Campfire Audio Solaris Battle Royale

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by rhythmdevils, Jan 31, 2021.

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I have now had all 4 iterations of the Campfire Audio Solaris here in house and currently have 3 of them here all at once- the og Solaris (gold), the og SE Solaris (abalone inlay) and the 2020 LE (all black with spiral pattern)

    So I obviously need to write something about how they compare.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    TLDR;

    The Solaris 2020 (the smaller one) is by far the worst of them all. I go back and forth on which of the other 3 I like the best they are all very similar. They each have strengths but I think the og Solaris (gold) wins in the end for me by narrow margins followed closely or perhaps equally by the SE Solaris.

    I’m going to first compare the Solaris 2020 to the og gold Solaris because I didn’t have the SE or LE when I had the 2020 loaner and the og is a good reference anyways because it’s widely owned and known. Then I’ll briefly describe the differences between the 3 big Solaris’s. The 3 big ones (not the 2020) sound more similar than different so breaking down everything would just be a waste of time.

    Gear used

    Pi2AES > RDAC | Gungnir A1 [ with iso transformer XLR to SE] | Metrum Amethyst > Schiit Loki > 789 with Sigma11 LPS

    Tips Used

    Penon generic cheap tips for all iem’s

    [​IMG]

    I prefer to use the Loki to correct output impedance issues over an ieMatch adapter because the ieMatch adapter dulls the sound and you loose resolution, clarity and microdynamics. So I have a reductive EQ setting that’s basically the same for all Solaris’s. The bass and lower mids are turned down about half way on the dials (bass a bit more). This makes them pretty damn neutral.

    [​IMG]

    Bass Quality

    Bass quality is basically the same with all 4 except worse on the 2020 (more bloated, less detailed and nuanced) The others have subtle differences in bass quantity but the quality is the same by all reasonable accounts.

    Sensitivity

    Interestingly they all also have subtle differences in sensitivity for some reason.

    Solaris 2020 (smaller, plain black)

    Since this is the outlier here I might as well get it out of the way first. It is by far the worst of all the Solaris models made. It has the smallest soundstage, a wonkier FR, recessed midrange, inferior bass quality, it’s more congested and less resolving with less space between notes. It’s not bad on its own, but the only reason to buy this model is if the other Solaris’s are too big to fit your ears. The og Solaris is far superior in every way and there’s one in the FS forums for $650. Almost 1/3 the cost of the Solaris 2020. Smaller did not work that well. But like I said, heard on its own it’s a good iem so if it’s your only choice it’s a good choice. It’s just not as good as the big ones.

    Og Solaris vs Solaris 2020

    [​IMG]


    Fit

    The 2020 Solaris is much smaller than the og. I knew this but was still surprised by how much smaller when it came. I have no fit issues with the og Solaris but the 2020 definitely felt nicer in the ears and also the tips hold it in the ear better for whatever reason- maybe the size/weight. It surely looks better when worn as well. I don’t know how Kevin fit the same dynamic driver in there.

    Sound

    I was expecting the 2020 to have improved technicalities as well as improved voicing and a smaller size. Truth is it’s just smaller. It in fact has inferior voicing and much inferior technical abilities. Switching back and forth, the midrange is recessed on the 2020 in a way that isn’t easily correctable by the simple EQ of the Loki. The 2020 also just sounds worse in every way. The bass seems looser, it’s much less expansive sounding with less space between notes. And the og has a much more resolving, nuanced sound with subtleties in the music reproduced with more fidelity. Switching from the 2020 to the og, notes are suddenly more isolated in their own space, and I can hear details that are less noticeable in the 2020. Microdynamics are much better in the og. Macrodynamics maybe the same or close enough. I also find the og to have a more cohesive sound. Not in terms of DD integration with BA drivers but just in general the 2020 FR seems more wobbly. Less even.

    The og is also more - what I call "transparent" buy I think that term is used for different things. I don’t mean it in the sense of being transparent of upstream gear though it is more transparent in this way. I mean it in a more descriptive sense. Transparent as opposed to opaque. It’s a sound characteristic that involves a sense of air and space in notes. They aren’t solid sounds being blasted at you with walls around them but spacious sounds full of air. There’s a feeling of being able to put your hand through the note because it’s transparent. (The Orpheus is the king of this sound characteristic.) Whereas the 2020 sounds more like you will hit the edge of the note if you tried to put your hand through it. That may make no sense to you but it’s a characteristic that I often hear and the term transparent is all I can think of to describe it.

    I would pay more for the og than the 2020. I think current used market prices should probably be reversed if we’re taking SQ for money.

    If you have fit issues with the og, the 2020 is still a great iem. When not comparing them directly I still like the 2020. With EQ. Or maybe a high output impedance source makes it work. I only have an ieMatch adapter but that kills dynamics and resolution.

