Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 - Reviews
Things Behind the Sun - a review of the CA Solaris 2020
Pros: Powerful low end
Very engaging and musical tuning
Dark, rich and organic
Robust construction
Carrying case
Cons: Dull and utilitarian design (for my tastes at least)
Slightly variable synergies (see review)
Hiss on some sources
Things Behind the Sun - A review of the Campfire Audio Solaris IEM


Introduction
:

Campfire Audio are a well-known audio company who.. wait; you already know all this, don’t you?
In case you don’t, see here for more:
https://campfireaudio.com/about/

On their website, they are able to proudly state:
“Each model in our earphone line is designed and assembled by hand in our Portland, Oregon workshop; our earphones are second to none in performance and finish”.
It gives me a warm feeling all over to read that.

Did you know there was a TV series made called “Portlandia”, all about that place? Having never been there, I can’t comment on its accuracy, but it’s a place I’ve longed to visit (Oregon generally I mean). One day.. one day..

IEM details from the official website:
https://campfireaudio.com/shop/solaris-2020/

This link also has explanations of the considerable amount of tech that features in these IEMs.

The Solaris 2020 retails at USD $1’499.

My thanks to Campfire Audio for authorising this sample to be provided to me in exchange for my honest review.

It’s one of the now ubiquitous hybrid designs, featuring(and I quote): “2 custom balanced armature drivers paired with our T.A.E.C for extended highs, without sibilance or fatigue. A larger single rear-ported balanced armature driver provides rich delivery of mid frequencies. A specially tuned version of our 10mm A.D.L.C. dynamic driver, optimized with our Polarity Tuned Chamber, anchors the sonic performance with deeply engaging mid-frequency tonality and visceral bass response”

By now, you are surely scratching your flustered heads in bewilderment, asking “but Layman1, what would such a powerhouse of an IEM even look like?!” :astonished:

Sigh no more, as Mumford & Sons would say; instead regale your retinas with the following sumptuous images!

Photos:
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This (above) is what Portland, Oregon actually looks like!
As mentioned, I've never in fact been there, so I can make this claim with absolutely no authority whatsoever :)
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Never has removing the cork filled Layman1 with such anticipation.
Wait, hang on a minute..
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Build Quality and accessories:

A note of praise for the packaging. Most manufacturers at this price point are going for sleek and understatedly prestigious packaging (which I like of course) but the Solaris 2020 is a riotous explosion of colour and flower images. Continuing the floral theme, upon removing the gold sun sticker at the back, the whole box opens like a blossom in spring to reveal a big gold sun design inside. Lovely design and a surprising and enjoyable unboxing experience.

The Solaris 2020 are solidly built with no visible blemishes or flaws of any kind.

I notice what looks like a surprisingly large (2-3mm long?) rectangular-shaped vent on the interior half of the shell, facing forward in the same direction as the MMCX sockets.

I’m used to pinprick sized vents, so this was worthy of note.
I am listening alone, so I can’t comment on whether this results in any significant levels of noise leakage. I do find these IEMs slightly fatiguing at times and have wished on a few occasions that they came with some kind of ADEL-type solution for relieving pressure.

Regarding the aesthetics, Campfire Audio have taken a leaf this time out of the Henry Ford playbook, offering the Solaris 2020 in any colour you like, as long as it’s black

Well, I am morally obliged to share my honest thoughts here and for me, this iteration of Solaris is a backwards step in terms of aesthetics.

Now, a key point about aesthetic appeal is that it hinges greatly upon personal tastes, so please take my comments in the purely subjective and constructive spirit in which they are intended.

I’ll be honest and say that – for my personal tastes – I’ve never much liked the appearance of any Campfire IEMs, that is, until the release of the original Solaris. Mmm.. gold.. yum… :)

Factor in it being a hybrid IEM, and I was greatly enthused!

Then came the Solaris SE, with those stunning abalone faceplates, and I was drooling with the best of them.

Fast-forward to now and I’m struggling to find much that’s positive to say regarding the appearance of the 2020.

It looks solid and well-engineered. The nozzles look extremely robust and precise. If you wanted a high-quality IEM to wear whilst out and about that didn’t attract unwanted attention, this could be a bonus.

But I just feel at around $1500, it’s just a really plain and disappointing design that seems to just be a placeholder for a new/limited edition to come later at some point with a more beauteous design.

Still, Layman1 is not a fellow to wallow and dwell on the negative, so permit me to turn that frown upside-down by praising the size and fit of the Solaris 2020!

I understand that the prior iterations of the Solaris were of a size that some people found uncomfortable or difficult to get a good seal with. When I tried the original Solaris at a CanJam, I found them fairly large, but personally had no issues with the fit.

However, the new 2020 model is significantly smaller, and has – for me – good ergonomics, with a nozzle length and shape that enables me to get a perfect seal with both foam and silicone tips.

The cable that comes bundled with the Solaris seems pretty good.

I don’t imagine it’s on the level of those IEM manufacturers who bundle branded luxury cables from makers such as Effect Audio and Eletech, but it’s got an aesthetically pleasing twisted braid design with an understated charcoal grey colour and seems to be of robust construction.

However, here we come to another pet hate of mine (two of them in the same review? time to duck and cover!) which is IEMs at top of the line prices being shipped with 3.5mm cables as standard.
Such things of course are like a red rag to a bull for Layman1 :)

I simply think at this price point, most people who buy it will be using dedicated DAPs, amps and whatnot, and invariably wanting to use the balanced outputs from them.

