by Paweł Szancho at EarFidelity
Campfire Audio has been known for releasing new versions of their successful Andromeda and Solaris models quite often. So, there’s basically been the OG, golden version of the Solaris, then came the SE (special edition) with stunning faceplates, 2020 version, and now the most recent iteration – the Solaris LE.
It uses a OG sized shells with 2020 drivers, and it also rocks new, custom-made faceplates. This time, instead of going for a marbled, colorful look CFA decided to finish the new Solaris with a very nice looking pattern.
As stated previously, this little buddy is a limited batch, but everybody that’ll order it will receive a free gift – the Alo Audio Pilot. It’s a USB-C dongle with MQA support. More on that later on, but to increase your curiosity…it’s pretty awesome.
I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll continue to say it: I absolutely love unboxing Campfire Audio’s products. Yet again we’re greeted with a very bold and colorful packaging that showcases the new Solaris LE. The attached accessories are nothing new from CFA, so once again we’re getting these sweet Final E tips, a Campfire Audio Pin, warranty card, etc.
Also, this time there’s a big carrying case included, too big to be honest. It’s a canvas zipper case made in Portugal, and as always, it is of great quality. I personally wish it was leather or that cork material used in the 2020 version, as it feels much more premium in the hand. Nonetheless, it’s a high-quality, huge case that’ll probably fit even 3 pairs of IEMs. If you dig that kind of stuff, you’ll be very pleased.
The Solaris LE comes with the Alo Audio “Super Smoky Litz” cable. It’s identical to the one found in the 2020 version’s box. Compared to the standard Litz cable included with the rest of CFA’s lineup, it is more chunky and feels a bit more premium thanks to that.
It’s a good quality cable, but I hope that Campfire Audio will include a new cable with their next flagship IEM. More and more manufacturers decide to cooperate with cable manufacturers such as Effect Audio, Eletech etc, to provide the best quality possible out of the box. The Super Smoky Litz is good, but I believe such a great IEM like the Solaris deserves an ever better cable, and I believe most of you will just get one.
Build quality and design
Build quality and design is always such a great paragraph for me in the reviews of CFA offerings. That is because every single product they ever launched is just absolutely spectacular and class-leading in this regard.
Solaris LE continues that fashion with ease, being one of the best made and feeling IEM I’ve ever had in my hands. It’s big and crafted to perfection. Every single edge is machined so well that the Solaris LE feels more like a piece of fine jewelry. Its design is very similar to the OG Solaris, but this time the faceplates aren’t gold, and I think that’s a good choice. Sure, the gold Solaris screams for attention and is surely a conversation starter, but for me, it looked a bit…too bold.
The LE on the other hand gains its strength with great craftsmanship and subtle details, which is more suited for such a high-end product. Overall, Campfire Audio yet again proved that they make the best built IEMs on the market. I can’t think of anyone else claiming that prize….well, maaaaaybe MMR, but I’m yet to put my hands on any of their products.
The original Solaris was very acclaimed throughout the audiophile community, but it also had one major problem – the comfort. Because of the huge earpieces, it was regularly reported as uncomfortable or even fatiguing to use. Just look at the 2020 version, the biggest update is its size compared to the OG. That’s the reason why many people were really surprised when they saw, that the new Solaris LE is rocking the old size, as it was claimed to be the biggest con of this particular IEM.
How does it all look in real life? Well, I can wear the Solaris LE for quite some time without any problems with the comfort. Actually, even my girlfriend has no problems whatsoever with the fit or the overall size of the IEM. Having all that in mind, I’d personally rate the comfort of the Solaris LE as a strong 8/10, no problems here. It is not crazy-comfortable and it doesn’t disappear in the ear, but it’s not really uncomfortable either. I’m not a crazy man though and I saw countless reports of the OG version being uncomfortable for some people, so I highly recommend trying the LE or the original Solaris before pulling the trigger.
While many manufacturers are racing each other by releasing tribrid or even quadrubrid (?) IEMs, Campfire Audio is still comfortable in the hybrid era with its Solaris. One dynamic driver for the bass and three balanced armatures doesn’t really impress in 2021, but it’s not the whole story. The number of drivers doesn’t really mean anything, if the final step, which is the sound is underwhelming. I’d rather use a 1DD + 3BA IEM that sounds good, than some fancy-schmancy configuration that just sounds mediocore.
