After reviewing the IKKO OH1 that Patrick sent for review, I was interested in their newest release the OH10.  I bought the OH10 outright so no disclaimer is needed.    If you have an interest in IKKO products, please visit their website, or facebook.  IKKO products can be purchased from Amazon here or purchased from Xtenik here.


Unboxing / Packaging:
The packaging of the OH-10 shows IKKO’s style with the anime character on the front, and the details on reverse.  Even the sides of the box are adorned with either product photos or specs.  (My understanding is the misspelling of hybrid has since been corrected).  Removing the slip-cover reveals a black book fold box with the earpieces resting in a velvet covered foam tray.  Lifting the tab at top reveals a second compartment with tips held nicely in their own foam block, a leather mat to prevent scratching the earpieces, and an IKKO Lapel pin nestled in foam padding.  The cable and carrying pouch are hidden inside the leather mat.   Overall, the kit is what I would expect from a build at this price point as we are approaching the $200 mark.   Some models at this price provide a hard shell case and if you prefer one, you’ll want to add that at checkout as only the soft case is provided.  The soft case is thought out well with 2 pockets to allow separating the earpieces to prevent scratches while in transit.   Two sets of tips are provided (neutral and bass enhanced although no documentation of such).  The block the tips are stored in is a nice touch, but would be appreciated more if it fit in the travel case perhaps.










Build/Fit:
The first two pictures below were gratiously provided by patrick of the copper alloy shell before final plating.  This is one of the hallmarks of the OH-10, so I wanted to show it off.   Due to some proprietary techniques and design of the internal cavity, I won’t be able to share the inside of the cavity.   The Shells are nearly exactly the same shape and size as that of the OH-1 but heft is dramatically different.  The OH-10 weighs in at a bit over double that of the OH-1.  The .78mm bi-pin connector is slightly elevated above the shell but is not the hooded type that has become popular of late.  Vents exist on the inner surface behind the nozzle and on the upper surface near the mid-point of the shell.  Nozzles exit the front of the earpiece with an upward rake and a pronounced lip to hold tips in place (standard T400 tips).  The seam between faceplate and shell is not hidden, but polish is very good with no crisp edges anywhere on the unit and mirror finish throughout.










Internals:
The OH-10 is powered by a pair of drivers, one. 10mm dynamic and one balanced armature.   The dynamic is a dual diaphragm titanium coated polymer model, while the balanced armature used is a Knowles 33518.   Worth noting is the copper alloy shell was designed with an acoustic chamber specifically for this 10mm driver so a lot of work went into reducing harmonics and producing the best sound possible from the drivers.  I note this as I think the same driver in a different shell might not show the same level of refinement as a lot of work went into the pairing of materials.  Nominal impedance is listed as 18Ω with a sensitivity of 106dB/mW.   I found the OH-10 to be reasonably well driven with a phone or a tablet, but it does scale well and detail improves considerably with a better source.  This is a case of scaling in quality rather than quantity as a phone is capable of powering it fully.

Cable:
The provided cable is a standard length (1.2m) made with 4 strands of 5N oxygen free silver-plated copper with a black outer coating.  From the 90º Jack, the cable exits through a proper strain relief as a double twist pattern (two wires paired, then the pairs wrapped).  The splitter is a metal barrel that matches the earpieces closely.  Cables exit as twisted pair but not as tightly as below the splitter.  Pre-formed earhooks are provided without memory wire and terminations are metal encased (again matching the earpieces) .78mm bi-pin connectors.  The right connector has a red ring around it for quick identification.  The earpieces themselves do not identify R/L but only fit one way so matching them up is a pretty straight forward proposition.  The cable has a leather cable tie provided that matches the protective mat.   Again, a nice touch to make all the cable parts closely match the earpieces and accessory kit.






Tips:
There are 2 sets of 3 sizes of tips provided (SML).   They are all silicone, but of two different designs.  I found the narrower bore to be a bit nearer to neutral (not that the OH-10 is ever that) while the wider bore enhanced bass response mildly.  The OH-10 has plenty of bass for my tastes with the standard tips so I stuck with the narrower tips for my sound notes and testing.   Again your views may vary based on tip selection.


Sound:


Bass:
The OH-10 starts off with a mildly emphasized and well extended sub-bass which gives it a satisfying rumble.  If you have used the OH-1, the OH-10 has the same level of control over the bass,  with added umph.  Lower mid-bass is mildly emphasized and falls as it moves toward the mids.  Again control is very good and texture is above average.   The OH-10 is best used at lower volumes as the control over the bass seems to lessen as volumes increase and if listening at above about 80dB some congestion can appear in more complex tracks.  Backing off the volume a bit restores control and the congestion disappears again.    Some mild-mid bass bleed occurs and while it does not obscure the mids, it does provide a bit of warmth to the signature.

Mids:
Lower mids are the mildly recessed but not lacking in detail.  As we move up, the mids move forward and female vocals present in front of their male counterparts as a result.  Timbre of electric guitar is realistic with good growl which makes the OH-10 a fun listen for rock and classic rock.   I found the clarity of the mids to be probably the most impressive thing about the OH-10.  That doesn’t mean I found the mids to be accentuated the most, just that despite starting out slightly recessed, the definition and textures are very clean and precise.   If anything, if you could retain the quality of the mids and push the lower mids just slightly forward it would be near perfect for jazz as well.