I strongly believe the buyer should be able to specify their choice of a 3.5, 2.5 or 4.4mm plug at this price when purchasing.
At the very least, supply a 2.5mm balanced cable and 3.5mm and 4.4mm adaptors.

Still, to end this section on a positive note, the case that comes with the Solaris 2020 is a lovely new addition, made of a very attractive and fairly sturdy looking cork material with a gorgeous texture and colour.

Sound:

In a shake-up to my usual format of almost heretical proportions, I’m going to try putting the summary first (gasp!), and those that want to read a track-by-track breakdown of my findings can continue on (plus there’s the brief Conclusion at the end of the review). Feel free to let me know if you prefer it this way or sally forth with the torches and pitchforks if you wish things to go back to how they were.

I'll also be including, in separate sections below the track by track part, impressions taken with a demo cable on loan to me, and comparisons with the Unique Melody MEST.

Just a brief aside about hiss, before I begin.
I've read many comments on whether or not (or how much) the Solaris - and other IEMs - hiss with certain sources.
It's never been something that's really bothered me (not like 3.5mm cables on TOTL IEMs lol), but I should mention that when listening on the WM1Z, I hear pretty significant hiss the moment it's plugged in.
This is not audible once music is playing, but it makes me wonder whether it might be still there, in the mix, increasing my fatigue or something.
Either way, I enjoyed listening, and didn't notice it, so I'm just mentioning it for those for whom it is A Big Deal.

Overall summary:

For me, the Solaris 2020 is a hybrid not only in terms of its physical design but also in terms of its sound.

It has a relatively unusual dark richness and intimacy in the sound signature that reminds me of the EE Phantom, but combines that with aspects of the more conventional tuning common to today’s hybrid IEMs; impact and slam and texture from those dynamic drivers, and sometimes peaky upper mids and treble.

It has a good soundstage size – I hear it as being quite wide and tall and averagely deep - but the fairly intimate and dark tuning means that this is not as apparent on some songs as it is with other IEMs.

Similarly, it has very good detail levels, but the presentation is more organic and subtle; it’s all there if you listen out to it, but it doesn’t draw your attention to it in a demanding way. Also, it seems to present detail in a somewhat non-uniform way; on some songs there are certain details that are captured so well and bring a big smile to my face, but there’s also other tracks where I’m waiting for the details that I know usually pop out to me with other IEMs, but they’re just a bit muted here.

On songs that themselves are mastered in such a way as to sound fairly intimate and/or dark, the Solaris 2020 can sound a bit muddy and congested; conversely with songs that have a spacious and expansive or energetic sound, the Solaris 2020 shines by adding to those elements a mature, engaging and musical presentation.

I think the only issue I’ve found with the Solaris – and what’s made it something of a tough gig to review at times - is that it is mostly a great IEM, but I’m also finding it to be a bit variable.

On many songs it will sound world class; but then one will come along where it may be merely above average or sound a bit muddy/congested, which can sometimes be fixed by using Xelastec tips instead of foams, or a different cable. The problem is, even from songs within the same genre, there is this variability regarding which tips (or cable) produces optimal results, and what aspects of the sound signature are going to come to the fore.

Overall, I feel it's close to being outstanding all-round.
As it stands, I think the Solaris 2020 would appeal obviously to those who've had a chance to demo it and enjoy its sound as it is, and those who are happy to experiment and try out different tips, cables, EQ settings and whatnot.

As it is though, I'll still keep listening to it because it sounds so great, and imagine it will remain in my collection, and I'll experiment more and see if I can figure out an ideal 'use case' for it (for example, my EE Nemesis is for rock and hip-hop when I want thunderous bass; my EE Phantom and Stealth Sonics U4 are for when I'm fatigued/stressed and want something rich, warm and smooth; and my $9 fake Apple ear buds are for when people I don't like ask if they can listen to my earphones) :)
The Solaris 2020 is too good to ignore, but I'm not sure that it's consistently excellent with enough of the wide variety of music that I listen to to be a full-time daily driver for me. Maybe I just need longer with it? I've had it for a couple of months now though.

I feel with a few tweaks to the sound signature (and aesthetics!) it could be a no-brainer choice that could be hugely competitive in the TOTL segment and the good news is, it's left me very impressed with Campfire Audio in terms of their abilities and capabilities, and I have little doubt they will be able to take this very good IEM to even higher heights in the future :)

A few notes on my review process:

With regards to the review process, I have a few tracks which I’ve only found available on MP3; the rest are FLAC or WAV in 16/44 or 24 bit hi-res, with a few DSD56 tracks sneaking their way in too.
For the purposes of this review, I used the Sony WM1Z DAP with MrWalkman’s WM1A/Z++ custom FW.

I used New Bee Foam tips, which are the tips I use as standard with pretty much all my IEMs, so they serve as a good baseline benchmark for me in terms of comparing sound signatures from one IEM to another.

As you read the track-by-track impressions, please be aware that I had quite different results using Sedna Xelastec ear tips, and also with a different cable; I’ve included notes in my song-by-song breakdown of differences between the two tips as and when I noticed them and a separate section to describe the effect of the different cable.

Overall, for my tastes, I’m sticking with the New Bee foam tips as they seem to more consistently deliver a sound that I enjoy with a wide variety of music.

The Sedna Xelastec seemed to bring a lift in the upper mids and treble, sometimes taming the occasional issues with peakiness and providing a reduction in mid-bass warmth.

This also allowed the Solaris 2020 to better show its technical chops with regards to soundstage size. I think the sub-bass power seems a bit stronger with these tips too.

Track by track evaluation:

As ever, my preferred method of testing is to try out the product(s) in question with a selection of songs from various genres and to let that process draw out the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each product, with a summary (now at the beginning of ‘The Sound’ section) for those who lack my infinite saintly patience :wink:

Of course, you may just want to flick through, pausing only when you see a song that you know well, or one that belongs in a genre you favour.


Alison Lau – Handel’s Lascia la spina (24-96 HDTracks FLAC)
There are three main details I look out for when critical listening with this track:

1) the very first part of the track, where you can make out a collective intake of breath and movement as the players of the stringed instruments prepare to start playing. On some IEMs this detail is not very prominent, but it’s loud and clear here with the Solaris 2020.

2) The way the strings swoop down low from 14-15 seconds; I’m looking at how well the IEM presents the richness, depth and timbre. The Solaris 2020 does this pretty well; I’d give it around 7 out of 10. However, aside from this I was immediately struck by how astonishingly well it presented the strings generally; I think fans of classical music are going to find a lot to love with the Solaris 2020! It’s stunningly engaging, rich and musical, as if it were tuned precisely to come alive with such material.

3) the vocals of talented Hong Kong soprano Alison Lau are able to soar higher than the cost of an Apple Account bill for a child’s iPad, whose parents forgot to switch off in-app purchases.
As such, with some IEMs the vocals can become uncomfortably piercing for people (such as myself) with sensitivities in this area. The Solaris 2020 crosses the line for me occasionally; not as bad as some IEMs, but worse than others. It’s all relative though and chances are most people will have no issues at all.

Club 8 – Love Dies (16-44 FLAC)
This is a song I use for testing soundstage. From around 40 seconds to 1m06s, the song adds more sounds and you can hear the soundstage unfolding out like a blossoming flower in the latter stages of this section, as more sounds come in outside the pre-existing perceived outer edge of the soundstage. The Solaris 2020 does fairly well on this song; it displays pretty good soundstage size, but doesn’t quite reach the extremes of expansion that I’ve heard in other IEMs I’ve tried. Also, the sound is just slightly too piercing for me in places on this track, which is – I admit – a strong test of such things, with pretty high pitched crystalline female vocals and a slightly sibilant mastering.

Park Ji Yoon – 성인식 Sunginshik (Coming-of-age ceremony) (320k mp3 – only because I can’t find it in FLAC or on CD anywhere! Help!)
This is a sultry, driving, grown-up piece of K-pop.
I recall that on the UM MEST, the bassline on this song was at subterranean levels and enormously engaging.

However, with the Solaris 2020, it’s more balanced with the rest of the song and relatively understated. Upon closer inspection and comparison, the sound on the MEST is more clear, wide open and separated which, along with a more powerful sub-bass on the MEST allows the bassline definition and space to shine.

With the Solaris 2020 I’m hearing a more intimate tuning with less space between the components of the song. There’s increased mid-bass power and overall a greater warmth present in both the mid-bass and the mids generally.

I feel the MEST suffered from a slight lack of warmth and body in the mids (pretty much the only criticism I had however); this is certainly not an issue for me with the Solaris 2020.

I find the Solaris 2020 in comparison to be full-bodied, with the meaty low-end carrying over into the lower mids although without any feeling of being bloated or muddy.
This is all relative of course; for me the MEST was noteworthy for having a simply colossal soundstage and outstanding separation.

Buena Vista Social Club - Chan Chan (24-96 HDTracks FLAC)
Passes the trumpet test (potentially wince-inducing trumpet solo from 2mins 38s in). Not even slightly peaky or sharp.

Cigarettes After Sex - K. (16-44 FLAC)
This song is already mastered in quite a muted, intimate and bass-heavy way; this makes it prone to sounding a bit closed-in, congested and mid-bass-heavy with IEMs that don’t have the kind of tuning to alleviate this affect, and unfortunately the Solaris 2020 falls victim to this mastering here.

Just all sounds a bit too congested and veiled, but a good part of that is just down to the mastering of the song (with the Xelastec tips this effect is reduced, but it also sounds more muted for some reason).


Club 8 - Kinky Love (16-44 FLAC)
Again, mid-bass just sounds a bit too dense and congested (quite a bit more open and balanced with Xelastec tips).

This effect mostly disappears once the high and crystalline vocals and synths come in.

Counting Crows - Angels of the Silences (16-44 FLAC)
This track is kind of the polar opposite of the Cigarettes After Sex track previously; it’s mastered fairly bass-light, but more expansive. However, it’s heavy on ‘wall of noise’ electric guitars which overall on certain IEMs can come across as being a bit sharp and fatiguing, especially without much mid-bass to ground it all.
Here, the Solaris 2020 does a good job.

I’m actually surprised that the bass still doesn’t seem that present; I thought the Solaris would have more of an impact here. Still, overall, the Solaris sounds good here; it separates out things quite nicely, provides some much-needed low end body to the song, and smooths out the sharpness of the guitars whilst preserving their crunch and texture.

