List Price – $999 (Campfire Audio)
The Campfire Audio Dorado were provided to me free of charge by Campfire Audio for the duration of this review solely for the purpose of listening and writing up my honest and unbiased impressions. As I wanted to keep them afterwards, I arranged to purchase them off Campfire Audio rather than return them. A version of this review originally appeared on Head-Fi (link here). This review has been updated for content and form.
Disclaimer – the Dorado were provided to me free of charge by Campfire Audio for the duration of this review solely for the purpose of listening and writing up my honest and unbiased impressions. As I wanted to keep them afterwards, I arranged to purchase them off Campfire Audio rather than return them. This review was originally posted on Head-Fi (link here) in January 2017, and has been reposted here as part of my ongoing review series of the Campfire Audio range.
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 Dorado 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.
Build quality and ergonomics
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 give 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 Dorado is befitting of a product in this price bracket, and is also sold as a standalone item on the ALO Audio site for $149, which should give you some indication of the comparative quality.
When looking at IEMs that have just been acquired, some may feel the need to break out a more expensive “upgrade” cable to get the most out of the sonic capabilities – I am neither a believer or disbeliever when it comes to cable theory, and don’t have any more expensive MMCX cables in my inventory to try with the Dorado, but in terms of quality and sound I am certainly not left with the feeling that these NEED upgrading out of the box to unlock the potential in the IEMs. 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, a good but not stellar start – the metal housings and quality of construction and accessories are both top notch, but the necessary extension of the IEM nozzle to accommodate the TAEC chamber that provides the sparkling highs brings a tradeoff in wearing comfort that make these stick a little further out of the ear than I would like. For people with different ear anatomy or narrower canals (to get a good seal with smaller tips) then this will be less of an issue, so it certainly isn’t a major design problem.
Tips and cable choice
As with the other new models in the range, foam tips are recommended for the Dorado, and given the more unusual shape of the stem on this model, this is definitely the best fit for me, with various silicon and combination-style tips from my collection all struggling to get an ideal seal or sound. I have actually found myself needing to move up one size to the largest tips on offer to get a good seal in my ear canals, but once that was done, the seal was ideal. These are slightly less comfortable and secure than the Lyra II or Vega for me personally, but not an uncomfortable fitting IEM overall. In line with the other Campfire IEMs I have heard, the included Litz cable is of sufficient quality for me not to think about resorting to a third-party solution.
Like most Campfire IEMs, the Dorado are pretty easy to drive off most sources, with a nominal sensitivity of 107 dB and resistance of 15 Ohms. They sit comfortably around the 60 mark on the Fiio X7 for me, with plenty of headroom for further juice if needed. They will also play nicely off my mobile phone, although despite the volume, the dynamic capabilities of the drivers are a little lost (as expected).
Much like the Vega, the Dorado benefit from a quality source chain, singing more sweetly with a mid or higher tier DAP / AMP combo if given the chance. I don’t think these will ever sound “bad”, but spending $1000 on a set of IEMs just to listen to them through your phone is not really making the most of their unique capabilities. Putting them to work with the Fiio X7 (AM2) or an afternoon with the new RHA Dacamp L1 on medium gain definitely seems to bring a little more out of the drivers in terms of separation and tightness to my ears, with the quality dynamic driver responding well to the extra voltage.
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”)
James Bay – The Chaos & The Calm
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 impressions on the sound signature
As the only hybrid model currently available in Campfire’s lineup, the Dorado has the benefit of the dual-BA tweeters and tuning chamber tech from the Jupiter and Andromeda, to bolster the sound coming from the 8.5mm dynamic driver and takes full advantage of these to produce a very clean and airy sounding treble, with fantastic extension (27kHz is quoted on the spec sheet) and a crispness and definition that really brings electronic music to life. The treble carries a decent weight to notes, not quite as “solid” as its older sibling the Vega but still giving a decent sense of body in the higher registers. I haven’t heard the Andromeda or Jupiter (yet!) so I can’t make a direct comparison here, but the overall impression is of slightly more air and the difficult to define but easier to hear “sparkle” on the real high frequencies. In terms of extension, the Dorado holds firm right up in the top of my hearing range, with plenty of apparent extension and no obvious roll-off in the higher registers.
