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.