Ears-On with the Apogee Groove


Though digital audio is far from a new technology, on the consumer front, there can be quite a bit to be desired when it comes to sonic quality. While above CD-quality files are becoming more and more readily available, many people still prefer the lower-quality lossy MP3 format for the convenience of its small file size. While the Hi-Fi and audiophile crowd continues to grow both in passion and numbers, gone are the days when everyone has a large home system with booming speakers for listening to their music or watching their movies. Today, the laptop, smartphone, and tablet have proven themselves the kings of audio consumption, defining how the vast majority of the under-40 crowd consumes their media, for better or worse.

Tragically, (at least in this reviewer’s opinion), it is far for the worse when it comes to audio quality. Sure, every laptop comes equipped with a headphone port at the end of a digital-to-analog converter, but these are there as a mark of convenience, and their quality always take a back seat to a computer’s other components, for the sake of budget. However, more people are voting with their dollars and investing in a growing selection of third-party DACs (digital to analog converters) and headphone amps to improve the sonic character of the audio coming out of their portable devices. Now, Apogee Electronics, a name familiar to professional and home recording engineers alike, has entered this growing market with Groove.

While you might be unfamiliar with Apogee, it is a safe bet quite a number of your favorite albums recorded in the past 20 years were recorded using the company’s converters, so this company entering into the consumer DAC game is very exciting. The “under-the-hood” specs are impressive, with its conversion coming from a state of the art, eight-converter ESS Sabre DAC chip. Why eight converters for a simple DAC? Apogee lays them out with 4 converters for each stereo side, and then sums the 4 converters per side together for lowered distortion. It also supports headphones of just about any impedance, so whether you’re using your favorite everyday headphones or want to bust out your high-end studio-monitoring cans, you’re covered.

Alright, impressive specs are all well and good, but mean nothing if the device doesn’t sound good or perform the way you want it to. So let’s get down to it. The Groove is fairly light in your hand, despite sporting an aluminum body for durability, and is just under 4 inches long. Despite its light weight, its build quality is apparent, and it does manage to feel substantial. The bottom of the DAC is coated in rubber that provides a bit of friction to help keep it in place if resting on your laptop or a table. It only has 2 buttons, a Volume Up and Volume Down.

I tried the Groove out with two different setups: with my late 2013 MacBook Pro running OS X Yosemite 10.10.2, and my desktop PC running Windows 7 at B&H’s corporate offices, both with a pair of Focal Spirit Pros. So, I used two different platforms to put the DAC through its paces.

Running on OS X

One of the benefits of running audio hardware on a Mac is the general lack of needing to install drivers, and that’s very much the case with the Groove. Plug-and-play functionality removes any setup, and all you have to do is plug the device in and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, the Groove doesn’t defeat the Mac’s internal volume control, so I wound up setting the MacBook’s volume to 45% to get the gain-staging right. However, once ready to roll, the Groove quickly shines. It provides a noticeable increase in definition across the frequency spectrum, but it particularly gives body to the high mids, highs, and lows. Interestingly enough, the body it gives to the low end does not create a bassy, overblown effect, but maintains a sense of balance with just a touch more oomph.

Even more noticeable is the improvement to the stereo image. Hard-panned reverbs and delays have even more life, and thanks to this, vocals frequently “popped” more when I went back and compared the same tracks to the MacBook’s headphone jack. Essentially, the Groove feels like your music has had a haze lifted from it, increasing detail, body, stereo image, and definition. The difference is not quite night and day, but it is large enough that even the casual listener will immediately notice an improvement in the sound quality. I’d be confident enough to use the Groove for any in-the-box production, or critical listening application with headphones. Another nice touch the device offers is a three-LED display for both your volume control and playback level.

Running on Windows 7

Naturally, the Groove will sound identical regardless of which platform you want to use it with, but it does provide a bit of a different experience in setup between Windows and OS X. In theory, once connected to your Windows machine, the operating system will detect the device and auto-install the drivers. Alas, this was not my experience, and I had to go to Apogee’s website to find the proper driver to install. An easy enough exercise, but no doubt a delay—one increased by Apogee’s insistence that you register the product before you’re allowed to download the driver. Once up and running (a process that admittedly took no more than 10 minutes), it provided me with the same sonic improvement I noticed with the MacBook. One thing to note: the included USB cable (which connects the Groove’s Micro USB B port to your computer’s USB port) is particularly short, and I had to grab a USB extension cable so it could sit on my tower rather than just dangle from the computer’s port. Thankfully, this is an easy fix, and Apogee smartly used a standard Micro USB B port rather than something proprietary, but something to note, nonetheless.

Let’s break it all down:

The Likes:

  • Improved sound quality, frequency response, and stereo image
  • Can be used for production, as well as casual listening
  • Ability to drive a variety of headphones
  • USB bus powered, requiring no batteries or power sources
  • Ease of use with both Mac and Windows
  • Simple, 2-button volume control

The “Wish-it-Hads”

  • iOS/Android compatibility
  • Ability to defeat your computer’s internal volume control
  • Included longer cable for easier use with desktop computers

The real takeaway? It is going to be difficult for me to go back to listening to tracks straight out of my headphone jack at work when I have to return this review unit. 


Good review.  I suggest including availability of the product and release levels. I probably missed it in your review; what head phones did you use for your test?

Post note: I assume you can also use the unit with a stereo system, where it could make an even greater difference.

You absolutely can use it with a stereo system, however the output of the Groove is just a 3.5mm stereo output, so if your using monitors that have XLR or 1/4" inputs, you would need to pick up a stereo splitter or some adapters. 

Did you only test it with mp3s, or did you use higher sampling rates too? It seems likely that an even bigger difference would be noted with the latter . . .

I tested it both with full CD quality 44.1/16-bit files, as well as 320 kbps MP3s. The difference between them was noticeable, for certain, but I honestly couldn't tell if it was just the difference between the resolutions or the DAC making the difference more apparent. 

Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to test it with a machine running Windows 10. FWIW, Apogee states that compatibility of the Groove as "Windows 7 (32 and 64-bit) and greater)". Hope this helps!

Wonderful review, very informative and balanced. The accompanying photos really highlighted the features and uses of the Groove. Thank you!