A Fresh Outlook

Oooh a new brand? In image yes, but in brains, not quite. Ken Ball of ALO Audio has had his hands dirty building (a) Campfire, just as he has done with ALO all these years and while until now I have owned just one ALO amp, these guys are major players in the portable industry. My first impressions of Campfire were very excitable for the main reason that there seems nothing generic about these new models. They may be made in China but designed they were not, nor were they OEMed by someone already doing good things. Fiio can rebrand a Dunu model but I don’t blink. Fischer Audio can try and do a luxury brand with Kennerton but when they commission Chinese outfit Widing to create their flagship model, something special is missing. I can assure you that the Campfire Audio Lyra is special indeed, a truly luxurious product. While I am going to move away from the soon to be released balanced armature models, it is the dynamic driver Lyra that has my focus today. Lyra looks like no other IEM in my collection and the most common thing about it is the inclusion of Comply tips, which is a positive as ever, even if I am still not a guy to Comply. In terms of price the Lyra sits in the middle of three models, it is $749 and I hope to see it show its face in the UK (EU) market at some point.

ZrO2

In the right light the Lyra’s ceramic housing shines, not quite as bright as the star constellation it was named after mind you, but it looks fantastic. It feels just as awesome and I am so happy with the decision to make this form factor of earphone in a way that is actually well built. I love the almost custom like over the ear fit but I hate how acrylic is always the material of choice, it sucks, especially in that of the Apollo Audio Lab Viper 8. Oddly at 11 grams it weighs less that most acrylic competitors as well?! Now while it does feel great, I wouldn’t touch it too much as fingerprints stick, taking pictures of this was mainly spent taking a cleaning cloth to the faceplates. That is only a minor problem though, the ceramic housing were one of my favourite things about the IE800 and I like these even more, beautifully executed and screaming top quality, the price is much easier to swallow. Ceramic is utilised for reasons much more than aesthetics though because after thorough testing of materials Campfire found that it was by far the best sounding due to its dampening properties.

Shine Bright like Tinsel

The cable despite its ups and downs also helps the premium feel, coming straight off reviewing two other $750 IEMs in the Earsonics Velvet and Aurisonics ASG-2.5 you get sick of the same Westone Epic style braided cable they come with, as have many of my custom in-ear monitors have before them. The cable is OK enough but it just becomes so repetitive. With ALO being a cable company at birth, you would expect an EPIC cable but not a Westone. They supply you with one of their Tinsel cables, a silver plated copper 4 braid that is shinier than the ear pieces. The shine comes from a Teflon FEP jacket that certainly feels strong but also tangles almost as bad as a Linum. That being said it also causes no oxidisation. Being an ALO cable you are right in thinking it has a lot of things to brag about. It has 4 conductors all the way through (not cutting and soldering an additional one at the y-split) and the MMCX connectors are ALO’s own overmolded connector that is made of a custom-hardened beryllium/copper alloy, basically suggesting longer life. That being said it is still MMCX, my least favourite IEM cable connector, what is wrong with the classic 2-pin. MMCX is very tight, leading to a panic every time I remove and insert especially with their fragile history. Unless you reinvent MMCX like Jays have with their custom tread that easily screws the connector in and out, I would rather not see it. On top of that I find the memory wire annoying and not wanting to get along with my ears but apparently they have amended that so worry not.

Hard & Fast

As Inearspace (Josh especially) have been getting into loudspeakers much more, a common trend in the very high end models is a Beryllium tweeter. It is a very hard and stiff material with 50% more elasticity than steel. The Elasticity and low density make it have very fast sound conduction speed which happens to make it a good choice for tweeter. Now I have never seen it find its way into a headphone or earphone design, maybe due to its cost but always pondered the idea in my head and predicted good results. Obviously this is leading somewhere and the 8.5mm diaphragm in the Lyra is indeed made from beryllium. While not nano grade like the HiFiMAN HE-1000, the driver is only 0.0004 inches thick, which allows it to very nimble. Completing the driver is a neodymium magnet and a Japanese copper clad aluminium wire voice coil. Naturally the driver is vented with a small port on the top of the shell.

Vintage Fit

The package is small and sweet. A cute box for packaging and the only really accessories being a case, tips and a cleaning tool. The case is uber cool. A classy beige pleather finish and then a faux sheepskin hyde resides inside, giving your earphones a fluffy bed. Its hard and feels protective as well but honestly while I know some people aren’t for using real leather, I would much rather it and it would that little bit more pristine feeling.

