A few basic facts about electrostatic headphones: they're universally admired for having the best sound quality, they cost a lot, and they typically require big powered amplifiers that also cost a ton. Basically, they're sinfully impractical, but just like any sin, they're super pleasurable, too. Having that as your established baseline, what if I told you a new Indiegogo campaign is promising to slash the price from many thousands to a couple of hundred dollars?
The Bravo headphones, which I've been able to test over the past couple of weeks, are presented as the world's first hybrid electrostatic-dynamic headphones, which is to say they have an electrostatic membrane to handle the higher frequencies and a regular 40mm dynamic driver for bass and lower mids. They cost $199 for early backers or $249 at retail in October. Besides their lofty claims, the most peculiar thing about them is that the product and company seem totally mismatched. The maker, Sharkk, spends its time selling copycat Jamboxes on Amazon, and it manages to squeeze typos into both the Indiegogo promo page and the pre-release packaging of the Bravo. But the headphones themselves? They're super light, wonderfully comfortable, and don't sound bad at all!
I unraveled this mini-mystery by looking up the Hybrid Electrostatz tech used within the Bravo, which turns out to have been designed by a whole other company, the Taiwanese Verisonix, and is also being resold by the London-based Mitchell & Johnson. So you don't have to worry about Sharkk being as sloppy with its engineering as it is with its marketing — the company is simply rebadging and recasing an established bit of technology. And honestly, Sharkk deserves some credit for the design of the Bravo, which has a rather unique look, two sets of extremely comfortable ear pads, a very flexible headband, and reasonably compact dimensions for the tech it contains. It's almost all plastic, but it's well done.
The sound of the Bravo headphones is, of course, nowhere near the quality you'd get from a proper set of electrostatic cans, but neither is its price. For $249, these headphones have the performance to justify some consideration, offering a pleasing tonal balance and a neat, forward presentation that never grows sharp or fatiguing. I'm especially fond of the lightness of these cans, which makes them so much more practical and usable on a daily basis.
My red flags about this Indiegogo campaign are not immaterial: from the "lighting fast" typos to the nonsensical claims of "10x" better sound, this is another of those exhaustingly hyperbolic campaigns that make people roll their eyes. But the product itself, even though it might not be as original as it claims to be, is honestly quite good. And in the end, that's what really matters. If your budget doesn't stretch quite as far as the excellent Beoplay H6s, these could be an intriguing alternative.
Correction: The developer of the Hybrid Electrostatz technology is Verisonix and not Mitchell & Johnson, as originally stated. We regret the error.