I’ve loved listening to music in headphones since I was a child, but I’ve come a long way from those flimsy freebies that came with my yellow Sony Walkman. As an adult, I’ve spent weeks at a time earning a living in audio while primarily clocking my hours in cans, and I've learned the hard way that headphones are only as good as the amp (and DAC) that feed them. The Apogee Groove is an integrated headphone amp and 32-bit/192 kHz DAC that’s designed to be the perfect partner for all your favorite headphones – and it’s tiny enough to pack up with any mobile setup. The new Groove Anniversary Edition raises the specs across the board from its last iteration with even lower noise floor, greater dynamic range, and a flatter frequency response, making music sound stunningly intimate with my favorite headphones from Sony, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and more. It sounds remarkably clear without ever feeling dull. It renders music in a lovely, flattering way without resorting to any of the gimmicky hype that makes doing professional work difficult.

When I’m mixing away from my home studio, my setup resembles my studio: I have two sets of monitors. My "mains" are the Sony MDR-MV1s [Tape Op #160], and my “alts” are old-school analog Apple EarPods with an 1/8-inch headphone plug. Those old EarPods are so important to me – I keep dozens of replacements stashed away. I want to travel as light as I can, so for a while I just used the built-in 1/8-inch jack on my Mac. However, a certain OS update got "smart" by exposing the Headphones as an available sound option only when they are physically plugged in. This means Pro Tools freaks out when I unplug my headphones to switch between my “mains” and my “alts.” This is solved by using an external DAC, so for that reason the Groove Anniversary Edition is now a necessary part of my mobile mix rig.

But now that I’ve taken the Groove Anniversary on a couple of trips, there’s so much more to love! It’s so handy to have a consistent reference that can power my favorite headphones, whether I’m mixing on my computer or walking around the house with my iPhone. The Groove is joyfully simple to use. Once plugged in, there are two large buttons for adjusting the volume, along with an LED meter that displays level. The physical volume buttons are excellent, and somehow communicate with my OS on whichever device I use despite not installing any drivers. I love that! The Groove Anniversary Edition is a USB-C device with a micro-USB connector, and is compatible with most USB-C machines, including newer iOS devices, Androids with enough power, Macs, and PCs. Check Apogee's specs for more details. One minor complaint – I have to carry a USB-C to micro-USB cable when I’m packing for trips, which is a small price to pay for a rock-solid DAC that I can take anywhere. I thoroughly enjoy spending a full day's work listening through the Groove Anniversary Edition, but even better, I also love to keep listening for fun long after I clock out for the day.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More