The Campfire Audio Solaris SE is a special edition of their flagship Solaris monitor featuring 3D printed ceramic acoustic chambers and natural abalone inlaid. It is priced at $1899.
Disclaimer: The Campfire Audio Solaris SE sent to us is a sample in exchange for our honest opinion. We thank the team at Campfire Audio for giving us this opportunity.
To read more about Campfire Audio products we reviewed on Headfonics click here.
Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
Campfire Audio Solaris SE
The sound is smoother, more coherent with a better mids presence. The timbre is more natural to my ear and sweeter sounding for vocals and instrumental notes. This is a clever tuning with less of an apparent traditional hybrid driver separation from the lows to the highs.
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So, we have had our 100 hours of casual listening with the new Campfire Audio Solaris SE and it is now time to get down to some nitty-gritty in terms of a full review. For those that have gone through the First Contact, you can move onto page 2 for sound impressions and comparisons. For everyone, else read on.
I did mention that only 750 were in circulation in our First Contact. Well, it seems that is now 900 available which can only be good news for those looking to grab one, (they are still in stock). Only time will tell if it is popular enough for the SE to become a regular selling monitor.
I hope it does, I think it is worthy to replace the original Solaris as one of the best universal monitors out there currently. We gave the Solaris one of our awards in 2019 and whilst the year is still relatively young, I think the SE will be there or thereabouts in 2020 also.
Price at $1899 is a fair jump up from the original $1499 a few years back but the SE does have some improved driver changes and an upgraded design that may justify that. Of course, price is subjective so you can make your own decision based on what you read.
The Solaris is what I call the kitchen sink for Campfire Audio’s thinking over the last 3-4 years. It has everything they are known for crammed into one shell. That includes a hybrid driver configuration, T.E.A.C. tubeless chamber technology, their 10mm A.D.L.C dynamic driver as well as those long-life beryllium MMCX connectors.
New Mids Driver
You won’t hear about this or read it in the marketing material. It was only by speaking to CA directly did I find out that in actual fact, the Solaris SE has a new mids driver. This new driver is partially responsible for delivering a slightly different timbre and FR tuning to the Solaris SE mids.
3D Printed Ceramic Acoustic Chamber
The Solaris SE tweaks beyond the driver not only include the external plates but the chamber also. Combined with a new driver this is way more than just a cosmetic overhaul. The first big pitch is a new acoustic chamber design.
The Solaris built upon CA’s initial involvement with 3D printing and the Equinox indirectly by using a 3D designed acoustical chamber. This time, the Solaris SE uses an expensive high-density ceramic material for the acoustical chamber that they claim refines the Solaris tuning. Most notably staging and vocal performances have been further enhanced via a bit of reshaping of that chamber.
The second change is more on the outside but it brings a unique twist to every individual unit. Gone is the 24k Gold of the regular Solaris, replaced instead with a natural abalone inlaid lid.
Abalone is actually a shellfish. However, they are known by their colorful “pearlescent” shell which is what is used here to finish off the distinct and unique looking faceplate. Each shell is different therefore each Solaris SE will look completely original.
The contrast in the two faceplates of the Solaris and Solaris SE from above could not be more different. The Abalone faceplate is a dreamy aquatic overtone compared to the bright splash of gold on the original. I know a few who will prefer that Abalone finish but I also know a few who will prefer the gold. Such is Asia at times, gold is an important element or aesthetic to many in that region.
I suspect the Abalone choice might sit well with the Western crowds and truth be told the black plate edging of the Solaris SE complements the main shell a lot better. In fact, you tend to notice just how nicely defined the shell is on the Solaris SE where on the original your eye is always drawn to the gold.
The logo on the front plate is also finished a little different as are some of the markings on the side of the main shell. The CA logo is more distinct now and not quite as integrated as the original. I suspect it might be harder to work a carving directly into the shell without breaking it. Hence, the shell faceplate design seems to go around the black and silver logo components.
The excellent left and right markings, (literally spelling out left and right) are a little harder to read on the Solaris SE because of that all-black finish. On the original Solaris, you had a split of gold and black with the channel descriptor on the gold making it easy to pick out. On the Solaris SE, you might have to take a split second longer to make out left and right.
