Bravo Hybrid Tube Amplifier

I love it when small amplifiers sounds good and big! From the look of it, the Bravo Tube Amp looks more like a desktop accessory than a proper amplifier. It is nicely packaged, and the dimension is tiny for a desktop amplifier. What do you expect from a miniature amplifier like this. People probably buy them for gifts and stuff. Not to mention that the Bravo amplifier is being sold at an eBay store. The seller ships the Bravo from Hong Kong, and so it’s probably manufactured in China, which is the reason to why it sells so cheap, for merely $59.99.

The Bravo reminds me of Pete Millet’s famous DIY creation, the Starving Student Millet Hybrid (SSMH) amplifier. The SSMH was designed to be a cheap amplifier for low-budget university students wanting to have a decent amplifier for their headphones. The parts list for the SSMH comes in at around ~$35, but you still have to solder everything together and fabricate a decent case for it. The reason that I’m talking about the SSMH is to give a perspective on what a good deal the Bravo amplifier is, considering the build quality is actually very nice.

Okay, back to the Bravo amplifier. I just received it yesterday, and I had a quick listen to it without paying too much attention to the details. Decent sound, nothing too special, sound’s a bit rough. I didn’t bother to do any critical thinking at the time, and so I put it for some burn in time, at the same time burning in the brand new LOD to RCA cable that I just made.

The design is quite interesting. The entire circuit is sandwiched between two transparent acrylics, and there is nothing covering the sides. If you look at the side-by-side photos with the Ipod, you get an idea of how small the Bravo amplifier is. As I said, it looks more like a desktop accessory rather than an amplifier. You get two sets of input: a pair of RCA jack for desktop sources and a 3.5mm jack for people using Ipods. The output is through a 1/4 jack. On the back side, you have an input for a 24V DC power supply and a power switch. The power supply is a 24V adapter that ships with the amplifier.

After roughly 24 hours of burn in, I’m starting to do some listening with the Bravo. I happen to be burning in the Bravo with the following set up:

Ipod Classic 120GB > LOD to RCA > Bravo Amplifier > Sennheiser HD555.

At the time the Ipod was playing some WAV files of Beethoven’s 9th by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra. Keep in mind this was still somehow in the burn in process, but I just grabbed the HD555 to hear how it sounds. Things are actually sounding very nice.. I unplugged the HD555 and plugged in a HD650. Obviously, everything was even better with the HD650. I really didn’t expect a $59.99 to have such a quality, but the Bravo is really something. The sound is very musical with a slight emphasis on the midrange, but not too much. The signature reminds me a lot of TTVJ’s portables. Normally when a tube amplifier gets too liquid and tubey, they don’t blend well with Beethoven Symphonies. The Bravo, however, was able to good presentation for the Beethoven 9th.

Then I got really serious and hooked the Bravo to the DAC on the Grace M902, connected through an optical cable to a MacPro. I played different genres and tried the Bravo with the Sennheiser HD555, HD650, the AKG K701, and even the HD800! I must be crazy to hook the HD800 to a $59.99 amplifier, but the fact is the Bravo really plays well with even the HD800. I wouldn’t call it the best amplification for those headphones, but definitely more than good, and more than what I expected!

Often, with “value” amplifiers, there are some flaws with the sound that keeps you from really enjoying the music. Not with the Bravo. It is very enjoyable with no obvious mistakes. It’s not dry, rough, or bright sounding, as often is the case with cheap amplifiers. Moreover, gain is quite high on the Bravo, as I only need roughly 10 O’clock on the volume when driving 300 Ohm monsters like the HD650 or the HD800. Noise level is quite low too. It’s not dead quiet, but seriously I’ve heard a lot of $300 amplifiers that have the same level of noise as the Bravo.

For $59.99, it’s really tough to put the Bravo against the competition and expect it to win in any one area, but it will definitely reign supreme on the value category. Keep in mind that you’re not buying a mediocre amplifier for the price either, as the Bravo can really play some nice music!



Thanks to neob for making this review possible.

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  • Yoav Tzfati

    two questions:
    1. how is its soundstage?
    2. will it be too powerful for superlux HD-668B, how is their synergy?

    • Anonymous

      I think it should be a good match for the HD668B, filling in the mids
      area. Soundstage is just average. Power is plenty, should be more than
      enough for the HD668B.

      • Yoav Tzfati

        Thanks! Considering soundstage is important to me and I don’t need a lot of power, should I get the dr. dac nano/E7 instead of alien dac + bravo?
        (Btw I was wondering if the bravo had TOO much power and I wouldn’t get any decent volume control because the article said that about 10 O’clock was good for 300 ohm headphones, and HD668B’s are only 56 ohm).

        • Anonymous

          That may be a valid concern.

          I think you should just get a one box solution like the Yulong or the Audinst HUD-MX1. I think the Audinst will be a better synergy with the HD668B.

          Cheers.

          • Yoav Tzfati

            I thought of that, but I currently don’t have enough money for the Audinst. is it worth it to save up money for it for a few weeks, considering I already need to stretch my budget, and the computer noise really gets on my nerves? If you think it won’t make a huge difference, which lower end dac/amp should I go with (I don’t own any 24/96 files, and probably won’t in the near future)

            Thanks for the advice!

