Campfire Audio Solaris 2020: Lean and Mean

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out Campfire Audio’s new top of the top of the line model, the revised Solaris 2020.

The original Solaris was a stunner in all aspects. The large, gold-plated housings drew in the eye while a bold tune pleased the ear. However, the black and gold colour scheme and fairly massive housings earned it some critics. The new Solaris addresses those complaints quite competently with a 20% size reduction and stealthy, all-black look. Along with the visual and ergonomic updates, internally the Solaris has seen some changes with the introduction of Campfire’s new ‘Solid-Body’ technology that houses all four drivers to produce an even more coherent and refined sound.

Did all of these changes take away from what made the Solaris a modern classic, or did they simply add to and further refine an already impressive product. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

What I Hear The Solaris 2020 is a more balanced and refined take on the original. While the low end and upper ranges have remained relatively unaltered, the midrange has been pushed up and upper mids smoothed out leading to a sound that is more even and coherent when listened to as a whole.

The 2020 sees a fairly restrained boost in the low end, especially compared to other models in Campfire’s lineup. Extension is excellent with a fairly linear move from sub- to mid- and upper-bass regions. As with the 2019 version, the Solaris 2020 seems to go for a smooth, uber-refined presentation. That said, texturing is still quite good giving it the grittyness needed to properly represent grungy basslines like those from Tobacco and The Prodigy. That said, the sort of slick, squeaky clean bass lines you hear in synth pop and from artists like DJ Fresh feel a little more in line with what the Solaris 2020 excels with. This earphone also doesn’t lack whatsoever when it comes to speed and control, as evidenced using it with speed metal such as Havok’s “D.O.A.”. Rapid notes remain well-defined without any blurring or smearing of detail. Each hit comes through loud and clear.

The treble region remains as energetic and vibrant as it was on the 2019 model, if not just a hint more so. The dual armatures display the same snappiness and rapid decay with tightly formed, splash-free notes. This is evident comparing the 2020 Solaris to the 2019 model on Havok’s “Scumbag in Disguise” and the chaotic cymbal work present on that track. While lower treble in the 2019 Solaris saw a dip in emphasis, things are much more even on the 2020 model. In addition to a pleasing level of shimmer and sparkle, the bumped presence region sees a logical but subtle increase in resolution over last years offering. Everything sounds just a little more detailed and present through the Solaris 2020.

The midrange of the 2020 Solaris sees the most change compared to it’s predecessor with the midrange taking on a more even presentation thanks to a rise between 1k and 2k and a smoothing out of the old model’s dip at 4k. This results in more prominent, cleaner sounding vocals with better texturing and bite on instruments. I also found they injected a hint more warmth into the presentation which betters the already impressive showing of the 2019 model with Paul Williams’ performance on Daft Punk’s “Touch”. The 2020 Solaris also removed the occasional tendency towards a hollow or echo-ey sound on some tracks, like Aesop Rock’s “Racing Stripes”. I actually enjoyed this quality because it complimented the 2019 model’s airy staging, but I can’t argue that a more accurate presentation is anything but positive.

Speaking of airy staging, the 2020 Solaris still impresses, BUT, I find it is a small step back from the previous version. While on more intimate tracks like Culprate’s “Undefined” it still brings vocals into an uncomfortably tight position, on more spacious sounding tracks like Infected Mushrooms “Converting Vegetarians”, sounds don’t spin and flit off into the distance quite to the same extent. The more forward vocal presentation supports this impression, closing in the staging somewhat. The Solaris 2020 still has an exceptional sound stage with plenty of width and depth on tap, it’s just less extreme than the previous version. It’s a worthy trade off given the improvements found elsewhere, like a smaller size and enhanced ergonomics. The 2019 model’s outstanding imaging, layering, and separation qualities thankfully remain unhindered by the more compact staging and are present in full force with the Solaris 2020.

Overall I think Campfire’s engineers did a stellar job of updating and improving upon the 2019 Solaris, without sacrificing the qualities that made the original version so good. While the adjusted midrange balance and 20% size reduction likely had a hand in shrinking the sound stage, the trade offs were well worth it in my opinion.

Compared To A Peer (volumes matched with Dayton iMM-6)

Campfire Audio Andromeda 2020 (1,099.00 USD): The 2020 Andromeda and 2020 Solaris very much sound like they are cut from the same cloth with the Andromeda’s tuning targeting the mids and treble when compared to the Solaris.’ more balanced feel. The treble presentation on the Andromeda is slightly more vibrant with some extra sheen up top giving it a hint more energy. The extra presence region emphasis gives it a bit more detail too, particularly in vocal regions. The Solaris’ presentation carries more weight,warmth, and density, most notable in the mids. That’s likely down to the dynamic driver which shares presentation duties with an armature vs. the Andromeda and it’s lone midrange armature. Attack and decay qualities are quite similar in the mids and treble, as is timbre quality. The low end is where most of the differences in presentation lie thanks to Solaris’ use of a dynamic driver. While bass quantity and extension is quite similar, I found the Andromeda to lack the visceral punch of the Solaris on the same tracks. On the other hand, while plenty quick and un-phased by complicated passages, the Solaris’ dynamic driver lacks the rapidity and effortless control of the Andromeda’s low range armatures. When it comes to sound stage the Andromeda 2020 comes across wider and deeper, despite having more forward upper mids. They both image equally well with the Andromeda showing slightly better layering qualities to the Solaris’ improved instrument separation.

