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Campfire Polaris Review – Creature of Coherence

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Sound –

Utilizing a single 8.5mm dynamic driver and balanced armature combination, the Polaris is the second hybrid driver earphone that Campfire have produced. However, the Polaris makes use of some new innovations by the company that seek to produce a compelling experience despite its status as a midrange model. Of note, the Polaris features Campfire’s new polarity tuned chamber that is similar to that used by the Flares Pro, balancing air pressure on either side of the dynamic driver to enhance transience. The single armature driver also uses T.A.E.C (tuned acoustic expansion chamber) to improve treble extension and soundstage similar to the Jupiter, Andromeda and Campfire’s higher end hybrid, the Dorado. So while the Polaris has one of the lowest driver counts around this price, they promise comparable if not superior performance. I’m personally all for Campfire’s approach valuing an optimal housing design and individual driver performance over sheer driver count, it’s a much more realistic approach that I feel more manufacturers will embrace moving forward.

Exploded Render courtesy of Campfire Audio

In terms of tuning, the Polaris will likely be the most universally pleasing of the entire line-up. Between the visceral but occasionally overzealous Vega, the balanced Jupiter and the ethereal but lean Orion, the Polaris is easily the most “fun” of the Campfire line-up. And where the more neutral Nova required a lot of adjustment when coming from other earphones, the Polaris is an earphone that is easy to just pick up and listen to and I think this is the main reason why it will be much more popular than its progenitor. Furthermore, their hybrid driver setup comes with some real advantages over the dual BA Nova with bass reach and power that these earphones simply can’t achieve.  They aren’t perfect of course, but the Polaris is nonetheless a very mature progression of the popular V-shaped tonality with plenty of technical ability enhancing every detail.

 

Burn-in –

The Polaris really needed some burn-in, it sounded a quite dry and a bit unfocused out of the box. This was quite unexpected for me since I know that Campfire can produce both excellent dynamic and armature drivers but the Polaris simply didn’t wow me like their other models. After extended burn-in (~200 hrs), the Polaris really evened out and their bass qualities came to the fore. It is a very coherent sounding earphone with excellent integration for a hybrid. I would surmise that I’ve also adjusted to the Polaris’ sound much like the Noble Django, the changes can likely be attributed to a combination of both.

 

Cable –

A note on cables since the Polaris is the first Campfire earphone to assume a Litz copper cable as opposed to the silver plated unit included with every other model. In terms of sonics, I can definitely see the logic behind Ken’s choice of pure Litz copper since it does provide meatier bass, especially sub-bass, with excellent definition and texture though I found that the copper cable does lack the clarity, layering and outright resolution of Campfire’s silver cable. The silver cable really smoothed out lower mids and brought the midrange forward slightly on a whole. Treble detail and extension also improved as did soundstage space though this did come at the cost of some bass power. Subjectively, I feel that the Silver cable actually finds better synergy with the Polaris though I do personally tend to favour slightly brighter earphones. The silver Litz cable is definitely worth a look for Polaris owners looking for some extra high-end presence though users shouldn’t feel that the Copper cable is holding the Polaris back.

 

Tonality –

The Polaris is a mildly V-shaped earphone, they have relatively even bass with slight sub and mid-bass focus and a lower treble bump that grants them with a little more treble energy. Mids are perfectly present and very clear though lower mids, in particular, are recessed and a little dry in tone. That said, the Polaris never sounds overly sculpted and both vocals and instruments are realistically voiced and clean. And while the Nova before it was technically brilliant, it was missing some character and engagement. The Polaris is a very effective resolution, providing plenty of engagement without sacrificing too much on quality either.

