The "fun sound" and the "audiophile sound" often stand in direct opposition to one another. On one hand, your fun-sounding gear has an extra heap of bass down low, an extra dose of sparkle up top, and a midrange seasoned to taste. The audiophile sound emphasizes neutrality, space, detail and balance. Those who prefer a more fun sound are often left out in the cold when it comes to recovering the fine details, nuance and layering in the music.
Campfire Audio has decided to break that age-old rule with their exceptionally tasty, yet unmistakably refined flagship IEM, Vega ($1299). Vega is a shot over the bow. It's an IEM with remarkable technical proficiency that gives neutrality the finger and swings a hard right toward a sonic signature that is just plain exciting.
Campfire Audio's Vega IEM may not be an IEM for everybody, but it is definitely a piece that will strike a deep emotional chord with those who like a sound that is big and bold. The bass is brain-rattling powerful. The mids are full and lush. The treble shimmers and sparkles without getting harsh. Yet, the whole time it never loses its nuance and detail. For bassheads, metalheads, EDM aficionados and all-around lovers of a beefed-up, exciting sound, this might just be the end-game IEM you've been waiting for.
Dismantling The Rulebook
Much like the driver, the housing also takes a road less travelled. The sound chamber is precision-crafted from a high-density liquid metal alloy for results that can be seen and heard. Additionally, it comes stock with Campfire's high-quality Silver Plated Copper Litz cable, which is unquestionably one of the nicest stock cables on the market. Overall, it's a piece that looks, feels and sounds incredibly refined. And given its exciting, full-bodied tuning, that makes it quite unique.
The Vega's tonal signature runs on the darker side of neutral, with a little V-shaped bump to accentuate the details in the treble. Fortunately, the treble is neither harsh, nor grainy, so it comes off as being quite smooth. The lower midrange stays well balanced with the bass, with a V-shaped dip centered in the upper midrange. One might call it a somewhat speaker-like tonality.
The sub-bass is perhaps the most prominent frequency on the Vega. The level of presence and extension here is truly elite. While some neutrality seekers may be a little turned off by the elevated presence here, the Vega will be an absolute gift for many EDM-loving audiophiles, as the sheer physicality of the deep rumble and impact is the next best thing to a real life dance party.
The midbass follows suit, hitting with seismic impact. With rock and heavy metal, kicks and toms batter your brain like a boxer at a speed bag. With hip-hop and R&B Vega really brings the fun, hammering out beats and basslines with subwoofer-like authority. Because of the sheer presence here, it may not feel like the fastest bass in the world at first, but it does manage to keep pace on some particularly challenging sections, so you can tell that the technicality is still clearly on point. It just has a little bit of tubey roundness in the note presentation.
The lower midrange stays nicely in line with the midbass, continuing the gradual downward slope of the frequency response and "tubey" tonality. It is thick and rich with tons of body, contributing to an overall feeling that the music is larger-than life.
As I mentioned above, the upper mids are a little bit recessed, relative to the other frequencies, which can take a little bit of the natural shimmer off of vocals and a little bit of edge off of guitars, even though the body of those instruments is well represented in the lower midrange. The upper mids aren't bad, by any means, I just wouldn't call this area of the frequency response elite. By definition, this area had to come down to give the Vega its "fun, but robust" speaker-like signature. In some ways, it bears some similarity to the tuning of the Focal Elear ($999), though I find the Vega to be more satisfying on the low end and an easier listen overall.
The treble carries quite a bit of detail, but Vega never pushes it in your face, preferring a more subtle and natural approach. Still, as you scale up in equipment around the Vega, it is plain to see that the IEM will keep resolving more and more of that detail. A couple of pairings that I found to be particularly impressive were the Chord Hugo 2 ($2379) and the Sony WM1Z ($2699) running in balanced mode. They brought the inner detail and depth layering into clearer focus, shedding light on the more technical side of Vega.
Listening deep inside the notes gives strong insight into the instruments. The fine details and even the microdetails of the recording are well preserved. As I mentioned above, they aren't as in your face as they are on some flagship IEMs, but they are close to where they should be in level naturally, and they are certainly there in abundance. In other words, fun is still the main course, but you can help yourself to a heaping side of detail anytime you want by listening closely.
Attack and decay properties are strong, but are intentionally stretched a bit by the warm tuning to deliver a slightly rounded approach and that "tubey" sound. I would have maybe preferred a little more immediacy here, but that would have also cost Vega some of the massive slam on the low end, so it's a bit of a Catch 22. Still, they don't possess any grain and there's no slop, so the drivers are definitely doing their jobs at a very, very high level.
Finally, the soundscape and imaging are well above average, but as is to be expected with a beefy-sounding piece of gear, the instruments themselves take up a lot of the space, compressing the amount of air in between the sonic images. Even still, the Vega never felt congested, which is actually quite impressive, all things considered. Classical pieces were delivered with adequate separation to pick out the individual instruments in multi-layered harmonies with relative ease – though this more cerebral interpretation of the music fell to a distant second to the emotional impact that the Vega created.
The Rumblin' Rebel
The truth about Campfire Audio's Vega is not everybody will like this IEM, but some people will absolutely love it. Count me as a big fan! For people who want big bass, impact, excitement – this IEM will absolutely rock your socks off!
Additional Equipment Used During This Review:
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