Spoiled by choice as we are, it's easy to forget low-profile brands. Gryphon suffers from this syndrome simply because there are far too many companies producing high-end amplifiers, and a mere handful probably accounts for 90 percent of the market. And that's a pity: Gryphon equipment, which I seem to revisit every four or five years, deserves much, much more of our attention. Now that they're back in the UK, we have no excuses.
Gryphon, has always behaved like a major brand, reminding me in particular of other Danish companies like Primare and Densen, which also refuse to emulate the still-extant British practice of making equipment built like your worst DIY nightmare. Even in 1985, when the company's only offering was an 'extreme' phono pre-amp, Gryphon understood that most people want 'high perceived value'. Only the most masochistic of audiophiles will still put up with garbage which smokes, belches, farts and then draws blood with its unfinished edges.
Beyond offering terrific build quality and gorgeous styling, Gryphon has also managed to be innovative, while sticking to a philosophy of dual mono construction, huge and well-managed power supplies, and - more recently - extreme user friendliness. The Callisto 2200 integrated amplifier, one model above entry-level, encapsulates all of this. And I have to tell you that it is - like the SME 10 turntable, Stax Omega headphones, Dyson vacuum cleaners and Aurora fountain pens - a product which seems 'right' straight out of the box, before you even use it for its designated purpose.
Dimensioned a t175x480x420mm (HWD), small for a product yielding 200W/ch and thus reminiscent of Krell's KAV300il, the Callisto 2200 (and its 100W/ch sister, the 2100) exudes modernity: mixed black surfaces, no rotary controls, no clutter. Indeed, Gryphon is so thoughtful that it managed to continue using black Perspex while at the same time preventing the curse of fingerprints by placing the row of eight buttons in a part of the fascia made from a different, non-glossy material. Then again, the unit is fully remote controlled, so fingerprints need never mar it.
As the photos show, the front control panel is flanked by two plain black sections which correspond to the left and right power amp sections. If you remove the cover, as I did when installing the optional phono stage, you see internals consisting of a massive motherboard with a vast toroidal power supply in the middle. The sides consists of heat sinks running the length of the unit; because Gryphon is so 'new age', those heat sinks will never slice flesh as they're hidden by the non-magnetic, non-resonant aluminium cover. Attached to the heat sinks are daughter boards containing the amplifier stages, which connect to the main board...and, I might add, you can barely see as it's filled with big fat capacitors.
Gryphon has employed a double push-pull configuration of complementary high-speed Sanken transistors for each channel of the power amp, with high slew rates to ensure 'correct handling of ultrafast musical transients, even at high levels. Its wide power bandwidth extends beyond 350kHz to guarantee linear phase across the audible frequency range and the absence of negative feedback completely eliminates intermodulation distortion'. Gryphon rates the unit conservatively at 200W/ch into 8 Ohms, 400W in 4 Ohms and 600W in 2 Ohm loads; 1 ohm Apogee Scintillas presented no problems whatsoever, but the amp was more comfortable - sonically, that is - with the Sonus Faber Guarneri.
As with previous Gryphons, Callisto features the company's 'True Dual Mono' configuration, zero negative feedback, a dual mono Holmgren toroidal transformer which benefits from extensive mechanical decoupling, a passive preamplifier stage, carefully selected bipolar transistors, military spec double-sided printed circuit boards and PCB-mounted socketry to eliminate wiring and to shorten the signal path.
Read more about the Callisto 2200 on Page 2.
What makes the Callisto so 21st Century, and what should make it a
hit with those fully at ease with the world of computing, is the heavy
use of microprocessor-control, including the operation of the passive
volume potentiometer. Various combinations of buttons allow you to name
the inputs, to adjust the lighting of the 2 lines/50 character vacuum
fluorescent display (High, Medium, Low, Off), to preset levels, to
assign input 3 to a fixed-level A/V bypass input for integration with a
separate surround preamplifier and more. Gryphon has also planned for
the future by enabling flash memory upgrades via PC. The only touch of
primitivism is the need to remove the cover if you want to alter the
settings on the optional mm/mc phono stage; these changes are
accomplished with the physical removal or relocation of jumpers. For a
moment there, I thought I was configuring a pre-Windows soundcard...
