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March 2021

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Superior Audio Equipment Review

Gryphon Audio Essence Preamplifier
And Essence Stereo Power Amplifier Review
Blown away by an amazing musical performance!
Review By Tom Lyle

 

Gryphon Audio Essence Preamplifier And Essence Stereo Power Amplifier Review

 

  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 Essence preamplifier is a dual-mono, zero negative feedback, fully discrete, DC-coupled pure Class A component. The musical signals that enter this preamp take the shortest possible paths that are possible. As a result, this preamp has no tone or balance controls, headphone output, mono option, polarity inversion, or anything else "unnecessary" that would lengthen this signal path. The benefits of a shortened signal path are many. But the shortened signal path reduces crosstalk between channels and diminish other anomalies that might end up coloring the signal that travels through the Gryphon Essence preamp.

 

Gryphon Audio Essence Preamplifier And Essence Stereo Power Amplifier Review

 

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.

 

Happy
I was happy to find that there are subwoofer outputs, tape inputs, and tape outputs on the rear panel of the Gryphon Essence preamplifier. These assets are nowhere to be found on many otherwise fine high-end audio preamplifiers and linestages currently on the market. I can't be the only one who misses them! I've become practically an expert on workarounds for those components that I've reviewed that don't have what I consider these essential features. I'm sure that even though they are probably minuscule, I'm sure that there has to be some sonic loss when using "Y" cables and the like when used as substitutes for a missing subwoofer output.

 

Built
On their website, Gryphon says the amount of investigation and auditioning they perform on their equipment is "exhaustive" and this applies to their original parts and those parts that are custom designed and built exclusively for Gryphon. The "lavish attention" on each aspect of the preamp's circuit and "fully grasp the purpose and behavior of every single part of the whole''. Since their designs optimize each part's performance, this makes sure that they will end up with a shorter signal path and that they meet their goal of "musical purity."

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.

 

Green
Suppose you are also using a compatible Gryphon Class A power amplifier, such as the one that I'm reviewing with this preamplifier. If so one can use their Green Bias control, which Gryphon developed to allow for automatic regulation of the Class A bias between the preamp and the power amp. One can choose between Bias L, Bias M, and Bias H Class A "with no sonic degradation."  However, the Essence Stereo Power Amplifier is "only" equipped with Bias Low (5 watts pure Class A) and Bias H (50 watts Pure Cass A). I will admit that I did not use this function on this pair of components. I admire Gryphon's eco-friendly operation but cannot imagine having any need for it at present.

 

Preamplifier
I suppose there are still some audiophiles that are annoyed when a high-end audio manufacturer calls a component a "preamplifier" when they feel it should be called a "linestage." Thankfully, the Gryphon Essence is accurately labeled a preamplifier because of its optional digital-to-analog converter and phono-stage module. The DAC is a PCM / DSD DAC module with plenty of inputs (USB, S/PDIF / AES / optical) and can handle files up to PCM 384kHz Hz and DSD512. Those opting for the phono-stage will have one that can accept both Moving Coil (MC) and Moving Magnet (MM) phono cartridges. It is based on Gryphon's "legendary'' Legato model.

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.

 

Gryphon Audio Essence Preamplifier And Essence Stereo Power Amplifier Review

 

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!

 

Transparent
The digital and analog front-ends of my system have been in my system for a relatively long time, at least as far as any audiophile who reviews equipment is concerned. I used the solid-state ESS DA2 and vacuum tube-powered Nagra Tube DAC with its Classic PSU power supply to convert the signal from my computer-based music server. The analog front end was no slouch either, as I used my reference Basis Audio Debut V turntable with a Tri-Planar 6 tonearm with a Top Wing Suzaku "Red Sparrow" MC phono cartridge. This phono cartridge is the best cartridge I've ever heard in my system, by far. This analog set-up was connected to a Pass Laboratories XP-17 phono preamp. I used balanced cables to join either of these front ends; at first, I used the reference-grade, Best of 2020 Blue Note Award winning Kimber Carbon 8 interconnects, and then for the second half of the review, the Black Cat Graceline Level-2 cables which were still in my system because I reviewed them last month. Although much of the time when I was auditioning the Gryphon Essence preamplifier with its stablemate, the Gryphon Essence Stereo power amplifier, I also spent a fair amount of time with it connected to my reference Pass Labs X250.8 power amplifier.

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.

