Pathos In The Groove MM/MC Phono Preamp

We’re always on the lookout for good — if not certainly great — phono preamps to get our hands on to review here for the AnalogPlanet faithful. Since I had recently reviewed the Pathos InPol Remix MkII integrated amplifier for our sister site Stereophile, I was intrigued to see if the company’s latest iteration of the Pathos In The Groove phono preamp might be worthy of our attention.

“Entirely redesigned,” claims the Pathos site about the In The Groove unit, further stating it “features high quality integrated circuits, fitting with flexibility to any kind of phono detector. It is an analog solid state product featuring passive RIAA preamplification made up by two chassis, equipped with multi-tension linear power supply and three settings: impedance and capacity can be set by the front panel, while sensitivity [gain can be set] by the rear panel. These settings allow finding the perfect match to get best performance and make the most of your audio system.” (Hmm, sounds like our kinda gear. . .)

At an SRP of $1,895, the In The Groove phono box is competitively priced, and monetarily similar to my own reference piece, the all-tube Tavish Design Adagio MM/MC phono stage that goes for $2,290. Once I got the greenlight from AP major domo Mike Mettler, I connected with U.S. Pathos distributor Kevin Deal of Upscale Audio in La Verne, California to get a review unit sent my way — and we were officially ready to roll.


Specs & Setup
The Pathos In The Groove — a.k.a. the ITG — is smaller than most phono preamps. It can fit practically anywhere — as long as you make room for its sidekick-like power supply, that is. The PSU is less than half the size of the main unit, making for a cozy fit wherever the two are situated. The main ITG unit stands 7.87 x 2.75 x 10.2 inches (w/h/d) and weighs 5 pounds, while the power supply is smaller, measuring 2.36 x 9 x 2.75 inches (w/h/d) and weighing in at 2.64 pounds — practically two peas in the proverbial phono-stage pod. Available in two finishes — black and silver — the In The Groove collective, both its business box and external power supply, are constructed of aluminum, and handmade in Italy. (As you can see here, my review unit sports the black finish.)

A spartan-looking machine, and subtle in appearance (unlike its more visually bold Pathos siblings), the In The Groove phono preamp presents an uncluttered façade. A small button activates power, and a tiny green LED indicates the unit is electrically active. (It turns red when not in use.) Two metal dials handle moving coil (left) and moving magnet (right) cartridges, respectively. Both knobs feel substantial to the touch, though they don’t make audible clicks when rotated through the settings.

Each dial is covered in a latticework of raised metal nubs, affording a tight grip. The left dial is marked in ohms for MC/impedance, offering 47k, 1k, 470, 220, 100, and 56 ohms respectively. The right dial handles MM/capacitance, marked, in descending order, 10nF, 3.3nF, 1nF, 220pF, 100pF, and 68pF. This multitude of settings insures a comfortable fit with a wide array of stereo cartridges.


The rear of the main unit reveals a five-pin power supply connector, two XLR and two RCA output jacks, a gain dial with four settings (+62dB, +56dB, +50dB, and +43dB), and a pair of RCA inputs. The In The Groove’s master power toggle switch is located on the butt of the power supply. Each unit is heavier than it looks, and each piece has four hard rubber feet.

Other ITG specs include a frequency response of RIAA ±0.2dB; THD as 0.04% @1V RMS, 1kHz; max output level as 5.5V RMS unbalanced, and 5.5+5.5V RMS balanced; output impedance as 75 ohms unbalanced and 40 ohms balanced; and power consumption as 10W max (<0.5W in standby mode).

For this particular ITG review, I used my reference system, in addition to some other equipment in hand, including a Kuzma Stabi R turntable with a Kuzma 4Point tonearm and a Clearaudio Jubilee Panzerholz MC cartridge; a VPI Avenger Direct turntable with a VPI Fatboy 12in gimbal tonearm and an Ortofon Verismo MC cartridge; Miyajima Wo-1 preamplifier; Shindo Haut-Brion power amplifier; and DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 speakers. Cabling consisted of Triode Wire Labs Spirit II (RCA), Analysis Plus Silver Apex (RCA), Shindo (RCA), and Analysis Plus Silver Apex speaker cables (bananas).


