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Campfire Audio Solaris

Rating:
4.92857/5,
  1. B9Scrambler
    Campfire Audio Solaris: Awe inspiring
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published May 2, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Build and Material - Packaging and Accessories - Effortlessly clear and open signature
    Cons - Quite large - Occasional mildly hollow vocals - Gold makes not for a subtle earphone
    Greetings,

    Today we're checking out one of Campfire Audio's newest premium releases, the four driver hybrid Solaris.

    It's not often a new brand appears and sweeps an industry with game changing gear, and even less common for them to keep the momentum going in the following years. Campfire Audio, brainchild of ALO (Audio Line Out) founder Ken Ball, exploded onto the high end audio scene in 2015 and immediately became one of those brands. With distinctive designs and a house sound that simply sounds right, it is no surprise their new flagship hybrid continues to carry the torch with confidence.

    The Solaris takes on a completely new look for the brand that certainly isn't shy. With a vibrant gold-plated exterior and size to match this swaggerific look, the Solaris is a head-turner. The new super-Litz cable that ships with the Solaris is a stunner too thanks to it's shimmery silver sheen and heavy gauge that makes it feel substantial without going overboard. Inside the Solaris is just as impressive with two T.E.A.C. equipped custom balanced armatures handling high frequencies, a single rear-ported armature handling mid-range frequencies, and a familiar 10mm A.D.L.C. Dynamic driver. This dynamic has been retuned for the Solaris to handle low and mid frequencies. It all culminates in one of the most impressive audio experiences I've had to date.

    Shall we take a closer look? Let's go!

    Disclaimer:

    A sample of the Solaris was provided free of charge for the purposes of evaluation. The thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions based on two months of constant ear time with the Solaris. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Solaris retailed for 1,499.00 USD. Be sure to visit the Solaris' product page over on Campfire Audio's site if interested in ordering a set; https://campfireaudio.com/shop/solaris/

    Personal Preferences:

    I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

    Sources:

    @home: TEAC HA-501 desktop amp with a ZiShan DSD acting as the source

    Portable: Shanling M0 with amping handled by the Periodic Audio Nickel

    The Solaris is very sensitive and easy to drive. I found that out of many sources there was a fair bit of background hiss so you need something very clean. While it does not need to be amped, I recommend it. Straight out of my main DAPs and phone (LG G6 ThinQ) it sounds good, but bring an amp into the mix and the low end wakes up and becomes much more authoritative. I also caution using something like the iFi iEMatch to quell hiss. When pairing it with the Solaris I found it to quell the dynamic drivers presence and dull the overall signature. Your mileage may vary.

    Specifications:
    • Frequency Response: 5Hz–20 kHz
    • Sensitivity: 115 dB SPL/mW
    • Impedance: 10 Ohms @ 1kHz
    • Total Harmonic Distortion: Less than 1%
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    Packaging and Accessories:

    Campfire Audio's products always have names rooted in Astronomy, something that bleeds over into the packaging. Some companies spend a lot of time crafting complicated, yet smartly designed displays that are an experience in itself. Others treat the packaging as merely a means of getting the product to the customer safely. Campfire draws a bit from both camps with some artistic creativity blended in for good measure. The box the Solaris arrives in is just as much an art canvas as it is a functional tool for transport of the items inside.

    If familiar with the Campfire brand you might notice that the packaging here takes on a different form factor. Gone is the compact rectangular prism of past releases, replaced by a squat, square-shaped version that takes up quite a bit more space. The matte grey packaging features USA made “French Paper Company” paper and takes on an almost forest green hue thanks to the mountainous, night sky scene printed in a contrasting reflective gold foil. At least it does to these colour blind eyes. That scene has never looks better either thanks to the extra space afforded by this new box. The sticker that takes up most of the main body contains the usual branding and model info, as well as an image of the left earpiece, all floating over a ripple effect emanating from beneath the earpiece. It's a stunning piece of artwork that just so happens to be the packaging for another stunning piece of art (the Solaris itself).

    The star theme continues to the interior where on the inner flap you find another aspect of the packaging design that I love. The words “Nicely Done”printed in a crisp bold font. That's not the first thing you notice though. No, that honour goes to the massive leather carrying case. Like Campfire cases of 'old', the Solaris' case is all leather with a beefy zipper sealing it shut. As on the cases of other recent releases, the compact round pull tab features a beautifully enamelled CA logo that adds further to the premium presentation. Inside the case you find the Solaris attached to the Super Litz cable, neatly wrapped and secured with slim Velco strips. The Solaris' earpieces are neatly tucked into a small, compartmentalized mesh bag to keep them from bumping into each other and potentially scratching or denting that gorgeous finish during transit. Beneath the case is the familiar “hidden floor” in which the rest of the extensive accessory kit is tucked away. In all you get:
    • Solaris Earphones
    • Super Litz Cable
    • Final Audio E-Type Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
    • Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (s/m/l)
    • Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l)
    • Campfire Audio Lapel Pin
    • Cleaning Tool
    • Protective Mesh Earphone Sleeve
    • Manual
    • Warranty Card
    This is a great unboxing experience. One of the best in the business in my opinion. It's simple but engaging with lots of detail to keep you hooked while you work your way through the extensive accessory kit. Everything is of outstanding quality too. The case looks as impressive as it feels. The variety and quality of the tips is well above average thanks to the Final Audio E-Type tips and CA's own Mushroom foams. The lapel pin isn't really useful in any way, but that doesn't really matter. It's a cool little extra that is unique to the CA brand. Even the little mesh bag is a welcome addition, showing the sort of attention to detail this brand puts into their products.

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    Build, Comfort, and Isolation:

    The Solaris is a confident looking earphone. The matte gold-plated face plate and ribbed texturing along the sides, a texture that continues down along the glossy black PVD coated inner body, is simply stunning. A polished stainless steel nozzle with integrated grills is reminiscent of those found on the Comet and Atlas and rounds out the look. Along the top of the housing resting just in front of the flush MMCX port is a small vent, along with a small Torx screw (for disassembly if needed?). Along the rear you find channel notifications denoted by the complete words Left/Right instead of the usual L/R you find on most products. The CA logo is flawlessly machined into the face plate. The Solaris uses the same beryllium/copper MMCX connectors found on their other products. In my experience with the Polaris they have proven to be as durable as claimed. Over a year and a half later with dozens of intentional disconnects, the plugs still snap in securely with no play or cutouts. I fully expect the Solaris to be the same.

    The Super Litz cable is crafted from four large strands of Silver-Plated Copper Litz wire. This grouping separates at the y-split where two strands each heads towards the earpieces. The sheath feels very dense and while it does show some minor memory towards sharp bends and kinks, they are easy to straighten out. Tangle resistance is impressive. The hardware is quality stuff too. The rubber 90 degree angled jack is well extended at the plug to accommodate a variety of device cases and is well-relieved to protect the cable from awkward bends. The metal y-split is very compact and while there is no strain relief, this is the sort of cable that doesn't really need it everywhere. The thickness and sheath density takes care of that on it's own. Slotting neatly into the top of the y-split is a chin cinch that can be used to ensure a more secure fit. The cinch is tight on the cable but slides easily enough for it not to be a worry. Leading up to the beryllium/copper MMCX plugs are memory wire segments with a hefty shrink wrap holding the wire in place.

    Comfort with the Solaris is a fickle mistress. This is a very large earphone. Ergonomics actually aren't bad whatsoever thanks to the shapely exterior that interacts fairly naturally with the outer ear, pending your ear is big enough. What I found challenging was maintaining a secure fit. This was partly due to the memory wire which tugged the Solaris back at an angle and made holding a good seal inconsistent. Swapping to a different cable worked wonders. One that was lighter and used a preformed ear guide instead, like the one that came with the FiiO FA1 and/or the Hifihear 8 Core Silver-Plated cable, helped keep the Solaris angled properly. If using the stock cable I had to ditch the stock tip options for something else. The most success came with some fairly ancient Skullycandy single flange silicone tips from the mid-2000s which maintained a stable seal more consistently than any other tip in my collection. Overall the fit is pretty finicky, but once you find the correct cable and tip (if you even need to explore options outside of what is already included) the Solaris is comfortable. Not the kind of earphone that disappears on the ear, but one I can listen to for a few hours at a time without experiencing hot spots of discomfort.

    Isolation with the Solaris is also quite good, unexpectedly so. With it's fairly shallow fit and vented (albeit mildly) design, I was expecting the Solaris to be pretty average in terms of noise attenuation. However, even with no music playing this earphone can still block out an impressive amount of noise, similar to other earphone I've recently tested that block in that 26dB range. While typing, only the highest pitch portion of the stroke is clearly audible. The busy main road outside my window is dulled to the point where the drone of fans on large trucks passing by is about all you can hear. Taking the Solaris to the nearby Tim Hortons is fine too where the bustle of customers is dulled significantly. Putting on some music takes your isolation up another level, while bringing the included foam tips into the equation makes the Solaris a capsule of silence and calm.

    Overall the Solaris is immaculately built with a unique design and colour scheme I always enjoy. I can thank Subaru's World Rally team for their use of gold BBS 6-spoke rims back in the day for that. While the Solaris is comfortable, fit can be a bit of a challenge and those with small ears might want to look elsewhere for their TOTL headphone needs, which pains me to say. Isolation is outstanding, and well exceeded expectations.

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    Sound:

    Tips: Small bore like the included Final Audio tips boost mid-bass and overall warmth making the Solaris more bass focused. Foams have much the same effect. Wide bore like the stock single flange and those from Skullcandy, JVC, UE balance out the sound by reducing mid-bass and raising treble. I performed my testing with wide bore tips.

    While price isn't necessarily indicative of how good a product will sound, there are some general trends I have noticed. Tuning is tighter and more coherent, technical ability improves, and products take on an effortless quality to their presentation. That last point is the Solaris in a nut shell. It reproduces sound without ever feeling like it is straining or breaking a sweat in the slightest, even as you dial in the power and up the volume. The Solaris' drivers are truly impressive since they're never playing within an inch of their capabilities. They just sound better and better the harder you push them.

    The two armatures handling the top end work in unison to provide an open, detail rich environment. Notes are crisp and tight with a snappy decay and free of any semblance of splashiness that I could detect, even on aggressive tracks like Havok's “Scumbag in Disguise” which has plenty of rapid fire cymbal work. Emphasis is fairly even from presence to brilliance regions, though upper treble sounds like it's peaked slightly higher. On Gramatik's “You Don't Understand” there is a series of chimes that fire off throughout the track. With the Solaris they display an appropriate amount of energy and shimmer which is lacking on lower treble biased earphones. That's not to say the lower treble is lacking, for if it was the Solaris wouldn't display nearly the same level of clarity through the treble and mids. I really enjoy the treble presentation. It is engaging and energetic without being harsh and overly invasive.

    The mid-range for the most part is pretty outstanding. I've been listening to a fair bit of metal during my time with the Solaris and find that chugging electric guitars sound pretty wicked, such as on Slipknot's “Pulse of the Maggots”. Combined with the anthem-like cheers in the background and Corey Taylor's vocals, this song is a complete banger through the Solaris. More nuanced guitar work sounds right too with guitars on classic tracks like Steely Dan's “Reelin' In The Years” having the right amount of bite, texture, and timbre. While the mid-range is every so slightly recessed, vocals are rich, dynamic, and retain a strong presence. On Daft Punk's “Touch”, Paul William's emotional intro pulls me in with it's warmth. The characteristic deep build on some of his words is picked up perfectly too. Female vocals sound intimate and lush as well allowing me to lose myself in Sarah Barthel's vocals on Phantogram's “Fall In Love”. Not all is rosy though, as there are instances where vocals can sound slightly hollow or echo-ey, such as on Aesop Rock's “Racing Stripes” and Netsky's “We Can Only Live Today (feat. Billie)”. I only experienced this on a handful of tracks. While some might find it a negative, it seemed to fit with the open, airy staging of the Solaris, coming across more like an element of each track than a legitimate flaw. To each their own I suppose.

    Bass on the Solaris is warm with a sub-bass skew. Mid- and upper- bass are quite reserved but present enough to give the low end some kick when called for. For the most part, the low end thunders along in the background and lets the rest of the signature build on it. Depth is impressive giving extremely deep notes a fair bit of physical feedback. Texture is impressive giving the low end a very dynamic, varied feel which keeps it from ever coming across as one-note. While not the quickest I've heard, the Solaris' bass is pretty snappy and decays rapidly enough to have no problems keeping up with quick bass lines, such as the rapid double bass on Havok's “Covering Fire” and the upbeat tempo of drum and bass tracks. That said, I prefer it with slower, more mellow basslines such as those on Dillon Francis' “We The Funk (ft. Fuego)” which feels quite well suited to the Solaris' presentation.

    When it comes to sound stage all those drivers and that big housing make for a salivatory experience. In terms of placement, the listener sits fairly close to the action with sounds expending way off into the distance. Intimate sections of a track can get uncomfortably close, such as in the closing moments of Culprate's “Undefined (feat. CoMa & Koda)” where the vocalist whispers directly into your ear. Someone in the Head-fi forums posted a Stax binaural test track (Kunstkopfumgang) a while back which does an amazing job of showing off the Solaris' sound stage. Closing your eyes, you get a good sense of space in all directions. Imaging is impressively smooth and accurate letting you pinpoint the performers and get a gauge on their distance from the dummy head. When it comes to layering and separation, BT's “13 Angles On My Broken Windowsill” is a great way to experience what the Solaris can pull off. About 8 minutes in it becomes a mess of instruments and effects, yet you can easily dissect it and follow individual elements. I can imagine the same could be said for orchestral pieces if I were familiar enough with any to use them for final testing.

    Overall the Solaris is an amazing sounding product. The cavernous sound stage, deep bass, engaging mid-range, sprinkling of treble, and overall clarity and detail all come together to give an awe inspiring performance. While there can be some hollowing of vocals at times, it was never enough to even begin to hinder the experience, for me at least.

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    Select Comparisons:

    Campfire Audio Atlas: The Atlas is clearly the party-goer of the two thanks to a bassier, brighter signature. The Atlas's treble feels more elevated in all regions, particularly the brilliance region, giving it a more vibrant upper range. The Solaris' treble doesn't sound quite as energetic, but it is more controlled with a tighter note presentation. The Atlas simply lacks the effortlessness of the Solaris in the treble region. Despite the Atlas' heady mid-bass presence, it's vocals have a leaner presentation and the mid-range overall has less presence than what you'll hear out of the Solaris. Bass on the Atlas is it's main selling point being that it is big and boisterous. Compared to the Solaris, extension is similar with the Atlas having more in overall quantity. The Atlas' low end hits with a greater impact but isn't quite a quick and textured. Sound stage on both is excellent, but the Solaris simply offers more. It's wider and deeper and more convincing. Imaging quality is outstanding on both with the Solaris' extra drivers giving it an edge in layering and separation. If you like an entertaining v-shaped sound with TOTL performance, you get the Atlas. If you prefer something more balanced but still exciting, you get the Solaris.

    Both the Atlas and Solaris are wonderfully constructed pieces of audio equipment. The Atlas is quite different in it's construction though, being that it is much smaller and completely composed of hand polished stainless steel. I won't say one is better built than the other since they are so very different, but will say they are top tier representatives of their respective designs (barrel shaped vs. “low” profile over ear). The Solaris' Super Litz cable is a straight upgrade to the Atlas's Litz cable being that the individual strands are much thicker. Hardware like the plug and y-split are the same with the Solaris' MMCX plugs being slightly beefier to accommodate the memory wire. Comfort is about the same for me, though I'll give the Atlas the edge since it can be worn cable up or down which makes it more universal for a wider variety of users.

    Hifiman RE2000: The RE2000's tuning follows a similar trajectory as the Solaris with a balanced, u-shaped sound. Treble on the RE2000 doesn't extend quite as far but is slightly more emphasized, particularly in the upper regions giving it a bit more sparkle and shimmer. Detail, control, and speed are similar, though the Solaris' armatures edge it ahead in a way that is not insignificant. The Solaris's mid-range is more forward but slightly thinner, colder, and overall crisper sounding. It is also more detailed than the RE2000. Bass on the RE2000 is more evenly balanced between mid- and sub-bass regions versus the Solaris which is skewed towards sub-bass regions. The extra mid-bass of the RE2000 gives it's low end a fuller appearance and more punch. The Solaris' sub-bass provides more physical rumble on the lowest notes. Texture is similarly great between the two. While the RE2000 has a well above average sound stage, the Solaris bests it in every direction. It's wider, deeper, images more accurately, and feels more layered. Instruments are better separated with more space between them. While I think the Solaris is the more technically adapt of the two, this is a good example of single dynamic versus hybrid. If you like the coherency and presentation of a single dynamic and are willing to sacrifice some technical ability, the RE2000 can't be beat. If you like the mingling of dynamic bass and armature precision, the RE2000 doesn't hold a candle to the Solaris.

    While I thoroughly enjoy the sound of the RE2000, build quality has always been a criticism of their iems. Pitting it against the Solaris makes this very apparent. Unlike the Solaris which is all metal, the RE2000 uses a mix of plastic and brass. The brass is gold plated just like the Solaris, but it's a very thin plating that is already showing wear. The Solaris' application feels a lot more durable. The Hifiman logo is printed onto the plastic face plate, unlike on the Solaris where it is part of the machining process and integrated into the face plate. The 2-pin input on the RE2000 extends off the top of the ear piece and isn't a seamless aspect of the design like it is on the Solaris. The cables are not comparable at all. Like the Solaris' Super litz cable, the RE2000's features silver-plated copper wiring. However, it is stuffed into a fairly generic black rubber sheath and poorly relieved everywhere. It would feel more at home on a budget friendly earphone than a 2,000 USD flagship. Overall, the Solaris' design and build feels every bit the 1,499.00 USD it costs whereas the RE2000 fails to meet basic expectations for a 2,000 USD product.

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    Final Thoughts:

    Campfire Audio is a juggernaut of a brand for a reason. Their earphones ooze style and quality, and have the sound chops necessary to back it up. They're not “all show and no go”. The Solaris is a perfect example of this. PVC coated metals, a gold-plated face plate , polished stainless steel, multiple drivers with tech engineered by and unique to Campfire Audio, thick silver-plated cables, extra-durable beryllium/copper MMCX connectors, kick @$$ packaging with a great accessory kit, etc. etc. etc. Everything about the Solaris screams quality, including quite literally, the quad-driver hybrid setup. It's mild u-shaped signature is so effortlessly refined and technically competent, it couldn't be anything but a flagship product.

