Crowdfunding has been both awesome and disruptive. Neil Young’s Pono hi-res music player ranks among the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of all time. There are lots of successfully funded audio projects out there—including Sharkk's Bravo hybrid electrostatic headphones, which have raised more than 200 percent of its funding goal with just a few days left in its campaign.
The company sent a prototype for us to evaluate. Since the final product isn't expected to ship until sometime in October, consider this a hands-on preview.
Under the hood
One of the main marketing points of the Bravo is its hybrid electrostatic technology. In a hybrid design (like MartinLogan’s electrostatic tower speakers) the lower frequency range is handled by a traditional dynamic driver and the mid-range and upper frequencies are produced by electrostatic drivers. Typical electrostatic drivers are made of a thin diaphragm that’s electrically charged. The diaphragm is normally suspended between two perforated plates, and an electrical signal is then passed through the plates to move the diaphragm in a push-pull manner towards one of them.
This driver technology requires more power than a conventional driver, so most electrostatic headphones have been relatively expensive, and some have required a dedicated headphone amplifier to drive them. The Bravo's early-bird price of $199, its lightweight design, and the fact that it can be driven with just a smartphone are three of its biggest selling points.
The Bravo headphones weigh in at a relatively light 10.3 ounces and claim frequency response of 6Hz to 45,000 KHz with an impedance of 32 Ohms. My real-world testing confirmed that these headphones can be driven with incredible ease. Forget about what you might have heard about electrostatic headphones requiring a dedicated headphone amp. Sharkk says its Bravo headphones require just 0.1 volts of electricity to drive the electrostatic effect. Indeed, I was able to power the Bravo headphones with ease using just a mobile phone or a laptop computer.
Sharkk Bravo headphone diagram.
Build quality that’s skin deep
The Bravo’s build quality is on par with what I’ve seen from comparably priced competitors: The exposed parts of the headphone are mostly plastic, the ear cups are held into place with plastic arms, and the ear cup backs appear to be plastic as well. The difference between the Bravo and the competition is that some competitors do a better job of making the plastic look like a premium metal. For example, while Sony’s MDR-1A is similarly built, the Sony’s plastic housings, finish, and attention to detail make that headphone's trim look like metal. To put it another way, the Bravo doesn’t hide its wrinkles well.
The Bravo’s looks will be a matter of personal style and preference. The headband makes a statement with its pronounced red stitching contrasted with the black imitation leather. Ear cups are made of leather and are given a somewhat generous cushion. Thankfully, they are not anywhere near as shallow as the aforementioned Sony MDR-1As, where your ear has a tendency to touch the driver’s plastic cover.
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