Campfire Ara Review - Perfection - Nicely Done!

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by purr1n, May 27, 2020.

  1. MarkF786

    MarkF786 Rando

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    Maybe where you shop. Most online stores offer free returns on defective products. I generally won't make a purchase from a store that doesn't offer that option.

    In this case, this being a brand new product, on the first day of release - and it being a luxury item with a luxury price - I had assume the manufacturer would be interested in identifying defects and quickly addressing them, with minimal inconvenience to the customer.
     
  2. Mithrandir41

    Mithrandir41 Friend

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    You do you, man.
     
  3. purr1n

    purr1n On vacation

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    Did you buy this from a retailer? I'm not clear.

    If the unit is DOA or broken-upon-arrival, shouldn't the retailer take care of it? That's why there are retailers and why manufacturers rely on retailers. It's like if I buy a Chi-Fi DAC from Amazon, and it's broken, I return it to Amazon. I don't call the Chi-Fi manufacturer. You should consider yourself fortunate that Ken is taking care of this for you because he's not obligated. You should be appreciative and praising CFA for going out of their way instead of still being cranky.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2020
  4. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    Yes it's the retailer who should be responsible.

    I recently got a pair of CA IEMs from a retailer that came with a bum cable. The retailer didn't carry the stock cable so referred me to CA, who quickly sent me out a replacement. I mailed back the original at my cost in a stamped envelope. The 40 cents or whatever of postage didn't seem worth quibbling about.
     
  5. MarkF786

    MarkF786 Rando

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    A new pair is on the way from the retailer. Fingers crossed the phase issue was a one-off.

    Last year I had a similar issue with a Null Audio cable with a 4.4mm connector for my EX1000; very quickly, it sounded like the cable was out of phase, which was easily verified with a multimeter. There was initially some back & forth with Null Audio on how a 4.4mm connector should be wired, but in the end they verified they'd been wiring them wrong, and they sent me a new cable properly wired.

    A little surprisingly, other forum members in the EX1000 thread on head-fi had a similar cable but didn't notice the issue. Those with a multimeter tested it and verified the issue. Maybe relative phase is not easily perceptible to all brains - at least with IEMs, where there's not the cancelation that occurs with speakers; I could find little research on the topic (and rather some research indicating how it's less noticeable with headphones). Lord knows how many Null Audio 4.4mm cables were sold with the problem.

    Does the headphone and IEM testing gear provide an easy way to test for relative phase? With a cable, it's easy to test with a multimeter, but if the phase issue was in the IEM or driver, a different method would need to be used. I have some ideas for a DIY approach.
     
  6. MarkF786

    MarkF786 Rando

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    The new Aras arrived today (thanks Bloom Audio!!!) - and as fate would have it, the package with the returned Aras was returned to me, since the return label was First Class Postage, and I had reused the Priority Class box they arrived in, not realizing the discrepancy.

    I listened to the new Aras and they sounded 'right as rain'; with an in-phase signal, they had a clear center image, and with and out-of-phase signal (on one channel), they had a diffuse image and soundstage. It'll take more time to 'get to know' them, but I'll say there's no lack of bass as I initially feared when seeing Jude's graphs!

    Since I had the prior pair now also, I decided with some trepidation to try them as well. “What if my hearing was somehow ‘off’ before? I’ll be eating a lot of crow.” But trying them again, immediately I could hear they were wired with one channel out-of-phase, and by switching the phase of one channel (using a plugin) they sounded right.

    Testing a little further with the same plugin, making the signal mono, when properly in-phase the image should be dead-center. But with the 'bad' pair of Aras, the signal was diffuse and uncentered, until I switched one channel out of phase. The new pair are again fine.

    I'm glad the matter is largely resolve now, though I'll need to attempt again a return.

    P.S. Note I paid for the 2nd pair with Bloom Audio, with an arrangement for a refund when the 1st pair arrived. I only state this so other customers don't have unreasonable expectations of "ship me a new pair before you received the return".
     