    All that praise aside, the Solaris isn't perfect. That amazing sound quality is marred (depending on your preferences) by vocals that can sound ever so slightly hollow at times. And these are not small or subtle earphones in any sense. They stick out quite prominently. Those with small ears will very likely have stability issues, and those who worry about what others think may feel self-conscious that they've got giant gold earphones protruding from the sides of their head.

    Overall, the Solaris is a flagship earphone fully deserving of the title. It looks amazing, it feels amazing, and it sounds amazing. It's one of the few flagships I've used that is fully deserving of the price tag placed on it, and compared to others still it comes across as a bargain. It's the complete package and something you have to experience first hand.

    Thanks for reading!

    - B9Scrambler

    ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

    Some Test Tunes:

    Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
    Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
    King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
    King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
    Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
    Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
    Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
    Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
    Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
    Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
    The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
    Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
    Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
    Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
    The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
    Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
    Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
    Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
    Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
    Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)
      iBo0m, Zelda and Rockwell75 like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. B9Scrambler
      @iBo0m Glad you enjoyed it. What do you want a brief comparison with?
      B9Scrambler, May 31, 2019
      iBo0m likes this.
    3. iBo0m
      I did! I meant if there’s a chance that you can compare them to a more equal unit (like multi-BAs) if you had a chance to demo some separately (both Atlas and RE2000 are a single DD, thus the difference is expected) and Solaris DD is considered quite balanced. However, it’s probably a silly request, because you would’ve mentioned it in the review :).
      iBo0m, May 31, 2019
      B9Scrambler likes this.
    4. B9Scrambler
      @iBo0m I wish I had a comparable multi-driver hybrid unit to a/b it with. It's a good request, but unfortunately out of my gear only the Atlas and RE2000 are in the same price range. In my area high end audio shops don't dabble in iems, nor would we be able to test them. CA did send over the Andromeda so I'll be able to compare to that when I get around to the review, mind you that's not necessarily apples to apples either since the Andro is BA only. Sorry :frowning2:
      B9Scrambler, May 31, 2019
  2. Jackpot77
    Campfire Audio Solaris - Sound Like The Sun
    Written by Jackpot77
    Published Apr 23, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Holographic imaging, beautifully balanced sound, deep bass, excellent clarity, scales very well with better sources, emotional delivery, suits all genres.
    Cons - Not for the small of ear. Not much else.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Acknowledgement

    The Solaris were very kindly provided by Ken Ball at Campfire Audio for the purposes of writing a full review. I paid nothing for these, and there is no obligation to or input from Campfire Audio with regards to the content of the review. All that was (politely) asked for was a few brief impressions to be posted as soon as possible (which were outlined in a previous post on my blog) and a more thorough review once I’d got to grips with the sound. The full review was posted a while back on the Audio Primate blog, so I am now posting here for the good people of Head-Fi. Hope you enjoy as much as I enjoyed the IEMs! (Warning - this is my longest review yet, but something this good deserves this many words).

    About me / personal preferences
    I am a long time listener and audio fan, and fell into the world of audiophilia about four or five years ago with my first set of "high end" in ear monitors (the Flare Audio R2A) and never looked back. I started writing reviews as a hobby about a year after that, and have been lucky enough to hear some ridiculously good IEMs and headphones over the last few years as a result. My personal preference for sound leans more towards warm and musical than bright or analytic, although I do crave detail. I like a low end with a bit of substance to it, but I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool basshead (or at least I won't admit to it!). I prefer my mids forward and emotional rather than laid back and distant, and my preferred treble is clean and clear rather than crystalline and screaming. I listen mainly to rock and acoustic styles of music, with a splash of electronica and some classical fusion and orchestral soundtracks thrown in. Oh, and I'm a really average drummer.

    Ratings

    [​IMG]

    Introduction, build and ergonomics
    Campfire Audio are a company who need pretty much no introduction these days, if you are a follower of the IEM (in ear monitor) scene on sites like Head-Fi or the other audio forums out there. They have been making waves for the last three or so years with a series of IEMs that are almost universally well-received, building a reputation as a manufacturer with a strong emphasis on musicality and value for money (if such a thing exists in the world of $1000 headphones!).

    The Solaris is the latest evolution of the Campfire Audio line, a four-driver hybrid that brings together all of their current design and tuning knowhow into their defacto flagship model, sitting on top of their universal range at $1499. This brings together their ADLC dynamic driver found in their DD flagship the Atlas, the Polarity DD tuning chamber technology designed for their Polaris and Atlas models and the now-ubiquitous TAEC (Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber) technology used in the higher end BA models. This is all married together with a single custom designed crossover, with the DD firing across the full range, one back-vented balanced armature to pick up the midrange and a pair of TAEC BAs taking care of the treble.

    All of this is packed into a shell which adopts a more “pseudo-custom” shape than previous models, swapping the more angular edges of the Andromeda and Atlas for a smoother and more textured curve, leading down to an angular nozzle with a steel “grating” to keep out dirt and debris. It is still unmistakably Campfire, sharing an identical nozzle design with the front assembly of the Atlas. The metalwork on the case is highly detailed, with multiple ridges on the inner surface giving a nice visual sense of texture. It contrasts well with the PVD-deposited (makes a really durable finish) 24k gold plating on the outer surface of the shell, making this a visually striking IEM. The two tone colour scheme works nicely here, looking a little more classy than the blue and black of the Polaris (another hybrid model in the CA range). It is a unique design, and one that won’t be easily mistaken for any other IEM currently on the market, so kudos to Ken and team for coming out with another striking industrial design piece here.

    Size wise, this is on the slightly large side, but sits well in the ear and doesn’t feel overly heavy. The ergonomics are actually surprisingly good, considering the size of the shell. The Solaris do stick out a little from my ears, but not nearly as badly as something like the JH Audio Angie (v1), which used to protrude at least a few cm out from each ear-hole when wearing. With foam tips or the correct silicone tip styles (Final E work well for me, as do Spiral Dots), the Solaris sit firmly in the ear, with a stable and comfortable positioning. These aren’t the sort of IEMs that lock in place so tightly you will be running marathons in them, but then again, who does that with $1499 worth of audio gear in their ears?

    I’m not a huge fan of the memory wire implementation on the CA cables, but when worn without custom tips, I find the memory wire very useful for additional security, so if you are a fervent hater of all things memory-related when it comes to cables, this may inform your tip choices when wearing the Solaris.

    Once correctly seated, the shell feels smooth and light in the ear, allowing for some seriously long listening sessions without generating any hot spots or discomfort in the outer ear. For reference, my ear cavities are only marginally smaller than some of the craters the Mars Rover is currently driving through, so please bear that in mind. Given the smooth lines on the inner face, I can’t see this causing an issue with smaller eared users in terms of comfort. There is no getting away from the fact that the Solaris are a big-shelled in ear monitor, so CA’s latest hybrid may stick out a fair bit further than your other gear if your lugholes are on the more petite side. As with all high end gear in this sort of bracket, it’s always best to try and audition before you buy.

    One final note on ergonomics and build should go to the new SuperLitz cable included with this model. It sports the twisted braid of the recent Atlas Silver cabling, but is made of a thicker gauge wiring with multiple different strand sizes internally. This makes it a thicker and more substantial cable than the previous Litz cables on the Andro / Atlas etc, with a heftier feel in the hand. The twisted braiding mean it is still supremely flexible, and has practically no memory after being coiled. The additional weight actually helps the cable sit nicely flat when worn, adding to the premium feel of the whole package. The cable is also very quiet (mainly due to the memory wire), so is a quality addition overall. I was lucky enough to get sent a 4.4mm terminated cable as well as the “stock” 3.5mm termination, so have settled on the 4.4mm for daily use with my gear, using a pigtail adapter to hook it up to my other balanced or single ended sources as needed. With most high-end IEMs there is a tendency for buyers to investigate cable rolling once they have got used to the sound, but having rolled a few of my available cables through the Solaris, I keep coming back to the original SuperLitz as by far the best “fit” both in terms of ergonomics and general SQ, so a cable upgrade is certainly not a requirement for most users here if sonics are your main consideration. Cables are a fairly contentious issue for most anyway, so it is nice to see ALO/Campfire providing something that is already firmly in the “after-market” category in both looks and build as standard.

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    Unboxing
    The Solaris comes in a larger art-card box than the usual Campfire models, keeping the same sort of height but now fully square to accommodate the larger “deluxe” carrying case. Opening the box reveals the now-synonymous Campfire Audio fur-lined leather case, which is upholstered in a brown leather (or leatherette) material, and is approximately twice the size of the previous cases. This moves it from being pocketable in a jeans pocket to more of a jacket-pocket carry if you are intending to take the Solaris out and about, but makes sense to accommodate the larger physical dimensions of the IEM and the thicker SuperLitz cable.

    The rest of the loadout is pretty standard Campfire Audio fare, with Final E-type tips, campfire silicon and foam tips, a small CA pin and IEM cleaning brush and an ALO Cable. The cable is a new SuperLitz design, with differing strand sizes and a silver-plated copper composition. The only other unusual addition is a nice Campfire branded drawstring bag with two sections, designed to hold the IEM shells when you are transporting them in order to avoid the metal colliding when in transit. It is a definite improvement on the previous red velvet bags, as the cabling on my Vega actually ended up with some staining from the dye of the bags, so another nice evolution.

    Specs
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    Initial impressions on sound
    So, what was my initial impression of these babies straight out of the box? Pretty damn good, is the answer. They undeniably sound like a Campfire Audio product, sharing the musical DNA of the TOTL models that have preceded them, but not sounding exactly like any of them. On first listen, I was actually expecting to hear something like the Atlas with an airier top end, but was actually struck by the richness of the sound rather than a sense of sparkle. The Solaris are described on the Campfire site as thinning the walls between high-end two channel hi-fi and personal audio, and the Solaris packs a tonality and fullness to the sound that supports that assessment.

    Before any 2-channel enthusiasts start reaching for the pitchforks, I’m not suggesting that the Solaris is exactly like strapping two large cabinets to your ears. What it does bring to the sound is a sense of dimensionality that makes it feel more like listening to the sound system in your favourite music venue than from two small in-ear speakers. The sound is big and bold, carrying plenty of bass but with a little less emphasis than the Atlas, and a more engaging midrange. Despite the size of the image in your head, the presentation still feels intimate, pulling vocals forward towards the listener and spreading guitars and other instruments across the stage.

    The vocals in particular are impressive, sounding clean but ultra-textured, and feeling more “3D” than flat. I suspect that this is a monitor that will be a top-tier contender in terms of imaging and staging – it is far too early to make that sort of assessment now, but the depth portrayed in the tracks I have listened to so far bode very well. Detail levels are high across the board, but there is an almost vinyl-esque sheen to the music which reminds me of the way the Empire Ears Zeus spits out detail, relying on true resolution rather than treble sharpness to get the sonic information across. These don’t feel like the most overtly detailed IEMs I have ever heard in the TOTL bracket, but again, it’s way too early to really tell, and they certainly don’t feel lacking. They share that smooth detailing that makes the Andromeda such a great in-ear, but take the tone and body and kick it up a gear.

    Treble is clean, clear and extended. It sits nicely in balance with the other two frequency ranges, neither too hot or too dull. Anyone who has heard one of the previous TAEC models should know what to expect here.

    Overall, the sound is rich and slightly warm, with a serious amount of bass underpinning a musical and resolving upper ranges. Guitar and piano sound crisp and real, and vocals are emotionally engaging. It marries the best aspects of the Andromeda and Atlas together for me, and the synergy makes for something pretty special. This will be less polarising than the Atlas, but it is an evolution of the rich and musical sound that Campfire have been pioneering with the recent Atlas and Cascade models, with some of the OG Andromeda goodness thrown in the mix for good measure. This doesn’t just add more bass to the Andro tuning, and it doesn’t simply air out the Atlas some more – this is a different beast, but I can see why Ken has been so enthusiastic about it. It plays in the TOTL bracket in terms of technical prowess, while sounding just a little different from anything I have heard before. It almost has aspects of the “3D room emulation” from my Audeze Mobius headphones, the sound feels that rounded – it’s an unusual analogy, but one that probably best fits what my ears are hearing – the sound is inside your head, but also all around you.

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    Update on sound after burn-in
    After a solid month of long chunks of burning in and a healthy dose of listening as and when I could plus a few more months of general everyday use, I probably now have at least 500 hrs on this particular set as at time of finishing this review. I have deliberately left the initial “knee jerk” impressions from my first contact with the Solaris in the paragraphs above, to give a contrast on how I heard them initially and where my brain / the drivers have settled in terms of signature and listening experience.

    When I was discussing the Solaris with Ken Ball initially, the subject of burn in came up. While I’m personally fairly open minded when it comes to the effect of burn in on audio gear, I know it’s a rather emotive subject in the audiophile community, so thought I’d better elaborate a little on the reasons given why this IEM needs a solid burn in period. Ken has suggested 5 to 6 days of constant use for the Solaris before they reach their full potential. Even listening for 4 hours a day every day, that would take a calendar month. Being the impatient type, I took the slightly easier route of hooking the Solaris up to my mains-attached Shanling M0 and kept it playing 24/7 until it was well past the prescribed number of hours, with a break every day for an hour or so and the occasional listening session to break things up.

    So, why the ultra-long break in period? Ken gave the following two reasons:

    • The ADLC driver design will loosen up and reach full mechanical excursion potential after 100-150 hours of use
    • The dielectric in the crossover will also benefit from the extended break in period
    Now, whether you believe or disbelieve the science, to my ears I heard a difference in both staging width and tightness and impact of the bass (which are likely interrelated). I also perceive the quantity of bass slightly differently, which I will go into in more detail below. Whether it is brain-burn, mechanical or electrical improvement or good old fashioned placebo I can’t say for certain, but my recommendation for any future Solaris users is to put the CA recommended number of hours on these IEMs before passing final judgement on the sound. It’s more of a subtle shift than a sonic epiphany, but if your experience is like mine, you’ll be glad you did. To reflect this perceived shift in sound from the Solaris, I have included a second impressions section below, which reflect the overall impressions I now have after an extended period of listening and use.

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    “Initial” impressions on sound (part 2)

    The sound is full and deep, with a sense of balance that evokes the sort of natural neutrality of the Andromeda. Bass is still impactful, but now feels surprisingly restrained given the fact the dynamic driver used in this hybrid is the same as the one producing the ammunition for the bass cannon of the current CA lineup, the Atlas. Ken and co have opted for a more linear and controlled bass tuning here, with the Solaris keeping a tight rein on the overall quantity, but still providing that dash of visceral impact that all good DDs can bring to the party. Sheer volume has been traded for texture and layering, with the Solaris pushing out some serious detailing in the lower end, with extension and texturing to spare. Initially I thought the Solaris was on the bassy side of things, but after more listening I realised I was mistaking the “subwoofer” style tuning of the lower sub-bass for overall bass quantity, which is actually a little less than originally imagined, and barely more than neutral when taken as an overall whole.

    Moving up to the mids, vocals still sit prominently in the mix, with a perceived rise in the early kHz to position the singer closer to the eardrum than the back of the stage, but still not quite as far forward as something like the Zeus. This slight emphasis is countered by what I hear to be a slight dip a little further up the frequency range (just after the female vocal ranges usually end), allowing the vocals to stand front and centre without the rest of the midrange instrumentation dominating the soundscape. The presentation here feels intimate but not crowded, bringing the “heart” of the music close to the listener without losing the widescreen sense of scale.

    The tonality across the board is superb, with a very organic sound to instruments like piano and acoustic guitar. Notes feel full bodied without sounding thick or gloopy in the ear, bringing sharpness or liquidity as the recording demands. In fact, the transparency is one of the things that really hits you the more you listen to these, with the Solaris staying true to the inherent rawness or warmth of the underlying recording without adding too much of its own flavour to the mix. It is a monitor that has a distinctive tone and colour of its own, but still remains true to the mastering of the music underneath, which is a a rare combination.

    The treble is taken care of by the now-famous Campfire Audio TAEC system, made up of a pair of BA drivers and a 3D printed tubeless resonating chamber. Like the rest of the signature, the highs here carry genuine weight, extending high but remaining solid in the ear rather than ephemeral. There is still plenty of air and sparkle in the presentation, but the additional heft from the mids and bass underneath make this less of a spacious and delicate sound than its predecessor the Andromeda. It certainly isn’t smoothed over or blunted in any way, but people looking for a carbon copy of the Andro’s signature top end will be disappointed.

    In terms of position, treble holds fairly steady with the midrange, with just a bit of extra push at the topmost extension of the sound. It is crystal clear, and carries some of that indefinable “sparkle” that makes the edge of cymbal notes and other high range detail shimmer just a little in the ear, decaying delicately into nothing. There is a weight to the treble that adds to the unique analogue or vinylesque tonality that this IEM is capable of achieving, giving instruments room to soar but stopping them from becoming truly ethereal or gossamer-thin in the ear, keeping things firmly grounded and substantial. As mentioned, this isn’t a carbon copy of the Andromeda’s highly rated high end. For my personal preferences (thick and smooth treble over crispy and razor-sharp), this is right in the sweet spot – it may leave a few Andro fans wanting a shade more “zing” or shimmer in the upper reaches of their favourite tracks, but I think the treble is tuned just right to complement the rest of the sound ranges – too much would have unbalanced the delicate alchemy of the overall signature so I’m personally glad Ken chose this path.


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    Bass

    Delving into the individual frequency ranges in more detail, the bass on the Solaris is a point of debate among the audiophile community. Some are concerned that the CA hybrid may have toned down the mighty ADLC driver a little too much from its fire and brimstone heyday powering the Atlas to the top of the audiophile basshead tree. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the bass is ideally judged for the rest of the frequency range, neither too little or too much. It has impact and a sense of physicality, hitting with a muscular thud on drum impacts, and giving bass guitar and synth a well rounded presence, if not an overwhelming sense of volume.

