Last year I purchased the Bravo Audio mini tube amp on eBay. It was more out of curiosity than anything else and the low price made it easy to pull the trigger. It took two weeks but the package made it to Singapore in one piece.
This amp is tiny! Compared to the other desktop amps I used over the years, this must be the smallest tube amp ever. If you fold an iPod in half you get about the same size. Build quality is nice and I really like the design which is minimalist and looks really cool. The tube, a Chinese 12AU7 sticks out of a hole in the plexiglass upper cover which makes it a bit vulnerable. Fortunately it was separately packed and slid into its socket without problem. All components look first class. Turning the amp over I could see that the soldering was neatly done.
The headphone plug is a large 1/4 inch one which is okay as I intend to use this mainly with my Sennheiser HD 650.
The separate 24V PSU is standard and comes with the powerplug of your choice (mine is a UK standard for Singapore). The powerswitch is of the "push" variety and doesn't cause a "plop" when you switch the amp on.
The tube does tend to get hot so be very careful touching it when it is switched on.
My test setup is as follows:
Source 1: Macbook Air
Source 2: iPod 5 Gen with dock out
For comparison I also used my new iBasso DX100 (without amp because it has one built-in)
The first two are probably burned in more as my P5 was only bough a month ago
For comparison I used the same sources without any amplification and as piece de resistance my iBasso DX100. I sold most of my other amps so I can't make a 1-to-1 comparison but I do remember most of their signatures.
All files are Apple Lossless or FLAC. I also tested some 24/96 coded lossless files. As this is a test of the amplifier, I didn't use a separate DAC. Whenever I test a component, I like to keep the chain as minimal as possible.
First up was Howard Shore, "The Lord of The Rings 1 OST, The Fellowship of the Ring". I'm intensely familiar with this piece as I have listened to it ever since it came out on CD. The Macbook Air has a clean out as it does not contain a hard drive. The Bravo Audio lends a warm touch to the sound. Layering (the 3D space between instruments) is okay, although I do tend to hear a bit of overlap. My DX100 has very precise layering and a much more overwhelming sound but is off course a bit more expensive (15 times to be precise). The Bravo Audio acts exactly like a tube amp should. I used to own a Vincent tube amp, which is a giant compared to the B.A. but this little dwarf can hold it's own. The iPod makes the soundstage shrink a little compared to the DX100 but the layering is about the same.
Let's try some bass heavy tracks. 50 Cents is part of my standard testing tracks, although I have long ago starting to dislike Fiddy. Again, the BA holds it's own, although the bass on the TF10 is not as clean and precise as the DX100 or even the MBA without amplification and with the same IEMs. This stands to reason as the tube has quite a bit of influence here and I tend to favor non-EQ-ed music.
Third up is a 24/96 track of Bob Marley "Redemption Song". The iPod can't handle this so it's up to the MBA to carry the flag. Again the details on the DX100 are sublime. I love the synergy between it and my P5. Surprisingly the Bravo Audio holds it's own! It sounds even better with my HD650 than the DX100. The little amp has more power than the build-in amp of the iBasso and isn't afraid to show it!
For 70 bucks you get a very fun little amp that is miles beyond the more commercial docks and amps. It pairs well with my HD650, although the P5 and UE10 tend to favor my DX100. Off course the Bravo Audio isn't portable, despite it's size so as a desktop choice you can't go wrong for the price. I've owned the Bravo Audio for quite a while now and the only thing that I didn't like is the fact that the power supply died right after my test and it's hard to find a proper 24V PSU that isn't more expensive than the whole package. I'm considering buying another one just so I have it working again.
Edited by Singapura - 5/18/12 at 10:24pm