Counting Crows - Good Time (16-44 FLAC)
Wow, the Solaris 2020 is superb here.
The percussion just sounds so realistic, fantastic timbre!
From 17 seconds to 45 seconds into the track, there’s just percussion, vocals, piano and bass. And it all sounds pinpoint precise, separated and the timbre of the vocals and indeed everything else is very realistic (interestingly, a reduction in mid-bass warmth with the Xelastec tips makes this song slightly more detailed, but rather less engaging).


Counting Crows - Omaha (24-192 WAV)
Noticeably good separation, real thump and solidity to the drum in the opening bars. Vocals slightly off-centre to the right and slightly forward, clear and captures the timbre well.


Miles Davis – Blue in Green (24-192 HDTracks FLAC)
Comes across a bit muted with the Xelastec tips. Mind you, this does wonders for the trumpet, reducing any chance of it being sharp or fatiguing.

There’s good texture to the brushed percussion and the double bass extends deep, but both suffer perhaps with a tiny bit less definition and clarity than I’d expect. However, it does make for a nice smooth and tranquil presentation overall.


Aurora (German soprano-metal group, 24-44 HD FLAC)
Such clarity and timbre to the vocals (more so with the Xelastec tips).

The Solaris 2020 really presents this song extremely well.

Some lovely richness and depth when the metal guitars come in from 29 seconds onwards (less so with the Xelastec tips; this song profits from the mid-bass warmth that the Solaris brings with my New Bee foam tips).

The key take-home point here is that the Solaris 2020 does very well with female vocals. With that in mind, please proceed to the next song in our selection!


Farhan Saeed & Shreya Ghoshal – Thodi Der (16-44 FLAC)
This Bollywood stunner is a good track for seeing how an IEM presents male and female vocals, since it contains testing examples of both.

The female vocal is very light and high pitched, whilst the male vocal is relatively high pitched, but both (on the right IEM) demonstrate a lovely timbre and emotiveness.

I have to say, the Solaris 2020 does superbly here. Every aspect of the song is close to perfect; the vocals are captivating, rich and lifelike and avoid any kind of sharpness or sibilance. This is a song where the Solaris sounds open and spacious, but still with some of that dark richness and intimacy which makes the vocals and the music so enchanting on this IEM.


Anberlin - The Art of War (16-44 FLAC)
Medium level of clarity to the sound of the bass channel opening up.

Opening synthetic beat sounds very slightly muffled/muddy due to the mid-bass lift (not with the Xelastec tips).

Again, separation and imaging are excellent. Soundstage not huge but large, and the strong separation and imaging help to give a clear delineation between instruments and effects, allowing each space to captivate and shine.

The bassline that comes in from 11 seconds onwards is presented fairly well; with the Solaris 2020 is has a good level of power and rumble, but disappointingly, not much in the way of texture (note: I found it somewhat more powerful and textured with Sedna Xelastec tips)
It’s delightfully easy to distinguish separate (or echoed) vocals from one another, a fact which hugely adds to the enjoyment of listening to music with the Solaris 2020.

Live – Throwing Copper album (16-44 FLAC)
This whole album sounds significantly better to my ears with the New Bee foam tips.

For me, this is an album with a pretty neutrally-mastered bass, such that the often hard-hitting drums and guitars can reduce my enjoyment of these great songs, making them sound a bit aggressive and lacking in body.

With the New Bee foam tips on the Solaris 2020, there was a real musicality to the opening electro-acoustic guitar strumming on ‘Sh** Towne’, and a lovely depth of body, richness and resonance when the rest of the instruments came in. I found this continued on all the tracks, and was one of the most enjoyable presentations of this album I’ve heard with any IEM at any price. However, this was lost to a fair extent when I switched over to the Xelastec tips. There was a bit more space and clarity, but that richness and resonance was diminished.

Comparisons:

Unique Melody MEST (USD $1399):
Of the IEMs in my collection, these are the ones that have the greatest similarities to the Solaris 2020; they are both hybrid IEMs, both around the same price and both offering a rather unique, energetic and bold tuning.

I just listened to the following songs A/B testing the MEST and Solaris 2020:
Alison Lau - Handel's Lascia la spina (24-96 HDTracks)
Page & Plant (Unledded) - Friends (24-96 PBTHAL vinyl rip)
Queen - It's Late (24-96 HDTracks)
Poison - Dove Sei (16-44 FLAC)
Marit Larsen - Faith & Science (16-44 FLAC)

With Alison Lau, I felt the MEST came out on top in terms of detail retrieval, soundstage and separation, but the Solaris 2020 nailed the musicality bit, it's fuller bodied mids presenting the strings to perfection.
With regards to vocals, they were occasionally too piercing on the Solaris 2020, but not on the MEST.

With Page & Plant, it's a similar story; MEST was more detailed and technically a bit better, but the Solaris was able to really captivate me with the way it presented the instruments.

For the Queen track, I noticed that on the MEST, the two guitars that play in the opening segment were spatially separated significantly wider; this also had the beneficial side-effect of truly placing Freddie Mercury's vocals centre-stage where they belong, and giving them a distinct space from which they could shine.

The Solaris was by no means congested here, but the slightly closer spacing had the effect of making the vocals sound slightly recessed in comparison.

I felt the guitars had more bite and accuracy on the MEST, but more body and power on the Solaris.

