bass, Ara takes the advantage. Not only Ara produces more bass quantity, but the thickness of the color and its depth is also visibly better than those from Katana - let us say Katana's low-ends are only mildly elevated from flat while the bass quantity from Ara is equivalent to those that are slightly v-shaped. Not "V"-shaped, but "v"-shaped.



However, once we move on to the mids, Katana takes a slight lead here. Both of them are finely tuned to create coherent and well-bodied mids, yet Katana does a better job dismantling the layerings from the vocal as well as evenly and stably expanding the vocals throughout the mid-range. In other words, the vocals sound more wide-spread with lesser turbulence. It is not that Ara is unstable, of course, yet Katana still takes a slight lead when relatively spoken. Other than these, both IEMs are very similar in both characteristics and presentation as mentioned from the beginning - crisp, airy, open-field, and rich.




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Verdicts

After numbers of Andromeda variations, the next generation for the full-BA lineup made itself to the shelves. As an immediate superior of Andromeda, Ara is another milestone for Campfire Audio as well as to be new the star of the show. With a further mature performance and presentation, Ara does not simply reuse the sound signature and charms from Andromeda but born to have its own attractions and style. Also, the fact that it did not fully steer away from their house sound signature makes it possible for Ara to be leading in those who appreciated the former flagship. If cleaner, deeper bass along with extra analytic and splendid upper ends are what you are looking for, Ara's sexy sound presentation would already be enough to draw you into choosing them as your next flagship choice.




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RELATED REVIEWS

Andromeda (original) / Polaris II / IO / Atlas / Comet


_____________________________________________


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Thanks to Campfire Audio for providing Ara in exchange for an honest impression/feedback.
I am not affiliated to Campfire Audio and none of my words were modded or asked to be changed.

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B9Scrambler
B9Scrambler
You and Ryan Soo take the best pics in the business. Excellent work :ok_hand:
Watermelon Boi
Watermelon Boi

Takeanidea

Headphoneus Supremus
Campfire Audio Ara - American Muscle
Pros: Bass. Vocals. Natural, clear, uncomplicated sound signature
Cons: Cosmetic appeal didn't win me over.
Lack of presentation and extras.
Campfire Audio Ara – American Muscle

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Introduction

Welcome to you, and may I also welcome myself ; this, remarkably, is my first experience with a Campfire Audio product. Notwithstanding a brief taste of an Andromeda in Harrods back in February, which I admit to as much for the sheer glamour of the experience as much as for the sake of disclosure. February’s audition was somewhat hampered by the hour I spent with Sennheiser's HE1 prior to being shown the Campfire brand. As good as they may well have been, the HE1 is a hard act to follow!

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With many thanks for his support to myself and the headfi community in the UK, I’d like to extend my thanks to John of KS Distribution for supplying our intrepid reviewer posse with the Campfire Audio Ara, their latest flagship IEM. The views on the earphones are mine and come to you completely without any outside influence. I have read no previous reviews on the Ara. This is a method I always use, and is a way in which I can try and give you my own opinion, rather than regurgitate someone else’s. Whether you love me or hate me as a reviewer, that, dear reader, is how I roll…

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Ready to wear – Beryllium MMCX connections and unobtrusive memory wire


About the Ara

Retailing at £1299, the Ara is not for the penny pinchers. This model costs significantly more than many very capable custom in ear monitors, having very little in the way of extras, and has a somewhat understated finish. So, what do they have to offer?

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The Ara has 7 balanced armature drivers. And, if you like your bass, you’ll be interested to know that 4 of those are providing the low frequency energy. Now, a multiple driver setup needs a network of crossovers. The crossovers tell each driver at what frequency they should stop producing sound. The use of crossovers has an inherent problem of distortion to contend with. Campfire Audio have not used crossovers in the Ara. They have somehow found a way of shaping the body in such a way as to eliminate the need for them. Don’t ask me how they’ve done this; I’m baffled! I thought you always needed to have the little wires in between. The rules are constantly being rewritten when it comes to IEMs.


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The aluminium body shell showing off it’s straight edges


The Ara has a somewhat low sensitivity at 93 dB. However, this IEM needs no external amplification. In a shootout with my Meze Penta Rai IEMs, the Ara had to be turned down. It has that much firepower. You can use these on your smartphone. Yes, I know that means getting little workarounds to connect the 3.5 mm jack to most new phones, but at least you won’t need a Hugo 2 and the like. It’s possible that someone reading this only has a smartphone, after all! Please do not for a moment think I am saying that you need to discard your Lotoo Paw Gold or your Ibasso DX220 or your AK380; far from it! Good amplification will always benefit even something as diminutive as an IEM. The Ara doesn’t need lots of mW or high voltage to perform at its best is what I’m trying to illustrate here.
The Ara's, now stripped of their tips, yet still displaying a touch of elegance under the hood.

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Accessories and build

If you thought this was an advert for Campfire Audio up til now, pay close attention. There are good things in this bit, for sure. There are also some disappointments I wish to share with you. As I’m a fairly positive person, I shall start in a dark corner and finish in glorious sunshine. There will be some controversy in this next bit, simply because when I look at the cosmetics of a piece of audio gear, it is it entirely subjective. I must, therefore, confess to be underwhelmed by the appearance of the Ara. These lEMs are angular, brushed silver, with black screws, black tips, and a cable which looks pretty ordinary to boot. Although there is nothing that particularly annoys me about their design, there is equally nothing that wows me either.

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The Ara from the top; what do you think?

I also wonder what people may think about the accessories that come with the Ara. At the risk of seeming petty, if a customer is willing to part with £1299 for an IEM, just how special should the product feel? I would be looking for a touch of luxury. Perhaps a balanced cable, as well as the unbalanced 3.5mm which has been supplied. Even a cable made with different materials, which may offer slightly different results. That wouldn’t go amiss. A nice case for it all to go in, some felt, or leather here and there. Just those extra something’s that add a little opulence to the occasion. Campfire Audio have instead gone for the approach of demonstrating that you don’t need a huge box to hold an IEM and a carry case.

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Am I being too harsh? The package- left to right- leaflet, wax removal tool,2 pouches for tips, safety leaflet, cork carrying case, pouch for the drivers, tips, warranty card and badge.

What you do get is well made. The terminations on the driver and cable are made from super tough beryllium and copper. They are MMCX connections. These are my favourite type because you can swivel the driver shell around on the cable to get a really good fit. The pins are much stronger than the 2 pins and are less likely to snap or bend. The fit is a satisfying snap. A 2 pin is much quieter when it connects cable to drivers. It leaves me wondering whether got a loose connection. Not so with MMCX.

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A close up the MMCX and also the attention to detail with the nozzle vents.


The build quality is as expected for a flagship. Attention has been made on both strengthening the usual weakspots in an IEM whilst also not being overly showy about it. The Y split, the chin strap, the jack collar and the MMCX ends are all robust and solid. The difficulty in capturing this on film goes some way towards proving my point.
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The carrying case is a snug fit for the iems and tips. Being made of cork there is plenty of flex. The driver shells get pushed into a separate left and right pouch which then sits inside the case. The cork that is used is apparently completely sustainable so praise should be had here.
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The shape of the shells is not as problematic as the hexagonal design would suggest. Straight lines can often mean sharp edges. Sharp edges are not a friend to an ear, especially for prolonged listening sessions. The angular cut is mercifully soft enough to fit comfortably into the ear. The sure fit tips don’t look much. They look decidedly cheap and cheerful. And yet they make a good team. They work in harmony with the Ara's and got me a really good seal, deep into the ear canal, blocking out a decent amount of ambient noise. I was not needing to micro adjust the shells in my ears during my wearing them. This is a sign of a sensibly thought out piece of kit.

