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Review: Campfire Audio Trifecta

Taming Trifecta: tip, cable and source pairings 

When Ken said he’d rather Trifecta be “tamed via physical spatial tricks” I take that to mean tips, cables and sources. Trifecta is indeed incredibly receptive to changes in the chain, and can sound wildly different with the ‘wrong’ combinations. 

As always, tip, cable and source pairing is not so much about the quality or cost of the actual components, but rather the synergy between them. It’s entirely possible that you’ll prefer Trifecta with its stock cable than with a $500 or even $1,500 third-party cable. 

Tips 

The first and easiest place to start is tip rolling. I’m not a fan of foam tips, and so the default Campfire marshmallow tips didn’t do anything for me. Yes, foam is an easy buffer against harsh treble, which is probably why Trifecta ships with foam tips installed, but it also bloats the bass and muddies the midrange to some extent, at least to my ears. 

Switching to the stock wide-bore silicone tips was an instant performance upgrade. The bass snapped into focus and was also bigger and more detailed, while midrange clarity opened up and treble, while brighter for sure, wasn’t overly strident.  

I then took some time to run Trifecta through my barrage of usual tip suspects: JVC Spiral Dots, Final E, Sony EP-EX11, Acoustune AET/AEX 07, Divinus Velvet, SpinFit W1 and CP100, Azla Sedna EarFit and Crystals, and, my most recent discovery, EarTune Fidelity U. 

Sadly, the Sony tips, which are my usual go-to for comfort and sound, didn’t really gel with Trifecta’s wider nozzle, so were eliminated early on. Final E fared better, also being very narrow bore but with a firmer shaft, and did what Final E tips always do: boost the bass to insane basshead levels. Not bad, but a bit too much, even for this basshead. 

Trifecta suits a wider bore tip, and one step up in that regard is the SpinFit duo. W1 was a no-go straight away, the smallest size being too large and long for my ear canals. CP100, on the other hand, was a perfect fit, and is probably my second-favourite paring. It works well to attenuate the larger treble peaks, at the expense of some liveliness. 

By far my favourite tip, and the one I ended up using for my main listening impressions, is EarTune’s Fidelity U. These are not cheap, at $24 for three pairs, and also not conventional, with an oval shape that mimics the opening of the ear canals. They also tweak the sound in agreeable ways for me, tightening the bass while retaining impact and rumble, and smoothing out some of the wilder treble peaks.

Preferred pairing: EarTunes Fidelity U

Cables

I’ve already mentioned that I’m a big fan of Campfire’s stock cables, and Trifecta’s unique Stream cable is no exception. That said, I generally prefer pure copper to silver-plated or pure silver cables (with some notable exceptions), so it’s worth trying out some different combinations to hear how Trifecta responds.

Each of the pure copper cables in my collection represents a different style of sound, and different price tier too. The most basic of these is the excellent Effect Audio Ares S 8-wire ($269), a cable I recently received and reviewed. With a warmer tone that somehow retains treble fidelity, it gives Trifecta a lusher sound than stock, filling out some of the midbass notes and adding some meat to the midrange notes too. I wasn’t a fan of how it handled the treble, though, sounding slightly rougher and more diffuse which, if you’ve read my treble notes, isn’t ideal. 

A big step up from Ares S is my custom-made Khanyayo Cables Cardas Clear ($900), a clone of PW Audio’s sublime The 1950s cable. This is not your typical copper cable; it generally gives you the tonal benefits of copper, beefing up the bass and texturing the midrange, but also gives you the technical performance of pure silver, especially in clarity and treble fidelity. The combination works wonders with Trifecta, darkening the background and widening and already wide stage, while audibly boosting resolution. Easily one of my favourite cables and one of my favourite pairings with Trifecta.

Then there’s the King, the undisputed cable-of-cables, PW Audio’s Orpheus with shielding ($6,000 – and no, that’s not a typo). Some say it’s a grown-up 1950s, but Orpheus is actually quite different. With Trifecta, almost every element is heightened to such a degree, it’s almost uncomfortably lucid. But Orpheus also warms up Trifecta quite substantially, thickening the midbass, and giving the midrange a warm glow as a result. 

I personally love it, it’s the sound of liquid honey to my ears, but some may find Trifecta leans too far to the bass with this combination. Orpheus also tames and relaxes the treble, which greatly reduces fatigue even with troublesome tracks, but again, some may want to preserve every bit of extension. Cost alone generally rules out Orpheus for most mortals, but if you have the means, I’d pick Orpheus above everything else, and not just for Trifecta.