Onto the Poison track. For you fellow 80/90's hair-rock fans wondering why you can't remember a Poison track with an Italian title, it's because this is another group called Poison, an Italian hip-hop group that I stumbled upon whilst searching for hi-res versions of tracks by the other Poison.
This song features one of the most thunderous synthetic bass/drum lines I've ever heard and served as an ideal tool for comparing the low ends of the Solaris and MEST.
The MEST has significantly greater sub-bass power and extension, but less rumble and mid-bass power.
The Solaris has less sub-bass power and extension, but significantly head-shaking mid-bass rumble and impact.
I was also looking at the other parts of the music to critically compare it alongside the - ahem - rhythm section, but as soon as Dat Bass kicked in on either IEM, I forgot completely what I was thinking.
As Mike Tyson once wryly observed:
"Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face" :D

Switching to real drums with Marit Larsen's Faith & Science, again the Solaris hit significantly harder and with much more of a ringing impact.

Overall, these two excellent IEMs are rather different; the MEST is very vivid, energetic, detailed and technical and with a touch of musicality too. Its weakness for me is a lack of body and warmth in the mids, which detracts from its musicality overall. It has excellent low end impact and extension, but could use a bit more mid-bass rumble and power in my opinion.

The mids of the Solaris 2020 are more rich and full-bodied, but I feel the treble of the Solaris 2020 has significantly less air and sparkle. The Solaris is more laid back, but despite that, I can't say it's more smooth because on songs that have the potential to make me wince with sharp or piercing vocals, cymbal smashes and whatnot, it was usually the one that triggered me, rather than the MEST.

Technically, the Solaris is a very good, but slightly variable performer depending on the song being listened to; the MEST is consistently outstanding in this regard for me, its presentation of detail is superb and its soundstage and separation are world-class in my opinion.

Ultimately though, I think that whilst their prices align, their sound signatures are rather different, and it's likely that someone looking for 'dark, rich and organic' is not going to be considering the MEST (or may simply be a chocolate lover who stumbled into the wrong forum) :D


Cable swap:

Illustrious Head-Fi member @skedra has very kindly loaned me a demo cable that he created; it’s a 4-wire cable crafted from an exciting mix of gold-plated copper wire and palladium-plated silver wire.
It's still a work in progress but already looks (and sounds) rather special indeed.

It was supple and comfortable and made a noticeable change to the sound signature of the Solaris 2020:

The background is blacker; notes stand out more and detail and resolution are increased.
Soundstage and separation also increased.

The only ‘negative’ for me is slightly less warmth and richness in the low end.

Just to be clear, on many IEMs, this would not be an issue (and could be a benefit); however, with the Solaris, I personally like the warmth and richness it has, so I missed it a bit here; your mileage may vary, as they say :)

Listening to a 24-96 HDTracks version of Paul Simon's "The Coast", there's two things I'm looking out for:
1) the sound of a special instrument, a kind of hand-struck drum that comes in at 12 seconds into the track.
It has a strange v-shaped sound (the drum, not the cable!), diving down into sub-bass then shooting up again.
I feel there's slightly more body and impact to this on the stock cable.

2) the guitar that comes in at 16 seconds.
I think it sounds more hi-res on Skedra’s cable, but there's a gorgeous musical feeling that this guitar sound has on some IEMs (and cables, I assume!). I'm hearing it on Solaris with the stock cable, but not much with Skedra’s cable.
It sounds great, just maybe a touch less of the richness and resonance that's making the guitar sound so lovely on the stock cable.

Everything else shines more beautifully with Skedra’s cable though; the hi-res song just sounds… well, more hi-res :)

Conclusion:

The Solaris 2020 is a special IEM with a pretty unique tuning.

It can be slightly hit and miss sometimes, but if you’re willing to play around with different cables and tips, then this can be alleviated to a fair extent. Technical performance can vary from very good to excellent.

The good news is that when it finds synergy with a track (cable/eartip swapping can help), it can sound simply superb; for my tastes, among the best presentations of some tracks I’ve ever heard.

It has a gorgeously dark, rich sound, which combines with the powerful low end and a small degree of sparkle in the treble to produce a captivating sound signature overall.
If you want a powerful and engaging IEM with body AND soul, look no further :)
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Campfire Audio Solaris 2020: Gently ripen
Pros: Rich and moist texture
Refined layerings and wide staging
Even comfortable and easier to handle
Tonality got even organic
Cons: Only includes 3.5mm termination
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Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 Review: Gently ripen

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 original Solaris used to be CA's most expensive product as well and gained a great amount of interest throughout the community. Now they have released Solaris 2020, a refined/retuned version of the original one where many elements have been adjusted, inside and outside. Let us now cut to the chase and see how this new version performs along with making comparisons.




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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 - Design

For those who have used or experienced the original Solaris, you could have been challenged or overwhelmed to get the proper fit, especially if you have small ears. Although I personally did not struggle much to get them in my ears, they sure were bulky. Due to that reason, CA brought a 20% reduction in size, including the thickness while maintaining the overall shape and design that Solaris used to have. The edges got slightly rounder than the original, but still keeping the same looks and vibes.