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Sound Quality

Comparison with Meze Rai Penta

With apologies for taking so long to get to the most important part, here comes the most important part. Of course, this bit might disappointment you so much, you wished you’d not spent all that time reading all the preliminary stuff. I have done a little reveal anyway, so I make no further excuses and we can move on to the good stuff.



Vs Meze Rai Penta

The Meze are my own purchase, which was completed through the headfi classifieds last month. I’d wanted them for a long time, having heard them at the Bristol Audio Show in February 2020, before everything went horribly wrong. The Meze retails at £999, reasonably in the same league price wise, and class wise, as their American rivals.
The Meze has is a 5 driver balanced armature/ dynamic combination. 4 of the drivers are balanced armature drivers. The dynamic driver is the bass driver. 2 drivers for mids and 2 for highs complete the audio spectrum. The approach to the Penta and the Ara couldn’t be more different. The Ara has 4 drivers for bass and the Penta is using 1 driver to achieve the same thing. On this occasion, theoretical differences are immediately proven.
As soon as I put the Ara's on, I could hear a warm smooth sound that had appreciable bass impact. There is an evident low end grunt to pretty much everything you throw at the Ara. I didn’t find the bass response to be linear. It was not tight and fast. It was a more laid-back presentation. Whilst it would be unfair to say that it swamped the rest of the music, make no mistake; it’s always there. Foot tapping stuff.



The bass on the Penta was more linear. The bass sounded more realistic and was faster, but had less punch, you couldn’tfeel the ear moving against your eardrum, and that happens with the Campfire's. I think there was slightly less character to the bass on the Ara.

The mids and highs on the 2 earphones are just as different. The Penta is a real show off. It pinpoints subtle effects and the stereo image are presented in stunning clarity. The Meze Rai Penta is a technical wizard in this respect. The Meze Rai is proud to display is mastery of all things hi-fi. The Ara has taken a different approach entirely. The precision is not there. The soundstage; by which I mean how far apart the band appear to be and how clearly each instrument can be heard, the soundstage is much smaller. The overall feel of the Aras’s makes them no less intoxicating. The Ara has put the vocal, or the main instrument firmly into the foreground of the soundstage. Vocals are easy to follow. The Penta falls behind in this regard. The Penta makes the vocal more distant in the mix. There appears to be more work going on with the Penta. The Ara doesn’t feel like it’s working very hard at all. The Ara’s have that effortlessness that doesn’t force you to take a microscope into the mix of each song. Instead you get permission to sit back and let it wash over you. There is much less of a wow factor with the Ara. They won’t blow your mind compared to the Rai Penta. But they might just be easier to live with over a lifetime of listening. With the build quality of both the Meze and the Campfire, I suspect that either will last the course, if they are cherished in the way they deserve to be.



Many people reading this will have had lots of time with some really classy IEMs. Some people aren’t that fortunate. Some will have had a negative experience with a £1000 IEM and found it wasn’t the right match for their preferences and have been left wondering what the hype is all about. Others still will have far more common sense than me and are perfectly happy with their chifi bargains. The question remains however – what makes an IEM worth this sort of money? When I listen to an IEM of this price bracket, I am looking for effortlessness, easy to follow vocals, individuality and supreme comfort. Without comfort all the rest of the effort is wasted. If I experience discomfort after 15 minutes then I won’t be able to concentrate on the music. Both the Penta and the Ara score highly on my hi-end Trevometer test. Both IEMs are different flavours. The Ara has its niggles. It looks industrial. It’s lacking that extra touch of finesse in terms of extras. The 3.5 cable could have a balanced adapter, as a minimum. It’s just enough, but without the wow factor. That may come when you put the Ara’s on. The Ara may be just the taste you are looking for. And who am I to stand in the way of that?

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snoopyfb

100+ Head-Fier
I’m a fan of the Ara!
Pros: Resolution/clarity, natural sound, reference tuning. Reserved the campfire house tuning, which engages music to your heart.
Cons: Really none if you know what you are expecting in this IEM. It’s perfect. But some upgrade cables instead of the normal Litz will be appreciated, which won’t add the build cost too much.
Header:
I love companies with great customer service and delivers their product the way the customers expect, and a good value. Amazon is one of those companies. Sony too. Apple too. JDS labs as well. Campfire Audio is the next.

I had an Alo interconnect and an amp called Rx Mk2 or something, I loved that thing paired with my FiiO dap in the old days. I was inevitably exposed to this Campfire brand and bought many of their products. Some of them are mediocre (like the campfire Orion, nova, IO, Jupiter and arguably the Cascade), some of them get well received like the Lyra, Polaris, Vega, Solaris, and some are simply epic like the Andromeda.

There are higher end IEMs out there in the market but a part of my heart is reserved for the Andromeda forgood. The Andro, is simply the best IEM created by this company, and it brought me some of the best listening experiences I ever had.

And now the Ara arrives, and I think it is better than the Andromeda. A more mature timbre under the same nutshell.

Opening the box, the succinct yet rich packaging and accessories bring a smile on my face. Same old Campfire accessories pack. Done nicely. The cork case is very thoughtful and practically handy. The stock cable is disappointing, it’s the same old litz cable. For any other IEM this price, campfire usually brings more strands to the litz, or upgrades it’s material. But I can live with it.

Sound and comparisons:
It brings out all the details in the music that ears can possibly hear. All of them. That’s how well they perform.

They don’t sound immediately outstanding if you are spoiled with many neutral gear. Yet that’s what you should expect from a reference headphone. Ara is Campfire’s gift to many musicians or media creators or those who listen to all types of music.

That’s all for the review part. Here comes the comparisons:
Andromeda (pre 2020 version):
More spacious due to the v-shape sound. More sweetness in vocals and acoustics. Less accurate and less details. Both cosmetically and sound wise, andro does sound more exciting but not long lasting as the Ara. Both fit well in my ears, but the Ara will be more compatible in fitting people’s ears because the nozzle longer.
Andromeda compliments well with Ara. I love both.

Solaris OG:
Solaris has a better soundstage and I prefer the amount and sourcing of the bass on the Solaris. The mids and treble is supposed to be the same between the Solaris and Ara, but because the bass more contained on the Ara, the Ara has better mids and treble to me.
Soundwise, both are awesome. I love the look and comfort of the Ara, and hate that huge chunk of gold on Solaris personally. So ugly. I prefer Ara slightly more overall.

Etymotic ER4SR:
Very similar sound although the frequency response is different. Better isolation and better fitting in ear if you use comply, although Ara fits very well in my ears. Smaller and congested soundstage. Much less detail. Much less musical.

Inear PP8 small version:
With both switches turned off, the PP8 sounds quite similar to the Ara but less musical. The Ara still kept a bit of campfire house sound making it not boring at all, yet PP8 sound is plain and boring. When the switches are on, the PP8 sounds more exciting and more similar to Ara. PP8 is less smooth than Ara, which did great in connecting the frequencies of sound (that is performed unevenly from different BAs by design). I like Ara better overall.

Xelento:
The bass of Xelento is richer, but less controlled. The mid range is simply worse than the Comet BA in Ara. The treble is less textured. It is much more comfortable to wear and has a more handy impedance. Comfort is very important to me so I give a huge thumps up to Xelento.
However, I like Ara better overall.

U18t
Ara sounds similar with a slight less detail. In many ways they perform similarly. But the presentation from the U18t is more aggressive and edgy, I like the smoother sound from Ara, maybe because I am just comforted by that little bit of Campfire house sound.