That’s literally what happens with the Solaris LE – It just sounds great, and it doesn’t matter what’s inside, as far as it has a DD driver for the bass. As I said some reviews back, the times of all BA-bass is hopefully gone and it shouldn’t come back anytime soon.
As for the rest of the tech inside the Solaris LE: it uses Plasma enhanced Chemical Vapor Deposition (C.V.D.), Amorphous Diamond-Like Carbon (A.D.L.C.) Diaphragm, and Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections.
Alo Audio Pilot
The Solaris LE comes bundled with the Alo Audio Pilot USB-C dongle. It is priced at $129 and it supports MQA. I was expecting a free gift quality from it, and I was…blown-away. It’s a very good quality dongle that’s tiny, comfortable to use and it sounds just great. Compared to Shanling UA-1 it’s much more natural, full-sounding and more mature. The soundstage is bigger, the detail, timbre, resolution is just in a completely different league.
Do not treat it as a gift that you’ll put in your drawer and forget about for years. I actually use it more often than the Solaris LE, driving all of my IEMs from my Android phone, as it is too cold for a valve DAP here in Poland right now. MQA works flawlessly, the sound is quite natural and full-bodied and it’s tiny and comfortable to use – It could be the best dongle that I’ve ever used actually.
Now onto the sound – even though the original Solaris was released a couple of years ago, it is still a very popular IEM nowadays, because of its great sound quality, superb tuning and soundstage capabilities. There has been reports of the LE version sounding like a hybrid of the OG and 2020 versions. Let’s dig into it.
The bass is covered by a custom-made, 10mm dynamic driver. I actually think that Campfire Audio has mastered the bass response coming from a BA driver, so it is exciting what can they squeeze from a quality dynamic driver this time. I’ll tell you that – they did a terrific job.
It’s big, full-sounding and marvellously detailed, while not being crazy and overdone. Just imagine the bass from the Andromeda, add a solid punch and physicality to it, and you’re basically getting the Solaris LE bass response.
Let’s start with Hotel California by the Eagles, performed live on the “Hell Freezes Over” album. Low frequencies have a satisfying punch, depth and detail, while still being polite and well-controlled. Bass guitar shines, Drums are impactful and bold, but they never dominate the whole performance.
Same with “Angel” by Massive Attack, I believe this 10mm driver is tuned almost to perfection. Powerful, thick, and authoritative yet detailed and agile.
The midrange is airy, crispy and natural. While not as mellow and moist as the 2020 version, it offers a better extension and crispiness. It has a thick note to it, and together with that physical bass it creates a very powerful and fun sound signature.
It is not just big and thick sounding though, as the mid frequencies are well-detailed and full of air.
While listening to “A Thousand Shards of Heaven” by Lunatic Soul, I found that the vocals have this beautiful natural timbre to it, they are well-pronounced and quite forward sounding. At the same time, due to the great separation, it creates a presentation that is both musical and analytical, allowing us to dive into the mastering and look for some hidden information.
The treble is also quite thick and powerful sounding, but it also shines in a fantastic manner. While it’s not a piercing or harsh sounding IEM, it focuses more on a proper timbre and weight of the instruments.
Let’s put the “Moonchild” by King Crimson as an example. The whole song is filled with very pronounced and close-sounding cymbals. The Solaris LE shows them as thick and colorful sounding, which is just the way it’s supposed to be.
“Keith Don’t Go” by Nils Lofgren, performed live on the “Acoustic Live” album is the same story. This song is all about the acoustic guitar and string action, and boy oh boy…it’s a treat on the LE. The strings have this rough and metallic sound to them, but it’s not even close to being, well…unpleasant. It all sounds just the way it’s supposed to, and that’s quite an achievement for a 2BA driver configuration for the treble. The resolution, detail, weight and extension is just world-class.
If you think that we’ve already covered the best part of the Solaris LE, then think again. The soundstage is just absolutely bonkers. Huge, both in depth and width, razor-sharp imaging and lifelike size of the instruments.