  7. Bina

    Bina MOT - Shanling

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    You would be shocked how many people listen to IEMs with switched channels or out of phase, they are everywhere. From reviewers, over brands exhibiting at audio shows, to even my colleagues.

    For this reason I have one set song that I always play firstly when auditioning any new gear. In few seconds I can confirm that channels and phase is correct or there is something wrong.
     
  8. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    My loaner stint is just about up so it's time to post some impressions. Many of them will be in reference to my OG Solaris and most of them will be based on driving them with the Shanling Q1. Note that I preferred the Q1 to the Sony ZX300 with the Solaris and sold the latter. I also used the SW51+. More on that later.

    • The industrial build, smaller case and more flexible cable make for a great package. The Ara look great, but you don't feel like others think you're wearing 1.3k in your ears and don't feel like you need to baby them either.
    • Compared to the Solaris and the OG Andros (from memory), these are more mid focused. Mids are dense, focused and detailed. They are the second best BA mids I've heard after the FA FIBASS. In comparison, the Solaris mid to upper mids sound diffuse and thin.
    • I prefer the Solaris lower mids because of the DD timbre and dynamics. They're more tactile, textured and realistic sounding to me.
    • The upper mids of the Ara are a little metallic sounding. Female voices are present, detailed and dense but again a little harsh or SS sounding.
    • Treble does not sound as extended as the Solaris or my memory of the Andros. It also has a little of that metallic edge, whereas the Andros have the best IEM treble I've heard - both airy and liquid sounding.
    • The bass is pretty dynamic and full, for BAs, and the quantity just about perfect. However when compared to the Solaris it obviously doesn't move as much air and don't seem to go as deep. I also don't find the Ara as detailed and textured as the Solaris on upright bass. I also don't find the super fast decay of BA bass to be realistic sounding. Or rather it makes everything, including live music, sound like it was recorded in an overly dampened studio.
    • The sound stage is wide but smaller than the Solaris, which is by far the most spacious sounding IEM I've heard. I'm not sure how much of the wide SS is because of the scooped upper mids of the Solaris.
    • As a result of the previous two bullets, the Solaris sounds more like actual headphones - a dynamic and big sound - while the Ara still sound like IEMs. Very good IEMs but still IEMs.
    • Part of the Ara's smaller sound stage is likely the midrange focus. When I plugged them into the higher gain output in the SW51+, they became less mid focused and sounded wider. Unfortunately I don't have more sources to try the Aras with at the moment.
    • Instrument placement is more accurate with the Ara than the Solaris, which have more of a diffuse speaker-like sound.
    • The Ara would be great for someone who is looking for a TOTL IEM that is somewhere between mid-focused and balanced and who likes/doesn't mind the BA sound. In my case, they reinforced my DD preference and made me appreciate the Solaris more.
    Thanks to @ChaChaRealSmooth and @Bloom for making the tour happen.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2020
  9. Empeiros Audio

    Empeiros Audio Rando

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    Any genre with which you wouldn’t recommend the Ara or it’s pretty versatile?
     
  10. Stuff Jones

    Stuff Jones Friend

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    Besides something that requires a lot of bass, I think it's weakest for female vocals or any other acoustic music where a non metallic timbre in the upper mids/lower treble is important. I don't have them anymore but I can imagine woodwinds wouldn't sound right. Piano notes were a bit too hard in the upper registers.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2020
  11. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    Gear List At Time of Impressions/Review:

    Thinkpad X260 via Roon or Foobar2000-UPnP > Schiit Eitr > Massdrop x Airist R-2R DAC (RDAC) > Zampotech SW51+

    Roon or UPnP > PI2AES [Coax Output] or Pioneer DV-79AVi DVD Player (CD Transport) [Toslink Output] > Schiit Bifrost 2 > DNA Starlett (Via BF2 RCA Output) or THX AAA 789 (Via BF2 XLR Output)

