Campfire Audio Orion IEM

I recently reviewed the Campfire Audio Jupiter earphones and really liked a lot of what I heard and saw. Next up in the tour are the Campfire Audio Orion, a single-driver IEM cut from the same cloth as the Jupiter.

Before I talk about the Orions, I need to rectify an oversight in my last review by expressing my sincere thanks to Mark from thesoundfreq.com for arranging this for local Australian and New Zealander Head-Fiers. Thank you, Mark!

Overview

The Orions are a single driver IEM, but not a single dynamic as you might expect. No, the Orions are packing a single balanced armature rather than a single dynamic driver. While not a strange configuration per se, the single BA design becomes surprising when you look at the specs, particularly the frequency response…

  • Frequency response:  10-16,000Hz
  • Impedance:  14 ohm @ 1kHz
  • Sensitivity:  113dB SPL/mW (@ 1kHz)

One of the common limitations with balanced armatures is their inherently limited frequency range so for CA to extract nearly the full audible frequency range from a single driver is impressive. Of course measurements can be deceiving, but, without completely spoiling the review, I can confirm that this is a legit specification.

Design & Accessories

CA Orion-1149I’m not going to go into detail here because the Orions are similarly equipped to the Jupiters. They have the same great carry case (in grey canvas instead of leather), same great cable, and same range of tips. The only thing missing is the second, balanced cable.

Design-wise, the Orions and Jupiters share the same style of milled aluminium housing. This time, the aluminium has been finished in black, but the stellar build quality is retained in the Orions despite the much lower price tag. At $550, they’re not a cheap earphone, but it’s good to see the outstanding quality of the flagship being maintained further down the line.

Please jump over to the Jupiter review if you need further detail about the design and accessories.

Sound Quality

Balanced armatures offer some advantages and disadvantages as audio drivers. They were designed for hearing aids originally and were therefore focused only on the limited frequency range of the human voice for intelligibility (roughly 300-3000Hz for telephony purposes).

All the multi-BA IEMs out there exist because it normally requires specific armatures for specific (limited) frequency ranges to create a truly full-range earphone. The Etymotic ER4 is a leading example of single-BA mastery, but many users of these earphone will tell you that it can lack bass presence as a result of its single-armature design.

Where am I going with this? As a single armature design, I expected the Orion to be detailed and revealing in nature, but without a great deal of musicality or soul – the hallmarks of well-delivered bass. In reality, what I’ve heard from the Orions is something of a blend between what I expected and something a while lot more…

Treble

CA Orion-3110078The treble from the Orions is much more controlled than I expected from a single-armature earphone. In fact, the treble from the Orions is a little bit smooth and rolled off, but I quite like it for that reason. There is a slight lack of extension as you might expect from the 16kHz upper limit on the frequency response (keeping in mind that there is often roll-off occurring before an earphone reaches its upper / lower limits).

On some tracks, and probably depending on your ears and the tips you use, I also find there to be a slight lift in the lower treble that can make some sounds a little artificial and can make some recordings sound a touch forced. In some ways this is reminiscent of the FIDUE A83 and, like the A83, can result in an enjoyable and even addictive sense of clarity and texture once your ears adapt to the sound, but is actually an unnatural sound in the truest sense.

Mids

Other than the lower treble / upper mid emphasis I just mentioned, the mid-range from the Orions is fantastic – a really enjoyable presentation that has weight and body while maintaining crystal-clear clarity. In this way, the Orions remind me of the Noble Savants. They’re not quite as laser-focussed as the Savants, but I actually find them more musical overall as a result.

One thing I definitely like about the mid-range from the Orions is the way individual sounds pop out of recordings without losing the coherency of the overall sound. It’s very enjoyable.

Bass

I’ve already alluded to the fact that a single-armature design can lack here, but I have to applaud Campfire Audio for their incredible tuning efforts. The Orions are about as good as you can get with a single armature I think. They’re not going to compete with a good multi-BA setup, but they are extremely good for a single armature and that design definitely brings the coherency of not having multiple drivers doing different things.

The bass itself is well extended and of good quality, but it’s still a little behind the rest of the music if you compare it to what you hear in a live situation. Thankfully, the Orions don’t sound anaemic like some other single-armature (and even multi-armature) designs I’ve heard, but my personal taste calls for a little more bottom end to really get the full emotional experience of the music.

Staging

The coherency of the single armature pays dividends in the soundstage and imaging which are both excellent. The stage isn’t particularly large, but it’s beautifully defined and has a great sense of 3-dimensionality, stretching forwards nicely and out to each side.

Instruments and vocalists are well defined in their own spaces in the soundstage and there’s a good sense of space between each sound while still sounding like a coherent, singular presentation – not blown out and artificial.

Summary

All-in-all, I would say that the Orions are a very worthy option if you’re looking for a bullet-proof and beautifully designed, made and accessorised IEM. They’re best suited to those who like a slightly warmer-than-neutral sound (i.e. clarity that errs towards musicality) and will sound great with most sources and recordings in my brief experiences with them.

If you’re a bass-head or a treble-head you should probably look elsewhere, but if you like a well-tuned sound that’s both revealing and musical then the Orions are worth checking out.

Comparison with the Jupiters

Having reviewed the Jupiters prior to the Orions, I would say that the Jupiters are clearly superior earphones as you’d expect from their specifications and price tag, but the Orions are clearly from the same family and offer a very good proportion of the Jupiter’s performance for around half the price. The bonus is that you get the same incredible quality and accessories despite that greatly reduced price tag so if you’re drooling over the Jupiters, but can’t quite stretch the budget, you should definitely check out the Orions.

Lachlan Fennen Written by:

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

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