Pros – Warm and engaging sound, powerful but not overdone bass, great build and ergonomics, beautiful midrange, smooth and clear treble
Cons – Treble may be too laid back for some, not for fans of lean “audiophile” style bass
List Price – $699 (Campfire Audio)
The Lyra II were provided to me free of charge by Campfire Audio on a loaner basis for the duration of this review solely for the purpose of listening and writing up my honest and unbiased impressions. After finishing my reviews of all three models, I decided to buy these IEMs off Ken as they were just too good to send back.
This review was originally posted on Head-Fi back in November 2016, and forms part of a set of Campfire Audio reviews I will be posting on Audio Primate over the next few weeks, including a new review of the Campfire Audio Andromeda and some updates to the comparisons section in my existing reviews. Enjoy!
The Lyra was the first dynamic driver IEM produced by Campfire Audio, and came with a unique ceramic housing (as opposed to the machined aluminium used on the other items from their original lineup). For the sequel, the Portland-based manufacturer have decided to go with a Liquidmetal™ alloy housing, maintaining the smoothed off curves of the original Lyra, but reducing the size and weight compared to the aluminium models considerably.
The use of Liquidmetal is an interesting but logical choice for the high-end IEM market – the substance is actually an amorphous alloy rather than a literal “liquid metal” (such as Mercury), but it brings various qualities to the table that normal metal shells find difficult to match. It is lighter and stronger than titanium, extremely durable and resistant to both corrosion and wear and has a glass-like melting point due to its densely packed atomic structure that allows it to be moulded almost like plastic while hot. For a company known for its finely honed internal tuning structures and excellent shell designs, this is a logical evolution, allowing production of high volumes of complex casings with greater ease than traditional metals. In practice, the shells are light, very strong and fit beautifully in the ear, giving the feel of a piece of machinery designed to last.
Campfire Audio also deviate from the norm with the connectors, using a standard MMCX style socket but bolstering the connection points with a custom beryllium copper fixing, which they claim is more robust than the usual brass connectors found on most IEMs. This should lead to increased longevity of the connector over multiple cable connections and disconnections. In use, the cable clicks into the housing with a very solid sounding thud, and seems to be pretty locked in, with less play or wobble than most other MMCX style IEMs I have used. A few weeks is obviously nowhere near long enough to test the claims of the manufacturer about how long the connectors will last, but initial impressions definitely don’t give me any cause to doubt Campfire’s marketing copy here.
When mentioning build and ergonomics, the Silver Litz cable included as standard with the Lyra II is definitely worthy of mention, with a quality of build and design that goes above the usual “standard CIEM” style cables included with most IEMs. The cable is sold as a standalone item on the ALO Audio site for $149, so this should give you some indication of the overall quality – while some may feel the need to break out a more expensive “upgrade” cable to complement an IEM in this price bracket, the tightly braided and minimally microphonic cable definitely makes that more of a “nice to have” than an absolute necessity. The only gripes I have are with the memory wire portions around the ears, which I always feel don’t play brilliantly with the rotating connection offered by an MMCX connector, and the L-shaped plug at the end. While the L-plug is a nice and sturdy example of this type of connector, I find the pin just slightly too short to fit comfortably into the audio jack of my phone with a thick third party phone cover fitted, due to the circumference of the connector housing where it meets the pin – one possible area for improvement in an otherwise excellent design. Overall, the unusual metallic build, ergonomic and light shape and excellent cable give a very strong impression of quality – a pretty good start.
When I first started writing reviews, it was as a way of trying to pull the thoughts running through my head about the gear I was listening to and try to make some order out of them, as much for my benefit as for anyone reading them. For me, trying to understand what I like and dislike about something as primal and emotional as music is a lot more difficult that it first seems. If someone asks me what my favourite meat is, I would say chicken, but if someone asked me why I liked chicken, trying to describe the flavour without saying “it tastes like chicken” I actually find pretty tough.
When I first heard the Nova from Campfire Audio, it took me a while to describe the sound, but what I liked about the sound came a lot more easily – the unique almost vinyl-esque tuning drew my attention into the music, rather than how it was making it, and gave me a real appreciation of the tuning expertise that was used to make it sound so “real”. Fast forward a few more months, and after a few random PM exchanges with Ken Ball @ Campfire Audio, I was lucky enough to get the chance to hear the three newest models from their IEM range (the Lyra II, the Dorado and the Vega). Given the positive press their previous flagship the Andromeda has garnered and my previous experience with the Nova, I was very interested to hear the sort of tuning the Campfire team could come up with using their new liquid metal housings and bespoke dynamic driver arrangements, and whether they could address some of the personal issues I had with the Nova’s signature without losing that unique feel to their “house” sound.
