The Groove SRX has four rows of DIP switches to allow you to adjust input resistance and capacitance individually for each channel.

Audiophiles—and electronics designers— like to argue about which audio component has the hardest job, or is the most critical element in the audio chain. Ivor Teifenbrun, of Linn, famously once said that the most critical link in the chain was the turntable, though he didn’t say it had the hardest job to do.

If I were to have my two cents’ worth, the component that’s the most difficult to design is the phono stage. It not only has to deal with almost impossibly small voltages (microvolts), but also has to do so whilst simultaneously rejecting all external interference—either picked up from the surrounding atmosphere or transmitted along connecting wires. It also has to be able to seamlessly interface with cartridges whose impedance and capacitance can vary wildly, depending on what’s being played, then also interface just as seamlessly with whatever component is next in line, whether it’s a pre-amp or an integrated amplifier. Last—and not least, but most importantly—it has to apply exact RIAA equalisation: Exact not only regarding the level of boost at each frequency, but also in terms of being identical for each channel.

I am not sure that UK designer Tom Evans would agree with me about the phono stage being the hardest component of all to design, because my recollection is that it took him longer to design his famous ‘The Vibe’ preamplifier than it did for him to design ‘The Groove’ (and its various incarnations), but given the quality and performance of Tom Evan’s equipment, we can only be grateful he did. Evans once described ‘The Groove’ as ‘the ultimate high-performance phono stage’ but since he’s since released several other versions, I can only assume that his statement wasn’t necessarily his last word on the matter. The good news if you’re already an owner is that any Groove can be upgraded to whichever version you want. The current line-up consists of the Groove ($4,750), Groove Plus ($8,500), Groove SRX ($8,500) and Groove SRX Plus ($10,500).

The Groove SRX

Like all Tom Evans equipment that I have seen in the flesh, the physical appearance of Groove SRX is not going to find favour with your other half, nor is it likely to have anyone who visits you ‘ooohing’ or ‘aahing’ over your latest acquisition. Indeed my son—who loves all the new toys that appear if by magic in the listening room—asked whether I was finally reviewing a kit amplifier he’d read about that was designed by local electronics magazine (Silicon Chip), so you know it’s not a good looker (front or back!). Not only does the Groove SRX not look overly flash, it’s not very big either, so there certainly won’t be any bragging rights for ‘biggest phono preamp.’

Since some readers might find the above paragraph a bit off-putting, I should mention right now that I have been narky about Evan’s cases before, and was quickly put straight that there’s apparently a very good reason that Evans uses Perspex as a case material, which is, verbatim: ‘If the case were made of any metal it would have a deleterious effect on the sound quality, as field effects of even non-ferrous materials interfere with electron flow. For this reason, the casework is of Perspex, a material with no inductive capacity.’ (On the topic of being narky, I should also say that in recent times various hi-fi magazines and reviews have started to refer to Evans’ company, Tom Evans Audio Designs, by its initials—as in ‘T.E.A.D.’ or, even worse, TEAD. I have specifically refrained from using either acronym in this review, because I dislike both, though I have no idea about Evans’ view on the matter.)

The simplicity of the design is highlighted on The Groove SRX because there are no controls at all. At least on The Vibe—which I reviewed last year—there were two controls, and rotating either one of them would give instant feedback that you were looking at a ‘quality’ component.