    Sony ZX2 DAP

    CA Andro with Comply Small Tips, CA Ara Loaner with Comply Small Tips, and JVC + Drop HA-FDX1 with default tips


    Intro:

    I am going to be honest, the Ara came out of left field for me. Andros has that wonderful sparkle highs, while Solaris has that wonderful DD Driver that gives the low-end plenty of life (and I honestly think the Hybrid design gives it the soundstage advantage over Andro). I honestly was shocked when CA brought out the Ara that is put right between the Andro and the Solairs in their lineup. I said this a few times I think, but I wished that the Andro has more sub-bass impact and more bass texture, while I wished the Solaris fit my ears better. As you may know, the fit of getting an IEM into your ears with a great seal can be a bitch. Sometimes the Andro just falls from my ears, which it annoying but due to its shorter nozzle it can’t be helped at times. The Solaris after a while just made my ears sore, regardless of what tips I am using. Yes the Solaris nozzle is on the short end of things, it was the angle that was making my ears sore. Now I have the loaner in my ends, and here’s me blabbing about it. I can only say is to read what I’m talking about carefully…..


    Design/Packaging:

    The loaner from @Bloom did not include the original box, but it came with some tips and it’s new cork carrying case. For my time with the Ara I only used my pair of the Comply Small Tips, I did not used any of the tips that came with the unit. I prefer to use the Comply stuff when wearing anything CA for good seal purposes. The Ara uses the same shell as the Andro but feels smooth to touch. I think it feels the same as an Andro, but on my it is a little rough but not really a big deal. I also like that it isn't flashing in color like the OG Solaris with its piss gold color (hated it a lot). That grayish color makes it not stick out as something that cost $$$. One big difference between the Andro and the Ara is the nozzle length. The length of the nozzle on the Ara is longer than the Andro. Depending on your ear shape it can hurt, or you would get a perfect seal. I’m the later, with the longer nozzle I get a perfect seal with no issues. It goes a little further in the ear and it doesn’t make my ears soar at all. In matter of fact, the Ara is my favorite CA IEM with regards to fit, because this IEM fits my ears the best unlike the Andro and the Solaris. Shit, I would sell my Andro and get the Ara just for the fit if I have to be honest.

    Some might laugh at the new cork carrying cases from CA. However, this is a great improvement over the hard leather carrying cases that was on the OG Andro like mine and my old OG Solaris pair that I got rid of not too long ago. Believe it or not, cork is a very durable material that can take a beating. Try to get a cork wallet and see how much further it will last over a basic crappy leather wallet. I have a cork wallet and that thing is the longest lasting wallet that I ever had. I also like the cork carrying case has enough breathing room to put the Ara in there and not worry about bending the cable too much when taking out/putting back the Ara (I’m looking at you the OG Andro carrying case).

    The new Smoky Litz Cable that is included with the Ara is pure enjoyment. No memory cable issues, and still hooks great behind my ears. I prefer this over the last gen Litz Cable that I currently have a few laying around in my apartment. You can get this separately from CA/AIO Audio for I believe $99.99 a pop.


    Desktop Amps and DAPs

    I’m going to flat out say it, it sounds best IMO on my Sony ZX2. It is a BA IEM, and I do believe BA stuff works better on phones/DAPs. I do have a WM1A, but I was too lazy to take it out and also WM1A sounds better if using a 4.4mm connector to it. However, using the Desktop Amps it wasn’t too far behind in performance with the Sony ZX2. On the DNA Starlett, THX AAA 799, and the SW51+ (regardless if low/high headphone input) I felt the Ara was trying to kill me with a focus on upper mids/lower treble. It made Kate Bush voice in Hounds of Love ear tearing bad to the point that I had to take them off my ears. If you are sensitive to sibilance, oh boy there was tons of it when listening to Blue Oyster Cult’s Secret Treaties. And don’t get me started with Michael Jackson’s Bad, where I thought plugging the Ara in the desktop amps made him a giant manchild that was peeling paint off the wall, get it!! Hehe!

