Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 Review - Eclipsed

Review Written by Precogvision

Introduction

As something of a newcomer to the audio hobby, few IEMs have piqued my interest like the original Campfire Audio Solaris. The audio world is no stranger to drama, but the original Solaris serves as one of the more memorable controversies in recent memory - specifically one regarding measurement variation. And despite this, it has persevered to carve out a well-respected niche within the community with many owners swearing by its merits. 

So when I was given the opportunity to review the Solaris 2020, Campfire Audio’s update to the original, how could I say no? Campfire Audio’s pitch is that they’ve brought the original sound of the Solaris into a smaller, more streamlined package. They’ve also incorporated their Solid-Body design which gives them more control over the internal drivers. To this end, I see quite a few bold claims: “Holographic presentation. Intimate detail retrieval. Soaring highs, engaging mids and impactful bass. Music sounds like music with lifelike performances, superior layering and unbelievable imaging”. Buzzwords are buzzwords though, and in this review, I’ll be taking a look at how this all stacks up in practice. 

This unit was loaned by Headphones.com for review and will be returned at the end of the review period. As always, what follows are my honest thoughts and opinions to the best of my ability.


Source and Driveability 

  • All critical listening was done off of an iBasso DX160 using lossless FLAC files. Presumably, the Solaris 2020 is sensitive enough to shift around the frequency response depending on your source. However, all my critical listening is done off of the same source for consistency. 
  • The stock cable and included Final Audio Type-E tips were used. 
  • I burned in the unit for 100 hours with critical listening before and after. 
  • The Solaris 2020 is very sensitive, enough to give your ears a nasty shock if you’re not careful! You’re not going to have trouble powering it off of anything, but I do recommend picking up something like the iFi IEMatch to kill any hissing if this is a concern. 

The Tangibles

Nothing too crazy for the packaging; it’s clean and reminiscent of opening a luxurious candy box. Campfire Audio also includes a wide-range of accessories with the Solaris 2020: 

  • Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl), Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l), standard silicon tips (s/m/l)
  • Campfire Audio Super Smoky Litz Cable – Silver Plated Conductors featuring multi diameter stranding with Beryllium Copper MMCX and 3.5mm Stereo Plug
  • Campfire Audio Sustainable Cork Earphone Case
  • Campfire Audio pin and cleaning tool 
Campfire Solaris 2020 Accessories

Moving on to the IEMs themselves, there’s some good heft to the Solaris 2020 which gives the impression of quality. And from what I can tell, it does seem to be built quite nicely: The small ridges in the shell’s surface are perfectly consistent, and the seam joint between the shell and face, while not quite seamless, is more than passable. Campfire Audio is also using a PVD coating process for the finish which gives it a slick sheen. Overall, it’s a classy package, but just be aware that it’s a fingerprint magnet!

I had no issues with fit, although I did find the nozzle size to be a bit long. The seal also breaks for me if I open my mouth or make other exaggerated movements. As usual, fit is 100% subjective to the individual, so take my impressions here with a grain of salt. 

Sound Analysis 

The Solaris 2020 follows a more V-shaped frequency response to my ears. It has a bold, fun type of sound that I rather enjoy, but there’s issues here and there that ultimately impress the notion of something less than refined. Yeah, no words being minced today - let’s just dive right into the nitty-gritty. 

Campfire Solaris 2020 Frequency Response

Frequency response provided courtesy of Headphones.com. This measurement was taken using the RA0402 coupler; there is a dampening factor at around 8kHz to remove coupler resonance. 

Bass

The first minute I spent listening to the Solaris 2020 was...confusing. I hadn’t looked at the specifications, so imagine my surprise hearing what was unmistakably DD (dynamic driver) bass slam. But that’s only half the reason why I was confused. See, I find that one of the key distinctions between a BA (balanced armature) and DD is texture. This is a quality of bass, primarily in the sustain and decay functions, that presents itself with a grittiness, micro-splices in the timbre to my ears. It’s something that gives good DD bass that raw, natural quality. BA’s generally decay too quickly to reproduce it though, and this results in a more smoothed texture. Likewise, running through some of my usual test tracks, like Dreamcatcher’s “Silent Night” with its heavy opening drop, I’m just not hearing it from the Solaris 2020.