About me: been into music since I was old enough to walk, and now been into the audio gear scene for a couple of years. I’m in my late 30s, a long time rock music fan and aspiring to be a reasonably inept drummer. Listen to at least 2 hours of music a day on my commute to work – prefer IEMs for out and about, and a large pair of headphones when I have the house to myself and a glass in my hand. Converted most of my library to FLAC and 320kbps MP3, and do most of my other listening through Spotify or Tidal HiFi. I am a fan of rock, acoustic (apart from folk) and sarcasm. Oh yeah, and a small amount of electronica. Not a basshead, but I do love a sound with some body to it. Please take all views expressed below with a pinch of salt – all my reviews are a work in progress based on my own perceptions and personal preferences, and your own ears may tell you a different story.
Form & Function
The Lyra II follows the usual Campfire Audio presentation style, coming in a small box just marginally bigger than the hard leather carry case it contains. The box is a dark burgundy colour, with silver constellations patterned on the outside and a nice picture of the IEMs on the front. There is also a brief description of the technology inside and the Campfire branding, but no major graphs or specifications. The box opens up to show a nice black leather carry case inside, with the usual Campfire Audio embossed logo and zippered closure. Removing the carry case, there is a false floor on the box, underneath which the various loadout of eartips (foam, silicon and Spinfit in various sizes) and a Campfire Audio pin are nestled, along with a cleaning tool, warranty card and small booklet with more technical information on your purchase and instructions on how to use them for those people unfamiliar with operating high tech ear-gear. Opening the carry case completes the gear list, containing the IEMs and silver litz cable, some Velcro cable ties and two small velour bags to keep the heads of the IEMs from clunking into each other when they are stored, all nestled in the fluffy fake wool interior of the case.
The accessory package is simple but comprehensive, with the beautifully designed carry case and the well thought out cable and tip selection giving a premium feel to proceedings, proving that you don’t need to inundate the buyer with technical data or hundreds of add-ons in order to give a high-end unboxing experience. The small footprint of the outer packaging also has more practical use, as it makes it far easier to store than the usual foam filled presentation boxes you tend to get with other IEMs in this sort of price bracket.
Tip and cable choice
The recommendation from the Campfire Audio founder Ken Ball is to run these IEMs with foam ear-tips, and after trying various other configurations (single flange silicone, SpinFit and other assorted goodies from my tip collection), I have come to the unsurprising conclusion that he knows what he is talking about. The overall sound and comfort offered by the included foam tips seems just about right for my personal tastes and ear anatomy, so for once there has been no need to resort to external help (not even Comply tips added anything major to the seal). The cable is a similar story, being of sufficient quality for me not to think about resorting to a third-party solution.
The Lyra II is a vented dynamic driver so won’t have the greatest sound blocking capability you will ever hear, but the small solid alloy shells and the solid seal provided by the foam tips in the box allow for this to be used quite comfortably on public transport or in the middle of a particularly nasty family row without much sound leaking in from the outside. Certainly enough to get you run over if you cross the road without looking with these in, so you have been warned.
The specification on the Lyra II imply they are easy to drive, and hold true in the real world, with my comfortable listening volume sitting at around 60% on my LG G5 and in the 50s on the Fiio X7 (AM2, low gain). The driver used is capable of some great dynamics so does seem to appreciate a powerful source and the benefits that can bring in that regard, but are more than capable of being driven from any of the usual mobile sources you may have to hand without any issue.
In terms of DAPs I have used, the Lyra II sounds good just straight from my LG G5 without HifiPlus module, but plugging it into the Hifiman Supermini and Fiio X7 really allowed the extra power and detail on tap to shine through. It won’t radically alter the sound you are hearing, but this is definitely an IEM that can scale with more powerful and resolving gear.