Treble:
Lower treble is emphasized but drops fairly rapidly as you move further up creating a signature that has good clarity while avoiding any tendency to get strident.  The bright tilt makes high hats and snare with brushes sound particularly clear and realistic which is no easy task, while cymbals fall just a hair short of sounding lifelike.   The roll-off of the upper treble probably limits the cymbals a bit, but does also make the OH-10 less fatiguing than many with more high end emphasis.    The most treble sensitive among us may find the OH-10 to be fatiguing, but for the rest of us, the detail, clarity, and air this provides will outweigh any aversion to bright signatures (yes, its that good).

Soundstage / Imaging:
Stage is good sized with a touch more width than depth.  I found the stage was large enough that orchestral pieces were seated properly with nothing behind that should be next to or vice versa.   Imaging is very good with directional cues and movements being well represented as well.   Layering is good with the caveat that the bass gets a touch loose as volumes increase and the OH-10 is best listened to at moderate volumes.   I suspect as easy as the OH-10 is to drive, it may well be overwhelmed by too much power.

Comparisons:

IKKO OH-1 –   of course this is the expected comparison.  The OH-10 departs from the OH-1 significantly.  While the OH-1 can be described as mildly mid-centric, the OH-10 is a bigger V shape with more detail throughout the signature.  The OH-1 is a bit more laidback, while the OH-10 is a bit more aggressive in both attack and decay and the resultant sound is a bit cleaner and sharper edged as a result.     Shells are almost exactly the same size wise but the materials used on the OH-10 make it much more solid feeling without feeling heavy or uncomfortable.

Magaosi K5 –  The mid-centric K5 vs the V shaped OH-10.  Both are built very well, cable prefrence goes to the OH-10, and choice of model is going to be dependent on prefered signature as the two have very little in common sonically.  Extension is better on the low end on the OH-10, but the K5 has better mids and arguably better treble extension.  Other than price point, these two have little in common.

Moondrop KP –  The KP is well established and liked at this price point and with both sporting polished metal shells, it again is a natural comparison.  Signatures are completely different as the eKP attempts to be more neutral than the OH-10.  The OH-10 has better low end extension as well as considerably more sub-bass than the KP brings to the table.  The KP has slightly more forward mids.  Both have lively upper mids and lower treble and both roll-off above that and are rather polite.    This is a tough call which speaks well for both models.

Brainwavz b400 –  The b400 is way closer to neutral than the OH-10, but the OH-10 is much more engaging and fun to listen to.  Build quality is night and day different as the 3d printed shell on the b400 is prone to cracking while the shell on the OH-10 looks like it could take a direct hit from a howitzer with only minimal damage.

IBasso IT-01S – These two again are similar signatures with different builds.  Both have good bass depth and an emphasized bass and upper-mid/lower treble region.  I find the OH-10 has better control at lower volumes but yields to the IT-01s at higher volumes as the OH-10 becomes slightly loose and the IT-01s comes out of its shadow.   The OH-10 sounds a bit cleaner at normal listening levels when compared to the IT-01s and has a bit better detail resolution.  The IT-01s is slightly smaller which may be a consideration for some and both are well constructed and polished although the material used on the 01s is lighter and less durable.

Thoughts / Conclusion:
Having enjoyed the signature of the OH-1, it probably comes as little surprise that I really like the OH-10.  The tonality is intoxicating and the detail and texture are very good.   It isn’t the best for those listening at above average volume, but for those that listen at average or lower volumes, it competes very well with most things in its price class.  It is not as neutral as some, but is much more engaging than most.    Even with higher end models available, I find myself reaching for the OH-10 when I just want to relax and listen.  So far Ikko has two models and two solid offerings, that’s not an easy thing to do and shows the level of effort and dedication they are putting into their products.   I can heartily recommend both the OH-1 I previously reviewed and the OH-10 as both are very solid values.  I will also admit to having IKKO’s facebook page bookmarked so I won’t miss their next release.


Summary



Pros: very engaging signature, with above average texture and detail

Cons: not a neutral signature, can get a bit loose at high volume.
FIBAE 4
Pros - Very good sub and mid bass, with good textures and natural decay
Epitome of fun yet fatigue free tuning, with strong technical foundations
Very good soundstage, with good height and depth
Superb build, fit and isolation
Very good value for money, a top notch competitor at the price
Cons - A little more lower treble energy would have made the F4 even more fun

Disclaimer 
I have purchased and paid the full retail (but nice pre-sales) price for the FIBAE 4, this is not a sponsored review.

Review notes
This review is based on over a 100 hours listening to the FIBAE 4, with various sources : AAW Capri cable for iPhone, iFi Micro DSD Black Label amp and DX220 with both AMP1 mK2 and AMP9. As usual with FIBAE IEMs, the FIBAE 4 signature is consistent across sources. My preferred combo is DX220 with the NuTubes powered AMP9. I tried several cables but PW 1960 4 wires and PlusSound X series were my favorites


Packaging 
The FIBAE 4 in custom form comes with a solid black plain card box which contains a black Pelican 1010 hard case with a transparent lid itself containing a small blue pouch with a cleaning tool.