Campfire Solaris 2020

While ultimately this is personal preference, it doesn’t sit well with me, especially because I hear a sizable emphasis on the sub-bass too. This is an aspect of bass in which you’d expect to hear, feel, some semblance of texture - which simply isn’t present on the Solaris 2020, at least not in the quantities I’d expect. Perhaps this can be attributed to its (also) less-than-stellar decay. Don’t get me wrong, the Solaris 2020 certainly slams deep - I can feel it pushing air, and there’s more than ample presence for my tastes. Yet, it’s lacking some of the fundamentals with which I’d (personally) qualify a good bass response. 

Midrange

Moving to the midrange, wow, it’s thick. The Solaris 2020’s lower-midrange sounds like it pumped a ton of steroids, the not-so-legal stuff. It does have a certain appeal with male vocals because of its gritty texture, and I hear more than ample body to expand and fill the stage. Running through some of my country music tracks with the likes of Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, and Joe Nichols, I think it’s fine. I can see a lot of people enjoying this even if it’s not quite my thing. And to a large extent, I suspect that this is what makes it feel like the Solaris 2020 is putting you inside the mix itself. It’s certainly a more in-your-face presentation that engages you and commands your attention. 

However, this type of presentation isn’t without its drawbacks, and it begets some tonal quirks. Just visually, the frequency response graph presents a good deal of sibilance in the upper-midrange. As for whether this translates to practice or not...admittedly, I don’t hear it. Unit variance? Let’s hope not; maybe I’m just insensitive to it. But others have reported hearing sibilance, so I think it’s a fair consideration. 

Still, I take issue with Solaris 2020’s upper-midrange presentation. And it’s not like the Andromeda 2020’s macro-detail compression, no, no. The Solaris 2020 does macro-dynamics fine. Rather, there’s just a distinct blobiness to female vocals. A good example of this is on Taeyeon’s “Vanilla”. Her voice has a slightly diffused quality by virtue of the mastering, and the Solaris 2020 exacerbates this to ungodly levels, absolutely suffocating the stage. In tandem with the subsequent lack of resolution, I get the horrifying impression that I’m wading through a boggy swamp. Moral of the story? Steroids always catch up with you in the long run. Stay away - far away - if you prioritize accuracy with vocals, especially female ones. 

Highs 

I should make clear that I’m not very picky when it comes to my treble. As I noted earlier, the Solaris 2020 follows something of a more V-shaped sound signature, and I hear a sizable emphasis to the mid-treble. There’s a slight splashiness and good extension, although I think that sometimes the highest registers can get lost in the timbral coloration (or simply aren’t there). Still, I like it. It’s not going to be for everyone - heck, some might find it straight-up fatiguing - but there’s nothing inherently wrong about it to my ears. It adds a playful sparkle to the Solaris 2020 and complements the heavier note weight I hear to the rest of the sound signature.

Technical Performance

While I do find that Solaris 2020’s more colored tonality lends itself to cuts in technical performance, I have no trouble asserting that this is still a fairly technical IEM when all’s said and done. First, let’s talk about the timbre. It is quite colored, but it’s not the undesirable type that I’ve come to associate with BA artifacts. Rather, it’s what I refer to as the “musical” type - a warm blanket to the timbre that engages the listener and keeps things from getting too clinical. I do find that it neuters pure resolution, especially when it comes to the upper mid-range, but stand-alone I enjoy said coloration. 

I don’t like to comment too closely on soundstage just because I find that peoples’ perceptions vary wildly. However, the Solaris 2020 does have a fairly large stage to my ears. The way it images is also interesting; although excellent in the traditional left-right channel sense that creates the stage, I don’t think it’s quite as sharp when it comes to actually projecting. I suspect that this is partly due to the excessive timbral coloration. While I sense air between notes, it feels a little too thick - almost syrupy. Nonetheless, I can’t really knock the Solaris 2020 too much on these fronts. 

