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Gryphon Audio Event at Goodwin's High End

08-02-2019 | By Michael Zisserson | Issue 104

Saturday 7/27/2019, Boston MA

First, a public service announcement: Get off the screens! While I work tirelessly with my children on this, I believe it is important for us, too. Perhaps this is self defeating as a columnist for an online magazine, however I cannot encourage the PF community enough to get off-line, plan a day, find a dealer, and attend an event. It does not have to be an event, either. Simply make the trip to a shop to explore audio in real life, it is worth it.

We are one for a common cause. We love music and are moved by its high-fidelity reproduction. From the time I spent selling audio myself throughout the 1990s, to the shops I visit and events I attend today, I can happily say that the love of music dominates the experience when visiting a Hi-Fi shop…Not high-pressure sales. Every shop I experience is always happy to have fellow music lovers together.

Goodwin's High End is no exception, and is nestled just outside of Boston Massachusetts in the city of Waltham. As an established veteran in the audio world, Alan Goodwin has created an atmosphere right for perfecting the greatest form of any system from large to small, home theater to headphone. The impressive listening rooms at Goodwin's are all acoustically designed by Alan, who has spent the better part of four decades studying acoustics, along with a team of acoustical engineers.

Goodwin's carries an extensive line of product (including Gryphon) that is too diverse to possibly list in a single article, however they do have a brilliant, interactive table on their comprehensive website that is worth exploring HERE.

Alan surrounds himself at Goodwin's with a team that represents a similar depth of industry experience. Malcom Becker is a recent re-addition (from 1999 to 2010 or so he was also with Goodwin's) to the team, bringing along the weight of his years from audio sales and marketing, to owning a shop of his own. Malcolm was an absolute pleasure to interact with, and graciously hosted the event. He has a great sense of humor, too, but I will let you find that out when you walk into Goodwin's. During a nice conversation with Malcolm, he was very passionate about the music being first, and having fun while we all explore the path that is best for us. It is always entertaining to see life-long audio industry pros get a sparkle in their eye when talking about all things audio and music. The passion never dies, friends.

On a Higher Note 

Speaking of a sparkle in the eye: The person responsible for bringing Gryphon Audio "across the pond" three years ago, and the presenter of this event, was another life-long industry veteran Philip O'Hanlon. Philip's distribution company, On a Higher Note, is no stranger to bringing amazing high-end products to North America. On a Higher Note has been responsible since 2001 for launching brands like Halcro from their infancy, to bringing over a personal favorite loudspeaker brand from South Africa, Vivid Audio. You can also blame On a Higher Note for bringing the legendary Japanese brand Luxman back to North America.

On a Higher Note truly represents a world of audio, so it does seem appropriate that they are again responsible for bringing over another audio gem: Gryphon Audio.

We were also joined by industry veteran John Marks of Esperanto Audio. Chances are if you are reading this, you are no stranger to the work John has contributed to the industry as a recording engineer, producer, music historian, writer, and now is leveraging his knowledge to engineer some of the finest cables available. The Esperanto Audio digital and word clock cables (blue cables as pictured below) were used during the Gryphon demonstration on the dCS Vivaldi DAC / Upsampler / Masterclock. Good thing too, because the Gryphon Mephisto stereo power amp would have easily resolved any weaknesses in the main event system. More to come on this…. In the mean time, you can contact John regarding his cables, or all things music, through his blog that every music lover should read, HERE.

The one action shot of the evening: Philip O' Hanlon addressing the audience with a very attentive John Marks seated at the right.

Warming Up with the Smaller Gryphons

There was a northwest breeze, and it was a pleasant New England summer evening. I was already in good spirits and walking through the door at Goodwin's High End kept up the pace by providing a table full of wonderful snacks, and red wine to sip on. Word of this demonstration featuring Gryphon Audio drew in music lovers from all over New England, and we all enjoyed each other's company with good conversation and a common cause.

I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Don Pride.  Don is a professor of Music History at the University of Southern Maine, and is also a classical guitarist! When not educating his students, or touring the seas as a musician on a cruise ship, Don is the guitarist for the big-band swingin' Portland Jazz Orchestra. If you have never experienced a live big-band show, it is an absolute musical must.

It was exciting to meet a professional musician that loves high end audio. We often hear how musicians rarely give fidelity so much as an afterthought. Don seemed to view this differently, and high end audio has influenced his life, and learning, by providing a window into what great musicians do to create such beautiful art. I thoroughly enjoyed Don's perspective and insight into audio.

Another beautiful perspective on sound is the Gryphon Diablo 120 integrated amplifier. I ran into this sexy (Gryphon's look is dangerously sexy… Not unlike that of the stereotypical woman in a black and red dress, sitting solo at the bar of a ritzy jazz club) piece driving a pair of Devore Fidelity Orangutan loudspeakers. This system was sourced by the dCS Bartok DAC and Roon. The first blush at what Gryphon represents was flat-out impressive. The volume was soft, but every piece of the music was completely transparent and in the room with me, as if there were no system present. Jaw agape, the only thought I had was: "This is where Gryphon essentially starts?!"

