Campfire Ara Review - Perfection - Nicely Done!

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by purr1n, May 27, 2020.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    FR and distortion: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/campfire-ara-review.9354/#post-302221
    Step response and other stuff: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/campfire-ara-review.9354/#post-302267
    Impedance: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/campfire-ara-review.9354/page-2#post-302276

    Well, @KenBall has knocked one out of the park again, big time. Or either he knows what I like. I've been an unabashed fan of Campfire Audio ever since the Newport SHOW many years ago when I first heard the Jupiter and Lyra.

    First thing I will start off with is that if you love the Harmon Olive Consumer Target, and this is something that you feel that IEMs absolutely need to adhere to, then the Ara may not be for you. However, if you like the tonal balance of the latest iteration of the Sennheiser HD650, then these are an immediate buy this now!

    Take the Sennheiser HD650, but correct all its shortcomings, make it into an IEM, and we get the Ara. The Ara retains the HD650's slightly thick lows and mid-bass emphasis, but removes the veil, extends the bass fully to 20Hz, and brings about super articulation that only a BA driver can achieve. Other defining characteristics of the HD650, such as narrow emphasis in the upper mids that gives that a bit of smack and edge, and its sedate and smooth highs, are present. In terms of IEMs, I don't know how many of you guys remember the Orion (which was another one of my favorites and one I recently recommended to a friend with a modest budget) - but another way to look at the Ara is to see it as souped up Orion. Like super-souped up.

    I've got the latest 2020 editions of the Andromeda and Solaris here too, which are incremental improvements over the OG versions. Pricewise, the Ara is slotted between the Solaris and Andromeda; however I think the Ara may be my favorite. The Solaris has a bit more visceral physicality, but at a minor expense to articulation. There's always some trade-off. However, the Ara is no slouch for heft, probably because of the four bass drivers used. Campfire decided to use these multiple bass drivers judiciously. Instead of giving us moar bass, we got betterer bass. I mean, Ara makes Andromeda fast and tight bass sound not so fast and tight! Everything is relative. Things can be quite good, very good, until we hear better. FWIW, this was from the foam tips, which can tend to thicken up transients a bit too! I'll report back later with silcone tips.

    I don't usually keep up with current events, but I do had to admit that I was bemused when I found out the Ara used seven drivers! Wasn't there an April Fool's joke on HF which featured a hypothetical 22 driver IEM that mocked that direct many IEM manufacturers were going with dubious results? Ken had resisted doing this, making IEMs with a ton a drivers, for the longest time, so I have to admit that I was super curious. There had to be a reason he had to do it. One of the reasons I already mentioned: slightly thick punchy lows, but also super articulate. Another possibly reason: a timbre not very BA like that is incredibly consistent and cohesive throughout the audio band. Think of this as the anti - Sony IER-Z1R. Instead of V-shaped, we have something that is mid-centric relatively, instead of Yo Yo Ma playing three different instruments for a cello concerto, Yo Yo Ma is playing one cello.

    (ducks for cover from IER-Z1R fanboys who hang out on Crinacle's Discord)
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2020
  2. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Here are photos of the Ara. I think folks who felt the OG Andromeda had too shallow of a fit would find these suitable. The nozzles do extend out a bit. For me personally, the Ara are a little less snug than the Andromeda, but pose no fitment issues.
    IMG_20200527_220825.jpg
     
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  3. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Last edited: May 27, 2020
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  5. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    Not to try and pick things apart, but are these two statements consistent? Perhaps you can elaborate.
     
  6. Lyander

    Lyander Too sensitive for SBAF

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    D3 isn't taking over the entire bottom half like it did for the old CAs, which could explain the good heft and speed in bass?
     
