Given the description above, you’ll not be surprised to learn that outwardly at least, there’s little to say about either The Groove (I’ll dispense with the cluttered suffix) or The Vibe – save to say that their names are way cool, possibly surpassed only by the MicroGroove! Aside from a blue power LED, The Groove consists of a simple but beautifully executed acrylic case with a classic over-sized front-panel – just like you used to see on high-end amplifiers, only those were bigger and weighed a lot more. Rather like the original Gryphon head amp, these look like high-end hit the incredible shrinking machine. On the back panel there’s single sets of input and output RCA sockets, an earth post and a bank of dip switches for each channel, allowing users to set loading (nine discrete values between 112Ω and 1000Ω) and capacitance (in five steps from 100pF to 500pF). Gain is fixed to suit cartridges with a 0.4 ±0.2mV output, but both it and a custom loading value can be user specified. Finally, there’s a four-pin socket with a screw collar that takes the feed from the compact external power supply.
The dual-mono circuit board has been entirely re-laid and features a pair of Lithos 7.5A regulators, to supplement the single 6.2 high current regulator in the PSU. With the gain set at 74dB, The Groove should deliver a dynamic range well in excess of 108dB, a figure measured by a notoriously pedantic German magazine – only they were reviewing the MicroGroove!
And that is all she wrote: A pair of smallish boxes, with the bare minimum of connections and adjustments. The TEAD products are about performance first to last – and everything in between. This is a genuine no-compromise design – not in the sense that they’ve done everything it’s possible to do, but in the sense that they have done nothing that might compromise the best possible performance from THIS product. You don’t buy The Groove to impress your neighbours. You probably don’t buy it to impress your audiophile friends. You choose it because performance – the musical performance – matters to you. You choose it because it delivers that performance at a price and with a quality that normally costs a whole lot more.
Get into the groove…
This story started with a phono-stage and that’s also where this series of reviews is going to start. More than any other product in the separates portfolio, the phono-stage represents a standalone solution, the one that is most likely to find itself used in isolation, away from the happy company of its amplification brethren – although as I’ve already suggested, we’ll be getting to them later. With that in mind, I started out by inserting The Groove into a CH-based system (L1 and A1.5) comparing it directly to the P1, a product that’s been getting far more than its fair share of ‘benchmark’ duty just recently. After its humiliation by the P10, the chance to shape up against a unit costing around one sixth of its price (!) might have been considered a welcome respite. Well – yes and no. Whilst the experience certainly re-established the P1’s benchmark status – at least at anything less than a stratospherically unreachable price – it also underlined just how much performance The Groove delivers from its modest, acrylic chassis.