Thieaudio L9:
They are more musical in the initial listens, but if you listen more, you will find they are useless compared to Ara.

Moondrop A8:
They are as good in the midrange presentation, but overall worse than the Ara.

Ara vs Ara with other cables:
I like how Ara presents with a pure silver with gold plating cable (mine from EA ymmv). I also prefer OCC cables (mine from plussound ymmv) more than the stock cable. The stock cable does not suck but I recommend you to upgrade your cable so very much, and Ara scales with them.

Verdict:
There are many good IEMs on the market. If you want to buy one IEM and live with it happily forever, the Ara is a very strong candidate.
I also heard good words about the U12t, but never actually heard it.
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doctorjuggles

Member of the Trade: Cable Builder
Pros: Detail retrieval
Rendering of vocals
Separation
Comfort
Accessories
Cons: Timbre/tuning
Not for bass lovers
My experience with Campfire products is fairly minimal. I've heard the original Andromeda for about 10mins and I've owned the original Solaris for around 3 months. However the brand is pretty legendary and could reasonably be credited with contributing to starting a new wave in design and R&D in the industry, so having owned the Solaris, I've been keen to try a few more of their roster

As part of the UK tour (thanks John @ KS), these arrived on my doorstep in the middle of a seriously busy time - I had two weeks to get to know them and I never really felt like I truly had enough time to sit down for long periods. I was always catching half an hour here and there, so bear that in mind when reading these impressions.

What's in the box
A short note on packaging, accessories and aesthetics - I quite like the form-factor and Campfire's IEMs always seem very well made and pretty robust. The packaging is unique and, compared to most others, very "green", it's very compact and there's very little space beyond what's required, so it minimises shipping wastage. Additionally, it comes with a cork case and three (!) of Campfire's excellent little IEM mesh bag. I have a couple of these myself (bought in HK) and they're clearly bigger than the version I have. I love these little bags, so three is definitely a welcome extravagance. Tips are plentiful, normal silicone, foam and Final E. As I already have plenty of Final E, I used mine in the audition.
The cable is also very nice - I'm not sure of the material it's insulated in (it's an SPC wire) but the feel is almost rubbery and is extremely pliable and flexible, so comfort is pretty easy to achieve.

Sound
Once in use, the first thing that hit me with the Ara is the high levels of detail and resolution. Great separation, especially in the midrange, good treble that manages to control sibilance for the most part and a clear focus on mid-range and vocals.
Paired with the right music, there's no denying it has an impressive array of tools. Kim Gordon's voice sounds particularly sweet and delicate, as does Marianne Faithfull's and a host of other melodic female tones.
The Ara is adept and lively with anything requiring attention to detail.
I can't help but feel, though, that CFA have missed a trick here.
I've read in other impressions and reviews that this is an IEM with 7 BA drivers. Great. So being so midrange focused, that means there are two or three dedicated to the mids then right? I mean, that's where so much information resides. If you're trying to reproduce that above all else, that would make sense. *checks notes*
Hmmmm...1 midrange driver? That can't be right. And four bass drivers? What are they doing? Don't get me wrong, the bass isn't awful. It's adequate, especially for something that is unashamedly focused on everything but the bass. So why are four drivers necessary for it?

This is my issue with the Ara. I actually like it. It's a nice IEM. But it doesn't make a lot of sense. The mids are nice, but they lack a certain weight, the timbre is off. Only slightly, but when combined with the delicacy of the single midrange driver itself - the whole sound is too ethereal, too fleeting. It doesn't hold an image of anything in particular in your mind. It's a sound, it's nice, and then it's gone. Onto the next note.
I realise that it's just is just to produce those notes, but after using them, I take them off and I can't really say what the signature is here.

I must point out (as I have throughout my admittedly unimpressive "reviewing" career) that I'm usually a lover of a more weighty sound. But I do appreciate an IEM that's trying to do something different. My Katana, for all its faults, is my go-to for this type of sound - it conveys emotion in vocals (especially female vocals) in a way that none of my other IEMs can quite achieve. So while it's not my favourite IEM, it's the one I reach for on specific occasions (and when I listen to spoken-word podcasts). I have an appreciation for it. But leaving the house and heading into the world - the Ara just sounds (here's that word again) too delicate to compete with what's going on around me. It's not because the isolation is particularly poor though. It's just the nature of the IEM. It doesn't like fighting for attention, it needs to be treated with more care than that. I get the feeling that my occasional free time to give it attention rather exacerbated this particular character of the Ara.

That said, I think it's a decent IEM, and I'm judging it critically against some of my other, heavyweight monitors. That may be a bit unfair.
Would I buy it? Well I think it's probably a better value deal than the Katana at full price, so if I didn't own that, it would be on my consideration list. And certainly many out there will prefer this to some of my own preferences (Legend X, for example, couldn't be much further in character from the Ara).
However I think it could have been even better if just a tiny bit more time and care had gone into the tuning of the mids.

My takeaway...
I'm not sure what to make of the Ara overall. I debated whether to write this, I tend to just leave things alone if I have too negative a view on it, and looking back over this review, it comes across as more negative than I actually feel about the Ara. But for this listener's personal tastes, it got so close to being so good.
Now I know why my parents so often used to say "I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed." This comes close - purely because it's so obvious that the raw ingredients are there, but the sulky teenager let it down with a lack of application.

Still, I truly appreciate the opportunity to hear these. Campfire will remain on my list of "must try" when they release their flagship products, and I'd like to thank John again for giving us UK head-fiers a chance to hear things when lockdown prevents us from otherwise being able to!
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skedra

Head-Fier
Pros: Very pleasant tuning, great staging and technicalities, great build quality, good accessories, fantastic treble
Cons: Hiss out of most sources, deep fit can be uncomfortable for some, lacks bass in noisier environments
AraMain2.jpg


Introduction:
Campfire Audio is one of those brands which is hard to mistake with their industrial looking yet sleek designs and materials. I have been a big fan of the Andromeda for what now feels like forever, which made the release of the Ara quite an interesting one since it swayed away from more of fun sound towards something more analytical and neutral. Equipped with 7 balanced armatures in a crossover-less configuration and enclosed in a titanium shell the Ara definitely grabs attention.

This unit was graciously provided by K&S Technology for review and has since been sent to another reviewer.

In the box:
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  • IEMs
  • Campfire Silver plated litz 3.5mm cable
  • 5 pairs of Final Audio tips
  • 3 pairs of marshmallow tips
  • 3 pairs of Campfire silicone tips
  • 3 pouches
  • Soft cork case
  • Campfire Audio pin
  • Cleaning tool


Build quality and accessories:
Build quality is stellar. The IEMs have a decent weight to them without feeling as crazy heavy as the Andromeda S but just enough to give confidence they are very high quality and will not break from a random drop or sitting on them. My only gripe is the front grill if any debris enters the IEMs due to the shape of that grill it will be extremely difficult to remove it.
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The cable is nice and soft, I wouldn’t say it’s an “end game” cable, but for everyday usage it’s great, it’s fairly tangle-free and disappears while using the IEMs.

The case is very nice too, with a soft inside and just enough space to fit the IEMs with the cable and pouch to keep both sides separated.

Fit and comfort:
The Ara fit me really well, the shell, even though it has an angular appearance is finished in such a way that the IEMs never dig into my ear or create any hotspots. The steam is also just the right length to make them sit well in my ear.

One thing to note with the Ara, at the start I was using quite a shallow fit, there was a peak around 8k which was getting fatiguing. However, when using a deep insertion this was no longer an issue.