When it comes to design and build, I’d say the Solaris feels like the more premium product. The weight and feeling of density it carries is not replicated by the equally well constructed Andromeda. Added details like the ribbed interior and vent designs also help give the Solaris an edge. When it comes to visual design, I still prefer the Andromeda. While the angular shells in use are nothing new at this point and have been copied to death by immoral imitators, it is aging wonderfully and remains very eye catching and appealing. To me it is a timeless design that will remain desirable decades from now. The Solaris is beautiful too, but isn’t quite as interesting or distinct. If you disagree, good. Like what you like and everyone else be damned. When it comes to cables the Solaris’ is basically the same thing. While thicker, it shares all the same hardware. I personally like thin and light cables so I prefer the one shipped with the Andromeda, even if it is clearly inferior. Overall they both come across as the premium products they are with the Solaris exuding just that much more premium juice from it’s shapely pores.

HiFiMAN RE2000 (2,000 USD): The RE2000’s tuning follows a similar trajectory as the Solaris with a reasonably balanced, u-shaped sound. Treble on the RE2000 doesn’t extend to the same extent but sees more upper treble emphasis that gives it a bit more sparkle and shimmer in general. Detail, control, and speed are similar, though the 2020 Solaris’ lower treble adjustments give it a clear edge. The 2020 Solaris’ mid-range is more forward and linear with a similar warmth. The tuning adjustments ensure it remains overall a cleaner, crisper sounding experience as we heard with the previous model. It is also more detailed than the RE2000. Bass on the RE2000 is more evenly balanced between mid- and sub-bass regions versus the Solaris which is still quite linear, but ever so subtly skewed towards sub-bass regions. The extra mid-bass of the RE2000 gives it’s low end a fuller appearance and more punch. The Solaris’ sub-bass provides more physical rumble on the lowest notes. Texture is similarly presented between the two. While the RE2000 has a well above average sound stage that fell behind what the 2019 model output, the 2020 Solaris is much more in line in every direction. Where the Solaris retains the edge is the technical qualities. Tracks display improved layering over the RE2000 and instruments are better separated with more space between them.

While I thoroughly enjoy the sound of the RE2000, build quality has almost always been a criticism of their iems. Pitting it against the 2020 Solaris makes this very apparent. Unlike the Solaris which is all metal, the RE2000 uses a mix of plastic and gold-plated brass, the latter of which is already showing wear. The 2020 Solaris’ all-black paint job application feels a lot more durable, though it’s not as eye catching as either the RE2000 or 2019 Solaris. The Hifiman logo is printed onto the plastic face plate, unlike on the Solaris where it is part of the machining process and integrated into the face plate. The 2-pin input on the RE2000 extends off the top of the earpiece and isn’t a seamless aspect of the design like it is on the Solaris. The cables are not comparable at all. Like the Solaris’ cable, the RE2000’s features silver-plated copper wiring. However, it is stuffed into a fairly generic black rubber sheath and poorly relieved everywhere. It would feel more at home on a budget friendly earphone than a 2,000 USD flagship. Overall, the 2020 Solaris’ design and build feels every bit the 1,499.00 USD it costs whereas the RE2000 fails to meet basic expectations for a 2,000 USD product.

In The Ear While the Solaris 2020’s shells look very similar to the original at first glance, peer closer (or put them side-by-side) and you will noticed that the changes are drastic. First off, the new Solaris is 20% smaller than the original model. While that may not sound like much, the result is a much more compact earphone that no longer dwarfs similarly equipped products. It is also particularly impressive because the new Solaris retains the four driver hybrid layout and previous tech (ex. T.E.A.C), all while incorporating Campfire’s new solid body design. This smaller size has gone a long way towards improving ergonomics, as has the new nozzle angle. For me at least, they have the Solaris sitting much more naturally in the ear. The fairly sharp rake of the original nozzle’s angle has been toned down to an almost 90 degree angle that keeps the body pressed tightly against the ear, and nestled comfortably in the antitragus and concha. Still, even with all these improvements the general shape of this earphone isn’t quite as ergonomic as some of the competition resulting in the occasional need to re-seat for a good seal.