 

Bass –

I’ve become quite a fan of hybrid earphones, there are still some little niggles to figure out and some are clearly better implemented than others, but when done correctly, the results can be truly stunning. And luckily, the Polaris is a well-done example indeed with a combination of that polarity tuned chamber and an ultra-thin membrane dynamic driver doing good work. Sub bass extension is up there with the best, even the Andromeda doesn’t match the power and visceral impact of the Polaris’ sub-bass response though they still aren’t quite as thick and muscular as the Cardas A8, favouring more balance and quicker decay. Rumble is well-defined and sub-bass is tight, bass is very clean with minimal bloat. Lows do sound slightly rounder than more linear earphones like the Dorado but this is simply a by-product of their tuning and not something that irks during listening. Bass has nice fullness without sounding muddy, the Polaris’ are pretty fast for a dynamic earphone and have great bass resolution that prevents lows from getting flabby. Definition is standout and texturing even matches the better armature earphones like the 64Audio U3 which is no small feat.

My only issue is that bass doesn’t have the greatest separation and delineation between notes despite being fast and having great definition though the Polaris remains my favourite bass performer around this price. Of course, earphones like the Vega and Dorado do hold a notable advantage in terms of control and power though they are also much more expensive. The Dunu DK-3001 is probably the Polaris’ most notable competitor with its 4-driver setup featuring a 13mm bass driver. The Dunu does indeed have more bass power and richness though it sounds tubby and its sub-bass a little flabby when compared to the Polaris. Of course, in isolation, there is certainly nothing wrong with the Dunu’s presentation, but when listening to songs such as Illy’s “Catch 22”, the Polaris had a tighter reproduction with greater definition to rumble and faster transience. Bass is the Polaris’ trump card, they are very articulate, dynamic and defined within their low-end without sacrificing any fullness or solidity.

 

Mids –

Despite its V-shaped tuning, the Polaris doesn’t forget to service midrange elements, approaching these frequencies with clarity and finesse. The Polaris does have more of an upper midrange focus reminiscent of Japanese in-ears such as Audio Technica’s CK100, leaving lower mids a little scooped, however, they are still a modestly balanced earphone overall. That said, male vocals sit a little too behind for my tastes though they sound well integrated into the sound and the Polaris’ general midrange presentation is very clean and surprisingly natural given their level of clarity. And while plenty of people tend to confuse quality and tonality, in this instance, the recessed lower midrange of the Polaris is indeed the weakest aspect of its entire sound. While some may love the tuning of these earphones, to my ear, the Polaris’ lower midrange did tend to sound slightly dry and a bit uneven, missing out on certain details when compared to other in-ears around this price regardless of tip choice and source. Some tracks were more affected than others, for instance, Coldplay’s “Hymn For The Weekend” came across as quite artificial while “The Scientist” sounded perfectly natural if slightly thin and distant. I must restate that these are a $600 set of earphones and that all comments are relative, this isn’t a deal breaker simply blemish on an otherwise immaculate canvas.

And upper mids do much to redeem the Polaris’ midrange, the earphones have a bump in clarity throughout, granting vocals with a smooth, glossy character that enhances modern pop, acoustic and rock while slicing through the muddiness of poorly mastered tracks. Female vocals are delightful in quality and tuning, sitting well balanced with the fuller low end and crisper treble response. Vocals are clear, immediate and extended with defined layering. The Polaris is imbued with Campfire’s signature high-resolution tuning with great retrieval of background details and smaller nuances. Furthermore, the Polaris is a very detailed earphone and quite naturally so too, they do err on the side of aggression but they sounded consistently more refined than the Dunu DK-3001. When listening to PSY’s “Last Scene”, the Polaris produced delightfully smooth vocals with excellent detailing to guitars. Strings were well textured during the chorus and both male and female vocals had great layering and definition. The Polaris is ultimately an engaging yet refined sounding earphone with well-integrated components creating a coherent experience. Their lower midrange isn’t flawless but works within the realm of the Polaris’ tuning and upper mids are just as compelling as the class leaders around this price.