Sound:
Neutral, with a full-bodied lower midrange and with very good coherence.

Bass:
The bass is really dynamic, fast and detailed. It still presents most of the characteristics of a BA bass but it somehow still manages to have a fairly natural presentation. The extension is very good, with a good amount of punch while being quite restrained in its presentation. On my test track "Bonefield - Window" the Ara clearly shows how superior its bass extension is to that of the Andromeda while keeping the bass tamer in general.

Midrange:
The best way to describe the midrange of the Ara is smooth, natural and gentle. It does still present excellent detail and good texture but all of that is not emphasised, it's there for the taking if you wish to do so. Due to the dip in the upper midrange, some female vocals are a tad pulled back but I got used to that pretty quickly and it didn't bother me.

Treble:
Treble on the Ara is fantastic, listening to cymbal splashes on "Fleetwood Mac - The Chain" really gives you a sense of minute details and vibrations of the cymbals and (I assume) due to crossover-less design there are no abrupt dips which could cause the cymbals to sound pulled back. The detail is presented smoothly but the sounds needing a bite still have it. It's one of the better treble presentations I've heard in an IEM. There's plenty of air and separation is excellent.

Imaging and Soundstage:
Another strength of the Ara is its very natural stage presentation, everything just sounds in the right place, with the right amount of space around it. It makes you feel like gazing into a recording and almost being able to touch the instruments in the air. Every instrument is precisely positioned within the space and the images never get blurry.

Matchability:
This is not something I talk about often, but the Ara definitely needs a very clean source. It digs into noise floors of equipment and exposes even the lowest noise floor. On the Cayin N6ii with both the E02 and A01 boards the noise floor was very noticeable without using an iEMatch.

Conclusion:
I very much recommend the Ara, this comes with a few caveats. Their sound signature is while being very natural and delicate isn't best suited for an environment with a lot of outside noise as it makes sound a bit lifeless, however, if used in a quiet environment they are a very relaxing listen with impressive technicalities. It's very nice to see campfire try something entirely new and come out with an IEM as well rounded as the Ara.
Pros: The tonality is gorgeous, full bodied signature, fluid mids, excellent drum impact, satisfying richness, good treble energy, chiseled and handsome titanium shell, water-resistant and attractive eco-friendly cork case, excellent selection of tips, good cable
Cons: Deep insertion can be uncomfortable due to the angles on the chiseled titanium shell, some dips in mids that can reduce (some) female vocalists’s singing body, note weight can obscure some details, I’d like a cable strap
Introduction
I’ve always been intrigued by Campfire Audio and have had a few listens to their gear. A couple years ago I met Caleb Rosenau at CanJam London. At this point I finally got to try the Atlas and the Andromeda. I loved both for different reasons. The bass on the Atlas was just delicious. The Andromeda had an easy to love fairly balanced signature. I chatted with Caleb about future offerings coming up for Campfire and kept the communication lines open while the development cycle progressed—or didn’t as it may be. The Ara is my first Campfire Audio review, but it is not the first by the Audio Primate crew. Jackpot77 has a long-standing reviewing relationship with Ken Ball, with reviews of the Solaris, Atlas, Comet, Cascade, Vega, Dorado, Andromeda (don’t ask for a comparison, because he bought that with his own money and didn’t keep it) and Lyra II. He’s got a review of the Solaris 2020 coming up soon, also.

Usability: Form & Function
Unboxing
I’ve posted an unboxing post with some early impressions over here, so go check that out if you want to. I’ll not go over it much here. Long-story short: it’s a nice unboxing with cool touches to make you feel special with a great gift box presentation. It’s Portland meets Japan kind of cool packaging, I only wish the presentation aspects were easier to put back on. A small modification to the centre whorl where the sticker goes would make reclosure easier.

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Aesthetics and build quality
The Ara has a dead sexy presentation. That grey titanium makes me feel like I need to do something about my kids. Don’t worry, this is way better than Back to the Future II. Sorry if that’s polarising, I always felt like the movie was too jumbled and self-aware. I do feel like I’ve just won a Mr. Fusion, though. I’m only going to feed it the finest chocolate. The Mr. Fusion should feel as good as I do when listening to the Ara.


That was all to say that the titanium shell makes me feel like I’ve gone back to the future. The cork case feels like I’ve harkened to a past that may have never existed. Was there a time in the past where people made purses out of dyed cork? After doing some research on cork, it is an interesting material. It’s water resistant, it’s abrasion resistant and it’s eco-friendly. It’s pretty damn cool. Now if the zipper was water resistant, the case would be perfect. Soft protective inside, durable water resistant outside.

Ergonomics
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The Campfire Audio Ara has the signature hard-edged Campfire Audio shell first featured on the Andromeda. They tried other shells, but have gone back to the original for most of their line-up. The Ara comes with enough tips to find something that you are comfortable with, for me the choice is all about insertion depth. The edges of the shell aren’t just striking to look at, they are also striking in the ear. The shape and feel can have a bit of a Jean Claude Van Damme effect, “the muscles from Burnside?”. I feel the hard edges when I go for deep insertion and medium tips (which gets a touch more stage, but I have a harder time getting a perfect seal) and get physically fatigued after a couple hours of titanium on ear contact. When I use shallower insertion I get bigger drum impact, which I like, and I never feel the shell. Its all about the larger tips for me. I’m normally a medium-large in the Final E-Type tips, but I use large on these. The Marshmallows don’t feel quite as good and don’t sound quite as good as the E-Type tips to my ears.

Audio quality
The Campfire Audio Ara has a balanced signature with thick lower mids and midbass and a seamlessly integrated feel to the presentation. I think the lack crossovers allows the sound to feel more like one speaker per ear rather than a set of components. The Ara feels cohesive and fluid. Music just flows through it to your ears. Resolution is good with excellent note weight, but this note weight can make it feel a touch slow on the trailing edges of cymbals from time to time. Most of the time the cymbals sound smooth and pleasing, where some other IEMs will sound thin. The treble is natural with a pleasing smoothness. On some tracks I find myself wanting a little more bite, but on most of my music I just ease into the comfortable sound of the Ara. Mids are well articulated with good speed and detail. Details are there, but they are never in your face. The tuning is gentle and musical with a naturalness to the presentation. There are some vocals that lose some of their character due to a couple dips in the mids that I would have liked to be a little smaller. Drums are spectacular on the Ara with might impact and delicious body. The same goes for bass guitar. The presentation is immensely satisfying. I love the bass, it has good presence, and presents some texture and speed, but without grit. Sometimes grit that should be there is smoothed. The bass is full and smooth, but is neither fast nor slow. The bass feels better than the frequency response measurements I’ve seen. For the most part, the Ara makes anything you throw at it have a euphonic sound, though sometimes at the expense of prominently displaying some recording noise that you’ll never not notice now. The Ara has extended sub-bass, but compared to some other IEMs I have, I find myself craving more from time to time. The overall sound of the Ara is impactful, euphonic, and full sounding while maintaining an overall balanced signature.

Matchability
I’ll put it right out there, the Ara may send you looking for synergy. Not always for the reasons expected. It will hiss. I got hiss on the balanced outs of the SOUNDAWARE M2Pro (this was a first for me), Questyle QP2R (which is a common occurrence) and N6ii E02 setups. The N6ii T01 setup was the clearest sounding but it didn’t have the treble dynamics of the QP2R. The hiss was so high on the E02 that I couldn’t listen to it. With the stock cable, a 3.5mm single-ended cable, hiss performance on the QP2R didn’t improve and neither did it on the M2Pro. When music is playing, hiss is mostly overcome on both, whether balanced or single-ended.