While its particular design may make them look to still appear big, the difference gets very apparent and sensible as you actually wear them. The earpieces are now surprisingly small and would snug right in the ears without any sense of bulkiness, unlike the original Solaris where the fit rather felt as if the earpieces were dangling from the ears. The cavity is fully coated with a sleek black color with much finer texture whereas the original Solaris has been applied with a glittery gold faceplate which was vulnerable to getting chipped off. Now, the faceplates have been changed to a glossy yet not-cheapy looking finish, making us much easier to keep them in a clean state.




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Earpieces - Specs

Let us now cover the internals of this urbane-style IEM. Solaris 2020 is comprised of a 3BA+1DD configuration per side. All applied with CA's classic chamber tuning, T.A.E.C, two custom-made BA drivers are for the highs with 1 rear-sided BA driver placed the mids. The included 10mm A.D.L.C dynamic driver is the same one used for Atlas, taking charge of lows and mids. Yet for Solaris 2020, the dynamic driver is topped with the Polarity Tuned Chamber, plus the custom-tuning in order to make harmony with the BA drivers.


The shape and size of the nozzles stay the same - however, due to the smaller cavity, there is a good amount of chance that you would be able to achieve deeper insertion as you wear. It must have been challenging to get the 20% smaller earpieces packed with not only the drivers but also the chambers and other components, though it still happened. Will the size reduction negatively affect the sound? Stay yourself tuned as we soon move on to the sound impressions.




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Cable

Previously, the beloved Litz cable was updated to Smoky Litz, and now it is time for the Super Litz to go through the same. Solaris 2020 comes with Super Smoky Litz which is made based on the one from the original Solaris but now even better. The sleeves now have a grey color while the original transparent sleeves were versatile to oxidation and discoloration. I can also feel that the cable got softer and more pliable. CA has also removed the metal rod from the earguides and installed the memory tubes only, making the earguides to snug right around the ears.


I am very glad that they have made this change as the original Super Litz was a tad stiff, along with the metal rods inside the earguides made things worse. 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 impression - Lows

Lows feel to be gently pressurized to the bottom of the headroom where the bass not only adds stability as the bass is getting driven but also prevents the reverbs from bouncing upwards and leaking into the lower mids. The bass is toned to have a serious, dark, and classy mood where I find it to be one of the most charming basses I have heard. The surface of the bass is polished smooth but able to catch small bits of details, hence growls from the bass are prominent but do not get grainy or dry.


Alongside, lows would dive gently but with superb clarity and depth that makes Solaris 2020 possible to pick up the ultra-low details very vividly without any need to overpower the quantity. Since that, while this IEM oozes with deep, dark bass presence, the bass production itself is kept very well leveled and balanced throughout the range. What I also appreciate from the lows is its field-like bass area that scales wide. It gently and carefully spreads out sideways, posing an elegancy that feels profound yet not burdensome. Yet still, Solaris 2020 does not put behind acquiring the density as the vast bass expansion does not thin out the density one bit. Lows are packed with deep, meaty particles and texture, keeping its stout stance all along.




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Sound impression - Mids

With no dips or unnatural turbulences being made, mids take a small step forward with a stable transition from the lows. The vocal tone is moist, deep in color, and organic but not plain. Mids are smooth yet revealing just as Solaris 2020 did with its bass, yet in mids, the analytical level goes much higher and exposing the texture details in a more explicit manner. One of the key highlights from the mids is its fabric-like texture. This does not recess the vocals but instead greatly helps to form a nice virtual presentation where the sound feels to be coming out from a heavy build speaker. I personally find this quite interesting for a hybrid IEM as the dynamic driver and the balanced armatures sound so unified and seamlessly connected in order to create this certain texture.


The temperature is neutral warm on the lower mids and gets cooler and fresher as we move upwards. Hence mids and upper mids persist a mild coolness and airiness that opens up the atmosphere. It also brings out more crisps and bites to the sound that goes further on making clear distinctions, but at the same time not breaking the harmony. The sibilance area on the upper mids is well handled by replacing possible spikes with a touch of spice. This "spice" actually holds a major role as it serves as a refrigerant to freshen up the lower-end atmosphere which is rather deep and warm. The sound rays on mids show a well-padded thickness that is just mildly thickened from neutral. Thanks to that, vocals sound full-bodied and bold enough to continue Solaris 2020's robust sound signature while satisfying both male and female vocals.




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Sound impression - Highs, etc.

Highs take a small step back than the mids and similar in the distance as the lows. Yet they firmly hold onto the clarity that makes them just as clear as the vocals if not clearer. Treble strikes are very crisp and agile where they show instant strike and decay, barely leaving reverbs except the airiness that they carry. Of course, the natural splashes are not omitted but only highlighted to the point where it would not stuff up the upper atmosphere. With a highly refined, smoothened texture, trebles present to a silk-like fineness that is smooth but capable of highlighting all the small bits of sparkles and treble layers. The timbre is on point with naturality which leaves a rich aftertaste, making every bite of trebles sweet and tasty.


Following the legacy achieved from the original, Solaris 2020 presents one large and wide staging. The depth is super dense and thick in color with moist and full upwards extension, forming a 3D headroom while not breaking the imaging accuracy. As some Campfire IEMs did back then, there are some white noises present due to its impedance but the black background compensates in order to achieve the quietness. Also, the white noise will not be too sensible unless the track is paused. As we head to the end of the impressions, I would like to quickly talk through the eartip recommendation. After some tip-rolling, I have found that JVC Spiral Dots++ worked out the best for me than others (stock Final E-Type, other Spiral Dots, etc.) The tone and texture just sound perfectly right once I use these, so I would recommend giving those a try if you own or planning to grab Solaris 2020.