 

 

Spinning
I don't go too long without spinning one of my favorite John Coltrane LPs, his masterpiece My Favorite Things that was released in 1961. I don't have an original pressing of this album, but the vinyl copy I listen to is on Atlantic Records, probably pressed in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and was thankfully made from an analog master.

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.

 

Heard
I've heard quite a few solid-state Class A preamplifiers before, but very often, the only reason I know that the preamplifier is designed with a Class A circuit is that it says so in the manufacturer's literature. I wish I could take back all the times I've used the audiophile cliché, "It was as if this solid-state component had all the sonic benefits of a tube unit with none of the sonic disadvantages." Those other times I was obviously exaggerating. This time it is for real.

 

 

 

Gryphon Essence Stereo Power Amplifier
The 126-pound, a foot high, and nearly 2 x 2 feet wide and deep, Gryphon Stereo Essence power amplifier look as powerful as it sounds. Yes, it is "only" 50 Watts per channel. But as I said in my review of the Pass Laboratories INT-25 Integrated amplifier, which is rated at 25 Wpc, "Class A amplifiers conduct high current even at idle, and so they end up sending much of that current to the speakers." So, the same conclusions can be reached, with only its specified power rating changed – that Gryphon Essence Stereo power amp "isn't rated at 50 Watts per channel, it's rated at 50 Class-A Watts!".

 

Driving
I usually have between 250 to 350 Watts of Class A/B power driving the rather large full-range electrostatic speakers in my system, which during the audition period was connected with either Black Cat Graceline L-2 or Kimber Carbon 18 XL speaker cable. Most of the time, the 50 Wpc Class A Gryphon Essence Stereo power amplifier had no problem powering these impedance-challenged speakers. The fact that this system also uses a pair of SVsound SB16-Ultra subwoofers, and given the variety of music I listen to, which every so often includes selections that sound best when it's likely I'll receive complaints from the neighborhood association, the Gryphon Stereo Essence power amplifier might not be the best fit for permanent residence in my main system. The Gryphon was not able to scale the same crystal-clear SPL heights as my reference power amplifier. Therefore, I currently use a 250 Wpc Class A/B Pass Laboratories X-250.8, but the Gryphon amplifier remained in my system for quite a while, where I reveled in its top-notch Class A performance.

 

Introduced
On their website, Gryphon makes a big deal that 30 years ago, they introduced their first power amplifier, the 100-Watt Pure Class A, True Dual Mono DM100. That must have been quite an amplifier. Most audiophiles familiar with Class A circuitry know that it is the least efficient of all the popular types of amplifier circuits. Therefore, its "unused" signal not converted to the sound that eventually comes through our speakers is generated as heat. 50 Wpc is quite a high rating for a Class A amplifier, and so this amp requires a very large cabinet due to needing the heat sinks necessary, lest the amp overheats. Even still, the Gryphon Stereo Essence power amp runs quite hotly.

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.

 

 

 

Requested
When one wants to hear an Elgar concerto, most of the time, it's his Cello Concerto that is requested, specifically the 1965 version with cellist Jaqueline du Pré. This time, instead of the Cello Concerto, I hit play on the Deutsche Grammophon (DG) DSD file of Edward Elgar's Violin Concerto, with the violinist Hillary Hahn and Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.  In a word, it blew me away. Those very familiar with Elgar might be surprised by this choice because I recently learned that this piece was one of his last works to gain popularity. So, I guess it's a good thing I don't read much of the classical music "press." It is a masterpiece, sourced from an SACD with excellent sound quality.

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.

 

True
Perhaps this is true because Gryphon claims that their Stereo Essence power amp has "exceptional" specifications, that these figures "guarantee stability with any loudspeaker load." That's quite a statement, especially when read by an audiophile that favors electrostatic and other planar-type speakers. Even though I couldn't turn up the volume as loud as I do when I'm using my reference amp with FIVE times as much specified power, but still, there is no way I could have used an "ordinary" power amplifier that puts out 50 Watts per channel. That's what I meant when I said that this amp has 50 Watts of "Class A power."

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!

 

High-Powered
To make this high-powered Class A amp have specifications that lead to transparency to the source and also have enough power to make this a Class A muscle-amp, the Gryphon Stereo Essence has an output section that uses Sanken bipolar output devices, which not only have exceptional sonic characteristics but are also very reliable.

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.

