Apogee Groove

DAC Chip: ESS Sabre ES9016K2M (Quad Sum DACs)
PCM 24bit – 192khz, SNR: -109dB, Power: 5 Vrms Adaptive 600Ω, Micro USB, 3.5mm SE (Microphone: NO), Aluminum Chassis


Listening Equipment: Etymotic ER4SR, FOSTEX T40RP MK3, TIN HiFi P1, Moondrop Aria, HZSOUND Heart Mirror, VE Monk GO, VE Asura 2.0. USB 3.0 Samsung S20, USB 2.0 Xiaomi Mi9T (Deezer HiFi & FLAC)

LISTENING EQUIPMENT USED IMPARTED HUGE INFLUENCE TO SOUND IMPRESSIONS & RATING


💚PROS

  • Neutral and natural effortless airy timbre, analogue and organic sound
  • Realistic dynamics, well controlled vibrancy
  • Reference grade coherence with pristine clarity, super transparent
  • Neutral Mids, richly textured and defined, realistic Male/Female vocals
  • Polished smooth Treble with matured finesse, depth, extension, and textures
  • Richly textured Mid-Bass, visceral vibe and smooth decay
  • Deep, richly nuanced Sub-Bass with realistic decay
  • Excellent details retrieval, Macro and Micro. Realistically nuanced
  • Crisp natural guitar, piano, cello, and bass guitar tones, vivid and smooth
  • Realistic percussions (chimes, bells), drums and taps
  • Massive soundstage with great depth and spacing
  • Reference grade imaging, razor sharp precision, spacious spatial staging
  • Reference grade speed and transients handling, zero congestion or compression
  • Completely black background, zero floor noises
  • Devoid of any coarseness or grainy edges, at all frequency
  • Great sibilance resistance
  • The MOST powerful output with 5 Vrms adaptive
  • Great synergy with Magnetic Planars, Balanced Armatures & Dynamic Drivers
  • Excellent, very refined hardware volume adjusters
  • Drives FOSTEX T40RP MK3 91db Magnetic Planar at 50/100 Volume with ease. Desktop fidelity

💔CONS

  • It is BIG!, it is HEAVY, the biggest and heaviest bar shaped Dongle in my collection
  • Smooth dynamics less euphonic compared to PEE51 & DC04
  • Archaic Micro USB port on Dongle side
  • Gets really warm with prolonged usage
  • Drains host battery like nothing else, 10% faster than Ovidius B1
  • Available only in 3.5mm Single Ended Audio Out
  • May not be suitable for overly sensitive IEMs or Hybrids
  • Performs the best connected to a Laptop or USB 3.0 (900mA) capable phones
  • WILL NOT WORK ON iOS. iPhones will reject the connection immediately citing Groove attempting to draw too much power 🙂. But will work on Mac machines

VERDICT

Apogee Groove. Old is gold. Despite being released in 2016, Groove is undoubtedly evergreen in sheer sonic performance. It has power, fidelity, stability and timbre coherence that I regard as reference class for “portable” DAC/Amp. Just like Ovidius B1, it is the delicate balance between technicality and musicality that makes Groove so exceedingly stellar. Technical competency was not sacrificed to attain analogue smoothness, there was no hint of attempt to overdo anything – Groove is utterly transparent and faithful to the source. The overall presentation is effortless and meticulously balanced. The measure of a great DAC/Amp is how they reproduce output with great fidelity even at lower loudness level – there was no need for me to crank the volume up higher than necessary even when driving the stubborn FOSTEX T40RP MK3 Orthodynamic monster. I was glued to my T40RP for hours on end immersed in sheer enjoyment of music presented in the most polished manner possible from a portable device. The presentation was meaty with great dynamic range, deep and well textured extensions on both end of the spectrum – there wasn’t any hint of timbre instability or coherence impairment. Everything sounded proper and natural. Similar results can be said when paired with TIN HiFi P1, another stubborn Magnetic Planar monster that is dear to me. Simply addictive and joyful.

Etymotic ER4SR, my all time favorite In Ear Monitor paired superbly with Groove. That analogue timbre of Groove aligned well with ER4SR DF Neutral flatness. Yet again I can reflect similar sonic indulgence as how I experienced it with the pairing of T40RP and P1 – highly detailed, transparent, vibrant, spacious and musical. Groove breathed life to my ER4SR, yet the combo remained technically competent with great speed and dexterity, picking up every details that existed in the recordings.

Surprisingly with my highly sensitive Moondrop Aria (122db & SPC Cable), the output is free from any hissing. This I believe due to 20Ω of output impedance permanently imbedded into Groove. Another surprise is how transparent Aria sounded with this pairing. I swear Aria is no longer warm sounding! the timbre is actually flatter organic neutral, LOL. The soundstage, it is MASSIVE, with everything feels spaciously placed and yet imaging still precise and cleanly projected. The highs of Aria now sounds a little brighter yet smooth and crisp. Mids remained as is is. Bass responses tight, fast and tidy. Similar results with HZSOUND Heart Mirror (Oyaide OFC SSC), except that HM is already natively brighter sounding than Aria. Treble audibly crisper and more pronounced but not overly done thus free from sibilance or edgy sheen. However soundstage wasn’t as wide as it was with Aria (but still spacious enough). HM sounded very effortlessly airy and soothing.