The Ara is sensitive to other parts of pairing, and not just with components, but with music choice. Old recordings have recording noise in specific bandwidths within the treble (the sound seems about the same frequency as brushwork on cymbals), and the frequency response of the Ara accentuates this recording noise. I threw down some old Pink Floyd albums (original press CD versions) as well as the The Beatles – Abbey Road (Stereo Digital Boxset version). Pink Floyd – Obscured By Clouds showed some of this recording noise, but Animals was pristine. The recording hiss on Abbey Road was bad. Real bad. When switching to another revealing IEM, the AME Custom Radioso, I could hear all the recording noise that the Ara picks up, but at a lesser volume. Modern recordings didn’t tend to have this noise when I listened for it. The Ara also seems to sound better out of balanced mode for me, at the same measured volume. It’s bigger and clearer, irrespective of DAP. My favourite pairing is the N6ii T01 on older recordings, and the Questyle QP2R (after controlling for the hiss) on other stuff. The QP2R gives a more vibrant presentation with more treble energy.

I don’t have a lot of MMCX cables, so I mostly used the 4.4mm Smoky Litz supplied by Campfire upon request with the review unit. I tried out my Double Helix Cables Symbiote Elite SP v3 (eight braid) and found that the stage opened up a little more and that I got even more texture in the bass. I’m using the cable via an adapter. Unfortunately, this means that I can’t make this the regular way of listening outside of my desk, as I don’t want to break any pins from accidental leverage. The quality of the pairing does make me want to get a listen with Campfire’s Pure Silver Litz and SX8 IEM cables. I think a lot of the improvement in stage comes from higher AWG on the DHC cable. If I’d gone for a quad braid set-up on the DHC, it might be a more fair comparison. I am noticing some additional brightness with the pure silver Symbiote Elite when listening to Tori Amos – Pretty Good Year (24-96, 2015 remaster). The Symbiote Elite also has less impact and body, and is more sensitive to recording noise (I never heard recording noise on Carly Simon – I’ve Got To Have You on other pairings) so there are trade-offs. Switching to the currently unreleased new coaxial copper Double Helix Cable I get less impact than either of the other two cables. This isn’t the pairing I’d do. The tonality is overall a bit less vibrant, but there is great depth to it and instrument separation is superior. There is also no recording noise. The Effect Audio Ares II+ has a little more warmth and impact compared to the new coaxial copper Double Helix Cables design. Impact with the Ares II+ is also a touch softer than the smoky Litz 4.4mm cable. Overall, I like the Campfire Audio Smoky Litz cable the best, but I’m certainly curious what Campfire’s other cables would sound like with the Ara. Something for another time, maybe?

future-continued


As with any cable comparison, take this with a grain or a bucket of salt. Pickle it and put it under the floorboards until it ferments into something better than bitterness and salinity. Maybe use that pickled feeling to de-ice your driveway this winter? I’m going off of human auditory memory, I’m not doing a blinded test (can’t do one actually because they feel different), and my switching time isn’t very short because I don’t have two of the Campfire Ara.

Deep Freeze Road Salt Cocktails


The Ara is sensitive to tip choice and insertion depth. I was all ready to finish this review, and then I read some more stuff in the HeadFi threads that didn’t note the warmth and smaller stage size that I heard in comparisons. I have been using large Final E-type tips (I usually use medium-large) and letting the Ara float a little ways away from my skin (not really touching) as the further I insert, the more I feel the hard edges of the signature Campfire shell. However, using medium tips with deeper insertion lowers the bass quantity (reducing warmth), makes the stage sound a tiny tiny bit bigger, and makes vocals sound a touch more forward in the mix (likely due to reduction in bass presence more than anything), though the difference isn’t huge. It also reduced impact, richness and treble presence. The Ara still doesn’t have the widest stage in its price bracket. Overall, I preferred the Ara with less insertion with the tips I tried. It’s more comfortable and it sounds better to my ear. The small trade-off in soundstage width was totally worth the improved impact and richer tonality. It’s likely that small differences in seal are responsible for the differences and that these are more likely to vary from one insertion to the next with the medium Final E-type tips, bigger tips will have less variability.

balancing trade-offs

When I used the Campfire ‘marshmallow’ foams I was able to get deeper insertion without losing any seal, so got a bit more soundstage and most of the tonality. The ‘marshmallows’ trade a little bit of impact and bass texture to get that slight improvement in stage compared to the large Final E-Type. I found the large Final E-Type to have the best combination of comfort and tonality. I can get a deeper insertion with the ‘marshmallows’ but I also feel them in my ear more. Others may have different findings. Our ears are all different.

Comparisons
Volume matched using Ayre Acoustics – White Noise off their Irrational but Efficacious System Enhancement Disc, using an SPL meter. All IEM comparisons were made using the Cayin N6ii with T01 audio motherboard.

HeadphoneCableSE/BalancedGainVolume~SPL
Campfire Audio AraStock (original SPC)SELow3978.5
Campfire Audio AraSmoky Litz 4.4mmBalancedLow3678.5
AME Custom RadiosoStock 2.5mm to Cayin 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapterBalancedLow7078.3
AME Custom ArgentStock 2.5mm to Cayin 2.5mm to 4.4mm adapterBalancedMedium3878.1
Stealthsonics U9DHC Symbiote SE v4BalancedLow5878.3
UERRDHC Symbiote SE v4BalancedLow6478.2
Unique Melody Mason v3Stock Silver 4.4mm (dB-Go closed)BalancedLow5478.3

AME Custom Radioso ($1450)
Build and feature comparison
Both of these are well built. The Ara is made of tough titanium. I prefer the recessed 2-pin setup on the Radioso to the MMCX setup on the Ara. It’s probably that I’m just more used to the generally easy cable switching of 2-pin connectors. Switching the cable on MMCX stresses me out. The Radioso shell isn’t as tough and doesn’t feel as secure due to there being a lip between the faceplate and the shell body—I’m hoping they remedy this through a silent revision. The case for the Ara looks much nicer, but probably isn’t any more water resistant than the aluminum press-fit case of the Radioso. The stock cable for the Radioso is superior and balanced options are offered for a $20 fee—personally, I think that AME Custom should just up the price to $1499, include the better case that comes with their customs, and not charge for getting a balanced cable. The Radioso also comes with a leather cable wrap, which is a little touch that Campfire should add. The Radioso will be more comfortable in more ears, as the Ara has some ridges that you may feel, depending on your insertion depth in your ear. I use larger tips to have lower insertion depth and avoid feeling the ridges. It works. Overall, I think the Ara has a small edge in build and presentation.

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Sound
I made the comparisons below with large tips and shallower insertion, but many of them held true when I switched to medium tips. Switching to medium tips made the stage slightly wider on Carly Simon – I’ve Got To Have You (DSD64, MFSL), but it also decreased the delightful impact of the drums, reduced treble energy, and made the sound a touch softer overall. To me the trade-off wasn’t really worth it. The slight edge in stage width isn’t worth the loss of dynamics. If you want a less engaging (more reference?) tonality, insert as deep as you comfortably can, which may come with a trade-off on seal; if you want a more sumptuous and impactful tonality, make sure your seal is as tight as possible.

