Apogee Groove and Creative Labs SoundBlaster X7 – CanJam SoCal 2015

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It didn’t take long for brands that lay on the outskirts of the hobby to take note of the growth potential with head-fi. Two brands in particular made a grand entrance at this year’s CanJam SoCal, Apogee from the pro side and Creative Labs from computer audio.

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The first product that caught my eye was this little guy from Apogee called the Groove. Don’t let the straight forward design fool you, this headphone amp and DAC holds a few surprises up its sleeve.

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The pro-famous brand is mostly known for its recording and playback devices associated with computer audio. There has been some grassroots buzz about the Apogee One for some time now, but it looks like the company is attempting to slim down the profile and footprint even more with the upcoming Groove.

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As for those surprises I mentioned earlier, the specs I was told at the show came back quite favorable and it will be interesting to see how their real world executions play out. The first is the inclusion of a ESS Sabre DAC chip operating at 24/192. According to the company website the Groove employs a “Quad Sum DAC” which utilizes “4 DACs per channel”. The device is powered by USB so their won’t be any battery options, however the device’s spec list does utter one of the magic words of the moment: “Current Mode”. Apparently new mirco Apogee will utilize a form of current mode amplification called “Constant Current Drive” to dynamically deal with the output stage’s voltage against variations in headphone impedance. While that may all seem a bit far down the rabbit hole for some, my experience with current mode amplification has been very favorable and I am excited to see it executed on such a small device. The Groove is built in the USA and should retail for around $500, but that could change. The new product should hit the market within the next few months.

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When I was a kid way back in the day, we didn’t even have computers. But slowly as the platform gave way from the Commodore 64 to home PCs, the SoundBlaster brand became truly a drool-worthy device for gaming. As the bleeps and bloops of low resolution video games started to fade away into a new era of sonic juiciness, fidelity started to become more of a priority as the audio sources become more detailed (and well, more interesting to actually listen to). I can still remember the days when computer peripherals couldn’t even be hooked up from an external jack, but rather had to be installed directly into the motherboard. Well, the sexy brand of PC yesteryear is still around, and it looks like Creative is ready to expand its way over to even loftier sonic goals with the release of the X7, the newest and best “Ultra High-End” Soundblaster. The X7 sports a bit larger feature set than your typical two channel device, but still reaches for the niche market with several “Audiophile-Grade” components. The DAC section is handled by a 24/192-capible Burr-Brown PCM1794 chip and a TI headphone amplifier with 2.2 ohm output impedance for better performance with IEMs.

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The extra bits to the device come in the form of 5.1 capabilities via TOSLINK and a class D 100W amplifier to power loudspeakers. The reasonably sized triangular unit can connect via Bluetooth (with aptX) and also utilizes other audio software features aimed squarely at the PC gaming crowd. Pricing for the unit starts at $399 for the black and $499 for the limited edition in white. For $100 extra the LE version sports an even lower output impedance for the headphone amplifier (~1 ohm), “Nichicon Fine Gold capacitors” and the ability to swap out op-amps.

The X7 On Amazon (black): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00Q3XLGLU/

And the Limited Edition (white): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00Q3XLIP4/

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