Gryphon Limited Edition Preamp Reviewed

Gryphon Limited Edition Preamp Reviewed

Danish audio at its best, the Gryphon Limited Edition preamp lives up to its name. Visually stunning with six distinct chassis and a 24-step passive resistor network that must be hand-assembled, Gryphon proves they can make a world-class preamp.

Luxury goods made more luxurious -- do lilies need gilding? Since man (and woman?) has never been able to leave well enough alone, we're faced with a constant flood of 'new and improved' everythings, be it automobiles or soap powder or hi-fi. When you consider that the full-function Gryphon Preamp is so good to begin with, what could Flemming Rasmussen do to create the Gryphon LE?

Additional Resources
• Read more audiophile stereo preamp reviews from brands like Audio Research, Classé, Mark Levinson, Krell, Linn, Naim and dozens others.
• Follow AudiophileReview.com for blog posts and opinion on the world of audiophile preamps including passive preamps, solid state preamps, tube preamps and more.
• Read Audiophile Power amp reviews here.

The occasion which prompted this deluxe edition is the company's fifth anniversary, hardly a span to match Tannoy's or Yamaha's, but a mini-milestone good enough to elicit cries of 'Party!'. Or whatever they say in Denmark. To celebrate, the company has produced 100 numbered editions of the gorgeous creature you see here in living colour. And since the basis for the LE is such a superb product, what the hell?

Externally, the LE shares the shape, dimensions and dual-mono/outboard power supply chassis. And the fascia is still black perspex. But that's where it stops. With thye LE, the faceplate is now split, with the mono halves now connected only by spacers. The centre third of each panel is now raised; on the power supplies they contain an illuminated Gryphon logo, while the the pre-amp panels feature the source legends (illuminated by a red dot to show the user's choice) and a digital readout for the volume settings, from 0 to 23. These represent the 1dB steps of the precision 24-step passive resistor netwroks which make up each hand-built potentiometer.

Each mono preamp section features the aforementioned volume control and a source selector choosing between 'Mute', 'Phono', 'CD', 'Tuner', 'Tape' and 'Aux'. That's all you get. At the back of the pre-amp is a row of gold-plated and 'Aux'. The wooden knobs of the standard model have been replaced with a substance called 'North Sea Stone' which looks like amber, and the gold surrounds are a more tasteful black hard chrome, as used to make Leica camera bodies. No engraved legends are required as the illuminated panels tell you all you need to know. And the numerical read-outs almost compensate for separate left/right volume controls. Note that the LEDs are not in the signal path.

WBT phono sockets, sockets to connect the separate power supplies for the main and phono sections and cannon-style connectors for balanced operation with power amps able to accept the configuration. Also sited at the back are an earth tag for your tonearm and a phono socket to accept the various resistors to load the phono stage.

The power supply's two sections feature outputs to the pre-amp chassis, the on/off switches, IEC mains connection, earth tags plus a massive 24k gold-plated earthing buss bar to allow users to 'star earth' the entire system. This is covered in depth in the owner's manual.

The LE comes with a bunch of goodies including five pairs of phono matching plugs (a chart tells you which ones to use), four massive, sharply-point cones for fitting under the pre-amp section, tiny 'coasters' to place under the points and white gloves to keep your grubby daubs off the fascia. The power supply's feet consist of large rubber feet, so it's possible to place the power supply on a stand or shelf, with the pre-amp section resting on top; the coasters prevent damaging the power supply's upper surface.

Like the XT, the LE is true dual mono, right down to using two mains leads. All components are negligible tolerance, custom-made designer 'bits', but detail changes make the LE a touch more 'special'. All of the resistors are German-made to 1% or 0.5% tolerances. The power supplies have been redesigned and incorporate custom-made C-core transformers. Extensive filtering is employed in the AC supply. The chassis are completely non-magnetic and 'galvanically' isolated from each other. And, like the XT, the LE features a 28,000 microFarad capacitor bank, zero negative feedback, ultra-short signal path with no internal wiring and phono sockets connected directly to the boards, no capacitors in the signal path, DC-coupling with servo-control, independent regulation of all power supplies and low output impedance for long cable runs.

One nice touch unique to the LE is the package of sheets covering over 140 test points for that particular sample. Spec freaks will drool over the detailsXT of the XTth.

