Munich Preview Exclusive: Gryphon Diablo 120 Amplifier and Mojo S Loudspeaker system
There may well be more than one way to skin a cat but there are only two ways to build a hi-fi system: by far the most common is to mix and match components in the pursuit of a combination that allows each of its various parts to excel. Less common, more purist and definitely more challenging is the creation of a single brand system, one in which all the major elements come from a single designer or design team. The advantages of such an approach appear obvious yet in practice they often prove elusive. The problem is that few designers are universally gifted or even handed when it comes to the very different problems presented by the various components in a system. There’s no law that states that a designer of inspired amplifiers will be equally adept when it comes to creating a digital replay solution or loudspeaker, let alone cabling or mechanical supports. Of course, you can combine talented individuals (à la Constellation) but give them enough rope and pretty soon you are back to mixing disparate components that simply share common casework.
When it comes to sheer presence, you’ll do well to better Flemming Rasmussen of Gryphon Audio. His imposing height, impressive appearance and calm, quiet voice leave you in no doubt that he speaks that way because he doesn’t need to shout. More than almost any other brand in high-end audio, Gryphon has established an instantly recognisable identity and that identity is both defined by and an extension of Flemming’s thinking and personality: the way the products look, sound, and work – everything flows from Flemming. The result is a range that is coherent in thinking, sonic signature and performance – uncannily so. Over the years, if anybody has really exploited the benefits of the one-brand approach to system building then it’s Gryphon – and they’re still at it today.
Despite a price tag that approaches £40K, what we have here is actually the company’s simplest and most affordable system, a three-box source-plus solution that embodies everything the brand stands for, from the striking aesthetics to performance that is both high-end and highly musical – as it darned well should be! But, in spite of the cost and the esoteric approach, long on all the high-end “must haves”, from minimalist facilities to fancy cables, this is pretty much as close to a fit and forget system as I’ve had in-house in a very, very long time.
Gryphon’s Mojo S loudspeaker is an evolution of the Cantata model we reviewed back in Issue 27. Along with the striking, high-coloured cheeks and the fluted stand, the simple D’Appolito design has gained power handling, significant dynamic range and a Mundorf AMT tweeter. What it retains are the low-mass drivers, concave, time-aligned baffle and constant phase crossover of the original. The heavily braced cabinet is resistively ported by a pair of giant apertures on the rear baffle, which also features external precision resistors that allow users to tune the high frequency output to their own acoustic environment. At first glance the Mojo S looks heavy and a little dumpy, but that quickly evolves into solid and substantial as you get used to its looks and the impressive -3dB point at 44Hz, reflecting the fact that the cabinet is actually much larger than it looks. Either way, there’s certainly no escaping the new Mojo’s visual statement – those side cheeks come in a whole host of different colours and finishes.
Alongside the ‘loud’ speakers, the new Diablo 120 looks almost shy. Shorter and more compact than the established (and frighteningly powerful) Diablo 300, beneath the contrasting angles, planes, and surfaces of Gryphon’s familiar touch screen fascia, the company’s smallest amplifier is no shrinking violet. A dual mono design, all the way back to independent secondary windings on the massive toroidal transformer, the Diablo 120 puts out a not exactly surprising 120 Watts into eight Ohms. What is surprising is that it doubles that output into four Ohms and then virtually doubles it again, delivering 440 serious Watts into a two Ohm load. People talk about tube Watts as opposed to solid-state: I’m introducing a third category – Gryphon Watts – ‘cos there’s definitely watts and Watts, but the Gryphon amps deliver WATTS. Of course, all that power is no good unless you feed it a decent signal and here the Diablo excels. You get a choice of one balanced or three single-ended inputs, along with a tape loop – sufficient for most requirements. You also get the choice of adding either an internal DAC or phono-stage. The review sample arrived with the DAC installed, but given that Gryphon’s first ever product was an MC head-amp and the company has maintained a stellar reputation for its record replay components ever since, I have every confidence that the adjustable MM/MC stage will match the impressive performance of the internal DAC.
With four inputs (AES/EBU, USB, S/PDIF on BNC, and a TOSlink) the Diablo 120 DAC will accept most sources and data rates up to 32-bit/192kHz and DSD512. More importantly, this is no simple plug-in board. The 120’s DAC module is built into and encapsulated within a machined aluminium brick, a totally separate entity within the amplifier’s chassis, which goes a long way to explaining why it works so well (and so many internal DAC options patently don’t). I also had in-house, Gryphon’s superb (and supremely cost-effective) Scorpio CD player, the perfect operational and aesthetic match for the Diablo amplifier. Feeding its digital output into the Diablo 120 DAC handily outperformed the player’s own analogue outputs – and that’s saying something. The Diablo 120 also arrived with one of Gryphon’s superb remote controls. I normally take remote handsets out of the box for photography and then toss them back. I don’t like what they do to the sound of a system and I don’t feel the need to hunt amongst myriad identical buttons just to adjust the volume or input. But Gryphon’s remotes are the exception to that rule. Confined to bare necessities (Volume, Mute, Input, and Standby) the buttons are big and positively latched, the handset heavy enough not to lose, small enough and elegant enough to perfectly fit your hand. Still the best remotes in the world, the rest of the industry would do well to sit up and take notice!
The final part of the system equation was a complete set of Gryphon’s silver/gold alloy cables. I highly recommend their inclusion in your budgetry calculations, as they are both surprisingly affordable when compared to the competition and extremely effective when it comes to unleashing the performance potential of the Gryphon components. Past experience with other cables have shown the Gryphon electronics to be particularly cable sensitive, so the availability of a credible in-house solution is particularly welcome. There may be those who might suggest that the Gryphon cables bear more than a passing resemblance to high-end Siltechs, even if Siltech no longer makes cables for Gryphon.