Specifications
  • Single low, Single full-range, single proprietary high, single proprietary super high
  • Sensitivity : 115dB @1kHz @0.1V
  • Distorsion : Low % THD
  • Impedance 8.1 Ohm @1kHz (+-0.95 Ohm 10Hz-20kHz)
  • Frequency range : 10Hz-21000Hz (+-20dB into IEC 60318-4 coupler)

Introduction
2019 will be Custom Art’s year for sure, as they pushed the envelope starting with the FIBAE Black release a very singular single BA with a Helmholtz resonator which also happened to be my first Custom Art IEM. The FIBAE 4 is another release this year and innovating as well with the first to include 4 BA top firing drivers. As stated on Custom Art’s website « Top Firing Drivers provide improved frequency extension compared to traditional Balanced Armature drivers with a spout resulting in immensely detailed sound».

I loved the FIBAE Black so much (which holds a unique place in my collection with its distinctive and intoxicating tuning) that I didn’t wait for reviews and enjoyed the preorder price making it a very attractive and refreshing proposition in a soaring prices market. No brainer.

The FIBAE4 tuning was quite appealing to my tastes as well : « We tuned FIBAE 4 to be fun sounding IEM with warm and smooth signature. It offers excellent sub-bass depth and punch, detailed and natural midrange finished with extremely detailed, but never harsh highs. It combines big headroom, high resolution and expansive sound stage. FIBAE 4 is a perfect tool for guitarists, bassists and drummers for stage monitoring. »

Does it hold its promises?
Let’s see !

025A41F5-3D1E-4524-8B20-8A03EFBE5DF8.jpeg

Fit, Build and isolation
The FIBAE Black was the first Custom Art model introducing 3D shell printing and it also was one of the best fit I ever had with customs, no matter which price point. I was very confident that the fit would be perfect and it is indeed even better than the Black in the sense that it’s just slightly less tight while retaining a perfect seal. Isolation is better than my other custom because the seal is just a little bit tighter than my other customs (VE8, Phantom and EM64 which is based on the same digital impressions). Wearing a Custom Art IEM is a fatigue free experience for sure.

The build is simply perfect, and the FIBAE4 looks sturdy to withstand every day use.

I chose a full black shell (required for 3D printing) and stuck to black plate, plain if you will. There are benefits when commutting not to attract attention, although the brand is able to provide mouth watering art on their shells, and I think when I get the FIBAE7 I’ll pick something sexier :p

9FEF8706-69FB-4F50-818D-2D6A457AD7E2.jpeg

Sound
The FIBAE4 is a very dynamic IEM that manages to remain absolutely smooth across the range, thanks to a softer attack and a very nuanced presentation.

It is deeply grounded in bass with very good sub bass extension with good extension and beautiful textures, providing a lot of fun and great rhythm for a toe tapping experience. Interestingly Custom Art decided to keep the mids fairly neutral with good clarity and articulation, vocals are very natural and with good presence. Treble has very good extension providing welcome air with a very natural decay, probably a benefit of the top firing drivers.

Its signature grants the FIBAE4 a very good and balanced soundstage with good height and great depth, with very good layering. The overall sense is a highly coherent fun and smooth fatigue free signature. A fun tuning for sure but a mature and refined one too.


Bass
I expected the FIBAE4 to be a fun bass experience and it is indeed but without sacrificing technicalities. Typical of modern BA bass implementation, the FIBAE4 features big BA bass driver that is able to hold its own against good dynamic drivers, especially in terms of texture and - probably a benefit of its top firing driver - a very natural decay that offers a sense of realism that few BA can brag about.

Sub bass extension provides the oh so very pleasing hit of subs. The attack is on the softer side, providing kick without being fatiguing. It boast a lot of detail and never gets saturated. It’s somewhat reminiscent of how my former 64 Audio U12 portrayed bass, only the top firing driver is at work there instead of an ADEL module and is true of the whole bass range as well.

Mid bass has good presence but it manages to stay clean and controlled something IEMs in the same kind of tuning don’t always do so well. Again, it’s a mature tuning and an audiophile take on the fun well extended subs combined with great mid bass presence. It certainly does help the soundstage depth to have a more progressive decay.


Mids 
The FIBAE4 mids is where all of its seriousness is revealed, for it’s very balanced and natural. I don’t find the FIBAE4 to be that warm despite the product page claim of warm and smooth. The warmth is inherited from its mid bass rather than its mids. Mid centric tracks will reveal the FIBAE4 to be quite accurate in terms of tone and timbre, and closer to neutral with just a touch of warmth to fall into the natural category.

The lower mids are lean and clean, with enough presence to grant its mids body but not enough to color them too much. Vocal presence is really good, male vocals do shine and female vocals are just a little sweeter than pure neutral which I don’t mind at all. Textures stand out and instruments are portrayed with a lot of realism.

Last but not least - given its signature this balances things nicely -the FIBAE4 have good upper mids presence which grants a very good level articulation and separation, while remaining buttery smooth. Bass and treble are what makes the FIBAE4 stand apart but its mids stay true to the Custom Art philosophy as smooth as can be while retaining very strong fundamentals and technicality. A real treat!

Treble
Despite the prominence of its bass, the FIBAE4 treble is key to its signature and with the support of two custom BA drivers. Good treble extension is definitely a factor in both soundstage providing welcome air and good resolution and a deceptive ability to retrieve the fine details. In this sense upper treble is really the highlight point of the FIBAE4 treble wise, and while it takes a step back to the bass it plays a very defining role in the signature. Lower treble is less prominent and I wouldn’t have minded a little extra energy there, but the benefit is an absolutely non fatiguing signature.

