Apogee Groove Headphone Amplifier/DAC
by Michael Liang
It fits in the coin pocket
If you’ve spent more than $100 on a pair of headphones, chances are you appreciate good sound quality. You don’t have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on audio equipment to achieve high fidelity sound if you use a computer music system. For $295, the Apogee Groove is a compact headphone amplifier and digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Groove is tiny. It fits in the coin pocket of my jeans! In addition to being pocket-sized, Groove is USB 2.0 bus-powered so it doesn’t need to be tethered to a wall outlet to use; enjoy great sound at home, at the local coffee shop or anywhere your heart takes you. Groove is plug-and-play with the included USB cable for Mac users. For Windows users, simply register your Groove on Apogee’s website to download the driver. As a bonus, Apogee has instructions on how to improve the sound quality of your music on Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge or S6 Edge +.
Inside the sturdy aluminum chassis is the audiophiles’ favorite ESS Sabre DAC chip capable of up to 24bit/192kHz audio. Currently exclusive to the Groove is Apogee’s Quad Sum™ DAC design which employs four digital-to-analog converters per channel (four for left, four for right) for the highest dynamic range and lowest distortion. Groove’s Constant Current Drive™ output stage provides smooth frequency response to the headphones regardless of the impedance load. For the end user, all of this translates to a pitch-black background with high dynamic range and gobs of detail in the music. Even low bit-rate streaming music services such as Music, Spotify, Pandora and 256kbp iTunes sound better with Groove. But to get the most high-fidelity sound, I recommend TIDAL with HiFi mode or CD rips to AIFF or WAV files.
Putting it through The paces
My choice is the 600 Ohm beyerdynamic T1 gen 2 headphones. And because I’m an audiophile who believes in premium cables, my Groove is equipped with an Audioquest Cinnamon micro-USB —> USB 2.0 cable attached to a MacBook Pro. The Constant Current Drive™ output stage proves to be a beast; there is plenty of power and gain to go beyond my listening comfort point without distortion. The beyerdynamic T1 gen 2 is not a bass-heavy headphone by any means, but this pairing could satisfy fans of Deadmau5. The track “Day Before We Went To War” on Dido's Girl Who Got Away album presents Groove’s wide soundstage and surprisingly good imaging for a small USB-powered DAC/amp combo. The ultra-low noise floor in Groove showed a lot of depth and detail in the music. I hear nuances in the recording typically found in higher-end desktop systems. Dido’s voice comes through smooth and intimate, yet still more prominent than the instruments. The synergy between Groove and beyerdynamic's flagship headphones proves to be exceptional.
The sound quality Apogee achieved with the Groove is nothing short of astonishing considering its size and price. From an audiophile’s perspective, Groove is an essential audio component for anyone who appreciates good sound quality at home or when traveling. If you're feeling splurgy and have the cash, there's a 30th Anniversary Edition to commemorate Apogee’s three decades of digital audio excellence. The anniversary edition features performance enhancements with slightly better specs and a custom machined aluminum body available in silver and gold.
Apogee Groove Headphone Amplifier/DAC, MSRP: $295 - $595 (30th Anniversary Edition)
Apogee Electronics Corp.
1715 Berkeley St
Santa Monica,CA 90404, USA