David Teng is the founder of oBravo, a Taiwanese manufacturer specializing in high-end, high-performance headphones and earphones. OBravo’s initial development efforts centered on full-size headphones, such as the hybrid AMT/dynamic driver HAMT-1 reviewed by our sister publication Hi-Fi+. Later, oBravo branched out to design ultra-high performance hybrid earphones that sounded terrific, but also were typically quite expensive.
Most oBravo headphones and earphones use hybrid driver arrays, deftly combining dynamic mid/bass drivers with exotic planar-magnetic, ribbon, or air-motion transformer (AMT) tweeters. The three common threads we have observed in oBravo products to date have been an emphasis on refined and very revealing sound quality, expertly crafted hybrid driver arrays, and relatively high selling prices. However, at Munich High-End 2019 oBravo surprised us with a highly disruptive new product.
At Munich, David Teng greeted me and said, “I’ve got a new hybrid earphone I want you to hear.” The earphone was called the Cupid and it was beautifully made, surprisingly small, and sounded so good that I felt sure it would be expensive. But I was wrong about that. When I asked the projected price of the Cupids, Teng replied with practiced nonchalance, “Oh, about $269.” I could scarcely believe my ears, partly because the Cupid sounded competitive with earphones carrying four-figure price tags, and partly because it was one of the least expensive earphones oBravo ever offered.
The Cupid use compact lozenge-shaped earpieces made of mirror-polished brass treated to an electroplated “black gold” finish. The driver complement consists of a 6mm dynamic mid/bass driver with neodymium motor magnets and a 8mm second-generation planar-magnetic tweeter. Signal connections are via enhanced oB-MMCX connectors. A 1.2m balanced signal cable with silver-plated OCC conductors and a 2.5mm balanced plug come standard, along with a 3.5mm mini-plug adapter. Also included are three pairs each of silicone and Comply Foam ear- tips, a small two-chamber carry bag designed to keep the earpieces from chafing one another, and an oBravo cable tie-down strip. This configuration, called the Cupid Prime, sells for $269.
I tried the Cupids with an Astell&Kern SP1000M DAP loaded with CD-quality or better music files and with the Tidal app. I also ran the earphones with an iPad Air and a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 smartphone. I soon discovered the easy-to-drive Cupids performed surprisingly well with my tablet and smartphone, though they were sufficiently revealing to underscore the substantial qualitative differences between those devices versus the much higher performance Astell&Kern DAP.
Next, I found the Cupids offered all the core elements of the oBravo “house sound”—namely, neutral and smooth top-to-bottom tonal balance, exquisite and seamless integration between their dynamic and planar-magnetic drivers, expressive dynamics, and a very fine degree of resolution. If you were wondering if the Cupid is a “real” oBravo, the emphatic answer is: “Yes!”
Two tracks will help illustrate the qualities that make the Cupids so special. The first is “Charlie Foxtrot” from The Souljazz Orchestra’s Chaos Theories [Strut Records, 16/44.1]. The song is chockfull of incisive, intensely syncopated piano, percussion, trumpet, and saxophone lines, and the Cupids conveyed the instruments’ timbres and dynamics with terrific energy and clarity. Each instrumental voice sounded pure and completely distinct from the others.
The second is “My Friend the Forest” from Nils Frahm’s All Melody [Erased Tapes, 16/44.1], where the Cupid’s not only captured the sweet, pensive tonality of Frahm’s piano, but also brilliantly rendered all the small micro-details that conveyed the action of the piano and the reverberant characteristics of the recording space.
Frankly, $269 earphones aren’t normally expected to do such things so well, but somehow the Cupids pulled them off. If you want a substantial taste of what serious high-end earphones are all about, without putting your budget in distress, look no further than oBravo’s Cupids. At their asking price they are not just a bargain, but a musical gift.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Hybrid planar-magnetic/dynamic universal-fit earphone
Driver complement: 6mm dynamic mid/bass driver, 8mm planar-magnetic tweeter
Frequency response: 20Hz – 40kHz
Impedance: 16 ohms
Weight: Not specified