The Ara utilises a 7-BA setup with a physical crossover achieved by delicate tuning of their 3D printed internal acoustic structure. The sound is also the least Campfire-esque yet. For reference, I am familiar with the vast majority of their line-up besides the limited-run models, and it doesn’t really resemble any of them. Of note, the prominent 8-10KHz peaks are not nearly as grating on the ears as my measurements would suggest, this is likely due to resonances in my measurement system rather than reflecting any peaks on the Ara itself. To my ear, this is a balanced sound, a slight reverse L with ascending prominence. Still, though the low-end doesn’t steal the show in terms of quantity, it commands attention with a full and powerful voicing on behalf of its good but certainly not DD-like extension and uptick of emphasis within the sub and upper-bass especially. Resultantly, though not bass-forward, lows are full with defined rumble and concise slam. It remains clean through the mid-bass, typical quick-decaying nature of BA drivers but with more note weight than most earphones of this driver type, I find it very satisfying with excellent dynamics and well-metered quantity.
Vocals are slightly forward in the presentation on behalf of twin centre-midrange peaks at 1.5KHz and 3KHz. Though vaguely resembling the IO here, the Ara is substantially more natural and well-balanced between male and female vocals. Indeed, it is quite reference-ish in voicing, neutral in tone, a touch full-bodied and neither warm nor laid-back like the Andromeda – the Ara provides a cleaner and more open image with excellent definition. It’s a high-clarity voicing with small 4 and 6KHz troughs retaining ample smoothness, density and accurate articulation, they are free of sibilance and stridence here if not an especially smooth tuning in the grand scheme of things.
The high-end is very detailed, immediately more so than the Andromeda as well, but it also has less contrast due to its more present midrange so you don’t get the same kind of focus and “zing”. Still, there’s a very clean transient response with terrific fine detail retrieval in the foreground and background on behalf of a small 5KHz peak. Extension is terrific with very high-resolution and it has that signature CA sparkle within the highest registers that gives its presentation heaps of energy while reinforcing its strong extension. The background isn’t especially dark, rather it is airy and open but as the peaks are outside the range that most instruments reside in, the presentation isn’t brittle or splashy nor is there any glare.
With regards to soundstage performance, imaging impressed me most, it’s simply outstanding. Directional cues especially are tack sharp delivering an especially holographic presentation, a standout from what I’ve heard in recent years in this respect. And, as observed on the Andro, there’s great soundstage expansion too, stretching beyond the head.
It’s very good to see CA refining their BA-setup here with the Ara rather than implementing other driver types which appear to be the current fad. This reduces cost to the company and consumer, realistically, the results can be as good and this has been demonstrated here. The Ara is a technical accomplishment and tonally brings a lot of appeal, filling in a blank in CA’s lineup with its more neutral tonality, if not representing absolute linearity or balance. As such, thought it represents a step up in technical performance from the Andro, it doesn’t represent a replacement for that model with its noticeably different voicing.
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