Of the silver-plated and silver variety I have two cables I regularly use: Effect Audio’s Cadmus 8-wire ($299) and Cleo II 4-wire ($1,199). Both are more neutrally-tuned and balanced than their copper counterparts, and in the case of Cleo II, work well to maximise Trifecta’s technical performance without sounding too analytical or thin. Of the two I’d actually pick Cadmus, finding that Cleo II dries up the vocals a bit too much for my liking, but if that’s your preference, you might hear it the other way. I prefer neither over the stock cable, for what it’s worth.

Preferred pairing: Campfire Audio Stream (stock cable), but if you can afford the luxury, both Cardas Clear and Orpheus will give Trifecta a different type of copper flavour.

Sources

I’m fortunate enough to have three high-end music players that I use to test IEMs, and all three offer something slightly different with Trifecta.

The first and most apt of these is Sony’s original WM1Z, a.k.a. the ‘gold brick’. From what I’ve heard this is one of the sources Ken used to tune Trifecta, and the two make very agreeable bedfellows indeed. Sony’s lush, organic, yet expertly technical presentation gives Trifecta a real earthiness, and dials my emotional engagement to the max, especially with live or real instrumental music. Nothing sounds overdone or underdone with the Sony, and if it wasn’t for its lack of easy file management and streaming functionality I’d use it far more often than I do my Android DAPs. 

Speaking of which, my current favourite is HiBy’s RS8, especially with the recently-updated V2 Darwin filters. This is the best all-round high-end DAP right now, with a rich and speedy software system and interface and all the connectivity bells-and-whistles. It also features one of the best sounding R2R DACs around, with clean, powerful amplification to boot. It’s no surprise that RS8 makes Trifecta sing, and I even prefer its slightly more neutral tone to the Sony’s lushness. 

The other high-end Android source is iBasso’s DX300 MAX, a beast of a DAP that features 1.3W of Class A power atop its now-discontinued AK4499EQ DACs. The DX300 MAX, unlike its Ti variant and more recent DX320 MAX Ti, gives me a slightly warmer wounding source with relaxed but present treble. What it lacks in tonal earthiness it makes up for in sheer technical performance, literally maxing out Trifecta’s stage and resolving power. My only issue with MAX is that it’s slightly too powerful for Trifecta, leaving me very little wiggle room on the volume dial, unless I switch over to a single-ended connection.

That it’s so easy to drive means I can and do make use of two other sources: Cayin’s RU7 and Luxury & Precision’s W4 USB dongles, which I reviewed here. Between the two I preferred the RU7 for its smooth, analogue, almost Sony-like tonality, but wouldn’t hesitate to use the W4 if technical performance was a priority. Both have ample power to drive Trifecta, even in low gain, but won’t sound quite as substantial or nuanced as the multi-kilobuck DAPs.

Preferred pairing: HiBy RS8, or Cayin RU7 if you can’t swing a high-end DAP

In summary, I urge anyone who wants to get the most from Trifecta to dedicate some time to trying different tip, cable and source combinations. I know it’s not always easy, especially for new or inexperienced users, but if you’re planning in investing serious money in this IEM, it’s not too much to ask to invest some time to get it performing to your liking. If, after testing various combinations, you’re still not sold on Trifecta with your music, at least you’ll know it’s not for lack of trying.   

One last footnote on taming Trifecta, and something that’s close to my heart: music quality. Instead of harping on about compressed versus lossless music, or recording and mastering quality, I’ll share a little anecdote here:

I have a series of four albums, issued by an obscure label called SoundProLabs, with a mix of one-to-two minute samples spanning multiple genres and artists. All the samples are pristinely recorded and intended solely for the purposes of testing ultra-high-end audiophile systems. I use these albums to test ‘troublesome’ equipment that sometimes sounds ‘off’ to me with some of my regular test tracks or streaming services, because they represent the ‘best case scenario’ when it comes to music quality. 

If an IEM sounds bad, or even average, with any of these tracks, then it usually is, because you’re not going to get better quality music files than these. Suffice it to say, Trifecta sounds sublime with each and every one. It was my reality check when a few treble-heavy test tracks got me down, only to realise it wasn’t Trifecta, it was my music files. 

Now, of course, we can’t all switch to audiophile-grade recordings, and I’ll be the first to admit Trifecta is as unforgiving as they come when it comes to poor recordings. But don’t mistake that for poor performance, because given the right material, Trifecta can be just about as good as it gets. 

