Mark Sparrow for Forbes
Back in May of this year, I had the opportunity to review the Solaris IEMs (In-Ear Monitors) from Portland-based Campfire Audio. Frankly, they were the best earphones I think I’ve ever heard and showcased Campfire Audio’s skill at tuning earphone drivers, making the company one of the best producers of high-end earphones.
This month I’ve been fortunate enough to get my hands on a review pair of Campfire Audio’s Dorado 2020 earphones. The original Dorado earphones were launched back in 2015 and now the design has been reconfigured. The Dorado cost slightly less than the Solaris IEMs that I reviewed, but they promise a similar level of performance, albeit with a slightly simpler driver arrangement.
The Dorado uses a hybrid design using a very high quality 10mm dynamic driver for reproducing the bass and midrange frequencies, plus a single balanced armature driver takes care of the treble and upper frequencies. There’s no complicated crossover, just physical tuning and placement of each driver to create the ultimate audio sweet spot.
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A lot of people will question whether it’s worth paying $1,000 for a pair of earphones. If you’re someone who loves their music and it’s a passion in your life, then it’s not unreasonable to want the best, especially if you’re pairing the earphones with a source such as one of Astell&Kern’s top-range of digital audio players. I wouldn’t advocate spending that much money on a pair of earphones for use with the average smartphone, but if you have a great audio source you will be short-changing your musical experience if you don’t pair it with earphones that can do it justice.MORE FOR YOUCampfire Audio’s New Ara Earphones Blow The Competition Out Of The WaterMarket Leader In Building Analytics Raises Series D Funding For Global GrowthGoogle’s Android Replacement, Fuchsia, Moves A Step Closer
Like all Campfire Audio products, the Campfire Dorado are exquisitely handmade, with the shells of the earpieces constructed from ceramic. The benefit of using ceramic is that it is a dense material and works very well with dynamic drivers thanks to its resistance to vibrations. It’s also hard-wearing and scratch-resistant, keeping the earphones looking beautiful for longer.
To make the Dorado earphones both durable and tough, the shells are sintered by being cooked at a temperature of 600˚C for two days. This is followed by three days spent in an oven at a whopping 1,200˚C which bakes the ceramic hard and reduces the physical volume of the shells, thus making them even denser. Finally, the shells spend up to three days being tumbled with alumina stones and water until they develop a highly polished gloss surface. All this attention to detail is partly why the Dorado cost more than many other earphones.
The new Dorado 2020 are fitted with a machined brass spout finished in a gunmetal grey P.V.D. finish. The conical shape of the spout, coupled with its small diameter, affects the tuning of the shells and makes them more comfortable to wear. The tiny balanced armature sits in the middle of the brass spout and brings the treble a little more forward from the other frequencies so that the upper registers are enhanced by just the right amount.
Although the Dorado 2020 are supplied with a high-grade smoky Litz wire cable that’s terminated with MMCX connectors made from custom beryllium. The cable can be detached for upgrading or should it become damaged. The cable terminates with an L-shaped 3.5mm stereo jack plug. Campfire Audio supplies the Dorado with a range of silicone ear-tips in various sizes as well as memory foam tips that create a secure acoustic seal as they expand to fit the wearer’s ear canal. The whole package is stored in a zippered case which is made in Portugal from recycled plastic material.
The earphones fit by trailing the cable from the back of the listener’s ear, over the top of the ear and then dropping down to fit in the ear canal. This keeps the earpieces in place and reduces microphonics, the annoying vibrations created when earphone cables rub against each other or an item of clothing. And thanks to the small size of the earpieces, the Dorado feel very comfortable even when worn for longer listening sessions.
I paired up the Dorado earphones with an Astell&Kern Kann digital audio player. That’s the quality of sound source these earphones deserve but they still worked fine with my iPhone SE, which has a jack for wired headphones. How I miss the ability to use wired headphones on newer iPhones.
The sound produced by the Dorado is different from the Solaris, but I’d say it is, in some ways, better. The lusciousness of the bass and the solidity of the midrange is awesome. Add in the resolution of the single balanced armature that’s handling the treble frequencies and you have a sound that comes close to perfect in terms of tonal balance.
I tested the Dorado earphones by listening to Australian singer Emily Barker’s new album A Dark Murmuration of Words. With shades of Mary Hopkin and Joni Mitchell in her voice, Barker’s vocals have the timbre of an angel. They sound beautifully clean and ethereal, while details like guitar and banjo are perfectly articulated by the Dorado. Meanwhile, the kick drum and bass anchoring the track “Machine” are perfectly reproduced. In the past, I’ve listened to earphones where the treble is wonderfully delicate and perfectly clear, yet the bass is often lightweight and flabby.
Conversely, some earphones produce a wonderfully warm bass, but the treble is woolly, loose and muffled. The Dorado manage to separate the bass, mid and treble frequencies with perfect balance. It’s particularly noticeable with cymbals and finger clicks on the “Machine” track while the bass lines rumble underneath but without ever sounding overbearing or bleeding over the midrange. It’s a clever sonic balancing trick and I think the people who tuned the Dorado have managed to hit the sweet spot perfectly.
Years of reviewing earphones, headphones and speakers have taught me one thing: the more you pay the better the balance. Sometimes you come across cheaper earphones that manage to get a good balance across the tonal range, but it’s rare to have it approaching perfection. And that’s what you get with the Campfire Audio Dorado; you get perfection, at least for my tonal preferences.
Verdict: I realize that not everyone is in the market for a pair of earphones that cost the best part of $1,100. However, for people who love their music as much as life itself, it’s not a huge price to pay to get the most from music. The Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 are a worthy upgrade to their predecessor and are an incredible investment for anyone who owns a high-quality audio player. I love the fact that Campfire Audio has managed to get a perfect tone by using a hybrid arrangement of one dynamic driver and a single balanced armature. This arrangement makes the Dorado more robust than IEMs that feature multiple balanced armature drivers and complicated crossovers. The sound is more natural, especially when reproducing vocals and strings. There’s a definite analog feel to the Dorado that can tame the harshest of digital recordings without losing any detail. The soundstage created is and beautiful and wide, but not so wide that it sounds unnatural or artificial. If you’ve been looking for a great pair of earphones to pair with a great digital audio player or smartphone, then I’d highly recommend the Campfire Audio Dorado 2020. These are the real deal.
- Frequency response: 5 Hz – 22 kHz
- Sound Pressure Level: 94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 18.52 mVrs
- Impedance: 10 Ohm @ 1kHz
- Material: Black Ceramic Shell
- Balanced armature: Single Custom unit for treble
- Dynamic Driver: 10mm A.D.L.C. Diaphragm for midrange and bass
- Magnet: Oversized Neodymium Rare Earth
- Connections: Custom Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections