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The Gryphon ETHOS Compact Disc Player

04-09-2020 | By Wojciech Pacuła | Issue 108

Gryphon, that for some time now have been using name The Gryphon, is a Danish company, founded in 1986 by Flemming E. Rasmussen. Its products feature an extremely characteristic design and all belong to the high-end class. What draws attention is not only its fantastic construction, but also a beautiful logotype depicting a griffin—a mythical creature with a lion's body and an eagle's head and wings. We test the latest and most expensive CD player from this company, the ETHOS.

It is 2020 and the cover of High Fidelity features a Compact Disc player. And yet it is a digital format that has its years, technically outdated and considered by many music lovers as a dead end, and even the end of real music. However, we do this deliberately, not agreeing to zero-one treatment of audio formats, at least the most successful ones.

Because, let's be honest, each of the audiophiles has their one, only, "real" format, which they consider as the closest approximation to the source—usually the analog "master" tape. And I won't change it because you can't change it. Unambiguous and exclusionary approach to this topic resembles religion, and religion is not negotiable. However, because I have my own opinion, I have to add something: I think that a well-prepared CD can sound insanely good.

Towards the digital world

I am not alone in this believe. In the second half of the 1990s, Gryphon Audio Designs began working on its first digital source, the CDP-1 Tabu player. In the Gryphon monograph, Albert L. Jones wrote:

The decision to introduce the first Gryphon digital source to the lineup was not easy. This choice was also not dictated by the desire to increase sales through expanding brand's portfolio. What happened was simply a result of growing frustration due to the large differences in sound quality experienced by designers and experienced members of Gryphon's listening panels, when they compared the original, analogue, coming from the Gryphon archive, copies of "master" tapes with a typical CD .

Albert L. Jones, Gryphon Unplugged. 25 Years of Gryphon Audio Designs, 2010, p. 45

This frustration gave birth to the CDP-1 Tabu player, the world's first upsampling CD player. It turned out that the problem was not in the format itself, but in how it was used. And it is no accident that Flemming E. Rasmussen has remained faithful to it to this day, despite the fact that the company's story began with a unique phono preamplifier (step-up), and the basic reference source in the evaluation of any design are the analog master tapes referred.

The rest is history: Tabu CDP-1 was introduced to the market in 1998 and it was, at least nominally, an HDCD player, not a CD. It featured  SYNCHRONOUS (company materials mistakenly refer to it as "asynchronous") 24/88.2 upsampling. In November 2001, in its development version, the 24/96  ASYNCHRONOUS upsampling was used.

In September 2003, the MIKADO was introduced, in which 32/192 upsampling was implemented; it was the first top-loader player in Gryphon's lineup. The next step was a special version of this device, Mikado Signature from September 2008, and already in January a year later a slightly cheaper SCORPIO model was presented. In 2017, a new version was developed, the SCRORPIO S model.


Triangle to be or not to be…

The latest one, shown for the first time at the High End Show 2019 in Munich, called ETHOS is the most advanced and most expensive Compact Disc player from this manufacturer. For the first time, its device has a completely different shape than a regular box. Although all products designed by Flaming stand out with their excellent "architecture" and precise lines, the Ethos stands out even against them. It has a triangle-like shape. Its main body is an equilateral triangle, but the display with touch buttons goes slightly forward, hence the specification shows that its dimensions are 480 x 173 x 453 mm (width x height x depth).

We don't see many triangle-shaped devices in audio, which is sort of surprise. The most well-known are the triangles associated with the company's names - turntables by the American company Triangle ART and the French manufacturer of speakers Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique—in the latter case it's mainly about the logo (Leema Acoustics also has a triangular logo). In the case of a turntable manufacturer, this shape is much more anchored in the technique and it is about three-point support of the turntable base. And this type of support is—as we know since the times of Leonardo da Vinci—the best possible one.

