Different people have a different perception about how to spread their budget on a hifi system. The general thinking of, Speakers first then amps then source, is a fair one but when we are talking apurely analog rig, phonostage seem to be an afterthought in many cases. I could imagine most people believe that the small box that makes a tiny little signal sound a little louder shouldn’t be that hard to make and certainly shouldn’t cost that much; and while I am not a technical minded person, this point is hard to argue.
So what am I doing writing a review of a phonostage that costs £9,000? Those who know me know that I have been listening to a lot of hifi equipments for the last few years, very few of them is worth shouting about but most pass through my system almost unnoticed. This phono stage firmly belongs to one of the most exciting hifi related product I have ever come across.
The Mastergroove was produced to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tom Evans Audio. Two boxes design with separate power supply. Quite understate looking wise, very well built and you can read the technical notes below:
The Mastergroove phono stage is the next big leap in evolution beyond the G+SRX. The front end gain stages have 50% less noise and distortion and twice the dynamic range compared to the G+SRX, all signal path resistors are Vishay 0.1 % tol and 15ppm tempco. Each stage of gain is powered by a Lithos 7 class a local voltage regulator, both left and right channel local voltage regulators are supplied by my higher powered Lithos 6 regulators, in all 14 pcb's. Tom even went to the trouble of designing and winding 'in house' a new 200va low flux transformer with an electrostatic screened primary winding to dramatically reduce RF entering the power supply. Nine values per / ch of cartridge loading resistor settings are provided with dip switches on the rear panel. MM (and Decca ) versions can be built to order.
So how does it sound?
Quite simply, the very best I have ever heard! Until now, the Allnic H3000 is the king of phonostages, to this pair of ears and I was using the Allnic H1500 for quite sometime. The character of the Allnic is very open, slightly brightly lit, bags of soul, with superb detail. The H1500 is so good and while the top of the range H3000 is better again, I couldn’t justify the different in price vs performance improvement. I have also owned an Audionote M8 preamp fitted with stage three phonostage, which I have been using with various step up transformers. And while the Allnic phono stage betters it in most respects, the Audionote could communicate music through your heart like few others.
The Mastergroove sound like none of above! This is the most “real” sounding equipment I ever have a pleasure of owning. Everything sounds so right, so presence and so spooky! Every LPs now sound different, yet every LP sounds a lot better than before. For example, my recent favourite album, CARL ORFF - CARMINA BURANA - André Previn (Supercuts HQ released), I have yet to hear the layout of a soundstage that’s so vivid, rows and rows of singers started from about 2 metres in front of me and goes all the way back 4-5 metre behind the speakers. Close your eyes and it’s very believable that you have just over 100+ live singing, playing instruments in your front room. Talking about instruments, the tonality is very correct, even something like triangle, the “ting” sound has more metallic brightness and hangs in its own space with plenty of air around it, something I never heard before. Voices are very easy to separate and amazing micro to macro dynamics that could make your heart skip a beat.
Play Fever on Elvis is back LP, (living Stereo released), sounded fresh as if the great man recorded the song last week, his voice now even more mesmerising than I ever remembered and again the accuracy of individual placement within the soundstage seems spot on with life size Elvis standing just in front of his band that spread across the front wall.
This is one of those rare hifi products that make you want to listen to the whole of your collection again, there’s also a strange moment when you just want to hear how the next LP would sound like but what is playing sound so darn good that you just don’t want to lift the needle off the groove!
The details on offer here is just incredible, if you are one of those details freaks then this is the ultimate machine for you. While more detail is the plus point, it would be worthless if it doesn’t communicate the music message. Can a phonostage have “Soul”? I don’t know, what I do know is the Mastergroove makes everything sound that much more real therefore it’s easier for me to connect to music. If the particular song really means something to you then this Tom Evans phonostage is not just “The Master”of the “groove”, it will also master your emotional buds too.
In the last few years, there are plenty of imported brands that many audio enthusiasts accept as the best in class, so to me, it’s ultra refreshing to hear such a home-grown product that sounds so convincing. £9,000 is a lot of money doesn’t matter which way you look at it, I am not here to justify the recommended retail price as each would have their own opinion on this subject but let me tell you this... Imagine if Tom Evans Mastergroove were built outside the UK, say Switzerland or Germany and imported by one of the biggest hifi outfit in the UK, also imagine if the unit has a large & heavy metal case, finished with gold colour and red trim, the rrp would be at least £20,000 and no one would bat an eye lid!
As for me, the 'war' is won or lost in the phono amp. I just had around 100 people singing “O Fortuna” in my front room, Ozzy also popped in and sang a few tunes, as for Elvis? The rumour has it that he is dead, maybe he is but for about an hour he was only 3 metre away from me.
I just couldn’t imagine it can be better.... Priceless.
Associated Equipment: TW Raven AC 3 Turntable, Graham Phantam tonearm, Clear Audio Titanium cartridge, Allnic H-1500 Phono-stage, Audionote Act 2 Series 2 preamp, Mastersound 300B PSE, Icon Audio 845 David Shaw signature Mono blocks, Cessaro Affascinate Speakers, Hovland G3 interconnects, Zero Level 3 speakers cable.