by Ryan Soo at EverydayListening
Excellent build and cable, Ergonomic and compact design, Hugely dynamic yet controlled bass, Natural voicing, Focused detail presentation, Good coherence
Full and high-energy sound won’t suit all, Coloured midrange
The Dorado fills an interesting niche but does so with excellent execution. Very few fun-themed earphones strike with such poise and delicacy as the Dorado 2020.
Campfire Audio began life in Oregon, USA as cable manufacturer ALO Audio. They soon branched into IEMs, utilising their former experience to kickstart what has now become a long and successful career. Of the myriad models they’ve launch since, the Dorado was the company’s first hybrid that existed at a time where hybrids were not so commonplace. The same cannot be said for the modern market and here, quite admirably, CFA once again demonstrate their trend-setting prowess. For the new Dorado 2020 serves as a simplification of its progenitor, exchanging the 3-driver setup for a more refined crossover-less single DD + BA design. It combines elements from their past releases into a more coherent whole whilst staying true to the ethos behind the original Dorado. Once more, the 2020 variant seeks to bridge the gap between their more balanced high-end BA line-up and Solaris, and their bassier Vega and Polaris II.
The new Dorado is available for $1099 USD. You can read all about it and treat yourself to one on Campfire Audio.
I would like to thank Caleb from Campfire Audio very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Dorado 2020 for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
- Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 22 kHz
- Impedance: 10 Ohms @ 1kHz
- Sensitivity: 94 dB @ 1kHz
- Black Ceramic Shell
- Single Custom BA (High)
- 10mm A.D.L.C Diaphragm DD (Mid + Low)
- Oversized Neodymium Rare Earth Magnet
- Custom Be/Cu MMCX connectors
- Brass Spout w/Midnight Grey PVD Finish
- Campfire Audio SPC Litz Cable
Behind The Design –
“No Complication” Acoustic Design
The Dorado 2020 takes the company’s hybrid designs back to their roots with a single DD + single BA driver setup sans crossover. The company reasons this provides improved resolution and cohesion. Indeed, crossover-less designs have become popularised recently for their phase coherence yet at the cost of more sophisticated acoustic design. Campfire Audio have proven themselves masters of such design, their Andromeda Gold and Ara being the pudding of proof.
Campfire Audio work with OEMs to develop their own DD and customised BA drivers for their desired sound signature – especially imperative given the crossover-less design. Campfire Audio custom design their dynamic drivers and also own these designs, which permits stricter QC and means their performance is not replicable by other brands despite the increasing trend towards single-DD flagships with similar diaphragm constructions.
They implement an oversized Neodymium magnet to increase flux density, permitting higher efficiency and lower distortion that have been subjectively associated with increased dynamics. The dense ceramic shell and brass spout on the Dorado 2020 should also translate to decreased vibrations and resonances leading to shorter decay and a more defined sound. It may appear simple, but it’s clear that serious thought went into refining and distilling this design.
Campfire Audio always do a great job with their unboxing experience, reinforcing the premium status of their products. The Dorado 2020 is no different, emplying the same colourful foiled box that folds open to reveal a protective hard box. CFA show support local business and their environment with their locally printed and sourced packaging in addition to upcycling marine plastics for their accessories.
Inside is the canvas zippered carrying case that exudes a classic and dapper vibe with metal CFA tag and pastel orange colour scheme. In the accessory box are two mesh IEM bags, one containing 3 pairs of foam tips and 3 pairs of CFA silicone tips and the other 5 pairs of Final Audio E-tips. The earphones themselves also come in an additional mesh bag, these are quite brilliant due to their compact size and separate compartments that separate each earpiece, preventing scratches whilst maximising portability.
It’s very easy to appreciate the delightful combination of colour and texture offered by CFA IEMs and the new Dorado is certainly no different. The gold PVD shell of its predecessor makes way for an otherworldly black ceramic with tinted brass nozzle. It’s a svelte package that doesn’t scream for attention but still manages to be visually distinct. As with the new Vega, the construction is a dense ceramic formed through an 8-day process. The results are superlative with immaculate hyper-gloss finish and perfectly even seams throughout their 3-piece construction. The look and feel is dense, sturdy and ultra-premium as we’ve come to expect from Campfire Audio.
