Gryphon Essence Mono power amplifier

"Oh goody!" thought self, to self: "Another Gryphon component to review." As eloquent and revelatory as that statement may be, there's an even more illuminating backstory.

I had been aware of Denmark-based Gryphon Audio since the advent of the Gryphon Exorcist, a now-discontinued demagnetizer that cost far more than your average break-in CD, but I only began to encounter Gryphon electronics at audio shows a few years ago. While at first they seemed available for review only as a complete package, Jim Austin was able to arrange for me to review the Gryphon Ethos CD player–D/A processor ($39,000). I reported on that player in the January 2020 issue of Stereophile. To my surprise, I found the Ethos an "open, marvelously detailed, and fresh-sounding unit that makes listening an absolute joy." I had not expected my experience to be so positive.

Baggy for kitty
Why was I surprised? Because the sound I encountered from the Ethos in an all-Gryphon system at AXPONA 2019 was bright and lacked warmth—so much so that I fled the room without taking notes. It wasn't until quite recently—after I'd spent some time with the Gryphon Essence monoblock power amplifier ($45,980/pair), the product under review—that Gryphon's director of sales, Rune Skov, confessed to me that the sound in that second-floor, air-walled convention-center room was so untamable—so far from what he wished to present—that he had lobbied for a static display. Static displays rarely cut it at audio shows, so Skov put his best foot forward and proceeded as though everything was fine. Which, without letting the cat out of the bag just yet, is how I felt once I heard the Essence monoblocks.

The brand-new, fully balanced Essence monoblocks are the lowest-powered monoblocks in the Gryphon line. They do not come cheap. The Essences are specified as putting out 55 watts into 8 ohms in pure class-A mode—that's $836/W. If you have speakers with a 4 ohm nominal impedance, like my Wilson Audio Alexia 2s, the Essence's 100 class-A watts into 4 ohms make it a relative bargain, at $418/W. Still, whatever your loudspeakers' nominal impedance, I don't think you'll find many folks who consider the Essence a bargain product. Which doesn't necessarily mean they don't represent a good value for the right customer.

Before I said "yes" to this review, I needed some assurance that the Essence monos could handle my loudspeaker, whose impedance dips well below 4 ohms in the bass. At first, Gryphon essentially brushed off my concern, but it was eventually addressed in detail during a joint Skype conversation with Skov and Gryphon's chief designer, Tom Møller.

"When we began to develop the Essence mono amplifier, we used it on our less-efficient speakers that are pretty difficult to drive so we could ensure that the amp could drive them and keep a supertight grip around multiple 8" drivers," Skov said. "Our goal was to control inefficient speakers, be extraordinarily fast, and have tons of resolution and lots of musicality."

"55W into 8 ohms is not a lot," Møller acknowledged. "We wanted to make sure that the small amp could drive larger speakers with reasonable sound pressure."

Møller, a 20-year Gryphon veteran who is responsible for the topology and internal design of the company's amplifiers, preamplifiers, and CD players, explained that the Essence's power output is identical in class-A (high bias) and class-AB (low bias). "In AB, perhaps the first 7 watts are class-A; most of the time, however, the amp operates in class-AB." I asked if the monoblock had been optimized for high bias or low; I had already experienced the sonic differences between the Essence's two bias settings and had strongly held views of my own.

1120gryphon.ba

"It's optimized for high bias," Møller responded. "All our products are. If you put the Essence in low bias, the sound quality will almost certainly go down. It's not terrible—you can listen to background music and so on—but when you want to listen seriously and switch to high bias, it will reach the best temperature in a half-hour or so. If, on the other hand, you turn the monoblocks on from cold, you will have to wait an hour at least. If you start from cold and give them a couple of hours in high bias, they will perform great, and if you give them even more time, they can open up a little bit more."

That's precisely what I had already noticed, so I found Møller's confirmation reassuring.

