by Dan Browdy
The Lyra, the first product from ALO Audio’s sister company Campfire Audio, is a new dynamic-driver, universal-fit in-ear-monitor. It is one of the three models introduced by this new company, the others being a single balanced armature unit and a quad-BA unit. At $749, the Lyra is positioning itself as a premium IEM. Let’s explore this unit to see why.
Campfire Audio is a new company to the headphone scene, introduced earlier this year. However, it was started by Ken Ball and the team at ALO Audio. The two companies are sisters, with Campfire Audio focusing on transducers, i.e. headphones and IEM’s, and ALO focusing on upstream electronics and interconnects. Both operate out of Portland, Oregon and proudly boast it on all their products. The overlapping philosophies of these companies shows. The Lyra, like her sister ALO products, is built extremely well. The design is one of form following function; it manages to step away from a purely utilitarian look while eschewing any unnecessary frivolities. The resulting design is understated and classy, something I tend to admire.
The casing of the unit is made from “ultra high density…Zirconium Oxide Ceramic”, which is notably different from the ubiquitous plastic found in less expensive IEM’s. It feels very solid without feeling particularly heavy. The enclosures are small compared to my custom Noble 4, yet they feel heavier in the hand. This density adds to the perceived quality of the unit. And of course CA claims that the ceramic acoustic chamber offers sonic benefits as well. Within the casing is the star of the show, a single 8.5mm beryllium diaphragm (per ear). Surrounding it are many more buzzwords like neodymium rare earth magnets and copper-clad aluminum wire (CCAW) voice coils from Japan. I admit, I’m no engineer so I can only take them at their word that these high end parts do wonderful things. All I can do is tell you how the parts sum up into the sound, which I’ll get to momentarily.
First I need to mention the great accessories that come with the Lyra. I will admit that when I got my Noble 4C, I was a bit underwhelmed by the accessories. It came with a hard case and a very entry-level cable. The Lyra, on the other hand, impressed me by coming with a suite of well-chosen and well-designed accessories. Most notable of the included accessories is a gorgeous silver-plated copper (SPC) cable. The Lyra has a removable cable that uses MMCX connectors. Since the cable is removable, and since Campfire Audio’s sister company ALO Audio sells cables, one might expect the included cable to be serviceable at best. This is absolutely not the case; while some folks may want to upgrade, nobody will feel that it’s a requirement. The cable is thin, light, and supple with an overbuilt right-angled ⅛” connector. The IEM connectors feature a nice memory wire and they spin freely thanks to the MMCX connection. This allows for a comfy fit no matter how you position these, which is welcomed in a universal-fit IEM. Also included is a handsome carrying case. This, too, is thoughtfully designed with rounded corners, a big metal zipper, leather exterior, and a soft fluffy interior. It’s also quite small and light. The case that came with my Noble 4, while undoubtedly very effective at protecting the IEM’s, is very big and heavy. There’s something to be said for having a smaller, more portable case for IEM’s, which are meant to be the ultimate in small, portable headphones. And of course, the brown leather and metal zipper give this case a really understated, classy look. Finally, the Lyra comes with three sets of tips: silicon, foam, and Comply Tx-400. Each of these comes in three sizes for a total of nine different choices. With universal IEM’s, getting the perfect fit is key to getting the best sound. The Lyra comes with enough tips to ensure that anyone will have a great fit. Also included is a standard cleaning tool. What I like about the included accessories is that none of them feel like an afterthought. Everything included is of a very high quality and designed well so that you won’t have to replace them. This makes for a very well-thought out package that, once again, adds to the perception of quality and gives the whole thing a very classy feel.
So they come in a premium package, but how do they sound? Well, it turns out that all those buzzwords add up to something very nice-sounding indeed. In fact, I’d say it sounds extremely good for a dynamic driver IEM. The overall tonality is dark with a smooth and musical sound. It’s definitely a thicker sound than you’d get with a multi-BA IEM or a planar-magnetic headphone, but that’s part of the appeal of a dynamic. It never sounds analytical or harsh; it’s the kind of sound that you can easily listen to for long periods without fatigue. One of the things I’ve noticed in some other lower-end dynamic IEM’s I’ve tried is that they tend to sacrifice extension on one end or the other. While the Lyra is definitely a warm headphone, the treble is still nicely extended. On Megadeth’s 2004 remaster of “Skin o’ My Teeth “ from the album “Countdown to Extinction”, I’ve found that the hi-hat is pushed into such a high range that some headphones literally can’t reproduce the sound. I’m happy to report that the Lyra has no such problems. The treble is extended nicely and tuned to be a bit laid-back. This is a great combination that reproduces lots of detail without ever feeling analytical or forward; the treble is smooth for fatigue-free listening even on harsh music like metal.
On the other side of the spectrum, the bass is also decently extended. As with all IEM’s, the bass really benefits from getting the best possible seal. When everything is just right, the bass has a ton of body and presence. This is a warm sounding IEM so the bass does tend to be a lot more prominent than on a more balanced can. This is fantastic for electronic dance music, of course (the driving bass on “Lift Off” by Solar Fields is great on these), but also shines on many other genres like the previously mentioned metal and rock. This emphasis on the bass can have a small impact on the mids for some songs. The mids are driven with the same competence as the treble, but the highs have just a bit more presence. This is most obvious on more acoustic genres like jazz. One of my favorite test tracks is “Almost Like Being In Love” by Joe Stilgoe. With the Lyra, the upright bass was placed in a very commanding spot underneath the vocals. Of course on Rebecca Pidgeon’s “Spanish Harlem,” her striking voice comes through crystal clear, so any noticeable variance may only take place in a very small range of the mids. In the end it is really just a small nitpick due to the overall flavor of the earphone. For many, this warm sound (with elevated bass and relaxed highs) is the perfect flavor and can sound more “exciting” than other signatures.
One thing that I found surprising is that this is a particularly revealing IEM. At one point I was listening to them with my portable setup, a Fiio X5 and JDS Labs C5 amp, and I found myself getting irritated that my songs were sounding a bit muddy. I assumed at first that it was the Lyras, however, when I plugged them into my desktop system, that muddiness cleared right up. What I was hearing was the inferior DAC in my portable player. This is definitely a transducer that scales well with good source gear.
In my mind, Campfire Audio has definitely achieved something with the Lyra. It’s the full package: a well-built, well-designed, good-sounding IEM with a suite of well-thought-out high-quality accessories. The attention to detail is undeniable and it’s paid off. I recommend this IEM to anyone who is looking for a great sounding dynamic universal.
More info: http://campfireaudio.com/products/lyra/