Where I mainly take issue with the Solaris 2020 is coherency. This can encompass many things, but for me - at least within the scope of technicalities - it mainly comes down to note texture and the overall timbre. Remember that textureless bass I was talking about? Yeah, it just doesn’t fly for me alongside the Solaris 2020’s otherwise very gritty midrange presentation and sparkly treble. It’s a weird amalgamation that, in practice, sounds surprisingly decent but bugs the critic in me a good deal. 

Furthermore, while I don’t find the Solaris 2020’s transient speed lacking, I can’t knock the feeling that it pushes its larger-than-life presentation to the breaking point - that is to say, congestion. Is this just personal preference? Maybe. I do have a predilection for more balanced, resolving sound signatures. This also isn’t something that I can specifically pinpoint; it presents itself on most all my test tracks, and I’d wager it’s a combination of more than a few factors: The timbral coloration, the slight midbass bloat, the more intimate midrange, and the lack of transient hardness.

Select Comparison

Wait, scratch that - let’s just name this section,“Why you might consider the Campfire Andromeda 2020 instead.” Because at least in this reviewer’s opinion, the Andromeda 2020 has a more balanced tonality and a clear edge in technical performance, aspects that I think will appeal to a wider listening audience. 

Frequency response provided courtesy of Headphones.com. This measurement was taken using the RA0402 coupler; there is a dampening factor at around 8kHz to remove coupler resonance. 

Still, it’s important to remember that these are two very different IEMs in terms of tuning. And in the interest of fairness, you might consider the Solaris 2020 for the following reasons instead: 

  • A bass response with more dynamic slam and density. Albeit one lacking in texture and decay to be nigh indistinguishable otherwise from the Andromeda 2020’s.  
  • A more colored, intimate presentation that appeals to your “fun” sensibilities. To this effect, the Solaris 2020 has much, much more thickness to its midrange. It also has a rougher, more lively treble response compared to Andromeda 2020’s more laidback one.
  • Better macro-dynamic scaling that might come off as more natural. 

Let’s go back to technical performance, specifically imaging. I think this is where I struggled most to identify their differences, so I don’t want to deal in absolutes. The Solaris 2020 images terrifically - probably better than the Andromeda 2020 in the traditional sense that creates a “holographic” stage - but I find it lacks that special projection quality that the Andromeda 2020 has. If I had to guess, this mostly results from their respective vocal presentations. The Andromeda 2020’s vocals hang further to the back, and as a result, it feels like the vocalist is truly on the stage in front of you. Conversely, the Solaris 2020’s presentation is a bit more in-your-face which attenuates said projection. And as I alluded to earlier, I don’t find it to be as sharp either because of the timbral coloration.

Outside of imaging, where the two IEMs mostly trade blows, the Andromeda 2020 is a solid peg up in layering capability, speed, and resolution. These technical aspects compliment the more laidback tonality; it feels like the Andromeda 2020 scales nuances in tracks almost effortlessly with calculated precision, a sharp contrast to the Solaris 2020’s more boisterous, almost wild presentation. 

The Verdict

I do try to judge IEMs on their individual merit. And admittedly, I’ve been quite harsh on the Solaris 2020, so make no mistake: It’s not a bad IEM, not by a long shot. I enjoy listening to it in moderation, and it’s easy to see why the IEM has a cult-like following. To this effect, Campfire Audio clearly had an artistic vision when they set out to make this IEM - the Solaris 2020 has a unique sound signature that I don’t think you’ll find elsewhere. However, it stands that comparisons will be made, and under less forgiving analysis the Solaris 2020 leaves something to be desired in this reviewer’s opinion. 

Recommended? With caution. To sum up my time with the Solaris 2020, it would be one of guilty pleasure. Every critical listening session I put on it, I felt like a pig playing in mud. Yeah, it was fun...but also messy. I do think the Solaris 2020 acts as a complement to more resolving, balanced IEMs; however, I’d be hard-pressed to ignore the subsequent trade-offs. The Solaris 2020 also has a lot of competition at this price point, and while I do commend Campfire Audio for keeping it classy without price creep, I can’t help but feel that Campfire Audio’s own Andromeda 2020 eclipses the Solaris 2020.

-Precogvision

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Join the discussion about the Campfire Solaris and Andromeda 2020 at the HEADPHONE Community Forum.

Buy the Campfire Solaris 2020 on Headphones.com at the best price available.

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