The Ara gives some nice chunky warm bass on Derek And The Dominos – Bell Bottom Blues (DSD64). Hand drum impacts have a nice roundness that matches the expected tone and volume well. Vocals are fluid with great separation between the two vocalists. The track sounds a touch busy through the Ara. The Radioso picks up a bit more recording noise from the track, but conveys a more open stage with better separation and an easy stage. The Ara feels like it is trying harder to convey busy parts during the track, likely due to a little bit smaller width and slightly reduced instrument separation. Eric Clapton’s voice comes out a little more forward on the Radioso, which is pleasing. The Ara has a thicker, more organic feel to it in the bass and vocals. There is more edge to the Radioso. The hand drums are more round and satisfying on the Ara. Bass grooves with similar emotion, but the Ara is a bit wetter and the bass is less separated from other elements due to the smaller width of Ara’s stage.

Rebecca Pidgeon – Spanish Harlem (24-88, binaural) is a perfectly imperfect track. The best representations of the track show off the reverb of the room and all the little snaps and accidental sounds going on in the track. The Ara picks up the little background crackles and snaps as other players get ready and move about the stage. The Ara nails Rebecca’s voice. The reverb is delicious and her voice is warm and welcoming with good body. Little string tweaks on frets are well defined and the sound is wholesome, fluid, integrated and rich. The Radioso is airier, less sumptuous, and because of this, feels like it conveys more depth in the stage. I’m not getting the same rich reverb, it’s more subtle. Piano on the Radioso has sharper edges, while not being fatiguing. Locating the shuffling and cracking sounds of musicians moving is a little easier and overall instrument separation is superior on the Radioso. Instrument locations in general on the Radioso have more precision. I prefer the Ara’s presentation of Rebecca’s voice and the ambience of the reverb, but like the staging of the Radioso better. These two IEMs scratch different itches.

It’s time for the speed test. I always like to have a track that tests speed in every comparison. Daft Punk – Aerodynamic (16-44) works nice for this. The Ara is giving me nice impact on the drums that I really dig while still letting all the subtle electronic instrumentation in the background come through. Those 4 bass drivers are being put to very good work with rich and groovy bass tonality. I find the bass really satisfying on the Ara. The guitar riff has great tonality with all the little intentional distortions coming through. The song just sounds right, impactful and fluid with the right energy level. Switching to the Radioso, the electrical energy behind the bells and drum beats is more palpable and more well defined. The bass on the Radioso doesn’t convey as much texture as the Ara bass, but has good body and extension. The guitar riff is a bit harder sounding, but the ethereal backing sounds during the riff come through more clearly. These are both excellent IEMs that fit specific moods. The Radioso has more air, but the Ara has more emotive mids that are just addictive. I can settle in nicely to either.

Carly Simon – I’ve Got To Have You (DSD64, MFSL) has gentle, vulnerable, vocals, an open stage, a remarkably clear recording, and massive drum impacts. I love all of these elements. That open stage is well-represented by the Radioso. Carly’s voice is delicately conveyed with plenty of interaction with the stage. The drum hits are big and well defined. The drum kit is arranged at the right depth, and boy do you feel the bass drum kick. The treble on the Radioso is effortless in its definition and extension. The movement of the electric guitar around the stage conveys both great depth and width on the Radioso. On the Ara, Carly is also delicate, but a touch thicker. There is a delightful fluidity in the guitar strums accompanying Carly. Bass guitar sounds more textured with good extension. The emotional weight of the Ara is higher due to lusher mids and fluidity. The drum impacts are a bit more satisfying on the Ara, and there is definitely more texture to the bass guitar. The quad BA bass is doing its job well. On the electric guitar solo, the Ara doesn’t convey as much depth or width in the musician’s movement around the stage.

AME Custom Argent ($1450)
Build and feature comparison
All the same things to say about the Radioso, but the Argent doesn’t do recessed pins. The stock abalone faceplate is better looking than the Radioso stock faceplate.

Sound
After doing comparisons between tips on the Ara, I stuck with my original observations with large Final E-Type tips and shallower insertion.

The Ara has great amplitude on drum hits in Autolux – Great Days For The Passenger Element (16-44) and all the tongue movement and lip smacking of Eugene Goreshter’s vocal. The presentation of the track is fluid, dynamic and emotive—the three words I would use to describe the Ara. If I pick a fourth, it’s impactful, because lordy does it nail drum impacts. The Argent sounds comparatively gentle on the vocal and drum impacts. It has great definition and a little bit more edge to the sound. Mids are a touch recessed compared to the Ara, with a bit more of a v-shaped signature. Like the Radioso, the Argent conveys a bigger stage than the Ara. Cymbals have more bite and splash than the Ara or the Radioso, but I don’t know if I prefer it. The decay of the Ara on treble is a better fit for my listening preferences. If I could get a combination of the AME Custom stage and the Ara tone that would be perfect.


Let’s get weird. Sing along. Schizoid Lloyd – Suicide Penguin (16-44) ranges from gentle to insanely aggressive with huge dynamic swings. It’s a good test of how much power is on offer. It’s also a speedy track. With the Ara there is a bit of added ambient warmth that shrinks the stage a little. The track is a naturally busy track, and the Ara makes it feel a little more busy. That said, the texture of instruments has a very refined presentation. Bass has great menace. Drums have great speed and impact. This track is a circus, and the Ara is a remarkably calm carnival barker, given the level of madness in the track. Everything feels nicely integrated. On the Argent, the track feels more restrained, with mids that are back of neutral. The bass is smoothed over a bit and the overall energy level of the track is just taken down a notch. Even turning it up from my reference level doesn’t restore all the energy. It does have a better separated stage, but manages to be less integrated while doing so. The vocal placement on the Argent doesn’t work as well for me as the Ara. The stage width on the Argent is notably better and instruments get more of their own space, but it doesn’t feel as much like they are playing together. The airy backing vocals have better presence on the Argent, but the Ara has better presence on the bass and drum that follow. It’s all trade-offs and preference between these two so far.

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The Ara has soul on Leonard Cohen – Leaving The Table (24-48) but the bass doesn’t reach as deep as it can and it doesn’t have the rumble I listen for on this. It conveys most of the texture of Leonard’s voice, but not all of it. There is some smoothing of the sound that gives the track a fluidity. Ken Ball described these as sounding like a really good analogue representation. When I hear that, I think organic, because the use of the word analogue fails to recognise that there is analogue that sounds hard and glaring and digital that sounds warm and welcoming. I’ve always felt that ‘analogue’ is a meaningless description that gets thrown around for the folks thinking back to the first digital mixing and the first affordable CD players to describe the contrast with these new digital sources. Digital has come a long way since then and most ‘analogue’ (read vinyl) is produced from a digital master nowadays. The Ara are organic and rich, with a tasteful amount of warmth. The Argent is airier, more textured, brighter. It isn’t a rich or organic sound, and I wouldn’t call it warm. It also isn’t a cold signature. Like the Ara, bass is a touch smoothed on the intro. The Argent gets a little more texture out of Leonard’s vocal. As previously noted, instrument separation is greater on the Argent.

Before I even put Amber Rubarth – Hold On (24-192, binaural) on, I feel like I know what the differences between the IEMs will be. The Argent will have more space, further back vocals and a touch drier presentation. The Ara will be warmer and wetter with a sound that feels connected and organic. Let’s see if my pre-disposition is right. Argent up first. Recessed vocal, check. Airy presentation with nice breathiness on Amber’s vocal, check. Good depth, check. Switch! Thicker vocals on the Ara. More immediacy in the stage. Richer more organic sound. I didn’t need to do that listening test.

There’s not a clearly superior IEM between the two, but I find myself preferring the tonality of the Ara, with it’s richness and potent impact.