The LE has been in my system for a few months, and it's been employed with Basis and Oracle turntables, Koetsu and Lyra cartridges, a dozen CD players (but mainly the CAL Tempest II SE, the MArantz CD-12 and the Audio Research DAC-1 with either Wadia or Krell transports), and amplifiers including the Aragon 4004s, a baby Croft, aged Beards, the Michaelson Chronos and others. Speakers tacked on to the above include the Apogee DIvas, the TDL 0.5s and Celestion SL700 SEs. In addition to my preferred cables -- Masterlink and Symo -- I also spent some time using the Gryphon with the company's new Guideline interconnects and Signal Master mains cables, which I'll be looking at more closely in an upcoming mini-cable survey.

As I had an XT for side-by-side comparisons, reviewing the LE proved simple. The gains which make the fully-loaded edition worth #6500 (you can save a few quid by dispensing with the phono section) are more than aesthetic. In two areas, the LE was audibly and repeatedly in advance of the XT, but not so much so that you'd want to dump your XT in the nearest skip.

The XT is no slouch in any area, but the LE always sounded like it was having an easier time of it. This was illustrated mainly by the dynamic capabilities, with the LE swinging from a hush to a holler with a far smoother and wider transition. The speed of the transition was not enhanced; the XT is quick by any standards. But the way the LE made the swings is what's so noticeable. I don't want to accuse the XT of making qausi-digital steps out of the manoeuvre; it's just that the LE seemed smoother. As for the scope of the dynamics, my favourite Sousa marches appeared louder when they should be loud and softer when they should be soft

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The other main gain over the XT is its smoother, more rounded -- and to my ears more lifelike -- edges and transients. No, we're not talking pseudo-valve lushness and romance but a less agressive treble region, less jarring stop/starts, less edge with borderline material. The ultimate test for this is a crappy, hyper-sibilant recording like Poco's 'Keep On Tryin''. The trick is to remove the unwanted sizzle without stripping away the music. Although the LE didn't quite match the Audio Research SP-14 in this area, it did better its sibling.

These conditions were independent of source, and were consistent from CD player to CD player, or cartridge to cartridge. With the latter, though, I found the set-up so critical that ended up using the phono section 'unloaded', which is recommended for '200 ohms to infinity'. Oddball cartridges with either minimal output or unusual sonic traits may benefit from the tailoring; the Lyra and Koetsus seem to be far more forgiving and less in need of special handling vis a vis the Gryphon.

So precise and finely-tuned is this product that it turned out to be a tweaker's delight. I hate messing around with hi-fi -- I'd rather listen to it -- but I'm at present inundated with weird accessories which must be reviewed. As the LE was in use during my sessions with the Navcom accessories, the Ortho Spectrum AV Doughnuts, the Isopod feet and a dozen new interconnects, I was able to alter the performance to suit my tastes by degree. I found, for example, that Isopods beneath the power supply chassis and the bigger Navcom feet replacing the metal cones between the pre-amp and power supply reduced some smearing which was so minor -- I must admit -- that I only noticed it by its absence.

Curiously, this stacked arrangement sounded better than a side-by-side arrangement with the two chassis separate by a half-metre. If that sounds like I'm sucking up to the aesthetically-motivated among you, then so be it.

Independent of the tweaks, the sources, the partnering equipment and choice of material are certain characteristics which make this such a desirable beast and a must for any high-end pre-amp short-list. Limited edition status and sheer luxury aside, the LE is fundamentally neutral and precise to such a degree that it is, in anthropomorphic terms, positively arrogant. It sits there doing nothing but amplifying and routing the signals which it is fed. It reeks of excess, of extravagance, of everything else which the recession and poverty and war would have us deny.

But for 100 very fortunate audio casualties, the Gryphon LE is going to be a showpiece with which they'll never part. I only hope that they're generous with their good fortune, allowing as many music-loving friends as possible to hear it. If Patek Philippe made hi-fi...

Additional Resources
• Read more audiophile stereo preamp reviews from brands like Audio Research, Classé, Mark Levinson, Krell, Linn, Naim and dozens others.
• Follow AudiophileReview.com for blog posts and opinion on the world of audiophile preamps including passive preamps, solid state preamps, tube preamps and more.
• Read Audiophile Power amp reviews here.

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