Campfire Audio has always been really good at stamping a new IEM with a distinct personality or unique sound signature. The Ara is no different in that respect with a neutral almost reference like expansive tuning and a hint of natural warmth, quite unlike anything they have done before.
More than that and this is something you are going to hear a lot about on this page, is the remarkably coherent tuning of the Ara.
Considering the Ara has no electronic crossover, something typical for a multi-driver design, the transitions between the grouped driver frequency bands is almost seamless. That’s bass to mids and upper mids to the highs. Something which helps to deliver a very consistent instrumental timbre and a finely balanced and natural-sounding vocal performance.
Of no doubt that new midrange driver CA first used in the Solaris SE and now in the Ara is playing a major role here in tightening up the midrange and in turn, delivering a much more consistent voicing.
A lot of this is also coming from a more refined understanding by Campfire Audio in terms of how to tune each driver group consistently for a purpose. Four drivers on the low-end from yesteryear might have meant a robust bass response or playing to the masses. Older models with T.A.E.C signatures would similarly have been tuned to prove their worth with plenty of treble presence.
The Ara bucks that trend with a level of elevation that has very few dips and peaks right up to 1k. You could argue that there is a slight bias to the mids and treble and yes, your listening focus will be drawn more to that region due to an energetic rise from around 2k to the upper treble. However, even that jump remains fairly linear with only some minor bumps from an otherwise straight line from 3k right up to 8k.
That controlled transition from mids to treble ensures that higher pitching instruments on the Ara have a genuinely nice harmonic balance without any loss of articulation or artificial masking dips to achieve that.
There is no exaggerated upper treble either or a muted lower treble. If anything, they have eased off the upper treble emphasis from the Andromeda just a shade which in turn keeps the tone pleasingly hi-fidelity without any peaky BA harshness.
The Ara has much more of a width and height emphasis as opposed to depth and power tuning. If you want the power then Campfire Audio’s Solaris range is the right pick with its planted dynamic driver. You could argue that even the classic Andromeda sound signature has more low-end physicality.
What the Ara offers instead is more neutral and definitely linear but more importantly, well defined and articulate right down to 20Hz. CA has ensured that the 4-driver low-end tuning avoids typical single BA bass roll-off so whilst not bountiful it is dutiful meaning everything on the lower registers gets picked up very easily.
If you do need a tuning with a little more low-end emphasis or ‘bounce’ then I do suggest swapping to the Final E tips. The foams retain that mid-bass warmth but they can often detach you from the experience in the process. I suspect the longer stem length pulling the nozzle tip back from the canal might dim the immediacy of the Ara sound signature.
The Final E tips roll up the nozzle a bit more so the Ara sits closer to the ‘second bend’ in your ear canal. In doing so, you get a qualitative upgrade in perceived low-end dynamics and more immersion into the Ara’s excellent imaging capability.
Vocals are crystal clear and forward with a 1-2k bump yet imbued with a natural overtone from that smooth treble tuning so they do not sound sharp or overly contrasted at the same time. That clarity also comes without any aggressive dips in the lower-mids so instruments are not thinned out or placed well behind the vocals.
There is a beautiful solidity and balance to how the Ara’s delivers instrumental notes yet the staging in the mids is open enough to ensure neither vocal nor instrument is competing for the same space. You get a what I would call a classic hi-fidelity stereo presentation from the Ara.
The Ara’s timbre is certainly BA but the coherent tuning from top to bottom combined with a small emphasis on the mid-bass and vocal presence ensures it is not a dry BA timbre.
There is a natural lilt in those articulate instrumental notes with some very nicely detailed texture to flesh it out also. The slight fading of the upper treble from the more aggressive contrast of the Solaris top-end takes a lot of potential heat out of the Ara’s coloration and keeps the attack just slightly to the liquid side which I prefer.
This is not an overly sweet tone or lush tone; the decay is on the shorter side for that to happen. The harmonic balance is very even for me between even and odd, lower and upper. I am almost full circle here on that coherence point such is the Ara’s timbral consistency.
If your bag is jazz, the classics, or acoustical pieces the Ara is perfect for string, woodwind, and percussion reproduction. Especially hi-hat and cymbal brush strokes which are fast, detailed but never splashy or hot in tone.
