Campfire Audio Polaris II: Renewed and Reloaded
Today we’re checking out the new, reworked version of the Polaris from Campfire Audio.
Back in 2017 when I reviewed the original Polaris, I was blown away. Here was an earphone that was quite technically adept in a way that was befitting of it’s premium price tag, yet it had an unashamedly v-shaped signature. It was both fun and capable, yet there were a few qualities I was not particularly fond of. First, while the sound stage was large it was quite flat giving the Polaris a “wall of sound” effect. Over time I also found the mid-range could come across dry and unnatural. Regardless, it made for one heck of a listen, all wrapped with that distinctive Campfire Audio design.
The new Polaris is now available and I’ve spent the last two months rocking out to it. Is it an upgrade over the original? Does it paste the same stupid grin across my face when listening to EDM? Or, was it downgraded to fall in line with the 100 USD lower price? Let’s find out.
Thanks to Caleb with Campfire Audio for arranging a sample of the Polaris for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on time spent listening to the Polaris throughout the last two months. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Polaris retailed for 499 USD. You can check it out here: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/polaris-2/
I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.
Mobile: Shanling M0 alone or with the Periodic Audio Ni amp, ZiShan DSD
@home: TEAC HA-501 with a ZiShan DSD or Asus FX53V acting source duty
The Polaris II is quite sensitive and easy to drive. No amp needed. Make sure you’ve got a clean source though, because like many Campfire iems it will hiss if the output is too much.
- Driver: Single balanced armature with T.E.A.C. + 9.2mm dynamic with Polarity Tuned Chamber
- Impedance: 17 ohms
- Sensitivity: 105dB
- Frequency Response: 5Hz to 20kHz
Packaging and Accessories:
When it comes to packaging, Campfire Audio has changed things up this time around. The spirit of their past designs are still in place as they follow the same astronomical theme, but the format has changed. Similar to the Solaris, the Polaris comes in a fairly large, shallow square box. This box is covered by an exterior sheath, sealed shut by a bronzed black Campfire Audio seal on the back. The front contains a large sticker with a mottled pattern set beneath a high quality image of the Polaris’ earpieces and the usual company branding and model information. One more sticker is present around the side containing company info, another image of the Polaris, among other details that may or may not be important to the average consumer.
Breaking the seal, the sheath unfold like the pedals of a flower revealing the main box inside. Lifting out the box, you will notice the inner sheath is printed with the CA logo dead centre, blackened rays exploding outwards. It’s quite dramatic. The main box itself contains the same beautiful mountainous scene found on CA’s prior packaging along with more Campfire Audio branding. Lifting the lid you’re greeted by the slogan “Nicely Done” printed on one of the flaps, as well as their new leather carrying case and a smaller cardboard box containing many of the included accessories. Beneath all this is your warranty card and a manual. In all you get:
- Polaris II earphones
- Smoky Jacket Silver Plated Copper Litz Cable
- Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l)
- Medium bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
- Campfire Audio lapel pin
- Cleaning tool
- Mesh accessory case (x3)
Overall this is an outstanding unboxing experience, as is always the case with Campfire Audio. But…I still prefer their old packaging. It was smaller and more compact thereby using less material and producing less waste, a big plus for those that toss packaging once they get to the goods within. That said, this packaging still produces a lot less waste than what you get with various other brands (RHA, Dunu, etc.), and everything is recyclable, so take this as more of an observation than a complaint. The new box does look fantastic on display though, a positive for those of us that appreciate brands who put time and effort into crafting unique and attractive unboxing experiences.
Packaging aside, the accessory kit is second to none. Final Audio tips are some of the best in the business and with five sizes included you’re sure to find something that works for your ears. Campfire Audio’s Marshmallow tips are a very high quality foam option. The basic single flange silicone tips are nothing special and are the sort of tip you’d find included with more budget oriented offerings. That’s not to take away from their performance though. They stay attached to the nozzle just fine and consistently seal well. The cleaning tool will be invaluable to those with waxy ears and the inclusion of three mesh bags to keep everything neatly organized is genius. Nicely done.
Build, comfort, and Isolation:
The machined aluminum housings of the new Polaris eschew the Ceracote faceplates of the original, and instead are adorned completely with a vibrant blue anodized finish that looks pretty stunning in person. Seems to me that Campfire has improved the quality of their machining and their anodized finish. Compared to the original Polaris, the shells are much smoother. Small bumps and knocks that chipped the finish on the original Polaris have done nothing to the Polaris II. Black ~10mm long stainless steel nozzles replace the 3D printed plastic nozzles of the original Polaris and have a prominent lip that does a great job of holding tips in place. These nozzles are very similar to those introduced with the Atlas and Comet and incorporate protective grills into the design. You won’t have to worry about losing a filter when changing tips. Matte black screws top things off and attractively accent the blue colouring. I would love to paint them yellow to give the Polaris a Subaru WRC vibe. The Polaris II carries over Campfire Audio’s familiar, extra durable, and newly insulated beryllium/copper MMCX connectors. I say extra durable because that’s what the marketing blurb spouts, but also my now almost two year old and well-loved original Polaris has seen tens and tens of disconnects and the MMCX connectors are just as firm now as they were out of the box. Fit and finish is as to be expected, that is to say it is fantastic. Seams are barely visible and everything lines up perfectly without any gaps or off kilter angles.