LG G5 (with HiFi Plus 32-bit Sabre DAC add-on)
Fiio X7 (with AM2 module)
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (straight from the output jack) and with iFi iCan SE
Test tracks (mainly 320kbps MP3 or FLAC/Tidal HiFi):
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. / Wasting Time
Blackberry Smoke – The Whipporwill (album)
Slash – Shadow Life / Bad Rain (my reference tracks for bass impact and attack, guitar “crunch”)
Otis Redding – Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay (vocal tone)
Sister Hazel – Hello, It’s Me (bass tone)
Chris Stapleton – Whiskey And You
Elvis – various
Leon Bridges – Coming Home (album)
Foy Vance – The Wild Swan
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (album)
Aerosmith – The Definitive Aerosmith
Mavis Staples – Livin’ On A High Note
Twin Atlantic – The Great Divide / GLA
The Darkness – Permission To Land
Led Zeppelin – Mothership
Shawn Mullins – Soul’s Core
Sammy Hagar & The Circle – At Your Convenience (live album for audience sounds)
General thoughts on the sound signature
The original Lyra was widely touted as a very bassy and not particularly bright earphone, but with the Vega taking the top slot in the current Campfire Audio lineup for the bassy dynamic driver sound, where exactly does the Lyra II fit? It actually fits very nicely alongside the Vega in the range, with a warm smooth sound, sporting a less emphasised treble and a clear and engaging tonality. It is surprisingly well balanced, with a nice thickness to the bass, an intimate and emotive vocal presentation and excellent separation and layering through the midrange into the lower treble. In terms of extension the Lyra II actually does stretch reasonably well into the upper treble with a nominal top end around 28kHz, but with comparatively less emphasis on this element of the spectrum than the midrange or bass, the highs can come across as a little smooth or rolled off at times.
The technical capability of the Beryllium PVD driver keeps the sound feeling very coherent and full throughout, giving a good level of impact and weight to more uptempo songs and a great smokiness and clarity to vocal delivery. Overall, above neutral bass, forward mids and a smooth clear treble – these IEMs are actually reminiscent of one of my favourite pair of over-ear ‘phones, the Audioquest Nighthawk. The ‘Hawks are a slightly polarising headphone, but for those who have heard (and like) that signature, that should be endorsement enough, and should explain my generally positive comments below.
The treble is arguably the weakest area of the frequency response on these IEMs, and certainly won’t be the “go to” tuning for people looking for Grado or HD800 style “sizzle” in the top end. For me, the treble is beautifully presented and sits just inside my personal preference for a darker but still crystal clear and uncrowded top end. Cymbals fizz but die away quite quickly, with hi-hat and other metallic percussion still audibly present in a track but sitting more into the background of the sound than front and centre at the top of the soundstage. Starting with my sibilance/screechiness testers, “Whiskey and You” by Chris Stapleton has enough of the usual harshness of the vocal delivery to sound like the same song, but is smooth and rounded enough to slide smoothly through my earholes down into the brain without disturbing any of the audio furniture along the way. “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy sounds as helium-filled and rapier-like as usual, but again steers clearly away from any shrillness in the sound and presents Kennedy’s falsetto with authority and weight. I suspect the only way you could find sibilance with this IEM would be with an audio magnifying glass and some truly awful experimental opera consisting of fat people screaming the letter “S” over and over again – certainly nothing in my music collection has ever come close.
The overall treble signature is slightly recessed compared to the mids and bass, but is smooth and has a nice level of clarity – to think of a suitable analogy, it carries the same sort of clean and clear sound as ringing a bell, rather than the screaming wail of a rock guitar. The overall note weight in the highs (something I was a fan of on another recent IEM I have heard, the IT03) is substantial here, with a solidity that I personally prefer over the more traditional “sparkle” that people sometimes refer to. Despite the lack of high treble emphasis, the sound is still reasonably spacious – this doesn’t give a huge amount of air to most recordings, but the higher ranges still feel like they have room to breathe and don’t sound congested or too dark to me. Comparing to notes and less reliable audio memory of the Nova (which I no longer have in my possession), the Lyra II gives the feeling of having a little more headroom on the stage for the user to appreciate the cymbals and high notes, leaving a slightly brighter (but still not bright) impression than its metallic younger brother. Think low-ceilinged music bar rather than orchestra venue and you would be on the right lines there.
Despite the more muted nature of the treble, room sounds and other spatial cues are audible on the periphery of the sound – as a lot of the spatial information our ears process occurs above 16kHz, this would seem to back up the stated frequency extension on the original technical specs. Personally I haven’t tested the absolute limits of my own hearing (I am depressingly average in that regard on the sine sweeps I have previously done), but suspect due to many years of loud rock concerts it fails a fair way from the upper limit anyway.