The tip selection is also very impressive with them offering a selection of generic foam tips, Comply’s and silicon tips. Like Dunu have been touting with their huge array of options for some time, Campfire very much accept how much you can tune a earphone with different tips, that is why they are offering two different foam tips, because they really do sound different. While I know they have analysed the different traits of each tip internally, they have taken the stance to let you find your way to which tip fits and sound best, as always, each to their own. I will talk more on tips later.

While some earphones like the Dunu DN-2000J I love, I just wish they fit like the Lyra. For me Lyra fits just right and if it doesn’t for you, well try another tip, that will sort it out. These are a bit smaller than most of these CIEM cum universal style earphones. They get this style spot on, the square edges aren’t offensive and the angles are just perfect to get a nice, deep seal, which is important as the Apollo and Aurisonics sometimes just felt a touch shallow. They stay in place well and the light weight is a blessing on the ear.

Does $750 Need Bass?

Mentioned in Marcus @ Headfonics review we had quite a bit of discussion on the tonality of the Lyra and our impressions at first didn’t seem to line up, we later discovered that this was largely due to him using an aftermarket cable. Now while I am a huge believer in aftermarket cables, all our earphone reviews are carried out with stock cables, it keeps things transparent. So while a more linear sound may be achieved as Marcus experienced I am all stock and that is complete with the entire sound perhaps plagued by a slightly monotone bass. Errgh, I hate to start off with a negative like that but that is one of my thoughts on this earphone, fortunately this does have lot of good at the same time.

The tonality of the entire earphone is dictated by the bass response, which chooses a fun, rich and warm signature, over strict neutrality and technical prowess. While I have been getting a bit tired of this sort of sound signature cropping up with different brands takes at this price range, this earphone is the middle model and a more consumer sound can be a good idea, maybe the 4 BA Jupiter thinks about neutrality a bit more, in which case I think its important each of a brands model takes on its own personality and that of the Lyra is clear, even to its competitors from Auri/Earsonics. Of the three this is the most mid-bass thumpy and rolled off but also the clearest and most natural through the mids and highs, this would be my choice of the three, I told you this earphone does have its merit and they are two big scalps.

The mid-bass wallows, it is bumped up as the MVP frequency response and it has a tendency to stick around. It is really quite slow allowing VERY big but soft hits that wash over you body but not with the best distinction or texture. It also creates an ambience that lets itself known even in the songs that sit a bit light in bass. That being said for some music it is just crazy, listening through the remixes for Skrillex’s “Make it Bun Dem” was an explosive and powerful experience. The sub bass is solid as well, rolling off about 5dB from 50 to 20Hz so the focus is unmistakably a little higher, it still has the dynamism to it needed to impress.

At first the midrange feels soft and polite coming off of the bass but as we move too the vocals it finds its footings and things are clear and far from being veiled.  I wouldn’t say things are forward but they are thick and bodied and still come with a fairly easy sense of detail and while the upper mids are a touch behind where we come off the bass, they still gel and the midrange as a whole seems smooth and together without any severe flaws. No it is is not as fresh sounding or as clarity orientated as the Dunu DN-2000J but it also offers a more fulsome sound in general.

The treble is where things get a little weird and perhaps even disjointed. For the bass and midrange for the most part, the decay is on the slow and sappy side, the treble though is snappy and fast. It doesn’t hold notes long and seems more akin to that of a more neutral earphone (or a high end speaker with a Beryllium tweeter). For this reason the bass effects the sound that much more because bass notes are lingering while the cymbal crash has long finished. Pianos are dominated by cellos and so forth. But this all doesn’t stop the treble being really good. We get a point for some nice sparkle that is not overbearing and it is easily the most detailed area of the earphone. It is also the area most effected by the tips, the stock silicone are the brightest (no surprise) and the Comply are easily the darkest (even less of a surprise) but the generic foam tips seem to fit the middle ground quite nicely and ended up being the preferred option, along with some Sony Hybrids I have left over from my Sony MDR-EX1000.

Surprisingly the soundstage is very clear and well presented without any muddle, which is something I found quite heavily with the ACS Encore (£750) CIEM, which had similarly presented bass, there was just not clarification to the imaging and that is not the case here. Instruments are spread out, isolated from one another and while it isn’t a accuracy god like the Hidition Viento-R in this regard, it is very solid, the same goes for the amount of space, it isn’t huge like the Velvet or JH Roxanne but doesn’t lack at all. In fact it has better depth than the Roxannes and feels in general more three dimensional.