So I think that this is exactly what Ethos designers wanted—to ensure its proper mechanical integrity, unachievable to an equally high degree in a rectangular chassis supported at three points. And it is hard to understand why such solutions are so rare in audio. Apart from a few cases of small companies, the only predecessor of Gryphon could be a German company, whose name, unfortunately, I forgot, which a dozen or so years ago offered amplifiers in such housings.



Let's get back to technologies. The Ethos is a Compact Disc player with digital inputs. It is a top-loader design, i.e. without a classic drawer. In top-loaders, the disc is placed directly on the motor axis or the main bearing axis, as in C.E.C. players. (test of the TL2 N HERE).

The whole usually closes with a flap, except for the Ancient Audio, AcousticPlan and 47 Labs players. The flap can be slid to the side or moved up and down—both the older Mikado and the new Ethos feature the latter option. The Ayon Audio's players are exceptions to this rule as with them one moves the "flap" on and off manually. The classic choice for this type of design was the Philips CD-Pro2 LF transport.

Gryphon Ethos is, however, the first, apart from the Pro-Ject CD Box RS2 T transport, to utilize the latest CD transport on the market, the StreamUnlimited Blue Tiger CD-Pro 8. It was designed by the same engineers who—working for Philips at the time—designed the CD-Pro2. You can recognized it at first glance.

CD CHECK • Digital Recordings

When testing the Pro-Ject transport I also checked how it handles defective discs. For this task I used the disc prepared by the American company Digital Recordings from 1999. Preparing its review for the Audio magazine I contacted their representative, who turned out to be an engineer from Poland. This is a special test disc. It contains five tracks with gaps marked in four places around the perimeter, of increasing thickness—the last one is 1.5 mm wide.

There are more such discs, but they all allow to check not the operation of the transport itself, but the transport along with the error correction system. And those, if there is a break in the signal, fill it with interpolated data based on neighboring samples. The Digital Recordings disc is different because it has a signal called by its  engineers RED, which—as the mentioned engineer told me—deactivates the interpolation system, leaving the transport without this "support."

The best transports, including the CD-Pro 2, read the whole disc without any problems. The CD-8, used in the Pro-Ject, played four paths and jammed only at fifth. Interestingly, the Gryphon transport had no problems with it and easily played all five tracks. This behavior is characteristic for top drives. It is not as quiet as the CD-Pro 2, but it handles discs just as well.

The answer to the question “why are they different?" we'll find when we take a closer look at these two mechanisms. In the Pro-Ject transport, its Stream Unlimited Blue Tiger CD-Pro 8 version with a Sanyo DVD SF-HD850 reading head, inserting it into a milled carbon fiber. In turn, in Gryphon Ethos we have the Stream Unlimited CD-Pro 8 S version (S—probably from "Sony"), based on a laser head and Sony KHM 313AAM mechanism. As you can see, they differ in how they cope with mechanical problems.

Digital section

The DAC section is completely different than in previous Gryphon CD players. However, the basic solutions have already been practiced in the Kalliope D/A converter. It was there that, for the first time in the company's history, the ESS technology DACs from the Saber series were used (model ES9018). Ethos is a dual-mono design, which is why each channel utilizes a separate chip—but this is the model of this specialized manufacturer, the ES9038Pro.

The upsampling section has also been changed—the PCM signal can converted to the 32-bits and 384kHz, which is twice as high as in Kalliope. But for the first time we can also convert the PCM signal to DSD128, which is a similar solution to my reference, beloved Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition from number 1/50. The USB input supports DSD signal up to DSD512 and PCM up to 32/384kHz. The D/A converter does not decode the MQA signal.

In addition to upsampling, user can also change filters—digital in the case of PCM signal and analogue filters after conversion to DSD. There are seven different filters for PCM signals, and three for DSD. All digital circuits are clocked with ultra-precise temperature-compensated clocks with ultra-low jitter of 5 ppm. The device has a modular structure, so you can replace individual sections in the future (DAC and upsampler).

