Titlealo
Headfonics 2015

Campfire Audio Lyra Review

Lyra Sound Impressions

Tonality

There was much discussion about the tonality of the Lyra between myself, the Campfire guys and some others lucky enough to receive a unit for review.

Some of it centered on the stock cable and rightly so as it didn’t have quite the response as I was hoping for compared to a Null Audio Lune MK2 MMCX cable I happened to have that I used on a comparison basis. You can get a slight but important change with different cables and for the better.

Stock Cable

Bass

With the stock cable the Lyra has warm and full sounding signature, with a relatively spacious soundstage and a good pace as per what I would expect from a dynamic driver of this quality. Though I thought the bass extension was excellent the Lyra felt tuned a little on the polite side, especially in the bass response.

Now, do not get me wrong, I found the Lyra to be quite an enjoyable IEM to listen to and it does sit more on the musical side of things in that respect but its tonality can get a bit too soft the further down you go in the frequency.

Perhaps it lacks a bit of bite with the stock cable, a bit of body and a bit of definition; it feels weighted and full sounding but just not detailed and tight enough to grab you as it possibly could have. I would have preferred to hear some better dynamics in the lower range overall but it’s not lean or anemic and you can tease it to work a bit harder on EDM and house with good effect if so inclined.

Mids & Treble

Lower midrange is perhaps more akin to the bass response being full but polite and staying slightly muted however detail and zip picks up with a more forward vocal range. There is a slight bit of sibilance now and then on some vocal tracks with the stock cable but nothing distracting.

Thankfully the Lyra suffers from very little grain and harshness and lower treble peaks are few and far between. Normally I am a sibilance hater and very sensitive to peaking in the lower treble yet the treble in the Lyra is well controlled with excellent extension. The relatively short treble decay also makes it sound lively and quick.

Musicality over Technicality

If you are looking for an even or linear sound signature with the Lyra you will not get it, at least not with the stock cable. The contrast between the softer slower bass and lower mid-range response to the livelier treble will not sit well with purists longing for technical perfection.

As a musical IEM though it’s really enjoyable and that polite but detailed signature is easy listening all the way. It is rare you can find an IEM that technically is a bit all over the place and still enjoy it.

Null Audio Lune MK2 Cable

Now this is where things get very interesting indeed and whilst I am not 100% in the ‘better cable makes better sound’ camp I have seen the light on a few occasions. The Lyra, along with the AAW W300AR, does indeed respond positively to a cable change and in doing so proves that the Lyra itself is capable of more than what the stock cable initially provides.

The Lune MK2 is a silver cable but I won’t babble on about the perceived properties of silver versus copper, leave that to the forums. What you get with the Lyra loaded with Lune is a much smoother vocal delivery, greater clarity and a more coherent response than what the stock sound delivers. Gone is the warm almost fuzzy signature to be replaced by a more neutral, tighter, cleaner and more focused delivery.

The Trade-Off

It does shave off a bit of richness in comparison to the stock cable so if you are after that you might wish to stay put and save your money. The Lunes trade that warmth and richness for an edge in speed, articulation and control.

That control does help considerably with the bass response. It comes across as much tighter than before, with better body and definition. I still think it’s a bit polite overall and I highly doubt a cable will ever change this but the Lune just brings a bit more life into the bottom end that makes it a worthwhile difference.

For me the Lune produces a much more refined and balanced sound without stripping the Lyra of any of the strengths it has with the stock cable. Musicality and PraT are just right and whilst it’s still not an analyst’s dream it just sounds far more convincing and engaging. Not to forget also it’s as soft as butter around my ear and requires very little manipulation compared to the stock cable.

Campfire Audio Lyra

Matchability

Budget to Mid-tier DAPs

17 ohms and 110db sensitivity means the Lyra is pretty much at home with just about any decent DAP out there power-wise, it’s just a question of matching.

Noise levels are satisfactorily low with most anything from the FiiO X3 Gen 2 upwards to the DX90 with a slight preference to the new X5 Gen 2’s very natural and controlled presentation. The DX90 has a little bit more energy and dynamics in the low end than either of the new FiiO’s matched with the Lyra for my taste.

The AK120 MK1 is perhaps a little too laid back to be the ideal match given the Lyra always has a polite and laid back signature in parts.

Top End DAPs

You really want something that is either, going to maximize the detail and energy in the upper mids, or offer a slightly more forward and dynamic low end for optimal bass response. Take for instance the Lotoo Paw Gold, a very smooth and resolving DAP at over $2k.

It sounds incredibly lush when paired with the Lyra and Diana Krall tracks just flow like honey but it won’t be a match that will draw out any sub-bass prowess. This would be my pick for a lazy Sunday afternoon jazz session though.

Given the change-up in cable and the better control over all the Lyra responded very favorably with the AK240. Power is more than adequate, running around 40-45 on the stepped volume control of the AK240.

The Lyra/AK240 put on the best display of resolution and finesse of all the matches I tried during the review. This is a very tight and detailed treble performance that puts some of the other DAPs I have to shame. If you have a large collection of vocal-driven hard rock the AK240 would be my choice to pair with the Lyra.

It’s largely neutral character felt a better match with the Lyra’s warmer traits than the already warmer and gentler AK120 mk1. This is a transparent DAP with excellent imaging and separation and a slightly forward vocal presence that suited the Lyra upper midrange energy very well indeed.