But the biggest surprise with this system was just how easily it all went together. The amp is (just about) light enough to pick up and the loudspeakers were a joy to work with: I can’t recall the last time I got a set of speakers set up and singing so quickly or easily. The bass tuning is self-contained and room friendly, the large adjustable feet on the stand made dialling in attitude and rake angle a matter of moments – and once you’ve paid attention to that, these speakers and this system surely do sing. Just drop that virtuoso slab of instrumental excellence, Sly, Wicked and Slick [Virgin] into the transport to hear the Compass Point all-stars seriously doing their thang. The Gryphons latch onto the rhythm with authority, capturing its lazy yet insistent quality, yet without letting it slip any further behind the beat. There’s no shortage of weight, heft, or attack here, no slowing or rounding, just utter temporal security. Sly’s cascading drum patterns have the dynamics and impact of a cannonade and when he sets the beat with his snare the almost mechanical drive it establishes makes it seem like somebody started a mad professor’s oversized metronome: the perfect precursor to Mikey Chung’s outrageous bass solos. Once again, there’s no missing that tactile sense of diameter and weight to the strings, but the guitarist’s speed and attack give the riff its unique, rasping, explosive quality, the notes almost sucking the air from the room.
From which we can safely deduce that this Gryphon rig ‘does’ dynamics. Play a range of material and you’ll also discover that these speakers like to be shown the stick – a stick that the Diablo 120 is perfectly equipped and only too willing to apply. Just listen to the massive closing crescendo to Sibelius’s Second Symphony; a passage that starts loud, eases back but keeps coming back stronger and louder than before, building and building until you start to wonder how much longer the orchestra can maintain it. Live it’s exhilarating: at home it all too often provokes an undignified lunge for the volume control as either the speakers or the amp fail to stay the course. But not this time: the beauty of a single-brand system like this is that it allows the designer to match the load characteristics of the speaker to the power delivery and headroom of the amp. Listening with the Diablo 120 and Mojo S, it wasn’t the fact that I didn’t have to trim the output level, even as the final crashing climax approached – it was the complete confidence that I wouldn’t have to that matters. Instead I could simply sit back and let the system carry me through this most monumental of musical moments. True shades of Gryphon’s bigger systems, an experience I’ve enjoyed, and one that’s not easily forgotten!
But Sibelius Two also highlights what the smallest Gryphon rig gives away compared to its bigger and (much) more expensive siblings. Listen to the second movement and the extended pizzicato string passage that opens it: now try and pick where the melody passes from basses to celli… Hmmm – not that easy. In fact, even knowing where the baton’s passed, it’s hard to detect the shift in tonality and harmonic signature between the two string instruments. The Diablo 120 (yes, I couldn’t resist firing up the Mojos with some of the other, heavyweight amps I have in house) lacks the uncanny ability to texturally and harmonically separate instruments that comes so effortlessly to Class A designs. Having said that, what it does deliver in combination with the Mojos, is the same sense of unburstable musical enthusiasm, dynamic headroom, and rhythmic authority – in a package that’s easier on the wallet, considerably easier on the running costs, and demands a lot less real estate.
You could be forgiven for assuming that this Gryphon system is better suited to rock, pop, or jazz, rather than classical music: forgiven because, in part you’d be right. The dedicated classical listener would ask for greater tonal range and a greater sense of scale. The Mojo S chooses to deploy its bass weight in a more emphatic and propulsive fashion, one that certainly suits rock and pop, from Edwin Collins to Laura Cantrell, Joe Jackson, to the Jackson Five – with more than a bit of Milt Jackson or Sonny Rollins waiting in the wings. It’s not that it doesn’t do classical – just that it’s going to favour Berglund over Ashkenazy, Amandine Beyer, and Gli Incognito or La Petit Bande over Sir Neville and the Academy. Personally I can easily forgive the subtle tonal homogeneity if the other end of the sonic see-saw is giving me the warm overall balance and absence of edge and glare that deliver real world dynamics, and musical impact from a system this compact and this versatile.
Because this really is a do-it-all system solution. Incredibly impressive with its digital inputs fed from a range of CD transports or my MacBook Pro (but especially with Gryphon’s own CD player), the analogue inputs were equally adept, whether receiving the balanced analogue output of the Wadia S7i, or the signal from my Booplinthed LP12/Wand/Lyra Skala via the TEAD Groove Plus. It has enough input options to satisfy most system requirements and the performance to more than justify ‘main system’ status in a modern, distributed music set up.
For years, serious hi-fi companies have been trying to steal B&O’s crown but, in a very real way, the audiophile’s alternative already exists in the shape of Gryphon’s product line – and, like B&O, it also comes from Denmark. The Diablo 120 and Mojo S is a combination capable of impressing on a musical level as readily as it will impress your non-audio friends. The appearance and operation of the amplifier is seriously classy, oozing understated quality, and isn’t going to date the way so many touch-screens do. This is a system in every sense of the word, delivering all the performance benefits that single-brand systems should – but so rarely do. The fact that it also looks a million dollars (while costing quite a bit less) is a serious bonus – as well as a lesson that most of the audio industry should take on board. Instead the assumption seems to be hi-fi that looks this good can’t possibly be serious. Gryphon has been rewriting that rule for years, but with the Diablo 120 and Mojo S, it just got a whole lot more real!
Prices and contact details
Gryphon Diablo 120 Amplifier: £8,900
Gryphon Mojo S Speakers: £21,000 per pair
Gryphon VIP Reference Cables – From: £1,095
Manufactured and distributed by: Gryphon Audio
UK authorised retailers:
Analogue Seduction Ltd: www.analogueseduction.net