Sound Impressions

Tonality

Oh joy a single BA driver that doesn’t sound like the life has been squeezed out of it. Typically, a poorly implemented single BA setup is all mids and not much else and whilst the Orion’s easy-going and smooth tonality does have a stellar mid-range there is more to it than just that.

Bass to mid-range is actually quite linear with a really nice natural tonal quality that possesses decent body but nothing overemphasized. This is by no means a thin or peaky signature with just the right amount of texture, particularly in the mid-range.

Campfire Audio has pulled back slightly in the treble response though giving it a slightly softish attack and dropping away slowly beyond 7k. Vocals on the Orion are clear and sibilant free so if you are sensitive to anything overemphasized on upper mids and lower treble the Orion gracefully avoids this problem making it a nice reference choice for long listening or laid back listening.

The slight treble roll-off and linear low end does mean that the Orion isn’t the airiest of IEMs and has a more intimate soundstage but instrumental separation is more than acceptable with a really nice turn of speed particularly in the bass and mids response.

I would hesitate to call the Orion a musical IEM, it is not overly colored in that respect, but it does have a pleasing tonal quality and a relatively accurate timbre that makes it ideal for long listening sessions as well as tackling anything harsh or bright recordings.

Bass

The Orion does benefit from the new Litz cable over the older generation Tinsel cable particularly in the level of bass presence which as mentioned now has an additional 3dB gain. However, it is still relatively linear with just the tiniest bit of emphasis around the 100mHz marker.

As a result, the bass is tight, full sounding and coherent but it’s not a thumping bass. It lacks any overly musical coloration and that slight roll-off at the very lowest level means it lacks a bit of rumble and punch to really hit hard. I think they have done pretty well here with the bass tuning on the single BA setup.


It certainly sounds more planted than a lot of single and dual BA designs from Westone and works very well indeed with lively genres such as pop and indie where coherence is more important to the sound than a driving bassline.

Mids

It’s a single BA and yes mids is where the Orions are at their strongest. Mids on the Orion have a slightly forward presence region around the 2-4k giving a nice focus on vocals that sound natural and sibilant free.

Rhythm and bass guitar work has great body and texture; breathy vocal performances from the likes of Elle Goulding actually sounded very smooth and detailed.

The new Litz cable provides a definite notch up in clarity over the old Tinsel, in particular, providing a superior instrumental separation and slightly better imaging. It’s not a huge soundstage, by the way, it is rather on the intimate side particularly with the Orion’s slightly forward mid-range but it does sound realistic and balanced.

Treble

Treble on the Orion has a small peak at 7k then rolls off progressively from around 8k onwards unlike the Jupiter and Lyra which kept its energy and sparkle up to 10k. The attack is also a bit rounded which, combined with memory foams gives a softish top end response with a slightly longish decay.

Silicones disguise the bump a little less at 7k and add a bit more air but at the cost of a little bit of that yummy seal. It lacks a bit of extension and articulation but at the same time, the lower treble response allows percussion to sound clear without being splashy or peaky which is a huge bonus with bright recordings or sources.

Campfire Audio Orion

Matching

The Orion follows the same pattern set by the Jupiter in terms of efficiency with both IEM’s rated at almost similar levels, the Orion coming in at 113dB and the Jupiter at 114dB. The Orion has a lower resistance rating at 14 ohms than the Jupiter’s 35-ohm rating.

That pretty much means like its bigger sibling the Orion is super sensitive, can pick up on high noise floors relatively easily but also really does not need any amplification to sound pretty good.

It is not quite as transparent as the Jupiter, but then I would not expect it to be but various source matchups did shine through in different ways with some DAPs and portable amps bringing different things to the table.

DAPs

DAPs such as the Sony ZX1 and the Shozy Alien brought higher noise levels than most though in the case of the Alien Gold edition it was a bit more refined than before. The Alien’s spacious soundstage and excellent instrumental separation also felt a better pairing with the Orion than the ZX1’s heavier weighted response.

It might not have the edge in resolution (and a great deal many other things like a screen for starters) but that natural analog sound of the Alien felt more at home with the Orions strong mid-range performance.

I was less impressed with the Opus#1 pairing with the Orion which seems to lack dynamics making it sound way to flat and making everything sound “samey” which is a shame because the Opus#1 is actually normally a very good DAP with other pairings.

