oBravo Cupid Review – Reinvention
Outstanding build quality and ergonomics, Excellent noise isolation, Outstanding detail retrieval, Great low-end performance
Thin, strained midrange, Long proprietary cable connectors, Unconventional imaging, Track dependent staging
The Cupid makes for a highly engaging listen and a truly unique package that’s easily worth more than oBravo’s RRP.
Most will surely be familiar with oBravo, a Taiwanese audio manufacturer who specialises in air-motion transformer (AMT) and planar magnetic drivers (PMD) and whose earphones have been known to stretch into the 5-digit price range. There’s a reason for this, these driver types are immensely difficult to miniaturise and oBravo design and build their driver’s in-house using a patented process. It’s been almost a decade since their first fully formed model was released onto the market and now, we’re seeing that cutting-edge technology filter down to a substantially more attainable price range. Enter the Cupid, a hybrid earphone sporting a custom dynamic driver + planar magnetic tweeter configuration that comes in at a very reasonable £249 asking price. With such a name and legacy, the Cupid competes viciously in one of the most competitive price brackets in the IEM market. You can read more about oBravo and peruse their line-up here and treat yourself to a Cupid here.
I would like to thank Danny from oBravo very much for his quick communication and for providing me with the Cupid for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the earphones free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
Tech Specs –
Technology: Dynamic, Planar Tweeter
Colour: Black Gold
Audio Range: 20Hz~40KHz
The Pitch –
DD + PMT with Physical Crossover
The Cupid is a very unique hybrid-driver earphone combining a 6mm dynamic driver (DD) woofer with a 9mm planar magnetic tweeter (PMT). Furthermore, where the vast majority of designs employ circuitry to designate each driver with a frequency range, the Cupid rather utilises acoustics. Usually, this is in the form of a low-pass filter on the DD and maybe a high-pass on the PMT though I would be unable to say as there are no further details on oBravo’s website. Physical cross overs are much harder to tune but can create a more coherent sound with better phase alignment.
For those unfamiliar with the technology, standard dynamic drivers have a diaphragm that pushes air driven by a small central voice coil. Planar magnetic drivers, on the other hand, employ a conductive trace that covers a much larger surface area of the diaphragm. The benefit to this design is that force is exerted equally across the entire surface which means you can employ a lighter, quicker accelerating/decelerating diaphragm material.
It also means that at high frequencies PMD’s experience less modal breakup due to the uniform application of force, hence, they provide better extension and lower distortion. Planars are often lauded for their powerful bass response, able to move more air with their larger driven surface. However, as oBravo are working within the limitations of a minute housing, they have instead decided to capitalise on their low-distortion nature to deliver an insightful top-end.
The Cupid comes in clean and space-efficient packaging. Inside the hard box is a foam inlet containing 3 sealed bags of Comply foam tips of varying size alongside a soft pouch with individual compartments for each earpiece to prevent scratches. An adjacent cut-out houses 3 sizes of whirlwind tips and the Cupids themselves. The whirlwind tips are quite intriguing, with reinforced ridging beneath the mushroom tip that provides a stronger seal when inserted deeper in the ear.
A pull-tab provides easy access to a lower compartment containing the 2.5mm balanced cable and Velcro strap. There are actually 3 variants of the Cupid, standard containing just the aforementioned accessories, the prime version including a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adapter and ultimate version that contains an additional 4.4mm Pentaconn adapter on top. The adapters are very nicely constructed and have a similar build to the cable’s plug, providing a congruent aesthetic.
Fundamentally, the Cupid assumes a pod-like over-ear design reminiscent of Shure’s highly acclaimed housings along with all their benefits. That said, where a basic acrylic complexion was to be found there, a defining feature of the Cupid is its dense and lustrous electroplated brass construction that exudes a very premium aura. These earphones are a spectacle; smoothly formed and immaculately finished, creating a play of light and shadow that’s certainly very difficult to capture on camera. Meanwhile, as they’re quite compact and produce a tremendously strong seal, the Cupid’s weight doesn’t feel burdensome in the ear while its density feels thoroughly convincing in the hand. The construction quality certainly belies their asking price.
Rather controversially, oBravo have chosen to implement keyed MMCX connectors. The key prevents swivelling and offers some additional reinforcement, however, those wanting to change the cable will have to modify the plug themselves which will naturally void all manufacturer support. The plugs are also ridiculously long which can cause them to rub on the temples, however, I didn’t experience this issue personally. Still, the cable itself provides a similar impression of quality as the earphones. It’s a 4-wire braided unit with OCC conductors in a Litz geometry. The connectors are metal and the jack reminiscent of Ranko plugs.