    It appeared that on the desktop amps the input impedance made the Ara have a tilt towards the upper mids/lower treble, which I hated. Of course, depending on the amp you will have limited volume control (which was the worse on the Starlett, but you can solve it by running it on High Z up switch and -6DB down switch, it will also solve any amp noise on that setting). Plugging the Ara in the ZX2 doesn’t really have this problem, tons of body, great bass textures, excellent mids that doesn’t have anything sticking out, and silky highs. I am not the biggest fan of using the IEMatch on any CA IEMs, because I believe you gain one thing but lose two things in the process (so on my Andro I gain a smoother treble when using the IEMatch on my desktop amps but I lose more bass information and have less body). Using the IEMatch High Setting with the Ara on all of my desktop amps will tame the issue I was having with the upper mids/lower treble on vocals (I believe this is the same issue that @Stuff Jones were having). While using IEMatch did solve that problem, I had a minor detail loss on body and a little bit on bass. However, it was a very minor loss that doesn’t make the Ara loses it balls because as I will explain later, you still have tons of bass texture/information even when using the IEMatch. Even when using the IEMatch I was able to still tell the differences of my desktop amps. Like the THX crispness was too much brightness crap, the Starlett was just right and show that Starlett is no joke in performance, and SW51+ made Ara leaner but tons of details to go around to the point is this thing really $400?


    Soundstage

    Hoping for a Solaris soundstage? Get real, you won’t get it on the Ara. I think the staging on the Ara is slightly wider than the Andro, but Solaris beats the Ara by far on here. I think why Solaris has great staging is due to the hybrid design and having that DD driver makes the sounds pretty spacious. With the pure BA design of the Ara, you will have limited staging that is like a small tube with little height ear level. However, with BA it does pinpoint where a certain type of sound is coming from. I was playing Holst: The Planets - Zubin Mehta Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra (Decca XRCD) and the Ara does it just fine with no congestion issues on the ZX2 (which I was shocked), which is a lot considering it’s a smallish soundstage BA IEM. While the music piece comes out wonderfully on the Ara, hopes that you are listening in a big hall room environment will not be present here if playing classical pieces. Of course, congestion can happen depending on your gear, so just be careful on how you are using the Ara. I can’t promise that you will never get congestion issues.

    Best way to explain the Ara soundstage is while it is small, it is more closer to you without being too close. So think about being in Row 2 and not Row 3 or Row 1. Still pretty enjoyable for hard rock and bebop jazz, but recordings that reflects you in a large stadium or playing big band jazz in a concert hall, well I dunno if you will get the impression that the music were recorded in a big environment I think. Just don’t expect something that is making your jar drop, it’s still a BA IEM. However, imaging as stated previously can be great depending on what setup you are using.


    Treble/Highs

    Andro has the Upper Treble Sparkle that people like (me actually), while the Ara is more focused on keeping it linear/borderline lower treble focused. As stated in the soundstage section, depending on your setup and if you are using the IEMatch, the input impedance can make this area of the sound pretty metallic, ear tearing, or just flat out gross. On proper setups this section should be linear for the most part. What that means is if the recording is garbage, you should expect some gross moments if they decided during the recording/mastering to increase the treble up to 11. I feel at times the Andros masked some of these poor recordings in this section, but that isn’t the case on the Ara IMO.

    Jean-Luc Ponty’s Cosmic Messenger has the drums recorded where it is fun to listen to this jazz fusion recording. I felt that there was a present of the musicians in a studio when listening to this album. However, I felt that there is a sense of air being lost on the Ara than the Andro. If you have an Air fetish, then I don’t think the Ara’s is for you.

    Oh yes, the piano could sound hard and some wind-based instruments can sound hard on the Ara. However, I found it based on what type of setup you are using. For some reason when not using IEMatch, playing Bill Evans Trio’s Portrait in Jazz had Bill Evan’s piano bleeding a bit into the Treble area, and I was like ewwwww gross. So once again I can’t stress this enough, you will most likely have to use IEMatch if running the Ara on a desktop amp.

