I first became aware of Campfire Audio at T.H.E. Show 2016, where the guidebook for the event featured close-up advertising photos and revealed the exotic and purposeful looks of Campfire’s newly launched range of universal-fit earphones. In high-performance audio it is usually not a good idea to judge books by their covers, but sometimes products like the Campfire earphones show such careful attention to construction details and overall design that one can’t help but be impressed. A bit of investigation revealed that Campfire Audio was no ordinary start-up company, but rather had a desirable pedigree in that it was a spin-off from the well-regarded firm ALO Audio.
For those unfamiliar with the name, ALO Audio is an Oregon-based firm that was founded by Ken Ball and that has been around for many years: ALO is best known for its specialised personal audio cables, its superb portable and desktop headphone amplifiers, and outstanding amp/DACs. Indeed, when I first began to explore high-performance personal audio components almost a decade ago, I fondly remember Ken Ball loaning me one of his ALO Rx-series portable headphone amplifiers so that I would have a high-quality platform with which to evaluate earphones and headphones. Over time, it seemed only logical for ALO to branch out to develop a range of specialty earphones to be marketed under the Campfire Audio brand.
Ken Ball and his team launched Campfire Audio in 2015 with the release of the firm’s first three earphones: the Jupiter, Orion, and Lyra. In 2016, Campfire released its flagship Andromeda and Nova earphones, followed by the so-called ‘Liquid Metal’ range consisting of the Lyra II, Dorado, and Vega earphones (the Vega serves as a co-flagship model alongside the Andromeda). Finally, in 2017, Campfire introduced a new mid-priced earphone called the Polaris.
In late 2017 I asked Ken Ball what he thought would be the best Campfire models to review in order to give our readers a good sense for what the Campfire brand is about and after a brief pause he proposed the flagship Andromeda ($1,099) and mid-priced Polaris ($599) models as the subjects for this review.
There are obvious external similarities between most of Campfire’s earphones. All feature crisply-lined, angular earpieces fashioned from metal—either via CNC machining, as in the case of the Andromeda and Polaris, or via a ‘Liquid Metal’ process as used on models such as the Vega, Dorado, and Lyra II. Another signature feature found on all Campfire earphones are thin, angular metal faceplates that bear “CA” logos and are attached with recessed, miniature cap screws. All models use proprietary Campfire beryllium-copper MMCX-type signal cable connectors. Each model in the line-up is treated to its own distinctive colour scheme, making it easy to tell at a glance which model is at hand.
The Andromeda earpiece shells and faceplates are done up in a matt Kelly green anodised finish with accents in the form of silver-coloured metal sound outlet ports and bronze-colour cable connector jacks. In turn, the Polaris arrives with matt textured Royal blue anodized earpiece shells topped off with matt black/cobalt-coloured, Cerakote-finished faceplates, with polished black sound outlet ports and again bronze-colour cable connectors. (Cerakote is a durable polymer-Ceramic Composite coating often used in firearms applications, but that Campfire puts to more musical uses in Polaris and several other earphone models.) It’s on the inside, though, where the biggest differences between Campfire’s various models become apparent.