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    nope...
    1. The Ara retains the HD650's slightly thick lows and mid-bass emphasis, but removes the veil, extends the bass fully to 20Hz, and brings about super articulation that only a BA driver can achieve.
    2. ZMF Verite

    EDIT: Ara is also more clear sounding than Andromeda. Andromeda sounds veiled. Also, thick as in slight, not super thick. Relative to ER4S, which is lean, or UERM which might be not as lean as ER4S and not as thick as Ara.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2020
  8. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Yes. D3, the third-harmonic is on-par with or lower than D2, the second harmonic. This isn't true of old CA IEMs, but actually isn't true of balanced armature drivers, where the third harmonic dominates the distortion profile, especially in the lows and the mids.

    Personally, I feel this quality of the Ara, where second order is even with third order, is huge. It's still using a BA drivers, with their articulate and "fast" qualities, but I'm getting fooled sometimes because of the "more normal" timbre.

    P.S. Might be interesting for me to run the burst response measurements to see if there's anything there.
     
  9. Crinacle

    Crinacle Friend

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    The FR reminds me of the Empire Ears Zeus a little.

    Edit: managed to find my old tube coupler measurement of the Zeus here, which should be somewhat comparable to Marv's Veritas setup.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2020
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  10. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Curse you, Marvey! I don't need to spend another $1300 on audio stuff...

    I like the elongated nozzle. It was great on the Andro Gold.
    Actually, Ara seems to be what I wish the Andro Gold would be!
     
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Think of it this way. It's going to be really hard for Ken to top this design.
    • No crossovers = lack of veil
    • Distortion characteristics a huge step toward dynamic drivers
    • Consistent distortion characteristics throughout the audio band
    • HD650'ish tone (deeper insertion)
    • USA based company, US design, US assembled. Much less of your money goes to China hegemony (God save the Hong Kongers).
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2020
  12. numbercube

    numbercube Acquaintance

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    Can you measure the impedance curve @purr1n?
     
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  13. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    You mention no crossover... Does this have any disadvantages to your ears? FR looks quite good, but what about that humpty-bumpty response from 2-5kHz? Also considering it doesn't have crossover parts, does that mean it still has excess phase or does it behave like a single driver? In other words, does the step response look right?
    I think BA drivers are usually quite limited in bandwidth, so might still behave like other multi-BA IEMs.

    Also what about air? I remember the Andromeda being better extended than other BA IEMs, so I suppose it doesn't struggle and getting accurate measurements past 7-9kHz requires a ton of effort (IME absorption is a must and it needs to be just right), but with BAs you never know.

    Edit: Regarding distortion, it looks to me more like they raised D2 to the levels where D3 would normally be. Again, do you think there are any disadvantages to this approach? It does look like we are getting more distortion this way.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2020
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  14. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    Sounds very jizzy, I dunno why but the shell looks just the same as an Andro one, and that's good for me since the Andro style shells fits better for my ears.
     
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  15. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Looks like upper midrange and lower treble is more filled in than Andromeda and a bit smoothed from its more lumpy Gold predecessor. Although maybe lost a little in ultimate treble extension.

    I’m assuming that distortion profile helps improve the BA timbre; incrementally more natural sounding than previous CA models?
    Also sounds like the crossover-less design greatly improves clarity.

    What about impedance? Guessing it’s still pretty sensitive to source impedance changes?

    All in all your impressions sound like a pretty darn good package.
     
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  16. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    I'm shocked to see a BA IEM compared with the HD650. To me the standout feature of the HD650 is the timbre, and BA timbre is an inherent weakness. I know you say it's good timbre for a BA - but does it really approach DD timbre?
     
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  17. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Depends what you mean by "approach"? Like approaching DD so its 99% there - arriving or landing at the airport, or approaching DD as it's somewhere in-transit.
     
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  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It my understanding tuning chambers or physical means are used to limit bandwidth of the drivers - while leveraging the inherent limited bandwidth of BA drivers. On the topic of distortion, I'm sure lower distortion can be obtained if crossovers were used to electrically limited the bandwidth. However, there is always a trade-off. For example, I still can't make up my mind whether I should hook up a cap to my Fostex wide-banders to them roll-off in the low naturally. No cap means more resolving and less-veiled when music is sparse, with cap means slight veil and cleaner during complex music.