    The more I mess around with the Ara, the most the treble area can change. This reminds me of just like headphones! Try running Focals on a bright amp and see what punishment you deserve by doing that. Queen’s The Game sounds slightly dull on SW51+ with IEMatch on High, but if I have to be honest I thought it sounds more accurate. I never thought The Game had a hot treble if I have to be honest. Yeah the Andro gives Another One Bites the Dust more lively presence, but it sounds I dunno, more accurate thru the Ara even with less “air.”

    For a BA IEM, Ara I think got the treble part right here. It sounds similar to my JVCs in this area, but I felt that the JVC is a more smoother than Ara. I think for those who like DD stuff in general could like the Ara. However, I don’t think the Ara is masking any details if I have to be honest. So if you just hate lower treble, maybe the Andro is better for you on that? Some people could think the Ara sounds kind of dull, considering IEMs tend to have boosted treble or crap like that. I really believe the Ara is for the audiophiles who prefer something more accurate on their treble like us (I think).

    And with that being said, if you are sensitive to treble, I dunno if this is for you. Try a darker sounding treble IEM out there or something.


    Mids

    More accurate than the Andro to me, that’s for sure, lol. So lets start with Grace Jones Nightclubbing. To me her voice sound more accurate on the Ara than the Andro. For me with the Andro I felt the upper mids lost some energy and gain up a bit in the treble section. To me like @shotgunshane said earlier, female vocals sound more clearer and straight to the point. Andro however felt like Grace’s voice had a little more energy, which could sound like her voice went down a deepness I guess.

    Male vocals I thought sounded fine on both the Ara and the Andro, but I think the Andro made some male vocals slightly hazy (on some Toto albums like Fahrenheit). If you really like aggressive vocals, then I hope the recording you are playing did record the vocals to be aggressive as hell. Ara to me doesn’t try to EQ anything in the mids, so what you hear is what you get. If the recording is clear and fast on its vocals and instruments, Ara will do a good job on this. If a recording is boring, then that’s what you get.

    As you already know by now, Andro has that dip in the upper mids. If you like that dip, you may not like the Ara. With that being said, Ara does a great job pulling details in the mids (actually in all regions of sound, which I forgot to say in the Treble section). However, due to its linear sounding nature it won’t show it right in front of your face. You need to listen in and hear it. So one of my LOL albums, Toto’s Toto IV, there’s some instruments (something playing with their hands and hitting something that shakes) on the left channel on Waiting For Your Love. It’s there, but you need to listen in for the detail. I know people like the Andro since its treble perhaps makes it easier to hear some details. I’m just saying that the detail is still here on the Ara, and you can hear things with the microdetails going off the roof, but you need to listen in to pull the information.

    At this point people will also call the Ara mids as kind of flat, which I believe is fair to call it that. If this was on the Solaris, I remembered that the DD driver in the Solaris gives the mids more body and weight floating around the space. Mids on Ara is more focused on pulling the data for you but without the side-effects of trying to EQ something to death. On some setups, it is also fair to call the body of the Ara on the lean side. However, even with the lean sound I will say that it isn’t congested at all (which is what I stated in the soundstage section).

    Yeah, I can’t talk too much about the Mids here. It’s mostly flat, and depending on some setups it can bring up the upper mids a bit. I know this much, I hated the upper mids when running the Ara on my desktop amps without the IEMatch.


    Lows/Bass

    This is where the Ara beasts the Andro by a good margin. Details in the lows are great crazy, like on Van Halen’s Debut Album [DCC CD], you can hear at times on how hard Michael Anthony is hitting his bass guitar. You can barely hear it on the Andros, but it is more noticeable here. The drives that covers the lows were really design to pull out more details in this area than anything else. I’m like crap, Jaco’s bass in Weather Report’s Nights Passage is pretty special, considering you can tell how he is using his bass to make those special type of sounds. On the detail front with the improved bass textures, the Ara is shockingly good.