As originally stated, this won’t be ideal for people with a preference for super-crisp and sharper treble presentation, but if you are looking for something a little smoother and more laid-back which can still carry all the necessary information into your ear, the Lyra II will certainly appeal.
Moving into the midrange, one of the main strengths of this IEM starts to shine through – vocals. This IEM can really handle male and female vocals, bringing a beautiful smoothness and weight to the delivery without losing any of the underlying texture in raspier voice, and capturing the emotions of the singer very well. Feeding the Lyra II some Chris Stapleton, the gritty tones of his “Traveller” album sound just as raw as normal, but with an added layer of honey added to paper over the rougher edges as it hits your eardrums (I do love the album, but am of the belief that it was mixed and mastered in the middle of a building site by a deaf person using a brick). This type of slightly sweet vocal tuning can easily become cloying or syrupy, but this is very nicely implemented here, with the vocals still retaining enough bite and space to avoid getting clogged up in the rest of the sound while still retaining the trademark smoothness. Listening to Otis Redding, the reeds in his voice can still clearly be heard, but the already buttery-smooth overtones of “Try A Little Tenderness” sound like someone has taken his throat for a gentle massage just prior to hitting the recording studio. The Lyra II – the audio equivalent of cough syrup for vocalists.
Switching to instrumentation, guitar based fare sounds great through these IEMs, with a nice thickness to the notes and crunch to rock guitar that ticks my personal preference boxes very nicely. The sound is thickly layered here, giving the impression of a solid wall of sound coming towards you with more complex guitar tracks without getting muddy or confused. Moving on to “Growing On Me” by The Darkness, the twin guitar lines drift left and right in the soundscape with a slight but discernible delay between the both (as it should be) – while the “lag” between the two competing sounds is clearer on some of my other gear (like the all-BA Vibro Labs Aria), there is still enough separation there to fill the background of my mind with a nice sense of detail.
Despite the smoothness it imparts to vocals, this is still an IEM that can deal with weighty guitar riffs without smoothing the edges. Plugging “World On Fire” by Slash into my ears, the crunching riff plows its way through the track with enough bite to keep the listener on their toes, with a slight tradeoff in the razor-cut edging to the notes that some of my other IEMs can provide being counterbalanced nicely with a greater sense of weight to the riff that has got my foot tapping as I’m writing this.
Trying some electronica, “Go” by The Chemical Brothers sounds good, the rhythm of the hi-hats playing well against the driving bassline without getting lost in the sound, and the euphoric synth-laden chorus sounding a little muted in comparison to the bass and midrange underpin, but still present enough to be enjoyable. Piano based tracks (both electronic and acoustic) fare better, with a nice natural timbre to the sound that sounds almost live in some instances. For lovers of electronica, these may not tick all the boxes for certain sub-genres, but still have enough overall competence to avoid me reaching for another set of IEMs if one of my favourite Prodigy tracks appears on a random playlist.
In terms of placement, the midrange on the Lyra II is reasonably intimate and forward, not crowding the listener too much but definitely taking a step forward compared to the more laid back treble, but not overstepping past the bass. The overall shape is a little reminiscent of the bass and vocal driven tunings Aurisonics used to be famous for, and to my ears is subtly enough done to differentiate from the “usual” V shaped offerings out there at the moment and still sound pretty damn good in the process.
The bass on the Lyra II is a solid, meaty affair, with a nice balance between mid-bass chocolatiness (yes, that is a word) and sub bass rumble. They play very well with stringed bass instruments, the nice extension into the deep lower registers allowing both texture and rumble to present in equal measure. In terms of extension, these are rated down to 10kHz and do seem to be reasonably bottomless, handling “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk with authority, the bass dropping right down through the spectrum without dissipating.
Putting “Heaven” by Emile Sande through the mix, the sub-bass driven synth riff that kicks the song off layers very nicely into the vocals, playing off the solid and punchy boom of the bass drum to create the effect of sonic ripples running through the soundscape and add a nice level of physical substance to the tune. The playoff between drum and rumble highlights the nice balance across the bass range, with possibly slightly more mid-bass emphasis than sub, but nowhere near enough for me to hear a hump or “thumb” in the usual bass ranges typical of more V shaped tunings. In terms of overall presence, while this is still nicely balanced, there is definitely more bass than a strictly neutral offering, the bottom end sounding thick and full, but still retaining good detailing and not encroaching on the rest of the frequency spectrum.
