Positioned snugly in the middle of Campfire Audio’s product lineup is their latest hybrid design release – the Polaris.
We would like to thank Campfire Audio for generously offering the Polaris to us for this review. For more information, click here to find out more on their website.
Polaris, also known as the North Star, is the brightest star in the Ursa Minor constellation. It is a multiple star, comprised of a major and a minor star. Campfire Audio’s latest release also comprises of a larger 8.5mm dynamic driver combined with a smaller balanced armature driver. Coincidence? I think not.
Geeky astronomical facts aside, I first tried this at the Hong Kong High End Audio Expo. I didn’t get a chance to spend a very long time with it, but I knew right then that this was going to be another great product from Campfire Audio. They’re one of my favourite audio companies for several reasons. The first is because of their innovation in design that doesn’t resort to endless addition of drivers, but rather makes use of clever techniques such as 3D printed enclosures for their balanced armature drivers (the “TAEC – Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber”) instead of using the traditional tubes setup. With the Polaris, we can see the newest use of the “Polarity Tuned Chamber” which houses their 8.5mm dynamic driver to provide a very different effect.
The second reason is because not only do all of their products sound great no matter the price bracket they fall in, they also sound different in their own unique ways so no matter your tastes, there’s a Campfire Audio IEM waiting for you out there. The Polaris stays true to this philosophy and has easily become one of my favourite IEMs.
Keep reading for the summary, packaging, design, build quality, and of course a detailed review of the sound!
The Campfire Audio Polaris is a great midrange audiophile option which straddles “laidback fun and bassy for casual listening” and “detailed and analytical for audiophile snobs”. It’s tight bass has the natural effortless sound of dynamic drivers, with slight midbass focus, while going up to the mids and highs reveals a highly detailed and spacious sounding IEM with incredible positional clarity. As usual, this is just a quick summary of the main points. Be sure to read the detailed review!
- Solid, warm, slightly midbass focused low end coupled with brighter more energetic mids and highs
- Extended but very gently rolled off high end for a detailed and comfortable sound
- Excellent positioning and sense of wide soundstage especially in the mid-high frequencies
- Slightly forward vocal and instrumental range
- Solid and beautiful CNC milled aluminium with Cerakote shells
- Certain male vocals may have an analytical tinge to it and may sound thin at times, as it brings out airiness more than fullness, but is very dependent on the vocal range of the singer.
- Angular form may not fit smaller ears. However, the new 3D printed nozzle is rounder and longer so it is not exactly the same as the Andromeda, Orion, etc…
|Driver Configuration (per side)||8.5mm Dynamic Driver in Polarity Tuned Chamber + Balanced armature in Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber|
|Sensitivity||97.5 dB SPL/mW|
|Impedance||16.8 Ohms @ 1kHz|
|Cable||3.5mm plug Black Litz Cable by Campfire Audio|
|Accessories||Faux leather earphone carrying case
2 small carrying pouches
3 pairs of Foam tips (S, M, L)
3 pairs of Silicon tips (S, M, L)
3 pairs of SpinFit tips (S, M, L)
1 Campfire Audio logo metal pin
Packaging & Accessories
I’ve had many opportunities to review Campfire Audio’s products and so I know exactly what to expect from their packaging and accessories. For those new to CA, you can expect a humble looking, yet well designed cardboard box (with nice card stock, mind you) that holds everything you need inside in a neat little package. In this case, the Polaris has a vibrant blue coloured box to match.
The earphones sit comfortably inside a nice black faux-leather zip case which has a soft lining inside to prevent it from getting any scratches.
Lifting up the piece of cardboard underneath will reveal a generous variety of tips ranging from the excellent SpinFits, CA’s own foam tips as well as standard black silicone tips, as well as an earwax cleaner and a nice little Campfire Audio pin. Like I said, understated but very adequately packed.
Design & Build quality
Although it’s a hybrid design like the Dorado, it doesn’t share the same tiny, rounded liquid metal alloy form. Instead, the Polaris takes up the angular forms of CA’s balanced armature lineup with a few modifications. While the general form is the same, the faceplate is coated with a black Cerakote coating, contrasting with the vibrant blue of the body.
It also has a new 3D printed nozzle which extends further and has a rounder base compared to the designs of the old BA-only lineup (Orion, Nova, Jupiter, Andromeda). As a result the unit doesn’t sit as flush and snugly deep inside the concha of the ear which may solve issues of people finding discomfort in some of the sharper corners and facets nudging against their ears after extended use. I’m lucky enough to have ears that are large enough to fit most IEMs, but nonetheless the longer nozzle does feel slightly more secure. I highly recommend the Polaris, but also implore their to try the fit before purchasing!
Instead of the silver Litz cable that most CA items are typically shipped with, the Polaris has a more discreet looking black cable. It’s just as soft and lightweight as the litz, and just as microphony free, so I’m a fan.
If I had to sum up the Polaris’ sound in one sentence, it would be this: A fun, warm, bassy and slightly mids-focused sound with an effortlessly ability to bring out extremely fine details in the highs with a supreme sense of spaciousness and positioning.
