Reviewer: Jules Coleman
Sources: Reimyo CDP-777 CDP, Accustic Arts CDP, Denon/Exemplar DVD-2900 universal player
Preamplifier: Reimyo line stage, Shindo Monbrison
Amplifier: Reimyo 300B amplifier, Cr Development Artemis Gold monoblock, Mullard EL34 monoblock, Innersound prototype [on loan]
Speakers: Combak/Harmonix Bravo [on review], Gradient Revolution [on review]
Cables: Audience Au24, Harmonix Golden Performance, Stealth Hybrid MLT
Tuning Devices: ERaudio Space Harmonizers, various Harmonix tuning feet
Room Size: 18' W x 15' D x 9' H in long-wall setup, room opens to adjoining kitchen/hallway
Review component retail: US$3,895/pr

The little engine that could - or, why Bravo?
Kiuchi-san, resident wizard and grand architect of all Combak products, is by now very familiar to readers of my reviews here at 6moons. I earlier reviewed his spectacularly good one-box CD player; reported on a day he spent at my NYC apartment displaying his magical skills by tuning the resident components in my system to a new level of performance; and described his system-wide design approach as embodied in an entire Reimyo system including CD player, preamp, amp, line conditioner, interconnects and cables.

In addition to being a wonderful designer with a grand vision, Kiuchi-san is one of the real gentlemen in the audio industry. Time with him is well spent and one cannot help but part company admiring his wisdom, generosity and simple elegance. Even during the economic downturn in the high-end audio market, Mr. Kiuchi could always be counted on for a smiling face and a warm heart.

His elegance and personal warmth are reflected in his products, as is his commitment to reflect our place and the place of music in the natural order of things. Many of his products -- especially the tuning devices and boards -- embody a kind of mysticism while his electronics and especially the CD player embody his elegance and savvy.

Kiuchi-san is a perfectionist and no level of detail escapes him. He has a vision of what music playback should sound and look like. The musical and the aesthetic are clearly interwoven for him. There is nothing haphazard or unplanned about his products.

The Reimyo line represents his price-no-object assault on the high-end in sound, beauty and the beauty of sound reproduction. At this point there is no speaker in the Reimyo lineup. Such a speaker would have to be capable of being driven by the 8 watts provided by the Reimyo amplifier. Kiuchi has been working on a hornloaded design based on the older Fostex 208 sigma driver. As I said, Kiuchi does not rush products to market.

On the other hand, Kiuchi has been called in by several speaker designers to help with the final tuning of their cabinets and voicing of their speakers. One of the companies with whom he has worked for some time is Gradient of Finland. He has had a hand in the coaxial midrange/tweeter implementation in the very fine Revolution loudspeaker (review forthcoming). Kiuchi was impressed with the coaxial design and secured the rights to pursue a similar design in a speaker of his own. And so enters the Bravo loudspeaker.

And what is the Bravo?
The Bravo is a mini monitor in the traditional sense. In fact, the Combak website proudly proclaims it to be 'tiny' and it is. The speaker is a bi-wirable two-way sealed enclosure, weighing in at a bit less than 20lbs each. It sports a coaxial design featuring a fiberglass cone driver and an aluminum dome tweeter both sourced from SEAS. Frequency response is claimed to be 80Hz-20kHz +/-2.5dB with output down 6dB at 55Hz. The speaker is modestly sensitive at 87dB and arelatively easy load at 8ohms nominal, 7ohms minimal. In keeping with the overall approach of Mr. Kiuchi, the Bravo is his design, but uses the exact same drivers as those that appear as the midrange/tweeter unit of the Gradient Revolution speaker; Gradient Ltd. manufactures the speaker itself in their Finland plant.

As luck would have, fortune has shone on me and I hav the Gradient Revolutions in for review as well. They are next up on my schedule. They may share the same drivers with the Bravo but little else. These speakers, both excellent in their class, share virtually nothing sonically. Indeed, they are as different in character and temperament as any two speakers are ever likely to be. Go figure! I will describe the differences in detail in the upcoming review of the Revolution. Suffice it to say at this point that whereas the Gradient aims for dead neutrality and a slightly laid-back presentation, the Bravo is slightly to the warm side of neutral and surprisingly dynamic for its size – capable even of an occasional visceral impact.

And what did you listen to?
I listened to the Bravo exclusively in my NYC apartment with a variety of associated equipment. It was partnered for a long while with stable mates from the Reimyo line but also saw considerable time being driven by my Mark Pearson-built EL34 amps fitted with Mullard output tubes and the Cr Developments Artemis Gold featuring the ubiquitous Russian 6C33- B tri-nippled triode. Sources were digital only but varied from the Reimyo to the Accustic Arts to the Denon/Exemplar – all integrated one-box players.

I used a wide range of music to get to the heart of the Bravo. I split time among small and large classical, jazz, pop and rock. Among the classical pieces, I listened extensively to Shostakovich and Copeland Trios [Harmonia Mundi HMC901825], Rostropovich Master cellist: Legendary Recordings 1956-1978 [DG 289 471 620], Brahms Sonaten Für Viola und Klavier [ECM 457 068-2]. For jazz listening, I focused on the wonderful Brad Mehldau Trio's Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 [Warner Brothers 9 48005-2], Art Pepper meets The Rhythm Section [Analogue Productions CAP J 7532 SA] and Jan Garbarek/Bob Stenson Quartet's Witchi-Tai-To [ECM 1041 422 833 330-2]. I couldn't get enough of Michael Bloomfield's Essential Blues, 1964-1969 [Columbia CK 57631] while there is no getting enough of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On [Motown 3746353392] or for that matter, Willie Nelson's Teatro [Island 314-524 548-2]. And when you have lost your patience for lame audiophile recordings of female singers, may I suggest Nina Simone's two discs -- occasionally uneven but always engrossing and bittersweet -- Sugar in My Bowl?

Given its relative insensitivity, one would think that the Bravo would likely be more at home with amplifiers in the 40-watt range than when pressed into service with the SET crowd. I had representatives of both sorts on hand and was pleasantly surprised by how well the Bravo performed with the low-powered Reimyo PAT-777 amplifier. For that reason, I did almost all of my initial listening with the Bravo powered by the Reimyo's 300B tubes. Only when the Reimyo was returned to the importer did I attempt to take the measure of the Bravo when fed by a more powerful force.

Again, because the Bravo is a sealed enclosure and a coaxial design acting as a point source, it is considerably less finicky than are many other mini monitors about placement. This was a great advantage. With only the slightest loss in midrange clarity and resolution, the speaker could in fact be placed basically against the rear wall. Nor did it suffer from placement in bookshelves. Both setups allowed for some bass reinforcement at very little cost to overall resolution, clarity and transparency.

I also set the speakers up a bit away from the walls where they were equally comfortable and performed just as well. There was a small but noticeable improvement in resolution and clarity and an ever so slight reduction in bass weight and authority.

Placement flexibility is the order of the day and a welcome feature to boot. The Bravo is no doubt designed for the small listening spaces of the sort that are the norm in Japan, and placement near a rear wall is a distinct advantage. The Japanese are near-field listeners. Take a look at the following picture taken from fellow moonie Jeff Day's recent review of the Yamamoto amplifier. That is an Altec 604 compression horn driver and the listener pictured is at least six to eight feet too close to the speaker to hear what it is capable of.