Tube amplifiers have long been a fixture of high end audio setups. Many audiophiles prefer them over “solid state” amplifiers for their distinct “tube like” sound. However, in keeping with their hi-fi reputation, tube amplifiers are typically very expensive. Enter the Bravo Audio V2, an improved version of the original hybrid tube amplifier offered by Bravo Audio, featuring better build quality by way of improved components and manufacturing. Utilizing a single 12AU7 tube, this hybrid amplifier promises that sweet tube sound that so many audiophiles love in a compact and inexpensive package. So, does the Bravo Audio V2 deliver on this promise or does it fall flat? Read on to find out.
Design and Build Quality
As you can see, the Bravo amp features an almost entirely open design, likely for cooling concerns and the innards of the amp are sandwiched between two acrylic plates with cutouts on the top portion for the tube and one of the larger capacitors to stick out through the top of the amp. For aesthetic purposes, there are two LEDs, one red and one blue, that light up and remain lit while the amplifier is on.
For the purposes of keeping the amp cool, there are a number of heatsinks on the sides and because of this, the amp becomes quite hot to the touch when left on for extended periods. This isn’t a problem for the most part as you probably won’t be touching or moving it much in operation aside from adjusting the volume or turning it off but it is a concern for the absentminded among us or users who are unaware of how hot it can get.
I am a tad worried that some of the parts might break such as the headphone out, the 3.5mm mini jack input and the RCA inputs due to this open air design but the individual parts do feel somewhat durable and would thus be resistant to breaking. Another minor quibble I’m having with the Bravo is the fact that the potentiometer is a tad too sensitive when adjusting volume. The slightest adjustments can lead to big volume gains and just using the amp with the volume pot turned to about 8 o’clock drove the majority of my headphones to comfortable listening volumes. While I’m sure this means that this can output dangerous levels of volume for high impedance and difficult to drive cans such as the Sennheiser HD650 or AKG K701, it means users of lower impedance headphones or IEMs will have to be a bit more careful when making volume adjustments.
This is where things get interesting. I’ve been using the amplifier with a number of different headphones and IEMs and there are a few standout pairings that I’d like to share with you all before I get into how I think this amp performs as a whole. All listening impressions have been conducted using the stock tube that shipped with the Bravo. Sources include an iPod Video with music mostly encoded in Apple Lossless, MP3 320 and VBR V0 and high quality AAC and a Playstaton 1 (SCPH-5501) CD Player.
Audio Technica ATH-M50
I really don’t enjoy this pairing as much as I did initially. The M50 is a great sounding headphone with a somewhat emphasized upper midrange and treble which does not pair well with the Bravo. The emphasized upper midrange and treble presence became so much more pronounced when paired with the Bravo that it made listening to the M50s a very fatiguing experience, something I’m not used to when it comes to the M50. Overall, the M50s are just not a very good match for the Bravo. This isn’t necessarily a fault of the headphones or the amp, just a bad match as far as their respective sound signatures.
Now this is a good pairing. The HD555s have a more relaxed and laid back presentation than the M50s, especially in the upper midrange and treble, and pair very well with the Bravo as a result. The Bravo adds a nice richness to the HD555s that lends it a more well-rounded sound. The bass, which is rather light on the HD555s is emphasized just enough to make the bottom end very enjoyable to listen to. Before, I had been using these with my CMoy BB v2.02 and even with the bass boost on, something still seemed to be lacking and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Now, the HD555s sound rather smooth and very “musical” and are easy to listen to for long periods.
This is another very good pairing. Again, like the HD555s, bass impact is lacking overall but the detail, extension and level of refinement are all rather good and the Bravo does a good job of bringing these details forward by making the low end more pronounced. The amp imparts some warmth and body to the sound, making the RE0s smoother and less “thin” sounding to my ears, making them very pleasurable to listen to. The only downside to this pairing is perhaps a bit less detail when compared to my CMoy but not nearly enough to dampen my enjoyment of them when used with the Bravo.
The Bravo Audio V2 is a rather good and musical sounding amplifier. It adds a bit of warmth and richness to the low end and midrange while slightly emphasizing the treble. It’s not perfect though, as there is a slight loss of detail when I compare it side by side with my JDS Labs CMoy amp but the detail loss is not significant and will likely go unnoticed by the majority of users, especially if they lack a basis of comparison with another amp like I have.
When it’s all said and done, I can’t help but like the V2. It’s a nice little tube amplifier in its own right for those of us who want to experiment with that highly desired “tube sound” without paying the exorbitant rates many tube amps cost and having to worry about paying quite as much for matched sets of replacement tubes when they eventually burn out. It also allows you to experiment with tube rolling. The loss of resolution that I mentioned earlier can likely be alleviated by upgrading the stock tube to a vintage tube like the RCA clear top and other compatible 12AU7 tubes such as those made by Phillips, Mullard and Sylvania. In that respect, that’s what intrigues me most about the Bravo Audio V2. Even if the stock tube doesn’t suit your musical tastes or isn’t a good match for a certain pair of headphones, you can always buy a different tube on eBay or a number of other sites to change the sound to your liking.
Overall, I’m rather impressed with the Bravo Audio V2. While its sound signature isn’t for everyone and isn’t a great pairing with every pair of headphones, it does well enough to be worth a look. Given the fact that the V2 is relatively inexpensive compared to other hybrid tube amplifiers makes it a good value for people looking for that signature tube sound without spending a fortune. While I don’t think this will be able to measure up to the more expensive amplifiers, its performance is quite good considering the price.
At the end of the day, I have to ask myself a couple of questions. Am I enjoying what I’ve gotten? Yes. Do I feel like I’ve gotten a good value for my money? Yes. That’s what matters in the end. For the asking price, which varies wildly depending on whether you take your chances on auction or buy it immediately (I paid about $56 for mine, shipped), the Bravo Audio V2 hybrid tube amplifier is a good amplifier for the money that makes for more than an attractive desktop novelty and performs quite admirably in its chosen function.