That lavish display and the control circuits are powered
independently via a separate power supply, 'in order to eliminate any
risk of noise contamination.' Input relays lift the ground connection
for inputs when not in use, to isolate the selected signal from noise
contamination from the other sources. There's a nice, audible,
mechanical, Duane Eddy-ish 'twang' (from the unit, not the speakers!)
when you change sources, followed by a brief period of muting to avoid
At the back of the Callisto are gold-plated Swiss Neutrik XLR
sockets for one balanced source, four wonderfully butch, custom-made
speaker binding posts (with plugged-up holes to meet CE approval, the
plugs easily removed with a knife), gold-plated phono sockets with
Teflon insulation for five line inputs; the optional phono board takes
over input 5. Primary on/off, by the way, is under the front panel
rather than at the back. Either way, you will want to leave the
Callisto in stand-by mode when not in use, as the warm-up period from
ice-cold to optimal performance is a painful 45min-1hr. Hell, it took
weeks just to burn in a brand-new unit.
Slipping with ease inbetween the Musical Fidelity 3D CD player and
SME 10/Series V/Transfiguration Temper cartridge, and the
aforementioned Guarneris, the Callisto actually sounded wonderful from
cold, but I respected the manufacturer's request and let the amp burn
in before any serious listening ensued. But that initial burst, which I
undertook only to ensure that it worked, promised much, and I couldn't
wait until the amp was fully cooked. Another impression which remained
constant throughout my time with the Gryphon was its immunity to the
influence of interconnect cables. It was fussy about speaker wire,
happier with Transparent Ultra than Kimber Select in that it sounded
much richer, but changing cables between source and Callisto yielded
Confession time: I was so taken by the fuss-free operation, the
freedom from set-up problems - even the minor cock-ups with the phono
board were due to my eyesight rather than the design - I fear that
heart is ruling head, or ears. Perhaps it's because the Callisto
arrived after a run of major failures from others, or maybe it's the
glowing red griffin on the fascia...whatever the reason, I felt all
warm and fuzzy after my first and ensuing sessions with the Callisto.
Opening with Alison Krauss' a capella contribution to the O Brother
Where Art Thou soundtrack, followed by the Soggy Bottom Boys' 'I'm In
The Jailhouse Now', the Gryphon proved itself a deft handler of both
male and female voices. Better still, it wasn't upset by the chain gang
hammering which opens the disc, and immediately sounded not big but
life-like. (Tip to salesmen: demonstrate this with vocal groups, like
the Persuasions. It Puts You There. Honest.)
All of which indicated a marriage of both great finesse and a sense
of unlimited power, a delicious juxtaposition evinced only by the
finest components. What was curious, though, was the 'valveness' of the
sound, amusingly ironic given that the Gryphon is so far removed from
vintage sensibilities as is possible, and that the bass was deliciously
dry and well-damped. Which makes the punch line even more amusing: the
optional phono stage is of the to-die-for variety, ghostly quiet and
with some of the cleanest lower registers I've heard from vinyl outside
of the SME Listening Room. The remastering of Blondie's Parallel Lines
betrayed the recordings as much better than standard pressings allow
you the hear, especially the massive swell of the percussion, while
Classic's repressed Led Zeppelin albums exhibit even more weight.
This amp brought a smile to my face, concurrent with the rictus
still there from Wharfedale's Diamond 8.1s. It is one of the nicest,
sweetest amps I've heard in a long, long time, friendly in every
respect and utterly shorn of audio angst-inspiring quirks. At 4800 for
the Callisto 2200 and 590 for the phono board, it's far from cheap and
near the top of the price scale of the series of integrateds I'm
reviewing through the year, but I'll tell you something: there aren't a
whole helluva lot of separate pre/power combinations below 5500 I'd
take in its place. An absolute delight.