Pretty much everything else is unchanged including the use of the Atlas’s unique stainless-steel nozzle, the beryllium connectors, and the form factor/weight.
Campfire Audio has stuck with the original Solaris SuperLitz stock cable and to be fair, this is not a bad cable at all and quite often I have found it to compete well with expensive aftermarket options.
This is a multi-sized stranded SPC Litz wire jacketed in a very nice supple twisted PVC jacket. This is a great physical build actually and a step up on the aesthetics of the original Litz wire that was packaged with the Andromeda and Vega.
It comes in a 3.5mm single-ended jack termination with matching beryllium MMCX connectors and a stylish chrome Y-split barrel and rubber cinch. The physical noise levels or ‘microphonics’ is very low indeed, and whilst it does have the odd kink in it when unfolding it straightens out quickly and is very tangle resistant.
One very important thing to note on the SE version of the SuperLitz is the reduce memory wire usage. The older Solaris SuperLitz memory wrap was thicker and stiffer. The new SE memory wire is thinner and shorter and as a result, much more comfortable for prolonged use.
On its own, the cable sells for $199, so not a cheap cable. You can order an additional 4.4mm and 2.5mm versions for the same price on their website.
Comfort & Isolation
The Solaris SE is almost exactly the same experience in your ear as the original Solaris but I was not terribly surprised by that given the shell is exactly the same form factor. The only key difference comes from the enhanced comfort around the ear from the lighter memory wrap on the SuperLitz cable.
This is a thick nozzle and tip system which does create a bit of pressure to hold both drivers firmly in your ear. Very little driver shell touches your outer ear because of that steady grip in the canal.
The only real pressure points will come from the tip and its sizing relative to the nozzle and your ear canal. There is only a small surface contact point at the base of the Pinna to provide stability to the Solaris when in your ear. The rest is done through the nozzle.
It does mean that the Solaris SE will stick out of your ear a lot more than the smaller designs of the Lyra, Dorado, et al. That does have some benefits with regard to the cable. The actual design directs the cable out and away from most of your ear so you will not feel the cable pressing on your ear apart from the point where the memory hooks crossover at the very edge.
For a while now Campfire Audio has stuck with Final E tips over SpinFit thus the SE tip lineup is the same as the original Solaris tip selection including:
Final Audio E-Type Tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
Campfire Audio Marshmallow Earphone Tips (s/m/l)
CA’s own Silicon Earphone Tips (s/m/l)
As with the Solaris review, my preferences sat with the Marshmallow foam tips over the Final E whose bore has a tendency to close in my ear canal completely blocking out the audio. When they do not close they tend to let a bit more treble shine than the foam tips.
The single-bore house silicone tips are a big no for me. The seal is gone, the bass drops, and all hopes of a good dynamic range are lost. YMMV here but I am sticking with the same lineup of tips as with the original Solaris.
The packaging styling is more of the older ‘starry’ design meshed with a collage of abalone color schemes. The dimensions are more or less the same as the original Solaris container so it is a little bigger than the older minute boxes and there is a good reason for that with a large carry case inside.
The outer packaging has two layers. As paper wrap on the outside which peels off to an inner box that contains the Solaris SE drivers, cable, and accessories. If you have seen the new Polaris 2 or IO then it is much the same in terms of unboxing mechanics and a little more elaborate than the boxes from the Vega/Andromeda era.
Inside you get that strong lineup of tips inside a few black nylon-mesh “Peter Griffin chin warmers”. You also receive the Solaris SuperLitz cable, a CA pendant, a cleaning tool, and an assortment of leaflets. That flash new case we first saw come with the original Solaris now has a few welcome styling tweaks.
The finish of that big lush pimp-daddy fur lined zipper case looks better to my eye though the form factor remains the same. This time the leather seems a little softer, perhaps even a higher grade of hide. Also, the color was switched to a worn black from the original dark tan.
I actually prefer the more vintage worn look over the smooth flat tone of the original case. There is tons of space inside it also to fit everything in with the fur doing a decent cushioning job for knocks and bumps.
Click on page 2 below for sound impressions & comparisons