    “Tommy The Cat” by Primus is a good example of the above, the riotous jazz/rock bass riffing of Les Claypool that underlines the song hitting the eardrums with a genuine fizz as the strings pop and vibrate. The kick drum riff that appears at 0:32 feels so real in the ear that you can practically see the skin of the drum vibrate as it gets hit by the pedal, capturing a crystal clear image in the mind. It is a mixture of power and control that makes the song sound almost primal, without having to blow you away with sheer volume or slam.

    Moving on to my more usual bass testers, “Heavy” by Emile Sande is up first. This song leads off with a sub bass synth rumble that persists throughout, and this is present on the Solaris but not massively emphasised, giving more of a tickle than a thrum in the ear. It still has substance and extension, but doesn’t dominate the sound like it can on monitors with more of a sub bass slant.

    Similarly, “Heavy” by Linkin Park carries the depth and texture of the (sub)bassline well, but probably not enough to keep a true basshead salivating. There is still physicality to it, bringing a slam that is almost at odds with the quantity. This is almost the inverse of a traditional “BA bass”, delivering only a medium thrum in the ear but maximum physicality and air movement that only comes with a good dynamic driver. That seems in part to account for the “subwoofer effect” that the Solaris so effortlessly conjures up when listening to certain tracks, being able to make them sound like there is a proper 2-channel subwoofer in play, rather than the actual quantity of bass hitting the eardrum.

    Midbass is thicker in volume, and absolutely drips with texture. It feels velvety and thick, coming through just a little north of neutral on most tracks but definitely still sitting more towards balanced than basshead. This is where the real texture in the low end starts to show its face, revealing layer upon layer of bass in your favourite tracks that other monitors may just smooth over. Some of the retrieval is so nuanced that if you stuffed it into a Gucci tuxedo and rolled out onstage at the Oscars, it would probably come home with an award. This thing can legitimately lay claim to being the Daniel Day-Lewis of bass, in my humble opinion, matching its presentation to the material like a sonic chameleon, capable of captivating nuance and occasionally surprising brutality in the same track.

    “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk and “California Love” by Dr Dre are dispatched with aplomb, the liquid bassline of the Daft Punk track dropping low as maintaining its infinitely varied shades in the ear. Dre brings an altogether more in your face vibe, the Solaris responding to the additional low end in the mix with a controlled and punchy rendition, with more than enough volume to get the head nodding. There is slightly more weight to the mid bass tones here, carrying more fullness than the surprisingly punchy but lighter sub bass. “Reptile” by Skrillex also comes out surprisingly well, the mix of impact and fullness actually giving the track a fairly prominent low end, with the hammering electro-bass riffs filling the ear nicely. The ADLC driver shows its chops here, keeping all the differing layers of sound cohesive as the track builds, immersing the listener into the dubstep soundscape and the various dynamic shifts as Skrillex bends and twists the sound.

    Kicking things up a gear, “Bad Rain” by Slash hits with genuine impact, the simple 4-4 drum beat that drives the intro arriving with punch in the ear. The growling bass guitar that follows feels textured and raw, diffusing out into the soundscape after each hit. The decay is controlled but very organic sounding, lingering just long enough in the background to give that sense of presence without muddying up the next note. Mid bass presence is more towards neutral here, with the bass clearly audible, but leaving more of an impression of texture and physicality than sheer volume.

    Rounding the bass section off, “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel and “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac are up. The Sister Hazel track practically oozes bass on some monitors, and the Solaris doesn’t disappoint here. The bassline feels lithe and flexible, each note carrying fine texture around each plucked string as it is hit. It doesn’t dominate the low end or completely fill the stage like it can on something like the CA Atlas, keeping a more reserved but still musical approach. The texture of the notes sits somewhere between chalky and liquid, carrying the smoothness of the latter without ever feeling fully “melted” in the ear. It shows control as well as flexibility, sitting in that Goldilocks zone that gives maximum musicality without resorting to overly sloppy or liquid reproduction of notes.

    One final thing to note on the Solaris is the potential for EQ in the lower regions. This is the same driver that floods the ear with bass boom when called upon in the Atlas, and with the right electronic stimulation, this IEM can be turned into a serious bass-capable beast. Jacking the low end EQ on my N5IIs or DX200, the Solaris responds in kind with a heavier, much more prominent bass, that adds a layer of warmth to the sound at the expense of some of the crystal clear midrange tuning. It doesn’t distort on anything I’ve tried it on yet, so if you have access to a high quality parametric EQ, this should allow you to add some decent dBs to the bass response without too serious an effect on the overall quality of sound. Personally, I’m happy to leave the bass dials where they are, as any attempts I made to bring in some Atlas style boom took too much away from the delicate balance of the rest of the sound to be worth the additional bass.

    Overall, this is bass of the highest quality, with enough presence to keep most people more than happy and top tier texture and layering, along with a real physical impact to give the sound that authentic DD flavour. It’s difficult to see where Campfire could have made too many alterations to this tuning given the context of the other frequencies sitting above, so while it isn’t quite my “preferred” or ideal bass tuning, it is probably the best balanced and most accomplished bass I’ve heard yet (and that includes the Atlas, which sounds a little better for my preferences in the low end but doesn’t quite have the undefinable balance that the Solaris possesses).

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    Mids

    The Solaris midrange is taken care of by an overlap of the ADLC driver powering the bass and the same single midrange BA used in the newer Andromeda S model. It is hands down the best hybrid implementation I’ve heard, with no obvious “seam” or audible crossover point in the bass to midrange transition – in fact, the single crossover in use actually sits between the mids and treble, so it really is a masterfully blended mix of BA and DD together, executed without any loss of coherency to the overall sound.

    It is a rich but not overwhelmingly full sound, giving plenty of room for delicacy and dynamics throughout the range. Vocals are the star of the show here, imbued with a soulful timbre that evokes the best high end dynamic driver IEMs like the AKT8IE or RE2000, but carrying the detail and clarity of a top flight BA setup. This isn’t a highly coloured sound, but it does carry a slight warmth and air of “natural neutral” that the non-basshead Campfire models have in common. This is an all-rounder’s take on a midrange, with smoothness and space in equal measure, all sitting on a backdrop of solid micro-detail. This allows the Solaris to be complementary to multiple musical genres without picking any particular favourites.

    Starting with the voices, Aaron Lewis’ cover of the Chris Stapleton track “Whiskey And You” captures the velvety richness of the ex-Staind singer’s delivery well, full of darkness and grain. It contrasts against the sweeter and lighter voicing of the backing singers, blending to create a multi layered chorus that is both deep and light at the same time. Similarly, “And On A Rainy Night” from the recent reinterpretation of the “Soul’s Core” album by Shawn Mullins captures the gruffness in Mullins’ half-sung, half-spoken delivery perfectly, pulling the vocal medium-close to the listener and giving it a texture like fine certificate paper as it pulls the small details in his delivery out. It is a sound that feels grounded and resolutely physical, with an air of stylised authenticity in presentation that captures more than its fair share of emotion en route from driver to ear.

    Lining up some Mavis Staples, the veteran soul legend sounds like gravel dipped in butter, her distinctive croaky roar sounding both warm and gruff at the same time on “High Note”. The multi-layered chorus places each individual singer in the gospel choruslines at slightly different points around the soundstage, allowing the brain to track each line individually without losing the musicality of the blend. The Solaris is resolving enough to catch the raspy breathing patters in “Love And Trust” by the same singer, slotting them around the warm and soulful vocal to give a three dimensional feel to the delivery. It isn’t hyper-detailed for its price bracket, but there is enough clarity to make the brain feel like the sound is pure and unadulterated, with no hint of veil to my (admittedly less than golden) ears.

    Trying some sibilance testers, Chris Stapleton is up first. Hi version of the simple acoustic country ballad “Whiskey And You” is one of my favourite tracks for late night listening, but it does his raw vocal delivery no favours at all, sounding like it has been mixed in a chainsaw testing facility and mastered with sandpaper on some audio gear. The Solaris cruises through the troublesome vocal sections at around the 3 minute mark with no issues, keeping the sound raw and emotional but relying on natural resolution rather than artificial peaks in the upper mids to retain definition without grating on the eardrums in the process. “My Kind Of Love” by Emile Sande has similar mastering issues, and passes a little less smoothly, still avoiding out and out shrillness but definitely bordering on sharp. This is another track that has been mastered on the surface of the sun, so the heat is inherent in the track itself – the transparency of the Solaris plays nicely with most styles of music, but won’t overly smoothe out or hide poorly recorded tracks, so quality of source file and more importantly quality of recording are definitely factors when choosing your playlists here. If you feed it a bag of broken glass, expect your eardrums to get cut to shreds in the process – there is no sonic smoothing at play here. However, feed it Elvis in his prime and it’s Vegas all the way, baby – thank you very much.

    The flipside of the Sande tune, “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy is a track that has an inherently sharp vocal line and some very dissonant guitar work, but is recorded superbly. The Solaris excels here, sharpening Kennedy’s falsetto to a razor-edged wail, but adding body throughout the notes to keep it sounding solid and silky in the ear rather than unpleasantly brittle or rapier-like. Sticking with the same track, the intro bars demonstrate the capability of the Solaris to handle guitar-based music, delivering pin-sharp harmonics and a crunchy edge to the electric guitar without sacrificing the natural tone. Guitars sound defined, and carry a sense of weight and solidity to them without sounding too beefy or chunky. This isn’t the thick “wall of sound” style you can get on some mid-centric monitors, but like the bass, carries an aspect of physicality that is slightly at odds with its more neutral / natural leanings in terms of note weight. If the midrange instrumentation were a boxer, it would be a super-middleweight: packing enough size and power to do some proper damage without losing speed or carrying too much weight around the edges. This is a monitor that can chug with the best of them (try out some P.O.D. or Metallica for proof), but it isn’t a specialist in this sort of area.

    With more acoustic fare, the Solaris really opens up, with a beautiful organicity of tone (copyright @Deezel77 – Head-Fi / THL) that makes strummed strings feel like they are being played in the same room as the listener. “Champagne High” by Sister Hazel is one of my favourite acoustic rock tracks, a fine blend of regretful vocals, delicate acoustic noodlings and a sweeping rock backbeat. The acoustic guitars sound delicate and real in the ear, blending softly with the heartfelt vocal to give the song a genuine emotional ballast. They sit naturally a little further into the background than the singer, the slight dip in the upper midrange pulling the instruments a little behind the voice, giving the Solaris a more “live on stage” style of presentation with certain tracks. There has been some chat on the usual forums about this “scoop” and how it affects the mids – as mentioned above, I think this is pretty well judged, and gives the Solaris a nice balance across the range without making any of the tracks I usually listen to feel hollow or absent through the midrange. As always, YMMV, but I don’t think this tuning tweak is a worry, and actually adds to the overall signature Ken was shooting for here.

    A lot of the beauty in the Solaris midrange comes from the physical presentation of the notes. The two drivers combine to create notes that feel slightly more rounded and three dimensional than an all-BA setup should deliver, and more defined and articulate than a typical dynamic driver. I’m not talking about the often used term “holographic” (although that will likely surface in the soundstage section of this writeup), just the sense that each instrument has more heft in the ear, almost as if you can sense the angle of the notes as well as the notes themselves.

    Female vocals have divided a few listeners on the forums so far, with some listeners of Asian alphabet-pop (J and K) noting a recession in the voices of some artists or an unusual timbre. I personally don’t hear any recession or “suck out” with the vocals of the songs and styles of music I listen to. Artists like Amy Helm are just as up front as they always were on tracks like “Odetta”, her smoky and soulful voice sitting just in front of the instruments rather than alongside or behind them. I tend to prefer female singers who operate in the lower registers like Mavis Staples, so I’m more rock chick than mezzo soprano in my female music tastes, so please bear that in mind. The Amy Helm album actually sounds sublime through these IEMs, with a warm tone and analog feel like the best 70s soul recordings, but still packing some great modern day clarity and recording detail.

    “Michigan” from the same album starts with some subtle brushed drums and a little organ work, with some delicate acoustic guitar in the left and right periphery of the soundstage and Helm’s deeply soulful vocals sitting right up front. This sounds solemn and reverent as it builds, sweeping the listener into the chorus where Helm is joined by her backing singers. Each chorus vocal renders separately in the ear without losing the sense of togetherness, allowing you to follow the individual lines if you concentrate but not distracting with detail. The vocal isn’t the cleanest recorded delivery I have in my collection, but the Solaris sounds faithful in reproducing the sound as recorded – despite having a great individual “tone”, this isn’t a monitor that will sugar coat or artificially smooth poor recordings – in fact, I’d suggest it is welcoming, but not overly forgiving with poorly mastered source material. The assumption would be that if you are going to spend the best part of $1500 on an in-ear monitor, you are likely to have a suitably refined source and decent source material, but just putting this out there in case you are looking at pairing these with your Android mobile phone or a collection of 128kbps MP3 from the 90s (each to their own, and all that).

    Switching up to some of my favourite rock tracks, Slash is up next. The Solaris handles rock guitar pretty well – it isn’t the crispest monitor out there, but if treads the right sort of line between sharp-edged attack on guitar riffs and a blunter and more full bodied sound. “World On Fire” from the album of the same name kicks off at 100mph, with the guitars feeling solid in the ear, moving nimbly around the quickfire riffs but still carrying some resonating chug in the ear and a satisfying distorted wail.. “Shadow Life” is dealt with the same way, the staccato riff descending into the chorus stopping and starting on a sixpence with excellent control, but still sounding analogue and almost tube-warm in tone, with a solid sense of gravitas and sonic weight. The riffs are supported by the solidity of the lower end, picking up some rounding to the lower harmonic edges from the DD portion of the midrange pairing. This isn’t to the same level of thickness or heft as the original owner of the 10mm DD, with the Atlas possessing a more full-bodied presentation with these sort of tracks. There is still enough depth to make the Solaris sound planted and full, however, with the combination of BA speed and organic and almost tube-like warmth to the tone sounding a little reminiscent of the Angie by JH Audio, with just a splash more presence to the notes.

    As mentioned, speed isn’t an issue, with the IEM handling frenetic rockers like “From The Sky” by Tremonti or “Coming Home” by Sons of Apollo just as easily as it chews through my Foy Vance back catalogue. In fact, the mythical PRaT (Pace, Rhythm and Timing) of this IEM is top class, with the Solaris able to capture the uptempo groove of something like “Dubai Blues” by Chickenfoot with all its toe-tapping groove, matching technicality with a swing to the sound that feels musical rather than analytical. This is another side-effect of the overall coherence, with each driver moving with control and speed to give a vice-tight grip on the underlying music tempo, translating well into the ear.

    Other midrange instrumentation sounds accurate, with a slight warmth to the tonality but nothing too stylised. Piano rings true to my ear, and strings sound three dimensional and just… right to me. “Kentucky Rain” by Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic has a delicate orchestral backing and a sweeping lower end, and the Solaris deal with both easily. The delicate finger-picked acoustic guitar sounds barely-there it is so light against Elvis’ velvety crooning, the layers of horn and trumpet and gospel chorus building as the song rolls on through its chorus, giving a dynamic swell and recession to the track that feels like a good live performance. The separation and layering abilities of the Solaris also come to the fore here, giving the various instruments a little room to breathe without diffusing through the soundstage, leaving just enough black space around notes to give that authentic feeling of top-tier clarity. The absolute resolution of this IEM in the midrange probably won’t bother something like the Jomo Flamenco or Zeus-XR, but with the tuning choice Campfire have gone for, it doesn’t need to. The pinpoint image and top notch separation make this almost an irrelevance, bringing out nuance by clearing the space around each little micro-sound rather than turning up the resolution to make it stand out.

    To inject a dose of reality, this isn’t something completely revolutionary or new that the Campfire team have cooked up here, just a very good implementation of the midrange. It is noticeable mainly when you switch back to other IEMs after a session with the Solaris – the other gear (even things like the Zeus) just feel a little flatter overall. I don’t think this will be the “ultimate” midrange tuning for all genres of music, but for fans of guitar and piano based genres, or western rock and pop music, it should pretty much tick all of the boxes that need ticking.

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    Treble
    The treble on the Solaris is handled by the same twin balanced armature setup used in the higher tier all-BA models in the CA range (the Jupiter and Andromeda) and also in the first hybrid in their range, the Dorado. It uses their proprietary Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (TAEC) technology, using a 3D printed resonating chamber to remove the need for sound tubes and “open up” the sound in the high frequencies to allow better extension and air. As can be testified by their various other models, this works, with the Solaris inheriting a few traits from its greener sibling the Andro in both extension and shimmer. As has already been stated, it isn’t a full-blown Andro clone up top, however, coming across a little darker and more grounded in tone than the lighter and brighter all-BA model. I have not heard the limited edition SS (Stainless Steel) version of the Andromeda, but that is purported to have slightly smoother and less sparkling highs, so I suspect it will have more in common with the Solaris in that respect.

    There is a crispness and lightness here that still makes the music sound wide open and airy, but also a solidity and thickness of note that stops it from completely floating off into the upper atmosphere. The effect is more reminiscent of a concert in a wide open field than a large auditorium to my ears – sounds float away and fade out, but lack the defining boundaries of a large space to give them that reflective sense of scale.

    Going back to “Starlight” by Slash, the dissonant guitar harmonics in the intro are sharp but still weighty, glistening in the ear with an analogue tone that stops them grating like they can on thinner monitors. “Chi Mai” by the classical fusion violin duo Duel sounds majestic, the mix of fluttering synth notes and sharp and emotive violin building to a sparkling crescendo. Violin sounds rich, the vibrato of finger on violin neck coming through clearly with each note that is bowed or plucked. The electronic accompaniment occupies the space above, lightening the tonality without overpowering, providing just the right level of accent to the sound.

    “Go” by The Chemical Brothers follows a similar theme, the swirly keyboards that kick in around the 1:20 mark whipping across the top of the soundscape, opening up the higher octaves without sounding overly bright. It envelops you, bringing the height of the stage into full relief. Moving to something more analogue, “The Golden Age” by Beck plays wonderfully, with its chimes and xylophone style percussion filling the space around your ears with an expanded sphere of high notes, full of detailing and texture, popping in the ear like little bubbles full of sound.