Putting my two favourite bass test tracks through the Lyra II, it handles both well. “Hello, It’s Me” by Sister Hazel takes full advantage of the aforementioned chocolatiness (seriously, look it up), the fluid basslines kicking the song off with velvety smoothness and a dash of texture and rasp floating in the mix from the bass strings vibrating like chunks in a chocolate McFlurry. “Bad Rain” by Slash and Myles Kennedy is dispatched easily as well, the snarling bass riff that kicks in around the 22 second mark reaching deep and growling at the listener with real attitude, bolstered by the visceral boom of the bass drums provided by the beryllium driver to give a solid foundation for the track to really grab the listener.
Percussion and drum sounds definitely benefit from the fact they are being produced by a dynamic driver, with the Campfire-designed driver proving very proficient at generating a level of slam and visceral roar that can sometimes border on basshead-lite in terms of the way it moves air against my eardrum. Ironically, it’s a semi-acoustic track that really makes me feel this, with James Bay’s rendition of “FourFiveSeconds” from the BBC Live Lounge sessions album making the entire track shake with the impact of one very well recorded bass drum that underpins the gentle guitar riff running through the song. Despite the impact, the dynamic driver used here never feels slow or sluggish, and while it may lack a picosecond in terms of response compared to an all-BA setup used in similarly priced offerings from companies such as Noble, the speed is more than quick enough to handle most complex tracks with the same level of ease, with the added slam a dynamic driver can bring.
Soundstage and separation
The Lyra II has a decent if not huge soundstage, extending a little outside the head in both directions along the X axis and having a small but pretty much circular overall soundstage shape. Placement within that staging feels pretty accurate, with “Better Man” by Leon Bridges allowing me to place the Hammond organ in the back right of the studio and the saxophone hovering on the rear left behind the front and centre vocal. Separation is very good, but doesn’t leave the crispest impression sometimes due to the actual thickness of the notes in some passages. That being said, I have yet to find anything that make the Lyra II sound congested or smeared, so the thickness definitely adds to the overall solidity of the signature rather than obscuring anything. Playing “Burning Love” by Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra off their recent collaboration allows the sound to envelop the listener, with instruments jumping out on either side of the staging while still remaining part of the overall orchestral sound.
Vibro Labs Aria
The Aria is a quad-armature IEM from Vibro Labs, priced at $499 at the time this review was written, which is a few hundred dollars cheaper than the current RRP of $699 for the Lyra II. The Aria is tuned for an unusual U-shaped sound with good extension at both ends, a decent midrange and high levels of detail. These IEMs really opened my eyes to “other” tunings apart from the standard audiophile V shape and more mid-forward IEMs I had previously been used to, and offer an interesting contrast to the Lyra II with its more organic and rolled off top end.
Looking at the packaging first, the Aria comes in a more traditional CIEM style package, shipping in a clear Peli case with the Vibro Labs branding, with the IEMs and cable held safely in a laser-cut velour insert. The IEMs also come with some Comply foam tips and a standard Westone-style 2-pin cable. The Campfire packaging looks a little more premium, with slightly more in the way of accessories and a more practical but slightly less robust carrying case. Isolation and comfort are similar on both, with both fitting snugly into my ears and providing a good seal with foam tips. The Aria housings are considerably bigger than the small and light Liquidmetal housings used on the Lyra II, and sport a huge bore size, so if you have smaller ears or ear canals, the Campfire IEM may be more comfortable for longer term wear (or wear when lying down).
Moving on to the music, the Lyra II has a higher overall bass presence than the Aria, specifically more thickness and traditional bass “slam” in the lower end that is more typical of the classic dynamic driver sound. In terms of low-end extension, the Lyra II surprisingly goes almost as low as the sub-bass focussed Aria, with a thicker and slightly more textured feel to the bass without losing anything in terms of detail. The speed of the dual-BA driver just about has the edge on the slightly slower feeling beryllium dynamic driver used in the Campfire product, but it doesn’t feel like a massive gap. Overall, the bass from the Lyra is more “present” in most tracks, with the greater emphasis on sub-bass leading to a cleaner and less emphasised lower end sound on the Aria.