Musical DAPs such as the Cayin N5 actually performed excellently with the Orion. That sharp-edged attack of the N5 combined with its fuller more impactful low end provided a more energetic contrast to the smoother flow of the Alien signature that suited heavy double bass kicking rock and male melodic rock vocals. If you want something a bit more aggressive then the N5 is a good choice.

Amps

The Orion really does not need to be amped but if you decide to amp it I would suggest pairing with efficient amps that have low noise floors and plenty of room to play with gain.

I would also stay away from overly thick and rich sounding amps. Neutral amps with clean and balanced sound signatures do seem to pair better than most with the Orion.

Bear in mind also amps with analog pots will show a degree of channel imbalance at low levels by the very nature of their design. The hypersensitivity of the Orion will accentuate this.

IEM Amps

Even cracking IEM amps such as ALO’s new RX portable design has problems with the Orion’s sensitivity and channel imbalance is more perceptible.

That being said at normal listening levels the Orion and the RX make a cracking pairing with a decidedly more dynamic presentation, an enhanced soundstage, and more convincing layering. Mix this in with say a musical DAP such as the N5 and you have a decent good stack indeed for hard rock.

Mass Kobo 395

The rather premium Mass Kobo 395 had a tiny bit of hiss with the Orion on low gain but once it got going the mids performance combined with the Orion was the best of the lot with a very clean and clear response full of power and an outstanding vocal presence. It put some rather expensive DAPs to shame as well as showing the Orion has some scaling potential.


Word of warning, the hiss is out of control on high gain, virtually unusable.

iBasso P5

If you have the iBasso P5 then I also highly recommend this pairing. Those not quite as clear and clean in the midrange as the Mass Kobo it does sound very smooth and sweet with low noise floors, no hiss on low gain and a nice weighted and full bass performance with the bass gain switch on.

One word of warning though, the Orion is too sensitive to use in combination with the P5 and the PSU underneath as it does pick up some hum from the PSU into the P5 which I only ever encounter on the most sensitive of pairings. Best put the PSU to the left or right of the P5 for the best experience.

The Hissy Crowd

Some amps did not fare as well with the Oppo HA-2 being a surprising culprit showing unacceptably high levels of noise compared to the RX and Picollo. The same also with the older Theorem 720 from Cypher Labs and it was well out of sync with the Bakoon HPA-01M which simply had too much power to control it comfortably.

Select Comparisons

(Using Cayin N5 as source and amplification)*

Westone W4

You can still find the Westone W4 for around $300 on the Amazon marketplace but it has been now replaced by the Westone W40 though it is still a very competitive quad BA IEM.

It’s a 31 ohm 118dB set up so it’s fairly sensitive and can pick out a bit of hiss also on amps and sources with higher than average noise floors. Having said that it is nowhere near as sensitive as the Orion.

For example, on the Cayin N5, there are at least 5-7 steps digital volume difference between both IEMs with the Orion more than happy on 20-22 steps and the W4 needing about 27-30 steps depending on the source tracks quality.

Tonally the W4 has the edge in detail and top-end articulation with that quad driver setup and has a slightly more spacious soundstage overall, however it suffers a little from an uneven treble performance that allows a bit more sibilance to creep in comparison to the slightly smoother response from the Orion.

Orion mids are a bit more forward sounding also with a stronger vocal presence and a slightly thicker note to the W4 but more intimate sounding as a result. The Orion works better for me on dance hall or club sounds than the W4 which copes better with more complex genres and bigger soundstages that require a little bit more extension.

JVC FX850

Technical

A single dynamic woody IEM that can be obtained for just under $300, the FX850 has been a long stay favorite of mine for their sheer sense of scale compared with a lot of similarly priced earphones.

They also have a lot less isolation than the Orion and can be a bit of a bugger to get a sweet spot in ear positioning due to their fairly large driver units. Fit and seal do play a bigger factor in the sound quality of the FX850 and for my money the Orion has an easier time achieving a good fit and seal.

The FX850 is rated at 16 ohms and 106dB so not as sensitive as the Westone W4 or the Orion and does need a decent source to get the best out of them. Using the Cayin N5 it needed way above 30 steps in the digital volume to get any authority out of the FX850 compared to the Orion which was more than happy about 12 steps below.

It wasn’t until I hooked the FX850 up to a decent portable amp that it started to sound convincing. Fit and seal does play a bigger factor in sound quality over the Orion and unamped the FX850 suffers far more than the Orion which will happily churn out the goods on low powered sources.