 

Highs –

Treble is interesting with a similar style of tuning to the Rose BR5 MKII; energetic in some regions and smoother/more laid-back in others. Upper mids feed smoothly into the lower treble, both are hyper detailed and a little more aggressive granting acoustic guitars and cymbals with great crispness. Further yet, the Polaris has quite a lot of treble body which grants these instruments with plenty of texture and a realistic timbre. However, above that, the Polaris smooths off placing higher details further in the background. As such, treble doesn’t sound flawlessly extended and higher details can sound distant. They don’t roll-off necessarily, listening to Elton John’s “Rocketman” and Radiohead’s “No Surprises” and the Polaris provided surprising detail to high hats and atmospheric effects, they just sat further behind in the mix than the Jupiter’s, U3’s and DK-3001. The Polaris has much more air and treble separation than their style of tuning would suggest which ensures that complex passages never become overwhelming, and I would consider them to be a refined performer with an almost effortless quality despite not being the most nuanced overall. Those sensitive to treble will love this response because the Polaris provides gobs of detail where the majority of the information in most songs lies but takes the edge off of higher elements which can wear on the ear during longer listening.

As a result, the Polaris is both very detailed and completely unfatiguing, treble isn’t peaky at all and sibilance is a non-issue. When listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” which can quickly tire on more treble boosted earphones, the Polaris provided a very pleasing response; each guitar strum was crisp and accurate with perceptibly more micro detail than the U3 and treble was smoother and more refined than the DK-3001. However, high hats were definitely distant and some smaller details that were clearly resolved by these earphones were pushed too far into the background for my liking. It is a trade-off because the clarity and detail is there but the extension is not. I’m unsure whether this was an intentional tuning choice or a limitation of the driver setup (that I find unlikely), either way, the Polaris sits more on the natural than analytical side. They are still an instantly resolving earphone but they don’t illuminate the smallest nuances like some others, rather they just reproduce them. Again, this is perfectly fine and no details are actually missing, it will come down to listener preference.

 

Soundstage, Imaging and Separation –

Being a vented hybrid earphone with T.A.E.C, I was expecting the Polaris to be quite outstanding in terms of space, but the earphone is instead more on the coherent side. Space is still impressive, they are pretty well rounded with great width that can reach beyond the periphery of the head and depth that extends well beyond most earphones. That being said, they are not as immediately spacious as the APEX touting 64Audio U3’s nor the more open Dunu DK-3001 though the Polaris is easily the best fitting/sealing of the bunch. Imaging is very good, they were noticeably sharper and quicker than competing earphones but still failed to encapsulate the almost holographic response of the higher end Jupiter and Andromeda. Booting up a game of Overwatch and directional cues and effects were spot on in their placement and even fine details such as footsteps were clearly audible thanks to the Polaris’ great clarity and resolution. Furthermore, centre image was strong and thanks to their vented design, soundstage elements at the boundary of their stage extended naturally. Separation isn’t the Polaris’ strongest asset, they never sound congested but lack the layering and breadth of other earphones around this price. On the contrary, I did find them significantly more vibrant and immersive than the Nova.

 

Drivability –

The Polaris has an average sensitivity of 97.5dB combined with a low impedance of 16.8ohms. Despite this, the earphones are easy to drive and reach high volumes from portable sources, they are just slightly harder to drive than the U3 and DK-3001, both sensitive earphones. Ken states that the Polaris was designed to be driven off a smartphone and while they do sound perfectly fine, the Polaris really sings from a dedicated source. They scale terrifically with higher end sources, gaining considerably more bass definition from my X7 II in addition to a bump in resolution and separation across the board. The Polaris’ tasteful V-shaped tonality does ensure that they never sound uninspiring or wonky from a portable source, potentially with a higher output impedance, and the earphone’s lower sensitivity does make them more hiss resistant than competitors, but this earphone definitely deserves a resolving source. Of the sources I had on hand, I found the X7 II to be the most pleasing with its neutral tone really complimenting the Polaris’ finely sculpted sound where the more full-bodied Mojo and iFi BL tend to be better suited towards drier, more neutral earphones.

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About Author

Avid writer, passionate photographer and full-time student, Ryan's audio origins and enduring interests lie within all aspects of portable audio. An ongoing desire to bring quality audio to the regular reader underpins his reviewer ethos as he seeks to bring a new perspective on the cutting edge and budget dredge alike.

