For sights and sounds on the 2015 fall Fujiya Avic fest, reference Oz contributor John's multi-part coverage. He estimated average attendee age as sub 30. Hifi's future, en masse. Premium cans are their aluminium Magico and composite Wilson speakers, their leather-clad Walnut-hugging Sonus faber and veneer-wrapped B&W boxes. Premium portable players from Astell&Kern, Calyx, Lotoo, Questyle & Bros. are their take on traditional living-room altars to sundry hifi deities.


From it follow two things. One, as our portafi audience gets ever more educated and demanding, the gear serving them grows ever more ambitious and dear. Two, vis-à-vis legacy hifi, it remains miniaturized no matter what. As such, it still is far cheaper no matter what. Sure, a $2'000 Lotoo PAW Gold seems excessive but remains very stale peanuts next to a stationary stack whose signal cable or power cord alone could cost that.


Unplug AC power to eliminate a whole slew/stew of issues and cures. No more power filters, ground stations, premium outlets and cords. No equipment racks either, no voodoo pucks, cones and footers. No noise to wake neighbours. The bumper sticker isn't rodeo's 'we do it in eight seconds'. It's 'headfiers to it anytime, anywhere.' How liberating. How stuffy house-bound legacy fi must appear to that crowd.
Campfire Audio exhibit at 2015 Headphone Fall Festival in Tokyo

First sightings of Campfire Audio's first mid-size foldable headphone prototype.
Which puts the microphone into Ken Ball's hand, to riff on this scene, its developments and Campfire Audio's place within it all. "My dream from the moment I first made a cable was to go directly to the element that matters the most, the IEM or headphone. It's one thing to make a good sounding or even the best possible cable. Yes it will make a difference but its impact will be small next to the impact of using a superior IEM or headphone in the first place. For many years I modified headphones for our customers. What do you do when you modify a headphone? I performed a complete vivisection aka disassembly, ​a total rewire, then custom tuning and damping. Such acts of deconstruction are very time-consuming and inefficient. Furthermore, when you modify a headphone, you begin from a fixed starting point, the original design and driver. Your modification can ever only go so far. Many times the improvement was really not good enough for me.


"The obvious solution? Start from the ground up the way I envision it. This was my dream for many years. For many years I saved a lot of money to make it happen as start-up production costs are very high. Campfire Audio and ALO Audio remain very small companies which I independently own and run. I have no investors, no board of directors, no other outside influences to help or interfere. It is just me, my wife and five employees. In addition, even if you have enough money to run your own brand and your own IEM and headphone design and production, if you lack extraordinary technical and engineering partners, it won't happen. All the stars must align for the product to reach my goals. Campfire Audio has one focus, to make the best IEM and headphones I can possibly make according to my own vision unencumbered by anyone else or off-the-rack parts. There are many IEM and headphones to market now. I want to make my own statements. I know what is good and what works no matter what others might say or do. Hence Campfire Audio is my own brand with my own look, my own singular focus and our own sound."


To understand Ken's new quad- and single BA Jupiter and Orion models, we must remind ourselves what a balanced armature driver is. The below cutaway shows a tuning-fork type assembly to which is mounted a shaft topped by a diaphragm like a spinning plate on a Chinese acrobat's stick. The coils and magnets surrounding the armature cause the upper arm of the tuning fork to respond to signal voltages. This actuates the drive rod to move the diaphragm which only 'sees' the strictly confined air volume inside its small chamber. In the central photo of the Jupiter with its ear plug removed, we note two bores. That's how all balanced armatures vent into the ear canal. Each tube could be fronted by multiple armatures just like a multi-way loudspeaker may parallel two, three or more woofers. And just as speakers exist in 2-way, 3-way and more-way versions, the number of bores on an IEM can multiply. Ditto for the complexity of the necessary filters which segregate the audible band into more and more sub sections.

Production Jupiter in final finish.

Contrast that with the exploded Lyra drawing. It shows a single crossover-less diaphragm which drives the entire outer housing's air volume. Two types of drive units, two ways of getting the job done. If one were categorically superior rather than different, we'd seriously doubt Campfire would offer both. Instead, one assumes different favours from different flavours to serve different listeners. To know for sure, Ken would send me all three. I could decide for myself.


Before we turn the page, an important disclaimer. I work from a home office. I get to wear the biggest baddest headphones I wish as long as they sound good. I don't care what wearing them looks like. I don't fret about being ripped off or bugging others with leaky sound. My idea of the aural outdoors is chilling in the balcony hammock to catch rays or gaze at stars accompanied by a headfi soundtrack over one of my big 'uns. In short, I'm not an IEM type. Sticking stuff deep down my ears isn't my notion of happy days. I'll thus approach this assignment as someone who arrives from HE1000, D1000, HD800, LCD-XC, T5p, Ether and their full-size circumaural lot. If that's also your own comfort zone, you'll be looking over my shoulder with likely the same set of prejudices. Then you can put yourself inside my shoes, about whether IEM love might perchance blossom in your future. If you're instead a dyed-in-the-pinnae IEM freak already... well, you won't get any assessment from me on how these campers compare to anyone else's. That's simply not my exposure rating. End of small print.