But there’s more good news for existing owners or potential purchasers. Both the SR and the X options are exactly that, meaning that the SR board can be added to any existing Groove Plus for a cost of £705, while the X board can be retrofitted to or specced for any Groove model at a price premium of £235.
There’s even a simplified version of the X board (offering only five discrete resistive loading values and no capacitive ones) for the various Micro-Grooves. Bought new, a fully loaded SRX costs £4400, as compared to £3800 for the Groove Plus, making this one of the more cost effective upgrades I’ve come across!
Having a Groove Plus on hand, already loaded for the Titan i, and an SRX with identical gain, it was possible to run back to back comparisons, taking the effects of loading out of the equation. I have to say that this is possibly the biggest single performance improvement I’ve heard from the Groove since its inception. It always had great transparency, focus, detail and dynamic resolution, coupled to a temporal and spatial organization that made for that winning combination of simultaneous musical insight and involvement. It was also exceptionally even, top to bottom. Adding the SR frontend changes things significantly, without losing any of the established attributes. As impressive as the Groove Plus is, it’s not until you hear the benefits of solidity and overall coherence that come with the SR version, that those strengths really get bound together into a musical whole. But such is the way of hi-fi (and a good thing it is too) that with such sins of omission, until you hear that difference you don’t register the lack.
Swapping from the Groove Plus to the SRX, the first thing you’ll notice is the dramatic (and I use that word deliberately) increase in sheer substance and colour. Listening to a complex pop mix like Lloyd Cole’s ‘Lost Weekend’, the SRX makes the Plus sound thin and bleached, lacking in separation and presence. The SR board brings a weight, tonal richness and body to the sound that gives Cole’s familiar voice its correct character and scale, creating a convincing image that has a physical dimension as well as a location. That richness extends to the instruments, giving each one greater individuality, the tonal separation I’ve talked about before – the ability to separate a player and his contribution as much by the harmonic character and the energy pattern of his instrument as its location in space. So the harmonium drone that gives the track its infectious Waltz rhythm is lifted out of the complex mix, an instrument and a musical intent rather than just aural wallpaper filling in the gaps.
What’s responsible for the change? In large part it seems to be about the low frequencies, which definitely go deeper but also provide a foundation that roots the instruments and music in time and space. There’s a new-found weight and stability to the Groove sound, a sense of authority and poise that was lacking before when compared to the likes of the Connoisseur or Zanden. Interestingly, it can be heard as a heaviness in direct comparison to the Plus, hence my choice of ‘Lost Weekend’ where the earlier version initially sounds fleeter of foot and more toe-tappingly involving.
But a proper ABA session will soon underline the additional fluidity and the far more complex rhythmic picture that emerges from the SR, the track taking on a proper, undulating feel rather than the helter-skelter onrush of the Plus, which now sounds hurried and tumbling over itself. Switch to slower tracks like ‘James’ or ‘Perfect Blue’ and the difference becomes even more marked, the SR imbuing the music with a poise, a stately inevitability to the pacing that adds dramatic weight and pathos to the songs. And all the while, the extra space around and behind instruments (musically and dimensionally) makes the multiple layers, the interlocking elements of all these tracks so much easier to hear, a pleasure that titillates rather than a test that challenges. You want one, single aspect of performance that will encapsulate the difference between these two, the advance and new confidence represented by the SR? Select a single instrument in a natural acoustic; I used the Tacet recording of the Bach Partita III with Florin Paul. Here the Plus presents a quicksilver account, the instrument small in the large and cold acoustic space. Swap to the SR and the violin snaps into focus, more concentrated, more physically present, richer and more harmonically complex. The phrasing of the playing, the bowing and the shape of the melody, the shape that Paul brings to it, all emerge. Where the Plus pushed the speed and quickness of the playing to the fore, the SR adds a whole dimension of meaning and artistry. It also adds a sense of height. Not the height of the acoustic per se, but the height of the instrument within it – which has a surprising effect on just how convincing the sonic picture is. But the big, big difference in presentational terms is the way in which the acoustic space is presented. With the Plus you are aware that it’s large, but it is wider than it is deep and it’s also rather diffuse with ill-defined boundaries. The SR locks the instrument into a solid space, with a real sense of depth that now goes way back. The boundaries are much more obvious, particularly the rear corners, and the notion that this is a three dimensional event (and that all three dimensions matter) suddenly makes itself felt.