Which DACs and Players Pair Well with Campfire IEMs?

We’ve have a lot of Campfire fans writing in to ask about which DACs and players work best with the Campfire sound signature. And indeed, this is a tricky question. Not every great headphone and great DAC will sound fantastic as a pair. And some DACs can detract from or exacerbate certain sound signature characteristics, thereby changing the sound profile for the worst. So, the right synergy is integral to achieving the optimal sound. With that in mind, I’ve listed a few of my favorite DACs and players that I think bring out the best qualities in the Campfire sound signature.

FiiO Q5 and Q5S

All Campfire IEMs, from the IO to the Solaris (with perhaps a couple of exceptions) share certain qualities in their sound signature that make them undeniably Campfirish. First, these buds have a highly “active” feel. And paired with the right DACs, you can optimize the energetic, hard hitting character that creates that super solid Campfire sound. This is one of the reasons I love to pair Campfire IEMs with the FiiO Q5. The Q5 is highly dynamic sounding DAC. So, it highlights the natural attack of the Campfire sound signature. Snares, for example, reveal a faster, brick-like impact that really bring out the energy of a track.

The other reason I think the Q5 works so well with Campfire lies in the high frequencies. Campfire delivers sparkly highs. And so does the Q5. And when paired together, there’s a crystal like quality and clarity in the high frequencies that makes for one snappy pop or funk track.

Astell&Kern SA700 (and SR15)

On the other hand, for some, the FiiO Q5 can bring out too much attack in an already highly animated sound signature. And considering how sensitive Campfire IEMs are, it’s very easy to blow out your ears with an inadvertent nudge of the Q5’s volume dial. Given that Campfire IEMs are such efficient IEMs, it could be argued that it’s a safer bet to go with a DAC or player with a little less driving power. This is one reason to go with a player, like an A&K SA700 or SR15.

The other reason I love to pair the SA700 with Campfire IEMs is that it tempers the very characteristics that the FiiO Q5 emphasizes. The SA700 says to the Campfire IEM, “Hey, aren’t you a little fire cracker. Let’s keep you from freaking the f—-k out.” The SA700 has tons of control. It’s even keeled and steady. The separation is also impeccable. And when paired with a monster like the Solaris, the tamer character of the SA700 perfectly compliments the sound.

Finally, for those who are sensitive to high frequencies, Campfire’s crispy treble can prove tiring on the ears if paired with the wrong DAC or player. But the SA700 moderates the high peaks a great deal, so it’s a much less fatiguing listen during long listening sessions.

iFi Nano iDSD

Besides that sweet Black Label sound signature, I love the iFi Nano for two reasons: price and MQA support. Unlike the two examples listed above, the iFi Nano is easy on the wallet. Under 200 bucks, the iFi Nano is also designed for IEMs and low impedance headphones, so you’re not wasting money on tons of amp power. And if you stream Tidal, the ability to unfold MQA files is huge, considering that higher priced DACs, such as the FiiO Q5 don’t support MQA.

The main elements that attract me to the iFi Nano are the smoothness and melodic character of the sound. In fact, I also love to pair the Black Label to the more “reference” style headphones for that reason (i.e. Beyerdynamic 1770 with the Black Label Micro). It just brings out a fluidity and musicality in the sound. At the same time, the Nano avoids feeling contrived at all. It let’s a sound signature speak for itself, without removing or aggravating any element of the sound profile. And when you’re dealing with perfection, such as the Andromeda or Solaris, why mess with it. Paired with the iFi Nano, Campfire IEMs still stay true to their character. And this factor combined this with the smoothness offered by that Burr Brown chipset, results in a perfect pairing.

If you are interested any of these DACs or players, you can get them for the best price here:

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Gabby is a composer, songwriter and music producer who has worked in the music, film, and commercial industries for too long. You can hit Gabby up at gabby@majorhifi.com.