Pushing through my normal test playlist, “Starlight” by Slash and Myles Kennedy is up first. Listening to the guitar harmonics on the intro gives a nice sense of emphasis on the high notes without bringing any harshness into the mix, providing a thin and sharp rapier of treble that cuts through the background noise with ease but doesn’t leave a mark on your eardrum in the process. Kennedy’s falsetto is also equally well handled, soaring up into the rafters with its trademark blend of helium and gravel with a beautiful clarity and smoothness to the sound. Trying my usual “go to” tracks for screechiness and sibilance draws a blank, with plenty of emphasis on the troublesome frequencies, but the sonic heat and unpleasantness that some drivers can emphasise being traded for a smooth and clean edge to the sound. “Whiskey And You” by Chris Stapleton is a good example of this, with the raw sound of his voice on the chorus bringing all the nuance of his booze-fuelled roar without any of the harsh edges.
Percussion is crisp and metallic in the cymbal and hi-hat, sitting quite high up in the soundscape and splashing nicely across the top of the sound. Cymbals decay pretty quickly, so are on the polite rather than overbearing side for me, but the airiness of the sound does give a nice sense of reality to each hit. In terms of detail and “room sound”, the Dorado is capable of plenty of micro-detailing, which is more apparent in the treble register rather than the midrange due to the tuning. The good extension on the BA drivers also gives the sound a nice 3D feel and sense of space to my ears.
Switching over to some electronica, the BA drivers come into their element, with tracks from the likes of The Prodigy, Sigma and The Chemical Brothers all sounding larger than life and suitably euphoric with the synth-driven melodies floating around the listener’s ears effortlessly. “Go” from the Chemical Brothers sounds particularly good through these IEMs, with the huge bass presence being sweetened by the sparkling keyboard lines and synth sounds to balance the sound into one very accomplished slab of modern dance music.
Compared to the Vega, the Dorado offers a more delicate and shimmering take on treble presentation, sacrificing a little note weight and feeling of solidity for a sense of sparkle and space that plays very well with certain genres of music.
Soundstage and separation
The Dorado has a decent-sized soundstage, not spectacular in width but carrying sound a little outside the confines of the listener’s head from left and right and having a decent sense of depth to provide a more believable sense of space. In terms of separation, the Dorado has no problem keeping the boundaries of each instrument intact, with spatial cues firing off around the audio landscape and allowing for multiple guitar lines or percussion to be tracked with little effort from the listener. The overall impression of the sound is slightly less forward than the Vega or Lyra II due to the dips around the vocals in the midrange – this can occasionally be noticed on multi-instrumental tracks with plenty of “centre-stage” sound and a heavy vocal line – it doesn’t sound muddled, but in contrast to the exemplary separation and staging of the Vega, the vocals can sit a little in front of the other mid-band sounds on occasion.
Campfire Audio Vega (review here)
This is the current co-flagship in the Campfire Audio range, sitting at the top of the price tree at $1299, just above the Dorado and Andromeda. In terms of signature, the Dorado is more of a traditional V or W shape than the Vega, with a relatively more laid back mid range, a thick bass and great airy treble. In comparison to the Vega, the bass feels a little more boosted in comparison to the lower midrange, giving a bassier “feel”, even if the volume of output is actually pretty similar. The bass descends just as deep on the Vega, but feels more crisp and controlled in direct comparison, with the Dorado’s own excellent bass presentation sounding a little boomy when listened to in tandem with the exceptional lower end tuning of the Vega.