To ensure that I always auditioned the amps at their best, I kept them on in low-bias mode between evaluation sessions, switching to high bias at least an hour before critical listening.

The biasing light show
Beauty, like preference in music, is a matter of personal taste. To me, the Essence, with its polished black acrylic finish, is Scandinavian design at its most elegant. The monoblock's rear panel is simple: a 20-amp IEC connector, a single XLR input, and two large, proprietary gold-plated binding posts sensibly placed and a cinch to open and close. It's the front panel that is unique.

Located on the amp's underside, close to the front edge, are three controls, easily accessible to anyone who can bend over without falling down. In the middle sits the main on/off toggle switch. It is flanked by two touch-activated buttons: "Mode" on the left and "Bias" on the right.

The Bias button, as you would expect, determines whether the amplifier operates in low or high bias.

The Mode button has nothing to do with how the Essence drives speakers; it's all about the front-panel light show.

When you flip the main power switch to the "on" position, the front panel's Gryphon logo lights up in an understated red and a small, touch-activated "Standby/On" sensor button just below it glows red. When you lightly touch the sensor, a long, horizontal touch bar turns blue, and both it and the logo blink for 25 seconds or so. After that, in Mode 1, the "on" button turns a faint green, and the bar remains blue. If you then change the amplifier's bias, the bar will blink for 10 seconds in the color corresponding to the new bias setting—red for high, green for low—before reverting to blue.

1120gryphon.bacclo

In Mode 2, the light doesn't revert to blue; it stays the color (red or green) corresponding to the chosen bias. In Mode 3—"stealth" mode—all the front-panel lights, except the green "On" symbol, remain dark until the bias is changed, at which point the touch bar blinks for 10 seconds in the appropriate color before going dark again. That's the most complex thing about this amplifier's functions.

Asked what else is special, Møller pointed to the Essence's new Sanken power transistors from Japan. "In the Diablo 300 integrated amplifier, we used four sets of power transistors in each stereo channel; here, we're using five sets to reduce the output impedance. In addition, in a monoblock, the two channels are coupled in parallel to further lower output impedance. This makes the power amp very powerful, so it can deliver a lot of current. This is the first step to making a very good power amplifier.

"The voltage amplifier stages are also very important. We use dual JFETs as a buffer in the input stage, going to a symmetrical, dual-differential voltage-amplifying stage with bipolar transistors. We also use surface-mounted resistors in the voltage-amplifying stages throughout the amp. Every stage is run in class-A. The power supply section, which uses a custom-made toroidal transformer with very low mechanical noise/hum, is not directly in the signal path, but it affects it indirectly. We also have a lot of capacitance—220,000µF each side—which, because it's in parallel in the monoblocks, means 440,000µF for each channel.

"The power supply for the voltage-amplifying stages is fully regulated and very low noise to prevent smearing of small details and is decoupled with good-quality polypropylene capacitors. Many of our larger amplifiers use 10 pairs of output transistors coupled in parallel. Normally, if you do this, you'll have a large capacitance in the base of the transistors, which is difficult to drive and can lower amplifier bandwidth. To avoid this, we use a lot of power to drive the output transistors. That is some of our secret.

"The circuit board is almost the most important component, because it contains all the signal and grounding tracks, which must be placed optimally to avoid introducing noise and smearing line and detail. Signal paths on the board are intentionally very short. We don't use any internal connectors to conduct sound; all sound passes through high-quality cables that are soldered into the XLR sockets on the Essence's rear plate and lead directly into the printed circuit board. The only wires we use lead to and from the pcb. A small, 15cm-or-so wire leads to the speaker connectors. It's the same silver/copper wire as in the Diablo 300, our biggest and most successful integrated amplifier, and in our speakers. We don't use more internal power supply or signal cabling than absolutely necessary because, during production, it can be difficult to wire components perfectly. In the worst case, if a signal wire is placed closer to a transformer than ideal, it can add audible induced hum. If you eliminate wires from the pcb, the layout will be consistent, which ensures that every Essence power amplifier sounds the same."