Switching to the midrange, the overall thickness felt in the bass also makes its presence felt for the Lyra II here, with a beautifully rich and textured midrange compared to the more dry but equally emotional sounding Aria. The mids on the Aria are actually more neutral than recessed, but definitely feel further backwards in the mix and leaner than the more organic and full sounding Lyra II. Treble is very different between the two IEMs, with the Lyra II sporting a clear but slightly rolled off feeling treble tuning, compared to the light and airy Aria – fans of treble extension will certainly favour the Aria here.
In actual fact, for most music, the Lyra II is equally as capable of rendering clean and clear higher frequencies, but just layers them further back in the soundscape compared to the more U shaped upward slope of the Aria. In terms of texture, the Lyra II conveys plenty of substance and grit to notes, but with a thicker overall weight than the more dry sound offered by the Aria. They both convey emotion in vocals very well, with the Lyra II pulling slightly ahead due to its more emotive and forward midrange to drag plenty of raw feeling out of the sound. Separation and definition feels leaner on the Aria, but actual prowess is pretty evenly matched for both IEMs. Soundstage-wise, both are reasonably evenly matched, with neither straying too far outside the confines of the listener’s head.
These are both very well tuned IEMs for someone looking for a laid back and warm vibe to their music – the Aria has an overall more dry and airy sound, compared to the meatier and more emotional performance given by the Lyra II. These are definitely horses for courses – if you like heavy rock music and singer/songwriter style acoustic guitar, the solidity of the Lyra II will be an easy recommendation, but if you prefer electronic music with a more spacious and dry sound, the Arias won’t disappoint either. For my music collection, the Lyra II works better with my main staples (and preferences), but the Aria is still something I would listen to for certain genres without any hesitation.
Noble 5 (universal)
I had the Noble 5 in my possession for a few weeks just prior to receiving the Lyra, so this comparison is from my review notes and general sound impressions – no direct A/B was possible unfortunately. As far as construction goes, the 5U uses the original Noble “fat coffee bean” style shell design, which is noticeably bigger and less comfortable than the super-small housing of the Campfire IEM. The accessory package is similar, with the only main differences being the hard Peli-style case and greater tip selection for the Noble compared to the less bulletproof but more pocketable Campfire carry case and smaller tip loadout.
Moving on to sound, the bass on the N5 is centred more around the mid-bass region, and lacks the balance and depth of the Lyra II. The bass on the N5 isn’t bad, but the excellent tuning on the Campfire rounds out the bass more to my liking than the heavy mid-bass “thumb” of the Noble. Texture and detail is well matched on both, with the N5U BA driver giving the impression of slightly more speed than the Lyra at the cost of the more organic feel and natural decay. Midrange is won for my preferences by the Lyra II, with a thicker and richer sound, packing more emotion into the music. There is also a slight peak I can hear in the N5U between the mids and the treble, leaving it feeling quite fatiguing and “hot” on certain tracks, compared to the more laid back and clear treble of the Lyra II.
Soundstage is won by the Lyra II, with a larger and more open feel to the music than the more closed in N5U. Detail levels are actually similar, with neither IEM giving an overall impression of being considerably more detailed than the other. Again, different IEMs for different styles of music, but unless you really favour a sharper and more raw sounding high-mid/low treble area or listening 100% to electronic music, the Lyra II can satisfy your basshead cravings as well as the N5U while also giving a smoother and more emotional feel to the music, with a richer and technically proficient sound to match the N5U. For my preferences, the Lyra II wins here by a canter.
Astell & Kern / Beyerdynamic AKT8IE (Mk 1)
This is another bassy single dynamic driver I have recently acquired, based around a miniature version of Beyerdynamic’s reknowned Tesla driver technology. This is the “Mark 1” version of the IEM, which is purported by some so be slightly more bassy than the latest “Mark 2” revision, just for clarity (and does appear to have a slightly more mid-bass heavy tilt, now I have heard the Mk2 version). Original retail was around the $1000 mark, although these can now be had cheaper on the second hand market (like mine).
In terms of presentation, the Astell & Kern packaging is definitely a high-end affair, with a large multi-sectioned hardboard box and multiple areas to unbox, compared to the slick but minimalist approach of Campfire. If packaging matters, the AKT8IE will definitely turn more heads than the unassuming Campfire box. Moving on to the build and ergonomics, the AKT8IE is made out of an unspecified material that looks like a cross between metal and ceramic (and is probably neither) – they are a “concha-fit” style IEM, so are designed to fit in the outer bowl of the ear rather than inserting further in. For my own physiology, they provide a shallow but secure fit, and are actually more comfortable than the Lyra II in that aspect. Due to the unusual oval shape of the IEM barrel and their own bespoke tips needed for the Beyerdynamic product, I find the isolation to be slightly better on the Lyra II, however.
