CAMPFIRE AUDIO POLARIS REVIEW :
A friend of mine gently lend me this IEM and I want to thank this secret friend greatly for giving me this opportunity to try high end IEM from a price range that I can’t afford easily. Sure, in the past I own Westone ES2 as well as Grado GS1000e, but since i’m obsess about chifi budget IEM I just never go above 200$ price anymore, but well, perhaps the Campfire Audio will change my mind about this as I don’t consider his 600$ price unjustified, especially in term of sound value.
Now I want to say DAMN YOU to my friend, cause I really don’t wan’t to send this IEM back to him and go back to my KZ ZS6 copy cat of this incredibly resolved and muscular Polaris. This love story was just an illusion…..unfortunately. To be clear, I never heard any Hybrid IEM that sound that good and can deliver easily an impressive level of details, the Polaris ”just” have 1 dynamic + 1 balanced armatures drivers but feel like a multi drivers with at least 1 dynamic and 2 balanced, how can it deliver a so wide and well layered soundstage is just a mystery to me. Polaris do black magic for they ears, and i’m bewitched by the talented engineer that achieve this sound tour-de-force!
20Hz–20kHz Frequency Response
97.5 dB SPL/mW Sensitivity
16.8 Ohms @ 1kHz Impedance
Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections
Machined Aluminum Shell
Cobalt Cerakote™ Lid
Anodized Blue Body
8.5mm Dynamic Driver with Polarity Tuned Chamber™
Single Balanced Armature High Frequency Driver with Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber™ (T.A.E.C.)
Well, the Polaris sure feel solid in hands and ready for hardcore daily use, this isn’t a fragile gold plated jewellery that feel it should be touch with glove like some TOTL IEM that forget about how portable should be an IEM, here Campfire think the housing for durability. Body is made of 2 parts, one use Cerakote coating technology that is know for extreme resistance to shock and scratch, other part is blue anodized alluminium wich even if very beautifull feel more prompt to scratch than Cerakote, so perhaps it would have been better using this anti-scratch coating on all housing but anyway, it still very sturdy, but seing white scratch on blue alluminium of a 600$ IEM is never nice.
The included MMCX braided cable is a strange mix of Berylium copper and high purity conductor, don’t exactly know what it mean but the result is great and ultra clear and must of all : free of any microphonic. It look very sturdy and is not prompt to node or unwanted folding.
This IEM are big but very light, it have some sharp corner that could be problematic for small ears, and even if very comfortable for me, the housing tend to move and make silicone tips slowly pop up of my ears, so I have a nervous habit to replace it frequently. Ear hook of included cable will solve this little issue , but if you want to use a balanced cable or any other cable that do not have ear hook, well, it could be problematic, but not like the IEM will fall from your ears after 5 minutes….more like after 5 hours if you never touch it and let it slide out. All in all, I find very comfortable the Polaris and did not encounter any fitting issue like it can happen with the Hifiman RE-2000 that is way more heavy and have a less long nozzle. I find silicone tips that can go deep in ears the best secure fit.
When I first heard the Polaris it was instant love and my WOW face was sincere. I was utterly impress by immense dynamic and impactfull sound presentation that have a top notch resolution and could’nt believe how wide and spacious was soundstage, every instrument was placed at right place with a spot light on them and all details was show in a very energic way. As well, al instruments have great texture to them, just enough teeth to give extra excitment to whole sound experience, yes, these Polaris sure is an hyperactive athlete in term of PRaT performance and even if a little peaky in upper highs, its rarely a problem because of a masterfull clarity that never tend to create distortion or sibilance, highs are naturally push but have extra impact, so it will be naturally offensive in music that have lot of sharp highs sound, like experimental electronic, in other hands, instrument like harpsichord will have more brillance and decay and sound sublime because of the extra treble in highs region.
This is just so immensely wide and deep that you feel you can listen 10 times the same tracks and always crave for new sound discoveries. The 3D panoramic feel is incredible and have a sharp sens of imaging that feel ultra sparkly and must of all exciting. Wow effet is immediate with the Polaris, you enter this universe like in another 4th dimension, and the musicality is festive in a wide hall were you stay in the center, not far away, you live with the musicians.
Another highly resolve and fast presentation, where impact are always at right place and decay properly, it have a muscular authoritative pace with vivid timing. It can be heard pretty well with percussion and cymbals impact and decay, wich is tigh but realist and have excellent impact feel.