Select comparisons

While the preceding sections should give you a fairly good idea of how I hear Trifecta and what it sounds like, it’s often easier to get a sense of what an IEM has to offer when compared to known quantities, which in this case, is other IEMs.

Thankfully I’m not short of some truly excellent IEMs, many of which I’m far more familiar with than Trifecta, and it was a lot of fun pitching them against each other with some of my favourite music. I’m mindful that this review is already a thesis, so I’m going to keep the comparative notes to a minimum. If you’d like to get more detail about how Trifecta compares to some of these IEMs, hit me up by PM, or leave a comment. 

FIR Audio Radon 6 ($3,299, reviewed here). To me, Rn6 is FIR’s masterpiece, the best of the Frontier Series, and also the most balanced and eloquent. Rn6 is one of the very few IEMs I consider ‘virtually flawless’ in that it doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses. Comparing Rn6 to Trifecta is a bit like comparing apples and oranges: one is balanced, mostly neutral, generally inoffensive, but still highly technical and engaging. The other is bold, brilliant, loud and bashful, occasionally fatiguing, but always differently engaging. No prizes for guessing which is which. 

I find Rn6 and Trifecta almost perfectly complementary. I’d pick one or the other depending on music choice but also mood. If I’m not in the mood for fighting with my music and just want serene excellence, Rn6 is a safer choice. If I want to risk fatigue for emotional engagement and mindblowing bass, it’s Trifecta all day long (ok, maybe not all day). 

FIR Audio Xenon 6 ($3,699, reviewed here). FIR’s golden child and the flagship of the Frontier Series, even though I consider Radon the better IEM. Out of all my IEMs I thought Trifecta would sound closest to Xe6, but they sound nothing alike. Yes, both share a bass-first tuning, but Xe6 overloads the midbass at the expense of sub-bass rumble and extension (without some serious tweaks or external amplification, anyway). Trifecta’s bass is much more balanced, with better sub-bass extension and more forceful rumble, and bigger midbass impact and slam. Trifecta is also more neutral in the lower midrange with slightly more forward upper mids. 

It’s treble and technical performance where I feel Xe6 has an edge over Trifecta. Despite its bloaty warmth, Xe6 is highly resolving and technically proficient, with superb dynamics and speed. It also has a silky smooth treble response that’s well-extended and airy. Trifecta shows its rough edges in all the places where Xe6 is polished, though still trumps Xe6 for stage size, imaging, layering and separation. 

FatFreq Maestro SE ($1,900, reviewed here). This IEM was supposed to have just one party trick: a world-first 20dB sub-bass shelf. Thankfully the guys at FatFreq know what they’re doing, and managed to somehow tune this gargantuan IEM with a very balanced, clean and deliciously fun tonality throughout. Trifecta is the only IEM I’ve heard that rivals MSE in sheer bass volume; it’s a photo finish for which rumbles harder when the subwoofer gets tuned up to max. While MSE also has healthy midbass, Trifecta’s is bigger, more nuanced and better controlled in my opinion. 

Further up the line, MSE is thinner and less organic sounding than Trifecta. While it has its own treble issues, especially sibilance and the occasional tizzyness if insertion depth isn’t sufficient, Trifecta is no saint either, and I’d say MSE is the more forgiving of the two. MSE is also more resolving up top, with quad estats and several BAs on detail duty. For anything other than resolution, I’d give the technical edge to Trifecta.

Sony IER-Z1R ($1,900). Few IEMs have captured my imagination as much as Sony’s flagship over the past 18 months, and I still consider Z1R my favourite IEM of the bunch. There’s just something about its liquid sub-bass, cavernous stage, and sugar sweet female vocals that push all my buttons, sonically speaking. Trifecta is the first IEM to challenge – and possibly even usurp – Z1R for both sub-bass and stage. It’s not quite there with female vocals, at least on poorer recordings, though male vocals and lower midrange in general is definitely fuller and more present with Trifecta.

Technically I find Trifecta and Z1R quite similar, which is to say, mostly excellent. Both aren’t the most resolving in their class, at least not compared to some of the newer heavy-hitters, but we’re still talking high-end resolution and technical performance in general. Z1R is the more forgiving and also more relaxing listen of the two, which is why I’m likely to favour it most of the time, but I can see myself picking Trifecta when I want a different emotional connection with certain albums.  

Continue to closing thoughts…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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