Sneaking a little further about Goodwin's High End, the second sound room was filled with the large, Rockport Technologies Cygnus Loudspeakers, and the more powerful Gryphon Diablo 300 Integrated Amplifier. This time the source was the dCS Rossini DAC and again, Roon. I was soon joined by a few other attendees. Everything that was wonderful about the Diablo 120 was further present in the Diablo 300. It should be, but no less, the consistency is great to hear. This was also about the time I began to truly get a picture of what Gryphon, as an audio company, is about: audiophile resolution with music lover presentation.

The Main Event

As I walked into the well-treated main listening room, I was greeted by the system that was soon to fortify what Gryphon was all about as the Diablo 120 and Diablo 300 had already shown. The featured Gryphon Audio equipment that the event system was built around was:

  • Gryphon Mephisto stereo power amplifier, $61,000
  • Gryphon Legato SA phono stage, $21,000
  • Gryphon Pandora Reference preamplifier, $32,500
  • Gryphon Guideline interconnect, $2560 (1 meter as used here, prices vary depending on length)

The components chosen to round out the system were:

  • AJ Conti Transcendence turntable w/ Superarm, $127,000
  • My Sonic Lab Signature Gold cartridge, $8995
  • dCS Vivaldi Digital to Analog Converter fed from a server running Roon, $35,999
  • dCS Vivaldi Upsampler Plus, $21,999
  • dCS Vivaldi Master Clock, $14,999
  • Magico M3 loudspeakers w/MPOD stands, $84,600
  • Magico QSUB 15 M-CAST subwoofer, $22,000
  • Nordost Valhalla series balanced interconnects and speaker cables
  • Esperanto Audio digital and clock cables

The Gryphon electronics had the very important job of getting the source to the loudspeakers, and with a near infallible front-end, plus loudspeakers that were ready to show any weaknesses, it truly was the Gryphon electronics that were on stage.

I cannot speak for a specific component; however the system felt like a non-Newtonian liquid to my ears. The pure class A, 175-watts/channel at 8 ohms of the Gryphon Mephisto, that according to Phillip doubles each time you one-half the loaded impedance, all the way to one-quarter of an ohm, or your wall outlet runs out of current, had control of the speakers like I have never heard before. I use "non-Newtonian" as the descriptor because the dynamic punch and micro-dynamic changes were completely solid, yet when it was time for subtlety and hold-your-breath beauty, the Gryphon equipment was pure honey pouring from a jar.

I did find it detectable that the Magico QSUB 15 was in the system, but it was the first subwoofer that took me some real time to detect, and upon further reflection, it impressed me since this giant easily kept pace with the M3s, and the agility of the Gryphon equipment. If there was only a single question I was left burning with after the demonstration, it was, "What does the Mephisto sound like driving a pair of full-range loudspeakers without a subwoofer?" From the vice-like control and effortless bottom-end I experienced from the the Diablo 120 and Diablo 300 integrated amplifiers just feet away, it was an itch that I just had to scratch, but could not… and now it is festering.

While I am licking that wound I need to stress, too, that it was a beautiful evening of music. I am unsure it would have been as beautiful without the Gryphon electronics. Phillip has an extensive music collection as a devout music lover himself. From the first breath-taking choral track from Gaudemas "Ubi Caritas," I was deeply moved and captivated. Try as I might, by the time I could muster up a comment about the system while listening, the music was already long past that one particular emotion. That is because feeding the Gryphon equipment a good source, and putting the result through capable loudspeakers, it controlled far more than the music, but the message too. As a listener, this grabbed your attention and just took it with the music, wherever it went.

"Wild Horses," not from the Rolling Stones, but from Tim Ries' Rolling Stones Project featuring Norah Jones, put this amazing woman in the room with us in a way that I have never heard a vocalist present. This SACD was released only in Japan, and I would have never have gotten to experience this beautiful music if it were not for this event.

Switching to vinyl brought even more amazing music to the table, mainly in the form of 12" single imports. The distinct true-to-the-instrument separation of both the electric bass, and acoustic bass used in the David Bowie produced version of Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" was stunning. The way Bowie produced the song as an artist, instead of simply engineering it, brought a whole new life to this classic.

Here was about the time I stopped keeping track of things and just enjoyed the remainder of the show. Perhaps I am selfish, but through my years in high end audio I have never experienced a system quite like this one thanks to the Gryphon electronics. I may never again… So at some point I needed to simply enjoy it. This is not the first ultra-expensive system I have heard, but the first to make the music feel as if it were the most important component.

Wrapping Up

If you are in the market for no compromise equipment that is capable of technical perfection while portraying the musical message, Gryphon Audio products should be on the list of contenders.

They may not be first on the list for those seeking the last word in pure neutrality and etched resolution; however they are up my alley. It takes a careful balance to design equipment to technical perfection, and then have it present music that speaks to the heart. This sonic quality excited me, and I hope to spend more time, in a more intimate setting with anything Gryphon to validate my initial impressions.

Even if I do not get to this end anytime soon, I am thankful for this experience provided by Goodwin's High End and On a Higher Note as it was a great kick-off to a week off of the daily grind for me. Get out there and listen…You will not regret it.