Campfire Ara is a universal IEM using 7 balanced armature drivers per side, being heavily influenced by the legendary Andromeda. It is priced at $1299.
Starting from the unboxing experience, you know that you’re handling a Campfire Audio product from the first moment. I said it many times, and I’ll say it again – I truly adore the design of CFA’s products when it comes to the boxes. Colorful, fun, and ecological.
Inside you’ll find the Ara itself, a smoky litz cable, a case, and a lot of eartips, including foams and Final Audio Type E silicone tips. Also, there’s a CFA pin, cleaning tool, soft pouch ,and some paperwork inside, but I bet it’s not what you came here for.
I’d like to address some things about the case here – it’s made of sustainable cork dyed blue. It’s hand made in Portugal and it’s my favorite IEM case ever. Feels great in the hand, it’s well-made, ecological, protective, and just simply gorgeous. As usual, it’s lining is made of thick faux wool which will protect your Ara from being scratched, even though I still highly recommend using the soft pouch additionally for just the earpieces.
Well, if you’ve been following me for a while now then you know, that I simply love the build quality of Campfire Audio products.
In terms of Ara…well, it’s even more striking. Full titanium shells, looking refined and raw at the same time, built to outlast an apocalypse or to use as a weapon in terms of one happening.
These are heavy, but not too heavy. Boxy, but not too boxy. The craftsmanship and design are simply put – spectacular, can’t really find any other IEM on the market to compete with these in that regard. Ara is the best made and greatest designed IEM I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of them.
What could be even more impressive than that? Well, the fact that these are edgy, heavy and superbly comfortable at the same time.
A 6-hour-long listening session? No problem champ, the shape, and finish provide such a great fit I barely feel them in my ears.
Same as the new Andromeda, ARA has an elongated nozzle that goes deeper into your ear canal and thanks to that provide a better, more reliable fit. As for the outer shells, even though they are quite boxy I don’t really feel them thanks to the great finish and well-thought shape.
Everyone knows that the Andromeda is the Bestseller in Campfire Audio’s history. Then, there’s been quite a few iterations of these babies, including the Andromeda MW10 and Andromeda Gold.
I’m mentioning that because the ARA is heavily influenced by both the OG Andro and those special editions. Having the 5 driver Andromeda and a hybrid Solaris, CFA went for a “in-between” kind of IEM.
I believe it was a terrific idea. They had their fantastic Andromeda on hand, and they simply tried to improve it by changing the tuning and implementing two additional BA drivers for low frequencies. What could have gone wrong? Well…nothing.
The Ara is one of the most unique IEMs on the modern market – analytical but yet musical, raw but beautiful, crispy but thick. It really sounds like a well-tuned pair of in-ear monitors.
Starting from the bass response, I was instantly in a bit of a shock. Well, take the Andromeda, add two additional BA and you’re gonna have the ARA with that monstrous bass response? Well…no.
Surprisingly, it’s bass is lower in quantity than the Andromeda but the overall performance is just jaw-dropping.
These two additional BA’s aren’t there to boost the bass, but rather to ensure the highest possible level of detail, textures and to get as neutral as it gets.
The more drivers you’re going to use for the low frequencies, the less distortion you can achieve at the end, and that what happened here.
So, the amount of the bass is nowhere close to the new Dorado 2020 or even the OG Andromeda, but in terms of pure technical performance, it eats both of them for breakfast. It’s strikingly fast, neutral, layered, texturized…well, you get the point.
Sure, thanks to a very neutral and uncolored presentation you’re simply gonna miss a little bit of bass in some tracks or music genres. I highly prefer to listen to The Weeknd or Post Malone on the Dorado 2020, because it gives the music that huge impact and ridiculous fun factor. Nonetheless, a well-mastered Random Access Merories by Daft Punk showed Ara’s supremacy in terms of detail and speed. The bass isn’t small though, don’t get me wrong on that…it just is….how it’s supposed to be, whether you like it or not.