Build quality is as expected from the brand. That’s to say, it’s basically flawless. Fit and finish of the three pieces that make up the Solaris, those being the stainless steel nozzle and two body components, are without any gaps or misaligned segments. The CA logo on the faceplate is neatly recessed and well-defined. While I miss the two-tone gold and black look of the original Solaris, the mono-tone look of the new model is more sleek and focused. The piano black paint is neatly applied and even across the entire surface and has held up well to bumps and scrapes with no discernible damage gained over the last few months. The sea-shell like ribs that adorned the inner body of the 2019 Solaris return for the new model, adding some flair to an otherwise fairly straightforward design. Along the top of each housing is a reasonably wide vent and a tiny Torx screw holding on the face plate. You also find Campfire’s beryllium/copper MMCX ports, which in my experience are the most durable and reliable in the business. The ports on the gen 1 Polaris I’ve been using for years, that has seen countless cable swaps, are just as tight and secure as they were on day one. I have no reason to believe it would be any different here.

The included cable is very similar to that of that on the original Solaris. The thickness, metal y-split and chin cinch, and the 90 degree angled y-split all return, though their colouring has been darkened to match the smoky look of the new sheath. The new sheath is slightly more flexible than before, though it still lightly retains bends and kinks and never quite straightens out. I also appreciate that the memory wire used in the past is gone. It has been replaced with flexible preformed ear guides that, for me at least, help significantly with general fit and stability of the Solaris 2020.

When it comes to isolating you from the outside world, the Solaris 2020 is pretty average at best. With the stock silicone tips in place and no music playing, I can hold a conversation with someone easily enough and hear the snicking of the key caps on my laptop as I type, no problem. Campfire’s Mushroom foams tips go a long way towards improving the passive isolation of this earphone, and are recommended should you be planning to listen in noisy environments.

In The Box The packaging for Campfire Audio’s 2020 trio follows the format set by 2019’s releases with the earphones arriving in a squat, square box, protected by an exterior sheath that is sealed shut by a Campfire Audio seal on the back. While past releases had a clear astronomical theme to them, this year things have gone more psychedelic Hawaiian. On the front of the sheath is a large sticker with an image of the earphones along with the usual branding and model info, all set over top of a vibrantly coloured floral pattern. Another sticker is present around the front edge containing another image of the earphones, some company info, among other details, all set over the same wild background.

Breaking the seal allows the sheath to unfold in four segments revealing the main box within. Lifting it out reveals the same uplifting interior to the sheath that we saw last year; the CA logo dead centre with rays exploding outwards in a dramatic fashion. Looking back at the main box we see Campfire’s familiar mountainous scene along with more CA branding. Lift the lid and you’re greeted to “Nicely Done” printed on the front flap and their now standard half-moon carrying case, though this time it is made from sustainably harvested cork instead of leather. You also find a smaller cardboard box containing the main suite of accessories. Tucked beneath it all is a warranty card and manual. In all you get:

  • Solaris 2020 earphones
  • Cork carrying case
  • 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 a pretty fantastic unboxing experience, as I have come to expect from the brand. Their use of recyclable, sustainable materials is a brand standard and a welcome departure from the needlessly complicated (though fun to disassemble) and less environmentally friendly packaging of the competition. The accessory kit is right up there with the best I’ve experience thanks to the inclusion of a wide variety of tips and styles. Final Audio’s Type E tips are durable and provide a fantastic seal, giving most earphones you pair them with a slight low end boost thanks to the small bore. The included wide bore tips are fairly standard but they too provide a good seal and are a more balanced sounding option. Campfire’s Marshmallow tips have shown themselves to be fairly resilient for a foam tip and do a great job of boosting isolation and softening treble peaks. The inclusion of a number of mesh bags to store everything in is awesome too.

Final Thoughts The Solaris 2020 earns it’s keep as Campfire Audio’s top dog flagship. Coming hot on the heels of the 2019 model, you’d be forgiven for expecting a warmed over, slightly altered version of the original Solaris. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Instead we have a re-imagining of the 2019 Solaris with a 20% smaller, more ergonomically sound shell and updated tuning that retains the magic of the original while eliminating what minor flaws their were. While this does result in a less expansive but still impressive sound stage, it’s a welcome trade off for all the benefits to be found elsewhere.

If you’re looking for a new flagship earphone and want something capable and full of character, do yourself a favour and audition the Solaris 2020.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Caleb with Campfire Audio for arranging a sample of the Solaris 2020 for the purposes of review, and to be sent along to some fellow reviewers afterwards. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective impressions based on more time than expected with this earphone. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing, the Solaris 2020 retailed for 1,499.00 USD: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/solaris-2020/

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 5Hz–20 kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94 dB SPL @ 1kHz: 6.54 mVrms
  • Impedance: 15.5 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
  • Harmonic Distortion: Less than 1%
  • Drivers: Dual Custom Balanced Armature Drivers + T.A.E.C. (High), Single Updated Custom Balanced Armature Driver (Mid), Specially Tuned 10mm Dynamic Driver (Mid + Low)

Gear Used For Testing LG Q70, Earstudio HUD100, Earmen TR-Amp, Asus FX53V, TEAC HA-501

Some Test Tunes

Supertramp – Crime of the Century

Slipknot – Vol 3 (The Subliminal Verses)

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid

King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic

King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black

Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma

The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam

Porcupine Tree – Stupid Dreams

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