 

 

More
If one needs even more power than Gryphon's 50 Watts of Class A power, one can consider the mono-block version of this amplifier, the Essence Mono power amplifier at 55 Watts per channel.  One shouldn't be fooled into think that this amplifier has "only" five Watts more per channel. Not only is this five-Watts of Class A power, but Gryphon puts so much more into these two cabinets than I can go into here. For example, the Essence Stereo uses ten transistors per channel, while the Essence monoblock features 20 of these devices per amp. These transistors can deliver massive amounts of momentary peak power without overload. That's just a taste of what's in store when considering these monoblocks over the stereo unit. One must also consider its price, which is twice the price of the stereo unit at $45,980 for a pair of them.

 

Style
Those familiar with my reviewing "style" (or lack thereof) should be keenly aware that I usually don't go into as much technical detail as I have in this review. The engineering prowess evident in both the Gryphon Essence Stereo power amplifier and its matching Essence preamplifier are awe-inspiring. They are both outstanding pieces of high-end kit. That they both make music sound impressive in my system shouldn't have been much of a surprise. I wasn't surprised. I was more blown away by the performance of both the Gryphon Stereo Essence power amplifier and Essence preamplifier than I was surprised by them.

 

 

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

 

 

Specifications
Type: Solid-state stereo preamplifier and amplifier
Gryphon Essence Preamplifier 
Output Power (RMS) pro channel in 8 Ohm:
Output Power (RMS) pro channel:
MAX Output Power (PEAK) pro channel:
Output level balanced, max: 23Vrms, +29.5dBu
Output level single ended, max:
Maximum input level. 1kHz:
Noise, Unweighted, 20Hz to 20kHz: < -90dBu
Noise, A-weighted: < -94dBu
Dynamic range:
Distortion (THD+N): < 0.005%
Input Gain: +18dB
Bandwidth (-3dB): 0 - 1MHz
Channel Separation: Infinite
Input impedance, balanced (20Hz to 20kHz): 50kOhm
Input Impedance, single ended (20-20000Hz): 25kOhm
Output impedance (20-20000Hz): 15 Ohm
Balanced inputs, pr. Channel: 2 x XLR
Single ended inputs, pr. Channel: 3 x RCA
Balanced outputs, pr. Channel: 1 x XLR
Single ended outputs, pr. Channel: 2 x RCA (sub + tape out)
Digital outputs:
Speaker outputs, pr. Channel:
Power consumption (Stand-by): < 0,5W
Power consumption (Maximum): 50W
Power consumption (Idle): 50W
Power Supply Capacity: 2 x 26000 uF
No. of AC inlets / cable plug type: 1x IEC C13
Dimensions: 18.5" x 6.5" x 15.2" (WxHxD)
Weight: 29.5 pounds
Price: $17,500

 

 

Gryphon Stereo Essence Power Amplifier
Output Power (RMS) pro channel in 8 Ohm: 50W, Class A
Output Power (RMS) pro channel: 200W / 2Ohm
MAX Output Power (PEAK) pro channel:
Output level balanced, max:
Output level single ended, max:
Maximum input level. 1kHz:
Noise, Unweighted, 20-20000hz: < -78dBu
Noise, A-weighted: < -81dBu
Dynamic range: 110dB
Distortion (THD+N): < 1%, 50W, < 0.05%, 25W
Input sensitivity: 0,564V
Gain: +31dB
Bandwidth (-3dB): 0 - 350KHz
Channel Separation: Infinite
Input impedance, balanced (20-20000Hz): 20KOhm
Input impedance, single ended (20-20000Hz):
Output impedance (20-20000Hz): < 0,015Ohm
Balanced inputs, pr. Channel: 1 x XLR
Single ended inputs, pr. Channel:
Balanced outputs, pr. Channel:
Single ended outputs, pr. Channel:
Digital outputs:
Speaker outputs, pr. Channel: 1 set
Power consumption (Stand-by): <0.5W
Power consumption (Maximum): 1350W
Power consumption (Idle): 350W (High B)
Power Supply Capacity: 2 x 220000 uF
No. of AC inlets / cable plug type: 1x IEC C19
Dimensions: 18.5" x 9.4" x 17.8" (WxHxD)
Weight: 125.7 pounds  
Price: $22,990

 

 

 

Company Information
Gryphon Audio Designs ApS
Industrivej 10 A & B
8680 Ry
Denmark

Voice: +45 86 89 12 00
E-mail: sales@gryphon-audio.dk
Website: Gryphon-Audio.dk

 

 

 

United States of America Distributor
Gryphon Audio NA Inc.
9 Lynn Court,
Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677

Voice: (201) 690-9006
E-mail: anthony@gryphon-audio.dk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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