Moving through to the sound, the AKT8IE provides a similar tuning to the Lyra II, with a lovely warmth to the bass and slightly rolled off treble. In terms of bass, the AKT8IE has slightly more overall presence to my ears, with a still pretty well balanced but more lower-midbass centred sound, and more sub-bass capability. The bass is more omnipresent than the more controlled tuning of the Lyra II, and can colour some tracks unexpectedly if there is bass in the recording. In terms of extension, the very capable Tesla driver extends down just as low as the Lyra II, and exhibits similar speed, but feels just a tad softer in overall execution to me.
Pushing through to the mids, the AKT8IE is slightly more forward than the Lyra II, with the vocalist feeling slightly closer to the eardrum. In terms of raw emotion, both are excellent at wringing out all the feeling from a track, but the AKT8IE feels slightly more laid back in the process due to the slightly softer presentation. Details are similar, with the AKT8IE seeming to have the slight edge in resolution and overall clarity, highlighting the softer guitar accents and other micro-details in a song very well but but pulling them a little further back into the musical landscape so making it less easy to spot on first listen.
Treble tuning is similar on both, with the AKT8IE being even less forward than the Lyra II but again, seeming just a tad more detailed and airy. In terms of power, the Lyra II is slightly easier to drive than the A&K/Beyerdynamic collaboration. Overall, the AKT8IE feel slightly more refined, and provide a laid back but detailed stroll through the musical landscape in comparison to the Lyra II’s thicker note weight and more muscular jog – in a straight shootout, I couldn’t call it conclusively between the pair of IEMs, with the AKs probably just nudging it overall if I had to choose just one and price was not a consideration – in terms of value, there certainly isn’t anywhere near $300 worth of sonic difference between these.
(N.B. picture is of the Vega and AKT8IE, but the size/shell shape is the same for comparison purposes)
Campfire Audio Vega (full review here )
The Vega is the current “big brother” of the Campfire range as of late 2016, sitting at the top of the pricing tree at $1299 and sharing the TOTL billing with its all-BA sibling the Andromeda. It shares an identically shaped housing and also uses a single 8.5mm dynamic driver like the Lyra II, but the driver technology and tuning of the Vega is different. Instead of beryllium, the Vega’s driver diaphragm (the thin film that moves to generate the sound) is made out of non-crystalline diamond, and is the first IEM sold commercially to do so according to the Campfire Audio website. As the packaging and ergonomics are identical, it is this driver that differentiates the two IEMs. So, is the price difference of $600 worth it?
Looking at the bass frequencies first, there is a notable difference between the Vega and Lyra II, with the Vega producing considerably more bass than the Lyra II. Despite the increase in volume, the Vega’s bass is extremely tight, dipping slightly lower than the Lyra II and having a heavier sub-bass presence. The Vega just has the edge in terms of speed as well, producing an extremely well textured and detailed lower frequency output that will keep fans of both an analytical and basshead signature equally happy. Switching to mids, the Vega is able to keep pace with the vocal delivery of the Lyra II in terms of emotion, and adds an extra layer of micro-detail and expression to the sound – the difference is more subtle than vast, but the slightly more energetic signature is more engaging (I find it “pulls” me into the song more), but as a result it loses some of the soothing nature of the silky midrange on the Lyra II – put simply, the Lyra II is an IEM you can relax with, the Vega is an IEM that gets your pulse racing.
Highs are definitively more forward on the Vega – it is actually rated slightly lower in terms of “final” extension, topping out at 22kHz, but the treble isn’t pushed back into the soundscape like the Lyra II, keeping step with the mids and bass in an “all-forward” signature. As a result, music that relies on cymbals and other percussion sounds crisper, and it brings an extra layer of crunch to guitar heavy music while losing none of the weight of the Lyra II. Micro-details and dynamics are noticeably better on the Vega (although again, the margins we are talking about are small rather than glaring), and the separation and layering is noticeably better on some tracks, the “wall of sound” carrying even more positional detail as it smashes you with the added bass weight of each note.