    However, those who are into music genres that involves heavy sub-bass focused (think EDM, modern pop, modern electronic, etc.) are going to be very disappointed here. I keep saying accurate over and over, and honestly the Ara focus on keeping things accurate on the bass too. So if you want heavy hitting bass that lingers a lot longer than what the recording has, prepare to be disappointed. This is very articulate stuff, pretty much the stereotype of BA handling the bass. However, the trade-off is the detail front has improved to the point that I really prefer the Ara over the Andro due to the bass detail improvement. However, if you once again into da sub-bass, prepared to be disappointed.

    When I had the Solaris I said it also wasn’t good for those who are focused on sub-bass. Yes, the Solaris has that DD driver that helps fill in the sound. It isn’t to me a heavy hitting IEM (thank goodness), but the Solaris is quite serviceable on that front. Since the Ara is a pure BA IEM, you can kind of say that the articulate bass makes the sound have less body than something like the Solaris. On certain setups I agree (think SW51+), and on other setups it can compete with the Solaris but still lose head to head (Sony ZX2). Then again, with the Solaris not everything will be pinpointed on the bass. To me using BA drives is like increasing the sharpness of a picture while DD is like a film that is missing on some details, but looks more pleasant to the eyes. In other words, Ara pulls tons of details of the bass more than the Andro and Solaris from my memories (minus the sub-bass improvement on the Solaris). Hell, I think if you push it hard enough, the HA-FDX1 has more sub-bass than the Ara, but the HA-FDX1 is a whole lot less detailed in that area.

    Smooth or detailed or hard hitting? You decide what is important to you.


    Other thoughts

    From my time listening with the Ara, I found that the whole sound range is pretty coherent. This isn’t to me a big deal since the Ara is a pure BA IEM (the coherent on a Solaris was the big crazy thing out of that one). However, with all these drivers within an Ara it is still a great thing when it is coherent without having something that sticks out pretty bad. As stated earlier, input impedance will play a huge role on any CA IEM. I still think the Ara like the rest of the CA IEM product line was designed for DAPs and phones. If you have a DD fetish, the Ara should do the trick mostly, provided if you are running it on a right setup.


    Final Thoughts

    Excellent product from CA. I see why this was added right in the middle of the Andro and the Solaris. Each IEM has their strengths and weaknesses. If you really prefer that upper mid/lower treble dip with tons of air then get the Andro. Those who are right in the middle flat heads who prefer to take the record as-is would most likely prefer the Ara. And those who really want the bass from the DD with the added benefits of using a hybrid design (including added body and musical notes that floats in “air,” if that make sense) should go with the Solaris.

    Personally the turning of the Ara is right up my alley. I didn’t mind the sparkle of the upper treble on the Andro, but at times I thought there was too much air for my taste in certain records. Furthermore, some digital records have terrible brightness to the point that I thought the Andro was too much for me to handle. The Solaris is also up my alley as well, including that lovely DD driver that takes the music into the next level. But with the fit issues that I were having with it, I was like “doesn’t matter how good it sounds, the fit sucks no matter what.” With the longer nozzle of the Ara, it is an excellent fit for me. It is making me consider getting the Ara just for the fit alone.

    I still prefer a DD IEM due to what I stated on smoothness/sharpness comment in the bass section, I can really live with the Ara as my only TOTL IEM. HA-FDX1 will be near my heart as a huge value product, with its DD drivers being crazy good and it plays very very well with tube amps. If you are looking for the best bang for your buck, the HA-FDX1 is your IEM IMO. However, the Ara is for those who like a smooth finish of an aged whiskey and is willing to note the finish of the flavor on their own, not having the finish come to them.