My first reaction when putting them on was actually “wow, bassy”. It surprised me as my first impression was that it was unlike other CA IEMs. The bass was quite intimate, and coupled with the forward midrange, it was a very fun sound that I didn’t expect. It made me think Nova, but it didn’t have that dark yet analytical sound. However, CA’s signature characteristics revealed them to me after further testing.
Powered by a 8.5mm dynamic driver the bass undoubtedly has the warmth and effortlessness that only dynamic drivers can give. Without having to use the very expensive and high end “Diamond-like Carbon” dynamic driver in the Vega, Campfire Audio has cleverly designed a 3D printed chamber (Polarity Tuned Chamber) for the Polaris’ dynamic driver. It gives an intimate and slightly midbass focused low end, but subbass rumble is definitely present, giving it that fun bassy sound while keeping things tight enough for audiophiles to enjoy. If you’re looking for an IEM with a wider sense of soundstage in the low frequencies, look somewhere else, because the Polaris is about bassy fun.
Nice bass impact is easy to get these days, as companies get better and better at putting good dynamic drivers in hybrid designs. The midrange and high frequencies of the Polaris are where it gets interesting for me. While the low end is presented intimately with strong impact, the Polaris’ soundstage seems to get wider and wider as you go into higher frequencies. This contrast in the presentation helps paint a beautiful sense of dimensionality in sound, especially in the mid-high region. It really is quite amazing to listen to the clear differentiation in positioning with the Polaris, and thanks to the balanced armature driver with the TAEC (Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber), there’s a good amount of energy with a brighter presentation in the mid-highs to highs which helps to bring out all the fine textures and details in your favourite pieces. Higher frequency details such as cymbals and hats are tonally more crisp than smooth and sound amazingly spacious so much that I actually looked over my shoulder to see where the sound was coming from while listening to Amber Rubarth – Tundra. It also brought out details of sparkling chimes in the background that I didn’t really notice before in Epik High – RICH which was a pleasant surprise.
In terms of musical pairing and overall feel, I’ve found that the Polaris is great for listening to… pretty much everything, a but I’ve found it especially fun to listen to rock, pop, hiphop and more “bouncy” tracks thanks to the impactful and tight bass. It’s also not extremely analytical so all your favourite badly made recordings of punk rock or metal are still going to sound okay as it won’t bring out every single little flawed detail of the recording. There are moments in certain vocal ranges when I can notice a difference in the timbre, especially noticeable with male vocals that makes it sound a little thin in contrast, tending to bring out airy qualities instead of the fullness of male voices. Perhaps as the balanced armature takes over, things sound a little too crisp compared to the low end, but as far as hybrid designs go, it’s up there in my top 5 in terms of cohesion. But one thing I love about the clear high frequencies is that it creates such snappy sounding snares, which I love. The Polaris brings out the best in djent band TesseracT’s album Polaris (what a coincidence); solid kick drum hits, the singer’s ethereal vocals in full force, authoritative snare hits coupled with the far reaching tinkles and splashes of cymbals. Try it out if you’re into djent or metal.
- Oriolus – I actually think the Polaris kind of similar to the Oriolus in many ways, with the rather big low end combined with forward midrange. They differ in that the Oriolus has an overall wider soundstage and laid-back character, along with smoother rolled off highs, while the Polaris’ midhighs sound comparatively more extended and a little brighter.
- Dorado – After having listened to the Polaris, I actually find the Dorado to be a little too bassy. I also prefer a slightly more mid forward sound which the Dorado doesn’t have, and with the brighter mid-high frequencies in the Polaris, it’s the winner for me here!
- Lyra II – Hard to choose here. They really sound so different. The Lyra has a warmth that permeates the entire range of sound, and brings out a little more subbass impact. The Lyra’s soundstage has more Z-axis height while the Polaris has X-axis width. Vocals generally sound more natural with the Lyra, though in my opinion this is true for most single dynamic driver designs.
- Shure 846 – I personally prefer the Polaris, but they’re two very different beasts. The 846 can definitely pump out a lot of bass but it sounds very clean compared to the Polaris’ dynamic driver sound. The 846 is also slightly darker sounding with thicker mids, but I would say the Polaris wins in terms of soundstage by far.
Measured with the Vibro Veritas 1 – as always take this with a grain of salt as it’s not a professional setup. It’s just fun to see how the FR graph matches with the perceived sound, and here we can see that obvious mid to mid-highs boost that I’ve been hearing with the Polaris.
I love it. Initial impressions that it was just another strong bassy fun IEM disappeared after getting a chance to listen for a longer period of time. The Polaris is detailed fun; enough low end to please the casual listener looking to listen to some heavy EDM or their favourite bouncy pop tune, but also has enough ability to draw out the finer details and create a wide soundstage to please audiophile snobs. Try it out – I assure you won’t be disappointed.
September 23, 2017 at 9:58 PM
How compared with Lyra ii in terms on comfort?
September 23, 2017 at 10:06 PM
This really depends on the size and shape of your ears. I’m lucky to big enough ears to comfortably fit Campfire Audios line of angular IEMs very comfortably. However if you don’t have an opportunity to demo before buying and don’t want to risk discomfort, the Lyra is a safe choice if you have smaller ears. It comes in a very small form factor and is rounded all over.