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Headphones

Campfire Lyra: Advancing the outer limits of in-ear headphone sound

Campfire Audio is a new headphone company based in Portland, Oregon. Its new Lyra is a knockout!

I was on the New York subway listening to a set of Campfire Lyra in-ears, and a young woman approached me saying she loved the look of the headphones. She wanted to know what brand they were, and did they sound good? I told her they were the new Campfire Lyras, and yes, the sound was really nice. I explained I didn't own them, I was reviewing them for my CNET "Audiophiliac" blog, and she immediately put the URL in her phone. For the next five minutes she asked all sorts of questions about the Lyras, and the Astell & Kern Jr music player I was using with the headphones, but it was the Lyra that first caught her eye.

She didn't ask the price, which is $749 (AU$1,099), and in a crowded subway car I didn't think it was a great idea to announce I was wearing a set of pricey headphones. I'm mentioning the encounter because in all the years I've reviewed headphones, no woman has ever expressed curiosity about a headphone before.

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Campfire Audio Lyra Campfire Audio

Lyra sounded sweet with my iPod Classic, but the sound really came alive with my Hifiman HM901 music player. That combination sounded big, bold, and capable of unleashing incredibly powerful dynamics. Soundstage focus was precise, treble finely detailed, bass plentiful, but tightly controlled and clear. Compared with the Noble Savant in-ear headphones the Lyra's sound is weightier, more fleshed out; the Savant is more transparent, more nimble, but less rock-and-roll.

The Lyra's 8.5mm diaphragm sports a beryllium surface applied via thermal physical vapor deposition to a film substrate. The driver is housed in an ultra-high-density zirconium oxide ceramic earpiece that's finished in a high gloss gray. Impedance is rated at 16 ohms. A nicely finished, fleece-lined carry case is included.

The 56-inch-long, user-replaceable silver-plated copper headphone cable features a rugged FEP jacket. The cable features MMCX connectors for the Lyra earpieces and a standard 3.5mm stereo plug (a special balanced cable with a 2.5mm plug for use with some ALO and Astell & Kern music players is also available).

Campfire Audio's Ken Ball told me Lyra was inspired by Sennheiser's flagship IE 800 in-ear headphone, which also features a ceramic earpiece and a single dynamic driver. The Lyra has user-replaceable cables while the IE 800's cables aren't, so if the cable breaks you have to return the IE 800 to Sennheiser for repair. With the Lyra, you'd just pop on a new cable.

I did the bulk of my listening with the Astell & Kern Jr music player, swapping between the IE 800 and the Lyra. The IE 800 is superb; it's clear, clean, lots of bass, and pretty dynamic, but the Lyra better separated John Lennon and Paul McCartney's vocals on the Beatles tune "Here, There, and Everywhere" and the reverberation was easier to hear on the Lyra. Bass on both headphones is big and juicy, though the Lyra's is more so. As I listened to other music I noted Lyra resolved cymbals' shimmer and the rattle of a snare drum a little better than the IE 800. I did find the IE 800 more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.

Lyra is an auspicious debut in-ear headphone from Campfire Audio; two additional models will be released this year. The company's design and manufacturing facilities are in Portland, Oregon.