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Tom Evans Mastergroove

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My first exposure to Tom Evans' work was the Microgroove. An unassuming, £450 plastic box that absolutely wiped the floor with anything I could find on the same side of four figures. Now, fifteen years later, I finally have my hands on the Mastergroove. Twenty times the cost of that Microgroove, it's a no-expense spared, cask-strength distillation of everything Tom has learnt about building amplifiers. For that price, and with that pedigree, it has a heck of a lot to live up to.

To give some context to what follows, I have a very tonally accurate, and revealing system. My gear has detail and dynamics in spades, because that's what I find conveys music to me the best. Aside from the stuff listed <-- over there, I also listen through Sennheiser HD800s plugged into a Lehmann Black Cube Linear, another very accurate, very revealing way of listening. So, whatever the Mastergroove does or doesn't do, I think I have a pretty good chance of hearing it. My previous phono stage was a Groove Anniversary, itself a very, very good amplifier, and not one I expect to be embarrassed by anything. I think a lot of people know the Groove range, so I'm going to try to use that as a baseline, and talk about the differences you get when you move to the Mastergroove.

The complexities of the design, particularly the crazy amount of regulation, mean that the Mastergroove requires a custom case, which is significantly bigger than the old Groove range. It's still primarily acrylic, but for the four corner posts which hold the thing together. These are metal, painted by an aerospace paint shop to a perfect finish. There's also an external power supply, which is in the same case used for the Pulse. (Sorry the photos aren't very good, we're in the middle of moving house, and my SLR is boxed up somewhere.)

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It's pretty heavy, very well made, and easy on the eye, with gently curved edges and nice proportions. Round the back are RCA ins and outs, an earth connection, a DIN for the power umbilical, and four sets of DIP switches that let you adjust the input capacitance and loading for each channel. (I've got mine set to 1kOhm, which I think most people agree is right for Benz carts.) It doesn't look flash -- if you want jewellery, you know where to go -- but it has the build quality you'd want from something this expensive. It's modest, but handsome.

Never mind what it looks like though, how does it sound? That's hard. The easiest thing is to say it sounds just like the Groove, which is to say it imparts no sound of its own on the music. Everything I play sounds different: I find it impossible to detect a tonal character that's identifiable across recordings. What we have here is "high fidelity".

There are two main differences moving from the Groove to the Mastergroove. Most obviously, there's way more punch and dynamism. Music comes to life: colours are brighter, loud is louder, dirt is dirtier, sweetness sweeter. The performance is more alive, more the way music sounds when you're right there as it's being made. I'm tempted to say it sounds "hard", but that sounds like a bad thing, and this is anything but bad. Maybe it's better to say instruments are given the presence they command in real life. The speed, and definition of transients, are astonishing, and everything is rock solid, with no fat anywhere.

Second, there's detail. Oh, so much detail. The Groove was never a slouch in this department, but it's incredible what the Mastergroove digs out. I'm not talking about "I've never heard that tambourine before" type things (though I've had plenty of those too), but about the detail to convey complex textures of sounds, and the tiny subtleties that give you an insight into a performance. Classical music makes so much more sense to me through the Mastergroove, because I'm suddenly overwhelmed by what the performers are trying to convey through nuances of timing and dynamics. This detail, of course, ups the realism. Given a good recording, voices are almost uncannily realistic.

Listen a little more, and you're struck by the way the Mastergroove pulls a recording apart. There's space between performers, space between instruments, and most importantly, space between notes. My number one reference record, Spiderland always sounded pretty sparse, but now it's stretched paper thin, and is all the more spine-tingling for it. I've heard that record a thousand times, but I've never realized before quite what a beautifully constructed, fragile thing it is.

And this is what I keep coming back to with the Mastergroove: it simply opens up and lets the music flood through. Playing records now, I'm blown away. But not by the Mastergroove, by the music. Yes, I can step back and marvel at the speed, the microdynamics, the solidity of the bass, the utter lack of noise, or the precision of the soundstage, but who cares about any of that when you're right there while Sonic Youth record Daydream Nation? The Mastergroove has taken my enjoyment and appreciation of music to a new place, and I can't pay any component a higher compliment than that.

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I've tried to write about Tom's gear before, and it's difficult because it apparently does so little. This, of course, is the hardest trick to pull off: simple, high fidelity, with what's in the groove coming out of the speakers. The TEAD sound isn't "jaw dropping", because it doesn't tell you anything you don't already know; if you've heard live music, you've heard what this stuff does, and that's why I love it. The Groove is a very fine phono stage, but changing up to the Mastergroove has transformed the way my system sounds, taking it to a level of engaging realism beyond anything I hoped to achieve.

Genius.

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Great review Robert!

Would you mind if I took this down and copied onto the front reviews section?

Regards,

James.

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NO!! BAN it!

I can feel my meagre savings that I need for my advancing age, slipping out of the door!

All I can do is reassure myself that I no longer have the patience to play LPs!

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Nice review Robert, l am guessing you like the AVID/TE combo, back in the day l had a AVID Volvere/SME V/ Helikon /TE The Groove and the transparency was quite ridiculous, glad you like the combo.:^

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Would you mind if I took this down and copied onto the front reviews section?

Of course not. Happy to make a contribution.

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Indeed, a real class act phonostage. If I still listen to analog more than digital, I wouldn't have ever sold my. The speed and attack (with clearaudio titanium) was simply a jaw droping experience.

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Very tasty - does it have two inputs?

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Very tasty - does it have two inputs?

No, just one. Two inputs would mean a switch, and Tom hates switches!

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Hi, I had the chance to get a MasterGroove used. When received I found out that the hum/buzz sound was little exaggerated. I did contacted Tom Evans as the MasterGroove is still under warranty.

Tom explain to me that this high end Phono Stage has a little modification and also can be configured as request according to PickUp and Setup.

Indeed Tom take it back for revision and upgrade and all this works for FREE, smooth and perfect.

If I have to say something about Tom Evans I only will say that he provides High Level support and service with out any doubt.

Now back the the most important question, What is The MasterGroove?

I won't discuss Vinyl or Digital sounding in this issue, but I heard vinyl sound better than CD, this is was not proved for me as I own one of the best CD player in the market, but I never giv up to find a vinyl grey that probably will sound better! from one upgrade to another; pickups, cables tonearms TT etc.. still nothing done the work better than the MasterGroove. Indeed the MasterGroove is a Master WORKS phono stage just 1 minute playing and you are totally convinced of the sound that this incredible box can produce, amazing. The MasterGroove just deliver what you want and wanted to hear. I don't want to mention the others phono stages I had, but today I'm quit satisfied with this astonishing product, the most ridicule and surprising is you are going to forget expensive pickup even with entry level PU the sound is as good as acceptable. It took times, cost lot of money during times but the MasterGroove is a Myst to have.

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