    Real question is will I buy one? That part I dunno. With me Working From Home (WFH) 100% at this point, I have full access to my big boy desktop amps. With my desktop amps I also have access to my cans. The $1300ish asking price is hard for me to swallow due to my limited uses of IEMs ATM. I also have to be sure that if I want it to sound the best IMO I need to use my DAPs in my apartment. You will get a minor sound loss if using IEMatch on your desktop amps. At this time in Florida it is hot as balls, and I don’t wanna go outside ATM. However, with the Ara having such an excellent fit in my ears it would be great for when I don't want to wear a headphone.

    With that being said, I did say "I dunno." I will however consider getting one next year. And if this happens, I’ll see if I can get a pair from @Bloom. While it is good to get it directly from CA, don’t forget to support your dealers, if you can that is.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2020
  12. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    Got my CA ARAs yesterday. Now at beach home enjoying their break in. I rather like them even right out of the box using my HiBy R6 Pro. When I ordered from CA , I sent them an email requesting 4.4 balanced termination of it’s included cable. They arrived with the standard 3.5 SE terminated cord and another smoky Litz with 4.4 termination in a separate box. I have bought all my CA IEMs from them so they must be happy that I am a good customer. I may share more thoughts later when they have about 100 hours on them. For the moment they are a keeper.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
  13. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    I don't think the Ara will change that much after 100 hours. It's a BA IEM, in my experience they don't really need burn in.
     
  14. Bloom

    Bloom MOT: Bloom Audio

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    Excellent writeup, @YMO!
     
  15. Claud

    Claud Living the ORFAS dream

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    Damn good review YMO.
     
  16. Kunlun

    Kunlun cat-alyzes cat-aclysmic cat-erwauling - Friend

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    The Campfire Reference Monitor

    I want to add my humble and brief impressions to the mix. I had a chance to listen to the Ara on the loaner tour and I'm grateful to have the chance, as always. I think the loaner tours are one of the really great things about SBAF, not only the chance to personally hear, but the chance to read others' take as well.


    My gear is old, an ipod 5.5 gen and an apex glacier portable amp. I'll be replacing these in the future and I'll probably miss them! Oh, and I should say that I mainly used foam eartips as Ken Ball mentioned once that this is what He uses. So, campfire earphones tend to sound best with foam. I also listened with silicone tips, just to hear if there was any problem. Some campfire earphones have tended to have a bit of a treble spike (eaten or reduced by the foam) which the silicone did less well with. I did not hear that issue so much with the Ara, but if you are sensitive to treble, I would hear these before buying them.


    In this case, however, they afforded me a chance to contribute something to the discussion, which is that the Ara sounded quite a bit different straight out of the ipod 5.5 than when given the power of the amp. Unfortunately, it also complicated my review!


    Out of the ipod, things were clear cut. There is some hiss, the bass is slightly anemic with extension that may reach deeply, but is so lacking in power at the sub-bass range that it might as well not be there at all in the music. The treble is forward, bright but not overmuch to my ears. The treble extension rolls off at the top, but is otherwise good. There is a bit of roughness, some glare in the treble, but it's really very clear. Clarity is excellent throughout. The lower midrange is not full, it's a little lacking in body--which I guess I'll define as having to do with note decay, and power. However, timbre is quite good, coherence is quite good. It's a very good earphone, but with some caveats.


    That could be your experience, but listen out of a different source and you get a different version of the Ara.


    Now, if I listen out of the Glacier amp, it's a little like a cartoon villain drinking some mysterious vitamin/drug and suddenly they have rippling muscles. And they, uh, play music better. There is a very clear and not at all subtle difference in the sound.


    Hello, bass. The bass is much stronger and more present with the amp. The extension goes down deep, the bass has presence and power. The midrange is fully present and the treble is excellent, for me. The treble is some of the nicest I've heard, but, as I mentioned above, the treble energy could be a bit much if you are sensitive to it (an issue of personal preference).


