Of course, using the Titan i eliminated the influence of loading from the sonic equation. Time spent with the Koetsu Urushi (preferred loading 200 Ohms) and the vdH Condor (which was happier at 500 Ohms) actually underlined the differences even more. Running these cartridges at 100 Ohms (as per the Plus) actually reduced the benefits of the SR mods slightly, but as soon as you dialled in the correct loading the differences became wider still, especially with the Koetsu, which could sound a little pinched and tight at the lower setting, but really blossomed and hit its rhythmic stride once it saw its preferred load. What I found particularly fascinating though, was the difference between 200 and 250 Ohms, which should be barely significant, but in practice proved quite the opposite, music losing its sense of urgency and pace, tilting over into lazy.
Those who prefer things laid back might actually like the effect, but for me it both robbed the music of life and drama and underlined just how critical all aspects of phono optimization really are – and how easy it ease to undermine the end result. Close enough is, I’m afraid, simply not good enough…
Which brings us to the second (and even more contentious) bank of switches. These allow users to trim the capacitive load in five discrete steps, between the standard value of 100pF and a maximum of 500pF. More commonly associated with movingmagnet stages, why bother to offer the facility on a moving-coil stage? Because increasing capacitance will roll off the high-frequencies – and what do almost all moving-coils have in common? Correct – a rising highfrequency response.
Back to the Bach Partita and the Titan i; increasing the capacitive load from 100 to 300pF shut down the space and the sense of life and sparkle in the playing, but 200pF was quite a different matter. Compared to the 100pF setting the slightly higher value removed the coldness from the acoustic, locking the dimensions even more firmly in place and improving the sense of musical flow still further. Definitely a good thing. But enough of these tedious comparisons; where do these changes leave the Groove Plus SRX with respect to its peers? Where once the Groove, and before it the various Isos, were the audio tearaways, young tyros trading warmth and weight for ground breaking speed, resolution and transparency, the SRX takes a step back – but does so without sacrificing any of its traditional strengths. The Groove was the first phono-stage to put me in the same acoustic space as the performers.
With its greater weight, solidity and stability, its deeper soundstage and more dimensional images, the SRX keeps you in that space but allows the instruments more space and crucially, more time. Sitting in the midst of a band is undoubtedly exciting and immediate, but it’s also rather seat of your pants. The SRX introduces a more natural acoustic, to go with its more natural tonality and richer harmonic balance, allowing music to convince and seduce rather than simply grab you by the throat.
The sense of space between the instruments and within the music elevates the Groove SRX to a new level of sonic performance and musical expression. Whether it’s the thudding substance and rooted presence of those deep thuds that open ‘Wholly Humble Heart’, or the plaintive quality that so defines Martin Stephenson’s voice and gives the song its contrast, the SRX offers a more convincing and more engaging whole, depending less on sheer impact and much, much more on the way the song has been put together, the instrumental contrasts and shifts in density.
Likewise, the pauses between notes that are so central to the expressive range of pianists are far more apparent, so the rhythmic evolutions of Bill Evans’ ‘Waltz For Debbie’ become more central to the constant ebb and flow of the piece, but also extend its emotional range. The monolithic chord structures that drive Carole King’s ‘(You make me feel like) a Natural Woman’ are more emphatic, more deliberately placed, with a greater range of weight and emphasis. The way they add to and accent the lyric becomes more dramatic and effective, both because of the greater sense of placement and pacing, and also the rooted solidity and weight that the SRX brings to the instrument. What I’m talking about here is musical and dynamic authority. The Groove has always had instrumental and spatial detail to burn, leaning on its resolution to hold things together. Its new found temporal stability now delivers a far firmer foundation and with it a more relaxed and confident performance.
What the SRX upgrades do for the Groove is place it firmly back at the top table of vinyl replay. It is also, by some distance, the most affordable of the various options I see seated there. This latest round of refinements to an established theme have added flexibility, allowing you to further optimize matching to and the performance of your cartridge, as well as extending the performance of the Groove itself in exactly those areas where it was weakest. The result is a more accomplished, a more versatile, a more balanced but above all a more natural performer.