Analog section

The analog section is a dual mono construction and works in class A, without feedback. There are no capacitors in the signal path, so we are dealing with DC coupling. The player features both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) outputs. The output voltage is slightly higher than CD format standard because it is 4.3 and 2.15 V, respectively; the player is a fully balanced design.

It is a remarkably well designed and built device weighing 13.7 kg offering users wide functionality—it has already become the new Gryphon icon.


The Gryphon Ethos player was compared to my reference device - the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD (№ 1/50). The player stood on the top shelf of the Finite Elemente Pagode Edition rack on its own feet and was powered, alternately, with the Hijiri SM2R "Sound Matter" and Siltech Triple Crown Power.

I usually test devices in the High Fidelity system using an unbalanced RCA connection. My observations show that it almost always gives better results. I use three RCA cables: Siltech Triple Crown, Crystal Cable Absolute Dream and Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0 Absolute. This time I chose my best interconnect—the Siltech Triple Crown.

The player is equipped with pads for spikes and although I have better ones, I decided to listen to the device as it is delivered. But I helped it a bit by placing it on the Acoustic Revive discs made of rock crystal. On both sides I used washers from piezoelectric material—also from the Acoustic Revive. Do you remember Alex Brady from Nordost visit, after which he left four QPoints? Well, in fact, I bought six of these—two for the tested products. So one QPoint were placed under the Gryphon.

I performed an A/B comparison test with A and B known. The music samples I listened to were 2 minutes long, but I also listened to full albums.



Compact Disc

  • Brian Eno, Another Green World, Virgin/Astralwerks 7243 5 78034 2 7, "Original Masters," Master CD-R (1975/2004)
  • Frank Sinatra, In The Wee Small Hours, Capitol Records 4 96988 2, CD (1955/1998) in: Frank Sinatra, The Capitol Years, Capitol Records ‎496985 2 | EMI Records Ltd. 724349698529, 21 x CD (1998)
  • George Michael, Patience, Aegean | Sony Music UK 515402 2, CD (2004)
  • Radiohead, OK Computer. OKNOTOK Edition, XL Recordings/Beat Records XLCDJP868, 2 x Ultimate HiQuality CD (1997/2017)
  • The Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Request, Verve/Lasting Impression Music LIM K2HD 032, K2HD Mastering, "24 Gold Direct-from-Master Edition UDM," Master CD-R (1964/2009)

Super Audio CD

  • Bill Evans Trio, Portrait in Jazz, Riverside/Fantasy RISA-1162-6, SACD/CD (1959/2003)
  • Frank Sinatra, Where Are You?, Capitol Records/Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 2109, "Special Limited Edition | No. 00251," SACD/CD (1957/2012)
  • Harry Belafonte, At Carnegie Hall, RCA Victor/RCA Hong Kong 74321894852, Test Pressing SACD/CD (1959/2001)
  • Roger Waters, Amused To Death, Columbia Records/Analogue Productions 88765478842, SACD/CD (1992/2015)
  • Vangelis, Blade Runner, Atlantic Records/Audio Fidelity AFZ 154, "Limited Edition | No. 2398," SACD/CD (1998/2013)

It will not be an exaggeration if I say that THE Gryphon ETHOS is one of the best digital players that I've ever listened to in my system. Not the best, because we are talking about top high-end, in which differences in sound translate more to the taste of the listener, and not to some absolute assessment—but precisely: one of the best.

It is a class in itself, a sound that reflects everything that is best in our industry. Importantly, it is a sound that has nothing to do with the stereotypical "digit" one. Compared to it, a lot of turntables sound bright, sharp and brittle, and in addition not very resolving. Similarly, on the other side of the medal—the audio file players I know, no matter how expensive, with whatever upgrades and improvements and with whatever files they all compared to the Ethos sound flat dynamically and differentiate sound poorly.

