Gryphon Audio Essence Preamplifier
The Gryphon Essence preamplifier and Gryphon Stereo power amplifier are gorgeous looking and beautiful sounding Danish high-end audio components. Those who can afford either or both of these components will not only enjoy stellar sound quality but most likely will also be able to enjoy the fact that they are the epitome of audio equipment that has a look and "feel" of luxury goods. Gryphon founder Flemming E. Rasmussen was responsible for the stunningly beautiful exterior of the rather large (and heavy!) Gryphon Essence preamplifier and Stereo Essence power amplifier.
Good looks and operational refinement are especially true of the Gryphon Essence preamplifier ($17,500). Its weighty infrared metal remote was only one indication of this Danish audio manufacturer's recognition of many audiophile's appreciation of the intangibles that are available on many preamps. Even though I often had the remote nearby, I often wrestled myself out of my listening seat to enjoy the tactile sensations of this preamplifier's touch-sensitive vacuum fluorescent display and its front panel controls.
This luxurious tactile feel was also true of the Gryphon Essence Stereo power amp ($22,990). When lightly touching its front panel to exit its standby mode, a fluorescent bar spanning the component's front panel would change from red to green once the short warm-up period was over. I would then be able to start listening to music. Along with the illuminated Gryphon logo, the power bar would also change color when choosing different setting preferences.
Although the above features had nothing to do with the sound quality of these two components, when spending this amount of funds on audio equipment, most will agree that the proverbial mint on one's pillow is undoubtedly appreciated, as much as it is expected. Those who know me are aware that I feel that as much as these intangibles are nice, sound quality is much more important to me. I've already more than hinted that, thankfully, these components excel in this area, too.
Gryphon Essence Preamplifier
The Gryphon Essence preamplifier circuit is designed by their chief engineer Tom Møller. It uses a microprocessor-controlled 43-step fully balanced relay volume attenuator that Gryphon says ensures excellent sonic performance since it is based on a minimalist contingent of ultra-precision resistors. On the preamp's rear panel are inputs and outputs that are all gold-plated – a pair of Neutrik XLR outputs, and a total of five inputs – two Neutrik balanced XLR inputs and three unbalanced RCA inputs with Teflon insulation.
The Gryphon Essence preamplifier has no internal wiring; the only cables are a short ground lead, display ribbons, and AC power wiring. This AC is mounted in a shielded channel that goes from the rear IEC socket to the power switch, thus minimizing 60 cycle interference.
The Gryphon Essence is a modern component, taking advantage of the available conveniences, as long as they do not degrade performance. It has microprocessor controls that enable the user to name the inputs with up to eight characters, maximize its level, choose the level at which to start, and level matching within 8 dB. The preamp also has an AV bypass, and there are four levels of front panel brightness.
I wasn't too upset that Gryphon was "only" able to send me the Essence preamp with no phono-stage or DAC modules. This way, I was able to pay more attention to the preamplifier circuits with fewer distractions. Plus, both my analog and digital front ends are certainly up to the task of letting me hear what the Gryphon Essence preamp was all about.
I feel fortunate that these days I have a system in our home that is 100% at the service of the music. This means that when I say that what I'm hearing sounds good, it is not the system that sounds good; it is the music that sounds good. When reviewing equipment, this can also be bad because each component's quality can make a massive difference in this system's overall sound quality. If there is a weak link in the audio chain, it makes itself heard very quickly. Thankfully, the opposite was true when auditioning these Gryphon components!
I could have simply praised the mega-transparency
of the Essence preamp and leave it at that. This preamplifier sounded as if it
was so transparent to the source that I could have recommended it on this trait
alone. But there was so much more to its sound quality that, at times, it was
overwhelming. In a good way.
The title track takes up almost two-thirds of side one. I wasn't drawn into this time-honored music solely because the Gryphon preamplifier provided a huge soundstage that placed each instrument, sound, and voice in a discrete space of the soundstage – it was because of the realistic sound of each instrument, sound, and voice in this huge soundstage that drew me into the music!
