More compact, more affordable and just as Class A – is this the Gryphon we’ve all been waiting for?
By Roy Gregory
Some reviews are a lot easier to write than others – and this is one of them. For a long time now, the most interesting and highest (musical) value product in the Gryphon stable has also been its most affordable amplifier, the Diablo 120 integrated. It’s a product that shares the fit and finish, operational elegance and styling of its more expensive brethren, delivers enough power to be useful and enough flexibility to be general in its application. Best of all, it delivers an enthusiastic, engaging and dynamic sound that is as enjoyable as it is enlightening. So much so that it makes the bigger, more expensive and nominally more capable Diablo 300 sound stilted, muscle-bound and frankly, a little constipated. Best of all, it doesn’t cost the earth and for all its high-end performance and musical credentials, it is surprisingly approachable.
Of course, for Gryphon that is a welcome is slightly embarrassing assessment: great news for the 120 – not so good for the 300 (although it doesn’t seem to stop the beefcake model selling). But being sanguine, the company needed something to bridge the gap between the integrated amps and the mighty but mightily expensive Zena/Antileon Evo Stereo combination. If that something leant more to the free-wheeling musical verve of the loose-living Diablo 120 than the slightly uptight, upright Diablo 300, then so much the better. Well that something has duly arrived and it has duly ticked all the right boxes. The new Essence line-stage preamplifier and power amp really is a 120 writ large: the same easy, almost promiscuous musical virtue – just bigger, better and even more enjoyable!
Dark and dangerous(ly good!)
Sonic character is not the only thing that the Essence units share with their little brother. The line-stage can be fitted with either an internal DAC (the same excellent module used in the Zena pre-amp and Diablo 300) or an MM/MC phono-stage (ever a Gryphon speciality, although in this case one that I’ve yet to experience). But both styling and output topology have changed – arguably for the better. The flat-fronted fascias with their V-shaped glass inserts are less macho and more modern looking than the heavily sculpted case-work of the established Gryphon products, while the amplifier’s output stage now runs in Class A – at least as far as 50 Watts. In a nod to the environmental lobby, the Green Bias facility allows users to link pre- and power amps together, varying bias current according to level and how seriously you might be listening – although once you’ve experienced the Essence combo running ‘full-fat’ I’m not convinced the diet version is really going to cut it. As with other Gryphon power amps, the Essence is available in both stereo and mono form, although budget permitting, given its robust driving capabilities and 200 Watt peak output in Class AB, I’d be tempted to run two stereo’s in a bi-amped configuration rather than the monos, unless of course your speakers are real brutes or, like the Wilsons or Vienna Acoustics, don’t offer the option. With but a single stereo on hand, I ran the amp with a range of speakers, from the Vienna Beethoven Concert Grand and Spendor S9 through to the Wilson DAW. In each case the results were suitably impressive, the sheer musical enthusiasm of the Essence/Wilson pairing in particular leaving me thirsting for a second amp and a pair of WatchDog subs.