With my VE Earbuds duo, Groove pairing was utterly DF neutral on Monk GO, super flat yet as lively sounding as it can be. Very spacious soundstage with airy presentation. Very holographic spatial imaging, nothing short of top notch with precise placement and layering, all cleanly separated. With VE Asura 2.0, audibly Mids focused with rich and lush realistic tone to vocals. It is a bit warmer and intimate too. Technical wise equally great on both. Simply put, Groove synergize great with earbuds, making them sound like full sized headphones with the power delivered.

Apogee Groove vs Ovidius B1

Source: Windows 10, Native USB Drivers
Headphone: FOSTEX T40RP MK3 (50 Ohm, 91db)
Cable: VE SDIC 6n OFC

Diana Krall “California Dreamin'”, FLAC 24/48
Groove (18/100 Vol), B1 (24/100 Vol) Matched Loudness

  • Groove just a hair less intimate vs B1
  • Groove slightly sharper percussions decays vs B1 rounded edge presentation
  • Groove has more loudness power by 6 points vs B1
    Otherwise they are identical in every way possible. Soundtage size and depth, precise spacious spatial imaging, Macro and Micro Details, resolution, transparency, dynamic range and most importantly both exhibited very polished analogue, very smooth and crisp timbre presentation that is truthfully neutral realistic.

Hans Zimmer “Mombasa (Inception)”, FLAC 24/48
Groove (19/100 Vol), B1 (24/100 Vol) Matched Loudness

  • B1 still a hair more intimate forward vs Groove
  • B1 has slighly more pronounced Mid-Bass vs Groove
  • Groove has more loudness power by 5 points vs B1
  • Groove focused on smooth decays vs B1 focused on faster, crisper presentation
  • Slightly euphonic dynamics on B1 vs Groove flatter presentation
    While both exhibited reference grade speed and details handling, it was audible to my ear Groove was flatter neutral and B1 being a bit more energetic sounding. Yet again tonality wise they are practically similar – just that B1 still a bit more intimate and Groove half a step back.

Alison Krauss “Gravity’ FLAC 24/48
Groove (22/100 Vol), B1 (24/100 Vol) Matched Loudness

  • Groove has more loudness power by 2 points vs B1
  • Groove half a step back less intimate vs B1
    This is where it was quite evident that B1 being the most forward intimate vs Groove, not much – just half a step forward. Otherwise they are yet again practically identical sounding in every technical and musical terms. Both effortlessly pristine with clean edged layers and superb transparency

And there it is, finally a companion for my favorite Ovidius B1 at the top spot. The very same reasons I personally love B1 clearly evident in Apogee Groove – realistic effortless sound that is highly detailed and technical, yet very musical and airy smooth at the same time. Both of them blessed with insane amount of power to handle any sonic tasks effortlessly.

Apogee Groove with my multi-driver IEMs: Absolutely wonderful

(by Yannick Khong) 9 August 2021

#sanitycheck #donglemadness There’s been claims that the Groove’s “20ohm impedance output”/variable-impedance-matching-amp doesn’t do well with IEMs let alone multi-driver IEMs with crossover networks and stuff. Heck even the Apogee site made an announcement warning people against it (after someone I know directly contacted the company to express his elaborate rant lol). Here is the Apogee Statement (pay attention on the “MAY RESULT”): While this might be true for some IEMs or his taste, but this issue is completely inaudible with my inventory of multi-driver IEMs.

Method: AB testing with switcher of Groove vs REGA-ATOM AMP+ vs Sony Walkman A55-FE50v2-Plus vs AK PEE51

Here’s the tested list of multi-driver IEMs:

  • KZ ZAX : 7BA + 1DD
  • Hidizs Mermaid MS2 : 1DD + 1BA
  • CCA CSN : 1DD + 1BA
  • KZ DQ6 : 3DD
  • TRN TA1 : 1DD + 1BA
  • BQEYZ KC2 : 2BA + 2DD

Apart from staging differences favoring the exact same order of preference I have (REGA-AMP+, Groove, A55 and the rest….). I can say that:

Apogee Groove with my multi-driver IEMs is absolutely wonderful.

Let other critical of this device’s success be grumpy 🙂 (heck they even gave the Heart Mirror ONE STAR 😃) Those with such a device should deem themselves as privileged to achieve peak audiophile 5-star #donglemadness #onestarheartmirror

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ ($199.00)

Best Pairing: Best synergy with less sensitive IEMs/HPs/Earbuds

4 Comments

  1. Very nice review, which do you think has more impactful and pronounced bass between Astell & Kern PEE-51, Hidizs S9 Pro, Apogee Groove and Questyle M12?

    Like

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