The cable too impresses, coming paired with CFA’s Smokey Litz unit with SPC wires. The Dorado 2020 and cable both use custom Beryllium connectors that are harder-wearing that regular MMCX. Indeed, this has been my experience, I haven’t experienced issues with CFA’s connectors and I find them to offer tighter tolerances and a more affirmative engagement too. The cable itself is of pleasing construction with excellent strain relief on the right-angle 3.5mm plug and comfortable pre-moulded ear guides. The wires themselves are very supple with minimal memory and are, thereby, easy to coil for storage. The insulation also doesn’t appear to harden over time and carries minimal microphonic noise. Altogether, a reliable and easy cable to live with.
Fit & Isolation –
Those familiar with CFA’s older Vega or Lyra II will find a very familiar experience here with regards to overall shape and size. That means, they are superbly comfortable as they are compact enough not to contact much, if any, of the outer ear, thereby mitigating hotspot formation. In terms of nozzle design, the new Dorado also addresses the uncharacteristically long and wide nozzles that could impede a comfortable fit and seal on the original. With its sleeker, more aptly angled and tapered nozzles, fit and seal are worlds apart; the wearing experience on the new Dorado is much more conventional even with standard silicone tips, it fits deeper and is more stable during wear.
The seal is strong and the fit very stable when combined with the over-ear cable design. I was able to skip and jog without the earphones jostling loose, of course, they aren’t weather sealed in any way so this is not advised for consumers. Driver flex is apparent as on the new Vega and a lot of CFA’s DD earphones. As always, it doesn’t affect the listening experience nor did I find it to cause failure or performance degradation during my weeks of testing. In terms of isolation, the Dorado 2020 isolates slightly less than the new Vega but well above average for a hybrid earphone. They are easily suitable for public transport and general commute, especially with their robust, punchy low-end tuning. They would suffice in a pinch for air travel with foam tips, but I would still recommend a fully-sealed or CIEM for frequent flyers.
Testing Methodology: Measured using Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. 7-9KHz peaks may be artefacts/emphasized due to coupler resonance. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1KHz. Fit depth normalized to my best abilities between earphones. Due to these factors, my measurements may not accurately reflect the earphone or measurements taken by others. I gave the Dorado 2020 100hrs of burn-in prior to final evaluation to ensure maximum performance.
I always have a fun time breaking down CFA IEMs as they are tuned like few others. They don’t trace any conventional curve and combine many characteristics into a musical whole. The Dorado 2020 follows suite, clearly a deviation from the original Dorado and, for that matter, much else. It’s not as smooth but maintains a fairly even-handed approach above the bass and warmer tonality. It’s a roughly W-shaped monitor, bass stands out as big and bold while mids and highs sit in relative parity a touch behind. It has higher tri-frequency separation than the Vega 2020, from which I derive its W characteristics. Of course, though not bass dominant, it remains a bassy earphone and lows are clearly more prominent, the tonality also more coloured than the more reference-leaning Solaris 2020. This means the Dorado specialises in engagement and dynamics with a few dips and bumps that restore some balance and cleanliness overall.
Campfire Audio are a bass-loving company and have invested heavily in maximising the performance of their dynamic drivers. The Vega 2020 is such a creation, exemplifying the best characteristics of the Atlas and Vega but with even higher dynamics and cleaner, more balanced overall tuning. In turn, it commands attention but never overwhelms nor overly colours the sound to my ears. There’s a mild sub-bass focus but with emphasis sustaining into the mid-bass too. It falls off steeply after into a recessed lower-midrange to reduce midrange midrange colouration. Extension is superb, reaching deep into the perceptual and delivering gargantuan yet tight slam and thick, physical rumble and pressure. Notes are lush, bold and large, a little bloated simply due to the level of emphasis, but not tubby or overly off-timbre due to the more even boost to both sub and mid-bass. Similarly, the driver quality equates to greater cleanliness and detail retrieval than one would expect from such a tuning.