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Comparisons

-Campfire Audio Solaris OG (Original)-

The first IEM to put up to the comparison of course needs to be the original Solaris, which I would refer here as Solaris OG. The first general difference I have spotted between them is the imaging/staging style. It may feel to be a subtle change but once you dive deeper into their sounds, the changes turn out to be quite big. Solaris OG creates a headroom that is more "up in the air" with slightly wider expansion. This greatly helped the sound to feel rich and headphone-like, yet at the same time, it also caused where the sound may feel a bit light-weight (especially the bass) or not enough of "touching the ground" type of stableness. Solaris 2020 now has all that by putting up the sound closer that gives better immersion. The bass response has improved as well by achieving more depth, punchiness, and intact feeling to the ground.


Another difference I have spotted is to do with the tone. Solaris OG had mildly hyped upper ends and having the extra finesse as a topping while Solaris 2020 sticks to the basics by keeping a natural, unexaggerated tone that is equipped with elegance to its nature. Although the upper ends got comfier to listen, that doesn't mean the charms have been degraded - as, in fact, highs are as equal or got even more attractive depending on your taste, since the more natural toning. However, at the end of the day, I would put both IEMs on the same level and put it as a tie since both IEMs share the same trunk with just the different branches. Some will enjoy the original while the others (and those who disliked OG for the reasons mentioned above) will enjoy the new version. All based on preferences, which are done by gives and takes.




-Astrotec Phoenix-

I would also like to compare Solaris 2020 with Astrotec's flagship IEM, the Phoenix. Note that I have accompanied Phoenix with the Aune B1 amplifier since it requires high power by nature. The way how low-end texture and the punchiness are presented is quite similar between these two as those elastic, weighty bounciness from the diaphragm takes a huge roll in the bass. The audible bass extension is equally nice, appropriately mining out that deep and dark force oozing out from all the way down. However, the ultra lows from Phoenix are tighter and even less bloated with reverbs, therefore making a clearer presence. On the other hand, ultra lows show slightly better visibility as they pose more quantity and vibrancy. Upper lows are rather similar in quantity.


Relatively speaking, the texture from Solaris 2020 is more revealing with slightly thicker grains. Of course, the fineness and resolution are not falling behind one bit - in fact, it is equally if not mildly better than Phoenix as Solaris 2020 shows once stellar resolution. While that, Phoenix comes with a counterattack by forming a smoother surface with finer grains. Solaris 2020 takes a reasonable lead once we move on to the trebles. While the extension from both IEMs is on a similar league, Solaris 2020 shows more energy that makes them stand out clearer than Phoenix does. The treble strikes are also more elastic, hence it leaving with a tastier note.




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Verdicts

Solaris 2020 is a fine example of a brand paying close attention to what the consumers want. Campfire Audio has gone through necessary changes inside out, making the usability a lot lesser in hassle. A retouch to the sound has also been done for those who wanted a different perspective from the original Solaris, all while not abandoning the charms the original Solaris had. Solaris 2020 definitely has a noticeable advantage fitting-wise, yet the retouch to the sound has been done very respectfully, as the competition between the new and the original is more of a yin and yang type of situation - both the original Solaris and the Solaris 2020 having an equal level of charms and performances, hence the personal taste would be the one that would decide which one would be better suitable for you.


For the original Solaris owners - rest assured. If you had to drink a bitter cup for not being able to fit the original Solaris properly into your ears, then it is definitely recommendable to try again with the Solaris 2020, as now the chances for you to achieve the right fit are much higher. When it comes to the sound, Solaris 2020 is not meant to kill off the original but to give a complete "Solaris experience" by providing both perspectives from the same base. If weighing a bit more on the lower-ends with a further neutral tone is what you want, listening to Solaris 2020 must be included in your to-do list.




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RELATED REVIEWS
Ara
Andromeda (original) / Polaris II / IO
Atlas / Comet



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_____________________________________​



Thanks to Campfire Audio for providing Solaris 2020 in exchange for an honest impression/feedback.
I am not affiliated with Campfire Audio and none of my words were modded or asked to be changed.

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Solaris 2020 Review and Comparison to Campfire Andromeda
Pros: Thick, addictive note
Cons: Reduced airiness
Solaris 2020 Review and Comparison to Campfire Andromeda


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The Solaris 2020 is the latest and greatest remix of the controversial Campfire Solaris. Campfire Audio’s claim to fame was the Campfire Andromeda, an IEM with a near-universally loved audio signature. To this date, I maintain that the Campfire Andromeda was “sonic gold” - I wonder if even Campfire truly understands the science behind why so many people are drawn to the Andromeda.

Regardless, the Solaris is perhaps an attempt by Campfire to show that they are more than the Andromeda. The Solaris seems to be cultivated from feedback gathered over the Andromeda’s lifecycle, and attempts to fill a niche that is not satisfied by the Andromeda. In this sense, people interested in the Solaris should be warned - it is not a direct upgrade from the Andromeda. The Solaris is decidedly a sidegrade, and an expensive one at that. Let’s discuss.

I’ve had the Solaris 2020 for over a month, and have been waiting to write this review in order to get over new-toy syndrome.