    Step response here. It's actually not bad, better than 90% multi-driver speakers. And honestly, I don't think it really matters that much. Lots of great speakers have crappy step responses, and if you if you sit lower than the axis of perfect step measurement, step response gets less perfect.
    upload_2020-5-28_8-14-11.png

    In regards to humpty-dumpty response, I usually post IEM frequency response graphs with a more compressed Y-axis. I may have decided on this doing because IEM-nerds seem to be more into measurements than headphone or two-channel guys.

    Here is the Campfire Ara frequency response compared to the HD650. It's not to be considered a pure apples-apples comparison, but they should be somewhat comparable since the compensation curves were tuned by ear to be similar. Note that once we compensate for pinna gain (2-4kHz) - knowing that pinna gain was intentionally left out of the IEM compensation - the bumpy response may not be so much. Although subjectively I do feel the Ara just perhaps has a bit more around 4kHz than the HD650. which makes sense since pinna gain would be largely gone by 4kHz.

    YEL = Ara (SBAF IEM comp)
    GRN = HD650 (SBAF EARS comp)
    upload_2020-5-28_8-40-28.png
    Again, knowing that the plots above, especially the IEM, does not capture the anything past 8-9kHz with any reliability.

    As far as "air", I'm not too sure I can reliably tell the difference anymore. I'm getting old and the car is starting to rust. I need glasses now, especially for my right eye. The other day while we went hiking, my son heard loud high-frequency buzzing from beetles that hurt this ears. My teenage daughter heard it, but it wasn't deafening loud to her. My wife, who is a few years older than me, could not hear it. I barely heard it. However, my sense is that the Ara does not quite as much "air" as the OG Andromeda. The HD650 definitely has more air.

    It's not bothersome to me, but this could to someone who is younger. However, FWIW, my son also said the Ara was so much clearer than the Andromeda, which I gave him to a year or two ago.
     
    Last edited: May 28, 2020
  19. Serious

    Serious Inquisitive Frequency Response Plot

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    Looks like I should give it a shot when I can get a chance, although I think it's likely voiced too warm for my tastes.

    Okay, putting it that way I'd much prefer the no cap approach. Tried it with my Voxativs with the Mundorf cap from the PAPs and the no cap approach won hands-down. But to be fair the impedance with its huge peak at Fs severely limits what the cap does to roll off the low frequencies anyway.

    I was more worried about the dip at 3kHz relative to the 2 and 4kHz level to be honest. Something like that can sometimes sound very weird. It is just 5dB in this case and generally quite smooth, so I don't think it matters too much. The UE4 had something like between 5 and 6kHz IIRC and that didn't sound that weird. But the Superlux HD681B (lol) has a much sharper 10dB dip, 5dB peak transition and it sounds awful.
    The Solaris also sounded a bit off to me. This looks smoother.

    Well, the Andromeda has quite low excess phase to begin with - almot reproduces a perfect step. I think I never posted it here, though. This looks like it's likely even better, possibly the same as single-driver in-ears. The UERM on the other hand has its super-tweeter connected with reversed polarity, so some excess phase and an down-up looking step response.
     
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  20. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I'll examine this a bit more with another set of redone measurements with other IEMs I have on hand. Distortion measurements can be touchy. Maybe look at spectrum, might tell us more. I'm beginning to think that a little bit of distortion, and the right pattern of distortion is needed for something to sound "normal". We have ASR to thank for me to realize that. The 0.0001% distortion stuff doesn't sound quite right. Every 0.0001% distortion amp I've heard sounds like poop, and not the same kind of poop, different types of poop. Heck even the IEM guys know the odd distortion stuff doesn't sound quite right either, hence the chase for DD sound, which of course comes down to trade-offs.
     

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