0CBC470F-EAB4-4D7D-8BF8-083D65B89925.jpeg

Verdict 
There is no mistaking a Custom Art IEM, and the FIBAE4 is definitely not breaking the common rule : it has this smoothness and musicality that is so characteristic of the CA house sound.

It would be tempting to categorize the FIBAE4 as a U shaped signature, but I never really dug the concept of V, U or L shaped as I find them too reductive and there is much more to an IEM signature than it’s frequency range distribution. While the bass and upper treble clearly are the foundation of the FIBAE4 signature, its mids have good vocal presence and instruments are not recessed either and it’s why I think it’s a good all rounder. On top of this, the softer attack and natural decay plays a key role to the sense of realism and naturalness of the FIBAE4.

If you’re looking for a fun IEM with sound technical foundations that you can listen to for hours at times without any fatigue, then the FIBAE4 is definitely a must own in a collection especially in its price bracket! If you’re looking for fun tuning with more bite and a snappier attack then there are a few mid range IEM that could suit you more like say Earsonics Velvet v2 or - more pricey - the Earsonics Purple or Campfire’s Atlas.







Velvet Underground... Finally The Carpenters cover CD which has the Sonic Youth track i wanted for ages, and first and later Pixies and stuff








583B0805-6C19-44B5-B5D2-9E56048EFF28.jpeg

Physical differences are the inner core/stem is color coded on the ++.
It also seems to be slightly firmer and and have a better lip to grip the IEM nozzle for a better seal.

The ++ outer is more a smoother matt and soft feeling (but still firm) finish, whilst the original has a more shiny harder surface.

The original has good body when a correct seal is achieved with a slight V.

The ++ has more mids.

@audio123 care to weigh in?

5F20FA7F-6DA4-497C-B7CB-C19B34E4821F.png

EAD3F152-1B79-4979-87C9-20DEB803E05E.jpeg

As can be seen above the size is generally the same. The bore opening is generally the same if not identical.

2AD56ED4-4767-4474-9C6D-BB5C290AA72D.png

Above a comparison to the (original) Andromeda Silicone tips - not sure if they have changed. And the original JVC spiral Dots.

*originally posted on the head fi andromeda thread
_______________________________




Pros - Bass well extended with good textures and control (with faceplate on)
Great soundstage with very good width, surprising height and good depth
Superb transparent and smooth mids, punching well above its price bracket
Lively treble with good sparkle and energy, as well as decent upper treble extension providing air and resolution
Cons - Depending on source and cable bass can be too dominant in the signature (underpowered source typically), masking superb mids and overpowering the signature
Faceplate off is not usable, bass looses too much control

Disclaimer 
I’ll receive a free StealthSonics review unit among the U series lineup in exchange of my honest opinion on two of the U series lineup.

Listening notes
This review is based on over 20 hours listening through several sources : DX220 with AMP1 mK2 and AMP9 mostly with PW Audio 1960 cable 4 wires unbalanced, AAW Capri lightning cable and iFi iDSD Micro Black Label.I listened mostly to AMP9 with the U2, and with faceplate on.


Packaging 
I didn’t get the U2 packaging for the review tour but based on the U4 packaging I can say the packaging is premium and the carry case is of great quality.


Specifications
  • Driver configuration
  • 1 x DD (Low/Mid)
  • 1 x BA (High)
  • Crossover : none
  • Bore : 2
  • Isolation : -26dB
  • Frequency response : 20Hz-20kHz
  • Sensitivity : 103dB at 1mw
  • Impedance : 16ohm at 1KHz
  • THD: <1% @ 1kHz


Introduction
The folks at StealhSonics are a « group of audiologist, engineers and musicians that have been serving the audiology and audio needs of musicians, audio professionals, audiophiles and patients in SouthEast-Asia for almost 10 years ». I confess I hadn’t heard of them before Ross (Jackpot77 on head-fi.org) told me about them, and I am very glad he did and included me in the U series review tour. 

Among the U series lineup, the U2 is the entry point offering with a hybrid one DD and one BA configuration with no crossover, just under 250$.

The U2 is advertised as having a signature that « delivers warm, musical detail with a signature supported by a full bodied bass and smooth midrange and high for a well textured presentation » Does that hold true?

Let’s see!

FF82704F-F5E4-487A-8A0C-892B9DA9F1CD.jpeg 

Fit & Build

The U2, as all of the U series, has quite a big shell in its universal form. This could be an issue for smaller ears and even with bigger ears the IEMs protrude significantly like the Solaris although to a lesser extent. This contrast with a shorter than average nozzle length, but that was not an issue for me. The build is superb and flawless, with a nice textured finish that provides a high level of comfort. Like the U9, isolation is only average with faceplate on and even less effective with faceplate off. The U2 might not be your better option for commuting depending on how loud you listen to music.

Sound
The U2 feature a well thought out warm and smooth signature, that doesn’t sacrifice detail retrieval and has good sparkle up top. Soundstage is not as wide as the U9 but it’s more holographic as it’s both taller and a bit deeper. Compared to IEMs in the same range, it’s very good and even more so considering the signature. I’d go as far as saying that because of its bold bass, the U2 has paradoxically grander soundstage than the U9 with marginally less width but great height and a bit more depth.

