This week I sat down to do a blog about phono stages and compare a couple of nice options, but to my surprise the more I tested them, the more I began to switch my attention from phono stages to how amazing the amplifier I was using actually was.
We have a south facing showroom and it gets a lot of light when the weather is nice. Our record player sits by the window and in the sunlight which beams in and looks glorious. It is no surprise to me why whenever the sun comes out, I put a record on.
As it happens, today is a very nice day and yes I have been listening to vinyl. I thought, seeing as it is not something I have really looked in to with my blogs, that I would focus on phono stages this week, in particular comparing the Micromega MyGroov to the higher-end valve-based Pro-Ject Tube Box DS.
I started with the Micromega paired with the Pro-Ject Xpression Carbon UKX turntable and through to the ATC SIACD integrated amplifier which was hooked up to the ATC SCM40 floor standing speakers. A fine combo, I would say.
The MyGroov is a very simple phono-stage, it has just one dial on the front to select moving magnet, moving coil, stand-by or mute. You might have noticed from the picture that it is also encased in ABS. This, the company claims, is to ensure that they can keep the selling price down without reducing the quality of the sound it gives. They have focused the majority of budget to ensure they use high-quality internal components, at the expense of a nice aluminium case. This may put some people off, but others may like this way of thinking. It’s all personal preference.
The MyGroov gave a very pleasing sound, it had excellent imagery and the high frequencies were not too harsh, considering this is a £200 phono stage, it really helps to get a great classic analogue sound out of the turntable.
I found the MyGroov to be very listenable and enjoyable.
I then kept the same setup but switched over to the Tube Box DS phono stage. This is a step up from the MyGroov, most noticeably it features a dual mono tube triode architecture. Fans of tube amplifiers will tell you how valves give a much more natural, 3 dimensional sound to solid state amplifiers, so it makes sense to incorporate valves into a phono stage, where you are using a purely analogue signal. Two other features of the Tube Box DS which were not there with the MyGroov are the variable impedance dial on the front and the subsonic filter.
I must admit, from the moment I put the needle down, I could hear a big difference. The beginning of ‘Trimm Trabb’ by Blur starts with a real deep rumble/roar type sound, with the Tube Box DS this now had much more life and really did sound a lot more menacing. Now I was very engaged in the music.
I had kept the impedance low, around 50k ohms, I felt the bass extension was brilliant, the very low frequencies were managed well and had a real thud when necessary. I think all in all, I found this to be a very musical phono stage with a great sense of space. I found myself having to put some classics on instead of the modern vinyls (even though I find the newer vinyls that are being released have of really good quality), but the valve sound just makes old favourites really shine.
However, although I found the difference between the phono stages interesting, as I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, I couldn’t help but think about how great the ATC SIACD is.
Having it in the showroom, I am constantly surprising myself when I sit down and play through the SIACD, when you consider its price point and what you get for your money, nothing that I have tried has really come close to offering the same performance.
For £3,094.00 you get an incredibly impressive integrated amplifier, a CD player, a DAC, a designated headphone amplifier and the possibility of adding a streaming device via USB input. Add a pair of ATC SCM11 stand-mount speakers and you have a complete system for just over £4k which sounds better than most other 10k systems.
The main difference between the SIACD and other integrated amplifiers is quite simple, the quality of the components inside is remarkable. This is not a CD player with a little amplifier stuffed in the back, this is a very powerful and beautiful sounding integrated amplifier with the ability to play CDs to an audiophile level.
Inside you will find class AB “grounded source” power amp stages, nobody else at the moment puts a power amp of this quality into an integrated amplifier, it give 100 watts and can really bring speakers to life.
As with nearly all the ATC products, the SIACD has their signature musical/natural sound which I can’t really praise enough, it can be little things like the hearing the exact point of the cymbal being tapped on Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ that make this amplifier stand out from the crowd; but as I mention a lot, anything that can bring out new elements of songs that you have heard hundreds of times is something special.
If I was pushed for a downside to the SIACD, it might be the look and shape of it, it is longer than it is wide which can make it difficult to fit in with the rest of our separates. However, the benefits in sound far outweigh any aesthetic downfalls.
When you compare this amp to other one-box-does-it-all products, like maybe a Devialet, there is a definite heart and soul to the music that isn’t there with the others and the fore-mentioned ability to bring speakers to life. Sound-wise it is a league above.
Is the SIACD the hi-fi industry’s hidden gem? Yes, definitely.