For those of you who haven’t read the first article in this series, welcome to my informal “deathmatch” between various IEMs currently in my possession. As outlined in the original post (link here), I have come to a stage of my audio journey where I just don’t have enough ears for all my gear. Therefore, something has to give, and being a generally indecisive person where it comes to letting go of things, I figured the best way to do this was to organise a little fight to the death between some of the heavier hitters in my current gear pile to see which items survived, and which would be heading to the gift/trading/trashcan pile after being soundly trounced by their competitors.
For a full breakdown of the IEMs and the order they are being compared in (along with the rules of this fictional competition), please see the link below:
Audio Primacy Sub £1000 IEM Deathmatch – Picture Gallery and Rules (Updated)
Conditions of battle
The EM5813 is a strange beast, being in many ways a precursor to the current trend of high-end single dynamic driver IEMs. In overall terms, it shares a lot of similarities with the Vega as regards tuning, with a firmly present and planted lower end, smooth and forward midrange and excellent dynamics. Where they deviate mainly is in the treble presentation, with the EM5813 having good detail but possibly the most blunted treble tuning I have heard since the Aurisonics ASG-1.5 bass cannon. In fact, in order to provide a more even comparison, the EM5813 has been EQ’d with 6dB of treble using the simple Rockbox app on my Sansa Clip+ to open up the sound to enjoyable levels in the higher frequencies (sadly my other DAPs at the moment don’t offer usable EQ, so both IEMs have been compared on the Clip+ for consistency).
Build and ergonomics
Both IEMs are very well built, with the Cardas sporting a solid brass construction and a more conspicuous feeling of weight and solidity to it. It looks beautiful, but the weight actually carries over into everyday use as well, with the incredibly hefty and home-speaker worthy Cardas Light cabling and solid IEM shells making the EM5813 feel very heavy in the ear, and causing the IEMs to unseal themselves and fall out with the slightest movement. This makes using foam tips with a deep insertion or custom tips (I have a set of custom moulded silicone tips from CustomArt which work like a dream for keeping the EM5813 in place) an absolute must – using the included tip selection was a very frustrating affair to maintain any form of seal unless I was sat in an easy chair and not moving.
In comparison, the Vega are light, feel solid but not unwieldy and sit comfortably and securely in the ear with any choice of tips, staying put during more vigorous exertion with no issues. The cable is also a light and flexible affair, with nice ergonomics and low cable memory and a very high quality finish. Overall, the Vega feels less like a beautiful piece of industrial art and more like a usable piece of technology, so unless you are looking for a set of IEMs that can also double as some form of bolo-esque offensive weapon or need to moor a small boat using the cabling, it is an easy win in terms of usability and overall design for the Campfire team.
Scores – Cardas EM5813 (6), Campfire Vega (9)
The bass on the EM5813 is a full and enveloping affair, with great power and physical slam. In comparison to the Vega, it feels slightly woollier and not quite as crisply defined, presenting slightly less detail and a more rounded sound to the deepest bass guitar lines. In terms of emphasis, both the Vega and EM5813 occupy similar ground, with a well defined and north of neutral bass tuning that doesn’t encroach on the mids. The decay on the EM5813 feels noticeably slower than the Vega, allowing the thick basslines to blend together slightly on tracks like “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic, with the Vega presenting the bass in a similarly impactful way, but with notably better control and subtlety.
Overall, bass won’t disappoint on either IEM, but the Vega just exerts more control and adds a layer of texture and definition that the EM5813 just falls short of, keeping the physical impact from the Cardas but bringing more light and shade to the dynamics as well. This is a closer fight, but the Vega still takes it with an almost flawless display of proper audiophile bass prowess.