    That sounds like an overly flowery piece of hyperbole, but it is the closest my brain can get to a descriptor, unfortunately. Treble is solid but extended, carries sparkle but isn’t overly thin or delicate (unless that’s the way it is recorded in the track) and is absolutely packed with fine detail and texture. Despite saying that the treble has weight, this isn’t a dark monitor by any means, and for fans of an ultra dark or rolled off treble tuning, the Solaris probably shouldn’t be at the top of your wishlists. It extends effortlessly past the upper reaches of my hearing without any apparent strain, but doesn’t lose it’s analogue tone while doing so, staying true to the overall sound of the IEM without resorting to any particularly obvious spikes or hotspots in the upper ranges (that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, they just aren’t obvious TO ME). This is pure treble, with plenty of inner resolution rather than specific frequency sharpening, making it easy to listen to for extended periods without any dose of fatigue.

    Overall, if you are looking for a clone of the Andromeda, the Solaris won’t quite get you there, but if you are happy trading just a touch of that wide open treble fizz for a meatier and more analogue tonality, the Solaris is an exceptional IEM in this frequency range, providing some of the most musically enjoyable treble I’ve heard yet.

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    Soundstage, separation and imaging

    The Solaris throws out a fairly wide and deep soundstage, pushing about 30cm outside of the head in all directions, forming a perfect sphere with excellent height and depth. It feels broad, but doesn’t give the feeling of huge vastness in its sonic image, mainly due to the size of the individual notes on the stage.

    The Solaris has inherited the “big sound” of its DD predecessor the Atlas here, presenting vocals and guitar in a larger than life sizing, almost as if the music had been blown up with the classic iDevice “pinch to zoom” gesture in the ear, but while still being able to see the full picture. It’s this sense of scale which leads to an almost speaker-like feel to the Solaris presentation, the music giving the impression of filling the available space around the listener’s ears without seeming crowded or claustrophobic.

    In terms of separation, the Solaris won’t blow you away with a sense of distance between far left and far right panned instruments, but rather impress with a scale that can leave other IEMs sound a little small until you readjust. Playing something like “Trouble” or ”Shelter” by Ray Lamontagne, the hard-panned drums and bass parts push outside my head further than a lot of IEMs I own in either direction, but don’t feel as distant from the vocals in the centre image. The Solaris has truly TOTL layering capability, which helps in this regard – no matter how densely packed a section of the audio spectrum is, the Solaris manages to lay each instrument and noise down cleanly in its own little slice of the universe, with no sense of congestion or blurring.

    This is put to the test with “Coming Home” by Sons Of Apollo and “Take You With Me” by Tremonti. The former is a track which is stacked higher than a Black Friday sale shelf, the bass guitar and electric both shadowing the same riff and overlaying the busy kick drum and tom tom phrases underneath. On less capable monitors this song can collapse into a enjoyable but muddled wall of noise in centre stage, but the Solaris remains impeccably composed throughout, carrying the texture of the bass, the bite of the guitar and Mike Portnoy’s roving drum fills with equal ease. This is where the bass tuning really comes to the fore, the extra emphasis on speed and definition over sheer quantity from the ADLC driver really helping the Campfire model retain clarity at all times. The Tremonti track is a blast of high speed guitar and kick drum patterns, and again the Solaris is clean and crunchy throughout, the speed of the drivers matching the music without any blurriness.

    This is one of the areas where the Solaris obviously shows its credentials at the top table, presenting a large and impeccably positioned sound, with instruments laid down in solid locations across the stage and everything having enough room to breathe, without dissecting the music into an analytical pile of component parts. Another area where the TOTL card gets played shamelessly is with the imaging capability of the Solaris. The 3D stage and clean layers of sound allow the CA flagship to present music with a very specific sense of location and positioning on the soundstage, giving both width and depth to individual instruments, dropping them carefully into their own clearly defined slots in the ear rather than spreading them between the ubiquitous three left/centre/right musical “blobs” that some lesser monitors will resolve into.

    This allows the listener to hear further “in” to some well recorded tracks, with each instrument possessing more of a lifelike feel as it sits in a specific location in the overall sound, mimicking the sort of feel you get from a live acoustic gig, and helping with the effortless sense of immersion that these IEMs can manage with the right track. The fact this can be done without losing the analogue tone and natural feel to the sound is potentially the Solaris’ greatest achievement IMHO – allied to a natural inner resolution that can dig into the sound, this really is something pretty special to experience with the right tracks – if you have any binaural recordings, I strongly recommend tracking down a Solaris to try them out with.

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    Power requirements and gear synergy
    The Solaris is roughly similar to other CA models in terms of sensitivity and overall driving requirements. If you haven’t owned one before, this basically equates to being able to drive the Solaris to acceptable listening volume with two paper cups and a piece of string, and listening to it hiss like a drunken polecat with anything less than a jet black source. Personally, I find the noise level to be pretty low with both my N5IIs and DX200 / Amp 8 setups, but it does give a little more noise with other gear I have tried it with like my Questyle CMA400i desktop rig. While you can get pretty high volume without much effort, the DD driver in the Solaris can soak up a pretty obscene amount of wattage, so I personally find that I get the best results in terms of driver control and texture in the low end with my DX200/8 on high gain, the additional bump in output power giving a little more grip to the DD elements of the sound. The trade off will come with increased hiss on some sources as a result, but as mentioned, I don’t really notice with the Ibasso, so as always, YMMV.

    The Solaris also shares another trait of the CA line, with an impedance curve in the BA elements that react differently to sources with different output impedance. Basically, the higher the OI, the more emphasised / sharp the treble in my experience, so if you prefer a more crystalline and etched feel to the sound, using a higher-OI output device will allow you to tinker with some elements of the sound there. There is plenty of info on this in the various Head-Fi threads for Campfire IEMs, and there are some notable outliers (like the Questyle devices with their unusual amp designs), but as a rule of thumb, anything hovering around the 1 Ohm mark should be fine for an “optimal” listening experience.

    As mentioned above, my “go to” sources for the Solaris are the N5IIs and the DX200 – the Solaris is relatively transparent, so will benefit from the highest quality source components you can provide in the chain to really get the most out of the available sound. Both DAPs mentioned provide a nicely weighty feel to the low end, with the Cayin feeling a little more dense at the bottom of the frequency, with a wonderfully black background. It loses out a little in overall presentation to the higher-performing DX200, which scales a little better with the Solaris to present a more fully 3D picture in the ear, with more definite placement across both the X and Z axis.

    Another surprisingly good pair up is the LG V30, with the mobile phone “audio flagship” sounding excellent in terms of noise and overall detail retrieval, just lagging behind the Cayin and Ibasso DAPs in a little micro-resolution and imaging prowess. Unless you have a particularly noisy source I would imagine most things will play nicely with the Solaris, but it does have a tendency to expose any gaping flaws in the chain, so sources with particularly high OI or any areas of rawness in the response probably won’t provide the best matches.

    One frustrating pair up is the ALO Continental V5 amp; while the Solaris don’t need additional power, the tubey goodness of the CV5 was too good an opportunity to pass up to see how it would match up. On a musical level, it pairs wonderfully well, accenting the organic tone and throwing a fully rendered 3D image into the ears from the off, accentuating the strengths of the Solaris without making it sound too warm or smooth. Unfortunately, this comes with a level of hiss that is higher than I am comfortable with, making the pairing one that is ultimately a little frustrating for me. Admittedly, you can use something like an IEMatch from iFi to alleviate that, but this has a slight effect on the overall tonality to my ears, negating some of the wonderful richness the CV5 throws out with this pairing. If you aren’t sensitive to hiss, then by all means go for this pair-up, but if you can’t stand a hissy source, this probably won’t be the best combination you can find for the Solaris.

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    Tip choice
    The Solaris is quite divisive when it comes to best tip choices, with the bigger shells of the IEM giving various opinions on what sort of tip is best for each individual ear shape. From the included tip range, I prefer the CA Marshmallow foams over the ordinary silicon tips or the Final E-series tips, as they provide the most stable seal and fit for regular wear. In terms of sound, the Final tips probably edge it for me in terms of sonics, giving a little bump in the bass and additional crispness in the higher ranges, but the fit it a little problematic for me so I keep losing seal in longer listening sessions.

    As far as after-market tips are concerned, I have had the most success from a “regular” tip with Spiral Dots tips from JVC, the wide-bore and relatively shallow fit allowing a more stable seal in the outer ear and a nicely neutral effect on the overall tuning. I personally find the best synergy with a set of custom-moulded silicone ear tips from Polish manufacturer Custom Art, as they combine the cleanliness of the Spiral Dots with the same sort of isolation provided by foam (which aids mainly with bass slam), plus a rock solid fit which locks the Solaris shells firmly in place while I’m up and about (yes, I wear these on my commute sometimes!). Obviously, custom tips aren’t an option for everyone, but given the relative cost of the Custom Art solution, I wouldn’t class it as prohibitive in comparison to the cost of the IEMs and the source you will be using to run them with, so well worth looking into if you want to get the best combination of seal and fit.

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    Comparisons
    Stealthsonics U9 – (1x DD / 8 x BA hybrid, $1099)

    The U9 is the current flagship from Singapore-based IEM firm Stealthsonics, packing one 10mm dynamic driver and 8 balanced armatures in a 4-crossover design. Much like Campfire Audio, the team at Stealthsonics are quite comfortable to trumpet various unique technology they use to achieve their house sound, with the team at Stealthsonics concentrating on material composition on the shells themselves along with some advanced airflow modelling in the nozzle to deliver the best sound they can.

    The U9 packs slightly more drivers into the shell, using 2 armatures for the midrange, two for highs and a quad-driver array for “super highs”. The DD is the same size, but utilises a more standard design than the ADLC diaphragm used in the Campfire model. In terms of overall sound, the U9 is an impressive performer in its price bracket, with a crisply detailed sound and razor-sharp instrument placement. Despite its hybrid design, the U9 isn’t particularly bass-heavy, with the DD being tuned in a very similar manner to the Solaris, pumping out decent impact in the sub-bass regions with an emphasis on speed and impact over sheer volume. It feels a little less full and rounded than the Solaris, following an almost flat or neutral response – extension is similar on both models, digging deep into the recesses of sub-bass without any noticeable roll-off. In terms of layering and detail retrieval, the U9 driver is no slouch, but it doesn’t quite have the stellar response of the Solaris, lagging a little behind the Campfire model in overall texture and fine detail. Neither model will be suited for extreme bass heads, but the Solaris is definitely the juicier of the two in universal configuration (the U9 is also available as a custom IEM for an additional $400, bringing it into line with the price of the Solaris and potentially improving bass response slightly due to the additional seal).

    Mids are a little thinner and more distant on the U9, with it painting a slightly less intimate picture in terms of both stage position for the vocals and overall note size. The U9 feels a little cooler and leaner in tone, with more emphasis on the edge of notes and a sharper and more overtly detailed response. Resolution is one area where the U9 is noticeably more emphasised, the more neutral tuning allowing the thinner notes to eke out high levels of micro-detail with well recorded music, in comparison to the more laid-back and natural sound of the Solaris. This does come at the cost of a little of the Solaris’ organic timbre and tone, with the U9 sounding more “processed” in direct comparison. The colder tone also provides a more analytical feel to the presentation.

    Treble is sharper and more emphasised on the U9, again feeling a little thinner than the Solaris in both both tone and overall weight. The 6 drivers responsible for the higher frequencies provide a superbly linear extension up past the limits of usual human hearing, allowing the U9 to paint an extremely detailed picture in the high ranges without any issues. Despite the extension, the tuning is devoid of any peaks or hotspots, so the U9 is always smooth, being slightly more forgiving on hotter or more poorly mastered tracks in this respect. The super-tweeters also allow the U9 to paint a lot of supersonic “room noise” and other sonic cues into the sound if it is there in the underlying audio, competing well with the Solaris in terms of providing a solid and holographic image, with neither IEM pulling ahead significantly here. Stage size feels similar on both, with the Solaris providing the bigger picture and the U9 taking a more widescreen approach.

    In terms of driving ability, the Solaris is the easier IEM to drive, with the U9 requiring a little more power to get to the same listening volume on my usual gear. U9 is less picky with source OI, staying pretty stable with differing output impedance and offering not much in the way of hiss with any of my current sources.

    Build is very different on both, with the U9 being made of a super-light rubberised polycarbonate type material in comparison to the all-metal design of the Campfire model. The Campfire model feels a notch up in both durability and overall aesthetics here, providing a much sturdier feel. The U9 counters by weighing almost nothing, so if long term listening comfort is a concern, the Stealthsonics IEM will probably be a better bet as it will disappear into your ears with no obvious strain due to the lack of weight. That being said, fit and ergonomics definitely go to the Solaris for my particular (large) ear shape; the U9 use a rounded shell design reminiscent of the Noble Audio universal shell designs, but for me this translates to a very shallow fit and some difficulty getting a solid seal in the ear with most tips. Once sealed, they are Uber-comfortable, but there is definitely more fiddling required to get (and maintain) a seal with the U9 in comparison to the more ergonomic Solaris.

    In terms of the overall package, Stealthsonics provide a decent if not mind blowing loadout compared to CA, with a similarly sized (but lower quality) carry case, a variety of tips and two IEM cables from Singaporean manufacturer Null Audio as standard, one with mic and one without. Both cables are terminated in standard 3.5mm single-ended format, so the mic is the main distinguishing feature, which is slightly unusual given the “audiophile” market they are obviously shooting for with this model. Cables are a good standard and ergonomically excellent, but not quite up to the full after-market experience of the ALO SuperLitz in terms of looks.

    Overall, the U9 is a well performing hybrid in the $1000+ market, with a strong analytical sound and excellent technicalities. It offers similar imaging prowess to the Solaris, but diverges quite significantly in terms of tuning, erring more towards a cooler and thinner tonality, with less physical dimension to the individual notes (both in terms of weight and overall “roundness”). As a result, while I am impressed with the technical prowess of the Stealthsonics model, the Solaris is the more engaging musically, giving a more immersive and enjoyable musical ride when you just want to lose yourself in a track. Add that to the more premium feel to the build and packaging, and I would find myself siding with the Campfire model if I had to choose between them – fortunately for me, I don’t.

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    Empire Ears Zeus-XR – (c. $2300, 14 x BA custom IEM with 8 crossovers and tuning switch)

    The Zeus-XR is the legendary former flagship of the Empire Ears “Olympus” line, sporting 14 balanced armatures and a 7 or 8 crossover design, depending on which tuning you select on the inbuilt switch. This is a combination of the previous Zeus-XIV and Zeus-R models, offering both tunings in the same shell. At time of launch, it was the IEM with the highest balanced armature and crossover count in production, and while it has since been surpassed by models from Rhapsodio and 64 Audio in that particular race, it maintains its position as a summit-fi in ear in terms of sheer technical prowess to this day.

    Prior to the launch of their hybrid series, the Empire Ears lineup were well known for their midrange, and the Zeus is based firmly around that mid-centric house sound. Starting with the bass, the Zeus (in both configurations) has less substance than the Solaris, with a snappy but flattish sounding bass tuning that is more tilted towards mid-bass than sub-bass. The dual-BA woofer setup is surprisingly impactful for an all-armature driver, but it definitely lags behind even the restrained bass of the Solaris in terms of overall presence. Detail levels and texture are high with the Zeus in both configurations, but again it lags a little in terms of layering compared to the Solaris, and doesn’t have quite the same level of richness in bass-heavy tracks. The Zeus often gets unfairly labelled as a “bass-light” monitor, but I think it is capable of digging out bass if it mastered into a track, but here it shows its BA roots compared tot he thoroughbred DD packed inside the Campfire model. Sub bass is won easily by the Solaris, with the Zeus mustering a little tickle on serious basshead tracks, but not providing the same sense of physical impact the Solaris can muster with the same tunes.

    Moving up to the midrange, the Zeus offers a forward and thick mid presentation, giving a slightly denser feel and more forward tuning in the “XIV’ configuration and a more neutral tonality with the ‘R” switch engaged. In either mode, the Zeus sound marginally more forward with vocals than the Solaris, sitting in the forefront of the sound. Where the Solaris excels in the bass, the Zeus pulls slightly ahead here, presenting a dense but ultra-detailed midrange with more layers than a prizewinning Gallic onion. The Solaris sounds a touch more organic, and has a more diffuse quality in comparison to the solidity displayed by the Empire Ears IEM. The Solaris also stacks up surprisingly well in terms of resolution, but can’t quite match the sackful of balanced armatures providing the grunt in the Zeus engine room, with the Zeus finding the smallest nuance and inflection and painting it effortlessly into the ear. To be fair, not many IEMs can best the Zeus in terms of sheer clarity, so it’s a surprisingly good effort from the single BA and DD powering the Solaris here.

    Treble is similar on both, with the Zeus feeling a little zestier and more sharp than the crystal clear but smoother Solaris. Neither IEM is prone to sibilants or harshness, so there are more similarities than differences here, with both designs relying more heavily on natural resolution over strategic peaks in the upper end to pull out details.

    Stage size isn’t too different, with the Zeus feeling similarly wide but not quite as deep as the Solaris, throwing more of an oval stage in my mind compared to the sphere of the CA model. The Solaris again feels “bigger” in terms of note size, but this is countered slightly by the more prominent vocal staging. One area where there is a notable difference ins the depth, with the Solaris definitely feeling more three dimensional compared to the flatter presentation of the Zeus. This is purely a comparative observation, as the Zeus is far from a flat sounding IEM, but it helps to highlight again the prowess of the Solaris in this respect.

    With regards to power, the Zeus and Solaris are actually very similar, with the Zeus actually being marginally more difficult to drive on my DX200, which is a little surprising. One thing to note is that the Zeus hisses a LOT more than the Solaris with this pairing, making it sound almost jet black in direct comparison.

    In terms of packaging and build, this is a draw. The EE model comes with a superb (and superbly huge) hard carry case, and a premium aftermarket cable as standard (currently the Effect Audio Ares II, although mine shipped with a BTG Starlight cable),. Build quality of the CIEM is first rate, matching the Solaris for aesthetics and obviously moving ahead in fit (although the custom eartips I use are made from the same mould as the Zeus impressions, so the fit is actually remarkably similar for my particular circumstances).

