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Headphones

Maybe it's time to upgrade your headphone's sound with a pro-quality headphone amplifier

The Audiophiliac gets up close and personal with the Apogee Groove portable USB digital converter/headphone amp.

While Apogee is best known for its digital converters used in countless studios all over the world, the Groove digital converter/headphone amp is for audiophiles. It's a USB powered device for use with PC or Mac computers, and Samsung Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge and Galaxy S6 Edge + phones. I used the Groove exclusively with my Mac Mini. The Groove is made in the US and its all-aluminum body has a USB micro B port and a 3.5mm headphone jack; the amp sells for $295 in the US, and £250 in the UK.

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The Apogee Groove can make sweet sounds with your headphones.

Apogee

The Groove plays up to 24-bit/192 kHz high-res PCM, but not DSD files, which I don't consider a liability, I still don't see the DSD format gaining widespread use. The Groove's large volume-up/down buttons are easy to use, and multicolor LEDs indicate volume level.

I listened to the Groove with a wide range of headphones, starting with my Audeze EL-8, and the sound put me at ease. Don't take that the wrong way, the Groove wasn't laid-back or soft, it's just that the sound wasn't the sort that screamed "detail" or "transparency," this time the music took center stage. The all-covers Yo La Tengo "Stuff Like That There" album had a live in the studio feel, and with jazz guitarist Pat Metheny's "Day Trip" with just drums and bass the Groove/EL-8 combo kicked butt! With Afrikan Sciences' throbbing "Circuitous" album its ultra-deep bass beats' definition never faltered.

Listening to streaming FLAC files from Tidal with the Punch Brothers "Phosphorescent Blues" all-acoustic bluegrass infused collection, first over an original AudioQuest DragonFly converter/headphone amp, and then the Groove, I felt the latter amp developed a more natural, lifelike sound. To be clear about this, I am not claiming there are big differences between digital converter/headphone amps, but there are differences careful listeners will appreciate.

But if you compare the Groove with the lackluster sound you get from the headphone jack on your computer or phone, the improvements in clarity, dynamic impact, and soundstage spaciousness from a first-class digital converter/ headphone amp will be hard to miss, if you have a decent set of headphones.

One of the very best in-ear headphones to come my way of late is the Noble Audio Kaiser 10U, which turned out to be a great match with the Groove. This headphone can sound a tad lean at times, but the Groove sweetened the balance without forfeiting one iota of resolution.

Even the very high-impedance (600 ohm) Beyerdynamics DT880 Pro headphones didn't make the Groove stumble, it drove the heck out of those 'phones!

I listened to the Apogee Groove a lot longer than I needed to write a review, and that speaks volumes about the sound quality of this little gizmo.