COMPANY INFO
Gryphon Audio Designs ApS
US distributor: On a Higher Note
PO Box 698
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693
(949) 544-1990
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

So, they rely on thier collection of first & second generation Tape --- "NO CD or LP comes close" according to the Company's Mission Statement. Hmm

This outfit makes a nearly full range of home Audio gear with the exception of Loudspeakers or Record Playing Gear. Their GRYPHON ETHOS CD made it to the front Page of Stereophile!!

Seems this Company's products fall into the Accuracy camp. ( I prefer the 'Better-Sounding' gear that's so thick and murky that it's not at all transparent )

This outfit's products are way too pricy for me but I haven't seen any Northern Eureopean Audio Gear that I didn't seem to love.

I'd like to see their Factory and meet these people.

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... a lower output impedance and lower levels of distortion.
Try, instead, a Rotel Michi S5 or M8.

https://www.hifinews.com/content/rotel-michi-p5s5-prepower-amplifier-lab-report

https://www.hifinews.com/content/rotel-michi-m8-mono-power-ampiifier-lab-report

tonykaz's picture

I'm fighting against the Current.

I can't support Domestic Outfits that outsource to China.

I can accept Chinese Outfits and Brands.

Companys that source China dilute their Brand, diminish re-sale values, erode future service possibilities and generally lower the overall quality Bar for the entire industry.

Sourcing in China is trading a fast buck for a slow train wreck.

Tony in Venice

ps. I do like the Chinese outfits that operate here in the US and sell their Brand in the US

Ortofan's picture

... presently use and where was it manufactured?

tonykaz's picture

I buy some of the Gear reviewed here in Stereophile. Mr.HR, Audiophiliac and now Mr.KM seem like reliable reporters of gear. I buy and then sell. ( Mr.JA1 has always confirmed gear beautifully, he is probably the Greatest resource of Higher Authority confirmations EVER!!!, where would we be without him? , he alone is the great establisher )

I also buy Estate Sale Audiophile Gear for Resale.

I tend to love simple tube gear for myself i.e. Schiit Valhalla with Russian Tubes is glorious as a Pre and headphone amp.

I continue to cherish horns i.e. Klipsch and the simple Cardboard ones I build myself.

I'll buy any and all Audiophile gear I encounter. I'm buying right, rebuilding or refurbishing where needed, cleaning, evaluating and then selling. ( I've a tech that tunes amplification )

I have consistent buyers in Asia that seem to love USA & European Gear ( for dam good reasons ).

I'm mostly a Shirt Pocket Audiophile type, my wife is an Ordained Minister that now uses our home as her base of operation. I'd love to have our home Ether filled with wafting therapeutic music.

Although I don't do much buying of Audiophile loudspeakers, I do have quite a few smaller ones waiting for selling.

I'm not any sort of dealer for any Company, I sell used gear only, mostly Overseas to Japanese speaking Customer Base, I have a Japanese speaker handling communications.

Audiophile stuff is a curious hobby for me, I and local friends get to "hands-on' review a wide range of unique gear. Buying & Selling easily finances my expenditures. There is a buyer for every quality Audio gear.

I've discovered : Reviewers without a PS Audio Powerplant write defective reviews, it can't be helped !

Tony in Venice

ps. I'm retired and have taken up wood working along with chasing everything I never had time for. I won life's lottery some-how!

georgehifi's picture

This is what an amp with real drive can achieve, would have been interesting to see what the 1ohm wattage figure was.
And at least they didn't understate the 8ohm figure just to make the 4ohm look good, like many do, especially Class-D's

53W into 8ohms
101w into 4ohms
182w into 2ohms

These to me spell the reincarnation of the 20w Mark Levison ML2 Monoblock's!!
https://i.pinimg.com/474x/8e/76/49/8e7649a9d865dae96b5cb2cbb7e8962f.jpg

Cheers George

CG's picture

I am confused.