    Overall, this is a closer race than the U9, with the Zeus providing an addictive Ley rich and detailed midrange presentation that is pretty unique in the current IEM landscape, throwing out gobs of detail in a rich and smooth feeling package that excels with vocal heavy or acoustic music. The Solaris again sounds like the more organic and natural of the two, with a more impactful bass and a deeper and large sonic image. They are different enough that they will appeal to differing audiences, and are both comfortably top-tier in raw performance, so I’m not able to pick a favourite here. The Zeus would probably get more ear time for acoustic of more complex music, with the Solaris being my go-to for rockier music or more chilled vibes where I just want to drift into the soundscape.

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    Campfire Audio Atlas – (c. $1299, single 10mm ADLC dynamic driver)

    The Atlas is the dynamic driver flagship of the current CA range, sporting the same single 10mm ADLC driver as the Solaris and a much bassier flavour. It shares a little of the shell design with its hybrid older brother, with the same stainless steel front assembly and grille. In terms of size, the Atlas is a lot smaller than the Solaris, but feels similarly heavy in the hand due to the solid steel body and small size, being designed for wearing downward in a more traditional “earbud” style (although it can be worn over-ear / IEM style with a bit of effort).

    In terms of packaging and build, it will be a draw, with the Atlas sharing an almost identical package and loadout (albeit in slightly smaller dimensions), right shown to the tip choice and CA pin. The two areas of difference are with the case and the cable. The case is the same classic Campfire Audio design, but approximately half the size of the Solaris case, so a lot more pocketable. The cable difference is also one of size, with the Solaris being sold with the thicker ALO SuperLitz cable, whereas the Atlas is paired with a thinner ALO Silver Litz cable. Both are twisted rather than braided, but the Atlas is paired with a pure silver cable design as this was felt to better complement the sound than a more standard SPC. Both are high end after-market cable quality, but the SuperLitz is a thicker and more physically (and visually) impressive cable, with similarly good ergonomics and low cable noise. One plus point for the Atlas Litz is the lack of memory wire (due to the fact it is intended to be worn down), which makes it easier to wear with other MMCX in-ears in my collection.

    Sound wise, these are two VERY different takes on the evolving Campfire Audio “house sound”. The Atlas is a brassy, impactful sonic punch to the eardrum compared to the more restrained and airy Solaris. It is still balanced in its own way but it is more a balance of dialling everything up to 10 and still keeping it coherent and separate rather than the more delicate naturalness of the hybrid model.

    Both sub and midbass are present in more quantity on the Atlas, reaching just as low as the Solaris but with a fair few dB more oomph across the board. Whereas the Solaris has a solid sub-bass slant that tails off into the mid-bass, the Atlas stays almost flat throughout the range in direct comparison, providing a fair bit more punch on things like bass guitar and kick drum beats. The Atlas is the more visceral and animated IEM, building on the foundations of its predecessor the Vega. Texture and layering is a draw, as you would expect from the same exact driver design. Detail is possibly slightly more noticeable on the Solaris due to the decreased sound pressure, but it is a very close call. The Atlas has speed for a single DD, but seems a little less crisp than the Solaris in direct comparison, again probably due to the lowered emphasis. The Atlas is a true basshead capable IEM, so if you are looking for real lower register slam, the Atlas definitely pulls ahead here.

    Mids are differently presented, with both having a similar position on stage, but the Atlas presenting in a thicker and less overtly detailed way. The mids are still free of mid-bass bloom so don’t feel veiled or blunted, but the additional warmth imparted from the bass below gives them a chunkier and less open feel to the more organic tone and clearer separation evidenced by the Solaris. Atlas excels with guitar music, giving an edge and crunch to guitar transients and chugging rock riffs that is more in your face and involving than the more laid back Solaris. This energy is addictive, but is has an “always on” quality that makes it difficult to drift into the music as the same way as the Solaris – both have excellent detail and clarity, but the Atlas is definitely the more energetic presentation, making it more of a specialist than the Solaris’ natural jack-of-all-genres tuning. The Solaris feels more spacious to my ears, giving a slightly better sense of resolution due to the clearer air around each note.

    Treble is a battle of BA vs DD, with the Atlas tuning showing decent crispness and extension, with a nice sharp edge around notes that helps cut though the thickness below. The Solaris have a more organic and airier tonality, with a more expansive presentation and a dash of sparkle that makes them pop a little more than the more earthy sounding Atlas. Clarity seems to be a little higher on the Solaris, the dual-BA and TAEC chamber technology providing a more crisply resolving sound in the ear. The additional space and headroom around the treble notes again allows for a little more of the subtle micro-detailing to come through in well recorded tracks, things like scuffs on guitar frets and more distant room noises throwing themselves into sharper relief in the ear.

    In terms of separation and layering, the Solaris has a clear edge here. The Atlas has TOTL DD credentials, and backs this up with some excellent technicalities, but the Solaris just has slightly more space around each note and a dash more crispness in the presentation that marks it out as a slight notch up in this regard. As far as power requirements go, the Solaris is the more sensitive of these two IEMs, requiring less juice to drive to a similar sort of volume.

    These aren’t two completely different monitors in terms of overall tuning, rather they are two ends of the same spectrum. Both have a great musical / natural tonality, with decent to excellent technical prowess and a killer sub bass. The Atlas takes the warmer, bassier road, excelling with tracks requiring lots of low end or punchier rock tracks. The Solaris puts its efforts into turning your head into a well damped speaker listening room, playing with clarity and emotion across all genres and drawing you into its own little “cone of music”. The Atlas has been my daily driver since I got it, and for day to day use on public transport etc or when I just want to rock out with some high tempo beats, the additional bass and thickness is preferable. When I am at home or at my desk, the Solaris has now supplanted it in my personal music listening, which is no mean feat. Both are excellent, and both have an equal place in my collection – if you are after the absolute best in terms of imaging and resolution, the Solaris would be my suggestion out of the two, but if you need something almost on the same level but with a healthy dollop more bass, the Atlas won’t steer you far wrong either.

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    Overall thoughts

    The Solaris is an impressive culmination of the last few years for Campfire Audio, taking the building blocks of the earlier models in their dynamic driver and balanced armature designs and slotting it all together into a remarkably coherent and compelling sound. There is a balance that provides musicality without more than a hint of colouration, giving a transparent window into the sound that feels more like a live gig or a good speaker setup at times with the right track. It’s no exaggeration to say I’m a huge fan of Campfire Audio gear, so please bear that in mid when reading these comments, but it’s also no exaggeration to say that for me this is the best IEM that Ken has made to date. It lacks the raw visceral impact and rampaging sense of fun that characterises the Atlas, but it replaces it with a lifelike and beautifully rendered sonic landscape, placing instruments and voices around with such realism that you forget you are listening to an IEM and just think about listening to the music instead.

    The Solaris have only just missed out on a 5-star rating across the board due to the slightly fiddly fit with certain tips, but as always, a quick reality check: these IEMs are not the second coming of whichever deity you worship, they are not the best thing that will ever be heard by everyone ever (and in some cases probably won’t even be in some people’s top five, depending on preference). They should appeal to a pretty broad slice of the audiophile market with a tuning that is suitably all-round, but could be described as bass-light by Atlas fans and not trebly enough by people expecting a carbon copy of the Andromeda. They might not play well with some pop music, and certainly aren’t forgiving of badly mastered recordings. All of these things are true, but what is also true is that these are a rare blend of technical capability and a natural musicality that the entire team at Campfire Audio can (and should) be proud of. If you get the chance to hear these IEMs at a Canjam or local audio retailer, please do your ears a favour and do so – they might just be the answer to the questions you never know you had about how good audio can be with the right gear. As always from the Portland manufacturer, "Nicely Done".
      B9Scrambler, Rockwell75 and Arghavan like this.
  3. Rockwell75
    Andromeda plus Atlas = A Perfect Marriage
    Written by Rockwell75
    Published Mar 20, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Coherence, balance, build quality, unique design, massive soundstage, quality cable, accessories, a beautiful synergy of the best of both the Atlas and the Andromeda, emotionally engaging and above all FUN sound, tremendous value compared to flagships from just about every other TOTL company
    Cons - Fit could be tricky for some, leather case is too big and bulky to be useful-- I would have liked one about 10% bigger than the case that comes with the Atlas
    This review isn't structured like a normal review-- it's basically a stream of consciousness collection of some of my thoughts after owning the Solaris for a few days. I originally posted it in the Solaris thread here on Head-Fi and decided I would share it here too. I will start by saying that I'm in no way affiliated with Campfire Audio-- this review was not sponsored in any way. If I come across as a fanboy it's because I'm quite taken with the company. Their philosophy, craftsmanship and grassroots ethic place them in a class all their own. You really get the sense that the people behind these products are in business because they share the same passion for music and sound as the rest of us. Couple all of that with peerless build quality, accessories, value and customer service and it's a bit of a no-brainer. On with the review...

    The Marriage of Heaven and Hell-- or how I learned I'm not a basshead.

    Sitting here enjoying my coffee and my Solaris on the first day of spring break proper and it feels like a good time to jot down some impressions. Before I say anything I want to take a moment to re-emphasize the importance of trying something for yourself, or at the very least taking everything you read online with a massive grain of salt. I'm fairly new to the world of high-end IEMs and in the comparatively brief time I've spent perusing forums and reviews I've come to the conclusion that nothing can substitute for actually LISTENING to something for yourself. Pick any great IEM you want and if you read enough you will find people who hate it, people who love it, people who say it excels at this or that and others who say it's weak in those exact areas. So many times I tried to get to the bottom of whether a particular IEM was right for me and I'd only find myself bewildered at all the varying opinions and perspectives. Even people who are often in line with my views and preferences will occasionally say things I disagree with-- it's all part of being human. Psychology is a funny thing-- you can read 100 glowing impressions of a product but all it takes is one false note to throw everything into doubt in your mind.

    Another thing is that it seems to me that people in this hobby are prone to a funny sort of auto-suggestion. You can read dozens of glowing impressions and then someone will come along and say something like "I tried to like it but I noticed a hollowed out sparkle register in the lower mid-treble and I couldn't get over the tonally imbalanced dynamics of the floo floo-- here are some graphs which back that up". Invariably following that there will be a string of new impressions, and a few of the originals will come back and say "well I liked it originally but when listened to it again I really noticed that hollowed out sparkle register in the lower mid-treble and those tonally imbalanced dynamics of the floo floo". Then along will come someone like me who doesn't know any better who will think "oh wow I was considering pulling the trigger on this, and I have no idea wtf any of that means but it sounds bad...maybe I should hold off". Then later on I'll get to try the thing for myself and I'll think something like "I don't know what any of those people were talking about-- this thing sounds amazing."

    I had similar experiences with the Atlas and most recently the Solaris. I almost passed on the Atlas because I put too much stock in the words of a prominent internet reviewer. Had I done that I would have missed out on one of the best sounding IEMs on the market right now. The point: there is no substitute for hearing something for yourself-- we are all different. It's true that I am fortunate to live near a Campfire Audio distributor. If I lived in Toronto I'd probably be in the Empire Ears thread right now raving about the LX because that's what the store there carries. But the point still stands-- no two of us react the same to the same stimuli. And just hearing something in a shop briefly isn't enough. Having an IEM is like being in a relationship-- you get wowed by certain features off the bat, but those little quirks you gloss over initially might drive you mad in the long term. Find any IEM on the market and there will be people who love it and people who trash it. All of that being said...

    Prior to having the Solaris I had thought that my ideal was along the lines of a V shaped signature with a robust and powerful low end and just enough sparkle and detail in the treble. While they're both amazing IEMs I much prefer the Atlas to the Andromeda-- I'm not a fan of BA bass in general and, as much as love the detail and precision of the Andro, in a pinch I would rather have the bass of the Atlas...and I did for a few weeks before picking up Solaris. When I went to demo Solaris my idea was to pick up something to compliment the Atlas. I had read many impressions of Solaris that said it lacked bass or that "bass heads need not apply". With that in mind I figured the Atlas would be main daily with Solaris stepping in every now and again to give me something different. I then made a playlist of songs I felt would sound great on Solaris (and a few Atlas favorites for comparison) and headed to Headphone Bar in Vancouver to try it out.

    A note on fit: I am a large man with a large head and large ears and the Solaris fits me perfectly. Even Travis at headphone bar commented that the Solaris fits me as well as the Andro fits him. The memory wire holds it in my ears perfectly, it doesn't protrude at all and I can wear it for hours comfortably. Also, make sure you find tips that give you a good seal. I have read a few impressions by people who complained of the "hollowed out mids" but were able to mitigate it with the right tips.

    When I arrived at Headphone Bar on Saturday I had been listening to the Atlas straight for a number of hours-- so I had impressions of its signature firmly in mind. I was able to sit down in the shop with an Andromeda and Solaris for over an hour going back and forth between the two forming impressions. Regarding the Andromeda, it was just like I remembered from prior demos-- amazing in its own right but not my ideal signature. It would never satisfy me as my sole daily like the Atlas did. When I tried Solaris I was totally blown away. Expecting a lack of bass I found all, or at least enough, of the Atlas sound present to totally satisfy me. Instead of a lack of bass I found near perfect balance. I don't have the vocabulary to really do this justice but all I can say is that when listening to some of my favorite tracks for bass (Exodus by Bob Marley or Not Exactly by Deadmau5 to name two) I found absolutely nothing lacking. Instead what I found was the meaty dynamic bass of the Atlas thumping below me with the precision, detail and sparkle of the Andromeda whispering in my ears. Having previously been listening to these same songs on the Atlas for much of the previous day and month I didn't find myself missing anything at all.

    In addition to the Atlas quality bass Solaris delivers a vastly increased soundstage with all the best features of the Andromeda woven in and around it. I stand by my original impression: Solaris is Andromeda plus bass-- a beautiful synergy of the best of both the Andromeda and the Atlas. When I first demoed the Atlas I fell in love with its massive sound. The Solaris takes that massive sound, stretches it out and fills in all the spaces with detail, holography and pinpoint precise nuance. Put Another way, listening to the Atlas feels like you're in a small room (though it took the Solaris to make me realize it was small) with the bass and treble in the forefront (ie., a V) and everything else a little bit further back. The Solaris takes that same bass and treble, puts it in the centre of a bigger room and surrounds it with lush layers of extra detail and mid/treble flourish a la the Andromeda. So while it's true that the low end doesn't dominate with the Solaris like it does with the Atlas-- you can still very much tell that it's present, only dispersed over a larger soundstage. Quite frankly I find myself too wowed by all the detail, sparkle, precision and space that have been added to mind the decreased emphasis on the lower end. Again, I still sense it there, I don't feel it's lack, rather I'm too busy focusing on the Andromeda-like loveliness that's now filling the gaps. It's not at all what I was expecting bass-wise from the Solaris based on the reviews I'd read...maybe the lesson is that I'm not a basshead after all?

    When I got the Atlas I raved that it was all I ever wanted-- but with the Solaris it's all I ever wanted from the Atlas plus everything I didn't know I wanted from the Andromeda. I have probably close to 30 hours on the Solaris and it's only getting better and better. When I went to try it I imagined that I would prefer Atlas maybe 70% of the time and use Solaris for the remaining 30% but what I'm finding is that just about everything sounds way better, fuller, on Solaris. There is a bit, maybe 5% of my music that I would rather listen to on Atlas, but this mostly (I think) boils down to poor mastering. The Atlas is more forgiving of this than Solaris in this regard. My takeaway from all of this is that maybe my preference is for a more neutral sound signature-- and with an IEM as honest and well executed as Solaris it's a match made in heaven.

    One thing about Solaris that is unique for me is that it's perfectly satisfying to listen to at very low volume. Usually I'm one to crank the volume-- I was always resisting the urge to do this on Atlas. With Solaris I can sit there with my Fiio M9 on 30 and not miss any detail, bass or sound quality. I will not be looking at new IEMS for a very long time. It these are at all on your radar, and you have the ability to try them without putting yourself out too much, you owe it to yourself to do so. If you have the Solaris and the means check out In the Gallery by Dire Straits-- it brings to the forefront everything Solaris does best. I have admittedly not heard a wide variety of TOTL IEMS so I can't do any worthwhile comparisons-- all I can say is that, for my tastes and preferences Solaris does everything right. Nothing is lacking-- and, again, this is coming from an Atlas fanboy, so take that for what it's worth. It sounds cliche but my heart just says "Nicely Done".

    Edit: After a week and probably close to 60 hours of listening one thing I'm appreciating more and more about the Solaris is how balanced and cohesive it is. Nothing stands out yet at the same time everything stands out. I've never tangibly perceived such a sense of unity from portable music before-- I can focus on each level and be totally wowed but at the same time sit back and appreciate how seamlessly it all blends together. If I were to chime in on the burn-in factor at this point I would say that as the hours wear on with this unit the sound becomes more and more cohesive. When I first tried it there was a vague sense of each of the different layers working to carve out their respective spaces but as the time wears all on of that dissolves into a serenely engaging unity. It doesn't matter what I'm listening to-- I can engage with each of the different layers if I choose but it's also easy to sit back and embraces the whole of the sound and not be distracted by any particular layer of it. Whether it's due to actual burn in or psychological burn-in who's to say but I think it stands as a testament to the quality of the tuning on this thing (for those who prefer a more balanced signature). I will edit again in a few days if I've noticed anything significant after the mythical 100 hour burn in has been achieved.

    Campfire Audio display at Headphone Bar in Vancouver:
    54517734_10161664470555654_5079103216147234816_n.jpg

    Package:
    54520924_10161664467840654_2995544371027247104_n.jpg

    Fit:
    53731983_10161664465235654_8103763758884585472_n.jpg

    Earphones of the gods:
    54257927_10161664464505654_4511941265608146944_n.jpg

    Radiating beauty, elegance and power:
    EX4On8q.jpg


    Conclusion:
    54416632_10161665548185654_2659196758998908928_n.jpg
      natch, zombywoof, Misson07 and 4 others like this.
    1. zombywoof
      Really, quite an excellent review. I find that your experiences gathering information on audio products mirror mine. A good example of your point regarding polarizing reviews/impressions is in the current Campfire Audio Io thread on this platform. Your approach is unconventional, but welcomed.
      zombywoof, May 19, 2019
  4. justrest
    Sound Therapist
    Written by justrest
    Published Jan 27, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Design, Build Quality, Coherence,Detailed and fun sound, Cable, Package contents,
    Cons - Shell may not fit for everyone,
    Before starting this review, I would like to share technical aspects and package details. Also, I am so thankful to Ken for this great opportunity.



