I remember there was buzz. There was buzz for this little-known (in North America) Danish hi-fi company named Gryphon and their Diablo 300 integrated amp. This was a number of years ago at either Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver, or AXPONA in Chicago, I can’t recall which, but everyone was talking it up around the metaphorical water cooler on day two of the show, so with my interest piqued, I checked it out along with everyone else. It didn’t disappoint – the buzz wasn’t unjustified.
Skip ahead and now I’ve climbed the Gryphon ladder to the Zena preamplifier/DAC and Essence stereo power amplifier. Both are based around zero global negative feedback circuit designs and represent a commitment by the company to keeping things simple. There are a plethora of established pre and power circuit topologies available to audio engineers, but the least complicated, in my experience, tend to deliver the most lifelike and enjoyable listening experience. This proved to once again be the case as this combination had a purity of tone and timbre that spoke less of valves or solid state and more to the simplicity the of signal path. A straight wire with gain? Not exactly, but let’s say an adherence to that principle and leave it at that. Connections were ably handled by AudioQuest, with some of the highest-spec'd cables in their quiver adorning this Gryphon/ Sonus Faber system, including the oft mentioned, but never seen (by me) Dragon bi-wire loudspeaker cables.
...this combination had a purity of tone and timbre that spoke less of valves or solid state and more to the simplicity the of signal path.
The Night Dreamer direct-to-disc recordings on offer from Bandcamp have captivated me since I came across their Seu Jorge and Rogé offering in the spring. There is a raw, dynamic, unequivocal, in-the-room edge to every cut, and having heard this album many times in a few reference systems of my curation, it is one whose qualities I’m familiar with. Through the Gryphon system this album had razor-sharp detail to their closely-mic’d voices and instruments. Fat guitar strumming, full-bodied, harmonically rich tone and timbre with demonstrable clarity between Jorge and Rogé vocals on harmonies, and notable separation of the dense, instrumental accompaniment that supports every track. In other words, it nailed it.
Tangerine Dream have been around more than 40 years and their albums released during the Virgin label years are generally considered to be their best. Rubycon is a perennial early-electronic music favourite, and when I want to get a sense of how a system handles sonic tension, synth arpeggios, bassline buildup and sustained pitch it is a reference. Here there is an enveloping sense of the cavernous sound stage the recording was made in – more akin to a live show presentation than a hi-fi one – with excellent, wide, tall and deep 3D-stereo imaging between the big Sonus Faber Olympica Nova IIIs. My notes say “…visceral, with a real sense of the traditional analog hardware used to produce engineering effects throughout their production pipeline." This pipeline consisted of incredibly expensive MOOG synth and percussion modules that have a very unique, un-digital (read pre-silicon) sound to them which the Gryphon/Lumin combo articulated flawlessly. Bereft of bass bloat, or digital artefacts, bestowed with incredible speed to leading edges of notes and capable of handling big dynamic swings without perceived effort, the big Sonus Fabers were an inspired compliment to the Danish Zena and Essence.
A system with an old-school separates feel to the sound – embracing traditional tonality – minus the dusty cap veiling and featuring startling amounts of resolution. Mix in outstanding dynamics, treble refinement, midrange finesse and weight to piano and stringed instruments, tight and well-plumbed bass grunt and I left the setup with a satisfied smile.
Read the next Virtual Audio Festival post covering Marantz and Totem Acoustic HERE.
More information on these products HERE.