No, I'm not exaggerating, this device of this caliber—just ten years ago this simply could not happen. Together with the reference Ayon CD-35 HF Edition, with dCS players, for example the Vivaldi One, with the top player Ancient Audio, it belongs to the club of digital players, which sound so smooth, so perfectly coherent, that it's a pity that we had to wait for them for so many years.

And we were waiting primarily for a beautiful combination of colors, with their saturation and differentiation. For the resolution in which there is room for information, not for details, as well as for the credibility of the presentation, i.e. something subcutaneous, which is difficult to analyze, and which is the basis of good listening experience. Without these elements, the musical presentation is defective, not complete.

The Ethos plays with a slightly warm, dense sound. I didn't expect to say it someday, but it happened and I have to acknowledge it: this Gryphon sounds warmer and denser than my reference player—the aforementioned Ayon. It is not darker, no digital device has ever proved to be, only analogue tape recorders can do that, and that's not the point anyway. But it has a smoother sound attack, a warmer lower midrange and differently arranges information in space, which is why its reception is one way and the other. The Ethos sounds like—let me I refer to a stereotype—a classic, high-end turntable.

Its colors are saturated and full. Hence the vocals presentation is spectacular. I started listening from Frank Sinatra's album, released in 1955, on two 10," one 12," and four 7" EPs, four songs each, the Wee Small Hours. It was recorded in a way typical for the Capitol Studio A, that is, with seven RCA-44 microphones in close proximity to the instruments and with the Neumann U-47 microphone for Sinatra, who was standing in a dampened box opposite the band. The signal from all microphones was mixed live into a monophonic tape.

Sinatra's voice on this album is fantastic—warm, large, dense, and the band that accompanies him is good enough not to sound too thin. Gryphon played this album brilliantly, showing everything I am talking about, and fantastically shaping the treble range. This recording, in the version from the 21-disc edition of "The Capitol Years," sounds fantastic, because the treble is not emphasized, and the vocal is strong, placed at listener's fingertips. Even so, in "untrained hands," the  't' clearly sung by Sinatra seems usually louder. Not here, not with Gryphon.

And this is not a trivial matter, because it translates directly into the sound of these albums, which are not lacking in treble, which is even deliberately emphasized—as in George Michael's Patience. Ethos played it fantastic, supporting harmony and density, without forgetting that the cymbals with the acoustic guitar and the high reverb on the vocal is a value that gives the whole a character.

The spatial presentation delivered by the tested player is one of the best I know. But there are "important" and "more important" things in it. For example, the foreground is more important than everything behind it. Whatever is behind, say, vocals is warmer than in the reference player and less tonally differentiated. But it is not attenuated, it does not disappear. All these elements support the foreground. This results in a large volume of rich sound that will never be too thin.

The more so, that the player delivers also strong, rhythmic, colorful and full bass. The opening track of Brian Eno's Another Green World, which I have on a Master CD-R copy from a mastering studio, showed it greatly. I heard it even better with the double bass from The Oscar Peterson Trio's We Get Request, also in the Master CD-R version. It didn't matter if it was a bass guitar, double bass or electronics—like from the soundtrack for the Blade Runner—every time there was this fullness, richness of the bass with proper momentum, but also with a great control. The lowest range, the very lowest bass is slightly smoothed, but it doesn't really matter.

As rarely ever, I listened to the tested player with pleasure, but also with respect. I know perfectly well what skills, what experience, but also what work and money involvement is needed to achieve such a result. And with Ethos we are at the top of the audio world, where the format (LP, CD, SACD) is less important, and the quality of the source material is greater. In the case of this device, it is easy because Gryphon plays music in a smooth manner, as if trying to offer it in the most natural way possible, even if something interferes with it.

