Campfire Audio Dorado IEM

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing quite a number of Campfire Audio IEMs over the recent months. Perhaps the last one (for a while at least) is the Campfire Audio Dorado, a hybrid IEM in the same shaped shell as the Lyra and combining a dynamic driver (like the one in the Lyra) with two balanced-armature drivers. In theory, this combination of technologies should lead to a magnificent amalgamation of the Lyra II and the Andromeda, but just how well did those pieces come together? Read on to find out…

Overview

At $999 USD from ALO audio, the Dorado is a premium-level IEM boasting industry-leading technologies. It’s only $100 cheaper than the incredible Andromeda, one of my favourite all time IEMs, and costs $300 more than the Lyra II (also an outstanding IEM).

Specifications

  • Frequency response:  5 Hz – 27,000 Hz

  • Sensitivity:  107 dB SPL/mW

  • Impedance:  15 Ohms @ 1,000 Hz

  • Beryllium / Copper MMCX Connections

  • Drivers:  1 x 8.5mm Beryllium PVD Diaphram dynamic driver + 2 x balanced armature drivers per ear

  • Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (T.A.E.C.)

There’s no doubt that the Dorado is at the forefront of hybrid IEM design and technology with its beryllium driver and Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber (a Campfire Audio patented technology to improve high frequency extension and quality) so I was expecting good things on one hand, but I have to admit that I have found every hybrid I’ve ever tried to be slightly shy of the perfect sound whereas both pure dynamics and pure balanced-armature designs have achieved their own sweet spots for me in the past.

Accessories & Design

Forgive me for being lazy here, but I’m going to quickly summarise the key information you need to know without going into depth. I highly recommend you check out my reviews of the other Campfire Audio IEMs (click on the “Campfire” tag to see other reviews) if you’re looking for a more in-depth discussion of their class-leading accessories.

As for the design, the Dorado looks identical to the Lyra and Lyra II except for its colouring which is a gorgeous rose gold hue. The Dorado looks stunning as an IEM, however, as with all CA-designed IEMs using dynamic drivers, the Dorados have a fairly long nozzle and not a thin one like a Shure IEM. This nozzle length and breadth causes me some slight trouble with fitment and prevents the IEM from ever feeling as snug as the BA models like the Andromeda. I am also conscious that this can alter the sound of the IEM as insertion depth and tip choice can alter frequency responses. For many people, this nozzle design won’t be an issue, but for those like me with smaller or sharply kinked ear canals may find the Dorados hard to get fitted perfectly for comfort and/or sound.

Sound

With the Dorado, Campfire Audio promise an IEM that is both visceral and punchy, but also detailed at the top end. This is the standard promise of a hybrid IEM and the result is often a V-shaped sound signature bordering on harshness in the treble to offset the rumble in the bass. Thankfully, Campfire Audio haven’t strayed too far from the marvellous tuning found in the Andromeda and Lyra II, but I can’t say it’s completely perfect…

Bass

The bass from the Dorado is exactly what you’d expect from an expertly-tuned hybrid. It’s full and punchy, but still fast to keep a sense of rhythm and clarity. The Dorado comfortably outperforms the Andromeda for bass reproduction, but doesn’t overdo it. The bass is well-balanced with the rest of the sound while still being a star all on its own. Tracks with no need for strong bass are left to sound delicate and crisp. For example, ‘Lay My Burden Down’ by Alison Krauss & Union Station is delivered with subtlety and clarity. The upright bass is tangible, but most definitely in the background so that Alison’s voice and the finger-picked guitars can lead the way. Compared to a bassier IEM like the Noble K10, the Dorado sounds delicate and nimble. While I personally adore the comforting warmth and soul of the K10, I have to admit that the Dorado is probably the more accurate representation in terms of bass balance.