Indeed the bass presence dominates the signature, it’s a full bodied bass with significant amount of mid bass but also a very good sub bass extension. Mids are full and lush, but not overly warm which was a good decision as the U2 would have been bloated otherwise. Upper mids have enough presence to make for an articulate listen despite the prominent bass in the signature. Last but not least, treble has also been tuned to provide some needed sparkle and air as well as detail and separation. You won’t find the superb upper treble air of the U9 obviously, but the detail retrieval is notably very good given the bass dominant signature.

As far as source matching go, the U2 will respond favorably to neutral, open sounding sources and the best match for me was iBasso AMP9 on the DX220. AMP1 mk2 was also quite good but less refined and with less air. AAW Capri lightning cable and iDSD Micro BL did very well but not as good as NuTubes powered AMP9 which brought the textures to another level entirely as well as great refinement up top.

Bass
The dynamic driver is clearly doing its job : the U2 bass provides real bass-head kick, bass-head rejoice! This being said, StealthSonics tuned the U2 not only for bass quality but also quality : textures are very rich and it’s a nuanced bass with detail. Given bass quantity and the lack of crossover bleed into the mids could have been a concern but luckily StealhSonics did things well here.

On top of this, the use of the Stealth Damping Technology does work well with the U2, only not necessarily in the way you’d think. StealthSonics advertises an extended bass response with the faceplate off and that’s true. It also does help the soundstage expansion and the U2 « breathes » better but to me the removable faceplate mode is simply not usable when it’s off because you loose too much bass control. On bass heavy tracks (Alice Jemima « Licorice » is an example) the bass just goes overboard and becomes messy. After a couple hours with faceplate off, I switched to faceplate on and never went back.

Bass control is greatly improved with faceplate on and to me that’s how the U2 is meant to be. That’s even more true with warmer sources and/or sources featuring a bass boost where the U2 can gain too much bass quantity masking its other great qualities and in particular its great mids.

Whichever mode is used the bass remains smooth as it’s not the Vega type hard hitting bass either : attack is on the softer side and decay is on the longer side. It’s therefore not a fast bass but rather a smooth, rich, textured bass.

Mids
There is consistency in the philosophy of the mids with StealthSonics, mids are fairly neutral and transparent. The U2 is neither forward nor recessed and luckily StealthSonics didn’t boost the lower mids - that would probably have been too much - combined with the fat mid bass that dominate the signature.

The mids are articulate thanks to a smart upper mids tuning. Vocals have good presence which was important given the dominance of the bass line. Timbre is really good as well, instruments sound natural this becomes really apparent on bass light tracks (Folk with acoustic guitar comes to mind, think Amber Rubarth « Sessions from the 17th ward » and a cappella think « The Persuasions » albums). It takes this kind of bass light tracks to really figure out the mids on the U2, and I have a list of those tracks for bass heavy IEMs that tend to mask the potential of the mids with their bass presence.

Let me tell you : the U2 really has superb mids, this is not as apparent with heavier bass tracks but it’s there alright and it’s superb and up there with top tier offerings. The « silky midrange » advertised by StealthSonics is spot on, and then some as you can add natural and accurate as outstanding qualities. Impressive for the price range.

Treble
The picture of the U2 signature wouldn’t be complete without its treble, and StealthSonics has done a nice job here. Contrary to the U9, the focus is not on the upper treble although they are quite better than I expected on the U2 and provide welcome air and help the U2’s resolution and soundstage.

This being said focus is rather on lower treble and there is a fair amount of sparkle and energy, while remaining smooth. This energy gives the U2 some welcome bite to electric guitars or snares, as well as provide a nice counterweight to the ever dominant presence of the U2’s bass. The U2 is not a dark IEM but could have been if not for its treble presence and performance.

611FD69E-8E11-4BC3-BF77-EEC9D2C817D4.jpeg 

Verdict 
The U2 is quite an interesting entry into the StealthSonics lineup, it keeps what appears to be the brand’s fundamentals which is a knack for smooth signature, transparent mids and high ability for detail retrieval, while adding a strong and qualitative bass presence. A square of the circle, if you will...

If you’re looking for a smooth and fun sounding IEM with strong bass, beautiful mids and lively treble that does not compromise on fundamentals and is showing top performance in their price bracket, the U2 is definitely worth an audition! « With or without plates » (yeah I had to do a U2 reference somewhere ;p)? I’d advise with rather than without, as the damping technology is working, the faceplate does bring a lot more control to the bass and it’s much needed.

There are few gems in the sub 500$ range and the U2 is one of them in my book, there is a high chance that it will land in my collection along with my FIBAE Black. But I wonder how the custom U2 aka the C2 differs from the U2 in this regard as there are some proprietary technology added in their custom IEMs and it might influence greatly (and potentially positively) the signature and I like the U2 so much already I could very well go ahead and purchase the C2. If I do, I’ll sure get a comparative review included here!






Greetings!

Today we're checking out the new, reworked version of the Polaris from Campfire Audio.

Back in 2017 when I reviewed the original Polaris, I was blown away. Here was an earphone that was quite technically adept in a way that was befitting of it's premium price tag, yet it had an unashamedly v-shaped signature. It was both fun and capable, yet there were a few qualities I was not particularly fond of. First, while the sound stage was large it was quite flat giving the Polaris a “wall of sound” effect. Over time I also found the mid-range could come across dry and unnatural. Regardless, it made for one heck of a listen, all wrapped with that distinctive Campfire Audio design.