Build Quality and Comfort
The build quality of the Solaris exceeds the Andromeda, and that’s high praise. I always loved how the Andromeda felt in the hand - the cold metal body with some heft to it felt rather premium. The Solaris takes this a step further, with a sleek, black PVD coat that (while being a fingerprint magnet) adds a sense of stealthy elegance and feels just a tad bit more premium than the Cerakote or anodized surface of the Andromeda. It also seems less prone to wear or chipping.

The packaging is stunning. The Campfire Solaris arrives in a stunning tan/gold box that is befitting its name. I am also a fan of the new cork cases included with the Campfire IEMs. They look decidedly rustic, they have an intriguing texture, and are far more sustainable (and ethical) than leather. However, the zippers on the Campfire cases remain notoriously rough and annoying to use. I had to apply some WD-40 to the zipper to make it more usable.

The Solaris 2020 is not as comfortable as the Andromedas for me. The nozzles are bigger, requiring me to go down a tip size, but more importantly, the IEMs seem to protrude out of my ears more than I’d expect. Also, the design of the Solaris seems to exacerbate the asymmetry in my ear canals. I had to use different sized tips on each side, something I rarely have to do on any IEM.

The included Final Audio eartips are acceptable on the Solaris 2020. Aftermarket Comply Foam tips sound even better to me, and are much more pliable and comfortable than the included foam tips. Both tips clean up the highs of the Solaris, reducing sibilance and increasing comfort.

Sound Quality
While the Andromeda had an instantly lovable signature, the signature of the Solaris took me time to understand. “Brain burn-in” is definitely a thing here, and it took me about a week to see why I should keep the Solaris.

The Solaris is less engaging and more relaxing than the Andromeda. This can lead to an initial impression that the Solaris is not as technically capable as the Andromedas, but much the opposite is true. In critical listening, I found that the Solaris was able to extract more detail from songs than the Andromeda. However, the Andromeda was more promiscuous with the (lesser) detail that it managed to extract in comparison to the Solaris.

Technicalities
The soundstage of the Solaris feels similar to the Andromeda (maybe a bit less) and imaging is superior. The Solaris doesn’t feel as airy as the Andromeda, despite (to my ears) being more accurate at high frequency reproduction. For example, in in Zalza - Terminal (2:37), the Solaris is better at producing the sound of falling rain compared to the Andromeda, but overall the Solaris has less air than the Andromeda, leading to an initial impression of reduced stage.

Instrument layering is superior: when multiple instruments are playing, each instrument contributes its proper weight and characteristics to the sound. This feels really good when you have multiple strings/cellos/violins playing concurrently.

Instrument separation is about the same: it’s about as easy to pick apart instruments on the Solaris as it was on the Andromedas.

Highs, Mids, and Lows
In long-term listening, I find the Solaris highs are more bearable than the Andromedas, and more natural too. After a listening session with the Solaris, when I return to the Andromedas, the highs feel unnaturally thin and almost tinny. The increased soundstage is there but it’s simply not worth the trade.

I find the Solaris mids are excellent and are more forward than the Andromedas. The mids feel spot-on to me, but I’m not the best judge of mids, so I can’t really say much more here.

The Solaris bass is fantastic. The Solaris exhibits far more bass and sub-bass than the Andromeda. The bass feels more natural, more full, more tactile, and manages to fill in many of the sub-bass frequencies that are absent on the Andromeda. In terms of bass, the Solaris is a huge win, and I’d almost recommend the Solaris over the Andromeda based off of the lows alone.

Sound Summary
To conclude, the Solaris’s audio is a marked change from the Andromeda. It is more intimate, but it is more full - it has more substance. The Solaris’s note is warmer, thicker, and fuller than the Andromeda while maintaining phenomenal technicalities. This comes at the expense of some air and soundstage. As such, I maintain that the Solaris is a sidegrade from the Andromeda and not an upgrade.

Conclusion


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The Solaris seems like Campfire’s attempt to prove that they are more than the Andromeda, and I think it largely succeeds. The Solaris is every bit as capable and enjoyable of a headphone as the Andromeda, and while it doesn’t have that instant ‘wow’ factor, the Solaris does right what the Andromeda does wrong.

In the battle of technicalities and qualities, where some are traded for others, I personally find that the Solaris comes out ahead of the Andromedas, and it is now my IEM of choice. The Solaris’s thicker note is extremely compelling and draws me into the music more than the Andromeda ever did. However, I maintain that the Solaris is a sidegrade, not an upgrade, because the sound of the two headphones are distinctly different. If the Andromeda is an Sennheiser HD800S, the Solaris is a ZMF Verite Closed (review here).

If you’re new to the hobby, I might still recommend the Andromeda. If you’ve been around for some time - if you’re looking for a headphone that does what the Andromeda cannot - or if you simply have new-toy syndrome, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the Solaris.
Last edited:
CL14715
CL14715
You, sir, NAILED the differences between this and the OG Solaris.
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tusing
tusing
Hi @VTMA8132 - I used the RME ADI-2 fs DAC at home and a Qudelix 5K on the go.
Demo3
Demo3
I have been on the fence between the Andromeda and Solaris for about 6 months now, leaning more toward the Solaris. I did listen to the Andromeda (not the 2020) at an RMAF a few years back and liked it very much, so I don't think I would be disappointed by either. Good review.
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