Ever fall in love at first sight? With a human being, a car, an article of clothing? Doesn't happen often (thank goodness), but when it does -- whoa. Hi-fi, too, has its share of drop-dead gorgeous, I-just-gotta-have-it hardware, and you're all forgiven for lusting after a component not because it ushers the voices of angels into your rooms but because it might cause a quiver in your loins. What the heck -- different strokes for different folks. And just as the British makers go out of their way to plumb even greater depths of ugliness, so do the Danes strive for even greater beauty in what are, after all, nothing more than metal boxes filled with bits of wire. B&O survives almost entirely on looks, Primare is the Gaultier of audio, while Gryphon is, well, Bauhaus in your haus.
What started with a pocket-sized line pre-amp and phono amp has developed into a range of power amplifiers and pre-amps which should be sold in Chaumet rather than a hi-fi shop. Flemming Rasmussen, despite looking like a prop forward for the London Welsh, oozes taste and style. He insists that his products please the eye as well as the ear and has endowed Gryphon with a persona which implies a marriage of art and technology, form and function. Even his mains leads are chic. His most recent challenge? To turn a monster of a power amplifier into something almost svelte. Which isn't the first word that comes to mind when describing a 100W/channel, pure Class A stereo amplifier weighing 76.5kg and measuring 56x25x62cm (WDH).
So how do you transform something this bulky into an objet d'art? Black seems to be Flemming's fave colour, so the DM100 Dual Mono Amplifier is pure Spinal Tap. It's layered and sectioned like a Sassoon cut, metal chassis and acrylic front panel, ankle-slicing heat sinks -- it's almost an optical illusion. When sitting on the floor unpowered, the DM100 looks merely sinister, a sleeping beast but a space-stealer you can't ignore. Yet it doesn't shout 'high tech' or even 'hi-fi'. Switch it on via the sole feature on the front panel, a rotary control sporting a triangle, and red illumination creates a satanic leer. You expect it to rumble, shake its haunches and leap at your throat, the 'dog' in Ghostbusters come to life. But it doesn't. It just sits there looking mean and moody.
The back contains what amounts to clutter in the the Gryphon lexicon. A fan port, large custom-made gold plated terminals, balanced (XLR) inputs (no single-ended option), a fuse holder, the main AC switch (the front selector chooses 'off' or 'standby') and 'Bias adjustment'. This last-named rotary selector allows you to 'dial in' the amount of Class A, with 100% being pure Class A into an 8 ohm load. The more efficient the speaker, the less Class A is required (eg, to lower AC power consumption), so horns might be run with the control at 50%. (As I did all of my listening with Apogees and Sonus Faber Extremas, I left it in egg-frying mode.) Underneath the unit is a toggle which is set for AC mains with or without true (pole in the ground) earthing.
Take off the lid and it's just as pretty and 'super-detailed'. The section nearest the fascia contains the transformer and rectifier stages. A pair of custom-made 1200W toroidals reside here, sheathed in a resonance damping, shielded enclosure. This is connected via eight high-current bridge rectifiers (four per channel), hard-wired to a massive bank of 48,000 uf RIFA capacitors flanked by the driver sections. At the back, there's an AC input filter to remove RF and HF noise, the driver stages (with a dedicated 20,000 uf capacitor bank) and the output devices. Special capacitors on separate PCBs take care of the input section, mounted next to the wholly justifiable chunks of heat sink. I didn't have a thermometer to hand, but the DM100 may be the hottest-running tranny amp I've used.
The DM100 also features protection circuitry in the form of integrated circuits free of relays in the ouput stages. If DC or HF is detected at the input, a monitor will cause the unit to mute. Another circuit monitoring the difference between input and output will trip internal (non-user-replaceable) fuses, while a thermal sensor will activate a circuit breaker if the amp overheats. Needless to say, I didn't witness any of these devices in action, despite attempts at knocking Deep Purple out of the Guinness Book of Records. Nothing, and I mean nothing, upset this amp. Which is nice to know when you've shelled out £7300 for a piece of hi-fi equipment.
Other circuit details adhering to the Rasmussen School of Amp design include ultra-short signal paths, minimal negative fedback, a non-magnetic chassis and no-compromise parts quality. Solid copper buss-bars and heavy guage wire are employed to feed the power to the output and gain stages, while the driver sections, fed from separate windings on the transformer's secondary side, are directly connected to the output boards.
Switch-on is drama-free, but an excruciatingly slow warm-up period will lead you to leaving the primary power on at all times (the button at the back), using the front-mounted control to take it out of stand-by mode. From ice-cold, the amp needed five or six hours to reach the heights; from stand-by, under 10 minutes. A slow-start circuit prevents your lights from dimming.
Read more about the performance of the DM100 on Page 2.