    Comparing the 3 big Solaris’s


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Og Solaris (gold)

    Strength

    The og Solaris is defined by being the smoothest sounding of all the other 4. It has by a wide margin the cleanest treble with the best timbre. Cymbal work is clean and you can really hear the tonality of the metal. High hats have a clean tssssss sound. It has slightly more treble quality than the other 3 large Solaris’s but that’s s good thing since I’m EQing up the treble a tiny bit.

    Weakness

    A slightly recessed midrange keeps this Solaris from being the clear winner. It’s not enough to be bothersome I only notice it in comparison to the other two. It is not severe I should stress. I hate recessed vocals and don’t notice it when just listening to the og Solaris. If it were more than subtle I wouldn’t be able to tolerate them.

    og SE Solaris (abalone inlay)

    Strength

    The og SE Solaris is defined by its mighty midrange. Those ceramic housings must be responsible. The midrange is no longer recessed at all. It’s very balanced and neutral with the rest of the spectrum. It is also more resolving - real resolution because this is the midrange not the clarity “T1 zone”. And it’s got more sense of space and 3 dimensionality as well. It’s a glorious midrange.

    The og SE also has the least BA timbre of any BA iem I’ve heard so far. Partly because of its treble reproduction that I explain below so I’ll get back to this.

    Weakness

    The og SE Solaris sufferers from the worst treble of all 4 Solaris’s. It’s kind of rough sounding and choppy. If the Andromeda and og Solaris reproduce a clean “tsssss” sound for cymbals, the og SE Solaris is a bit towards making a “tcha” sound instead. It’s not all the way there and again, if not comparing to the andromeda 2020 and og Solaris it would be much less noticeable. But I think I would still hear it. I have no idea why this happened it’s a damn shame because if it had the treble of the og gold it would reign supreme.

    Upside

    The midrange has no BA timbre that I can hear and in general they have very little BA timbre across the spectrum in part because of the midrange enhancements and because this rougher treble presentation makes for less BA timbre in the treble because you don’t get that overly smoothed treble tonality. All together, if you hate BA timbre this is an iem to look out for. I think Purr1n might like it because of this.

    Solaris 2020 LE (black with spiral pattern)

    Strength

    The stand out feature of the new 2020 Limited Edition (LE) is not really having a stand out of any kind which also winds up being it’s downfall. It’s as if all the other Solaris’s were averaged together but rounded down in the process to create this one. It’s the most cohesive of all of them. It has slightly less vocal recession than the og gold but less technically capable midrange and isn’t less recessed enough for this to really be a strength or matter. It’s still recessed and not as neutral as the SE and it’s not better technically like the SE. The treble is better than the SE but not as clean as the og gold.

    The 2020 LE has a bit more bass than the other 2 which are about equal. I find this to be a bad thing without question as they are already bsssy out of zero output impedance sources.

    Weakness

    Ultimately this averaged sound winds up making it the most boring of the big Solaris’s. It just doesn’t do anything that spectacularly in comparison. I could absolutely live with it. But comparing to the Andromeda it comes off as a bit dull. Whereas the og gold sounds kind of like an andromeda with DD low end and better tonality and soundstage (though not as even or ethereal for better or worse). Comparing it to the treble of the og and the midrange of the SE this one winds up feeling lacking. You would think that this averaged sound would wind up being the best.

    But it just doesn’t wind up sounding that way. It’s got fewer weaknesses to point out but no real strength in comparison to the others. It doesn’t do anything better than the other two except a bit better sense of cohesiveness but it’s subtle and doesn’t add up to anything very significant. The og gold is noticeably more resolving of detail and microdynamics. It’s a strange experience going from og gold to 2020 LE, it’s like switching DACs. Suddenly a level of micro details just disappear.

    This is compounded by a very slightly dry tonality. Listening to The Beatles Revolver, vocals sound a bit lifeless compared to the SE which immediately brings them to life as they are more upfront with a bit more richness, more detail, and more 3 dimensionality. There’s the treble which is immediately rougher but easier to ignore while being caressed by the midrange.

    It also seems to have a smaller, less spacious sound than the og gold or SE. Just by a bit.

