Pros: Sonic Presentation, Build Quality, Rolling Capability, Excellent Driving Power
Cons: Heat Emission
Me: I am a 21 year old student living in a small town in India. I would like to call myself a music enthusiast, rather than an audiophile. I was inspired by music since childhood, and as the time passed, the passion of music grew in me, and that subsequently led me to join Head-Fi. Eventually, I found the pleasure of listening to music mainly by the HD600 and recently, by the seductive LCD2 headphones, and realized the true components of recorded music. I usually like to listen to Indian Classical Music along with Bollywood songs. My main listening genres include classical, vocal, instrumental, jazz and sometimes pop.
Intro: Bravo Audio is a popular Chinese brand specializing in the area of Tube Headphone Amplifiers. Bravo was established in 2010. Even though a relatively newer establishment in the field, Bravo managed to capture attention of the world by their amp offerings which had attractive price tag & appreciable performance. The Ocean is a flagship amp offering from Bravo, & it is the only amp to be fully enclosed in a case by Bravo.
All of Bravo’s amps are hybrids, and are driven by Mosfet’s, and are pure class A. This ensures in mammoth output power, appreciable clear sound quality, but heat dissipation is high, and the amp physically gets hot even to touch comfortably. Bravo has been famous since its release of V2 amp, which was budget friendly, yet performing, which won ears of many enthusiasts. The Ocean goes ahead in V2’s line, providing more reliability and performance. Back in 2010, tube/hybrid amps would be expensive, and out of reach of a humble Enthusiast. Bravo made well performing hybrid amps in an affordable price. Bravo was the one who made hybrid amps in sub 100$ category. This made them a well known name across the Audiophile World.
Specifications of Ocean:
Input Power: DC 24V 1.5A
Input Sensitivity: 100mV
Input Impedance: 100KOhm
Headphone Impedance: 20~600 Ohm
Frequency response: 10Hz-60 KHz +/- 0.25dB
Signal/Noise Ratio : >90dB Gain: 30dB
Dynamic range: 84.6dBA (300 ohm) 89.8dBA (33 ohm)
THD: 0.016% (300 ohm) 0.45% (33 ohm)
MD + Noise: 0.045(300 ohm) 0.42(33ohm)
Let us see what the Ocean has got for us,
Packaging and Accessories: The ocean amp arrives packed inside a general cardboard box, packed inside a removable foam packing. Tubes are included inside the foam socket. Default tube included is a generic 12AU7. Packaging is generic, but nothing to complain about. But all the included accessories have a good quality and feel to them.
List of accessories in the box, which include the following:
Power Adapter: AC to DC 24V 1.5A power adapter EU/US/AU/UK is supplied as per specifications.
User Manual: Contains instructions to operate the ocean amp and other warranty information.
Design and Build: The ocean has a very good overall build quality. Its design is very practical.
The Ocean looks much different owing its blue paint, and stands out from the crowd. Personally, I very much liked the blue case colour of the ocean amp.The entire case is made up of high quality brushed aluminium, and is painted in Matt Cyan-Blue. The ocean is fairly small in size, though the ocean amp weights only 400 grams, It feels slightly heavy when held owing to its good build. At the front we have an On/off switch, volume knob, ¼” & 1/8’ headphone output socket, and a red indicator LED. At the rear side of ocean, we can observe the presence of power socket , 1/8” input, RCA inputs & outputs.
Volume knob rotation is smooth and knob has just the right size for fingers. ¼” jack is also a very sturdy, but is slightly tight. The ¼” socket employs clip mechanism, which may cause scratches/damage on the headphone jack. Power switch has a pretty great operation and strength, and is very precise in its job. The red LED is particularly very bright, and can be disturbing if you look at the amp. So I advise to slightly push in the LED using a small pin, so that it’s brightness is drowned inside the amp.
Internals quality is certainly good, if not very good. The ocean amp has no manual wirings inside, everything is fixed on the PCB. Soldering joints are well done. Volume pot is alps branded, which a plus for both volume control & audio quality.
The 9 pin Tube socket is ceramic type, has a great build. The ocean accepts only the 12AU7 type vacuum tubes by default. The tube is physically protected by a vertical metal arc, incase the ocean amp falls off the table or similar situation arises. To change/replace the tube, one has to unscrew the top four screws and carefully pull up the cover to avoid damage to existing tube in the socket. There are no op-amps in ocean, since ocean is a mosfet driven hybrid amp. IRF510 mosfet is used here, which a widely used & fairly popular one. The only downside I observe here is, top cover has to be removed every time to change tube. This is not really a drawback, but it would be more difficult and inconvenient for tube rollers to do this way.
I also observe a drawback in the power supply, it is not earthed. I am at a loss of understanding why Bravo did not include a third earthing pin or ground to make the amp safe. Since it is a DC supply, few ripples will be present in the final output. These either cause light electrocution or raise noise floor of the amp. It
Sound: Despite being a hybrid tube amp, the ocean has a very clean, clear yet airy sonic character. ‘Balanced & Enjoyable’ is the key word. I find it very appealing and pleasing for casual music listening. Presentation is in such a way that, mids are little more intimate, with lows & highs sound tad more relaxed and laid back. Surprisingly, Stock tube is pretty good and does not necessarily needs to be changed/upgraded.
