- Discreet design and premium build
- Punchy, natural sound with good bass weight
- Smooth tone and good overall balance
- Light on features and sound tweaks
- Review Price: £299.00
- Supports up to 192kHz/24-bit audio
- ESS Sabre DACs in Quad Sum DAC design
- Constant Current Drive output stage
- Micro-USB charging port
- Aluminium bodywork
What is the Apogee Groove?
Groove is a portable USB DAC and headphone amplifier that promises a step up in sound quality over your PC or Mac’s built-in DAC. Apogee’s products are used in recording studios around the world and that same technology has filtered down to Groove, giving both casual listeners and laptop musicians high-quality audio wherever they go.
Related: Best USB Headphone Amps 2017
Apogee Groove – Design and Connections
Groove is a remarkably simple device but a very well made one. The black aluminium casing feels strong and robust, as do the chunky rubber volume buttons on top. It has a premium feel, which is an impressive feat for such a small device.
And when I say small, I mean it. It measures 95mm by 30mm and weighs just 9g – it will nestle next your laptop on a train table without knocking over anyone’s coffee. A rubber pad on the bottom stops it slipping about and it fits easily into a bag or pocket when not in use.
There are just two ports – 3.5mm output and micro-USB B. The former connects to your headphones, while the latter links to your PC using the supplied cable; it also powers the device. Mac users can just plug in and get cracking, but PC users need to install driver software from Apogee’s website and select Groove as the output device.
A column of three LEDs on the front lights up green to indicate the playback level of the incoming signal, but switches to blue when adjusting the volume. If the top light turns red as it plays, you’ll need to turn down the volume in the music player to stop it clipping. A single blue light glows when it’s connected, but not receiving a signal.
Apogee Groove – Features
Inside Groove is a unique Quad Sum DAC design that uses four ESS Sabre DACs per channel, delivering up to 192kHz/24-bit audio with the highest dynamic range and lowest distortion.
Groove also uses a Constant Current Drive output stage that dynamically compensates for the non-linearities of any connected headphones – be they acoustic, mechanical or electrical. The result is lower distortion and a more linear frequency response.
Apogee Groove – Performance
With the Groove connected to a Samsung laptop at one end and Audio Technica cans at the other, I raided the music library and ended up getting my gob well and truly smacked.
What struck me straight away was the sheer transparency of the sound. Groove offers up a clean, honest representation of whatever you’re playing, uncovering bits of tracks that I don’t tend to notice when listening though the laptop’s own headphone output. Subtle licks of sibilance on vocals, the feathery top edge of a snare drum, the metallic pang of a cymbal – Groove lets it all through.
It’s a smooth, easy listen, even when you push the volume to commuter-bothering levels. There are no hard edges or straining as the track’s dynamics start to grow.
But that doesn’t mean Groove is boring – far from it. The Constant Current tech provides enough punch and attack to keep you engaged, coupled with a convincing sense of scale when the music demands it.
Bass is deep and punchy, but doesn’t overpower other aspects of the music. Kick drums are remarkably beefy but not too full-on. The result is a tight, well-balanced sound with plenty of breathing space.
As a result, it’s easy to imagine Groove being a hit among music producers on the go. Its combination of balance, transparency and detail is crucial criteria for getting the mix just right.
The icing on the cake is Groove’s broad soundstage and clear imaging. Accurate placement of instruments, smooth panning and prominent vocals make you feel immersed in the music.
Should I buy the Apogee Groove?
Groove may seem expensive for what it is, but one listen through a decent pair of headphones and it begins to make sense. This portable amp draws you in with its transparency and keen eye for detail, then keeps you engaged with punchy bass, attack and superb imaging.
In terms of power and polish Groove offers a big step up from your laptop and is therefore a solid investment for audiophiles and music producers on the move. Admittedly, the feature list is slight for the money, but the robust build quality, easy operation and sparkling sound more than make up for it.
Despite its size, Apogee’s dinky amp kicks out a big, tonally transparent sound with bags of bass and detail, which justifies the asking price.