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Headphones

Here's a tiny, super-affordable, powerful tube headphone amplifier

Priced just under $75, the tricked out Bravo Audio V2 will look sharp on your desktop.

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The Bravo Audio V2 headphome amplifier Steve Guttenberg/CNET

When it comes to decent sounding, high-value gear, it's usually not much to look at. So when I first spotted the Bravo Audio V2 I did a double take -- this pint-sized tube headphone amp looked awesome!

Pictures can be deceiving, but when the Bravo V2 showed up on my doorstep it looked even better in real life. First, it's really tiny at just 3.1 inches square, and its electronic guts are visible through the clear plastic top and bottom covers. The sides of the "chassis" are open and the transistor's heat sinks are exposed and run hot to the touch. A single 12AU7 vacuum tube pokes through the top cover of the amp, and there's a bright blue LED under the tube that's just for show. The RCA and 3.5mm stereo analog inputs, and a 6.3mm headphone jack are the only connectivity options. The Bravo V2's inputs accept analog stereo sound only, it doesn't include a built-in digital converter. A separate 24-volt switching power supply is included.

You can hookup the V2 directly to your computer or phone's headphone jack, or to the analog outputs of a digital converter, like my $99 Schiit Audio Modi. It's quiet enough to work with in-ear headphones (some tube amps are not), so I used my Velodyne vPulse and Hifiman RE-400 in-ear headphones, no problem. I mostly listened to the Bravo V2 with Audio Technica ATH M50x and Hifiman HE-400 full-size headphones. Those are low-impedance (under 40 Ohms) headphones, so I also tried my 300 Ohm Sennheiser HD-580 'phones. The Bravo V2 worked well with all of them.

I'm left-handed so the close proximity of the volume control and headphone jack was a minor annoyance as I had to reach over the headphone plug to adjust the volume. Using my right hand to adjust volume solved that problem. The tiny toggle on/off power switch on the Bravo V2's backside is a tad inconvenient, but you get used to it.

The Bravo V2 had plenty of power to push all of the headphones to very loud volume levels. Bass oomph was good, but not great. To put the Bravo V2's sound in context I compared it with the $99 Schiit Audio Magni solid-state headphone amp. The Magni's less bright balance produced a more laid-back sound quality, which I liked, but the Bravo V2's livelier sound was also attractive. There was more energy and detail coming off the Bravo V2, but the Magni's sound balance worked better with in-ear headphones than the Bravo V2. Hey, it's a $70 amp, you can't expect miracles.

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