Scores – Cardas (8), Vega (10)
The Cardas has a forward and smooth midrange, with good emphasis on presenting notes in a rounded and 3-dimensional way, adding a lot of substance to the sound. In fact, the EM5813 feels like a “live” presentation, pulling the notes out into a fully formed representation of the instrument being played. This works especially well for stringed instruments and piano, with guitar tracks a particular pleasure. Detail retrieval is good for the Cardas, picking up good chunks of room noise and other recording artifacts like fingers sliding along guitar strings and creaking of drum stools. The lack of treble emphasis can slightly blunt the delivery of this detail, pushing it further into the background but still keeping it quite clear if you listen out for it.
In comparison, the Vega presents a more textured midrange, with a similarly forward presentation but a greater feeling of definition to the sound. In terms of clarity, the two are actually quite similar, with the EM5813 pulling a similar amount of finer background noise out of tracks as the more crisp Vega, but not allowing it to be heard over the more smooth and velvety sound. Now, the Vega is not a harsh or grainy IEM, so this should explain a little more of the difference between the two, with the EM5813 feeling a little thicker and more syrupy, coating the notes with a sort of sugary roundness in comparison to the more muscular and cleanly defined Campfire IEM. Overall, the Vega has a greater sense of dynamics and bite, feeling just a little clearer and less veiled on most tracks than the Cardas IEM.
Scores – Cardas (7.5), Vega (8.5)
This area is the shortest in terms of comparison, and for good reason, If the EM5813 has one shortfall, it is the treble presentation (for me and my tastes, anyway). I find that without EQ, the treble feels muffled and lacking in presence, robbing the sound of airiness and making things feel a little too dense and foggy on most tracks to truly enjoy. When properly EQ’d, the treble opens up nicely and actually starts showing that it can retrieve some nice detail and tonality. In comparison, the Vega, while also sporting more of a clean and clear treble tuning rather than airy and sparkling, has enough bite and forwardness to fill out the topmost registers of the sonic landscape, in comparison to the bluntness of the Cardas baseline. It also quite easily bests the EM5813 in audible detail retrieval and extension, making this a very one sided contest in this particular facet.
Scores – Cardas (6), Vega (8)
Soundstage / separation
This is another short comparison, with both single DD drivers able to portray a reasonable sized but not massive soundstage and separate instruments pretty well. Where the Vega pulls slightly ahead is the layering of multiple instruments into the same space, with the clearer mid and treble tuning allowing the listener to more easily “track” each layer of sound than the more “live” and rounded tuning of the EM5813, which gives instruments good directional cues but does allow a little bit of bleed into each other in more complex tracks. Both are close enough to make this the main point of difference in this section for me, giving the Vega a slight edge.
Score – Cardas (7), Vega (8)
Both are accomplished single dynamic driver earphones, with unique driver technology behind the sound and a clear slant towards musicality and “soul” over pure technical performance. The Vega pulls ahead in all categories, but not by as much as I thought it would considering the price difference. Bottom line – the Vega is a more dynamic, involving listen, and takes the building blocks that the EM5813 has and elevates them to the next level of performance. The EM5813 isn’t a bad earphone (as long as you can deal with a treble tuning that is blunter than The Don’s twitter feed), and is a very engaging and enjoyable listen with some treble EQ’d up into the mix, but the baseline tuning is just a little too dark and veiled for my preferences, leaving the Vega with an easy win.
FINAL SCORES – EM5813 (34.5), Vega (43.5/50)
WINNER – Campfire Audio Vega
COMING NEXT: QF3 – Campfire Audio Andromeda vs Unique Melody Miracle V2
Hmmm, not really comparing two iem’s on the same level, $425 unit with a polyester driver vs. a $1299 unit with a diamond driver. The Lyra II would be a more reasonable comparison.
True – this was intended more to be a fit of fun in a strict “knockout” format between different IEMs I currently have rather than a round robin comparison, although the Lyra II would also have bested the EM5813 if compared head to head. It is worth noting that the EM5813 was the flagship of the Cardas IEM range, and still remains their most expensive model – it also uses some more unusual driver topology in terms of controlling the magnetic fields than the more straightforward driver differences, so thought it would be an interesting matchup when it was drawn out of the hat. The Lyra II is up shortly in one of the upcoming rounds.