Tuning

Tonally the FX850 has all the characteristics of a very good dynamic driver with a natural well extended and excellent, if slightly slower, bass response as well as having a decent treble extension. On those two counts, the Orion cannot compete.

However, the JVC has a V-shaped tonality to it with slightly recessed mids that do not have the same immediacy as the Orion’s fuller and more forward vocal presence. On that count, the Orions have a more satisfying mid response. If you are after a mid-centric sound then the Orion will offer more than the FX850 which is more suited for heavier bass-centric work.

Oriveti Primacy

A 2 BA and single dynamic hybrid IEM prices at $299 and another recently reviewed IEM that I actually quite like. It is an 11-ohm 110dB hybrid and a fairly sensitive one at that with comparable volume levels to the Orion, perhaps just a shade or two less but without any real need for amplification.

It is also a very comfortable fit, more so than the Orion and lighter at that but the isolation of both are similar which means both are excellent at block out background noise.

Both the Primacy and the Orion use Knowles drivers, both have a relatively smooth delivery with a laid back treble performance but they do have some notable differences also. The Orion has a more forward mid-range and vocal presence with a more intimate soundstage than the Primacy.

The Primacy has a slightly better treble extension than the Orion with a slightly airier feel but has a slightly thinner and more recessed lower mid-range so guitar work isn’t as present and crunching as the Orion.

Both have reasonably unobtrusive yet full sounding bass responses and though both are speedy, impressively so for the Primacy, the Orion just has an edge given its BA design. I would say though the Primacy has the better low-end impact and oomph over the Orion with that dynamic driver.

Ultrasone Tio

You can now get the Tio for $300 and unlike the other three comparisons the Tio sports a single BA design also so if anything these are the most “like for like” comparison in terms of price and BA setup to the Orion.

It is quite different looking sporting a silver-coated plastic bullet design rather than the fuller aluminum shell of the Orion. The Tio is rated at 18 ohms and 106db and it does need a fair bit more juice than the Orion on the N5 to get to optimal audible levels; as much as 8-10 steps so it is not as sensitive in that respect.

Tonally they sound worlds apart. The Tio has a much colder and brighter signature to the more relaxing and smoother Orion.

So whilst the Orion is similar to the Tio in being a mid-range performer the Tio really lags behind in its rather weird and metallic sounding instrumental timbre compared to the natural sound of the Orion. Vocals lack texture and detail also on the Tio compared to the Orion. In that respect give me the Orion any day over the Tio thank you very much.

Our Verdict

The Orion could so easily have sunk without a trace like the Tio or other poorly implemented single BA designs but thankfully it has not. It has managed to carve out a natural sounding tonal reference that keeps everything relatively well controlled. Whilst the treble lacks a touch of air and sparkle, the new Litz cable is a welcome addition, adding just a touch more authority to the otherwise very linear bass response and raising the clarity to a more satisfying level.

It is still a midrange performer and the star of the show, but it really doesn’t negate the rest of the frequency response so you get just enough to make things sound relatively balanced. Vocals are strong, guitars are present and soundstage is intimate though perfectly natural sounding. If you want something forgiving, something relaxed for long listening or you have a bright source or a weak amp then the efficient well-built Orion could well be an enticing proposition.

Orion Technical Specifications

  • Type: Balanced armature driver
  • Driver Units: 1
  • Earphone Connector: Beryllium Copper hardened MMCX
  • Plug: Gold plating 3.5mm stereo plug
  • Cable length: Approx. 1.35M
  • Frequency Response 10Hz – 16kHz
  • Impedance @1K 14 ohm
  • Sensitivity @ 1K 113dB SPL/mW
  • CNC Aluminium enclosure with anodized finish.
  • Custom Beryllium Copper hardened MMCX earphone sockets.
  • Weight 0.5 lbs
  • Dimensions 6 x 4 x 3 in
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6 Responses

    • headfonics

      I dunu :D hehe, sorry I have not heard the DUNU range myself, maybe next year at CanJam.

      Reply
  1. Nat

    What is a good portable budget DAC that matches well with these IEMs? Is there anything under or around 100?

    Reply
    • headfonics

      There are plenty – FiiO E10k, FiiO Q1, FiiO K1 and the old d-zero mk1 from iBasso as well as the mDSD from Sonic Unit. Depends if you want portable or desktop.

      Reply

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