Fit & Isolation –
The Cupid is one of the best fitting earphones I’ve tested, compact, low-profile and with a very strong seal. Due to their size, they don’t contact any part of my average-sized outer ears, thereby forming no hotspots over time. As they are very slim and lie flush with the outer ear, they would also be a good choice for side-sleepers so long as the longer MMCX connectors don’t cause discomfort for the listener’s ears. I could spot no obvious vents which reinforces their excellent seal and passive noise isolation.
With foam tips especially, the Cupid would be perfect for frequent travellers and commuters. The upside to this is also their use of a dynamic driver, most of which are vented. The Cupid is an oddity in that it provides a rare combination of full, punchy and extended bass alongside excellent isolation and seal. I found the included whirlwind tips an excellent complement to their design in both sound and seal.
Testing Methodology: Arta via IEC 711 coupler to Startech external sound card. Note that 7-9KHz peaks are artefacts of my measurement setup. I also did not hear the channel imbalance in that region in subjective listening. Take this graph with a grain of salt. Measurements besides channel balance are volume matched at 1K.
Every now and then an earphone arrives that challenges my ability to analyse sound and the Cupid is such a model. Fundamentally, this earphone is highly engaging, with a naturally voiced albeit thin, vivid and highly revealing voicing. Technicalities are excellent for the price, no question, and this is brought to the fore through its W-shaped tuning that emphasizes the sub-bass, upper-midrange and middle-treble. As many others have mentioned, the Cupid is such a curious mix of qualities that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in addition to a great technical achievement. What it isn’t is balanced, linear or orthodox in tuning or staging.
Of note, the design of the Cupid makes it quite flexible in terms of fit. As aforementioned, the sound is tip sensitive, however, the stock whirlwind tips are an excellent companion. Should the user want a slightly tighter low-end, they can upsize and push the tips down so the grill of the nozzle is flush with the tip’s surface. This should also shift the high-frequency peaks slightly higher, but I found it a tad bright and fatiguing. My preferred pairing were the medium tips installed standardly on the lip of the nozzle which provided a bit more body to the sound while tapering off the high-end slightly. I also found the angle of the housings to affect the sound quite noticeably, perhaps due to the nature of the PMT. Pushing the housings deeper and angling the housings back provided slightly more coherent imaging to my ears.
Weighty, articulate and with solid pressure in the sub-bass, the Cupid’s low-end has excellent extension and technical qualities. It has moderate emphasis, but not too much in the mid-bass so it isn’t ever-present and overbearing. The tonality is pleasing, with emphasis centred mostly around the sub-bass while refraining from over-extending into muddiness, only enough to provide affirming note fullness. The mid-bass is mildly enhanced, retaining a natural, albeit enlarged bass note presentation. Meanwhile, the upper-bass falls off smoothly into the lower-midrange in order to prevent excessive warmth. The result is a sound that is full with great kick and slam, carrying what I consider to be natural warmth but also minimal tubbiness.
Bloat and muddiness are also kept well at bay by excellent driver control delivering a tight sub-bass and concise, punchy mid-bass. This was most apparent to me when listening to David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” where the rapid drums around 55s can become confused on slower drivers. It was apparent here, that both attack and decay are quick for a dynamic driver. You don’t get thick, lingering notes, but a tactful and pacey presentation with great definition, texture and kick. The low-end on the Cupid is very dynamic and its emphasized quantity will cater more towards those wanting engagement over perfect balance and linearity. Still, the Cupid will lure in unsuspecting audiophiles and captivate not with huge presence but moderate enhancement and outstanding technicalities.
I will admit that personally, I am most sensitive to midrange timbre, which will be informed in part by the bass and treble but ultimately must strike some sort of balance throughout. The Cupid is evidently not balanced in any region, but overall, its vocals aren’t too wonky either. What immediately stands out is a lack of any warmth and diminished midrange body. There’s little upper-bass warmth and a large dip in the lower-midrange before rapidly increasing emphasis to an upper-midrange hump. As such, vocals are brought to the fore but distinctly lack power and density. Nonetheless, they also avoid the fallibilities of most clarity-focussed earphones. They aren’t too intimate for instance, and vocals don’t strike as over-forward nor strident even if they can come across as strained at times.
Evidently, this is not a presentation for those valuing a natural timbre or rich, organic instrumentation. Rather, the Cupid excels with clarity and definition, providing a revealing, delicate and open soundscape. There’s no veil, warmth or density to mire that crystal-clear image while sibilance is a non-issue with sharp 6KHz attenuation providing a very smooth articulation that takes the edge off the Cupid’s clear yet thin vocals. Altogether this weaves a presentation that is highly defined and hyper separated but without stridence or a metallic timbre. To reiterate, the Cupid isn’t especially natural and isn’t precise in its reproduction of albums with differing mastering style, but it never comes across as explicitly wonky either. This is a vivid and engaging presentation first and foremost.
