Campfire Audio by ALO Audio has quickly grown its presence from a bespoke portable headphone amplifier company to one with a dominating force within the high-end IEM market. Avoiding the pitfalls of the custom-fit market altogether, CA’s lineup of camping-inspired universal fit earphones is an interesting collection of varied signatures and well-executed vision from lead designer and owner Ken Ball.
While lower pricepoints have managed to hold on to solid timbre throughout the frequency range, the more premium options offer a cold hard shot of resolving power that can usually only be found with some of the finest specimens in the category. We speak more directly about the Andromeda ($1,099) – a 5 balanced armature driver flagship that sits directly under today’s subject. Its even tonal balance and high performance transparency nearly puts it in a category all its own. How does the Vega stand up to such a high standard? Let get into the thick of it.
The Vega ($1,299) is a departure from the rest of the lineup as its design tempers a single 8.5mm dynamic driver in lieu of a collection of BA drivers. The magic sauce this time around is derived from a transducer that is a“non-crystalline diamond dynamic driver”. We offer up detailed explanation direct from the Campfire site:
“Campfire Audio is proud to be the first company to use a revolutionary breakthrough speaker technology implemented exclusively for in-ear monitors, a non-crystalline diamond dynamic driver. Our 8.5mm driver is just 9um thick and coated with our revolutionary ADLC non-crystalline diamond-carbon material. The Vega use of ADLC delivers stunning clarity, advanced micro detail, and dynamics.”
So the product is one that stands out from the herd, a much needed push to separate itself from the throngs of hungry single driver dynamics that collect around the $100-$200 range. The term “World’s First” is proudly display about the Campfire site referring not only to the diamond driver but also the liquid alloy metal housing quoted as the casing of choice due to “high density, remarkable mechanical strength and excellent acoustic properties”. Indeed, the feel is very sturdy but smooth. It is actually sizably smaller than the multi-driver Andromeda but has a high-end feel and luster, no doubt thanks to its “clear sky” PVD finish. Its sits amicably in the ear, with Campfire’s standard around-the-ear sheathed wire setup. The cable itself is definitely worth a mention as well. The Litz wire has a distinct custom after-market feel to it and is constructed of silver–plated copper conductors. It looks the part and then some.
Plug the earphone into your favorite device and the first thing you may notice is its habitual tendency for high definition. It is perhaps on the best performers we have heard from a single dynamic driver on this front in a while. The Vega’s playback is on par, if not slightly better than the stellar Andromeda, which is our current favorite in the category. While the Andromeda stands out as one of the best mid range presentations for a BA, the Vega’s low end is a bit more rotund and has overall more presence that its little BA brother. Quite a bit of what makes the Andromeda great can also be found in the Vega. The biggest difference between the two from a frequency response vantage point is without a doubt the low end.
The high frequencies are sussed out in smooth but detailed manner. They help define the overall signature not quite as “fun” in the exaggerated manner, but more of a level-headed response to excitement and more importantly, a solid take on reality. Not fatiguing in the least, reach upward is decent with doses of “special”, depending on source material .The mids may be a spectacular as the Andromeda, but the emphasized bass shifts perception away from the vocals. This isn’t so say that the low end covers the mids in any way, but rather produces a slightly different voicing between the two. Retrieval of information is the centerpiece here, with the bumps and valleys of FR playing second fiddle to the overall intent of piece. The feel is dynamic as the driver suggests, but also lively with a dash of spice on either end of the spectrum. It’s a hair less dry than what one might expect from your typical BA construct, with layers of organic response pieced together for a tack sharp image that makes its way to the furthest edges of the frame.
The substantial bass of the Vega is just what the doctor orders in terms of elevation, without being disruptive to anything else. It is robust, punctual and poignant, and adds an energy to the mix that many may prefer over a more flat response. Ultra pure, flat responses tend to also fall fairly flat with enthusiasts of the universal fit vertical, as flat many times feels too boring despite its trueness to source. While lacking the physicality of heart pounding bass, a little more gusto in the basement of the tuning can sometimes provide a much needed illusion of physically the platform is woefully lacking. The Vega’s take is well timed in between a more flat response and basshead territory. It works well and succeeds were so many fail to properly capture excitement without souring the overall mix. It’s a tightrope walked with expert precision between two buildings, and listening to the IEM draws an image of the trapeze artist doing backflips, just to show off.
The Vega is a honed projection of a vision that knows what successful tuning looks like in the IEM market. With its slightly elevated bass, the universal in-ear takes some of best parts (and better learnings) from the rest of the high performance Campfire products and hoists it even higher. Detail comes forward in no short order with a kiss of organic-ness as a sonic cherry on top. Those with a hunger for musical, robust flavor in their IEMs will be well satiated with the Vega.
More info: https://www.campfireaudio.com/