    Conclusion

    The og and SE are the winners here and I have a hard time deciding which I prefer I really wish the SE carried with it the treble of the og. I wind up reaching for either one. But by a slim margin that is almost subconscious I think I prefer the og gold for its smooth clean sound. When switching from the SE to the og, there’s suddenly a whole lot happening up top that the SE doesn’t pick up but which the og articulates nicely. The same is true of the midrange when switching back but it’s not as dramatic. (Update: lately I’ve been reaching for the SE due to the more neutral, refined midrange. The midrange recession has started bothering me in the other 2 models) In the end you pick your poison and your medicine. The og has the cleanest, clearest sound, the SE has the best, most neutral and resolving midrange, the LE is the slightly more cohesive than the other 2 with slightly less midrange recession than the og but not by much and is the least clear sounding of all of them. Since the og gold can be had for much cheaper than the others and is available on the used market (the SE is unobtanium) and since the og is better than the LE, that’s the one I recommend of all 4 Solaris iem’s.

    Is it worth upgrading from the og or SE to the LE or 2020?

    Unequivocally NO. The exception being if you can’t wear the big models due to their size. But honestly I think the Andromeda 2020 is a much better iem than the Solaris 2020 and it’s also cheaper. It’s way more cohesive and flat once EQed. There’s way less wobbly FR (or none) and it has that great Andromeda ethereal sound. The 2020 has more natural tonality and DD bass but I think that’s the only advantage. Once EQed I’d be willing to bet the Andromeda 2020 has more detailed, faster bass than the Solaris 2020 which suffers here.

    Now it’s time for you to tell me that whichever unit I have of your favorite Solaris is defective. ;)

    Ps. I will be sending my SE Solaris into Campfire Audio to be checked out to make sure there’s no issue with the treble response but since it’s in both channels I find this unlikely. And since it’s unobtanium anyways I figured I shouldn’t wait to post this as most of you are probably wanting to know how the new models stack up more than a new review of the old SE. if my SE has a treble issue that can be fixed it will only mean it’s by far the best of all Solaris’s but it’s inobtanium so it wouldn’t really matter. It would just be sad.
     
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  2. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Really nice comparisons. I vastly prefer the OG to the 2020 as well. Haven’t heard the other two, but based on your descriptions, I’m thinking I’d still come away preferring the OG. What I’d really like is that LE spiral faceplate on the OG (I hate the gold color).

    Oh, and all your Solaris’s are defective :bow:
     
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  3. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I’m pretty sure I figured out why the LE Solaris sounds so mediocre.

    It was a significant expenditure for me and I bought it assuming Ken had spent the years since the og and SE reworking the design to make them sound better.

    the 2020 it turns out was designed first and foremost to be smaller not to sound better. (It sounds worse if you didn’t read the above novella).

    I’m pretty sure what Ken actually did with the LE is just take the 2020 driver set and put it in a bigger enclosure (a driver set that was designed to be smaller not sound better) giving it more room to breath and thus improving its sound. He nearly says just this in his own description of the LE.

    So it isn’t Ken’s best effort at improving the sound of the Solaris in that larger enclosure.

    This also would explain the timing of the release and the price being equal to the 2020 (it’s just the 2020 driver set put into the existing larger enclosure with a pretty simple physical design)

    I find this a bit distasteful and leaves me less willing to jump to buy any of his newest products without reading reviews by people I trust. I can’t recoup the money spent on the LE. Returning it leaves me with a 15% restocking fee which is significant at 1,500$. And reselling it is worse. My only hope is to wait till it’s sold out and sell it on eBay to someone in China for 3k.

    It’s also sad for iem enthusiasts because Ken could make a much better larger sized Solaris if he tried. I bet he could make an SE with better treble. Which would be an absolutely outstanding iem.
     
  4. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I suspect a big part of the Solaris' 2020 tuning was to satisfy a segment that preferred more elevated upper-mids. In my review, I noted that the OG Solaris was laid-back sounding, an upper mid dip, which I didn't mind at all. I personally felt the OG Solaris was revolutionary because at that time, that it was the most successful yet in terms of integrating a DD bass driver with BA mids and highs. I also felt the highs were quite "exquisite" for a BA type. I guess no one heard these things. <shrug>

    Call it Campfire fatigue or what of it, but the OG Solaris didn't seem to have quite the popularity of the Andromeda before it (which was revolutionary with its lively character and detail). Crinacle didn't care for the Solaris, which I totally understood why. I recall him saying that perhaps more burn-in would help, but I am pretty sure that I replied to him he wouldn't like it regardless, burn-in or no burn-in. With the OG Solaris, I handed my trust Andromeda to my kid. I felt no need to press my love for the OG Solaris.

    You can't blame Ken for trying to appeal to more tastes. Hey, people like the Olive target for the mids on up.
     
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2021
  5. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I agree that he can’t cater to everyone but I don’t see the 2020 or LE as a different target sound, they are just worse.

    I understand why in the case of the 2020- there’s a sacrifice for the smaller size. But for the LE Ken could at least use drivers designed and optimized for the enclosure they are in. The LE (if my guess is correct) is kind of a slapped together hack job. He could (and has) done much better.
     
