And what did you hear? Sound and Presentation:
Many of the sonic attributes of the Bravo were consistent whether 8, 35 or 40 watts were driving the speaker. The most endearing feature of the Bravo is its utterly effortless and natural way with vocals -- both male and female -- and string tone. Its most surprising feature is its dynamic life and energy. Its most valuable asset is its remarkable top-to-bottom coherence. There is no discernible midbass bump that is a frequent feature of mini monitors dating back at least to the BBC LS3/5a design. Nor is the Bravo hampered by the all too familiar spot light on high frequency information that is a familiar way of making a mini monitor seem larger than it really is.

Instead, the Bravo relies on the coaxial design to produce both its extraordinary top-to-bottom coherence and its unusually deep and big soundstage. If you close your eyes while listening to the Bravo (and its captivating nature invites you to do just that), you can trick yourself into believing that you are listening to a modestly sized floorstander. Do not be misled by the size of the speaker. Size in this case works to its advantage in terms of placement and aesthetic. On the other hand, the size is much less a limitation on what the speaker is capable of than you might otherwise suspect.

This is an incredibly honest speaker as well. Part of its success is that it does not try to do too much, satisfied to do what it does extremely well, and within that context, largely without compromise. There are compromises to be sure; it could not be otherwise. There is virtually no real bass below
50Hz and roll-off is noticeable somewhat above that. Nor is there apparent high-frequency information in the stratosphere that is the domain of an increasing number of newer wide bandwidth designs. But this is clearly a matter of design and comes across as being just the right kind of compromise in a speaker of this sort and with these dimensions.

Nor is the Bravo a modern high-resolution design. In this regard, it reminds me most of the Magneplanar 3.6R speaker. Like the large planar, the Bravo doesn't present all the information, just all the information that is necessary to convey the musical message. A good contrast would be some of the very best full-range single driver speakers like the Beauhorn or Lamhorn 1.8. There are times when such designs present the music as if through a microscope. Such presentations can be very seductive and involving, but in a completely different way. In some of those cases, there is work to be done in listening to music. Listening is an activity. To make the most of what you are hearing you have to play an interpretive role. Speakers like the Beauhorn, Lamhorn and their ilk present the listener with all the pieces, leaving it to the listener to make it cohere into a single musical picture.

Not so the Bravo. Listening is relaxing, joyful and anything but work. The Bravo speaker is simply wonderful at communicating the emotional content of music – whatever the amplifier. If anything, the Bravo resists the temptation to pull the whole apart into its component parts.

This is the way the Bravo presented itself whether driven by 8 watts or 40. On the other hand, the Bravo came even more alive with the latter amplifier. My EL-34 amps are outfitted with older Mullards and give up very little if anything in the midrange to the Reimyo 300B amp. What the amp added was midbass and lower midrange drive that really enhanced the performance of the Bravo speaker on everything from the hard-driving blues of Electric Flag's rendition of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" to Brad Mehldau Trio's performance of Mack Gordon/Harry Warren's "The More I See You".

If the Bravo surprises with its ability to fill a reasonably sized space with low-powered tube amplifiers, it will downright stun you with its dynamics and ability to charge the very same room with arguably more suitable amplifiers. I would encourage you to listen to the Bravo with mid-powered push-pull amps. I have a preference for EL34 tubes at 40 watts or so, but you might also find a bit less powerful amplifiers with EL-84 tubes or 6L6 tubes equally well suited to the Bravo.

Like all of Mr. Kiuchi's designs, the cabinet is tuned and voiced. The voicing is on the tonally warm side. The Bravo, therefore, is also a good match for mid-power solid-state amplifiers. I have heard it perform well, if a bit less gloriously, with solid-state integrated amplifiers but not in my home and not long term.

Subwoofer anyone?
The Bravo may scream "subwoofer" to many listeners, but I never felt moved to try a subwoofer with it - for two reasons. First, while you would have to be deaf not to realize that there was low frequency information the speaker simply does not reproduce, I never missed it. I noticed the incompleteness, but then again, I didn't experience the incompleteness as a loss.

In my experience, missing pieces are more or less important depending on the overall presentation. Many back-loaded full-range drivers begin to roll off right around where the Bravo does and they are even less extended in the upper frequencies. Unlike the Bravo, I find them unlistenable over the long term – and not just because of the ubiquitous peak in the presence region. AER drivers, for example, have very little peak and even a standard Lowther driver in a Beauhorn enclosure has little of the nasties associated with less refined or successful designs. Whatever the explanation, without the weight and authority these speakers sound not only lightweight but also unbalanced.

Not so the Bravo. With a comparable frequency range, the Bravo sound fully balanced and anything but lightweight. Some of this no doubt has to do with Mr. Kiuchi's tuning and voicing. Like so much of what Mr. Kiuchi does, the Bravo is all about balance, beauty and communicating the emotional content of music. Nothing that the Bravos fail to reproduce seems in the slightest to diminish their ability to achieve their musical ambitions. Adding a sub for the sake of doing would surely add something, but would it be anything that mattered at the end of the day? I just wasn't sure. Certainly, I never felt the need to find out.

Second, even if there were benefits to be had by adding a sub, it is not simply a matter of trying to integrate an off-the-shelf unit. Integrating a sub with a main system or a satellite system is easier now than it has ever been. But integration is not the full story. The Bravo as is speaks with one voice. A sub would make sense only if it spoke with the same voice.

Apparently, Mr. Kiuchi agrees for over the past couple of years, he has been developing what he calls the B-bass. The B-bass serves both as a stand for the Bravo and as a way of extending its reach into the lower registers - not into the subterranean ones, however. And that's just as it should be. The key is to augment the bottom end playback without darkening the overall tonal balance. The B-bass was on display at the Home Entertainment Show in New York City in May [above]. Though still a prototype, it was as beautiful to behold as is the Bravo itself. I thought the sound at the Show was very good, but word got back to me that Mr. Kiuchi felt more work needed to be done. The man is a perfectionist.

When the B-bass is complete, the Bravo will be transformable into one very fine near full-range loudspeaker. Right now it is a terrific mini monitor. Indeed, I may well prefer it as is. It is not inexpensive at its retail price of $4K and closer actually to $5K when you add good stands. But it is so tonally well balanced, so versatile; so easy to listen to and to be engaged with; so capable of communicating the musical message that one could make a strong case for it. If you want a speaker for listening to music for absolute pleasure rather than for investigation, you would have to go to the more exotic side of the Sonus Faber line to find a competitor. And the Sonus Faber speaker is not likely to be as tube-friendly.

On the other hand, if you add the B-bass, it is questionable whether the speaker you have will surpass the Sonus Faber Cremona for example in any other dimension but price. This is not a criticism of the Combak project; rather, it is a brief for keeping the Bravo just the way it is. It's not just lovely and lovable. One would be hard pressed to find a speaker that equals its audiophile virtues (e.g. its soundstaging) while also offering anything like its level of performance in non-audiophile terms (versatility of placement and capacity to communicate).

There are of course lots of very good speakers at this price point and below, but few of them will have a way with music as the Bravo does. Fewer still will look as good; and precious few will beg to be played hours on end the way the Bravo does.

In a word, "Bravo" indeed - highly recommended for anyone who wants to get off the merry-go-round and simply enjoy the music. I would hope that includes most of us - at least the sane ones among us. There are rare moments when it may even include me...
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