The ‘New’ Efficiency
The Ara is rated at 8.5Ω and 94dB SPL. Now before you go spitting your coffee out and firing up the nuclear-powered desktop amp, that 94dB is not measured in the same manner as previous CA monitors which often had ratings of up to 115dB SPL. Ara is not a planar territory inefficient monitor and here is why at a high-level.
If you note in previous reviews such as the Solaris and Andromeda, that SPL dB rating is weighted by mW. With the Ara, (including Solaris 2020 and Andromeda 2020), the SPL dB is still measured against the standard 1kHz (Pascal) weighting.
However, now the number of volts or mVrms required to achieve that 94dB rating is determined rather than the mW at a certain impedance level. The argument being is that it suddenly becomes an impedance agnostic discussion because impedance is not a calculated factor when measuring mVrms. It is when you measure in mW which then creates all sorts of marketing permutations.
That means every single CA IEM will have a 94dB rating and the differentiator now will be how much voltage is required to achieve it. In this case, the Ara requires 7.094mVrms to hit the mark, whereas the Solaris 2020 requires 6.54mVrms and the Andromeda 2020 7.01 mVrms.
Of the three, the Ara is just marginally more demanding to drive than the Andromeda 2020 and the Solaris is still the most efficient.
Just to note, however, impedance still should not be ignored here. Impedance matching is still quite relevant and output stages with higher than expected impedance ratings can still skew the 8.5Ω Ara’s FR such as the original HiBy R6 and the Shanling M2s. This was no different from the original Andromeda’s performance which has a 12.8Ω rating.
Rear World Testing
Now we have refrained from commenting on the 2020 versions of the Solaris and Andromeda as CA has advised to burn them in first but we will compare more in their own reviews at a later stage. However, we did a test against the original Andromeda and Solaris and the Ara came right in the middle of these two in terms of sensitivity.
That means the Ara is super easy to drive as I expected it would be given its relative proximity to the Solaris’s and Andromeda’s rating. However, the hiss levels of the Ara were lower than the Andromeda and I do wonder if that has something to do with the change of BA midrange drivers compared to the original Andromeda.
On the N6ii/E02 and FiiO’s M11 balanced outputs, the noise floor may be too high for some using the Ara. However, the Ara hiss levels were lower on all the other DAPs in comparison to the original Andromeda, including the E02.
This includes the FiiO M15 which was actually a very good pairing for noise with the Ara in both balanced and unbalanced settings. I also had a similar finding for the iBasso DX220/AMP1 MKII. The Lotoo PAW Gold Touch also had a very black background with the Ara though it does perform similarly with the Andromeda.
Since they do not need a lot of power just about every source is daily play in terms of driving the Ara well. What is more important is the tonal synergy and dynamic range. The Ara plays exceedingly well with DAPs that have a highly resolving signature and a black background.
Since my gut feel most will use the Ara for hi-fidelity stuff, that back background is going to be super important that is why I ended up using the Ara more often than not with the Lotoo PAW 6000 or the PAW Gold Touch. Both delivered exceptional dynamic range with the PAW 6000 thickening the Ara low-end a bit more and the PAW Touch taking it to the next level in terms of complex imaging and resolution.
I have to give a special mention to FiiO’s M15. This is a straight down the middle reference tuned DAP with excellent articulation and something I think works really well with the Ara’s similarly studied focus on detail. The noise floor is very low also which makes it a doozy for quieter reference-level playback. The M15’s airier top-end also plays to the strengths of the Ar’s slight bias beyond 1k for listening emphasis.
Campfire Audio Solaris
The Solaris was launched at the back end of 2018 as their flagship and technically it still is though the 2020 version which we are cooking in right now is set to replace it. I still have a lot of love for the original though I do understand the size concerns some had. The smaller 2020 version should address that.
This is Campfire Audio’s top-dog for hybrid designs and incorporates a lot of their tried and tested technology that is also in the Ara namely T.A.E.C. for the tubeless highs.
The configuration though is quite different with a single 10mm A.D.L.C. dynamic driver for the lows, a rear-ported midrange BA driver, and dual custom BA drivers with T.A.E.C. for the top-end.
The Ara is all BA with 4 for the lows, 1 for the mids, and 2 for the highs. That new midrange driver from the Solaris SE is also the Ara’s midrange driver and its one I prefer over the original Solaris variant.