Moving through to the mids, the Vega sounds less laid back and more forward and energetic throughout the range, with a unique “all forward” presentation style that manages to keep the sound in balance while giving emphasis in each frequency range. In direct comparison, the lower and higher midrange of the Dorado don’t sound as thick or textured as the Vega, tailing off on either end of the vocals and leaning more towards the “V” shaped landscape familiar to most audiophiles. Moving on to the treble, the Dorado has an airier and more “sparkly” feeling treble, the dual-BA tweeters taking up most of the workload in tandem with Campfire’s patented TAEC technology (Tuned Acoustic Expansion Chamber) to provide an airier sound to the high notes, with a good feeling of space. It loses out a bit on note weight in the higher range as a result, but for fans of a more traditional BA style high end tuning, this may appeal more than the more grounded and solid feeling treble of the Vega, with more of a sense of “fizz” to proceedings.
In terms of driving power, the Dorado feel easier to drive than the Vega, but only by a small amount (probably due to the comparative bass “boost”. Overall, the Dorado provide a more “fun” and V/W shaped tuning, pushing bass and treble more to the forefront, and losing a bit of richness in the midrange as a result. Both are definitely up there in term of overall signature, with the Vega just edging it for me personally due to its better balance and richer sounding mid-range, with slightly better micro-detailing apparent through the middle of the sonic spectrum as well. For fans of a crisper and less rich sound or an airier high-end, the Dorado rightly deserves to be talked about in a similar bracket to the Vega purely on technical achievement. The only area where there is clear daylight between the two models for me is fit, with the Dorado’s giraffe-like stems causing my very wide but apparently not incredibly deep ear canals a bit more difficulty getting a good seal then the more ergonomic barrel design of the Vega.
The IT03 is another triple-hybrid IEM, and the first in-ear offering from the well-respected DAP manufacturer. It currently retails at about ¼ of the price of the Campfire IEM at c. $250, but has had plenty of comparisons with IEMs in far higher pricing brackets, so I thought it was worth including here. Like the Dorado, it comes with one single dynamic driver (slightly larger, at 9.2mm compared to the Dorado’s 8.5mm effort) and two BA drivers for the higher end sounds. In terms of overall packaging and presentation, the Ibasso definitely holds its own, with a high quality cable and multiple tips and a leather carry pouch. In terms of accessories, the included ALO cabling feels better constructed and higher end than the more supple but tangle prone Ibasso cabling, and the carry case is harder and more practical, but these are only small considerations.
Fit is definitely won by the Ibasso, which sports a “semi-custom” shell design to fit very ergonomically in my ears, and also helps to block a little more ambient noise than the slightly more awkward fitting but smaller Liquidmetal shells of the Dorado. Moving on to sound, the IT03 is a leaner and more neutral tuning than the V/W of the Dorado, with just an extra helping of sub-bass making it deviate from a more or less flattish signature. The bass is more tilted towards sub and mid frequencies on the IT03, and loses a little thickness and substance compared to the more weighty Dorado as it moves up through the mid-bass. Extension and speed are similar, with both drivers feeling quick and punchy, adding definition and speed to match the physical impact.
In terms of mid-range, the IT03 sounds sharper and more etched than the Dorado, with a less weighty presentation across the board. Vocals are similar on both, with the IT03 coming across with a leaner tone in comparison, with less of the full and smooth sound of the Dorado. Detailing levels aren’t a million miles away on both IEMs, with the Dorado shading the contest in terms of overall clarity to my ears, despite the additional note thickness – the leaner presentation of the IT03 makes surface detailing more stark in contrast to the musical background but not necessarily resolving everything with the same clarity as the Dorado. Moving on to treble, the IT03 has a crunchier tuning, with a thinner (but not thin) note weight and a crisper feel. Airiness is similar on both IEMs, just being shaded by the IT03 due to the more neutral signature and less chunky sound. Again, detail levels are high on both, with the dual-BA setup from the Andromeda and Jupiter models allowing the Dorado to best the IT03 again in terms of overall clarity.