While I haven’t held back on the flaws of this earphone it pulls off this signature with an ace up its sleeve. It lacks the vagueness of ACS’s Encore, the muffled sound of the ASG-2.5 and the general rollercoaster ride frequency response that is the Velvet. While this more “musical” and certainly more fun signature will never be my go to pick, companies do need to make them and I think this is one of the closest to perfecting it, just lacking a touch of speed and texture in the bass, keep the boost but not all the decay. In the end you have a monitor with no fatigue, no concerns when it comes to your music tastes and a smooth, voluptuous listening experience. Its American sound and too right, thats where these are designed and sold.

Objection

Lets dive straight into the frequency response graph. Its not Monday but we have done some measurements.

Look at that driver matching, it is quite uncanny to say the least with only the slightest variation past 10kHz. I know Campfire have mentioned driver matching is very strict with the flagship Jupiter model and I guess that ethos trickles down to this model. While my ears don’t seem as offended as my eyes (this is raw and compensation would change this area), the 10dB drop from 2kHz to 4kHz seem a bit daunting but for the rest of the graph, my ears seem to agree completely.

With the Vibro Veritas used for measurement.

Ammendment – After I sent over the review to Campfire CEO Ken Ball he responded with a bit of a confusion to our measurements and as you fully well know we are still in a trial period with the Vibro Veritas. While I never claimed it to have perfect accuracy, I did not ever know its complete limitations so I was very happy when Ken was able to share the graphs of the Lyra that he works with every day using industry standard equipment. Even from my measurements you can see driver matching is near perfect and he has assured me variation between units is just as good, and I take his word so while different measurement devices will show off some small differences, the difference between mine and their graphs should not be this obvious. To show you what I mean Ken was nice enough to let me use his measurements but first I will quote his reply.

I feel like I should chime in on the freq. I spent the last 2 years tweaking and looking at this line over and over again so when I see yours I kind of cringe. Only because it is so different from mine. I am using a BK ear simulator Type 4157 with a sound connect power supply. The BK set up I have is a ear simulator that is specifically designed for only earphones coupled to the ear by ear inserts. So this set we only used for IEM measuring and nothing else. I use 2 programs to run my measurements one being spectra plus. I have been working in conjunction with Knowles, Sonion, and my partners production lab so have traded a lot of samples back and fourth. I know from doing some limited work with Igor Levitsky that no 2 measurements will generally look identical. That given, I felt I should share with you a typical freq I see every day. Please note these are raw no correction curve, transfer function is applied.” Ken Ball

Of course to a degree you can even tell a difference between the two graphs they supplied me but compared to mine they are much closer. As far as I can see the biggest differences from mine are past 2kHz, which up to that point my graph seems to not be doing anything hugely wrong. After that there does seem to be a dip in the response, but not near the 10dB my graph displays which as I said after my measurements wasn’t apparent to my ears. Even after the dip the treble characteristics generally look different. Now looking at other graphs I have done it does seem that after 2kHz a lot of my graphs do drop so it seems that area is not completley accurate. Moving forward we may be able to develeop our own compenstation curve, even off of these results to try and the get the Vibro nearer a standard but it may not be the same curve for every monitor etc, but this is leaving the topic of the Lyra anyhow. I have to publically thank Ken for dealing with this in the way he did as it has been hugely educational for myself and hopefully for you as well on both how the Lyra measures and teh Vibro Veritas.

What Do You Like?

Lets face it, some of you find an Etymotic boring, a TWFK harsh and balanced armatures in general lean and if you fall into the camp you want something meaty, something with a grunt engine that delivers a mean bass. More specifically you want these. I hope to try out some of Campfire’s other offerings and see if they cater to the more balanced but technical minded camp, AKA Inearspace because if so, I am very excited. All my critique aside, I am very impressed with this has a first model. It seems more polished that most established brands and everything about it seems well thought out, from the tips, to the cable, to the housings. It isn’t the cheapest model but years deciding through what is the absolute best material to use for diaphragms and shell doesn’t come cheap, especially when you end up using some more expensive materials. At the end of my Aurisonics review I said I wish it was cheaper, that isn’t the case here, the price is spot on, no it isn’t great value or anything like that but the money spent is justified, if you want this type of sound. Now I just want a quality design like this with something that excited me a little more, could that be the Jupiter, I will look to the stars for the answer.

Sonny Trigg