The new Polaris is now available and I've spent the last two months rocking out to it. Is it an upgrade over the original? Does it paste the same stupid grin across my face when listening to EDM? Or, was it downgraded to fall in line with the 100 USD lower price? Let's find out.

Disclaimer:

Thanks to Caleb with Campfire Audio for arranging a sample of the Polaris for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my own subjective opinions based on time spent listening to the Polaris throughout the last two months. They do not represent Campfire Audio or any other entity. At the time of writing the Polaris retailed for 499 USD. You can check it out here: https://campfireaudio.com/shop/polaris-2/

Personal Preference:

I listen primarily to various EDM sub-genres (liquid drum and bass, breakbeat, drumstep, etc.), hip hop, and classic rock. My preferences for earphone tuning are quite relaxed and as such their is no one signature I look for. The HiFiMAN RE800, Brainwavz B400, and Massdrop x MeeAudio Planamic are examples of earphones with wildly varied signatures that are enjoyable for different reasons. I generally listen at very low volumes, so keep this in mind when perusing my thoughts on how an earphone sounds.

Sources:

Mobile: Shanling M0 alone or with the Periodic Audio Ni amp, ZiShan DSD
@home: TEAC HA-501 with a ZiShan DSD or Asus FX53V acting source duty

The Polaris II is quite sensitive and easy to drive. No amp needed. Make sure you've got a clean source though, because like many Campfire iems it will hiss if the output is too much.


Specifications:
  • Driver: Single balanced armature with T.E.A.C. + 9.2mm dynamic with Polarity Tuned Chamber
  • Impedance: 17 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 105dB
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz to 20kHz




Packaging and Accessories:

When it comes to packaging, Campfire Audio has changed things up this time around. The spirit of their past designs are still in place as they follow the same astronomical theme, but the format has changed. Similar to the Solaris, the Polaris comes in a fairly large, shallow square box. This box is covered by an exterior sheath, sealed shut by a bronzed black Campfire Audio seal on the back. The front contains a large sticker with a mottled pattern set beneath a high quality image of the Polaris' earpieces and the usual company branding and model information. One more sticker is present around the side containing company info, another image of the Polaris, among other details that may or may not be important to the average consumer.

Breaking the seal, the sheath unfold like the pedals of a flower revealing the main box inside. Lifting out the box, you will notice the inner sheath is printed with the CA logo dead centre, blackened rays exploding outwards. It's quite dramatic. The main box itself contains the same beautiful mountainous scene found on CA's prior packaging along with more Campfire Audio branding. Lifting the lid you're greeted by the slogan “Nicely Done” printed on one of the flaps, as well as their new leather carrying case and a smaller cardboard box containing many of the included accessories. Beneath all this is your warranty card and a manual. In all you get:

  • Polaris II earphones
  • Smoky Jacket Silver Plated Copper Litz Cable
  • Final Audio tips (xs/s/m/l/xl)
  • Campfire Audio Marshmallow tips (s/m/l)
  • Medium bore single flange silicone tips (s/m/l)
  • Campfire Audio lapel pin
  • Cleaning tool
  • Mesh accessory case (x3)

Overall this is an outstanding unboxing experience, as is always the case with Campfire Audio. But...I still prefer their old packaging. It was smaller and more compact thereby using less material and producing less waste, a big plus for those that toss packaging once they get to the goods within. That said, this packaging still produces a lot less waste than what you get with various other brands (RHA, Dunu, etc.), and everything is recyclable, so take this as more of an observation than a complaint. The new box does look fantastic on display though, a positive for those of us that appreciate brands who put time and effort into crafting unique and attractive unboxing experiences.

Packaging aside, the accessory kit is second to none. Final Audio tips are some of the best in the business and with five sizes included you're sure to find something that works for your ears. Campfire Audio's Marshmallow tips are a very high quality foam option. The basic single flange silicone tips are nothing special and are the sort of tip you'd find included with more budget oriented offerings. That's not to take away from their performance though. They stay attached to the nozzle just fine and consistently seal well. The cleaning tool will be invaluable to those with waxy ears and the inclusion of three mesh bags to keep everything neatly organized is genius. Nicely done.




Build, comfort, and Isolation:

The machined aluminum housings of the new Polaris eschew the Ceracote faceplates of the original, and instead are adorned completely with a vibrant blue anodized finish that looks pretty stunning in person. Seems to me that Campfire has improved the quality of their machining and their anodized finish. Compared to the original Polaris, the shells are much smoother. Small bumps and knocks that chipped the finish on the original Polaris have done nothing to the Polaris II. Black ~10mm long stainless steel nozzles replace the 3D printed plastic nozzles of the original Polaris and have a prominent lip that does a great job of holding tips in place. These nozzles are very similar to those introduced with the Atlas and Comet and incorporate protective grills into the design. You won't have to worry about losing a filter when changing tips. Matte black screws top things off and attractively accent the blue colouring. I would love to paint them yellow to give the Polaris a Subaru WRC vibe. The Polaris II carries over Campfire Audio's familiar, extra durable, and now insulated beryllium/copper MMCX connectors. I say extra durable because that's what the marketing blurb spouts, but also my now almost two year old and well-loved original Polaris has seen tens and tens of disconnects and the MMCX connectors are just as firm now as they were out of the box. Fit and finish is as to be expected, that is to say it is fantastic. Seams are barely visible and everything lines up perfectly without any gaps or off kilter angles.