It comes at certain cost, it's obvious, but the effect is amazing. And the cost is a slight approximation of the back of the stage, as well as drawing our attention to what connects all the instruments, not to the differences between them. These are small shifts and for someone who has no experience with high-end systems, they will be rather unnoticeable. However, you must know that they are there. Perhaps that is why it is such a perfectly arranged, complete sound. And like every "fullness," also this one has its own character—described above.


I devoted a separate listening session to SACD discs—hybrid discs. It seemed important  to me to answer the question 'if', and if so, 'how much' we lose because Ethos is a CD and not a SACD player. Answer #1 is simple: if you don't have many SACDs, then you don't lose anything. The CDs will be played perfectly. Even more so if you listen to music other than jazz and classical.

However, if classical and jazz music are the most important genres to you and you have a lot of SACDs of this type, then I will answer the question a little differently, but without some "twist." The sound of the Gryphon player, with DSD upsampling, playing a CD layer from a hybrid SACD disc, is similar to what I heard from the SACD layer played from Ayon. It is not identical, but similar enough so that the inability to play SACD discs on Gryphon should not affect your choice in any way.

It's still an equally dark, warm, smooth, and slightly rounded sound. The SACD layer gives it all a tad stronger, but the difference was not—at least in my case—"decisive." Yes, the SACD discs on Ayon and other top players of this type (for example dCS) offer an even deeper sound and that is even better arranged. There was a bit more information about textures, space, etc. Returning to Gryphon, I didn't have the impression that I was missing something. Because, on the other hand, with Gryphon I got even better imaging of instruments operating in the upper bands than from the SACD layer.


One of the things that audio designers have put into the hands of users in recent years is the choice of digital filter the digital-to-analog converter works with. The changes in the sound may not be overwhelming, but I always use them, because they let me 'dot the i.' It will help a poor product a bit to achieve something like a good sound, and with the best ones it will bring out something else from the discs that with other filters is not there.

In the case of The Gryphon Ethos, the basic choice is something else—one chooses between PCM upsampling and DSD upsampling. Both are well implemented in Gryphon, both add fullness, density and micro-information to the sound. But I quickly decided that DSD128 was "my" choice. Whether it was because I listen to a player with this type of upsampling (DSD256) every day, or maybe just engineers have finally learned how to properly apply it—I don't know.

I do know however, that the DSD128 upsampling gave me a much more natural sound with tonal balance set bit lower. This can be further deepened by choosing the right filter. Out of the three available, I finally chose No. 1, but I might ave as well used the No. 2. While using the PCM upsampling, I chose filters number 4 or 5.


With The Gryphon's Ethos model, we get everything we could want from a modern digital source. For audio files users there is an USB input, you can also use the internal DAC when watching movies, listening to digital radio, and even playing on one of the gaming consoles. I am sure that playing Call of Duty with a DAC costing one hundred and fifty thousand zlotys will be a unique experience.

However, Ethos' primary function is to play Compact Discs. It is hard to believe how much information is hidden on these small, technologically outdated disks! Recent years have brought a rapid improvement in the quality of this type of players, regardless of the price. In the stratosphere we find ourselves in with this player, we now get density, vividness, darkness, and dynamics known from the best turntables.

And no matter how hard my heretical summary sounds, I have to say it: Ethos presents top sound regardless of the format, it's just a fantastic sound in itself. It is one of the few digital players that I would like to have in my reference system—maybe not instead of my Ayon, but next to it. Hence I have no choice but to award it with our GOLD Fingerprint, reserved for the most outstanding audio devices.


Front and rear

Ethos, the Gryphon Compact Disc player, a solid, well-thought-out construction—both from mechanical and electrical point of view. The former is based on building a heavy platform in the shape of an equilateral triangle, with large feet decoupling the device from vibrations, located in each of the three corners, and electronics "suspended" underneath. At the front there is a large size "control panel" with a display and touch buttons. We know this type of design—this is how Ancient Audio designed its devices, also Oracle and, once, the Gold Note with the Stibbert. However, they are very rare.