The Polaris II comes with Campfire Audio’s new Silver Plated Copper Litz cable. It is quite reminiscent in design and thickness to the copper cable that came with the original Polaris, but with a new smoke coloured sheath. The 90 degree angled jack is smartly designed with an extension to permit compatibility with a wide variety of device cases, though strain relief is a little stiff. Less of a worry than it would be in other cases. My experiences with Campfire’s cables have shown them to be plenty durable. Within the small, reliefless aluminum y-split, the cable divides sending two strands on each side to the ear pieces. Slotting into the top of the split is a small plastic chin cinch. It moves much more smoothly here than on older Campfire cables and as a result is much more useful. Also much more useful is the move to preformed ear guides. While the memory wire used on past Campfire Audio cables worked, I found the “memory” aspect of that title limited at best which led to the wire straightening out over time. Ditching that entirely and running with preformed guides has resulted in a much more pleasant experience since I’m not constantly rebending the wire to ensure it stays behind my ear. This is a great new cable and I was pleased to see it included with some other new/updated models, like the IO and Andromeda v3.
When it comes to comfort you’d be forgiven for assuming Campfire Audio’s iconic angular shell design is a pain in the ear. Maybe for some, but not for me. Ergonomics are just right with the low profile Polaris II conforming quite naturally to my outer ear. That plus the use of lightweight aluminum, a small size the belies the chunky appearance, and the reasonably long nozzle keeps the earphone sitting in a way that does not feel out of place. While I find the stubby nozzle of the Andromeda more suitable to my personal ear anatomy, I can still wear the Polaris for hours without experiencing any discomfort.
Isolation on the Polaris II is quite good. Despite having a vented housing, it blocks nearly as much noise as the fully sealed IO. However, the Polaris II retains the placement of the outer vent of the original and picks up a ton of wind noise that almost completely drowns out your music. While the volume of the wind noise is reduced over the original Polaris, it is still glaringly loud limiting the Polaris II’s usefulness when worn outside, at least in weather where even a fairly light breeze is present.
Tips: Wide bore all the way. The included small bore tips accentuate the already very prominent mid-bass tipping the Polaris II over the edge into a slightly bloated presentation. Wide bore tips, like those from JVC, negate this keeping the low end massive and engaging but still controlled.
While still very much a v-shaped sound, the Polaris II’s tuning has seen some when changes compared to the original, the most obvious due to a new dynamic driver handling the low end. Gone is the original’s 8.5mm dynamic is favour of a larger, 9.2mm unit. Boy, does it make a difference. The Polaris II’s low end takes most of the spotlight and as such is a major driving force in the overall presentation. So, let’s start by looking at the bass.
The Polaris II’s low frequencies are huge. Lots of mid-bass, lots of sub-bass, bass everywhere. This new Polaris is an absolute bass cannon. Normally this quantity of bass would be a bit much for me, but it works. This new dynamic doesn’t initially feel quite as quick as the old one but it handles the rapid double bass inherent in many metal tracks, such as Havok’s “Time Is Up”, just as well as the old one. And, in the process it provides a MUCH more visceral experience with notes rumbling and lingering where they would die off and lose energy on the original Polaris. This makes tracks like Karma Fields & Morten’s “Stickup ft. Juliette Lewis” an absolute blast thanks to the heavy bass line that now carries the track like it should. The only thing I prefer about the previous driver is it provides more texture and detail. The new Polaris II’s low end is smoother and more refined at the expense of a mild loss of information.
Midrange presence is more or less the same as it was on the original. That is to say, it’s recessed, but not by a lot. Despite all the extra bass dialed into the Polaris II, instruments and vocals remain clear and coherent without mid-bass bleed joining in and ruining the party. I personally prefer the mid-range here when compared to the original Polaris because it’s thicker and more natural sounding with a more accurate timbre. I get a better sense of the emotion behind Paul Williams’ opening and lyrics on Daft Punk’s “Touch” with the Polaris II. However, this more natural presentation comes with a reduction in clarity and detail which is noticeable when a/b’ing the two together. Vocals simply do not sound as sharp and crisp through the Polaris II. I personally think this is worth the improvements in timbre and accuracy. You might feel otherwise.
The Polaris II is about as bright as the original, with the treble emphasis shifted to higher frequencies. This gives the II more energy and bite to its attack while adding air and space to notes. The reduction in the presence region would also help explain the slightly reduced detail and clarity. In addition to the shifted emphasis, I found the Polaris II’s presentation better controlled. Running through King Crimson’s “Cat Food”, hit hats simply sound cleaner and better defined through the Polaris II. If you’re sensitive to upper treble, I can certainly see you preferring the original Polaris’ presentation though as hit hats have a fair bit more emphasis through the Polaris II and at higher volumes risk being overbearing.
