What does it take to make a top class phono stage? Great sound is a given, of course, but we also want easy cartridge matching, low levels of noise and excellent build quality. Pathos’s In The Groove delivers all these things in style.
The job of a phono stage is arguably the hardest of all in amplification. These units deal with very low-level signals – in the order of millivolts – from a turntable, and amplify them by a factor of a thousand. Even the smallest distortions or added noise caused by the circuitry become obvious.
Also consider that a cartridge is fussy about the electrical interface between it and the phono stage. Every model has different electrical demands too. The scale of the task is enormous.
Pathos has taken a sensible approach here. The In The Groove has a good spread of cartridge loading adjustments, from resistance and capacitance to gain, and so should match most cartridges properly.
The gain control is mounted on the back panel and is adjustable in four steps from 43dB (for moving magnets) all the way to 62dB (low-output moving coils). How do you find the right settings for your cartridge?
The manufacturer should have the information on its website, or you could just have a listen and tune the settings to the sound you like best. You can’t damage your cartridge or system doing this, so don’t worry.
The engineers have tackled the noise issues by moving the power supply – invariably the most problematic part of the circuitry when it comes electrical interference – outboard.
It’s connected to the main unit by a fixed umbilical. Inside the main unit, the RIAA circuitry is completely passive in a bid to keep noise levels low and improve transparency.
Overall build is as good as we’ve come to expect from Pathos. While the In The Groove is one of the company’s most conventional looking designs – Pathos’s products are known for their extrovert styling – it’s still distinctive.
The aluminium casework is solid and finished with care. Overall, this unit certainly feels worth the money, and then some.
We plumb the Pathos into our reference set-up of Clearaudio Innovation Wood turntable, Gamut D3i/D200i pre/power and ATC SCM50 speakers, sit back and enjoy.
It doesn’t take long for the unit to come on song, but give it a couple of days and things become a little clearer and more transparent.
We recognise the Pathos family sound here. There’s a slight sweetness to the presentation coupled with a fluid, full-bodied balance.
None of it is taken to the point where it intrudes, but it gives the unit a sound that works well with a wide range of partnering kit and recordings.
We start off with an old favourite, Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis, and like what we hear. This phono stage has a cohesive way with music.
It doesn’t try and tear the recording apart in an attempt to dig up the tiniest detail. Instead, it’s more concerned with organising the plentiful information it does unearth into a meaningful whole.
It transports you into the studio with those giants of jazz, delivering convincing shifts in intensity and pace coupled to an unswerving momentum with classics like So What.
Instruments from trumpet to piano and double bass are rendered with harmonic richness and no shortage of subtlety. The soundstage too, is drawn with skill, width and precision.
Move to something with more bite in the form of Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run or Radiohead’s In Rainbows and the Pathos shifts gear seamlessly.
There’s plenty of punch here and the ability to track hard charging rhythm tracks with determination.
Class leaders such as Cyrus’s excellent Phono Signature show a little more in terms of speed, dynamic punch and low frequency agility.
But the Pathos counters with greater authority, a more organic way with vocals and the ability to convey large-scale dynamic shifts with more vigour.
Provided you have a suitably talented turntable – something around the three to four grand mark at least – we think you’ll love this phono stage. It’s right up there with the best we’ve heard at the price.