December 31, 2018 8 min read
Review written by Anthony Nguyen (@antdroid)
Today, we will be looking at Orion in-ear monitors by Campfire Audio. The Pacific Northwest company have an accomplished lineup for IEMs that range from the $199 Comets to the newly released $1499 Solaris. The Orion fits down at the lower tier of their product lineup and was previously the most affordable IEM at $349.
The Campfire Orion review sample was provided as a loaner item from Headphones.com through The HEADPHONE Community’s Community Preview Program. For more information on how to join this program, please refer to the link.
The Orion comes in a black CNC machined aluminum metal shell that matches the green shell of Campfire’s best-selling Andromeda. The black look is accented with stainless steel nozzles and torx screw heads. The triangular shaped body and the color scheme give this IEM a very classic, yet modernistic look to it, which I find very appealing.
As usual, Campfire has provided a wonderful package of items. These include a gray canvas case with the Campfire Audio logo, and a Campfire Audio Litz Copper cable, which comes in silver color. The cable itself is silver-plated copper with beryllium copper mmcx connectors.
Campfire provides several tips ranging from standard silicone tips, foam, tips, and Final Audio E tips. Each type comes in small, medium and large sizes. This broad selection should really help any user narrow down to a well-matched tip choice.
Finally, a Campfire Audio branded lapel pin and cleaning tool are included for good measure.
Prior to the Orion, my only experience with this type of shell design was unfortunately from the knock-off Knowledge Zenith ZS6 IEM, which essentially cloned this housing and added front vents to it. But from that, I did know what I was getting into when I put the Orion on for the first time.
The shell is a bit on the larger side, and the insertion depth of the ear tips is shallow to medium depth, so getting a good fit is essential for getting good seal and making sure they stay in your ear. Some people may find that these are just too large or too heavy to fit in comfortably. I was able to find the best seal and comfort with SpinFit tips, which are rather similar to the Final Audio E tips in shape and fit for me.
Once on, I found them to be very comfortable and isolation was above average. Since these do have an unusual shape and angled tips and connectors, the Orions can only be worn with cable up and over the ear, and can not be worn down like ear buds.
The Campfire Orion review was composed after two months of listening off-and-on using various source equipment and primarily with the iFi IEMatch. Various internet playlists, vinyl records, and CDs spanning several different genres and artists were used in this review.
Measurement data comes from a personal MiniDSP EARS unit. This tool is a hobbyist/enthusiast tool that is not considered and industry standard measurement rig, and data viewed from it should have this caveat applied to it. There are certain elements of the way that EARS measures headphones and IEMs that differ from actual hearing and other industry measurement techniques and may produce slightly different sonic interpretations.
The Orions have a pleasant sound that strays close to what I would consider a neutral sound signature. It doesn’t extend super deep in bass and doesn’t extend super high in treble, but never feels like you are missing too much either.
First thing to note is that these are very sensitive IEMs. That means that amp matching matters. Hissing is also noticeable on amps that exhibit this. When paired with the TRN BT20 wireless Bluetooth adapters, the Orions had very noticeable hiss or white noise. This was also the case with the Monolith THX-AAA Balanced DAC/Amp. With the use of the iFi IEMatch2.5, the problem went away. In short, I recommend having a very low output impedance and quiet source to pair with the Orions. The IEMatch is also handy regardless as it’ll make the Orions work universally.
I found the Orions to change in bass response depending on which switch I use on the iFi IEMatch. While both produce what I consider a very linear bass response, there is a more emphasis and punchiness when the IEMatch is switched to High as opposed to Ultra. In High mode, the Output Impedance is between 1-2 Ohms, while Ultra is below 1.
In The XX’s Fantasy, the song has good texturing and bass that is present, however does not extend as low as you can hear on an over-ear headphone or some other IEMs where bass is more emphasized. Around the 1:30 mark in the song, when the drum and low humming note kick in, the Orions are missing a tad of the “feels” but does not lack in the details.
Similar impressions were found when listening to the very beginning of Massive Attack’s classic Unfinished Symphony. The start of that song has a heavy intro and vinyl scratching that hits very low and usually with a lot of bass-shaking attack, but feels a little tame on the Orions.
That said, I enjoy the linear bass response typically in my headphones. The Orions have that, so there’s never any muddiness or exaggeration of the mid-bass which is popular on many other IEMs and headphones. The bass is a tad shy, but does ever feel like it’s totally missing.
In my limited experience with Campfire Audio products, the mids have always been where they excel, and the Orions are no stranger to this. Both male and female vocals are equally weighted and sound clean and smooth. The mids are slightly recessed from the bass and some of the peaks of the treble region, but they are appropriately placed slightly back to help create a larger soundstage and do not feel lost in the mix.