With regards to driving power, the Dorado is easier to drive. Overall, this is a closer contest than the pricetag indicates, with the IT03 holding its own in multiple areas and definitely managing to give the Dorado a bloody nose before going down swinging. For my ears the Dorado pulls ahead with its superior sense of weight and fullness, sacrificing some of the clear and clean neutrality of the IT03 for a more engaging and substantial sound. If you are on a tighter budget, the IT03 will certainly provide about 85-90% of the overall Dorado performance for about 25% of the price, but if you have the cash, the Dorado is the better option for me.
RHA CL1 Ceramic
The CL1 Ceramic is a new IEM from RHA, which has just been released and is currently on “tour” with various Head-Fi’ers around the globe (including myself). The CL1 is in a lower price bracket than the Dorado at approximately $400-$425 at current RRP. It contains a single wideband dynamic driver and one ceramic plate driver in a hybrid configuration, with a ceramic housing similar in composition to the original Campfire Lyra. In terms of presentation and accessories, the CL1 Ceramic is definitely aimed at the higher end of the market, with multiple tip options, an excellent presentation and two very high grade cables (actually eclipsing the ALO Litz cable of the Dorado in terms of build quality and thickness/feel). Ergonomics are also won by the CL1, with a small pebble-shaped shell that fits very nicely in the inner ear, and a nice over-ear memory wire arrangement on the cables that keep things very comfortable and secure.
In terms of driveability, the CL1 requires an amp to sound good, with an impedance of 150 Ohms and sensitivity of 89dB, so is considerably harder to drive and less “portable” without the right amplification stack. In terms of sound, the Dorado has a fuller bass (both sub and mid), with similar speed and a slightly lower “feel” in terms of extension than the CL1, which has a bass presence that is just a little north of neutral in comparison. Midrange is also fuller on the Dorado, with a more lush feel to the vocals compared to the leaner sounding CL1. Detail levels are similar on both, with the Dorado providing the same level of detail as the analytical sounding CL1 despite the thicker overall sound. Separation and soundstaging are similar, with the CL1 being able to keep pace with the Dorado.
Moving on to treble, this is thinner and crispier on the CL1, with a near-limitless extension on the spec sheet translating to a crisp and sparkly overall sound in the higher registers in comparison to the Dorado’s clear and clean treble. The CL1 can feel a little crystalline in comparison, which fans of a crunchy and sharp treble may prefer. Overall, despite the cost differentiation, the Dorado is a clear winner again for me in terms of signature, and for the fact that it doesn’t require an amp to realise its full potential in terms of sound(which will add another few hundred dollars to the overall cost of the CL1). The CL1 will appeal more towards people who like a thin and razor-edged sound signature with a hint of bass and texture in the lower end, as opposed to the more traditional V/W shape of the Dorado and the fuller and more textured sound.
The LZ-A4 are the latest iteration of the LZ series of IEMs from the mysterious Chinese designer (known only as Mr LZ). They are a triple driver hybrid with a single DD and two custom made balanced armatures, with adjustable tuning filters in two different locations on the IEM shell, giving a total of 18 different configurations to affect the frequency response. These are way below the Dorado’s RRP, coming in at around $200 or less including shipping at the moment. Like the IT03 above, they are a very accomplished set of in-ears, and currently riding a well deserved wave of praise on the forums here, so I have included them for context.
In terms of build and presentation, the A4 have an all metal shell resembling a car turbo, and are a fair bit bigger than the svelte Dorado (nozzle excluded). The packaging, while decent, is also a cut under the polish on the Dorado in my opinion, although certainly good enough for the price bracket. In terms of ergonomics, the large and pretty heavy housings on the A4 can be worn up or down, but sit a little looser in my ears than the Dorado when using silicon tips. The cable is a good example of an MMCX cable with low microphonics and a nice build, but again, a little notch below the ALO Litz that comes with the Dorado. In terms of sound, comparing all 18 signatures would take all day, so I have based my comparisons on my favourite two filter settings (Red back filter and either black or green front filters). The Dorado is easier to drive than the A4, requiring less power to hit good listening volumes.
