Perfectly neutral tone throughout, Outstanidng technical ability, Super sharp imaging, Tough as nails titanium build
Signature may be bright for some, Very source sensitive, Heavy housings, Not perfectly linear for professional applications
The Ara’s tuning strikes a winning balance between neutrality and musicality with detail retrieval and imaging that are highlights even within its premium price range.
Campfire Audio is essentially a household name in audio, a US-based company that simply ooze style and personality. They pride themselves on their unique tunings and variety of options for every price and preference. Despite offering a wide range of in-ears and even a set of over-ear headphones, all are underpinned by a stunning all-metal build and top-notch ergonomics. This makes their earphones not only desirable but liveable. The Andromeda was their runaway hit that cemented the company in the hall of fame. Never to one to rest on their laurels, the company quickly went to work on new designs that mark a significant departure from their famed flagship. Meet the Ara, the company’s latest BA flagship. Sporting 7-BA drivers with a mechanical crossover, it promises the most reference sound from the company yet.
The Ara launches at a $1299 USD asking price placing it above the Andromeda but still below the pricier hybrid Solaris earphones. You can read all about the Ara and treat yourself to a set here.
I would like to thank Campfire Audio very much for their quick communication and for providing me with the Ara for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Frequency Response: 10Hz – 28KHz
- Sensitivity: 94dB @ 1kHz
- Impedance: 8.5 ohms @ 1kHz
- Driver Setup: 4x BA Low, 1x BA Mid, 2x BA High + T.A.E.C
- Crossover: Mechanical Crossover
The Pitch –
Tuned acoustic expansion chamber is a 3D printed sound chamber for the 2 high-frequency balanced armature drivers. It’s a tubeless design mitigating the loss of extension and resonances of a traditional tube and damper system. It also provides the impression of a larger soundstage
3D Optimised Acoustic Construction/Solid Body
With a sophisticated driver array, it’s important to ensure all work in harmony. The Solaris 2020 employs Campfire Audio’s new solid-body acoustic design whereby the drivers are arranged with a 3D printed array that gives them finer control over the sound output by each driver in addition to reducing resonances for an overall more refined and resolving sound.
CFA’s Solid Body design through enabling greater control over the acoustics surrounding each driver, also permits more seamless integration of said drivers. In so doing, CFA has done away with any traditional electronic crossover design, opting instead for a purely mechanical method. There is no circuitry to control the frequency range each driver covers, instead, the acoustics have been delicately tuned so that all driver sing in unison, very difficult to do. I’ve only seen this on a handful of earphones in the past including the Sony XBA earphones and CFA’s own Andromeda Gold. The benefit is a more phase-coherent design in addition to a less interrupted sonic chain for maximum fidelity. However, this also means that source matching will be very important with this earphone.
The unboxing experience immediately provides a stunning experience rife with flair and colour. Opening up the foil-laminated sheath reveals a protective hard box inside. The earphones and cable are nestled within a zippered carrying case constructed from environmentally-friendly cork, here, in a clean blue colour scheme. The case has the same protective faux shearling interior as CFA’s previous cases but we do lose the opulent leather seen before. In addition, CFA also provides 3 padded sleeves with two compartments that house each earpiece, protecting them from scratching each other. These are super handy and pocketable so it’s great to see CFA providing extras for use with other IEMs too.
The other accessories are contained within a separate box. Users receive 3 pairs of marshmallow memory foam tips in addition to 3 pairs of generic wide-bore silicone tips. CFA also includes 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips that are some of my favourites on the market, providing noticeably better comfort and sound than generic tips. Their smaller bore is also a good match to the Ara, providing a slightly fuller, denser image and a very focussed detail presentation, I didn’t feel the need to swap out these tips for third party ones. A Campfire Audio pin and cleaning tool are also included as finishing touches.
Design & Build –
From first unboxing, the Ara cements itself as one of the most luxurious IEM designs on the market in addition to one of the best-realised all-metal shells out there. CFA take their signature BA-shell one step further with a titanium construction. Despite being notoriously difficult to work with, the finish is smoother than prior earphones with no machining lines, roughness or defects. The faceplates appear to have a light clear coat to combat scratches and, though seams are still palpable, faceplate/body matching is excellent. The raw titanium with black accents is certainly one of my favourite combinations from the company and the new construction is especially heavy and dense, providing an unyielding impression of quality and toughness. Meanwhile, the nozzle design is reminiscent of that included since the IO and Polaris II, being stainless steel and slightly elongated as opposed to past CFA earphones. It fits T400 sized tips, but also the T200 E-tips at a stretch and provides a deeper fit that aids isolation and the reduction of high-frequency peaks.
The Ara implements an MMCX removable cable. Similar to their past in-ears, the connectors are custom-made from beryllium, making them tougher than usual. I can confirm this during my years of CFA ownership, I haven’t encountered an issue even after ABing repeatedly during cable swaps. There is even tension between both sides and they attach with a very affirmative click. The cable itself is excellent, a 4-wire SPC unit with Litz geometry. It has a smoke jacket that is softer than their previous designs and coils very easily for storage while also resisting tangles well with its smoother jacket. Microphonic noise is negligible and the pre-moulded ear guides are comfortable while providing excellent fit security. The construction quality of the cable feels very high, especially with its well-relieved terminations. The Ara exemplifies TOTL product design and build quality in every manifestation; everything feels built to last and look good all the while.
Fit & Isolation –
Those familiar with any of CFA’s post-2018 releases besides the Andromeda that retains the shorter nozzle of their older models will instantly be familiar with the Ara. Over the years, the sharp-edged design has been refined and reworked just enough that it agrees with a wider range of ears. The Ara is their smoothest incarnation yet, especially noticeable on the inner faces whose edges and angles are more rounded off than even the 2020 Andromeda curiously enough. The overall dimensions remain identical, however, which makes them impressively compact for a 7-driver earphone. Still, those that experienced issues with past CFA earphones will likely have a similar experience here despite the smoother design. I personally found the Ara perfectly comfortable over longer listening, forming no hotspots over time nor providing a sense of sharpness as their earlier BA-shells could.
The Ara is certainly a heavy earphone though never unwieldy on behalf of its stable over-ear fit and ergonomic, well-sealing design. Fit stability was never an issue even when out and about as the nozzle is well-angled to position the earphone neutrally in the outer ear while permitting a deep fit and excellent seal. Combined with its dense all-metal construction and fully-sealed design, you won’t find much better passive noise isolation on a universal earphone. This makes them ideal for travellers and for commute where they almost silence the background humdrum to a distant murmur, especially with foam tips installed. They also aren’t at all susceptible to wind noise making them great during day to day use.
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