See, I’m a fan of the BBC speakers, which might not be ideal and best for everything, but they do something almost perfect – recreating a proper size of the instrument. That’s what I’m missing with many IEMs on the market, but luckily not with the Solaris LE. You want to hear that huge, almost pervading snare drum or acoustic guitar’s chamber – here you have it.
That’s not all though – you have to fit those huge instruments into a big soundstage, and that’s exactly what happens here. “Sorrow” by Pink Floyd, from their phenomenal “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason” is an extremely tough job in terms of creating the soundstage. It sounds gigantic, huge and absolutely thrilling, but you have to provide it with an immense amount of air and godlike separation. Well, as you probably have guessed by now – it’s an absolutely outstanding experience with the Solaris LE.
To summarize – the Solaris LE is a big sounding IEM in every term. Bold and well-pronounced bass, forward-sounding vocals and thick treble, paired with a massive soundstage creates a sound signature that it’s very hard not to fall in love with. Funny thing is that these are probably the most American IEM I’ve ever used – even the shells are big and screaming quality. But it’s a fun type of flexing because the LE isn’t a show-off type of product. It has its strengths, and it just shows them with pride. Remarkable.
VS Campfire Audio Dorado 2020
At first, i thought that the Solaris LE is a refined version of the Dorado 2020. Both sounding bold and fun. It ain’t the truth though, as the Solaris is a much more audiophile oriented product. While the Dorado 2020 is one of the most fun-sounding IEMs on the market, it falls a bit short in terms of raw performance and detail retrieval. That’s where the Solaris LE really differentiates itself from its older brother. And yeah, the LE’s bass is still nowhere close to that colossal, epic low frequencies found in the Dorado 2020.
VS Campfire Audio ARA
These two play in almost the same league, but the approach to the sound recreation is quite different. Compared to the Solaris, the Ara sounds thin and uninvolving everywhere below the higher midrange. While it shines in the lower-treble area, the Solaris just crushes the Ara with its big and thick bass response and more natural, full-sounding midrange. That case might be hugely subjective though. If you like a very monitor-like and neutral sound, you’ll be VERY happy with the Ara. If you want more presence in the lower frequencies and the overall sound to be more fun – the Solaris LE is an easy choice.
VS Unique Melody MEST
If you’ve read our review of the MEST then you know, that I absolutely fell in love with them. That’s why it is even more exciting to compare these two. They both are a fun and exciting sounding pair of IEMs, but they do it in a different way. The Mest is faster, more super-car sounding and its imaging is a touch better (well, it has one of the best imaging on the market, regardless the price, so that’s to be expected). Also, its treble response is more neutral and better extended. The Solaris LE on the other hand is thicker, especially in the vocal’s area, and they do sound more epic. While the MEST creates a very precise, natural and lifelike soundstage, the LE is a bit more spectacular and engaging in that regard for me. If you like a more mid-forward sound though, the Solaris LE is the way to go.
VS Campfire Audio Solaris 2020
The Solaris 2020 is more analog and mellow sounding than the LE. Also, its staging is a TOUCH more intimate (it’s still huge), but just simply not as big as the LE. The overall feeling is that the 2020 version is calmer, warmer and more delicate sounding. I’m not gonna say anything else, as we’ll be covering the differences between them in a separate article coming soon.
Campfire Audio Solaris has been a very popular choice throughout the years of its existence, and I believe the Solaris LE will become a true gem in some time, due to its limited production. It is a fantastic IEM that is both analytical and musical, it sounds fun, big, and spectacular, it’s perfectly-made and is an overall joy to listen to. The Solaris has been called a TOTL earphone for some time now, and I couldn’t agree more with that statement with the new Solaris Limited Edition. Nicely done.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Campfire Audio Dorado 2020, Vega 2020, Lime Ears Aether R, Meze Rai Penta, Audeze LCD3, Campfire Audio Ara, Noble Audio Khan, Final A8000, Unique Melody MEST, Campfire Audio Solaris 2020, Fir Audio VxV
- Sources– Cayin N3Pro, Lotoo Paw Gold Touch, Cayin N5ii, Fiio M15, Cayin N6ii, Cayin N8, JDSLabs Atom stack, SMSL SU-9 + SH-9