            • Anonymous

              It’s hard for me to decide that, since $180 is a light expense for one guy, but not so light for the next guy — and I really don’t know where you fall in that bracket.

              If you are stretched on budget, why not get a simple Sansa Clip+? It’s been the mass-favorite lower tier DAP, and the warm signature would complement the HD668B very nicely.

              • Yoav Tzfati

                It is important for me to have a usb dac for the computer because I also watch movies online and want access to online music to listen to in good quality without having to buy it (And if I like it I might buy it for the 16/44.1-48), so the Sansa won’t be really good for me. And I can’t afford the Audinst, since I’m also saving money to pay for a tour to Italy with my school jazz band. But what do you think about the E7? I think it should be warm too because it has the four level bass/low mid boost.
                Thanks for the advice so far!
                YTCrazyTieGuy.

                • Anonymous

                  Well if you can only afford for the E7, then go for the E7. I think the warm sound of the E7 would match well with the HD668B.

                  Cheers.

                  • Yoav Tzfati

                    Thanks!

  • Vincent V.

    I realize this was posted awhile ago, but I was wondering what you thought about this amp with the K701.  I was looking to get the Bravo V1 Amp (the $90 one) to pair with my K702s.  I have a Music Streamer II DAC and a Travagan’s Red amp already, but I was interested in trying a tube amp, especially something like the V1 which is advertised as being able to boost the lower end.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Vincent,
      I can’t remember if I have tried it with the K701 (I may have), but the
      Bravo comes with tons of gain and it should drive the K701 fairly easily.

      • Vincent V.

        In your review it says you did, that why I ask.  I certainly don’t expect you to remember what it was like, that would be crazy.  How would you characterize a tubey sound.  I am eager to try a tube amp, but it’s always been described as warm and fuzzy, and I automatically assume it leans towards the lower end and not highs and mids.  I think the K702s are sensitive to the components so I thought that by trying a tube amp that leans on the lower end It might remove some of the clinical nature and crispness of the K702 and make it more musical, instead of technical while also adding some bass, an area that many would say is lacking.  This is all speculation and curiosity though, tell me if I’m completely wrong.

        • Anonymous

          Yes I probably should’ve re-read that review before responding to your
          question.

          I think your logic is spot on in this case though. Not all tubes are
          mid-centric, but the Bravo is one of those mid-centric amps, very warm,
          though not very clear sounding unlike higher end tube amps. And I would
          think that it would help in making the K702 more musical.

          You can also get something like the Audinst. It’s more expensive than
          the Bravo and it’s solid state, but I think the sound signature will
          work just as well as the Audinst adds quite some body in the mids and
          lows, and the addition of the inboard DAC gives you a nice boost in
          detail extraction than what you’ll get with the Bravo.

          http://www.headfonia.com/audinst-hud-mx1-dac/

          • Vincent V.

            Thanks a bunch, Mike, I’m a long time lurker, first time poster.  You’ve affirmed what believed to be correct but had no experience on which to base it.  I would be interested in the Audist, but I’m very interested in trying a tube amp, not to mention I’m pretty sure my Music Streamer II and Travagan’s Red are superior to the Audinst.  Not to mention the Bravo amp is pretty to look at, and they have a promotion where if you write a review with >150 words on a notable internet forum you will get a refund on half your purchase.

            • Anonymous

              Yes, yes. Then the Bravo amp would be a good choice. Not to mention that
              50% refund!

  • Donunus

    What version is the current version by the way? Ive seen so many brands on ebay like the muse, indeed, etc… Is Bravo the original? I wan’t to buy one just because it looks good and it may actually be musical!

    • Anonymous

      I have no idea what the current version is since I did this review long long ago. I also am not sure if Bravo is the original, I remember there were another brand back then.. similar build with just different caps and parts, but I can’t recall the name at the moment.

      • Donunus

        I just found out that the Indeed G2 is the most recommended version recently. It won’t matter much if you mod them though :)

        Anyway, A little off topic but a suggestion for something to review…  http://www.bottlehead.com/store.php?crn=44&rn=442&action=show_detailhave you seen this amp? Looks like it would be awesome for 300 ohm senns. I’m salivating just looking at it plus the price is great!

        • Anonymous

          The Bottlehead amps right? I wanted to review them as well, but last time I check they still hasn’t replied to my email. :(

          Time to send another one.

          • Donunus

            I have a feeling these guys aren’t too concerned about wanting massive sales. They’ve been around for a while yet still remain very low key. You might just end up having to buy a kit hehehe. I think I wan’t one too. It’s just so purrrdy and I’ve got a very good feeling that they can really make the hd600s sound very organic :)

            • Anonymous

              I agree… bottlehead amps.. one day I need to get my hands on them.

  • http://twitter.com/Lieven_V Lieven V
  • http://www.facebook.com/helge.haselbach Helge Haselbach

    has this tube any purpose except looking cool? I mean it runs in a voltage way below its working point. This is what I’d call a fake-tube on a sand-pre-amp just to kid the coolness seekers…

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