The top-end offers a split-character, organic and smooth in the foreground but crisp higher up, all the while upholding excellent clarity, technical qualities and separation throughout. It’s a brighter earphone so those averse to sharpness and crisp instrumentation head warning. It begins with a sharply attenuated lower-treble that saps percussion of any harsh, hard-edged quality before twin peaks in the middle and upper-treble. This grants treble pristine clarity but also results in a thinner instrument body. Higher instruments such as high hats are brought to the fore as are background and micro-details. The foreground, meanwhile, is slightly more laid-back, however, as the PMT provides a very precise attack and concise transient response, the Cupid has fantastic detail retrieval throughout the entire top end; if also further exacerbating the thin character of its presentation.
The tuning is undoubtedly unorthodox, with a bright background and abundant air rather than being aggressive in the foreground. There’s a touch of glare and grain in the background on some tracks that prevents the Cupid from achieving the immaculate, clean and effortless sense of distance rendered by higher-end earphones. Still, there’s excellent extension at play here alongside great resolution. Energy is abundant and there’s even a pleasing amount of sparkle. The Cupid is aggressive and easily one of the most detailed in its price class; it’s certainly very engaging and sheds light on little details that earphones around this price rarely do, if ever. However, in so doing, it also has less focussed and stable imaging than earphones with more orthodox tuning.
Surely one of the most unique characteristics of this earphone as it is especially track dependent but technically very proficient. In terms of dimensions, the earphone can cast deep and wide, well outside the head in all axis. However, it doesn’t always create such a grand presentation as on some tracks, the background becomes more intimate due to its brightness, creating a more closed in presentation. Depth is always excellent, but not too distant so vocals remain defined and focused. Imaging, however. is a mixed bag.
There’s a sort of dead zone in the middle, vocals are well centred but panning and directional cues only occur to the sides. As transients are clean and sharp, the presentation is almost holographic, but instrument positioning also isn’t quite as precise and organised as one would expect. Additionally, the midrange is highly layered, however, the top end isn’t as the background and foreground lack contrast which can overshadow some fine details. The same can be said for separation which is excellent through the bass and midrange but reduced in the treble due to the lack of contrast and touches of glare that creep in every now and then.
The Cupid has a 16-ohm impedance paired with a higher 105dB sensitivity. I found it required a little more volume than most earphones but it’s easy to drive to high volumes overall. That said, you will want to drive the Cupid from a low impedance source. For instance, comparing between the 1-ohm Shanling M2X and 10-ohm Hiby R6 yielded a slower low-end and the high-end almost disappeared entirely. This smoother sound may suit some listeners, however, so those curious will want to experiment with low-value impedance adapters. Otherwise, the Cupid loves a clean and powerful source, scaling very well. Power is most notable with regards to the bass which gained control on my desktop setup. Meanwhile, the tweeter is a bit more sensitive to hiss, though I didn’t have issue with any of my modern sources.
Final Audio E5000 ($279): The E5000 is a warmer, smoother earphone. It is noticeably more bass biased, there’s slightly less sub-bass quantity but similarly strong extension. The E5000 has more mid-bass, making it warmer where the Cupid is cleaner but also a touch less linear. Both have excellent control and definition, the Cupid being more agile, the E5000 more natural in decay and voicing. The E5000 has a much fuller and more organic midrange, the Cupid is thinner and more neutral in tone but both are quite smooth up top.
The E5000 has more laid-back vocals while the Cupid is more forward. The E5000 is denser while the Cupid is more open, defined and revealing. The Cupid has a much more aggressive top-end with sharper transients and more detail retrieval throughout. It also isn’t as clean or organised, the E5000 possessing a darker background and more defined layers. Both have excellent soundstage expansion, the Cupid has sharper imaging while the E5000 has more realistic positioning.
Campfire Audio IO ($299): The IO is a more neutral sound overall but possesses a similarly vocal forward character. It has substantially less sub-bass extension but also a similar amount of bass overall, focussing more on the mid and upper-bass instead. As such, the IO is warmer and actually a touch fuller while the Cupid has more weight, rumble and power. The IO has that typical sharper, quicker decaying BA bass where the Cupid decays more naturally delivering more texture and greater dynamics overall. The IO shares a similar midrange presentation too. As its centre midrange is more forward, it is a touch more vocal forward and has more warmth too.
However, it is similarly thin and a bit strained, neither specialising in perfect timbre. Both cater towards high vocal clarity, extension and definition instead. Within the high-end, the IO has a more focussed foreground and a slightly warmer tone while the Cupid has sharper transients with thinner instrumentation but also more resolution and extension. Neither have an especially clean background, but the Cupid has a much larger soundstage, the IO being quite intimate. The IO has slightly more stable imaging while the Cupid has sharper cues and is more holographic.