Lastly, the Polaris II has a wicked sound stage. While the original had a fairly tall stage, it lacked depth which resulted in a presentation that was more or less a wall of sound. The Polaris II is in my opinion miles ahead of the original in this regard. Running through BT’s “If The Stars Are Eternal Than So Are You And I”, the Polaris II surrounds you within the ethereal effects and dancing sounds while the original Polaris merely places it beside you. Tracks are much more deep and lively with the Polaris II. Imaging is improved too thanks to this extra space, lending the Polaris II to success with gaming. The depth and accuracy of it’s stage, along with excellent layering and separation made this earphone a gem to use when playing intense racing games like Wipeout Omega Collection (special mention goes to the wicked sound track) or competitive shooters like PUBG or Call of Duty.
Select Comparisons (volumes matched using Dayton iMM-6):
Fidue A85 Virgo (399.00 USD): The A85’s triple driver hybrid setup offers a more balanced, neutral-leaning sound than the Polaris II. Treble on the A85 feel biased towards the presence region and compared to the Polaris II is lacking in brilliance. This leaves cymbals, chimes, etc. sounding slightly muted and dull compared to the Polaris, and lacking the same level of detail. The A85’s mid-range is notably more forward with vocals and acoustics having a slightly thicker and much more dominant presence on most tracks. Timbre is more accurate out of the Polaris II. The A85 adds a touch of dryness where there should be none. Clarity is similar between the two with vocals and instruments being equally coherent. Bass is where the two drastically split. The A85’s low end is barely elevated above neutral with a light, warm, mellow presence that focuses clearly on mid-bass. It’s not slow, but it’s not particularly quick either. Sub-bass is present but lacks presence. When compared to the Polaris II the A85 sounds almost anemic. The Polaris II’s bass is clearly the star of the show with a advantage in speed and control, as well as way more presence in both mid-bass and sub-bass regions. The A85 sets the listener further from the performance and as such gives the impression of a larger sound stage. When it comes to technical ability, the Polaris II is a big step forward. Imaging is sharper, more precise, and tracks sound more layered and better separated. A big part of this is due to the Polaris II’s depth which is much improved over the A85. While I prefer the A85’s mids, that’s all I think it has going for it over the Poalris II.
HIFIMAN RE800 Silver (599.00 USD): The single dynamic in the RE800 S has a more balanced sound than the Polaris 2. Still v-shaped, but not to the same extent nor in the same way. Where the Solaris puts it’s extra emphasis in the bass, HIFIMAN puts it firmly in the treble with the RE800 S. As such, I found the RE800 S the brighter of the two with a more even upper and low treble balance. Clarity and detail are more prominent on the RE800 S, helped along by a leaner presentation. Mids on the RE800 S are more forward and articulate with the Solaris II sounding thicker and more weighty. The RE800 S is more susceptible to sibilance that does not show up on the Solaris II. Timbre on both is accurate. Bass is where the two really split with the RE800 S having a much more dainty presentation. Extension is good on both but the Solaris II has a much greater mid- and sub-bass emphasis resulting in a much more visceral experience that will undoubtedly be overwhelming for some. Texture is excellent on both with the RE800 S having the edge. When it comes to sound stage the RE800 S takes a slight lead on width and imaging accuracy. The Solaris II gives off a much greater sense of depth that make it’s staging feel more accurate and alive. Overall I find these two to perform on a similar level. I personally find the Solaris II a heck of a lot more fun to listen to thanks to it’s beautiful bass and enveloping sound stage, though the RE800 S is good to have on hand when a cooler, more neutral-leaning signature is desired.
The Polaris II is unapologetically bassy, and that’s okay. I for one am glad Campfire Audio doubled down and fully committed to this new sound. The resulting earphone is hella fun, even if it gives up some detail and clarity to it’s predecessor. It’s completely worth it. Those aspects that were improved were significantly improved, while those aspects that were not are only slightly worse. The Polaris II has a more natural sounding mid-range with improved timbre and the dryness of the original removed. It has a VASTY improved sound stage that entirely corrects the 2D-ish nature of the original.
Yes, I miss the Ceracote faceplate and two tone colour scheme, but I welcome the cleaner machining and anodized paint job that is proving to be much more resilient to damage and chipping. Where my original Polaris had a small chip out of the box and numerous more by the time the review was released, in the same time and with similar treatment the Polaris II still looks mint. While I like the design of the old leather case, the new one is easier to carry and store the earphone and it’s accessories in. It’s a quality of life enhancement making the new case one I actually use on the regular.
Overall the Polaris II is a welcome update to the Polaris I, and should you be in the market for a fun, top tier earphone, be sure to include it on your list of gear to audition. You might be surprised.
Thanks for reading!
***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Some Test Tunes:
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)