Listening to “Freak On A Leash” by Korn gives a good example of the difference between the two IEMs, with the Lyra II handling the drop at the 2 and a half minute mark with aplomb, but the Vega managing to keep pace with the Lyra II and managing to make the hairs on my arms stand up every time. Finally, the Vega is easier to drive than the Lyra II from all of my sources.
My current “go to” over-ear headphone, and one of my favourite pieces of audio gear, the Nighthawk are tuned very similarly to the Lyra II, with north of neutral bass, great mids and a clear and slightly laid back treble. They also retail in roughly the same price bracket to the Lyra II at present, so are being included to highlight the similarities between the two.
Skipping straight to the sound, the Nighthawks have a bass presence that sits somewhere between the Lyra II and the Vega in the current Campfire lineup, with a great extension and good but not great speed from the bio-cellulose drivers. As a semi-open headphone, the bass isn’t quite as hard-hitting or punchy as the Lyra II, with a more diffuse feel to the sub-bass and a greater feeling of space to the lower end sound. Quality and quantity are similar, however, with the Nighthawks providing just a little more in the midbass than the Campfire IEMs.
The midranges on the two are again reasonably similar, with the vocals on the Nighthawk sitting slightly further back in the soundscape to my ears, but sharing a similar sense of emotion and clarity, with the Nighthawks sounding even smoother in the vocal range than the Lyra II. Highs are similar on both, being clear and clean but not massively emphasised, with the Nighthawk having a more open and airy feel due to the semi-open design, compared to the more restrained Lyra II. In fact, the staging on the Nighthawks is the major difference, with the sound feeling more spread out than the compact and dense soundstage of the Lyra II, with slightly less weight to the midrange than the heavier notes of the Campfire IEM as a result.
Overall, these both produce a sound similar enough for me to feel comfortable to say that a fan of one should be a fan of the other (although sound is such a subjective thing that you can never guarantee that). For a dense, more portable sound, the Lyra II comes out on top – for an airier and slightly cleaner overall signature with a little added bass, the Nighthawk is your go to here, and would be something I would be more likely to turn to for “at home” listening more often than not.
Frequency – 10 Hz to 28 kHz
Sensitivity – 102 dB SPL/mW
Impedance – 17 Ohms @ 1kHz
Driver – single 8.5mm Beryllium PVD driver
Housing – Liquidmetal alloy
Connection type – MMCX
A lot of my recent listening in terms of in-ear monitors recently has involved getting used to sound signatures that I hadn’t previously considered I would like, and more often than not discovering that I enjoyed the differences they brought. Picking up the Lyra II, this brought me back to the “core” sonic preferences I enjoy most – punchy but not overblown bass, emotional midrange, great vocals and a smooth and laid-back treble. In fact, emotional is a word I would use to describe these IEMs – they don’t suck you quite as far into the music as the rollercoaster ride their big brother the Vega can manage with the right track, but there is a great feeling of… well, feeling in the music that transcends any specific part of the frequency and allows you to just drift into the track and enjoy it.
These are IEMs built for long-time listening sessions, and much like the recent IT03 review I wrote, I have found reviewing these hard as I keep listening to entire albums instead of just the one or two tracks I was aiming for. Being honest, I don’t have too many points of reference for IEMs in this price bracket apart from the ones listed in the comparison section above, but as the middle point in the Campfire Audio range, the Lyra II offer an exceptional tuning, great build quality and a rare quality that just makes them sound “right” for my personal preferences. In terms of ratings, I have given these 4.5 stars as the treble tuning, while almost note-perfect for me, could be considered lacking in something in this price bracket to truly deserve a 5-star rating for people who don’t like their treble served under the table. From a personal preference standpoint, these are 5-star sound all the way, but not quite all-encompassing enough to fit all sound preferences, hence the docked half-star.
To be clear, there are better technical performers in the current Campfire lineup, but if you are looking for a meaty but smooth sound without the additional treble emphasis (or cost) of the higher end models, these are certainly worth putting on your radar. Personally, despite being overshadowed by the Vega in the current lineup, I haven’t found myself missing much from the Vega when listening to these, and would certainly be happy if these were the only Campfire Audio IEM I had a chance to listen to. Great sound and great build quality – this sequel certainly negotiates the tricky “second album” syndrome and comes out more like The Godfather than the Speed franchise, so really, what more can you ask for?