Ultimate Ears Pro Reference Remastered ($999)
Build and feature comparison
The UERR comes with a UE (read Linum) SuperBaX cable, which is an extremely ergonomic cable that also happens to sound nice. To go balanced for either, you have to buy an upgrade cable. The version of the UERR that I have is from when they had 2-pin connectors. I’ve got a SuperBaX 2-pin, but it isn’t balanced, so the tests I did were with a soon to be released Double Helix Cables copper coaxial Litz design (it doesn’t have a name yet, I’ve just called it Symbiote SE v4). The UERR comes with a press-fit, aluminum, water-resistant puck case with personalisation available. Mine says my name and my handle here and on HeadFi. The cork case that comes with the Ara isn’t as tough and I doubt the zipper stops any water, but it is luxurious feeling with it’s lambswool lining, and it looks more luxurious with the beautiful dying of the cork. I think both cases would be considered relatively eco-friendly (if they guaranteed it was from recycled content, it would be awesome). The titanium body of the Ara is instantly classy, but the UERR is a custom acrylic that costs $999+ which means you can get some serious customisation for $1099 (submit your own art, or get fancy materials). Customs also require getting ear-scans or ear impressions, though, which isn’t so easy to do in our current COVID-19 world. Overall, I give the build edge to the current version of the UERR, their IPX connectors are superior to MMCX in terms of durability and water resistance, and I prefer the case on the UERR.

Sound
Bass is up and grooving on Billy Cobham – Quadrant 4 (DSD64) with the Ara. Speedy treble has a bit of smoothing. I’m not hearing all the little bits as clear as is possible on this track (there’s only a couple IEMs that do that in my experience), there is some blending. Drum impact, is as always, great with the Ara. I could use a bit more treble bite. Guitar is warm and smooth. I’d like a little more edge here. The UERR has a bit more edge but also feels a bit colder and less integrated. The UERR sounds airier, but also a bit emptier. There is a unifying warmth that gives the Ara a very pleasing sound in comparison to the UERR. The UERR has a slight edge in treble speed and bite, as well as staging, but I prefer the tonality and impact of the Ara on this track.

On Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (DSD64) there may be some track synergy. The track is warm and rich, but also spacious, so where Quadrant 4 could have used more warmth from the UERR and more treble speed and bite from the Ara, the interaction effect could be very different on this track. Bass in the intro is lean with the UERR, strings have great shape with peaks on the violins well-represented. UERR has good representation of the depth of the stage. When Isaac makes his appearance, there is a bit of dryness to the vocal. The chocolate is still there, but it isn’t as silky as it can be (think bakers chocolate vs. a really nice single origin 70% plus chocolate). The tone is a bit more smooth and silky on the Ara. Intro strings have more body and fluidity. Backing vocals have a bit more presence. The Ara also picks up more of the old-recording hiss artefact (both pick this up, but it’s more present on the Ara). There isn’t an edge in instrument separation between the Ara and the UERR, but the pieces feel like they fit together in a sonic whole better on the Ara. Isaac Hayes has more of that chocolately smoothness that I’m looking for when he comes into the track. At the same time he comes in, there is also a nice bass guitar accompaniment. This is handled better by the Ara. It has more body and texture. Four BA for bass was an incredibly good decision by Campfire. Bass is further back on the UERR with less texture. Treble on the UERR is sharper sounding, which will appeal to those who like treble with some edge. I tend to like my treble detailed, but smooth.

Massive Attack – Teardrop (16-44) is all about whether the transducers can thump, snap and rumble and bring the air while representing a delicate female voice well. The UERR has good snap and thump with airy vocals that veer a little bit towards sharpness. The stage has good depth and excellent separation between instruments. Busy elements within the track are easy to delineate into individual components. The female vocals on the Ara are softer and the bass doesn’t feel as textured, it’s wetter with a bit more volume and impact, but the upper mids and lower treble often lend further texture to bass, and the Ara tuning is less forward in this region. Stage on the Ara feels less wide and less tall. The overall match on this track is better on the UERR.

The soaring female backing vocal is the highlight of the Pixies – Where Is My Mind? (DSD64) for me and the primary thing I’m looking for when I audition headphones using this track. I get some soar with the UERR, but there are definitely IEMs in my collection with more amplitude at more parts of the track. The Ara is thicker through the mids and has denser bass. During the end of the track when amplitude goes highest on the female vocal, the Ara doesn’t soar as much as the UERR does. It is more restrained. It gets the tone, for the most part, but rounds off the tone just a little. Drum impact on the Ara is better than the UERR with a more visceral feel. I also give a slight edge to the Ara on Black Francis’s vocals, which get a little more force to them.

Stealthsonics U9 ($1099)
Build and feature comparison
This isn’t a contest. The Ara is made from better materials, and has a better case. The Ara comes with a nicer tip selection. The main listening cable for the Ara is slightly better, but the U9 also comes with a microphone cable, which is a very nice touch. I use the U9 microphone cable for all my Zoom calls.

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Sound
On the Ara, I think there is a dip in the upper mids/lower treble that affects Macy’s vocal on Macy Gray – Slowly (24-192, binaural). She sounds relaxed with a little lack of bite. It actually made me go look for measurements to show what I’m hearing (below). Both the black measurement and Crinacle’s (white background) give some insight. There is a dip at about 2.5kHz on the Ara that likely is responsible for the more laid-back feel of Macy’s vocal. The 6kHz dip, explains differences in the trumpet presentation. The U9 has more air to the signature and Macy sounds a bit more emphatic, as does the bass. The U9 feels airy, but manages to do it without sounding like it has expected depth in the stage. The soundstage is more narrow than the Ara. There is some echo to Macy’s voice which makes me think the noise floor is lower on the U9. The sound on the U9 is vibrant compared to the more easy-going Ara. On the trumpet, the U9 can come across as a bit strident. The Ara does a better job of conveying the trumpet with a pleasing fluidity. Bass on the Ara is also more fluid.

Campfire Ara frequency response SBAF-purr1n
Crinacle Ara vs. U9


Animals As Leaders – Ka$cade (16-44) is a track that is all about speed and resolving a complex mess of a track. The Ara is keeping up nicely. It has good air for the backing vocal and good separation of the various jumbled elements of the track. The tonality is natural. It’s a good pairing with this track. Nothing comes across strident and nothing comes across muffled. The Ara does an especially good job with sorting out cymbal taps. They have the right amount of body, and when little crash is called for it’s delivered without too short or too long decay. No splashiness here. The U9 sounds more aggressive with sharper transients and a more aggressively textured presentation. The soundstage has less depth on the U9 which leads to a forward sound at the same matched volume and more perception of loudness. I find myself wanting to turn the U9 down a few dB. The Ara is smoother with an easier to listen to sound. The Ara still shows the same technicalities of the track, but it isn’t as in-your-face as the U9.

Why – Strawberries (16-44) has some sweet male vocals from Yoni Wolf and loads of snapping, shaking, and sparkling percussion to go with some nice bass drops. The Ara is nailing this. No fatigue and brilliantly musical tonality, with great timbre to all the instruments, whether chimes, vibraphone or that big chugging bass. The U9 is sharper and more fatiguing with a little more nasally quality to Yoni Wolf’s voice. All the percussion sounds a bit more strident compared to the Ara. There is a feeling of the details being thrown at you, but the effect isn’t always pleasing. Bass on the U9 has satisfying thump and texture. The impact of the bass is less with the Ara and the texture is a bit smoother and thicker. It’s worth noting that the last two tracks have been modern recordings that are mastered a touch on the cold side. The next track goes more old-school.

