In-Ear Fidelity

[Cliffnotes] Campfire’s new IO & Polaris: Disappointing

Welcome to my Cliffnotes, a series where I push out rapid fire opinions of some of the IEMs I’ve heard while I was back in Singapore during the month of July. Thus I won’t get too in-depth,  nor will I be too formal and technical. Less analysis, more… from-the-heart if you will.

Campfire Audio. I guess most of you have already been aware of our ugly history with each other; well it’s more of a “me versus Ken Ball”-type situation than any gripe with the company itself, but I digress. As a reviewer, it is my duty to separate the personal from the professional, and in this regard I have no beef with Campfire Audio as a company or corporate entity.

I feel like I have to reiterate this point in case anyone accuses me of being biased due to previous debacles, but not so. I still have massive appreciation for the Andromeda and shall firmly stand behind its “S-” rating, possibly till the ends of time.

That said, the new IO and Polaris are the giant neon signs signalling the new sonic direction(s) that the Campfire Audio lineup seem to be taking. And like a concerned father, I’m not angry. Just disappointed.

(I forgot to take pictures so in lieu of eyecandy, I’ll just plaster the graphs so the article doesn’t look so dreary.)

Campfire Polaris V2

Product page:

MSRP: $500

Driver specifications: 1DD + 1BA hybrid

Let’s start with the less offensive of the two, just to ease you in.

The Polaris V2 is reminiscent of what I believe is the “true house sound” of the Campfire lineup, sporting a massive bass response that is balanced out by a smaller treble emphasis so it doesn’t sound completely drowned out and muddy.

We’ve seen this kind of sound from Campfire of course; the Vega came hot off the heels of the Andromeda and had its own hype for a short period, before levelling off to a lukewarm post-release plateau with many citing concerns over its overdone bass response and sibilant treble tuning.

Then came the Atlas, that addressed the sibilance issues of the Vega but retained the bass response that essentially defined Campfire’s DLC dynamic drivers. Again, it wasn’t as appreciated by the mainstream crowd of audiophiles (bit of an oxymoron there) since its signature was pretty much catered to the more hardcore of bassheads. A niche within a niche, if you will.

So what’s with the history lesson here? Well, the Polaris V2 is a continuation of this branch of Campfire’s many tuning directions; a branch I admittedly cannot appreciate to its fullest extent on a personal level but can judge on a more pseudo-objective level given my experiences.

There’s no getting around it, the Polaris V2 has too much bass. Now I know I know, there’s a certain level of personal preference that we have to factor in here, but in terms of the performance of the Polaris V2, we’re talking about bleeding, tonal masking effects and skewing the tonality in a direction that I fail to see as any definition of “natural”, though I will concede that it is “fun”.

I had my own criticisms of the Polaris V1: I felt that it had too much upper mids and too little lower mids, which made it a specialist of sorts that seem to catered towards the Asian market more than anything. The V2 is the opposite of the V1 in this regard; it seems more suited for American hip-hop than the V1’s specialty of anime OSTs, though the tuning direction seems to marr the technicalities of the BA+DD hybrid setup quite a bit.

I will end it on a higher note: I can at least imagine myself listening to the Polaris V2 in my own personal time, and ultimately I have heard worse. There are numerous other IEMs that attempt the Polaris V2’s hyperboosted bass signature and have failed in much more spectacular ways. That said, in my own personal opinion, the Polaris V2 is nowhere close to a “$500 sound”.

Grade: C-

Campfire IO

Product page:

MSRP: $300

Driver specifications: 2BA

Where I can imagine listening to the Polaris V2 at my own personal time, I refuse to entertain any fantasy that involves me listening to the IO outside professional intentions.

I have endured 2 hours of listening with this thing, swapping tips and sources to eliminate every variable that could make the IO sound bad. And with every variable exhausted, I thus came to the conclusion: the IO is inherently bad.

Right right, you want an explanation. There are two aspects that kill the IO as a competitive IEM in the market: the resolution and its tonality (and as an extension, its timbre). I’ll start with the easier of the two to explain.

The IO simply struggles at surface level detailing. The attack function of its transients are rather blunted and dragged out, resulting in notes that lack definition and cleanliness. The decay seems to be fine per usual BA expectations, so it seems that the heavy smearing that I’m hearing is due to the less-than-stellar attack. The end result is an IEM that sounds like a fuzzy, low resolution image, barely being able to separate quick percussive hits prevalent in metal genres.

All that would’ve been fine if it at least sounded correct, but the IO fails the hardest in timbre and tonality. The simplest answer is that the IO sounds wrong, though to explain why it is so requires an analysis of its frequency response that I shall now touch on, at the risk of being called a dirty measurbator by the brave and attractive people on the internet.

The IO has its “pinna gain” at 1.7kHz, which is essentially the middle-of-nowhere in the context of academic neutrality. Hammershoi & Moller’s Diffuse Field peaks at roughly 2.5kHz, and the Harman research’s own approximation of Diffuse Field peaks even later at 3kHz. This is another problem with the IO in that its “pinna gain” is of such a high Q-factor that it begins to dip where it was supposed to maintain SPL, resulting in a peak that does not correspond with any academic definition of neutral. Subjectively, it sounds like an odd emphasis in harmonics that shouldn’t be emphasised, and there is barely any bite and energy due to the suppressed upper midrange.

You could argue that academic research on neutral does not necessarily prove how good an IEM would sound, to which I would agree wholeheartedly. Again, I am only defaulting to interpreting the graph because there is literally no other way to explain why the IO sounds this wrong. I have physically heard it and I would personally be satisfied with the statement of “The IO is bad because it sounds wrong”, but I know that many of my readers would not be satisfied with such a copout answer so here is my somewhat-objective explanation on why it is so.

The IO is still listenable and me critically listening to it for 2 hours should be proof of that. But it is far from being even decent.

Grade: E

A fresh new month, so a big thank you to all who continued to support me on Patreon. And an even bigger shoutout to my big money boys Denis, “McMadface” and Nicholas.

3 thoughts on “[Cliffnotes] Campfire’s new IO & Polaris: Disappointing”

  1. The Campfire IO are my first step into decent IEMs and I was originally disappointed finding the sound too sharp (not sure that’s a technical term) lacking depth in the mid and low end. However, either my ear or the IEMs settled in and now I am able to listen to music at 24/192 and am able to separate instruments and sounds within the music I have listened to over many years and am learning to enjoy a wider sounds stage and new elements of the music.

    So my question is, are the IO’s improving over time or am I just listening more intensely. Appreciation of art is subjective and can be influenced by conditioning, so where lies the truth, the clinical scientific measurement of frequency and tuning or the personal experience of sound.

    The search for perfection continues, whilst enjoying the now!

    Ps, dig the reviews!

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