The top plate is made of aluminum. In the center a hole was cut out, which is closed by a flap, hung on a large size boom. We raise and lower it manually, so it is a pity that it was not equipped with a silencer at two ends of the movement. When lowering the flap, it must be supported until the very end. In the middle you can see the gold-plated CD clamp. The upper plate is bolted to CNC milled thick plate made of material that looks like POM. These two layers are separated by a micro rubber. So it is a vibration damping system very similar to one used in turntables.

The transport mechanism can be seen after lifting the flap—it is the latest CD transport that has been designed by StreamUnlimited, the Blue Tiger CD-Pro 8. It features an aluminum milled body and an insert made of fiberglass braid, as well as a carbon frame on which it rests. The whole was decoupled with four elastomers. The clamp fits quite accurately into the cutouts of a platter one placed a CD on. However, it is a bit too light—when the motor axis begins to rotate, the CD stays in place for a split second and then begins to spin.

The feet I mentioned are adjustable which allows user to level the device—just like in turntables. First we need to unscrew an Allen screw, and then turn the knurled nut until we reach the required level. In the set we get a nice "bubble" level, but I made this measurement electronically, using a Bosch PLR 50 C meter. The mechanical on/off switch is placed underneath, near the front edge.


The whole electronics is mounted in a "suspended" housing under the top plate. It features two sections—analog and digital ones. The inputs of each of them are placed at a slightly different depth. Plugging in the cables is not very easy, but we don't do it often, right?

The circuits were assembled on one large printed circuit board with smaller plates plugged in and enclosed in a thick steel screen. Underneath there are two toroidal transformers—one for the digital and one for analog section—as well as power supplies. Large heat sinks visible on the sides are used to cool transistors and integrated voltage regulators in the power supply section.

Signal from the digital inputs first goes to the impedance matching transformers, and then to the AKM AK4115 receiver. USB input features a separate circuit, but it was soldered on the bottom side and I did not have access to it. In any case, the selected signal is sent to a small PCM/DSD conversion board. It features a great-looking Crystek clock with temperature compensation, as well as the AKM AK4137 chip. It's "sample rate converter," or upsampler. Interestingly, it can convert PCM signal up to 768kHz, and DSD to DSD256 (Quad-DSD). Ethos designers decided to use only half of these abilities.

And there are D/A circuits arranged in a dual-mono system—each channel has a separate board. These are ESS technology chips from the Sabre series, model ES9038Pro. Each of them has a graphite plate that reduces RF (high frequency) and EM (electromagnetic) interference glued on them. There is another, even nicer, clock there. On the sides there are output systems. They are made using the classic through-hole method, with transistors operating in class A and without feedback. Good passive elements also draw attention.


The remote control is made of metal and features a rubberized underside to keep it from slipping. There are a lot of buttons of the same shape on it and you need a moment to get used to it. The display on which the indications are shown, including upsampling, turns out after a while and its power supply is turned off so that it does not generate interference. A small difficulty is the fact that you need to press the button twice—the first press "wakes up" the display, and only the second sends a command.

This is a well-thought-out, very well, accurately, and reliably made top-shelf player.

Technical specifications (according to manufacturer)

  • Nominal output signal: XLR: 4.3V | RCA: 2.15V
  • Nominal output impedance: 30Ω
  • S/N (A-weighted): < -120dB
  • THD + N: 0.007%
  • Frequency range: 0-120 kHz (-3 dB)
  • Power consumption: standby <0.5 W | max. 39W
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 480 x 173 x 453 mm
  • Weight: 13.7 kg

Price (in Poland): 152 320 PLN (approximately US $36,500)

Gryphon Audio Designs

Industrivej 10B

8680 Ry | DENMARK

[email protected]



Provided for test by: AUDIOFAST https://www.audiofast.pl

Text: Wojciech Pacuła

Images: Gryphon Audio Designs | Wojciech Pacuła

Translation: Marek Dyba

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