The Solaris also has a 4k crossover that the Ara does not use. Instead, the Ara uses a mix of acoustical dampers combined with the Solid Body acoustics space design inside the 3D shell for the phase control.
The designs of these are massively different with pros and cons. The Ara is smaller, lighter, and more subtle in its aesthetic. The Solaris is big and bold with beautiful 24k gold faceplates. The Ara is probably the more comfortable of the two, especially if you have small ear canals.
I still prefer the SuperLitz cable of the Solaris over the Smokey Litz cable of the Ara. Both are built to a very good standard but the additional wire-count of the SuperLitz adds a little more dynamic range than the regular Litz.
Both of these monitors are ridiculously easy to drive, but the Solaris slightly more so. You will not need much more than a resolving DAP for them to sound optimal so it is really just a question of noise and sound preference.
It is a bit hard to compare the old specs with the new Vrms data for the Ara, however, the new Solaris 2020 is rated easier to drive than the Ara and the original Solaris follows that same path. It is marginally more sensitive to higher noise floors than the Ara and outside of the Empire Ears Zeus one of the most efficient monitors I have tested.
In terms of tuning, these are two very different presentations and quite easy to tell apart. One is explosive, fun, and hard-hitting. The other is high-fidelity with an exquisite midrange and attention to detail.
The Solaris has that unmistakable dynamic timbre on the low-end with good quantity and plenty of power. Whereas the Ara is much more linear or neutral and yes, a BA timbre to its low-end. The Ara lacks the Solaris ‘oomph’ with less depth and consequently less PRaT but it does extend quite well with top-notch detail and definition.
The Ara does have a little bump on the mid-bass around 100-200Hz for some timbral warmth but also less of a dip into the lower-mids compared to the Solaris. And I do find the transition into the mids on the Ara to be just that bit smoother. The Solaris needs a faster cut due to the higher sub-bass elevation to prevent bass bleed as well as a more energetic treble to balance it out.
New Mids Driver
The mids have a pleasant bump from 1-2k but the aggression of the low-end and to a lesser extent, the top-end on the Solaris leaves the mids a little less coherent compared to the Ara. Lower-mids vocals are a bit behind the Solaris elevated bass and female vocals are more to the fore though a little harder-edged.
The Ara mids driver is so good and very reminiscent of the Solaris SE mids tone. It is a little richer, more rounded with a better texture than the Solaris mids driver. This is Ara’s forte so to speak with vocal attacks breaking so smoothly into the sustain without any unnatural sibilance.
The Solaris treble around 7-8k is a bit more forceful than the Ara’s more controlled high-end. It is one of the big things I like about the Ara transitions, they are really smooth be it bass to mids or mids to treble. You can tell how much has evolved at CA for intricate tuning when comparing these two monitors on their technicalities.
Overall, the Ara will deliver a more complete instrumental and vocal experience but the Solaris will excite and slam that bit more. Horses for courses but I have a feeling the 2020 Solaris Edition will bring something different to the table over the original.
Campfire Audio Andromeda
The Andromeda is now legendary status and perhaps their milestone product. Granted, everyone has their favorite, mine is the Solaris variations but the Andromeda pretty much opened the floodgates. There have been many editions since the original launch with the 2020 version due for a review from us very soon.
The original is a 5 BA driver universal monitor and like the Ara uses the classic edged hexagonal body. However, there are quite a few differences. The first is the configuration with the Ara using a different set of BA drivers, 7 in total, compared to 5 in the Andromeda.
The Ara grouping is 4 for the lows, 1 for the mids, and 2 for the highs whereas the Andromeda uses 2 for the lows, 1 for the mids, and 2 for the highs. That midrange driver is also an older version whereas the Ara uses the newer Solaris SE variant.
Whilst both use T.A.E.C. tubeless designs for the highs that’s where the internal design similarities end. The Ara’s Solid Body 3D Printed chamber assembly is singular and unique whereas the Andromeda is composed of various internal subassemblies that were 3D printed.
The external design is also quite different between these two. The Ara uses a beautiful raw titanium finish compared to the classic green CNC anodized aluminum of the Andromeda. The Nozzle of the new Ara is longer than the classic Andromeda which makes it a much nicer fit.
By the way, a lot of these differences have been narrowed with the launch of the Andromeda 2020 which also uses the Solid Body and 3D optimized design.