If there’s one single sound factor that’s bound to Campfire Audio, then that’s the midrange. I’m yet to hear a CFA product with the thin, unpleasant, and poor midrange, especially in the vocal area. Well, I’m gonna have to wait a little longer, since the Ara has a strikingly involving, romantic, and rich midrange presentation.
Even though the whole frequency response is dead neutral and uncolored, CFA just had to add it’s magic to the midrange, resulting in a very natural sounding vocals – and I’m glad they did it.
Male vocalists like Mariusz Duda from Lunatic Soul or Neal Morse from Transatlantic sound just exact, true to life, as natural as it gets (and I’ve heard Mariusz live for a couple of times). Thank’s to that slightest warmth and lushness in the midrange, their vocals are deep, physical and charming, which would have not been possible if CFA went for a full-blown neutral tuning for the midrange.
If you’ll get the chance to audition the Ara, then please – just play Nils Lofgren – Keith Don’t Go from the “Acoustic Live” album…if you’ll return the ARA after hearing that, you’re a crazy man.
The Treble is yet again – technical, forward, crispy, and very detailed, but at the same time, it’s smooth and inspiring.
I mentioned the song “Keith Don’t Go” in the midrange section, claiming a rather big statement. Well, that’s because Ara’s performance with the acoustic guitar’s strings and Nils vocal is the best I’ve ever heard in an IEM. The amount of air, the crispiness of the strings, the body, and the liveliness is just out of this world. I’ve heard this song on countless audio setups, probably around a thousand, and as stated before – The Ara with Cayin N6ii/E01 is the best of all of them in this specific song.
Fleetwood Mac is also a true joy with the Ara, having that rhythmic and accurate bass, lovely and romantic vocal of Stevie Nicks, and the crispy treble being responsible for the hi-hats and strings.
The soundstage is not as obviously spectacular as the rest of the sound of the Ara.
It is not as wide as the OG Andromeda, and it images in a different manner. There the Andro focuses on giving you a sick amount of space around your head and between the actual instruments, the Ara is more…restrained, but not in a bad way.
It is simply a more intimate presentation in terms of staging, with the sound sources located closer to the listener and to each other.
There are songs, in which this kind of staging is beneficial – Prog rock, Trip Hop and Modern stuff sound more involving and natural, but while listening to some soundtracks or classical music I wished it was a bit wider and more airy.
VS Vision Ears Elysium
Vision Ears Elysium and Campfire Audio Ara are more similar than I originally expected them to be. Actually, I think that these play in the same league, with the Elysium being a bit more ethereal and fresh sounding, while the Ara is more down to earth and physical.
The Elysium has a clear upper hand in terms of the soundstage, but the Ara wins by miles in terms of the bass response.
VS Campfire Audio Dorado 2020
These two are very, very different. Dorado 2020 is all about that fun factor, providing a monstrous bass and a very focused, almost in your face sound. The Ara on the other hand is more neutral and sustained, providing better insight into the music with more natural timbre and faster bass response. Nonetheless, in modern music, Ara tends to sound too thin compared to the Dorado. If you’re wondering which one to get – the answer is both. But if you really can get just one, it’s gonna come down to your personal preferences in music.
VS Meze Rai Penta
Comparing these two is also quite easy. Penta is more laid-back and analog sounding out of two, but in terms of raw technical performance it’s no match for the Ara, with the latter providing better micro and macro dynamics, crispiness in the top end and an overall more resolving and accurate tone. If you’re a fan of a delicate and lush sound signature, then the Rai Penta is an IEM to die for, but for everybody else, the Ara wins by some margin.
Campfire Audio Ara is a complete package indeed. In terms of the design and craftsmanship, it’s an unmatched masterpiece, with a spectacular sound quality to pair with that. Fast, resolving, neutral and very, very clean sounding yet providing a high dose of fun and a beautiful timbre. What’s not to love?
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Campfire Audio Dorado 2020, Vega 2020, Andromeda, Lime Ears Aether R, Vision Ears EVE20, Elysium, Meze Rai Penta, Audeze LCD3
- Sources– Cayin N3Pro, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M15, Cayin N6ii, Cayin N8, JDSLabs Atom stack, SMSL SU-9