Burn in: These improve a lot with time. Let’s say a playback of 50 hours provides few audible improvements, Bass prior to break-in is quite muddy, and eventually it becomes more accurate and clean, Mids will sound more open, airy and natural. highs become slightly more smooth, soundstage will open up by a margin.
Tube rolling: One can roll 12AU7 family tubes on ocean amp. Mullard 12AU7A, RCA Clear Tops, long plates, halo getter type tubes particularly match pretty great on ocean and result is a very clear, clean and airy sound with a lifelike 3D soundstage. And the good news is that all these tubes are available within 20$ shipped on ebay!
The gain is fixed at 30dB, which is quite high and certainly not recommended for IEM’s. This amp is extremely powerful and can drive any dynamic/Planar magnetic cans to insane loudness with just 25% of the volume used, that is at 9 o’clock. Anything above 10 o’clock is unbearably loud. This incredible power brings out the best out of a matching headphone. Ideally, neutral or slightly brighter dynamic headphones go well with the ocean amp.
Lows: are accurate, tight and refined; have a great impact & extension. Depth is pretty good.
Mids: Very little forward & sound very natural, and appealing, and have a slight warmth (I guess that is in a good way, comes very pleasing to our ears). Tonality particularly, one of the best at this price point. This character makes ocean a strong contender for classical music.
Highs: Very clear with desirable amount of sparks. They are airy with good amount of space sensation.
Soundstage: Soundstage is airy, natural and circular. Depth is very good. Instrument separation & detailing is pretty good. With the default Chinese 12AU7, tonality is a bit harsh & mids are slightly sucked out, But after burn in, its goes in great with the ocean amp. So replacing tube is not really necessary in ocean amp. The tube in ocean amp seems superior to rest of the generic Chinese 12AU7’s.
According to my observation, these cans sounded good in all genres I tried, and hence I conclude ocean is decently transparent, detailed and also slightly forgiving to poor recordings. Hence I can say ocean is all rounder. It does not compromise anything too much to affect any of its characters.
Comparison: The main competitors of Bravo Ocean are the Little dot 1+ & Schiit Vali along with Project Starlight which are all similarly priced. All these are hybrid amps.
Little dot 1+: Hybrid amp which uses op-amps for amplification. Op-amps have their own kind of sonic touch to them, which feel refined & smoothened out when compared to mosfets. Power supply is Internal type and well made (which results in very low noise floor, and safe operation) But as a disadvantage, Tube rolling is not as economical and convenient as ocean, since Ocean supports a single 12AU7, which are very common to obtain & no hassle for a matched pair.
Summary: Best hybrid amp available in 200$, but lacks punch & power delivery of ocean amp. No preamp out. Not most economical to roll, availability & interior circuit build quality is a concern.
Project Starlight: At 225$ built & shipped this is the most expensive amp of the bunch. But Starlight has best internal build quality (along with Vali). The Starlight is not fully enclosed in a case. Its output power at headphone is quite limited, and is lowest of all these amps. Starlight also has 4 op-amps and support for 6/12V Dual Triode tubes. Starlight is specifically suited for lower impedance & less demanding headphones.
Summary: Best option for DIY’ers. But expensive to roll op-amps, since there are 4 op-amp sockets. Driving power is not the best.
Schiit Vali: Has no rolling options. Everything is fixed in. Output impedance is quite high at around 6.5 ohms and is not suitable for IEM’s. Power supply is again external, but definitely better than Bravo Ocean. Vali uses 16V AC/AC adapter (similar to O2 amp adapter) Vali also has a best build quality.
Summary: Good choice for beginners who don’t want to roll anything. A nice amp for 50-300 ohm headphones which are slightly bright in nature.
The ocean amp has an edge over all hybrid tube amplifiers when it comes to output driving power, delivery & is most economical of all amps to be tried in 200$. Though Little Dot’s 1+ without a second thought reigns as king , considering its allrounder overall performance, Ocean amp deserves to be a runner-up for the position, and performs very well indeed.
Conclusion: I feel the Ocean is a excellent hybrid amp in its price range. Build quality is very good, sonic presentation is very pleasing, it can drive almost any cans & its sonic character can be tailored to meet one’s taste. I can whole heartedly recommend Ocean for any enthusiast who would prefer a slightly musical sonic presentation, yet retaining decent amounts of accuracy. I really liked the ocean amp.
1) Build Quality: The Ocean has a very good all-metal build. No compromise to be seen anywhere in exterior. Interior circuitry is also neat & well built.
2) Sound quality: Sound presentation here has a touch of naturalness, but yet is detailed, spacious, which is very much like-able for music listening. Sweet mids deserve a special mention. The ocean amp generally matches up well with slightly neutral to bright sounding headphones.
3) Rolling Capability: Enthusiasts can roll great number of 12AU7 tubes in a minimal cost.
4) Driving Power: The ocean amp has a sheer output power. It definitely can comfortably drive any set of cans from 20-600 ohms. Good job!
1) Heat emission: Actually not really a con, it is quite normal for a hybrid mosfet driven amp. But during operation, the ocean amp gets very hot, it becomes very difficult for a user to touch the surface of amp more than 2 seconds. The 12AU7 tube itself is just warm, It is the outer case is hot & is due to heat emission from IRF510 Mosfets.