    Specifications:

    5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response

    115 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity

    10 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance

    Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion

    24K Gold Plated Lid

    Durable PVD Finished Body

    Dual Custom Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C. (High)

    Single Custom Ported Balanced Armature Driver (Mid)

    Specially Tuned 10mm Dynamic Driver (Mid + Low)

    Plasma enhanced Chemical Vapor Depostion (C.V.D.) Amorphous Diamond Like Carbon (A.D.L.C.) Diaphragm.

    Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections

    Stainless Steel Spout


    Package Details:

    Campfire Solaris earphone

    Campfire Audio Premium Leather Earphone Case

    Campfire Audio Super Litz Cable

    Final Audio E-Type Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)

    Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (s/m/l)

    Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l)

    Campfire Audio Lapel Pin

    Cleaning Tool

    Earphone Protection Sleeve


    Test Equipment:

    Lotoo Paw Gold Diana

    Opus #1

    Astell & Kern AK120

    Hifiman Megamini

    IMG_1666-1.jpg

    Package, Design & Isolation;

    Solaris comes with the famous Campfire Audio box design, but this time box size is bigger than the other models have. When you open the box, first thing that you notice is the new leather case. Like the other Campfire cases, new case also made of quite high-quality genuine leather and again like other CA cases, inner surface is covered with soft cotton material. New case’s shape is square instead of other models’ rectangle shape. I really like the case, it feels and looks premium. Another great thing about Solaris is the new Super Litz cable. Cable itself is soft and tangle free and it looks gorgeous, but one thing that I don’t like is the memory wire. I wish it doesn’t have memory wire but you can get rid of it very easily. There are some instructions how to remove memory wire that some users already shared. Last new thing about package content is the new earphone protection sleeve. This is really great to store earphone safely. As you know, Solaris is made of aluminum and its paint can worn off if it hits somewhere, so this is great way to protect your earphone. Other accessories that come with Solaris are same as other models. Marshmallow tips, silicon tips and cleaning tool. In the and, package contents really great. Thumps up.

    Campfire Audio made some design changes with Solaris, and this is way different than the old Andromeda, Jupiter, Atlas or Vega design. I really like the new design and color choice. Body size is bigger than any other CA earphones and ergonomically I couldn’t find any discomfort issue. It fits like a glove to me, but some people who has small ear might have some fit issue. Personally, I prefer Solaris fits instead of Andromeda or Vega. Overall, I do think that the fit and physical comfort of Solaris is very good. Like other CA models, Solaris is also made of beryllium copper MMCX connectors. I always prefer 2 pin connectors but Campfire is the only brand that I trust their MMCX connector, I never had any issue with Vega or Andromeda. Also, I never read any issues with their products about MMCX issue. In the past, there were some earphones that I gave up to order because it has a MMCX connector, but I can comfortably say that the Campfire Audio products are pretty solid in this regard.

    Solaris looks really beautiful. This is the most beautiful IEM I’ve ever had. Much better than the pictures. Finish and workmanship are stunning. When I got the Solaris, I just looked like half and hour before listening. If you are using outside just be careful because it seems pretty like jewellery. Actually, it is jewellery.

    Isolation is pretty good. I tried many different types of tips and I have never gotten any isolation problem. Also, Solaris very tip depends earphone. There is a slight difference in sound signature between some of tips and I’ll share my impression below.

    IMG_1668-1.jpg

    Sensitivity:

    Like Andromeda, Solaris has low impedance level, so you might get hiss with some of your sources. I’ve heard some hiss with my Lotoo Paw Gold Diana, and Megamini. AK120 and Opus #1 are much more acceptable hiss level when I compared to others. If you hear some hiss with your source, I can recommend to use ifi iematch which you can reduce hiss or minimize. Also, Solaris is easy to drive, so you can use them with any kind of source.

    IMG_1670-1.jpg

    Sound Type:

    Before getting my product, I’ve read lots of things about Solaris. Some comments say speaker like sound, some other says holographic soundstage and bass light. For me, the overall sound itself is crisp and clear highs, musical and detailed mids with forward vocals, and powerful and bodied bass. Presentation is neutral and slightly warmer. I find Solaris works well for a wide variety of music while my tastes towards Vocal, EDM and Jazz. Most of people are comparing it with Andromeda and if I have to follow that path, Solaris is more like homogenized Andromeda for me. I think the biggest differences between Solaris and Andromeda is in the bass department. Bass is more pronounced and authoritative with Solaris and sub-bass can go deeper. As many of you know, Solaris using the same dynamic driver with Atlas but more bridled way. Bass quantity is not like basshead level but it is absolutely powerful and enough to satisfy to many people who loves bass. Mid presentation is smooth and detailed. Vocals are the most part that I liked it. Both male and female vocals are fantastic. I really like Reborn’s vocal performance, it is emotional and smooth and Solaris is doing the same emotional vocal presentation with more realistic tone. Solaris’ treble is my another favorite part of the sound. It is silky smooth and highly detailed with good sparkle. Although prominent trebles, I’ve never ever heard any sibilance or harshness in this area. Soundstage is massively wide and deep.

    Overall, I really like Solaris and it sounds really special. I was stunned what I was hearing and I didn't want to stop listening since I received.

    IMG_1672-1.jpg

    Sound:

    The treble is one of my favorite part of the sound. It extends quite well and has a nice sparkle without being too much. Who doesn’t like Andromeda’s highly extended trebles may like Solaris’ smooth and less spiky trebles. But of course, it doesn't extend like Andromeda’s highs. There is less treble energy and extension when I compare with Andromeda, but this is already more than enough I believe. Some of you guys knew S-EM9, its trebles are really detailed and prominent. When I switched back to the Solaris to S-EM9, S-EM9 felt like rolled off and veiled, but of course it is not. My ears are accustomed to the prominent trebles of Solaris, maybe you can guess more or less how much is the quantity.

    As I said before, Solaris is really special in high frequencies. Trebles add air and space between instruments. Every instrument is very easy to listen. Cassandra Wilson – Tupelo/Honey Angel. Cymbal, trumpet, strings and every other instrument are crystal clear. I listen this song many times with Solaris. The reason that I listen many times is enjoyable to listen with Solaris, not because it’s a great song. It is great but not my favorite songs from Cassandra. I highly recommend Solaris owners to listen this song.

    Trebles are very easy to listen to for long periods of time because of the smooth and relaxed tone. I have listened Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go Live Performance (it is available on Tidal) many times with pleasure. The guitar sound is extremely crisp and airy and you can hear every scratch and details in the music. Cymbals are clear and shimmering without sibling.

    Solaris’ mid frequencies are well textured and tonality is smooth. Instrument and timbre tonality are a tad thicker. Overall tuning is U shape and mids are a bit recessed because of prominent bass and treble frequencies but vocals are pretty forward. One aspect that stands out in the sound of the Solaris is the vocal. Vocal presentation is forward and lush and it makes vocal sound emotional and smooth. Both male and female vocals are well presented. Lifelike instruments separation and smooth vocals that make you smile while listening music. Mids are rich and warm, and super clear with excellent separation between instruments.

    I read some comments mentioning that Solaris has bass light and I couldn’t understand how its bass light. Solaris’ bass quantity is absolutely great in terms of quantity and quality. It is not like Vega or other bass heavy earphones but I never call it is lack or bass light. Of course, this is not bass head earphone, if you are looking like earthquake bass, Vega or Atlas are better choice that’s for sure. I love Andromeda bass, it is fast, detailed and highly coherent, but sometimes I wish it has a little bit more bass. And now with Solaris my dreams come true. Bass has great quantity level and it is not dominating or bleeding other frequencies. Also, it is not boomy or too exaggerated. Atlas’s diamond carbon dynamic driver doing its job greatly. Bass sounded so natural with just the right amount of presence that I really impressed. If you are a bass-head or who likes tons of bass I'd recommend look somewhere else, but Solaris’ bass is strong and powerful enough to feel punch and rhythm in the music. It's all personal preference though. Bass is well controlled and pretty fast for a dynamic driver. When I compared with my Oriolus Reborn, I noticed that Solaris’ bass is way faster and recovery time is noticeably better. The Solaris’ low-end is well controlled very well articulated.

    Solaris’ soundstage is impressive to my ears. Not the best but one of the largest that I've experienced. With 3d and holographic presentation easy to pin point every instrument in the stage. I understand when people call it sounds like speaker. In some instrumental tracks, Solaris sounds like speakers are in front of you.

    IMG_1681-1.jpg

    Solaris vs Andromeda:

    Andromeda is one of the most popular and well-known IEM in audio community and Solaris has some serious trouble against Andromeda in terms of popularity because Andromeda’s glowing spotlight hard to shut down. But Solaris is not trying to beat it because it has very different sound character and technical specs. I know this is cliché but this is most like to compare apple and orange, so same as here, Hybrid and Balanced armature is not fair to compare, but let me do it gently.

    The most distinctive differences between two earphones are "smoothness vs sharpness" and they harmonized the music from their own character. Andromeda sounds magical and crystal-clear highs are truly fantastic. Andromeda’s wow factor comes from its hyper detailed trebles and super holographic soundstage. The sound of Andromeda is astonishing and I’ve never heard that kind of presentation from any IEMs. On the other hand, Solaris is another animal. It sounds clear and vivid on first listen and it felts Andromeda sounds thinner when I switched back Solaris to Andromeda. Also, Andromeda does not make you feel excited as Solaris. This is where dynamic driver shows its power. Solaris have more body and bass is more dominant in general presentation. Andromeda bass is faster and quicker decay, but not by far. Solaris bass is surprisingly well controlled and faster than I expected from a dynamic driver. I’ve realized it better especially, compare to Andromeda. Instrument tones are more realistic on Andromeda. Solaris is much more musical and livelier, so it is not trying to produce reference like sound. I can say the Solaris' highs are silky smooth while Andromeda is highly sharp and it has more sparkle, but Solaris trebles don't extend as high as the Andromeda, because Andro has more sparkle in the treble. Both earphones are highly detailed in the treble area, but Andromeda shows its details more forward way while Solaris shows smoother way. Both Solaris and Andromeda have pretty wide soundstage but somewhat Andromeda feels airier. Solaris has better depth. Both earphones are pretty sensitive.

    Well, there is no winner as you expected, there is a preference. Who likes flat, reference like sound and accurate tonality with amazing clarity, Andromeda is a better choice. On the other hand, who prefers warmer, bodied sound with high level of detail with resolution and breathtaking forward vocal present, Solaris is better. If I have to choose one of them. I choose…err…Solaris. Because it suits better than Andromeda to my personal preferences, but that doesn’t mean that Andromeda is bad or it lost. It is absolutely not. Andromeda is really special to me and always it would be. I’m happy that I’ve both in my collection.

    IMG_1681-1.jpg
    IMG_1684-1.jpg

    Tips Rolling:

    Before sharing my tip impression I’ve to mention that these impressions might change your experience because of ears anatomy, ergonomic wise and sound preferences. Also, all tips that I used are L size.


    Spiral Dot;

    Spiral dots are one my favorite tips that I have used, but with Solaris, I’m not impressed what I have heard. Bass has good rumble but somewhat lost their magic. Also, I couldn’t get good seal. I had to fix fit for every 10-15 minutes. I’ve never experienced this issue with my other IEM’s that I have.


    Spinfit CP500

    CP500 is the newest Spinfit’s product. It is designed for wider nozzle earphones. Nozzle diameter size is 5.5mm which is great for Solaris. Personally, new full black color looks great but what about sound? Well, sound is pretty disappointment for me. I tried with different sources but the result didn’t change. CP500’s outer material is pretty soft, and it makes sound thinner and bass light. I couldn’t get a good seal and the isolation was also disappointment. Tips are wrinkling inside my ear and therefore cannot provide a good isolation. I was very hopeful with these new CP500, but result was pretty awful.

    Symbio W Peeled:

    This is my favorite tips with Solaris. Fits well, sounds well, looks well. Symbio peeled fit is much more secure than Spiral dots and CP500, it is going deeper and giving a better seal. Treble is less energetic than the CP500 but still prominent. Bass is more authoritative and powerful than the other tips. Soundstage is felts narrower than AET07 but very close in this regard. Overall sound is prominent bass with nice tamed trebles. Symbio peeled better than original Symbio (with foam) to my ears.

    Acoustune AET07:


    AET07 is my 2nd favorite tips with Solaris. Main sound differences between AET07 and Symbio peeled is the high frequencies, but overall, they are very similar. On AET07 high frequencies are more prominent and clearer and it felts its soundstage is more open and airier. Bass is a tad of less punchy than Symbio peeled. Also seal and fit is very close to Symbio Peeled. I believe many people may like AET07.

    IMG_1685-1.jpg
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    Verdict:

    Well, Ken did it again. Every Campfire Audio product have some impact on the audiophile community, and now it is time for Solaris. Like other successful Campfire products, Solaris is another amazing IEM. I am truly amazed by its sound, design, and build quality. This is the most beautiful IEM in entire Campfire Audio products for my personal taste. The new Super Litz cable that comes with is really great with Solaris and no need to upgrade. Sound wise, low to high is every frequency has some special tuning like Andromeda. This is not reference sounding IEM, this is more like musical engaging and dynamic IEM which always wants to dance with you. To wrap things up, Solaris is absolutely deserving new flagship status in Campfire Audio.

    Also, I would like to thank to Campfire Audio price policy. Nowadays IEM prices goes up and most companies increasing their price with every new model, but Campfire Audio still tagging a great price and I’ve always respected. Hope they won’t change their price policy in the near future.
      B9Scrambler, nichino, fokta and 8 others like this.
    1. szore
      I like the Solaris, I just listened to a burned in pair today at Audio46, but I have the AndromedaSS, and I don't think the Solaris is THAT much better. It is better, yes, but only slightly. I can't justify owning both, and I love my AndromedaSS too much to get rid of them...
      szore, Feb 3, 2019
    2. justrest
      @szore I've never heard Andromeda SS, but I have OG Andromeda. As I mentioned before Andro has very special tuning and I am also huge fan of its sound. SS sound is different than OG Andro I guess, so I can't tell anything about that, but I would like to hear SS one day which I can compare with Solaris and OG Andro.
      justrest, Feb 3, 2019
      szore likes this.
  5. ExpatinJapan
    Campfire Audio Solaris - The fire within Tiphereth
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Dec 20, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent hybrid coherency, solid shell build, perfect cable, absolutely magical to listen to
    Cons - shells may be too big for some ears.
    Campfire Audio Solaris Review
    - Expatinjapan


    [​IMG]

    Campfire Audio Solaris review
    - expatinjapan

    https://campfireaudio.com/shop/solaris/

    "Introducing Solaris
    New Dimensions of Sound, Technology, and Construction
    Pushing ourselves to discover what is possible, we explored the outer horizon and found something exceptional; Solaris.
    Solaris is the summation of our experience creating earphones and the acoustic technologies we’ve developed and discovered along the way. It delivers a sound that is second to none."

    "Super Sonic
    New Dimensions of Sound, Technology, and Construction
    Holographic presentation. Intimate detail retrieval. Soaring highs, engaging mids and impactful bass. Music sounds like music with lifelike performances, superior layering and unbelievable imaging.
    The traditional wall between high end two-channel hi-fi and personal audio just got thinner." - Campfire Audio



    [​IMG]

    I first demoed the Solaris at the Fujiya Avic show in Tokyo at the end of October and gratefully received a pair for review along with a 4.4mm cable.
    I was instantly moved by the experience, having reviewed most of the Campfire Audio line up already I had a decent overview of the different models current and discontinued, but I was also hearing whispers that this Solaris was something special. That this was the pinnacle of current CA development intrigued me.
    But certainly not, surely not enough to unseat the trusty well used Campfire Audio Andromeda I usually use, or so I thought.


    [​IMG]

    "Solaris is a hybrid design, blending the best of the balanced armature performance with the physicality of dynamic drivers. It features 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."
    - Campfire Audio


    Unboxing


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    [​IMG]
    Campfire Audio Premium Leather Earphone Case
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    "Our new Super Litz cable is made from four large conductors of Silver-plated Copper Litz wire. Each conductor is individually comprised of a selected set of particular diameter strands. The Super Litz cable is the perfect balance of physical gauge and performance.

    The cable is terminated with our custom beryllium/copper MMCX connectors and over-molded 3.5mm plug. This cable brings out the best in Solaris." - Campfire Audio


    [​IMG]

    Final Audio E-Type Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl) – Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (s/m/l) – Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l) – Campfire Audio Lapel Pin –
    Cleaning Tool – Earphone Protection Sleeve.

    [​IMG]

    The earphone shells
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    Stock Super Litz 3.5mm cable

    I have tried the Solaris with the Atlas silver cable.
    The Solaris stock cable is physically thicker. The weave is the same.

    The stock Solaris cable is a better match. It keeps that full, rich and expansive sound that makes the Solaris addictive and delicious.

    I do find usually that the stock cables CA chooses to pair with their earphones are excellent choices.
    I do some cable rolling experimentation and mostly always go back to the stock/original cable.

    The Jupiter is my main exception. But the pair I have came with the earlier Tinsel cable. I often pair with the Reference 8 or the iBasso CB13.

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    Specifications

    5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response

    115 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity

    10 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance

    Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion
    Features
    24K Gold Plated Lid
    Durable PVD Finished Body
    Dual Custom Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C. (High)
    Single Custom Ported Balanced Armature Driver (Mid)
    Specially Tuned 10mm Dynamic Driver (Mid + Low)
    Plasma enhanced Chemical Vapor Depostion (C.V.D.) Amorphous Diamond Like Carbon (A.D.L.C.) Diaphragm.
    Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
    Stainless Steel Spout

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    Size comparisons with other Campfire Audio Models
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    Campfire Audio Solaris and Andromeda

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    Campfire Audio Solaris and Atlas

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    Campfire Audio Solaris and Vega

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    Fit and tips

    This was early days whilst I was still playing around with placement and tip size.
    Later on I achieved a deeper insertion and also angled the IEM more vertically.