The Polaris II comes with Campfire Audio's new Silver Plated Copper Litz cable. It is quite reminiscent in design and thickness to the copper cable that came with the original Polaris, but with a new smoke coloured sheath. The 90 degree angled jack is smartly designed with an extension to permit compatibility with a wide variety of device cases, though strain relief is a little stiff. Less of a worry than it would be in other cases. My experiences with Campfire's cables have shown them to be plenty durable. Within the small, reliefless aluminum y-split, the cable divides sending two strands on each side to the ear pieces. Slotting into the top of the split is a small plastic chin cinch. It moves much more smoothly here than on older Campfire cables and as a result is much more useful. Also much more useful is the move to preformed ear guides. While the memory wire used on past Campfire Audio cables worked, I found the “memory” aspect of that title limited at best which led to the wire straightening out over time. Ditching that entirely and running with preformed guides has resulted in a much more pleasant experience since I'm not constantly rebending the wire to ensure it stays behind my ear. This is a great new cable and I was pleased to see it included with some other new/updated models, like the IO and Andromeda v3.

When it comes to comfort you'd be forgiven for assuming Campfire Audio's iconic angular shell design is a pain in the ear. Maybe for some, but not for me. Ergonomics are just right with the low profile Polaris II conforming quite naturally to my outer ear. That plus the use of lightweight aluminum, a small size the belies the chunky appearance, and the reasonably long nozzle keeps the earphone sitting in a way that does not feel out of place. While I find the stubby nozzle of the Andromeda more suitable to my personal ear anatomy, I can still wear the Polaris for hours without experiencing any discomfort.

Isolation on the Polaris II is quite good. Despite having a vented housing, it blocks nearly as much noise as the fully sealed IO. However, the Polaris II retains the placement of the outer vent of the original and picks up a ton of wind noise that almost completely drowns out your music. While the volume of the wind noise is reduced over the original Polaris, it is still glaringly loud limiting the Polaris II's usefulness when worn outside, at least in weather where even a fairly light breeze is present.




Sound:

Tips: Wide bore all the way. The included small bore tips accentuate the already very prominent mid-bass tipping the Polaris II over the edge into a slightly bloated presentation. Wide bore tips, like those from JVC, negate this keeping the low end massive and engaging but still controlled.

While still very much a v-shaped sound, the Polaris II's tuning has seen some when changes compared to the original, the most obvious due to a new dynamic driver handling the low end. Gone is the original's 8.5mm dynamic is favour of a larger, 9.2mm unit. Boy, does it make a difference. The Polaris II's low end takes most of the spotlight and as such is a major driving force in the overall presentation. So, let's start by looking at the bass.

The Polaris II's low frequencies are huge. Lots of mid-bass, lots of sub-bass, bass everywhere. This new Polaris is an absolute bass cannon. Normally this quantity of bass would be a bit much for me, but it works. This new dynamic doesn't initially feel quite as quick as the old one but it handles the rapid double bass inherent in many metal tracks, such as Havok's “Time Is Up”, just as well as the old one. And, in the process it provides a MUCH more visceral experience with notes rumbling and lingering where they would die off and lose energy on the original Polaris. This makes tracks like Karma Fields & Morten's “Stickup ft. Juliette Lewis” an absolute blast thanks to the heavy bass line that now carries the track like it should. The only thing I prefer about the previous driver is it provides more texture and detail. The new Polaris II's low end is smoother and more refined at the expense of a mild loss of information.

Midrange presence is more or less the same as it was on the original. That is to say, it's recessed, but not by a lot. Despite all the extra bass dialed into the Polaris II, instruments and vocals remain clear and coherent without mid-bass bleed joining in and ruining the party. I personally prefer the mid-range here when compared to the original Polaris because it's thicker and more natural sounding with a more accurate timbre. I get a better sense of the emotion behind Paul Williams' opening and lyrics on Daft Punk's “Touch” with the Polaris II. However, this more natural presentation comes with a reduction in clarity and detail which is noticeable when a/b'ing the two together. Vocals simply do not sound as sharp and crisp through the Polaris II. I personally think this is worth the improvements in timbre and accuracy. You might feel otherwise.

The Polaris II is about as bright as the original, with the treble emphasis shifted to higher frequencies. This gives the II more energy and bite to its attack while adding air and space to notes. The reduction in the presence region would also help explain the slightly reduced detail and clarity. In addition to the shifted emphasis, I found the Polaris II's presentation better controlled. Running through King Crimson's “Cat Food”, hit hats simply sound cleaner and better defined through the Polaris II. If you're sensitive to upper treble, I can certainly see you preferring the original Polaris' presentation though as hit hats have a fair bit more emphasis through the Polaris II and at higher volumes risk being overbearing.