Listening Sessions
Playing a variety of records and genres, the In The Groove phono preamp spoke with alert boldness, commanding clarity, and attention-grabbing dynamics. It didn’t favor a particular area of the frequency range — its sparkling clarity made for an equal-opportunity phono signal interpreter. It lacked the honeyed tube bloom of my Tavish Adagio, but it played more cleanly and crisply overall. Its soundstage also seemed tighter and more condensed, but didn’t lack depth compared to the Tavish. Generally, the ITG was very engaging, emotionally stimulating, and quite brilliant in following a musical line. It had flow — that quality of momentum and life force — in spades.

When playing orchestral music though the ITG, each instrument was sharply realized and resolved in a very well-layered soundfield. Fan of tubed electronics that I am, I wished for a little more warmth or bloom at times, but was usually satisfied with the ITG’s exceptional dynamics, cleanly layered soundstage alignment, and ability to pull every iota of detail from a recording. In short, it’s a resolving beast of a phono stage.

Thanks to its low noise floor, the ITG offered fine low-level detail with micro-dynamic shading, drawing me into well-recorded orchestral and jazz vocal recordings. Arguably a shade or two drier than my Tavish, the ITG’s clarity, drive, and ambient cues of musicians playing in physical space gave it added oomph and high value.

Tonally, the ITG was consistently neutral and transparent to both turntables and recordings, but its overall footprint was lighter yet more forceful and well-controlled than my tubed Tavish phono preamplifier. The ITG had a focused density that gave each instrument a jolt of power and presence.

Classic Records’ reissue of Béla Bartók’s Concerto For Orchestra / Music For Strings, Percussion And Celesta (RCA Living Stereo, Classics Records) played with pulse-pounding dynamics via the ITG, VPI Avenger Direct turntable, and Ortofon Verismo cartridge. The orchestral musical line held together at the most intense crescendos. Even with massed instruments zooming at fff, the ITG kept its cool demeanor, operating with stellar power reserves and rapt dynamics. Though things were hardcharging and well-controlled, I at times wished for a touch more flesh on the bones. The ITG never strained to complete its mission, its ability to thrill and chill breathtaking, and while it lacked the tonally saturated quality of tubes, it imaged far more distinctly, with better focus and clarity than my Tavish Adagio. The ITG delivered music with force and exacting, determined instrumental power.


Head-to-head vinyl comparisons between the ITG and the Tavish proved enlightening. In terms of playing David Grisman’s Mondo Mando (1981, Warner Bros. Records BSK 3618, Art Dudley’s collection), Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds (1972, Harvest ST-11078), and Art Pepper’s Smack Up (1968, Contemporary Records S7602), both phono stages sounded exceptional, albeit in different ways.

The Tavish played with a larger stage, more blustery atmospherics, deeper yet looser bass, and a certain, undeniable swagger. By contrast, the ITG was far more detailed, incisive, and better sorted, offering exceptional, clear image placement and super-defined top octaves — and tighter bass. Where the Tavish played Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds as if in a large Italian amphitheater with echoes of history all around, the ITG was like hearing Floyd in the studio, ear-hugging headphones leaving nothing to the imagination. Similarly, Art Pepper’s Smack Up wailed, kicked, and swung loosely and lavishly, drums and bass especially deep and voluminous through the Tavish. The ITG made Pepper stand up straight and follow the chart, while tightening up the acoustic bass and slightly damping down the drums.

The Pathos In The Groove MM/MC phono preamp worked quite well in my all-tube system, though I’m not sure it would work as well in an all-solid system. Surrounded by similar solid-state components may close-in the sound of the ITG, not free it and add bloom as did my tube gear. Even so, given its highly detailed and well-sorted soundstage, tight low-end fundamentals, and largely neutral midrange (with a dash of lushness), Pathos’ In The Groove phono preamp is a solid, winning performer, and it deserves a serious audition if your pocketbook allows.

For more information about In The Groove, head to the official Pathos site here.
If you want to order In The Groove, go here, click on the Dealers header located on the right of the page, and scroll down to find one near you (Upscale Audio handles U.S. distribution).

Author bio: Former musician, former artist, and former legal wastrel Ken Micallef has written numerous hi-fi equipment reviews for Stereophile and AnalogPlanet, and his byline has also appeared within Mojo, Electronic Musician, and The Grammys. You can also find him at YouTube (Ken Micallef Jazz Vinyl Audiophile).


