The price of a pair of headphones is usually dictated by various factors, including the brand, the engineering and design, the sonic tuning, and more importantly, the type of driver that powers them. While most affordable or mid-range headphones use dynamic drivers, more expensive options feature more capable technologies such as balanced armature, planar magnetic and electrostatic. The last of those usually drives the price of headphones into the range of lakhs of rupees.
This is what makes today's review product even more special. A small company by the name of Sharkk has designed its Bravo headphones with electrostatic drivers, and has priced them at the surprisingly low price of $249 (approximately Rs. 16,700). This would make the Sharkk Bravo headphones the most affordable electrostatic pair we've seen, and a great option for buyers who want a premium sound without spending too much money. Find out all about the Sharkk Bravo headphones in our review.
Sharkk Bravo design, specifications, and comfort
The first thing worth saying about the Sharkk Bravo headphones is that the sound isn't entirely electrostatically driven. These are hybrid-driver headphones, with one 4030 e-stat electrostatic and one 40mm dome-type dynamic driver in each ear casing. The lower half of the frequency range is handled by the dynamic drivers, while the upper end is taken care of by the electrostatic ones.
The headphones have a frequency response range of 6-45,000Hz, sensitivity peak level of 118db and weight of 294g. The hybrid driver technology here has been designed by Taiwan-based Verisonix, which sells its own N500 headphones for $549 (approximately Rs. 36,700), more than twice the price of the Sharkk Bravo.
Another noteworthy aspect of the Sharkk Bravo is that despite the fact that electrostatic drivers need a lot of power to be driven, these headphones don't need additional amplification and have a uncharacteristically low impedance rating of 32Ohms. While external amplification does of course impact the sound positively, there's nothing preventing you from simply plugging these headphones into your smartphone or computer and using them comfortably. This is made possible partly by good engineering and partly by the fact that the low-power dynamic drivers are doing half of the work.
Of course, the fact that you're getting all of this technology and high-end components at such a low price means that there has to be a tradeoff. The Sharkk Bravo's design can politely be termed as eccentric (but more realistically considered just plain weird). The biggest complaint we have is the liberal use of weak, poorly finished plastic on everything from the ear casings to the headband.
Although the inner frame of the headband is metal, the top is surrounded by a leather-like cover and soft padding on the underside. There are also strange leather straps at the points where the headband attaches to the ear casings, and an exposed cable that connects the two casings themselves. All of it comes together to look tacky and cheap, to say the least.
The main cable of the headphones is a standard rubber-coated affair with no in-line remote or microphone. It's fairly durable but also quite tangle-prone. While typical electrostatic headphones use a 6.3mm plug and dedicated amplification, the Sharkk Bravo headphones feature the popular 3.5mm connector and can easily be driven by most portable devices and computers. The Bravo is comfortable to use, primarily because of good earcup padding and a proper around-ear fit. Apart from a bit of heat, there was nothing preventing us from wearing the headphones for long stretches.
Sharkk Bravo performance
We tested the Sharkk Bravo headphones with our OnePlus 3 (Review), along with a Windows PC with a Chord Mojo DAC. Focus tracks for the review were Gotye's State Of The Art, Royksopp's Remind Me, and Leon Vynehall's Butterflies.
Kicking things off with State Of The Art, we immediately noticed a sonic signature that is typical of hybrid headphones, where there is a distinct sense of separation because different drivers are powering different frequency ranges. The low-end, delivered by the dynamic-drivers, is powerful and full of attack. However, since the electrostatic drivers handle frequencies in the upper half, the lows aren't overpowering at all. The mids and highs feel as strong and defined as the sub-bass. On the whole, frequency response is uniform across the range and the sound feels powerful and well-defined.
With Remind Me, the qualities of the electrostatic drivers were better highlighted. The sound is clean, supremely well-defined and incredibly balanced. Tonal quality is excellent, with the Bravo headset presenting sound with admirable crispness and sharpness. Additionally, sonic separation is fantastic as well, allowing you to perceive individual elements without losing track of others. All of this is predominantly audible within the upper-range of frequencies, and is certainly helped by the headset's ability to achieve a frequency response of up to 45,000Hz.
Moving on to the deep house track Butterflies, we found that the sound felt a bit closed and lacking in width. The sound stage isn't quite as wide as we would have liked, with the focus of the Bravo being on tone and attack rather than openness. This does make the headphones sound a bit 'canned', and the sound doesn't progress far beyond the point of decent stereo separation.
The Sharkk Bravo is an admirable pair of headphones, because of the fact that it brings otherwise-expensive technology to users at a very reasonable price. Despite the questionable design and build quality, these headphones are technically superior to most of the others that you will be able to buy at this price.
On the whole, the sound is good and the benefits of using electrostatic drivers are audible, but these headphones don't really come close to what even a decent entry-level pair of planar magnetic headphones such as the HiFiMan HE400S can achieve. Of course those come at a higher price. A narrow sound stage might be bothersome to some listeners, but superior tonal performance and a balanced, yet attacking approach to the sound makes the Sharkk Bravo well worth an audition.
Price (online): $249 (approximately Rs. 16,700)
Ratings (Out of 5)