Campfire Audio Vega 2020: All-In

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out one of Campfire Audio’s final releases of 2020, the Vega.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon where their products are designed and hand-assembled, Campfire Audio has been bringing high end in-ear-monitors to the public since 2015. It all started with the Jupiter, Orion, and Lyra. Since then their lineup has been expanded and refined with popular releases like the Andromeda and Atlas. The Andromeda in particular has become a staple recommendation to audiophiles looking to step up into the realm of TOTL (top-of-the-line) gear thanks to a balanced and technically proficient yet entertaining sound. It looks pretty cool too.

The 2020 Vega we’re checking out today is the second iteration of the original Vega, originally released in 2016. The 2020 model completely revamps the Vega with a new housing material and updated driver. Inside the original Vega’s 8.5mm dynamic driver has been swapped out for a 10mm amorphous, diamond-like carbon coated unit. Containing this is an all-new ceramic housing. Ceramic isn’t a new material for the brand as 2015’s Lyra was the first earphone to utilize a fully ceramic shell.

I have been using the Vega 2020 extensively over the last few months and while I understand this isn’t going to be an earphone for everyone, have come to appreciate the gung-ho, bass forward tune on hand. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

What I Hear

Tips: The included Final Type E tips are a great match with the Vega providing a good fit. They also emphasize it’s party piece, that massive low end, thanks to the smaller bore. That said, should you want to bring up the mids and treble you have options. First is the included wide bore tips which do a good job of reducing the mid-bass focus to let other areas shine. Heading into third party alternatives, the Spinfit CP145 function similarly to the stock wide bore tips, but with a deeper insertion. I like the sound, but I already have enough issues with the long nozzles so they weren’t an ideal fit for me. The same could be said for CP100s which provide a similar experience to the included Final Audio tips, but again, with a deeper fit. Lastly, if you reallllllly want to lean into that low end, Sony Hybrids kick things up another notch while offering a very comfortable fit. Generally I find foam tips to soften treble and boost bass, but in this instance Campfire’s own Mushroom tips sounded more akin to the included wide bore silicones. Very nice.

The Vega 2020 is a bass cannon through and through. That’s the main focus, and Campfire Audio went all in with this sound which provides a somewhat unique experience in a high end product. On a seriously bassy track like “eXplosion” by Black Eyed Peas & Anitta, the Vega’s mega-low end provides a club-like experience. I can imagine that pairing the Vega with a wearable haptic bass vest like the SubPac or Woojer would be a pretty sick, one-of-a-kind experience. Bass is not the quickest leaving deep notes to rumble endlessly, yet individual bass notes don’t blend or get lost to provide a one-note sound. It’s oddly articulate given the bass quantity on offer, both in mid- and sub-bass regions. Texturing is also good with grungy notes like those on The Prodigy’s “Roadblox” being adequately replicated, though you will find some competitors like the Dunu Zen providing more growl. If you like bass and lots of it, you owe it to yourself to give the Vega 2020 a listen.

The midrange certainly plays second fiddle to the low end, just like everything else, yet it remains clear and coherent with only mild mid-bass bleed acting combative towards deeper male vocals. Despite the abundance of mid-bass present, the mid-range sounds comparatively lean. This contributes greatly in shedding light on the clarity and detail the Vega can provide. These aspects are not class leading by any means, which is to be expected given the main focus of the tuning, but instead are perfectly competent and functional providing a strong supporting role to the main attraction. Timbre is reasonably accurate with instruments having a lightly wooden or dry edge to them. I don’t find it enough to be distracting, but purists might. That said, I can’t imagine that someone wanting complete accuracy would be considering purchasing the Vega 2020 given the style of tune on hand.

The Vega’s treble has a laid back presentation. Minor peaks are present around 5k, 7k, and 11k, keeping the upper ranges from being overshadowed by the abundant low end. Detail and clarity is perfectly fine and does the job, but if you’re coming in expecting to intimately analyze tracks, you should be looking elsewhere. I find it works perfectly on electronic tracks like Gramatik’s “Bluestep” which is loaded with hi-hats and other bright sounds which dance about through most of the track. Unlike the low end which acts fairly leisurely when it comes to attack and decay, the upper ranges are notably more snappy which leaves the Vega 2020 in a good place when tackling chaotic pieces, like the closing moments of King Crimson’s “Starless and Bible Black”. Overall a good showing in the treble region.

You might expect the Vega’s sound stage to suffer as a result of the lack of treble emphasis which typically aids in space and airiness. Thankfully, the Vega follows in the footsteps of other Campfire products and does a great job by providing a spacious presentation, this time carried by that thundering low end. I find the presentation wider than it is deep with sounds consistently sailing well off into the distance. Default positioning for vocals sounds like it starts just slightly inside the ear. This gives the Vega a satisfying intimacy without coming across stuffy or invasive. Channel-to-channel movement is smooth and nuanced with fine movements being replicated properly. It’s not hard to track sweeping sounds. The Vega layers well enough with tracks having adequate depth. Each element plays in it’s own space, but it isn’t class leading by any means. The same can be said for instrument separation, although when a track gets crazy, such as on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man”, the bass gets in the way and can leave the Vega sounding congested.