Lastly, the Polaris II has a wicked sound stage. While the original had a fairly tall stage, it lacked depth which resulted in a presentation that was more or less a wall of sound. The Polaris II is in my opinion miles ahead of the original in this regard. Running through BT's “If The Stars Are Eternal Than So Are You And I”, the Polaris II surrounds you within the ethereal effects and dancing sounds while the original Polaris merely places it beside you. Tracks are much more deep and lively with the Polaris II. Imaging is improved too thanks to this extra space, lending the Polaris II to success with gaming. The depth and accuracy of it's stage, along with excellent layering and separation made this earphone a gem to use when playing intense racing games like Wipeout Omega Collection (special mention goes to the wicked sound track) or competitive shooters like PUBG or Call of Duty.




Select Comparisons (volumes matched using Dayton iMM-6):

Fidue A85 Virgo (399.00 USD): The A85's triple driver hybrid setup offers a more balanced, neutral-leaning sound than the Polaris II. Treble on the A85 feel biased towards the presence region and compared to the Polaris II is lacking in brilliance. This leaves cymbals, chimes, etc. sounding slightly muted and dull compared to the Polaris, and lacking the same level of detail. The A85's mid-range is notably more forward with vocals and acoustics having a slightly thicker and much more dominant presence on most tracks. Timbre is more accurate out of the Polaris II. The A85 adds a touch of dryness where there should be none. Clarity is similar between the two with vocals and instruments being equally coherent. Bass is where the two drastically split. The A85's low end is barely elevated above neutral with a light, warm, mellow presence that focuses clearly on mid-bass. It's not slow, but it's not particularly quick either. Sub-bass is present but lacks presence. When compared to the Polaris II the A85 sounds almost anemic. The Polaris II's bass is clearly the star of the show with a advantage in speed and control, as well as way more presence in both mid-bass and sub-bass regions. The A85 sets the listener further from the performance and as such gives the impression of a larger sound stage. When it comes to technical ability, the Polaris II is a big step forward. Imaging is sharper, more precise, and tracks sound more layered and better separated. A big part of this is due to the Polaris II's depth which is much improved over the A85. While I prefer the A85's mids, that's all I think it has going for it over the Poalris II.

HIFIMAN RE800 Silver (599.00 USD): The single dynamic in the RE800 S has a more balanced sound than the Polaris 2. Still v-shaped, but not to the same extent nor in the same way. Where the Solaris puts it's extra emphasis in the bass, HIFIMAN puts it firmly in the treble with the RE800 S. As such, I found the RE800 S the brighter of the two with a more even upper and low treble balance. Clarity and detail are more prominent on the RE800 S, helped along by a leaner presentation. Mids on the RE800 S are more forward and articulate with the Solaris II sounding thicker and more weighty. The RE800 S is more susceptible to sibilance that does not show up on the Solaris II. Timbre on both is accurate. Bass is where the two really split with the RE800 S having a much more dainty presentation. Extension is good on both but the Solaris II has a much greater mid- and sub-bass emphasis resulting in a much more visceral experience that will undoubtedly be overwhelming for some. Texture is excellent on both with the RE800 S having the edge. When it comes to sound stage the RE800 S takes a slight lead on width and imaging accuracy. The Solaris II gives off a much greater sense of depth that make it's staging feel more accurate and alive. Overall I find these two to perform on a similar level. I personally find the Solaris II a heck of a lot more fun to listen to thanks to it's beautiful bass and enveloping sound stage, though the RE800 S is good to have on hand when a cooler, more neutral-leaning signature is desired.

Final Thoughts:

The Polaris II is apologetically bassy, and that's okay. I for one am glad Campfire Audio doubled down and fully committed to this new sound. The resulting earphone is hella fun, even if it gives up some detail and clarity to it's predecessor. It's completely worth it. Those aspects that were improved were significantly improved, while those aspects that were not are only slightly worse. The Polaris II has a more natural sounding mid-range with improved timbre and the dryness of the original removed. It has a VASTY improved sound stage that entirely corrects the 2D-ish nature of the original.

Yes, I miss the Ceracote faceplate and two tone colour scheme, but I welcome the cleaner machining and anodized paint job that is proving to be much more resilient to damage and chipping. Where my original Polaris had a small chip out of the box and numerous more by the time the review was released, in the same time and with similar treatment the Polaris II still looks mint. While I like the design of the old leather case, the new one is easier to carry and store the earphone and it's accessories in. It's a quality of life enhancement making the new case one I actually use on the regular.

Overall the Polaris II is a welcome update to the Polaris I, and should you be in the market for a fun, top tier earphone, be sure to include it on your list of gear to audition. You might be surprised.

Thanks for reading!

- B9Scrambler

***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Some Test Tunes:

Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Album)
Hail Mary Mallon – Are You Going to Eat That? (Album)
King Crimson – Lark’s Tongues in Aspic (Album)
King Crimson – Starless and Bible Black (Track)
Supertramp – Crime of the Century (Album)
Infected Mushroom – Legend of the Black Shawarma (Album)
Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (Album)
Massive Attack – Mezzanine (Album)
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors (Album)
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Album)
The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy (Album)
Tobacco – F****d Up Friends (Album)
Felt – Felt 2 (A Tribute to Lisa Bonet) (Album)
Michael Jackson – Thriller (Album)
The Crystal Method – Grace (feat. LeAnn Rimes) (Track)
Jidenna – Long Live the Chief (Track)
Skrillex – Ragga Bomb (Track)
Big Grams – Run for Your Life (Track)
Funkadelic – Maggot Brain (Track)
Aesop Rock – Fishtales (Track)