Starting with the bass, the Dorado has a fuller and thicker bass presence, compared to the more subdued and lean (in comparison) sounding bass on the A4. Both drivers produce great extension and levels of sub-bass, with the A4 sounding more like the IT03 in terms of overall presentation there compared to the Dorado. Speed and definition are similar, with the Dorado just sounding a little crisper around the edges of the bass notes with its custom beryllium dynamic driver. Mid range can be brought forward or back on the A4 depending on the filters, but with the green filters vocals feel slightly more emphasised than the Dorado, and the black filters are roughly the same. The overall tone is again slightly less full, but still very nuanced – the impression of detail retrieval on the A4 far exceeds its price tag, and doesn’t leave the listener feeling short changed.
Where the edges around the vocals are slightly further back on the Dorado, the A4 is comparatively more flat in presentation, leaving everything sounding very coherent. Moving up to the treble, the A4 has a crystal clear tone and excellent extension – it can sound thinner or thicker depending on the filters, but it gives a similar crispness to the excellent Dorado twin-BA setup with the green filters, with the Dorado just sounding slightly more “sparkling”. In terms of soundstage, the A4 has one of the biggest soundstages I have heard in an IEM outside of the old Aurisonics range, and is markedly wider and deeper than the tighter “sphere” the Dorado produces. It still retains great cohesion, and separation and placement of instruments feel similar on both IEMs.
Overall, the A4 has a slightly wider and less sparkling sound than the Dorado, with noticeably less bass and overall fullness to the sound. The detail levels sound similar, with the Dorado pulling ahead in overall resolution, but not by a noticeable margin to my ears for normal “non-critical” listening. Like the IT03, the fact that a $200 IEM can come close to the Dorado says more about the prowess of the A4 than any fault of the Dorado – to be clear, the Dorado is definitely a tier up from the A4 overall, with just a little more clarity, more bass and body, and wins for me in terms of overall preference, but for the relative price difference, that isn’t surprising.
After hearing the two very different takes on single dynamic driver tunings in the recent Campfire Audio releases, I was unsure where exactly they were going to head with the more traditional “triple hybrid” sound. Instead of retreading the usual “warm and smooth” or “fun and energetic” V shaped tunings prevalent in the market at the moment, they have taken a little detour and come up with something different, treading the line between full and textured and light and sparkly. The excellent bass foundation brings life and substance to the music, and the dual-BA setup adds a little sparkle to proceedings that the more energetic Vega and the more subdued Lyra II both miss in comparison. The vocal prominence helps with coherence, giving the sound more body in the certain areas that would otherwise be neglected in a true “V” shaped tuning. This lift in the midrange is also ironically my one bone of contention with these IEMs, with the additional “beef” in the voices highlighting the more recessed instrumentation around them on more busy tracks. This is very much nitpicking rather than an actual concern, and it certainly hasn’t stopped me enjoying these IEMs immensely in the time I have had with them, but for my preferences, this is what costs the Dorado its full complement of 5 stars.
Another Campfire IEM, another unique tuning in their range – this is an excellent, full bodied sound that will appeal most to fans of electronic music, or people who want the body and slam of a TOTL dynamic driver with a dash of the sparkle and airiness that is commonly written about from their all-BA flagship the Andromeda. Like the Vega, this IEM won’t be everything to everyone (especially at the $1k price mark), and for fans of a mid-centric (rather than vocal-centric) sound, the dips in the range may lead them elsewhere, but for most people, this will be an excellent and very engaging listen. It has great build quality, reasonable ergonomics (that long stem won’t be for everyone, but works well enough for me) and the standard high-quality Campfire accessories. With IEMs in this price bracket, it is as much about personal listening preference as accomplishment, but these IEMs can certainly rub shoulders with the much-lauded Vega without feeling any sense of technical inadequacy. Overall, a well though, technically capable and more importantly enjoyable sound. For Ken and his team, it is yet another case of “Nicely Done”.