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

Astrotec Phoenix (799.00 USD): The Phoenix and Vega approach a bass heavy signature in completely different ways. Where the Vega boosts both mid- and sub-bass in somewhat equal aplomb, the Phoenix skews heavily towards sub-bass. As a result, it provides even more visceral feedback from the deepest notes. Mid-bass is much leaner, cooler, and overall more subtle than it is on the Vega. The Phoenix also shoves forward more detail and texture than the Vega. This gives it a more technical edge that continues through to the rest of the signature. Such as the midrange where the Astrotec’s impressive dynamic provides a much more forward presentation alongside gobs of detail and improved vocal coherence. The Phoenix doesn’t sound as natural though thanks to a dry, breathy edge which is heard particularly in the upper ranges where things begin to transition to the dual electrostats. I have enjoyed this presentation which can also found within in-house designed and built balanced armatures from Sony and EarNiNE, but in terms of pure sonic accuracy it’s not technically desirable. Where the Vega’s treble is subdued and relaxed, the twin super-tweeters in the Phoenix aim to show off the unique electrostat tech with wide peaks at 4k and 7k. Compared to Campfire’s entry, treble on the Astrotec is less dense and weighty with significantly faster attack and decay. Detail is more comparable to the Dorado 2020, but with an added layer of urgency. While the Vega is no sound stage slouch, a properly driven Phoenix will best it every time. Wider, much deeper, and with improved layering and separation along with similar imaging competency, the Phoenix nips at the heels of a good closed back, on-ear headphone.

While I’d consider both the Vega and Phoenix basshead earphones, it feels like they target different crowds. The Phoenix’s focus on sub-bass, detail, and clarity makes it an audiophile guilty pleasure whereas the Vega’s bass led sound and more natural tonality make it better as a daily driver and casual listening earphone. That and the fact that it is also a million times easier to drive than the Phoenix.

I don’t normally recommend a separate amplifier as a mandatory accessory for an iem, but with the Phoenix that’s the case. The Vega can be powered adequately with a potato yet scales well with higher end gear. The Phoenix needs at minimum a chonky portable amp like the EarMen Tr-Amp, or preferably a desktop headphone amp. It truly is that demanding, and is the main reason why I feel these two iems compliment each other perfectly. In an ideal world I’d own both, but if I had to pick just one I’d go for the Vega because it’s something I could use all the time. I’d rather not lug around a clumsy portable amp, and I rarely sit still long enough for the lengthily listening sessions necessary to warrant using an 800 USD earphone mostly for in-home listening.

Campfire Audio Dorado 2020 (1,099 USD): The Vega and Dorado are certainly cut from the same cloth sharing their shell design and dynamic driver (updated for the Dorado since it no longer has to function as a full-range unit). The Dorado is it’s own beast thanks to the addition of a compact balanced armature tucked snug-as-a-bug into a brass nozzle instead of the stainless steel nozzle used for the Vega. For the most part the two share their low end performance with the Dorado coming across slightly less bassy. I found this slight reduction to sound more extreme than it is thanks to the improvement in midrange and treble presence enabled by the inclusion of the balanced armature. Compared to the Vega, the Dorado’s mids sound leaner, more forward, and notably more detailed. Their default vocal positioning is also slightly deeper in the ear which adds additional intimacy. I prefer the tonality of the Vega which to me comes across more natural. The treble presentation on the two is completely different. The Dorado is quite a bit brighter with a snappier attack and quicker decay. It does a better job layering and separating individual track elements, with the leaner presentation also helping in imaging accuracy. Where the Vega struggles on highly congested tracks, the Dorado has no problems. This may also be due to a mildly wider and deeper stage on which music and effects play.

Overall I enjoy both quite a lot, but the way the Vega leans completely into a bass-heavy signature really sings to me. While it lacks the detail and technical competency of the Dorado, I can’t help but smile and laugh at the low end which just doesn’t shine the same way on the Dorado thanks to sharing the spotlight with other aspects of the signature. I’m sure most listeners will prefer the Dorado, but I’m smitten with the Vega.

In The Ear The Vega 2020 refines the design of the original 2016 model with a new ceramic shell and stainless steel nozzle. Ceramic is an excellent material to use for this purpose as it helps control unwanted vibrations, and unlike steel or aluminum, is highly resistant to scratching and blemishes. Don’t think these will be delicate either. The Vega’s shells go through a rigorous sintering process where the material is heated to 600 degrees for two days, and then for another three days at 1,200 degrees. This fuses the ceramic powders into a very dense shell with limited porosity. Once this is complete, they are polished for three days in a tumbler with small alumina stones and water. This results in their gleaming, high gloss finish. Along with the premium shell material, the Vega utilizes Campfire’s uber-reliable Beryllium Copper MMCX ports. The original Polaris I reviewed back in 2017 uses a less refined version of this same technology. Despite removing and plugging cables in dozens of times, the connection still feels just as good now as it did four years ago. I am pretty confident the Vega will be exceptionally durable and will last a long, long time.