AnalogJ's picture

Ken, I recommend you get a hold of the Pathos Classic Remix integrated amp to audition. It uses a Class A, all-tube preamp stage, which also drives the built-in headphone amp. The amplifier section is solid-state, and is rated at 70wpc into 8 ohms and 130wpc into 4 ohms. Pathos says that the integrated amp is based on the Classic One Mk III, but tweaked for sonic improvement, plus it has potential built-in digital processing capability.

AnalogJ's picture

This now retails for $3800, but it's still a very good value given its sound quality and capabilities.

kenmac's picture


I did review the Pathos Inpol Remix, for Stereophile. In all honesty, I preferred this phono stage to that integrated amplifier. Maybe the Classic version would be better.

JACK L's picture


Right! Why bring in an integrated amp to compare with the phonostage under review. Apple to orange comparison !

Having read the review of MM Pro Phono Preamp by M Mattler just yesterday in AP News forum, I would strongly suggest you to do a sonic review of this MM phonostage.

For lousy $800, this hand-made-in-Kent-England MM phonstage gets all the input/output features of this $1,900 made-in-Italy phonstage, with addition features that this $1,900 phonstage fails to offer:
unique active cartridge loading, 3rd order subsonic filters, & relay-muting, etc etc. One thing in common is both phonostages use op-amp IC chips for signal processing throughout !!

Jack L

Facts's picture

Having seen this kind of ‘cross promotion” of these mm pro stages on vinyl engine it was only a matter of time before the manufacturer tried it on here

kenmac's picture

I wrote that I preferred that integrated to this phono stage as individual, respective products To "compare" the two would make no sense, they do different things.

The comparison was with my Tavish, where the Pathos did very well.

To add a zillion features does not make one component better than another. If anything additional features can often pollute the sound. each design is different. But I'll be reviewing the MM Pro Phono Preamp soon, "lousy" or not and it will have to stand up to my Tavish, Vincent, and Manley phono stages. Now THAT will be a comparison.

JACK L's picture


May I know which Tavish phonostage you got as yr sonic 'holy grail' ?

Jack L

JACK L's picture


kenmac's picture

It's not as resolving or as dimensional as the Manley Chinook, not as neutral or as detailed as the Pathos In The Groove, but it has a sweetness of tone that makes it special in my book.

JACK L's picture


Yes, most, if not all, brandname all-tubed phono preamps deliver "sweetness of tone" when compared with the same built with solid state devices while lacking the dimensionality & neutral/detail of the latter.

Really good all-tube preamps that can deliver all the above sonic virtues would be expensive enough to wreck the buyers' bank accounts.
Like Kendo Audio Note Japan selling its flagship all-triode tube preamp for USD140,000 !!!! I auditioned it in depth in AN regional rep showroom. I love its sound but surely never want to spend such big money to acquire one let lone the many-month shipment waiting time.

Probably spoiled by my frequent attendance at live music performances & my addiction to vinyl music at home, I want to own an all-tube phono-preamp that delivers the resolution, 3-D dimension & fast transience like a top-notch solid state preamp plus musicality & emotion of the very best tubes which too many solidstate preamps lack.

The only way to attempt making my dream come true is to design/build one myself without mortgaging my house for a Kendo Audio Note & the like.

Thanks for my decades audio DIYing, supplemented by my electrical engineering background, I think I've come pretty close in making my fancy dream come true 6 years back when I design/built an all-triode phonostage+linestage, borrowing the SIMPLICITY design concept of Audio Note Japan.

Needless to say, I spent only like 'peanut' vs the cheapest brandname all-tube phono-pramp in the market. I can't complain as my home-brew sounds good indeed !

Knowledge is the power to get ahead of the game.

Jack L

JACK L's picture


Yes & No.

That MM Pro gets a unique feature rarely found in any other phonostages, price irrespective : active cartridge loading - claimed to reduce the cartridge loading current 3 times more quiet than using passive 47KR conventionally. The designer used the reverse input of the op-amp chip to achieve such low-noise feature.

I am interested to read the sonic review of such unconventional feature!

Listening is believing

Jack L

Facts's picture

Its sad when manufacturers pretend to be users to shill their products

minho266's picture

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