  6. Rockwell

    Rockwell Almost "Made"

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    That was an interesting comparison-- thanks for sharing. Sad to hear the LE didn't meet your expectations-- it's been hard based on the promotional literature to figure out exactly where it stands relative to the others. I think it was indeed the midrange that originally (and continues) to appeal to me about the SE over the OG. I've never been much of a connoisseur of treble admittedly and the treble in the SE has always seemed fine to me. Can you recommend a specific track that highlights the weakness of the SE's treble? I don't have the OG but I can compare it against my Elysium which has by comparison probably the best treble I've ever heard.
     
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  7. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    Bob Marley is good because of extensive use of isolated clean cymbals. Anything with clean cymbals will reveal the choppy rough tonality.

    Or if you want a specific track that isn’t Bob Marley

    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams

     
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  8. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    I should reiterate though that it’s more than rough treble tonality. The og Solaris fleshes out a ton of information in the upper frequencies that the SE doesn’t reveal well and kind of mushes together. Switching to the og notes in the upper frequencies are suddenly clearly defined and separated in their own space. So a track with information in the upper frequencies will work too. I can’t remember the track I first heard this on but there are a lot that would work. If I find one I’ll post it but I’m pretty burned out on comparing these iem’s. I did a lot of a/bing with this review because I wanted to be sure I was being accurate. And iem’s can be weird.

    if you only listen to the SE it kind of sounds ok. It’s when you compare them that it gets yucky.
     
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  9. Gazny

    Gazny Almost "Made"

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    A track that was not good for me on the Solaris 2020 was Maggot brain. While I never knew where tape hiss was, on the Solaris it was obvious. It is almost certainly at 9k~. It absolutely ruined my ability to focus on anything else in the track.
     
  10. ufospls2

    ufospls2 Friend

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    this was a good read, really interesting. Thanks for sharing dude.
     
  11. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    I am very happy to own a Solaris SE. I remember at the time thinking that it was an extravagant expense. For an old duffer like me , its a fabulous IEM since my hearing is mid centric due to my age. It is also the best looking IEM I presently own.
    The bass ain't bad either.
    Thanks Rhythemdevils for your great comparison post. This thread is just another basic reason that SBAF RULES!!!!
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2021
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  12. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    haha.

    Thanks. In your recommendations thread it sure sounds like you're saying the Solaris 2020 is better. Or are you just recommending it because the og is no longer in production?
     
  13. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    2020 is in the Current Recommendation section. OG was moved to Legends and Classics section, which is really like a lifetime achievement section. 2020 will not be making it there. It will eventually move to the Retirees section over time, which is a section for the once recommended but no longer relevant (but not forgotten).
     
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  14. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils Best SBAF member of all time

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    i gotcha. I should do a loaner with my LE. I’m not going to listen to it I’m just waiting until I can sell it for a huge profit on eBay. Or just with minimal loss ;)
     
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  15. CEE TEE

    CEE TEE Free Agent

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    Solaris.png
     
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  16. YMO

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

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  17. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    CA Solaris LE Impressions

    I got to say, I really dig the aesthetics of the Solaris LE. Granted, I'm one of those who also don't mind the gold aesthetic of the OG Solaris, but still, the LE's outer plate thing is quite cool. That being said, I won't beat around the bush here: while I think the LE is a good IEM, it just doesn't hit the spot for me. There's a difference between plugging something in and saying "oh, that's not bad at all," versus being completely engrossed and forgetting that you're a human being. The LE for me fails at the latter.

    Sonics

    I agree with what @rhythmdevils says about the LE; it kind of feels like stuff like layering and resolve is a step back from the OG Solaris, but it does improve in tonality by being a bit less recessed in the upper mids. In a way, it feels a bit like there are more sins of omission but fewer sins of commission.

    Regarding the comments of "dry" timbre; I kind of get this especially in the bass. The OG Solaris almost sounds like a tube in the bass, which is actually a quality I really like (this is part of the reason why I say the over-ear headphone equivalent to the OG Solaris is the ZMF Verite, but the headphone obviously kicks the butt of the IEM for obvious reasons of being...a full sized headphone). The LE is kind of in the other direction; at first blush the LE sounds a bit more textured down low, but it could be the dry factor. I'm not sure.

    Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a presentation that strives to do little harm. The Gaudio Nair is a prime example; besides the BA timbre (which I do not mind), it basically has no flaws. Neither does the Nair do anything really spectacularly well. However, the Nair has this extra special sauce that makes it magic. I'm not getting that with the Solaris LE.

    Conclusion

    Overall, the Solaris LE ain't bad, but I also don't think it's very good. Basically I concur with @rhythmdevils; I still think that barring fit issues, if you want a Solaris, get the OG one.
     
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