It won’t dramatically change the bass response though, the AK240 for me is rather neutral in that area but it keeps it tight. Combined with the Lune cables already tighter bass response over the stock cable I actually felt the Lyra came on leaps and bounds jacked right out of the AK240.

Comparisons

IE800

At $799 and housed in a ceramic chamber with a single dynamic driver the Lyra begs to be compared to Sennheiser’s own flagship dynamic, the IE800. Physically no competition, the Lyra is an easier fit, sturdier and better bundled if slightly heavier by 3g.

I always had a slight issue with the IE800’s package on whether or not that constant wrapping would stress the cables never mind the lack of protection in general with the IE800’s casing having no actual sides. It’s that case again and the Lyra wins out there with its handsome hard case.

Both cables have their own unique issues with the stock cable on the IE800 not being detachable and a bit too short whereas the Lyra’s stock cable has a coloring that could be improved and a memory retention plastic hook better deployed in an origami tutorial.

Tuning

Sound-wise the Lyra comes across as the richer smoother sounding IEM with a slightly more forgiving response to rock and anything really energetic in the lower treble range than the more neutral IE800.

The IE800 has a more expansive soundstage and a punchier bass response with better texture and detail but the top end when pushed can sound a bit thinner and fussier with more peaking than the Lyra’s short decaying and warmer treble lilt.

The IE800 is also a bit more controlled and cleaner with a slightly blacker background but the Lyra has a bit more energy in the upper midrange and a fuller more energetic vocal presence. Both have good extension top and bottom but if it is orchestral and classics I would pick the IE800 which for me has a slight edge in articulation and detail but if you want to push it a bit more with modern genres especially metal and rock I still think the Lyra is more enjoyable listen overall.

C6IEM

At $599 the C6IEM triple BA seems a worthy competitor to the Lyra also with a substantial if slightly more industrial package, detachable cables, and made by Cypher Labs who know a thing or two about sound.

They fit very well also but are almost twice the size though interestingly about 1g lighter than the Lyra and that marginal weight difference is actually quite noticeable in the hand. Both the Lyra and C6IEM have very good seals with the right tips but I prefer the foams with the Lyra and the single bore silicone tips with the C6IEM overall for fit and seal.

The C6IEM takes a traditional 2 pin connector over the MMCX connection of the Lyra. I still prefer 2 pin connections, not least it’s a little less complicated to insert and detach.

Sound-wise the C6IEM is a much darker and more neutral tonality than the livelier and more extended Lyra. The C6IEM prefers to focus more on delivering excellent quality in the bass and midrange with a full sounding is slightly attenuated top end.

The Lyra pulls away from the C6IEM in its treble response is much more extended, forward, and livelier but loses out to the C6IEM’s more textured and detailed bass response. Both have a good bass extension but the C6IEM is just a bit better defined and more forward.

Noble 4 Universal Classic

At almost half the price it here by popularity rather than price. No question the Noble 4 is technically the more traditional flat, neutral, and linear sound than the Lyra but it’s nowhere near as engaging and musical and matching will be something to strongly consider with the Noble 4.

I use it as a reference in many ways because its achingly neutral signature allows me to properly gauge sources; what goes in comes out with the Noble 4. It’s almost like a high-quality tool than an IEM. The Lyra has a richer more planted bottom end and a musical tonality that will make it far more the pick and go immediate satisfaction type of IEM than the Noble 4.

If you are strongly into technical norms and want a razor flat neutral sound I would pick the Noble 4’s quad BA setup but it’s an acquired taste and the Lyra really is going to be far more universal in appeal.

Final Thoughts

The Lyra from Campfire is very much a musical experience and a “sum of the parts” IEM. Whilst I think the Lyra has a unique tuning and may puzzle some traditionalists I honestly think it’s one of the better musical mid-tier IEM’s out there and something I could happily listen for very long listening sessions.

I am glad ALO has tried to go down this route and put something out there that represented what I personally think is how the guys like to hear their music. It is almost a revealing insight into what makes audio tick at ALO.

If you enjoy a bit of mid-tempo rock, vocals, and jazz it’s a very good pick but if you’re aiming for something a bit more clinical with say a stronger bass punch and a flatter signature there are other more suitable options. Overall it’s a confident-sounding debut for both the new label and the hardware.

It has some decent competition at $700 marker though and this is not cheap by any known definition. The IE800 still has a pretty strong following but the way the Lyra keeps the treble lively without sounding thin and peaky might convert a few who have yet to make a decision on where to put down their money. I do think it more universally appealing also than the C6IEM and was more fun than the Noble 4.

And then of course there is that hard case making it all a bit swish and rugged. Just the stock cable left to really sort out and thankfully the memory sleeves are much better than the first production run. The cable is also detachable so the Lyra is not stuck with the stock if you want to vary it.

Variation is the spice of life, I tried it, I enjoyed the differences and it showed that the Lyra can and will respond to different flavors, not to mention that your ears might thank you physically also.

Lyra Technical Specifications

  • Impedance: 17Ohm
  • Sensitivity: 110dB
  • Operating Principle: Closed System
  • Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) 0.5%
  • Frequency (Low) 8 Hz
  • Frequency (High) 28 kHz
  • Body Material: Ceramics, Silicone
  • Diaphragm Diameter: 0.33 in
  • Weight: 11.8 grams
  • Inputs Supported: 3.5mm
  • Cable Length: 1.35 m
  • Additional Features Detachable Cable (MMCX)
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