Gryphon Essence Line-Stage and Power Amplifier

Essence preamplifier inputs, with internal DAC fitted

With Gryphon’s characteristic warm and slightly dark balance there’s a black, velvety smoothness to the Essence soundstage that stands instruments, voices and dynamics in sharp contrast – but this is the contrast of color rather than etched or spotlit over-exposure. Soundstage extent and boundaries are better developed than the 120’s, but are still based on a pleasing spread of instruments rather than pinpoint locations and intra-instrumental space. Never short of drive or rhythmic urgency, the amps never sound hurried – just keen to get on with it. The resulting sense of temporal space might not match the precise definition of the space between the tail of one note and the start of the next that characterises the CH Precision amps, but it does place their peaks precisely in time, a measure of overall pacing which brings with it a welcome feeling of control and poised musical intent. Where the Diablo 120 does occasionally rush its lines, not stumbling so much as skating over rhythmic or dynamic halts or hesitations, the Essence is both sure of foot and articulate. With that all too rare combination of rhythmic flexibility and dynamic agility, the emphasis that a musician places in their performance is writ clear, whether it is the rhythmic accents and shifting tempi that inject momentum into a track like Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ ‘Forest Fire’ (Rattlesnakes, Polydor 823 683-2) or the pointed vocal barbs on ‘Jennifer She Said’ (Mainstream, Polydor 833 691-2). That ability to differentiate and scale dynamic levels is key to the overall fluidity of their presentation. The Diablo 120 trumps many a more ambitious product in this regard, but with the Essence pre/power the shape and sense of the tracks is even more explicit and purposeful, the core meaning more clearly stated.

Drawing on the Dark Side…

With more boisterous energy than a Disney-worth of Dalmatian puppies, you might think that an over enthusiastic or energetic performance would stretch this amplifier’s grip on reality, proving altogether too much of a good thing. But play Jordi Savall’s fascinating, entertaining, dynamic and engaging reading of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (with Le Concert Des Nations, from Revolution– a set of the first five symphonies, Alia Vox AVSA9937) and you realise that despite all of that drive and energy, weight and body, the amps remain firmly in control. You might expect the small group performance on original instruments to sound thin and lacking in body, but the iconoclastic Savall shoehorns his players into a tight venue that concentrates the sound – and the amps do the rest, capturing both the intimate yet committed nature of the performance and the tightly worked phrasing and dynamic steps that reveal the humour in the score. As dramatic, bold and impressive as the sound and playing are, they don’t obscure the lightness of touch behind the guiding hand, the subtle dynamic shadings and flirtatious instrumental interplay. You might think you know this music inside out: this performance on these amps will make you think again, testament to not just the inherent musicality of the analog stages, but the quality of the on-board DAC too.