Pink Floyd – On The Run (24-96, UK quad vinyl rip) has lots of panning and little detailed interludes. I know my friend, the Bad Boy himself listens for the resolution of the announcer. On the Ara, the announcer is a bit back of where I’d usually hear her and the details of the announcement are harder to make out. This is the frequency response dips coming in again. The stage panning is good on the Ara with sound-effects travelling across the screen with a nice wide arc. Depth is also good with nice back to front pans executed well by the Ara. The stage is articulated well on the Ara with a very natural presentation. The U9 is immediately leaner in the mids and treble with more bass rumble and an underlying menace. The U9 handles the announcer much better, with increased clarity and better depth in the stage. The Ara sounds recessed on her voice. The U9 gives me a narrower soundstage, but with sharper images.

Unique Melody Mason v3 ($2699)
Build and feature comparison
The Mason V3 and Ara both share fits that are hit or miss for folks. Whenever I use the Mason V3, I have to tug up on my ears to get a more secure fit with deeper insertion. With the Ara I have to use large tips to keep the angles of the shell suspended away from my ear. The cable on the Mason V3 is heavy, but also comes with two tonalities to make the Mason V3 more flexible. The Mason V3 has the dB-Go module, which allows tuning the bass and the ambience in the mids. The cases for both are very nice, but I prefer the titanium puck of the Mason V3 (don’t know if they are still making this case). The cork case of the Ara is probably more environmentally friendly and also looks pretty sexy, but it doesn’t have the robustness of titanium. It is easier to close though. The Mason V3 titanium puck makes you detach the earpieces if you don’t want to fight for space. The Mason V3 wins on build for me, but it should at $1100 more.

Sound
For this comparison I kept the DB-Go module on the Mason V3 closed to get a bit more bass. This also reduces the stage a little bit. I used the silver option of the dual-tone cable.

The presentation of Tori’s voice on Pretty Good Year (24-96) has a nice breathiness, while not feeling light or wispy on the Mason V3. Stand-up bass bow-work is full of texture and violins sound smooth and well-defined. Piano is gentle and correct with no tonal imbalances or sharpened notes. The swell of piano strikes is beautifully represented. The Ara matches up well with Tori’s vocal, but is a little sharper on her vocal. Piano is more varied in presentation. It is overall smooth, but when Tori really slams the keys, the Ara hits harder than the Mason V3. The Ara has a touch more midbass, which gives the big bass in the middle of the track some more thickness. The Ara has a touch of track hiss that comes out from the recording.

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Where Michael is in the stage says a lot about the presentation of mids on Michael Jackson – Billy Jean (24-96, vinyl rip). He should be centre stage both in width and depth on this particular version of the track (vinyl rip from the USA 1st pressing). Both IEMs do a good job of placing him in the middle of the stage. On the Ara, similar to how Macy’s vocal was presented, that little dip at about 2.5kHz reduces the energy of Michael’s voice, making him come across a bit more laid-back. I’d like to see this little dip filled. The Mason V3 comes across a little more even-toned in this area, but the elevation in the treble of the Mason V3 makes the relative emphasis of Michael’s voice similar. The Mason V3 has a bit more texture in Michael’s voice, with more energy in his grunts and breaths. The Mason V3 carries this one a bit better from a textural perspective. I still have to give some props to the Ara for having an imminently pleasing and integrated feel to the sound.

Ara vs. Mason v3 Crinacle frequency


Thump-thump, thump-thump, bass guitar, guitar wail. Bring that s*** in! Rage Against The Machine – Take The Power Back (16-44) is about raw aggression, and both the Mason V3 and Ara have some points of emphasis to overall balanced sound profiles. The Mason V3 can reach down low with some authority, but that level of extension isn’t necessary here as the track doesn’t dip to the deep sub-bass. The Ara has a little bit more midbass which gives a slight bit more weight and texture to bass guitar notes and more body to the thumping drums. The Ara has loads of impact. Drums and bass guitar are immensely satisfying. The Mason V3 has a lighter touch with the bass guitar with faster decay. In general the Mason V3 comes off lighter and faster. The guitar solo starting at about 2:40 into the track sounds faster and lighter with the Mason V3. Notes are a touch smoother and thicker with more body on the Ara which makes it sound less fast, while the Mason V3 is a touch drier and sharper sounding. Both sound good, but are slightly different flavours. The Ara’s additional body extends to the cymbal work after the solos right before getting into ‘no more lies’ and ‘I take it back y’all’. The Ara has more fluidity in the cymbals than the Mason V3, which sounds a touch hard on the cymbal work with more tin to the cymbal sound. Imaging is pretty even between the Mason V3 and the Ara. The upper treble presentation of the two is very similar with a modest bump in air going to the Mason V3. Neither masks Zach’s sibilant ‘no more liessss’ which is good, but the Ara is a little less emphatic in observing it.

Yosi Horikawa – Wandering (16-44, binaural) is all about stage and that deep artificial bass. The Ara has all the bass quantity I need with good texture. It sounds deep and in line with the rest of the stage presentation. It doesn’t loosen your fillings like this track can, but I’ve never known an all BA setup to do that. I can say that this is some of the most satisfying BA bass that I’ve heard. The texture is rich and natural and imminently enjoyable. The stage representation is deep and tall, but not huge on width. It gets outside the ears, but doesn’t wow you with width. It’s par for the course in this price bracket. What it does give is great imaging, and an oh so pleasing tone. The Mason V3 immediately sounds more open and a touch drier. The sub-bass is bigger and more delightful. The overall sound is drier and harder with less fluidity than the Ara. I like both presentations. I’ll also note that the best pairing I’ve had with the Mason V3 is the N6ii with the E02 amplifier, which has great liquidity to it that synergises well with the Mason V3, but the E02 makes the Ara hiss horrifically.

These don’t sound like they are $1100 apart in price. The Mason V3 is technically the better performer, but part of this is due to tonal choices made on the Ara. These tonal choices are what makes the Ara so charming. I don’t think either of these is really better than the other, they are just different, and I have room in my heart for both.

Specifications
Specifications
Price$1299
Driver type7 BA crossover-less design (2 high (+T.A.E.C.), 1 mid, 4 low)
Frequency response10Hz–28 kHz
Impedance8.5Ω @ 1kHz
Sensitivity94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 7.094 mVrms
ConstructionMachined titanium shell, PVD black stainless steel spout, black screws, beryllium copper MMCX connections, Solid Body internal chamber design
AccessoriesSustainable cork blue dyed zipper case (Made in Portugal), Campfire Audio Litz Cable SPC Conductors with Berylium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug, Final Audio E-Type tips (xs/s/m/l/xl), Campfire Audio ‘Marshmallow’ foam tips (s/m/l), Generic wide-bore silicone tips (s/m/l), Campfire Audio lapel pin, cleaning tool

Acknowledgment
The Campfire Audio Ara was provided free-of-charge by Campfire Audio. I do not have to return the Ara after the review but it is not mine to do with what I wish. I have received no compensation for this review. All thoughts in this review are my personal opinion.

Conclusions
The Ara is a moreish, infinitely satisfying balanced IEM. The signatures of the sound are impact, refinement, fluidity, and fullness. There are no parts of the frequency spectrum that come off sounding harsh or thin and everything sounds cohesive. It has good soundstage, while not being best in class. Instrument separation and detail are there, but the note weight (which I like) can make details that are there sound less prominent. The four bass drivers are put to work fantastically. Anybody looking at the frequency response and thinking the bass will be anaemic may be surprised by how full and delightful bass can sound on these. Drum impacts blow my mind on these. These are IEMs that I can listen to at any time and never tire of the sound. They have an organic and welcoming sound that just makes me want to keep them in. I found myself listening to the same track over and over because I forgot to switch between IEMs when doing comparisons. They are hard to take out.

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