    The clarity, coherence, and timbre are all of them superlative and some of the very best I've ever heard in a balanced armature earphone. I have heard very coherent armature earphones before (Some of Noble's higher end all BA designs did quite well with this, for example), but the Ara is better, more coherent, superior in clearity, with better timbre in the reproduction of string instruments, voices, cymbals, etc. Marv and others have spoken about this, so I won't restate it other to fully confirm it.


    This is really one of the best earphones I've heard and I think it should be thought of a sort of Campfire Reference Monitor.


    This earphone sounds fantastic with a wide variety of music, particularly rock and pop. Classical, jazz, acoustic world music are all great, but that's where I was able to nitpick a little, which I'll discuss next.


    Now, nothing made by the hands of man is perfect, so I'll try to address some minor issues. I mean, the first is the issue with getting the right source. And, of course, my amp may not be the last word in that. Listen to these out of your primary mobile source, that is important. I would consider buying these when heard from my amp, I would think twice out of my ipod alone.


    And, it is a sensitive earphone with hiss being something I could hear out of the ipod and a little bit out of the amp.
    Now, a more sensitive earphone will tend to review better because human ears tend to hear something that's initially a little louder as better than whatever we were listening to prior. This is a great earphone, but it also takes advantage of that effect.


    In terms of frequency range, the bass is still just a little behind the upper mids and treble when listening to music that should be very balanced. Renaissance mass choral group The Tallis Scholars are renowned for their balance in bass, tenor, alto (or countertenor), and soprano, so they are a good test of this, as are string quartets. I also listened to sitar/surbahar duets (this is like the relationship between a violin and cello) to get a sense of mid to treble balance. The Ara tips a little toward the treble, but it's not bad at all and fairly unnoticeable in rock and pop where the power and fullness of the mid and bass are fully apparent. Sub-bass extension isn't fully present in real listening, when the bass drops or the organ thunders, you hear it, but you don't fully feel the power that you might from some dynamic driver earphones.


    There was also a slightly congested feel in the upper range that sometimes came up with very complex music which I didn't have time to fully understand. The clarity was there, obviously, so there's some other reason for it, likely a bump in the frequency response somewhere. I note it here, but I think others may have more insight that further listening time would give me. The soundstage is fine, but not what I am used to from vented shell earphones, which tend to have a more natural and spacious feel.


    Speaking of which, these don't replace dynamic driver earphones for me, nor is it likely any armature earphone in a sealed shell will do so, for reasons of physics, backed by extensive listening experience. A theoretically perfect earphone would allow the eardrum to move as though the ear canal were not blocked by an earphone at all. No sealed shell earphone will do that, but a hypothetical diaphragm about the same size as the eardrum itself, vented in the back to allow it to move just as the eardrum does could get as close as possible to that ideal. Now, current vented shell dynamic driver earphones have a long way to go, but they can offer a "moving air" energy, which is usually described in the bass, but if you listen, can be perceived all along the frequency range. The plus side of this feeling is a more real feel to music, the current disadvantage is that when you dampen out that moving air feeling, as in a sealed shell armature earphone, you get more sense of clarity. Both types of earphone are moving toward each other and I wonder what a carefully vented shell Ara would be like.


    The bottom line, if you can drive it well, the Ara is an excellent choice for a single high-end earphone. Be careful to hear it first for your own preferences and set-up, but it is a real achievement.

    Have a happy 4th (and a good weekend), audio friends! Now that I've written this, I can look at the other reviews!
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2020
  17. Rockwell

    Rockwell Friend

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    Thank-you for sharing, that was a great read. I would love to hear your thoughts on the Solaris 2020 if it ever crosses your path.
     
  18. KenBall

    KenBall Owner - Campfire Audio

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  19. Nikolas Jody

    Nikolas Jody Rando

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    Damn an unveiled andromeda + more bass???? am i gonna have to delay my dac upgrade once again? DAMN!
     
  20. YMO

    YMO Chewbacca's hairy brother

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    Dislike for noise. Also, please introduce yourself here since I noticed you haven't done so. We try to avoid noise posts as much as possible on SBAF if you weren't aware.
     

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