The Dorado 2020’s bass is noticeably quicker and more aggressive in terms of note attack and decay than either the Vega 2020 or Atlas. It has excellent control and the best separation and definition of the three; if still not being outstanding relative to quicker and usually more balanced BA competitors. Still, this is a highly engaging, toe-tapping DD experience, benefitting from huge dynamics reined in by strong definition and heaps of mid-bass texture. The Dorado 2020 is abound with thump and rumble, being authoritarian yet impressively tight and discerning of nuance. Furthermore, as it has more midrange and treble presence than CFA’s other DD models, it does sound cleaner and less low dominant. Subjectively, I feel this widens its appeal whilst maximising the same guilty charm. This is a hugely expansive and fun low-end tuning realised through superb quality.
Much like the Vega 2020, the sheer level of bass mitigates any issues with thinness despite the relatively large lower-midrange trough though at the cost of some colouration. That said, it appears in especially tasteful moderation here and lifted clarity and openness up top reciprocate for an enjoyable and engaging experience. The tone is moderately warm and body is lifted, however, not to the extent of muffle or veil even on poorly mastered tracks. With a moderate push through the centre and upper-midrange, vocals are only a touch laid-back despite the big bass and the higher contrast permits enhanced definition and clarity that draw a little more attention. They are presented with high intelligibility as a result and are impressively natural in voicing too; nothing stands out as off-timbre despite no overt focus on accuracy and linearity.
There is a hint of over-articulation up top, but no sharpness or rasp nor over-forwardness in the upper-midrange. This quality is subjectively musical rather than detrimental to the listening experience as it further enhances vocal definition and focus. A small 4k dip acts to counterbalance, so vocals aren’t too sharp nor ever sibilant despite the small lower-treble peak. In addition, vocals are well-balanced between male and female and separation and layering in the midrange are impressive due to the uptick of contrast and clear top-end tuning. The ability of Campfire Audio to achieve a natural voicing whilst retaining such an engaging bass tuning is an admirable feat. It isn’t a vocal specialist but presents a euphonic tonality and engaging clarity whilst retaining inviting coherence – an excellent balance act between versatility and engagement from CFA.
Perusing my measurements, I can see some clear characteristics that reflect CFA’s BA earphones given the adoption of a BA tweeter in this design. We observe a small 5kHz bump, about on par with the midrange but appearing slightly forward due to the way the human ear perceives volume across the frequency range. This grants a crisp, clear foreground detail presentation but without becoming too aggressive or forward. Transient response is noticeably cleaner than CFA’s pure DD models too, and fine detail retrieval is perceptibly higher as a result. In fact, this is a specialty of the Dorado 2020, providing a highly focused and resolving foreground. As treble emphasis drops off into a middle-treble trough, the Dorado 2020 mitigates excessive brightness, delivering a clean, black background with strong contrast to its engaging foreground.
A subsequent upper-treble lift means the micro and background details remain copious yet without any brightness or glare. The Dorado 2020 sounds focused and composed in its portrayal. Instruments are somewhat thin in body, but there’s a natural decay and hint of additional smoothness due to the 6k drop that redeems some texture. Top-end extension is strong if less overtly so as on CFA’s Solaris and high-end BA models but like those models, and there is a nice but not especially forward sparkle at the very top. Still, CFA have managed to extract impressive, well above average headroom from a simple single BA tweeter setup. As with my impression of Lime Ear’s models that pursue a similar style of sound, I enjoy the balance between composure and clarity on the Dorado 2020. When paired with technical ability that may not be outstanding in class, but not the least bit unimpressive, it makes for a detailed and engaging yet entirely non-fatiguing listen.
The Dorado 2020 offers a similar soundstage to the Vega 2020 meaning it is a spacious IEM but not quite so ethereal as the T.A.E.C touting Andromeda and Solaris. Still, width stretches frequently out of the head and depth is strong with the robust low-end tuning. The stage is well-rounded and benefits also from an immersive imaging performance. I have heard sharper imaging, but the Dorado 2020 is a stronger performer in this regard. It offers a stable centre-image alongside accurate lateral positioning. Layers are well-defined and nicely separated, with slightly hazy coronal projection. Still, this is not common among all IEMs, most of which only spread laterally. Directional cues are sharp and quick, it isn’t quite holographic but due to the aforementioned qualities, achieves a pleasing immersion and multi-dimensionality. Separation is actually quite good despite the bass tuning thanks to the higher contrast tuning and well-defined midrange and treble. Even within the bass, notes are well-defined due to the strong driver control. It isn’t a hyper-separated sound but separation never negatively affects detail portrayal all the while upholding sound coherence.