    One might want to try a smaller tip size than usual.

    BTW I have small ears.

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    Symbio W Peel by Mandarines became my go to tips for the Solaris.

    A nice thick silcone to keep the lows full and mids rich and a wide bore for treble.

    http://symbioeartips.com/termek/symbio-w-peel/

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    One can also see the general size as they are placed in my palm.
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    Pairings
    The CA Solaris seemed to pair with most daps etc well.

    I found the WM1Z to have a certain warmth that was all enveloping and bought out each tracks emotion.

    The ALO Audio Continental V5 was also a great match, the Solaris loving the tube goodness.

    The iBasso DX200 with Amp 8 was also an excellent pairing.

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    ALO Audio 4.4mm Super Litz cable

    Just some audio gear picture pron follows

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    Removing the memory wire
    I decided to remove the memory wire from the 4.4mm so it may sit on my pixie sized ears better with great success.
    Super litz is outer plastic, metal wire, more plastic.
    Triple job.
    Heres an article on removing the memory wire of the ALO Audio SXC-8 cable
    https://www.headpie.net/2018/06/alo-audio-sxc-8-mod-like-surgeon.html?m=1
    *one also has to decide whether to clip the metal memory wire or pull it out completely.

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    Price
    US$1499.00
    https://campfireaudio.com/shop/solaris/

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    Another of my usual go to tips are the JVC Spiral Dots.

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    Sound
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    I first tried the Solaris at the Fujiya Avic show which were a demo pair or Ken Balls unit hooked up to a Sony WM1Z dap by a 4.4mm Super Litz cable with foamie tips (see above photos). Ken Ball also choose the music which was nice.
    What did I think on that first impression? Bear in mind these are immediate first impressions, and I was on a PRESS card so the crowd had not arrived and it was fairly quiet. Oh and I do not like Foam tips.

    Solaris Notes, October 2018. FA Show.
    Wow factor (And I rarely get that these jaded days).
    I demoed a burned in unit with a Sony dap and 4.4mm cable. Using foam tips.

    Balanced and coherent. Even, but not flat or neutral. But towards that yet in a realistic sense.
    It even made me a bit on the verge of being teary eyed, so beautiful a sound.
    A hydrid done right.

    Certainly Campfire Audio have reached a high point of their development within the limits of todays technology.
    I remember the first demo unit I received from CA the Jupiter and being blown away at the time and later the Andromeda which improved on the Jupiter.

    I had a similar experience with the Solaris.

    *A short show impression but it certainly left an impact on me.
    I enjoyed it so much I did not get all analytical whilst listening to it.


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    Onwards and downwards.

    As the Solaris became my daily commute earphone my other reviews began to suffer and a backlog was annoyingly beginning to build up. But I could not resist the temptation to listen to the Solaris. And I review and listen to a lot of earphones, each of course is a personal taste but the Solaris certainly caught my ears and much to shock dethroned my daily go to IEM the Andromeda.

    What was strange is it is not even a sound signature I knew I wanted or was even looking for. It just arrived and captivated me, and it still does.

    It certainly is a hybrid well done, and having experienced quite a few hybrids I have not overly been impressed or moved by them, either strongly V shaped or lacking coherency.

    The Campfire Audio Solaris is an altogether new breed of beast.



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    Burn in/ Breaking in

    My initial out of the box impressions lacked the wow factor I had from when I listened to Kens well used pair.
    But as I listen every 24 or 48 hours (I have not been listening every day- helps to track changes) I can hear it changing and moving more towards that first listening experience.

    Out of the box they are great, get some hours on them and they mature and become excellent.
    76 hours on the Solaris and it is starting to open up now and approach the performance of Kens unit I tried at the Tokyo show.

    The sweet spot was when i reached around the 150 - 200 hours on the Solaris (listening and leaving to play overnight, it does not take so long). Ken Ball recommended a break in time of around 150 hours but I found the sweet spot to be a little further.

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    The Solaris sound is just wow. I love it.

    Nice full sub bass, bass that is controlled and responsive, great lower mids, even-ish smooth upper mids with a slight dip, nicely extended treble without verging into the no go area of screech, sibilance or faking of space.

    The sound stage is huge for an IEM and could be described as holographic.

    Imaging and layering is exquisite and perfect.
    Instrument placement is mere perfection.

    Timbre is a bit warm and natural in form.

    Rich, soft warmth, detailed, air, clarity and resolution.

    I enjoy how the vocals often sit just above the music, I am not a fan of forward vocals. I want to hear the music also.

    solaris.jpeg

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    Overall
    The Campfire Audio Solaris is an IEM that I have loved since day one.
    Temptation to gush on audio forums is very tempting, but although people ask for impressions often the overly enthusiastic or simply positive impressions get met with claims of too positive, shill etc. Why people ask for impressions is beyond me at times....groan. Anyway... :)

    The Campfire Audio Solaris is a solidly made in ear with an excellent cable. Although they may appear robust, and are do take care of your precious.

    The fit may not be for everyone.

    I recommend tip rolling to tune the sound signature closer to what you might prefer.
    Never underestimate the power of tips.

    Its a sensitive in ear so it prefers a source from below 1 ohm to around 2 ohms for best results.

    The Solaris is like having a nice home speaker system strapped to your ears.

    The Campfire Audio Solaris is one the few totl IEMs that really has made an impression. Many IEMs of a similar quality are twice or thrice the price.

    I really enjoy listening to music with the Campfire Audio Solaris and have a chance to forget about the gear and lose myself in the sound of music.


    Or as the 13th Century poet Rumi puts it: “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean, in a drop.”


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    Bonus section
    Campfire audio at the Fujiya Avic Tokyo Headphone show


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    The Equinox made an appearance also


    Campfire Audio Equinox (universal version of the CIEM)
    Smooth, nice bass. Like Atlas but vented, no driver flex.
    Universal demo is a good easy fit.
    Bass thick and lingering with a fast response, clear treble, more mids than Atlas.
    More ‘tame and flatter than Atlas’
    Superlicious!
    Campfire Audio original promotional photos of the Solaris.

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    https://campfireaudio.com/shop/solaris/

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    Thank you to Campfire Audio for sending Head pie the Solaris for review
  6. yong_shun
    Battle of TOTL
    Written by yong_shun
    Published Dec 11, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Nice leather case
    Balanced sounding
    High quality stock cable
    Price is attractive as compared to other TOTL
    Cons - Shell could be too big
    Disclaimer:
    A loaned unit from my friend. Not a sponsored review.


    Introduction:
    Started this particular hobby since 2016. It is always enjoyable and memorable. This year I decided to accomplish something different - actively providing feedback and opinions in this forum. The friendliness of fellow Head-Fiers make the journey fascinating.

    I have been impressed by Campfire Audio for long since the launch of Orion and Jupiter. I can still remember how they created an unforgettable memory with their performance. Started with Tinsel (Balanced and Unbalanced) as their stock cable, move to Litz (Unbalanced) then Cerakote (Ck) coating, Campfire Audio has never disappointed me and I believe most of their fans.

    This year, Campfire Audio take a huge leap, announced the launch of Limited-Edition Andromeda S, with stainless steel body and the long awaited Solaris - the new TOTL. I have been waiting for this unit to arrive in Singapore for long and finally I can share my honest opinions with fellow Head-Fiers in this platform.

    Packaging
    20181211_102811.jpg 20181211_102837.jpg 20181211_102916.jpg 20181211_102942.jpg 20181211_103006.jpg 20181211_103020.jpg
    Accessories
    • Campfire Audio Premium Leather Earphone Case
    • Earphone Protection Sleeve
    • Super Litz for Solaris (Silver Plated Conductors featuring multi diameter stranding with Berylium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug)
    • Final Audio E-Type Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl) – Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (s/m/l) – Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l)
    • Campfire Audio Lapel Pin
    • Cleaning Tool
    Specifications
    • Dual Custom Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C. (High)
    • Single Custom Ported Balanced Armature Driver (Mid)
    • Specially Tuned 10mm Dynamic Driver (Mid + Low)
    • 5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
    • 115 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
    • 10 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
    • Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion
    Build, Fit and Isolation
    The outer shell of Solaris is 24K gold plated. The colour is closed to Sony WM1Z outer body. The braiding of the new Super Litz Cable looks like Silver Litz which is used on Atlas. The braid is very strong while the flexibility is not compromised. This IEM is relatively big as compared to other Campfire Audio IEMs. Nonetheless, it sits well in my ear and the isolation is good. This is subjective because I have a relatively big ear. Those who have small ears might find it challenging to have a good fit and isolation.

    Pairing
    I used Opus #3 and stock Super Litz Cable for this review.

    Test Track
    • Hotel California (DSD) - 90/160 on low gain
    • Somewhere, Somebody (DSD) - 90/160 on low gain
    • Billie Jean (24 bit/96 kHz FLAC) - 50/160 on low gain
    • Misery (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 55/160 on low gain
    • Perfect (24 bit/ 44.1 kHz FLAC) - 55/160 on low gain
    • Don't Know Why (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 55/160 on low gain
    • Red (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 55/160 on low gain
    • Hello (16 bit/44.1 kHz FLAC) - 55/160 on low gain
    Sound
    This is not a power-hungry IEM, just like other Campfire Audio IEMs. It can be easily driven. Impedance mismatch at the DAP output might cause hissing for this IEM. The sound signature for this IEM sits between fun and analytical. Balanced and smooth across the whole frequency spectrum with no particular emphasis. The soundstage is wide and very precise imaging is performed. It gives me a "wow" within the first few seconds. The depth might be insufficient if you are comparing with TOTL like Legend X from Empire Ears but I believe this can be improved through cable rolling.

    Bass
    The bass attacks fast and decays fast. It has sufficient power to hit your eardrum while maintaining the presentation in other frequency spectrum. Simply says, it does not bleed towards the mids. I find the bass slightly lack depth, but this could potentially cause by my DAP. I will continue to try with other DAPs. When listening to Misery from Maroon 5, the few second kicks will definitely make your body shake with the rhythm. The body of bass is rich. People might expect the bass to be like Atlas or Vega but unfortunately it is not. The bass is more well controlled. Not as emphasis as you can find in Vega and Atlas making this IEM more balanced sounding.

    Mids
    As a Mandopop lover, I appreciate good vocals – both males and females. IEM that can produce the vocal with dynamic and soul will definitely win my heart. I love how Solaris brings the mids – smooth presentation. It’s neither too aggressive nor recessed. Campfire Audio successfully find the balance. Fascinating. The upper mids are breathy and spacious. When I am listening to Jennifer Warnes’s Somewhere, Somebody, the layering is done flawlessly. Her vocal is silky smooth with soul. Very neutral.

    Highs
    Solaris has a well-extended high that is not fatigue causing or piercing. The presentation of the high frequency is gentle, spacious and airy. After long hours of listening, I find myself a little reluctant to remove it from my ears. The cymbals sound crisp in Solaris. Very well-articulated.The highs of Solaris is very similar to Andromeda. If you loved Andromeda, you will love this.

    Comparison
    Andromeda S vs Solaris
    I will say Solaris is an upgraded version of Andromeda S which tackles the mentioned insufficient in Andromeda S. It sounds fuller and more dynamic as compared to Andromeda S. This is provided you are interested in a fuller and richer sound signature. The space and air in Andromeda S is more than Solaris so in term of details presentation Andromeda S plays it better.

    Legend X vs Solaris
    Legend X, being the TOTL of Empire Ears has set a high reference point for other TOTL. Legend X has a deeper presentation, especially in lows. If you were a bass head, go for Legend X. For me, Solaris’ lows impressed me sufficiently and more extended lows will make a negative influence – might crack my mind. Legend X has a smoother presentation. If you need something with better details presentation, go for Solaris.

    Phantom vs Solaris
    TOTL of Empire Ears EP Series, Phantom has a rich and smooth presentation. This is a close fight with Solaris in term of price. I prefer Solaris – wider soundstage, better presentation in details and more well-controlled bass. I always find the bass of Phantom a little tubby and the overall presentation is blanketed. Solaris is more open overall. Plus one for Solaris!

    Verdict
    Being a long waited TOTL and high benchmark set by Andromeda, many audiophiles will have high expectation towards Solaris. After spending some quality time with it, I will consider change my daily listening reference to it. It does not disappoint me but impressed me with how it sounds. Well done Campfire Audio, Well Done Solaris!
    1. View previous replies...
    2. yong_shun
      @Mr.Z I personally feel that Solaris sits between Andromeda and Atlas in term of their sound signature. Solaris is not as analytical as Andromeda while not as fun as Atlas. The lows is more well controlled and the attack is faster. I would describe Atlas lows as a hammer while Solaris lows as a sword. One emphasis on the power while the other emphasis on speed.
      yong_shun, Dec 15, 2018
    3. dhc0329
      Great review on Solaris. Would you be able to update the review by adding match on Gold 16 cable?
      dhc0329, Mar 2, 2019
      yong_shun likes this.
    4. yong_shun
      @dhc0329 Thank you for your support! Unfortunately I do not have my Gold 16 with me now. I will update once I get it back :)
      yong_shun, Mar 4, 2019
  7. davidmolliere
    A smooth exciting ride into hyperspace!
    Written by davidmolliere
    Published Nov 8, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Speaker like presentation
    Holographic soundstage with pinpoint precise imaging and top notch layering
    Extended and exciting but non fatiguing treble
    Rich, smooth yet articulate and transparent mids
    Subwoofer like sub bass and bass with great control, detail and textures
    All rounder, does well with any genre and is also forgiving of lesser mastering
    Scales very well with an amp (low OI) and upgrade cables
    Very good stock cable
    Price is fair
    Cons - Shells are big, hard to fit for some smaller ears
    Bass attack lacking a bit with less powerful sources (low OI amp gives best results)
    Isolation is very average even with deep insertion
    Gold plating probably susceptible to scratches
    Disclaimer
    I have purchased and paid the full retail price for the Solaris, this is not a sponsored review.

    Packaging
    The Solaris is delivered with a nice printed card box containing the following :

    Accessories
    • Campfire Audio Premium Leather Earphone Case
    • Earphone Protection Sleeve
    • Super Litz for Solaris (Silver Plated Conductors featuring multi diameter stranding with Berylium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug)
    • Final Audio E-Type Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl) – Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (s/m/l) – Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l)
    • Campfire Audio Lapel Pin
    • Cleaning Tool
    Specifications
    • Dual Custom Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C. (High)
    • Single Custom Ported Balanced Armature Driver (Mid)
    • Specially Tuned 10mm Dynamic Driver (Mid + Low)
    • 5Hz–20 kHz Frequency Response
    • 115 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
    • 10 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
    • Less than 1% Total Harmonic Distortion

    Introduction
    By now, not much introduction is required for Campfire Audio, which is one of the highly regarded company building IEMs since 2015. Fairly recent, although ALO Audio has been around for a while. Maybe what’s less known is that Ken Ball was running a lab as a plant pathologist for the US Department of Agriculture when he decided it was time for a change (recommended read : From plants to Campfire Audio : the story of Ken Ball).

    Ken literally started from his basement and as a self-taught engineer he is always « trying things not off the shelf, that normal electrical engineers wouldn’t think to do » . So Campfire is basically based on passion and trying out different things. It certainly turned out alright, in a short time span since 2015 quite a few unique and now all time classic such as the Lyra, the Andromeda, the Vega and the Atlas. There is certainly a Campfire house sound that is distinctive from other brands that can clearly be identified despite the very different approach between say the Andromeda and the Vega.

    How does the Solaris (from the latin "Sun") fit into the picture? The latest Campfire release and new flagship, the Solaris is a hybrid design sporting one dynamic driver (10mm ADLC, probably the Atlas driver) for low and mids, a custom ported balanced armature for the mids and two armatures for the highs and a brand new super litz beautifully built 4 wires silver plated copper cable. The product pitch : « Solaris is the summation of our experience creating earphones and the acoustic technologies we’ve developed and discovered along the way. It delivers a sound that is second to none. Holographic presentation. Intimate detail retrieval. Soaring highs, engaging mids and impactful bass. Music sounds like music with lifelike performances, superior layering and unbelievable imaging. The traditional wall between high end two-channel hi-fi and personal audio just got thinner. »

    Quite a tall order, isn’t it?
    Let’s see how it checks out!

    Build
    The Solaris build is flawless, the 24K gold plated lid is a perfect match to the WM1Z body and as usual the rest is PVD finished with a stainless steel spout and the usual Campfire beryllium/copper MMCX connectors. Those are beautiful IEMs, the only question is how durable the gold plating will be, as it’s bound to be susceptible to scratch especially on the edges. Handle with care! Also, this is an eye catcher so depending on where you’ll be using them, be careful…

    Fit and isolation
    The Solaris shell are on the bigger side, protruding quite a bit from the ears, but luckily remain surprisingly light which means no strain while wearing them. This being said, the sheer size of the Solaris can be an issue with smaller ears and ear canals, and some had to return their units because of a fit issue. The nozzle like the Atlas nozzle is quite big as well and unless you’re like me blessed with larger ear canals deep insertion won’t be possible. In my case, the Solaris is sitting flush, with full insertion and I am using one size smaller eartips. I have found the best fit and seal was the M size UE900 tips, and the comfort is on the high side. Of course your mileage may vary as it's very much dependent on your own physiology.

    I am not sure I understand why Final E tips are included as I found they affect the SQ, in general I'd stay away from any tip that has a stem narrower than the bore size. Isolation is good but nothing to rave about either (note that I am a low volume listener), probably a side effect of the lighter shell. I still consider this a good design choice as heavier shells would have affected comfort. Given the lightweight of the Solaris, the earhooks of the stock cable were not really needed there and negatively affect comfort in my opinion.

    Listening notes
    I have listened to the Solaris for over 40 hours before writing this review. The unit has been burned in almost 24/7 for over 7 days (so approx 150 hours). While I mainly use a Hansound Zen (full copper) balanced cable to enjoy the Solaris to the fullest, I have stuck to the stock cable for the purpose of this review. The vast majority of my time with the Solaris is with Sony WM1Z (unit has over 300 hours on it and running firmware 3.0) but I have included select comparisons with other sources such as Mojo, Oriolus BA300S and ALO CV5.

    Sound
    The Solaris have a highly engaging signature with a grandiose presentation relying on a great holographic soundstage with pinpoint precise imaging and an onion like layering. They feature lively treble, rich and articulate mids, a solid bass foundation all within a smooth delivery that make it non fatiguing with even the most energetic and/or busy genres. All of the above qualities make them fantastic all rounders that can give you great listening experience with a variety of genres. While Solaris will shine on better source material, it’s quite forgiving of lesser recordings, making it all the more versatile as basically everything will sound good provided you have a good source.

    I am more a Jazz, Indie, Blues and Folk kind of guy and I was absolutely excited by the Solaris on those genres but I found myself listening to a lot more Rock, Metal, Dance, EDM and Dubstep than I would have thought when reviewing the Solaris. Initially meant to tests how it handled those genres but I took so much pleasure getting back to those genres that I ended up rekindling with entire albums altogether. I had a similar experience with the VE8 especially with Rock and Metal but the taller and deeper soundstage provided extra air of the Solaris helped listening for longer period of time and with more excitement. The extra sub bass presence and extension of the Solaris vs VE8 did also help there, as well as even more lively treble with more weight.

    The first contact with the Solaris had me totally « wowed » by a few key items :
    • its soundstage depth and height with a very holographic rendering
    • Its pinpoint imaging, with some ahah moments on well known tracks, things seemed to fall into place way more precisely and naturally
    • Its treble, I have never heard Andromeda but the lower treble tuning is both exciting and non fatiguing, hi hats have never sounded better
    I can see your reaction « but why isn’t the bass in there? » as many would expect something very special with the driver from the Atlas, with a lot of wowing power and impact. Well, this wasn’t what initially struck me. I value my first impression even if the unit was not burn in those raw first minutes will usually be interesting nonetheless. Ken recommends at least 5 or 6 days for the dynamic driver to be fully burnt in and given my experience with the Vega I knew this was clearly something to keep in mind. Here is the surprise though : even out of the box, the Solaris didn’t sound « unruly » as its Vega brother. The bass clearly has good control out of the box, with great textures and detail. If anything the bass out of the box is almost too sensible, I found myself wishing for more impact.

    Let’s dive into this a bit more…

    Bass
    The bass is well extended with subwoofer like sub bass, with no saturation even on the most sub bass heavy tracks. The LCD i4 is the only other « IEM » that provided a similar experience in the sub bass. But the Solaris has in my opinion even better bass than the LCD i4, there is more detail and control, probably also by way of a cleaner bass tuning with less mid bass emphasis. The flipside is that you loose some oomph factor in the mid bass and I won’t lie, I wished it had a tad more impact. You can’t get it all and the bass quality is off the charts with the richest bass textures and layers I ever had the pleasure to listen to. This is especially important when listening to classical or Jazz where for instance double bass sound as good as they ever will in my opinion. There is a very tactile feel to the bass. Burn in definitely made bass tighter and after a 100 hours or so I didn’t notice further improvements.

    The Solaris bass is in my opinion bass done right, but bass-heads might better go the Atlas or Legend X way as bass quantity and impact might be found lacking depending on the genre you listen to but also on your source. The above is true with WM1Z (firmware 3.0) but several listening sessions with the Mojo gave me a hint that other sources might provide different synergy and results. More on this in the Sources matching section.

    Mids
    The Solaris mids are very musical striking a very nice balance between articulation and smoothness and the right amount of body and weight to have presence but not too much in order to keep the right separation. Vocals are just slightly forward enough to be in front of the instruments but I wouldn’t call the Solaris forward by any means. This is subtle. Timbre is very natural, with a slightly warm tone that makes the Solaris very musical.

    The lower mids are emphasized just enough to give male vocals satisfying power but not overly so as not to lean towards a darker signature. The upper mids on the other hand are clearly tuned for smoothness, but are neither recessed or muddy as the Solaris has good clarity and female vocals are beautifully portrayed with a touch of sweetness. There is no hint of sibilance whatsoever even with the worst tracks I had handy. As across all range, layering is great. There is a richness to the sound and an overall sense of realism and accuracy. I find it very interesting given the profile of the mids (neutral warm) that Jazz and Classical sound so great, as usually thinner sounding IEMs fit the genre better. The Solaris is not thick per say but it does have body and weight combined with a lot of air, separation is more by way of its vast soundstage so it doesn’t need to rely on a thinner signature to make complex music sound articulate. On top of this, contrary to the bass and treble, I found the mids have interestingly a sharper attack with more snap, you get satisfying crunch and whack.

    There is clearly something unique there that feels so engaging to me.


    Highs
    The highs are very exciting while never harsh or hot, both attack and decay are smooth. There is plenty of detail and a lot of sparkle, contributing greatly to the engaging nature of the Solaris and bringing a lot of air. Treble is not slow but nor is it the fastest treble around but it has distinctive weight and body making it also very "tactile" (for lack of a better word). Percussion have never sounded better to me, and hi hats are really something I never thought I’d enjoy so much. It's the first IEM since the VE8 that has me wowed by treble… Last but not least, note linger beautifully when called for, somewhat reminiscent of my experience of Final Audio Heaven VI. In my opinion, the Solaris treble are key to the emotional nature of the IEM, as well as bringing balance and excitement to a very smooth signature.


    Source matching

    All of the above impressions are from WM1Z with firmware 3.0. I have also tried the sources below :

    DX120
    Note : I ran the DX120 with reference sound mode and super slow roll off filter, with the stock cable balanced.
    This was an interesting pairing, quite different from WM1Z, a leaner more reference sound with a twist as the DX120 has more mid bass than the 1Z (with firmware 3.0) providing more kick there and more treble sparkle as well thanks to a colder tone than the 1Z. The lower mids are leaner, making for a cleaner but less musical presentation to my taste, I prefer a fuller sound, but I am nitpicking and that's really an unfair comparison to begin with.

    If you're into a reference musical signature, the DX120 with the Solaris will be a highly portable combo. I think that the DX120 is not too far off from the DX200... not really as pure reference as AMP1 but not as warm as AMP3 either.

    Mojo
    Mojo has more mid bass so you do get some extra kick which no doubt will satisfy bass-heads better but to me you loose in the exceptional detail and textures that makes the Solaris shine in terms of bass quality. There is more lower mids and upper mids are smoothened a bit which make the Solaris warmer, darker and less articulate. The Mojo loosing at least 20% soundstage vs the 1Z also affects the separation making it a less than ideal pairing especially for Jazz and Classical. A lot of the WM1Z / Solaris magic is lost there. Treble looses quite a bit of sparkle compared to the 1Z, it's good but nothing to rave about.

    Oriolus BA300S
    With the Oriolus BA300S plugged into the WM1Z, things get interesting as the BA300S extra power is significant with 700mW into 16ohm while the balanced output of the 1Z in high gain tops out at 250mW into 16ohm. That's on paper, how does it translate in real usage?

    Short answer is, the Solaris scale very well even with this mid tier tube amp which again shows that even low impedance and high sensitivity IEMs can benefit from extra power. With the BA300S, the Solaris clearly enjoy extra driving authority in the bass department, scratching the little itch for more bass impact with a bonus of even richer textures and detail similar to standalone WM1Z. This could probably also be credited to an even lower output impedance of 0.3ohm for the BA300S over the 0.94ohm of the 1Z.

    ALO CV5
    The Continental v5 is another step up the ladder source, with high grade ESR capacitors and a 16V power supply providing a +/- 8V voltage swing. It's also more versatile as it allows for tube rolling and while the baseline amp signature remains consistent you can tweak it significantly enough to adjust pairing with your IEM.

    Compared to the Oriolus BA300S, running with the 1Z the CV5 demonstrate greater authority yet and although it's not a balanced implementation the soundstage is significantly wider and a little deeper. There is significantly less hiss than the BA300S as well. With the default 6111 stock tube - same as the BA300S - the presentation is tighter in the bass, mids are leaner with less body a very clean presentation and the treble is both better extended and more refined. I found myself wishing for more weight and body and a bit of warmth that I do have from the 1Z alone. This is even more striking with the DX120 as source for the CV5.

    I rolled to the 6832 tube and this is a much better pairing with the Solaris, significantly more bass kick and mids are fuller with satisfying body and weight and treble tone is more pleasing. Textures are also a step up from 6111. Overall not that much warmer than the 6111 though but much more musical to my ears. This is a fun combo with a lot of energy. Switching to CV5/6832 with DX120 as a source, definitely more kick in the bass but more treble presence as well and leaner mids than from 1Z.

    The best sounding combo source for the Solaris so far has been WM1Z with the CV5 (6832 tube), you basically retain the 1Z qualities adding quite a bit of headroom which benefits the macro dynamics significantly, the CV5 being quite the lively amp to begin with. Soundstage gains another 10% or so compared to 1Z alone, making for an even grander sounstage. The 1Z alone is a tad more laid back and will be the preferred set up for late night listen.

    Other
    I look forward to audition the Solaris with the DX200, SP1000 or Hugo 2 in upcoming meetups as I suspect synergy will be very good and different from 1Z. I'll keep you posted.


    Upgrade cables
    All of the above impressions are from the stock cable, single ended. I have purchased a balanced Hansound Zen 4 wires in 2.5 termination that I then upgraded to 8 wires copper cable with 4.4. termination. All of the impressions below are from WM1Z balanced out in low gain :

    First of all, the Solaris does respond well to be run balanced, soundstage and imaging are further improved with better separation. I'll soon post comparison with the stock cable balanced as Campfire kindly provided me with one when I asked to order an upgrade.

    Hansound Zen 4 wires balanced

    With the 4 wire Hansound Zen, bass is a bit tighter and more textured. Note that the Hansound Zen has a subtle effect on the signature compared to the stock cable, it's not a colored cable that makes the Solaris much warmer or bassier. It's fairly transparent with the following improvements : bass has a bit more impact and is a bit tighter overall, mids are largely similar to the stock cable with slightly more body and highs have a little less sparkle and a tad warmer tone. I find there is good synergy for my taste.

    Hansound Zen 8 wires balanced
    The 8 wires Hansound Zen improves this much further up to the point I wouldn't even consider it's in the same tier as the 4 wires. It probably has to do with a much lower cable impedance that 8 wire design usually features and the Solaris responds very well. I had to lower the volume by 10% to achieve the same SPL. On the downside there is a noticeably more hiss, but nothing that would affect the listening experience other than critical listening on very very quiet passage in tracks.

    With the 8 wires, the soundstage is wider and taller but more importantly much deeper. Bass is more layered and has gained even more textures, it was already very good but the 8 wires takes it to elite territory. This is something to behold. Both macro and micro dynamics are also in a different ballpark and quite honestly I am reaching the levels of SQ that I had never experienced so far with any gear I have owned. The Solaris sound even more like a full size headphone, so open, that my brain is reconciling the sound is coming from IEMs. Transparency and clarity is also better and the Solaris show its technicality a little bit more.


    Verdict

    With the Solaris, Campfire Audio has built what will undoubtedly become as much of a classic as the Andromeda, living up to its quite bold promise « Holographic presentation. Intimate detail retrieval. Soaring highs, engaging mids and impactful bass. Music sounds like music with lifelike performances, superior layering and unbelievable imaging. The traditional wall between high end two-channel hi-fi and personal audio just got thinner. »

    In Star Wars : A new hope, Han Solo said « Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?». To me, buiding an hybrid is a bit like travelling to hyperspace, it's very easy to go wrong and quite hard to build something as highly coherent as the Solaris. Metaphorically speaking, I am glad Ken did his calculations right and propelled us into hyperspace, and the trip is nowhere near its end there are many galaxies yet to explore and countless hours of fun.

    Never had an IEM sounded so speaker like in the way it presents music, a big sound much more akin to full size open back headphones than any IEM except the LCD i4 which is arguably not really an IEM with its 30mm planar driver and his open back. It’s no small feat to have accomplished such soundstage and imaging with a closed back IEM, very few have managed this (U18t comes to mind) let alone on the warmer side of the force. This combined with a smooth and engaging signature help the Solaris bring you into the music and when you realize that you’re more often than not forgetting time and space, you know something special is happening.

    If you’re looking for an IEM with world class holographic soundstage, pinpoint precise imaging, quality bass (with subwoofer like sub bass), transparent mids and exciting while non fatiguing treble then you’re in for a very singular experience with the Solaris (actually the first title of this review was : It's a kind of magic!). If you’re looking for a bass-head experience, a good low OI amp will help but you’ll probably be best served looking towards the current kings namely Atlas or Legend X as I don’t believe EQ’ing or a bassier source will change this for you without loosing the distinctive bass qualities (detail, textures, layering) that in my sense make the Solaris pretty unique.

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    Bonus : Select comparisons
    I can only compare with what I own or have owned long enough (several hundred hours of listening) but here are a few select comparisons. Unfortunately I have never owned or auditioned Andromeda so this much expected comparison will have to wait for other reviewers to chip in!


    Comparison to LCD i4
    There are some commonalities between the Solaris and the LCD i4 : a huge soundstage, great sub bass extension, smooth signature. Granted the LCD i4 edges out the Solaris in terms of soundstage, but not by much which is quite a feat. Sub bass extension is similar although the Solaris has more impact due to its closed back nature. The LCD i4 has more mid bass the Solaris has cleaner more articulate bass with more detail, while the LCD i4 has a tad better textures and a clear advantage in speed. The Solaris mids are more transparent than the LCD i4, with leaner lower mids and upper mids are clearer and more articulate providing more bite as well as more detail. The LCD i4 is warmer. Treble are very different, despite being similarly extended the Solaris is much more exciting by way of its lower treble tuning. To me the Solaris is much more engaging, the LCD i4 missed out on the opportunity to have more articulate mids (upper mids are too smoothed out) and more treble sparkle.

    Comparison to VE8
    Both the VE8 and Solaris are fantastic all rounders with a very musical and smooth tuning. The VE8 is faster, with shorter decay. Mid bass is more prominent on the VE8 with better kick but sub bass is better extended on the Solaris with that subwoofer like quality. Both have a smoother attack, neither has hard hitting bass. I think the Solaris bass is overall more balanced with leaner mid bass and more sub bass presence.

    Mids are interesting, the Solaris is slighgly warmer than the VE8 I find a tad more lower mids on the Solaris and on the flipside a tad more upper mids on the VE8. Notes are bigger on the Solaris, there is more space between instruments by way of its soundstage which is considerably deeper but similarly wide. Maybe the VE8 is a bit taller there. The VE8 has slightly more body and weight, the Solaris mids on the other hand breathe better. Both have highly coherent mids, no strange peak and a smooth experience.

    Treble : both are sublime but with a different take. The VE8 treble is smooth and has good sparkle, with great speed it's airy and feathery a very delicate and refined presentation of the treble. I'd say upper treble are as good as it gets and lower treble is tuned for sparkle with just enough excitement. The Solaris has more weight to its treble, but it's not as fast. It's an exciting treble with an emphasis on lower treble while upper treble while very very good takes a back seat to the excitement and sparkle. IMHO the Solaris walk a very fine line pushing treble excitement as far as it can while never sounding harsh or fatiguing... The VE8 was the first IEM that made me realize I loved good treble. The Solaris does the same, showing me another path to exciting and smooth treble. This makes both IEM very emotional.

    Comparisons to Phantom (Custom)
    This will sound strange as it’s BA vs DD but I find although it doesn’t extend quite as low as the Solaris, the Phantom has more bass impact thanks to sharper attack and more kick in the mid bass. There is more rhythm to the Phantom, it’s more physical while the Solaris is more mature with a more refined bass presentation providing more detail and textures.

    The Phantom mids are thicker, warmer and more forward. It has a tad more lower mids, but more importantly the Phantom has upper mids tuned for clarity : a necessity given the lesser treble sparkle, that prevent the Phantom to fall into darkness so to speak. The Phantom mids have more power and their presence is felt while the Solaris has more transparent mids with upper mids tuned for smoothness as the treble is providing the air and clarity to its signature.

    Both the Phantom and Solaris have unusual weight and body to their treble, but the Solaris has much more sparkle and it’s treble tone is brighter than the Phantom. The Phantom lower treble is much more conservative where the Solaris is playful. The Phantom engages you with its bass kick while the Solaris is giving you shivers with its treble.

    Solaris separation is better than the Phantom while remaining just as coherent there is simply a lot more air by way of its much bigger soundstage. Imaging is great on both but simply sounds better because the image itself is much bigger and deeper on the Solaris.

    Comparisons to EX1000
    The EX1000 is brighter than the Solaris, those are two different signatures. The EX1000 is more neutral bright to my ears while the Solaris is neutral warm. The EX1000 can be a bit harsh at times (although a copper cable will help), the Solaris is as smooth as it gets. Both have a high level of detail but the EX1000 is focused on sharpness and Solaris on smooth delivery. Both have great extension, the Solaris has more kick in the bass but they share good bass texture with a high degree of naturalness. The EX1000 is faster with quicker decay. The Solaris mids are thicker there is more body and weight and lower mids have more presence. Both have great articulate mids but the EX1000 upper mids are clearly more prominent. The treble is very extended on both, but the presentation is very different. The EX1000 is thinner, with more upper treble presence, it's a airy treble with quicker decay. Resolution is better on the EX1000. The Solaris has weight in the treble, it's has more texture and has more impact. Lower treble is more prominent on the Solaris but always smooth and sibilance free contrary to EX1000.

    Both share a great soundstage, I think the EX1000 is wider or appears so because it doesn't have the great depth of the Solaris, also the Solaris soundstage is taller and overall more holographic. The Solaris is bigger sounding probably also thanks to that deep reaching sub bass.
      Golly640, Zelda, raypin and 74 others like this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. tamleo
      Hi @davidmolliere do you really think the ex1000 is that good? it is just a sub-$500 iem compared with the Solaris that has way more tech and price..
      Thank you!
      tamleo, Jan 18, 2019
    3. BB124T
      Hi @davidmolliere do you have any recommendations of upgrade balanced cable for solaris? Thank you!
      BB124T, Feb 25, 2019
    4. dhc0329
      Great review on Solaris. Would you be able to add the match with gold 16 cable?
      dhc0329, Mar 4, 2019