I typically prefer this type of mid-response, where the mids dip just slightly below the neutral line so that voices don’t fully take center stage and drown out some of the important instruments on the lower and upper registers. It also helps with clarity and separation, in my opinion, of instruments in busy tracks where many things are going on at once.
If there was one flaw that hurts the Orions, it’s that the upper treble is pretty much non-existent. There is a pretty dramatic drop off after 8KHz, though many people will probably enjoy the smoothness and laid-back treble response.
Even in the most sibilant-prone tracks like pretty much anything from Coctaeu Twins, the Orions play it easy and never sound harsh, sibilant or piercing. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable to listen to Liz Fraser’s voice without fear of ear pain.
I found the Campfire Orion to never feel congested and claustrophobic. The soundstage, while not having an out-of-ear experience, has a decent amount of width however is missing a sense of height. Imaging is average to good as instrument separation is done well but not any better than other IEMs in this price range.
The Comet dethroned the Orion in 2018 as the lowest budget IEM in the Campfire lineup. In many ways, it makes sense. The Comet has a similar overall tonality as the Orion, but is really missing some of the coherence improvements in the Orion. In addition, the Comet can sometimes feel like it’s missing something, while the Orion does not necessarily have this feeling to it, even though I know the treble is cut off, even more so than the Comet is. In the end, the build of the Comet and the Orion are both exceptional and the Comet will sound more closed-in and intimate, while the Orion gives the listener more room to breathe with a more open soundstage and less emphasis in bass with slightly more recessed mids.
This KZ IEM is no where in the same price range as the Orion. It’s actually about 9 times less expensive. So why am I comparing them? It’s because KZ copied the design stylings of the Campfire Orion/Andromeda series into their ZS6. The only distinguishable difference, outside of color choices, is the addition of a open grill in the front of the KZ model. That said, the ZS6 doesn’t sound anything like the Orion. It’s substantially more treble heavy, to the point of piercing and sibilance. The bass response is actually quite good and fun, with a heavy V-shaped signature compared to the more neutral sounding Orion. Finally, the soundstage and imaging is surprisingly very wide and good in the KZ model, which actually makes it an interesting, but controversial IEM.
The DMG is one of my new favorites of the year and come from the Chinese company BGVP. The DMG has a more V-shaped sound than the Orion. In this regard, the bass has more oomph to it and the treble extends much more than the Orion, while the mids are similarly recessed. Both feature metal bodies and both fit well in the ear. The DMG has detachable filters which can change the sound profile very slightly depending on which filter you choose (more bass, neutral, or more treble). The Orion has great mids and work very well for vocals compared to the DMG, which can find the mids slightly lost due to the elevated bass and treble. That said, I find the DMG to be more exciting yet very detailed at the same time. It’s a toss-up here, but the DMG is priced significantly less. I enjoy both for their different sound profiles and build quality.
Headphones.com sent me a preview unit of the LS200i at the same time as the Orion. I’ve spent significantly more time with the Orion however, but that’s not because the LS200i sounds bad. It actually does not. It sounds quite good, and both are evenly priced at around $350 (*the ATH-LS200iS is priced at $249 at the time of this review). In fact, I find the LS200i to have more extension on either end of the spectrum, while having similar sound profiles, and more coherent and detailed and having slightly more body in the low end. Where it lacks compared to the Orion is in the quality of the accessories and cable. It does come with a selection of tips, detachable cables and a case, however all pale in comparison to what Campfire provide.
A newer IEM from a Chinese brand called Whizzer just showed up on my doorstep recently. I haven’t put this IEM through the ringer yet, but on initial day of listening, I find the Kylin to have a slightly fun V-shape sound compared to the neutral-centric Orion. The Whizzer has a slightly more exaggerated bass response, but still has good details and coherence like the Orion does.
The Orion is a solid all-arounder choice for IEMs. It has a wonderful mid-section, and detailed bass and smooth treble. For some, the bass may appear a little light, due to the absence of the mid-bass hump that helps punch and give that area some heft, and the treble may appear rolled-off, because, well, it is. But if you can live with those two traits, the Orion is a well-designed, and well-tuned IEM that works well for genres that do not need the extra bass weight. I found them perfect for acoustic, country, and most rock music. It’s also good for instrumental genres like Post-Rock, Jazz, and classical. Where I think it may be lacking is Electronic Dance Music and Hip Hop/Rap.
On the accessories front, the Orion comes fully stocked with everything you will need out of the box, as is normal with Campfire Audio products. You will have a full-selection of tips at your disposal and a good carrying bag and cleaning tools.
Given all of this, I do recommend the Orion. It does have some shortcomings, which is to be expected when its’ the bottom rung of their lineup, and you may have some source matching to deal with, but if you get the right combination, these are an easy all-arounder choice for most anyone.
- Anthony Nguyen (@antdroid)
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