A bit over a month ago Campfire Audio announced the latest revision to their Polaris line of IEM. Upon hearing the news, I decided to check them out, seek reviews on hi-fi enthusiast forums, etc. At the time there was only a small handful of analytical reviews and they looked very promising, specially as I’ve been looking out for “fun”-tuned IEMs.
[RECORD SCRATCH SOUND]
Segue: before we go any further it’s absolutely worth mentioning that unlike other types of headphones, the fit make or break IEMs. The best sound in the world won’t make up for uncomfortable or even painful in-ear fit. What makes this even trickier is that in humans the shape of our ears are as unique (if not more so) as our fingerprints, so what might be comfortable for some, it might be a horrible fit for a lot of other people. Please bear this in mind as you read this review.
[SOUND OF THE DJ LETTING THE RECORD CONTINUE]
So in passing I read in their own description and reviews about this “fun” tuning for modern music and so forth. So, my interest was piqued. As I continue reading I see “bombastic bass”. And that’s a phrase that sends shivers down the spines of Hi-Fi and audio enthusiasts because it has been so badly executed in the past even by major players. No one with a modicum of interest in musicality and hi-definition audio wants a pair of music-emitting devices with a sound signature that overwhelms every other aspect of the sound. So that sort of harshed my mellow. However, thanks to headphones.com’s generous “no questions asked”, 1 year return policy, I decided to give these ba boys a try.
Review disclaimer: I’ve received feedback from a reader insinuating I’m receiving compensation from vendors for writing these reviews in my blog. I want to make this super clear: I do not receive compensation of any kind for writing these reviews (other than these reviews being part of Medium’s paywall). There are no kick-backs or discounts, etc. All gear I review is bought from amazon or other e-commerce sites by me with my money. All links I provide in my reviews are referrer-program-free and most permalinks which can be found via google search. I do these reviews because I love writing and I love sharing my thoughts on gear I buy which hopefully are useful to others.
Audition stack: iPhone X[s], Tidal Hi-Fi/MQA, Radsone ES100, Yinyoo balanced cable
Comfort And Ergonomics: I have to admit I had a bit of trepidation in this respect. Just going by looks, all those sharp corners, made from metal alloys the line from The Eagle’s Hotel California came to mind “This could be heaven or this could be Hell”. But mostly I was expecting it would be hell. Much to my surprise, they were actually as comfortable, if not more so than, as my iBasso IEMs with rounded corners and gentle contouring. I wore them for hours during work and then wore them for the majority of the flights to and from Amsterdam (about 10 hours each way) with no major discomfort or pain.
Bass: so these headphones had a LOT to prove here. They really need to hit the mark or else be shipped back. A this price these aren’t an impulse buy for most people, so they really need to earn their salt.
- Impact: the first thing I noticed as I put these IEMs through the paces was the bass impact. It’s very clean and punchy and remains so down to 20 Hz. But it’s worth to emphasize it’s not a jaw-dislodging punch, but lots of vim and vigor to it.
- Texture/Color: one of the main issues with bass-emphasized headphones is that they are rather boomy and all the bass region of the frequency range is muddled and mottled. These IEMs do not commit that common sin. Texture and color is very accurate and accentuated.
- Even-ness: another common issue with bass-heavy headphones is that their emphasis of of the bass is uneven, so the sound signature is “off” and unbalanced. Again, Cascade Audio demonstrating they know their stuff because if there’s any imbalance I did not notice. Very well executed.
Mids: as I’ve said in other reviews whether you’re a basshead or a brighthead the mids make or break a headphone. The mids on the Polaris are great, but not excellent. They are definitely subdued, but not by the bass, but by tuning (it’s supposed to have a V-like signature). Mids are well defined but lacking some oomph and emphasis, IMO. Vocals are a mixed bag: if you listen to a soloist or master vocalist with a wide vocal range, it feels they drop-off at times. Same goes if you listen to instrumental (strings in specific) music. Something feels amiss. But these headphones were most definitely not designed or tuned for this. So, when you listen to rock, blues, EDM and other modern genres, the mids do their jobs just fine.
Highs: I am very treble sensitive so I try to avoid IEMs with balanced armatures for their highs. BAs just have a very distinguishable micro sibilance that will really quickly cause me treble fatigue. Cascade definitely did their homework here because the sibilance is all but gone save for some very high pitched voices and even then it’s not a jarring experience. Anyhow, highs are really great. Excellent definition and the right amount of spark. No treble fatigue to speak of.
Conclusion: in spite of its “bombastic bass” description, these are not “basshead” headphones, at least not to the common definition. They are not even that bass-heavy. I would characterize the sound signature as “elevated bass emphasis” but not “bombastic”, not by a long shot — this is a good thing. I think perhaps Cascade Audio needs to tweak that description as it likely keeps curious would-be buyers at bay. Another aspect worth noting: at least to my ears, these IEMs do not like being equalized, not even a few dB here and there. It throws the whole thing off balance and it becomes awkward. It’s tuned one way out of the factory and you either love it, live with it or send them back.
Finally, in spite of its minor drawbacks there is a lot to like about the Polaris. They are a ton of fun to listen to with the right music. I did it for hours and hour on end and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Now the real question is, do I recommend them? It depends. Knowing what I know now, I don’t think these IEMs have wide appeal in the Hi-Fi crowd. They’re far too expensive for the general consumer and my guess the “basshead” crowd might find the Polaris lacking what they crave. But, if you enjoy the slight over-emphasis in the bass region — which I certainly do — without giving up mids entirely and very smooth and non-sibilant highs, these IEMs will spend a lot of time in your ears.