Periodic Audio Be ($299): Of note, comparison will be to a modded Be (detailed here) which has a more balanced sound than stock. The Be has a more linear low-end with light mid-bass warmth. The Cupid has more sub-bass bias and a bit more extension, delivering a thicker note but also less warmth, it delivers more power while the Be is more natural. Both have similar driver control, the Be has more natural decay and a smoother texture while the Cupid is tighter and quicker decaying, delivering more definition and slightly higher dynamics. The Be is much more linear through the midrange with a very accurate timbre. It’s warmer and fuller but still sufficiently clear. It’s also smoothly articulated and denser, overall, vocals are just as present but larger and more powerful with more life-like representation.
The Cupid has higher clarity and extension, it is more revealing with greater definition and separation. The Cupid has a more aggressive top-end, the Be is smoother in note attack with less concise transients. The Cupid is more detailed too with much better extension and higher resolution, clearly the more resolving top-end. The Be has a warmer treble and more body, slightly more texture in the foreground. It has a cleaner, darker background generating more stable imaging with more defined layers. Meanwhile, the Cupid has a larger soundstage with sharper imaging and higher separation through the bass and midrange especially.
Oriveti OH300($299): Also a W-shaped IEM but substantially smoother in its tuning. Both sport a sub-bass focus paired with a reasonably linear mid-bass and recessed upper-bass for a full yet clean low-end presentation. The Oriveti sounds a bit bassier as its top-end is less forward. The Cupid has slightly higher driver control and quicker decay where the OH300 is a touch smoother and more naturally decaying but also less defined. The OH300 has a slightly more forward vocal range as its emphasis centres mostly around the centre midrange.
It has more lower-midrange quantity with greater body albeit neither are warm in tone, being neutral and clean. The Cupid has higher definition and clarity with more extension, however the OH300 is hardly lacking here, and is noticeably more natural. Both are very smoothly articulated and laid-back in the lower-treble. The Cupid is clearly more detailed in the treble with better extension and micro-detail retrieval. Meanwhile, the OH300 has a much darker, cleaner background so it is a lot more composed, lacking the glare and thin instrument body of the Cupid. The Cupid has a larger soundstage and sharper imaging while the OH300 is more stable and realistic in its positioning with slightly better separation.
Acoustune HS1503AL (~$400): A similar style of sound from a single DD earphone with similar focus on acoustic design. The HS1503AL has a warmer low-end with more linear wide-band emphasis through the low-end, the Cupid being more sub-bass focused. The low-end on the Acoustune is slightly more natural in voicing, driver control is slightly higher on the Acoustune and decay is slightly more natural, it is more dynamic while the Cupid is a touch cleaner and quicker but also with less resolution. The midrange presentation is very similar, the Acoustune has more warmth and body from its low-end and a bit more density in the upper-midrange sounding more orthodox. The Cupid is thinner and more neutrally toned.
It has better extension and sounds slightly more open where the Acoustune sounds more natural while upholding very high clarity and definition. The HS1503AL has a more aggressive foreground and also sports a small middle-treble bump but is much cleaner in the background overall. It has more instrument body and sounds more focussed with better contrast and foreground detail retrieval. The Cupid meanwhile has more sparkle and air but is also a lot thinner, it has slightly better extension and a larger soundstage overall. The Acoustune has more stable imaging representing a more orthodox version of the Cupid’s tuning but also lacking the transient qualities of its PMT.
When you’ve been reviewing audio gear for half a decade you’re never really surprised. Over the years, portable audio has seen maturation not dissimilar to the smartphone industry. There’s no weird and wonderful proof of concepts, it’s been done and now refined, creating a spectrum of what is simply… good, sometimes great. The Cupid is such a surprising rarity, and it sounds different to just about everything else. And yet somehow, it works. Sure, it represents one of oBravo’s most affordable models but it still lies in a price range littered with models punching above their weight. Yet even here, the Cupid is a technical achievement, it is very, very detailed for its asking price and the quality of the low-end is superb; the overall listen, in turn, immensely fun and engaging. Imaging is sharp and holographic but with odd placement. Its design is also unique as you basically never see dynamic driver earphones with a sealed housing, yet alone one this deep-reaching and impactful. If you don’t mind a thin midrange, brighter background and odd cable connectors, the Cupid makes for a highly engaging listen and a truly unique package that’s easily worth more than oBravo’s RRP.
The Cupid is available from on Audio Concierge (International) for £249.00 at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with oBravo or Audio Concierge and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Adam Neely – thank u, next
David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust
Dire Straits – Communique
Eagles – Hell Freezes Over
Joji – Gimme Love
Lauv – I met you when I was 18
Rich Brian – The Sailor
TALA – boy
The Beach Boys – Surfer Girl
The Weeknd – After Hours
Toploader – A Walk To Remember Music
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