The Andromeda has a slightly warmer and more musical coloration in its presentation with typical bumps in the low-end around 80-100Hz, mids around 1-2k, and that impressive high-end 7-9k peak.
It is not as aggressive as the Solaris nor does it possess the same amount of bass/treble contrast, however, you could argue it has more of a planted feel to its presentation than the reference tuning of the Ara.
The Ara is more neutral with only a mild mid-bass hump and a more controlled upper treble compared to the Andromeda. It has more of a natural smooth tone to my ears with less bass/treble contrast and a bit more body in the mids and treble also.
I can’t speak highly enough just how refined the crossovers are on the Ara with the bass to mids transition and mids to treble sounding almost seamless and very natural throughout. It gives the Ara a more life-like midrange timbre, sometimes almost analog in tone without that feisty treble of the Andromeda.
The Andromeda has some nice vocal presence but it doesn’t quite have the same focus or resolution and also a shade narrower in staging. The Andromeda is the deeper and taller of the two but that wide midrange of the Ara will create a perception of something a bit more spacious.
Campfire Audio Solstice
Our review of this is coming very soon though we did do an introductory feature earlier this year which you can find here. The Solstice, at a high level, is a custom version of the Andromeda but with some innovations that are now seen in the Ara.
Features such as the 3D printed Solid Body concept first saw the light of day in Campfire’s custom monitors of which the Solstice is one of them.
The Solstice also uses T.E.A.C technology and a modified acoustic chamber as well as a similar driver configuration to the Andromeda. This is an all BA design with 2 for the lows, 1 for the mids, and 2 for the highs compared to Ara’s 7 driver configuration with 4 for the lows, 1 for the mids, and 2 for the highs.
The designs are very different with one being custom and the other being universal. The blended acrylic and chrome-finished stainless-steel center Solstice is going to be the more comfortable and with no bass venting, the better of the two for passive isolation.
The Ara is smaller and does well with the new nozzle length and a machining finish I consider to be slightly smoother than the older hexagonal bodies. However, tips will still play a major role in how the Ara will sound.
Both used the upgraded Litz MMCX terminated cable with the smokey twisted jacket so the performance from both will be the same in terms of handling and microphonics.
The Solstice is not really just an Andromeda in a custom shell, it does have some variations which we will go into more detail in the main Solstice review very soon.
At a high level, the Solstice lays off the low-end a shade compared to the original Andromeda, fills in the lower-mids a bit more. The vocals have a sweeter timbre and the treble, though extended, has a slightly wetter and smoother delivery.
Compared to the Ara, the Solstice will still give the warmer more planted low-end sound. The Ara has the drier and lighter reference timbre but it is not as soft. It is actually very nicely defined and it does seem to have a better turn of pace than the Solstice equivalent.
Where the Ara stretches ahead for me is that open midrange and solid vocal delivery. The Ara vocals have a bit more odd-harmonic infusion or the cleaner of the two timbres but they also have a lot more presence and focus and do not sound like they are suffering from a lack of air.
Again, sounding like a broken record, the seamless transitions really help with both timbre and presence on the Ara. By comparison, the Solstice vocals are a little more rounded for me with more warmth and even-harmonic balance drawn from a warmer low-end.
The Solstice treble tuning does not have quite the same bass/lower-treble contrast as the Andromeda so its sparkle is more in the upper treble with a lighter ethereal overtone on percussion. The Ara has a bit more upper mids and lower-treble presence so higher pitching female vocals and lower-treble percussion have more presence and bite.
The Ara is Campfire Audio’s most refined and studied creation to date. It is unique in its seamless crossover tuning creating what I would call a controlled hi-fidelity experience.
Its reference-like timbre and excellent headroom will appeal hugely to discerning audiophiles looking for something with more of a deft control on detailed recordings. Recordings that place instruments and vocals front and center.
Bassheads sorry this is a no go. The Solaris series, and perhaps even the Andromeda will give you that heavier hitting low-end experience. The Ara moves the listener engagement further up the frequency response but without the dry analytical experience that so often accompanies that switch in emphasis.
I have been looking for something like this from Campfire Audio for a while now so I do encourage you to demo the Ara if the above description appeals to you. It is a lovely compliment to their existing lineup.