BASS is where you get your first joyfull punch in the face from the Polaris, even if more bumped in mid bass region, the sub rumble too. Kick are very thick and lively, with heavy weigth and impact, overall bass is round and little bright because of exquisite texture. I feel they use a V shaped dynamic driver with a mid centric Balanced armature, because the mids aren’t drown at all with all this bass and the overall soundsignature don’t feel boomy, sure bassy, but in a resolved and fast way. Lows are superb, and extremely well separated from other instrument, we could think its a 3 or 4 hybrid drivers but it’s a Dual one, wich make it even more impressive. This is not a slow bass presentation, as it’s tigh and fast, the buttom low end feel transparent compared to mid bass, wich give a very dynamic presentation that permit to keep excellent separation as well as more air in soundstage.
MIDS aren’t recessed, they feel less thick than bass and highs, but have a fowards and bright presentation with lot of texture and details, they are as well very wide but not super transparent, wich is n’t really a problem because of immense soundstage that have lot of space for instrument separation. I wasn’t thinking to enjoy this much the vocal with this IEM but even if sometime a little sharp, they rarely make any sibilance, it really need to be a particularly shrill signer, here, even Bjork do not create sibilance and listening to psychadelic Bjork music is an utterly rewarding audio experience that must be heard to be believe. Violin sound energic and fowards, wathever the number that will play togheter you will be able to enjoy all of them separately, they feel light, agile and lively even if not extremely weighty. This kind of mids is very versatile and can perform like a champion with classical as well as electronic or signers. I would not suggest this type of soundsignature for somebody that just listen to solo signers tough, cause were not in warm mid centric territory here and it will feel like just using 1 pourcent of Polaris potential.
HIGHS are so detailed that even bats will be impress by this level of resolution. No, but seriously, these are very revealing IEM, they do not feel clinical cause of great musicality of whole sound presentation and they can extract lot of microdetails without intense harshness. Sure, they are fowards, but not to the point of feeling out of place, as the layering and transient response is very well articulate, extra treble give the right push to sharpness to highs so it feel very sparkly and rarely too trebly. If you are a very serious treble sensitive being, perhaps this will feel not enough laid back, but I know that to trebly IEM aren’t my cup of tea and the Campfire Polaris never feel one of them. What you win with this great clarity and extended highs is ultra resolving is being able to hear every nuance of percussion or details of classical guitar that are full of brilliance and never fail to fascinate the ears, as well, with electronic music, especially complex IDM or Ambient, level of details you will hear will simply blow your mind and change you sound perception about IEM potential for out of the head imaging.
VS HIFIMAN RE-2000 :
Polarised comparaison between this 2, where one sound smooth, warm and analog and the other, the Polaris, is sharper, clearer and more in an HD musical quest.
One will think Polaris is more U shaped and bassy as a Dual hybrid, but RE2000 is far from lacking in the low region as well with its chunky weighty bass, so here its really in type of bass rendering where the Polaris give a tigher-brighter lower response with more spot on emphasis and perhaps better extension, RE2000 in other hand give plenty of body but in a warmer way that keep good texture but feel more a part of whole music. Polaris bass is extremely punchy and well separated that move air in a big panoramic soundstage and RE2000 feel more chunky especially in mid lows and mix with the vocal to give some warmth where the Polaris bass keep still in its well definate soundspectrum with more transparency than textured RE2000 low.
Polaris have a very pleasant analytical sound that do not feel cold, but sure is peakier than the smoothly resolved RE2000, and if I was just talking about vocal performance, RE2000 will be the winner even if Polaris vocal are far from sounding displeasant with there wide airy presentation that give realism and decay to signers, anyway, they feel less intimate and fully present than the vocal of RE2000. But if instrument separation is better with the Polaris, it mean some instruments will sound more accurate with them and that’s were I feel RE2000 loose by some margin : 3D rendering is just head and shoulder above with the Polaris. As the mids of RE2000 are thicker too, they will tend to mix and loose attack, but never they will sound too sharp as it can happen with Polaris especially in upper mids, so I will prefer the RE2000 for folk or jazz signers but for classical and electronic the Polaris will sound more exciting and immersive.