If the cable looks familiar I’m not surprised as it can be found included with a number of different Campfire Audio models. 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 still stiffer than I find ideal. That said, I still have yet to experience any issues with it on the numerous cables I’ve used with it. 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 earlier Campfire cables and as a result is much more useful. Also useful are the preformed ear guides that seem to now be the standard on Campfire’s cables. While the memory wire used on earlier cables worked, I found the “memory” aspect of that title limited at best which led to the wire straightening out over time. Ditching it entirely and sticking 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. I am glad Campfire Audio has stuck with this cable and is using it with numerous models in their lineup.

When it comes to fitment the smooth, well-rounded Vega 2020 should highlight the term ‘universal’ better than Campfire’s larger, more angular housings. Even though it is quite small, the Vega is fairly heavy. It has a long, stainless steel nozzle which combined with the low-profile, over-ear design helps spread that weight evenly through the outer ear. As a result, it’s a really comfortable earphone to wear for long periods. The long nozzle isn’t ideal for me personally as I can’t insert them deeply enough to make use of the design, but I know I’m in the minority when it comes to stuff like this. I suspect this shape and design will be a big win for the majority of users.

In addition to fitting well, the Vega has pretty impressive passive isolation. The single vent to the rear of the housing doesn’t let in much noise, nor does much bleed through the dense ceramic shells. I have had no issues using these in loud areas with no need to increase the volume to counter the surrounding activities. Tossing Campfire’s included Mushroom foams tips and the isolation shames most other vented, dynamic driver-based iems.

In The Box The Vega 2020 continues on with the same outstanding unboxing experience introduced with their 2019 models. The front of the exterior sheath has a geometric theme going on with a number of circles, rectangles, and a grid laying the backdrop for a high quality image of the Vega’s gleaming white shells. On the back a lovely foil sticker holds things together. Removing the sticker allows you to unfurl the sheath like a blossoming flower revealing another box within, one that is printed with the more traditional evening scene that has adorned their packaging in the past. Lifting the lid you’re greeted with “Nicely Done” printed on the front flap. Inside, the pale green moon-shaped case immediately draws your attention, while a smaller, elongated box containing most of the accessories fills in the remaining space. In all you get:

  • Campfire Audio Vega 2020 earphones
  • ‘Seafoam Green” upcycled marine plastic case
  • Smoky Jacket Silver Plated Copper Litz Cable
  • Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
    Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l)
  • Wide bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
  • Campfire Audio lapel pin
  • Cleaning tool
  • Mesh accessory case (x3)

This is an unboxing experience befitting the premium products Campfire is known for. You feel like you’re getting some special, a feeling helped along by the wealth of useful extras, like a compact, usable carrying case and various tips of different styles which helps avoid the need to turn to a third party. I also appreciate the Campfire has kept their unboxings relatively straightforward, avoiding the temptation to micro-package every individual element. Yet another big plus is that they’ve kept their materials recyclable so as to limit waste. This goes double for the new case which drops the sustainably sourced cork material for upcycled marine plastics. Sure, it doesn’t feel quite as premium as cork, or the leather used in the past, but it doesn’t feel cheap and it’ll be plenty durable all while helping the environment. I don’t really see any downsides.

Final Thoughts As I’ve said in the past, I appreciate the risks Campfire Audio takes with their releases and tuning decisions. Instead of a lineup full of iterative products, almost every mainline model in their catalogue offers something different and unique. The Vega continues this trend with a tune that to my ears, is almost completely bass-oriented. Free of the treble bump of other bassy models like the Polaris II, Atlas, and Dorado 2020, the Vega provides a warm, smooth, hella bassy sound that is as entertaining as it is soothing. While I recognize the Vega is not for everyone, I think it’s great.

Also great is the rest of the package. The build quality of the ceramic shells is top notch without a blemish in sight. Passive isolation is excellent and ergonomics are quite good, though keep in mind the long nozzles if you prefer shallow fit products. And lastly, the Vega is equipped with Campfire Audio’s usual stable of plentiful and high quality accessories, so you’re unlike to need to spend more on any third party extras to complete the package.

If you live for mass quantities of bass alongside a more mellow treble response, or simply enjoy experiencing tuning variety, it’d be a shame to overlook the Vega. The entertainment value it provides is off the charts.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A huge thanks to Caleb at Campfire Audio for reaching out to see if I would be interested in covering the Vega, and for arranging a sample for review. The thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions and do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Vega 2020 retailed for 899.00 USD: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/vega-2020/

Specifications

  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 20kHz
  • Sensitivity: 94dB SPL @ 1kHz 19.86 mVrms
  • Impedance: 36ohms @ 1kHz

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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