Campfire Audio’s IEMs are notoriously source sensitive and the Dorado 2020 is no different with its exceptionally low 10-ohm impedance and 94dB sensitivity. This means it does need a little more volume than most high-end IEMs but isn’t especially hard to drive from a power output point of view. Similarly, it isn’t too sensitive as to become overly prone to source noise. Still, users will want to keep the output impedance of their source in mind before purchasing this earphone or invest in a gadget like the iFi IEMatch.
Output Impedance Sensitivity
The Dorado 2020 is relatively sensitive to output impedance, however, due to the simpler driver setup employed here, the changes are not too destructive. Switching between the Hiby R6 (10-ohm) and Shanling M2X (1-ohm) reveals that treble becomes noticeably more prominent from a high output impedance source. Volume matching by treble creates a diminished bass and midrange with less body and power than the Shanling. There isn’t too much change in the signature of bass/mids and treble themselves, but the balance between them is compromised. As such, the Dorado 2020 is best enjoyed from a lower OI source.
The Dorado takes full advantage of a powerful source and scales up very well. Switching between my THX789 and Shanling M2X revealed a more powerful and dynamic bass on the desktop amp. It reached deeper and sub-bass hit with more authority. The sound had more body and coherence on the desktop source and treble was slightly smoother with more texture. The Shanling had noticeably less sub-bass which does grant a little more separation, but you do not get the full experience as on a powerful desktop source due to the loss of dynamics.
Suggested Pair Ups
I most preferred the Dorado 2020 from more neutral sources with a slightly more aggressive note presentation like the THX789. I find the earphone to best pair with a low OI and higher driving power which permits higher dynamics and slam in addition to better separation. As it is already a fairly full and rich sound, additional warmth from the source may overly colour the sound for most listeners. Only a very faint hiss was audible on the Shanling M2X at 0 volume, but this was not apparent when music was playing, even on very low volumes. I would not consider the Dorado 2020 especially hiss sensitive; it is also not nearly as sensitive as the Andromeda, Ara and Solaris.
Campfire Audio Vega 2020 ($899): TheVega 2020 is the Dorado’s more sedated sibling. It is less balanced overall due to its greater bass-bias and smoother higher-frequency tuning. The Dorado has a more balanced bass, the Vega being warmer and more mid-bass focused. The Dorado 2020 has more power and is more controlled with higher definition and less bloat while the Vega benefits from greater warmth and fullness. The midrange is more laid-back on the Vega 2020 while the Dorado 2020 has a bit more balance. The Dorado also has a much cleaner tone, the Vega being more obviously coloured with greater warmth and body.
The Vega is smoother and has higher coherence at the cost of being quite laid-back. Both are naturally voiced so it depends what which style of presentation you prefer. Treble is noticeably more detailed on the Dorado 2020 while the Vega offers a slightly warmer treble with a bit more body. Both are crisp and clean, the Dorado 2020 has more micro-detail and extension in addition to greater headroom. It has a slightly more rounded stage but similar dimensions. The Dorado 2020 has appreciably sharper imaging and much better separation especially.
Hyla CE-5 ($940): The CE-5 pursues a similar kind of engaging/pseudo balanced tuning but with more of an upper-midrange focus. It has less bass emphasis but similar tuning with a sub and mid-bass focus and large lower-mid dip. The Dorado 2020 has more pressure and power, the CE-5’s sub-bass is slightly tighter and quicker. The Dorado 2020 has larger notes and a more textured mid-bass. The CE-5 is quicker with higher definition, it is more articulate but also slightly less powerful and dynamic. The midrange is much thinner on the CE-5 and cooler in tone.