The Gryphon Essence was able to project the band into my listening room as if I was hearing a sonic hologram of the proceedings. Elvin Jones' drum kit took up the space in my listening room from the floor to the ceiling. Not only was it taking up the area in and around the left speaker, but it was if I was hearing a true representation of the ambient space along with the drum set, too. It sure sounded as if the drums were being recorded in a room with a linoleum floor at Atlantic Studios on 57th Street in New York City at the time because I could hear the sound of the drums reflect off it.
This astounding realism wasn't as if this particular trait of the preamplifier was as it was performing some kind of parlor trick. It sounded as if it was merely reproducing what was on the recording in a way that I've only heard when using some of the best equipment that has ever been in my system. This preamplifier was able to separate instruments, sounds, and voices with a dynamic distance between them. Each would remain in their space of the soundstage regardless of their relative volumes. This preamp also had the sonic advantages of a tube preamplifier sound without affecting the frequency response.
Gryphon Essence Stereo Power
Audiophiles familiar with Class A amplifier circuitry are also aware that, in general, compared to its Class A/B brethren, this inefficient circuit has the potential to sound very impressive, especially when the amplifier is paired with the right speakers. I realize I'm simplifying things more than a bit here. Still, when everything is dialed-in correctly, I'm more than tempted to make statements such as its sound comparable to tube amplifiers but without its disadvantages. Other than the heat that's generated, that is.
I did plenty of listening to this Gryphon power amplifier without its matching preamplifier. But when listening to this violin concerto, I did so with the Essence preamplifier in the system. The combination of the two was almost too good to be true! I nearly fell off my listening seat during the last movement of this violin concerto. This concerto isn't a loud and fiery display of technical ability, as there's not too much pomp and circumstance (pun intended), but there are still many great themes played during this concerto and still plenty of virtuosic playing. During its cadenza, the string section plays some very unconventional sounding vibrating pizzicato beneath the solo violin that, in a way, sounds very percussive. Hillary Hahn effortlessly plays her solo, so it doesn't sound as if there's too many musical fireworks on display, but instead, it sounds extraordinarily emotional. Before I knew it, the piece finally ended with a blast from the large orchestra.
Of course, it helped that on this recording, all the technicians involved in making this recording certainly knew what they were doing, just as Hillary Hahn and conductor Sir Colin Davis did. One might think that these performers are so accustomed to a piece such as this, for them it was just another day at work. This recording makes it clear that they love what they do, so it is unlikely that they called it "work."
The above proves, once again, that when I discuss the music more than the "sound" of a component or components, that this is one of the greatest compliments that I can play a piece of high-end audio equipment. When I am listening to music, I want to hear the music, not the equipment.
I'm sure it also helps that the Stereo Essence is a dual-mono design that uses a custom-made, shielded, high-current toroidal transformer with dual-winding for both its left and right channels. The amp has separate power supplies for the output and driver stages, ensuring isolation between the output and input stages of the amplifier. Not only that, but there's a separate transformer for the control and display circuitry to isolate them from the signal path.
This Class A amplifier puts out 50 Watts per channel. Therefore, it is considered a high-powered amplifier. This amount of power is unusual for a Class A amp, so to pull this off and still have the extremely "respectable" specification couldn't have been an easy engineering task. I suppose that is only one of the reasons for this amplifier's relatively high price. Those lucky enough to afford the Gryphon Stereo power amplifier will be able to enjoy what the fruits of the Gryphon designers and engineers have put into it. I certainly felt fortunate to have heard this power amplifier in my system, even if just for the length of the review period!
The Essence Stereo uses ten transistors per channel, enabling the amp to deliver short bursts of peak power without overload. Other features of this amplifier that I read about on Gryphon's website included fully balanced input and gain stages, which can improve the amps' sound quality in many essential areas, and more importantly, has a separate power supply for its driver section that are from individual windings on its custom toroidal transformers.
They explain how the amp is very sensitive to the temperature between drivers and its output devices, and this driver section also has its bank of "high-quality" capacitors. This bank has a massive 440,000 microfarad array of capacitors, bypassed by "high-quality" polypropylene capacitors in its power supplies.
Gryphon Stereo Essence Power Amplifier