Mids

This is (almost?) always the achilles heel of hybrid IEMs. Because of the crossover of frequencies between the dynamic driver and balanced-armatures, things can get a bit complicated and messy in the mid-range. I’m pleased to report though that the Dorado manages this challenge beautifully. The mids, while not a hero, are extremely enjoyable. There’s sufficient weight and presence to avoid the hollow, V-shaped sound that many hybrids present and the slightly held back mids (compared to the bass and treble) result in a detailed and open sound. Personally I like a touch more weight to the mid-range (and I’m using a fairly warm setup with the Meridian Explorer2 DAC and FiiO E12DIY running the lush and gorgeous OPA627 op-amp) so lovers of creamy vocals will probably not go for the Dorado, but it’s still a highly enjoyable tuning even if it’s not 100% to my tastes.

Treble

So here we are, the most challenging element of a good hybrid design – producing enjoyable BA treble that can keep up with the bass of a dynamic driver while not getting strident or harsh. The good news is that this is probably the best implementation of that balance I have ever heard. The bad news is that it’s still not as good as a pure BA or pure dynamic in my opinion.

The treble from the Dorados comes mighty close to perfect, but I find it just occasionally strays into being too much of a good thing. To be clear, this is not a question of quality – the TAEC technology seems to do a marvellous job of producing extended treble without any sense of harshness and buckets of detail. No, my issue is one of balance – I just feel like there is a touch too much treble from time to time and it prevents me from completely relaxing into the music. To be fair, I should clarify a few points:

  1. I am more treble-adverse than the average listener
  2. The nozzle design of the Dorado combined with the shape of my ears may be resulting in a less-than perfect insertion which can influence the sound (the seal is good, but the earphones sit a fair way out from my ears)
  3. This is such a tiny distinction that most people will likely have no problems with the treble – it’s just a hair more than I would prefer

To put this further into perspective, I swapped between the Dorado and the Andromeda and noticed a sense of warmth in the upper registers of the Andromeda (i.e. not from the bass) that the Dorado is lacking. I expect this is a sign of better upper-mid presence in the Andromedas balancing the treble energy. The actual amount and quality of the treble is probably identical, but the surrounding frequencies are better balanced (based on my tastes) in the Andromeda. If the Andromeda is 100% perfect in this regard, the Dorado is probably 90% of the way there – it’s a subtle distinction, but it prevents me from raving wholeheartedly about the Dorado’s tuning and also impacts the staging and imaging.

Staging & Imaging

For me, staging and imaging is the key to highly enjoyable IEMs or headphones. In the case of the Dorado, the imaging and staging is good, but doesn’t quite reach the heights required to endear the Dorado to me as a superstar IEM. The soundstage is wonderfully coherent – an achievement for hybrid designs – and the imaging is strong, but it lacks the sense of space and magic that makes an IEM like the Andromeda so special.

The soundstage from the Dorado is smaller than the Andromeda and with less sense of space, but probably slightly larger than the stage of the Noble K10. You might be surprise to learn however that I prefer the staging and imaging of the K10. The reason for this is in the separation and space between individual sounds. Even though the K10’s soundstage may be a little smaller than the Dorado, I find that each individual instrument and sound has a greater sense of space around it and the result is a more engaging and interesting presentation of the music. I can’t fault the Dorado for its sound quality and overall tonal accuracy, but it’s just missing some magic for my tastes. The Andromeda has that magic in spades and the Lyra II has its own fair share of magic, but something about the Dorado leaves me a little numb.

Conclusion & Verdict

If you love hybrids and are looking for one of the best on the market you should definitely check out the Dorado. That is of course unless you have narrow or bendy ear canals like I do. There’s no doubt this is the best hybrid implementation I have heard, but I would still question the logic of choosing the Dorado over its Campfire Audio brethren because both the Lyra II and Andromeda offer a more compelling sound – smooth and warm from the Lyra II or open and engaging from the Andromeda. Campfire Audio deserve continued praise and respect for turning out exceptionally designed, manufactured and tuned earphones, but on this occasion I think their own products are outshining one another and, by virtue of the sheer excellence of the alternatives, it leaves the Dorado a little irrelevant in my opinion.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

Facilitator, training design consultant, blogger / writer and amateur photographer

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