If your obsess with details rendering, the Polaris at 600$ sure is a better bet than the 2000$ hifiman, but it do not mean treble of RE2000 is bad, and this is where Topology drivers can do miracle : its like ‘’literary audio’’, I see this technology as being able to extract its own langage from an audio membrane by changing it’s basic sound curve to something more articulate in treble region, being able to push it in some specific region so details and textures of bass, mids and highs can be hear in a more musical and resolved way that will never feel too fowards and forced. Sure, Polaris dig more details, but to the cost of creating some hearing damage at high volume, because of this i tend to listen them at lower volume compared to the lush RE2000. It mean too that yes, layering is better with Polaris, as well as soundstage deepness and this make it a more revealing sound experience that create immediate wow effect where the RE2000 create an addiction with a more romantic, musical and analog sound presentation. Here it’s like a bassy version of AKG 701 vs a Sennheiser HD600, it really depend what type of soundsignature you prefer but for me the Campfire Polaris offer a more impressive and majestuously detailed soundrendering and entertain my ears more than the Hifiman RE2000.
To be honnest, both IEM are in some way a little to big and heavy and tend to fall from my ears if earhook isn’t well in place, but i’m less afraid of breaking the cable of Polaris than fragile looking one of RE2000 and this aspect is kind of a non sens at the 2000$ price tag. RE2000 are about 2 times heavier as well and nozzle is less long than the Polaris wich make it more prompt to discomfort. Both housing feel sturdy and of high quality, but the Polaris paint can be scratch quite easily, cannot say with the RE2000, but i’m afraid the H letter paint on the housing can be scratch, will not make a scratching test to know tough. Another potential drawback to note will be for exposed MMCX connection of Campfire Polaris where perhaps a drop of water (or sweating) will have dramatic effect, RE2000 2pin connection do not have this issue and is seal perfecly (just sad that the cable connection is so THIN).
VS HIFIMAN RE-800 :
Polaris have a wider, taller and deeper soundstage with more air between instrument. In comparaison, the RE-800 feel restraint and too intimate, even a little congested and too fowards.
Polaris have a rounder, thicker and more impactfull bass that go deeper and RE-800 feel warm and punchy with a low roll off that cancel sub presence. I really feel the RE-800 bass is weak and sometime it can’t deal with too complex music because of a slow bass presentation that lack impact and thickness.
Polaris mids are little brighter but way wider and have more presence and texture wich make them more enjoyable than the warm Re-800 mids, level of details and layering is way better with Polaris too, making them sound like another league even if they cost 100$ less than overpriced RE-800. Even if mid centric, the RE800 lack the good imaging to make
Another time it’s just not comparable, with the RE-800 we do not get lot of microdetails and highs lack sparkle and brillance. The Polaris feel more realistic and the way greater instrument separations make the highs more lively and with better PRaT. The treble feel cleaner and more linear where the RE-800 feel colored and warmer. Level of details is way higher with Polaris and more energic, compared to it, the RE-800 feel fowards and boring, in the sens it lack clarity and air, its like the RE-800 was on-ear closed back headphones and Polaris full size over-ear open headphones.
VS KZ ZS6 :
This is a little ironic to compare the 40$ chifi earphones that stole the Campfire design, but hey, the ZS6 have 1dynamic+3 balanced armature drivers, it should be able to compete with a 600$ hybrid IEM right? Well, yes and no. In term of construction ZS6 isn’t bad but in term of sound its just a mess compared to the Polaris.
ZS6 have a more congested soundstage, is very prompt to shrilling, have way badder layering and just feel extremely clumsy compared to precise Polaris. It lack air between instrument, bass feel slobby and dry, mids are just an agression and overall foward and agressive sound is spit at you compared to the energic signing of Campfire Polaris.
Once you heard the realism of sound rendering of Polaris, its just impossible to return to ackward ZS6.
This is how a TOTL IEM should sound and cost, wich mean the Polaris aren’t neither overpriced or a bargain, they are just priced right so the serious audiophile can invest in a End-Game IEM that will follow them for long. As the construction look and feel sturdy, I think this is a good investment for audiophile that want a dynamic and very detailed sounding IEM that do not lack bass punch and deliver a muscular and always impressive sound. Yeah, perhaps they aren’t reference or monitor IEM because of a little coloration in bass and highs, but its deliciously tweaked in a way it feel as natural as a full hifi analytical soundsystem that have a subwoofer connected to it. The soundstage you get is phenomenal as well, and impossible to find in sub-100$ IEM so, sometime it’s wise to invest in something more expensive, so if you can find a shop where it’s possible to test the Polaris before buying, give it a try, i’m pretty sure you will not be indifferent to its spectacular performance.