The Dorado 2020 has a slightly more natural and coherent voicing where the CE-5 has more clarity and openness but with a rather diminished vocal size. The lower-treble is crisper on the CE-5 and delivers better fine detail retrieval. The Dorado 2020 has more foreground/background contrast, while the CE-5 has more sparkle but at the cost of being generally brighter. The CE-5 has a slightly wider stage while the Dorado is more rounded. The CE-5 has sharper imaging and better layering and separation.
Meze Rai Penta ($1099): The Rai Penta is also somewhat W-shaped but overall a more linear and balanced sound. It has a lot less bass emphasis and a more even tuning delivering a more natural timbre. The Dorado 2020 extends deeper and delivers a lot more power and slam. The Dorado 2020 also has higher control and speed, it has more definition and texture while the Rai Penta is smoother in its delivery with slightly higher separation due to its tuning. The midrange is more forward on the Rai Penta. The voicing is sligthly more natural on the Rai Penta, it sounds a bit more linear and coherent.
It is similarly a bit full-bodied and lightly warm but slightly cleaner and more coherent than the Dorado 2020 due to its less contrasty tuning. The Dorado 2020 has higher definition and energy on the flipside, it is more engaging at the cost of timbre. The Rai Penta has a smoother treble and articulation. The Dorado 2020 has noticeably better fine detail retrieval and is also more forward in its presentation. The Rai Penta has a bit more air and similar headroom but less sparkle and energy at the very top, being a generally mellower sound. The Rai Penta has a slightly narrower soundstage, its imaging is similar in its acuity and its separation is similar too.
Campfire Audio Solaris 2020 ($1499): The Solaris 2020 is a more balanced and linear style of tuning with a less boisterous bass especially. Bass digs deep on both, the Dorado 2020 has noticeably more emphasis, sub and mid-bass especially, while the Solaris 2020 sounds more natural and balanced. The Dorado has more power and sub-bass pressure, it has much higher dynamics and similar control. The Solaris 2020 has stronger definition and separation due to its more linear tuning, the Dorado having thicker notes with less space between. The midrange is more forward on the Solaris 2020 and similarly full-bodied but also more linear.
The Solaris 2020 has more midrange clarity and extension, sounding more open and layered. Both are naturally voiced, but the Dorado 2020 is a bit more coherent, with slightly more density and smoothness, in addition to being a bit more laid-back here. The top-end tells a similar story, the Dorado 2020 has slightly more focused foreground detail presentation while the Solaris 2020 has more focus in the middle and upper-treble. The Solaris 2020 has notably more sparkle and headroom in addition to greater micro-detail. The Dorado 2020 sounds a bit more stable. The Solaris 2020 has better separation and a clearly larger soundstage, its imaging is also more holographic.
The Dorado fills an interesting niche but does so with excellent execution. The beauty in Campfire Audio’s line-up has always been choice; if you want balance, go for one of their BA earphones or the Solaris, want bass? The Vega and Polaris II have you covered. The Dorado 2020 then occupies the space in between, yet carves out an identity just as focused. Similarly, it honours the legacy of the original whilst avoiding a simple reiteration upon it. This is a big, bold sound yet one that also upholds decent balance and good separation. The Dorado 2020 masterfully combines engagement and versatility, providing a hugely fun and controlled low-end yet also a natural and defined vocal image. Furthermore, the top-end benefits from a clean and focused detail presentation and good foreground/background contrast with a little extra energy and sparkle in its top octave. While it may not have the huge sparkle and headroom fans of CFA have come to enjoy, nor the best timbre relative to competitors, very few fun-themed earphones strike with such poise and delicacy as the Dorado 2020.
The Dorado 2020 is available from Campfire Audio (International) for $1099 USD at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with Campfire Audio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Arcade Fire – Funeral
Childish Gambino – Kauai EP
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Dirty Loops – Next To You
John Legend – Get Lifted
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Kehlani – While We Wait
Lee Suhyun – Alien
Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
MAMAMOO – TRAVEL
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Nature TV – Emotion Sickness EP
Nirvana – Nevermind
Radiohead – Pablo honey
Steely Dan – Aja
The Cranberries – No Need To Argue
Tori Kelly – Solitude
Weezer – Weezer
Vaundy – strobo
ZICO – THINKING Part.2