12 Comments

  1. Clarence on

    Hey Ryan, I know that this question is not related to the review, but what IEM would you recommend for at most $50 with preferably a warm sound signature with the LEAST sound isolation? I want to walk in the streets with these IEMs and low sound isolation is important for safety for incoming vehicles. I know that I could go the earphone route, but I would prefer in-ears if possible. Thanks!

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hi Clarence,

      No worries, I’ve been really enjoying the Final E3000, it’s semi-open so isolation is mediocre at best but they have a very nice warm sound with a lot of detail and range for their price, I’ll have my full review up in a few days. The EX1 2nd Gen is also a solid semi-open option but it has a thinner sound that may not work so well for your tastes. If you have any other questions, feel free to send me a PM on Head-fi, my user is ryanjsoo.

      Cheers,
      Ryan.

  2. Rich on

    Nice review Ryan. Have you ever tried CA’s other mid-priced offering the Lyra II? If so how does the Polaris compare? I own the Lyra IIs and love them. Great all day comfort and relaxed sound with strong dynamic driver bass. Can listen to them all day with no fatigue. Like the Polaris, the Lyra IIs aren’t turned for analytical listeners but tuned for folks like me who just want to pop in the earphones and enjoy their music. Also similar to the Polaris they scale well and sound good from portable sources but really sing when used with my Erzetich desktop headphone amp or my Aurender Flow. The Lyra IIs may also be one of the best values out there as well as I have seen them on Massdrop for $499. Would be interested to see a review of the Lyra IIs on the headphone list.

    • Ryan Soo on

      Hi Rich,

      Thanks for your comments, I have tried the Lyra II but I can’t provide direct comparison, only some comments from memory. They have a similar low-end, perhaps the Lyra II has a bit more depth but decay is slower. The Polaris has more midrange clarity and is more detailed with a little more lower treble aggression where the Lyra II is smoother. The Lyra II will fit a lot better for those with smaller ears and has no wind noise issues. I think they’re in the same ballpark tonality wise with the Polaris being the more engaging counterpart.

      • Rich on

        Thanks for your comments Ryan. Based on what you said i would consider the Polaris more of a sidegrade to the Lyra IIs vs an upgrade whereas the Vegas would be an upgrade. Have you tried the Beyerdynamic Xelento Remote? Would be interested to see a review of them.

        • Ryan Soo on

          No problem Rich, I would very much like a review of the Xelento’s too but haven’t been able to contact Beyer! I have tried them and along with the Vega, I do think they perform at a higher level than the Polaris and Lyra II overall but whether they will be tonally suitable for you is another question entirely. You are right in that the Polaris isn’t really an upgrade to the Lyra II, it’s rather another similarly priced option with different tuning. I will be sure to pester Beyer more in the future, hopefully, I’ll be to make more concrete comparison then.

          • Rich on

            At some point would be interesting to see a universal single dynamic driver IEM shootout. Even though the trend is to how many BA drivers you can cram in one earpiece, it seems as though single dynamic driver IEMs are making a comeback proving it is the implementation and tuning of the driver rather than number of drivers that determines audio quality. Would like to know how the Vega, Lyra II, IE800, Dita Answer Truth & Dream and other higher end models etc compare to one another.

  3. Juan luis on

    How compared with Noble Sage??

  4. CL on

    Thanks for the thorough review, i wanted to like the Polaris but what it does to certain male vocals, how it adds a thin, shouts telephonic to them is imho unacceptable for any iems over, say, 100$. But that’s just me.

    • Ryan Soo on

      I can see what people are saying about the lower midrange on these earphones, they are definitely more temperamental than a lot of other earphones but I found they were more natural than not. I suppose it depends on your music preferences and source synergy, the stock ear tips also suck a lot.

  5. John Lee on

    Have you ever heard the Sony Z5? Able to compare the hybrid sound between that and this?
    Thanks!

    • Ryan Soo on

      Sorry John,
      Haven’t had a chance to hear Sony’s in-ears since the XBA earphones since they aren’t available in my region. They do certainly look interesting, I’ll see if I can organize a review in the future,
      Ryan.

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