Not the first time, obviously, so I am familiar with the feeling.

Let me quote from the On A Higher Note website with regard to this and the stereo version of the Essence amplifiers:

"• Zero global negative feedback"

So, either something in the measurement explanation is askew or the cited web page is.

This review brings up a great topic. Jason's observations are that operating in Class A is way better for sound than in Class A/B for this amplifier. That's not anything new, and I don't question his take on this even a teeny bit. It's interesting to read his description of just how much better high bias operation is in practice.

The question then becomes, "Just how much Class A power do you really need for best sound quality?" I don't know the answer, and am not suggesting that I have any great insight into this. But, I'd sure be interested in learning.

The Gryphon gives 7 watts in Class A/B mode according to the designer, who I presume would know. Based on the AC mains consumption and a quick minute or two with a calculator, it appears that indeed the amplifier always runs in Class A mode up to clipping down to about 3 Ohms load impedance or thereabouts when set to high bias mode. (With Jason's Wilson loudspeakers, that means that the Gryphon amplifier rarely ever operates outside of Class A operation, and then just barely in part of the bass frequency band.)

So, pure Class A is great, at least in this case. Seven watts of Class A operation and the rest in AB may not be so hot. (Ha!) Is there a middle?

OT, some: I admire Jason's willingness to sacrifice his body for the sake of better sound and a better review. I hope he's recovered by now.

tonykaz's picture

sss

tonykaz's picture

I just happened to see you discussing things Audio, for nearly two hours.

Your verbal descriptiveness is levels better than what I'm reading here in print. I'm complimenting!

Each of your subjects got a full covering of relative context.

and, you ( I'm delighted to notice ) are not a bull-shitting promoter or defensive. I felt that you were insightful, sincere, curious, genuine and honest.

I might caution you about we Audiophile's drifting into "Audiophile Nervosa", a condition I ( and my Psychologist ) work to keep at bay, phew . I'll I can prove that the better a Music System becomes, the more it needs constant improvements.

I, like Mr.HR, have owned and sold stratospheric quality audio gear. It's an endless rabbit hole. As the Audiophiliac reveals -- it's for the people who's rugs cost more than the Audio Gear & for people that don't read Stereophile.

20 year Forecast ? thats infinity. None of us have a clear vision of the end of 2021, for gods sake. But, I'd have to say that Mr.HR's final comments (of that podcast) were the clearest vision we have of our music industry's future.

Mr.MF didn't say but revealed that the 33.3 people can't press enough to keep-up but that still doesn't seem profitable enough for SONY to get back into the vinyl business. 33.3 Players cost a fortune!, Arms cost a fortune!, fragile phono cartridges cost a fortune!, 33.3 Records cost a fortune!, the Wooden Storage Shelving systems and residential space cost a fortune! And it's all Fossil Fuel based Music Storage i.e. Dinosaur Bones ( as any child will tell you ). Our Mr.MF also reveals that he won't ever listen to records he already owns, too many-too little time.

Audiologists will reveal decreases in ear sensitivity of lower and higher frequencies as we age. I think it's a problem that Sennheiser Headphones and Equalising will cure. A person can't bluff their way out of it. I've been tuning my synapses for some relief, its a deteriorating condition. My wife tends to yell because her hearing is defective, it seems.

All is well Mr.JS

You belong in front of the Camera.

Tony in Venice

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I've actually been in front of the camera many times. One of the earliest was on The Tonight Show with some unknown guy they were trying out as a possible replacement for Johnny. His name was David Letterman.

tonykaz's picture

You struggle with the same darn things that plague all of us, it shows thru visually.

You could interview fascinating and informative people for solutions to your little issue, which is also all of our issue.

You could be talking to that Cary guy in N.C., the PS Audio Paul about things, you could call up anyone and do a YouTube Video Series. You are Stereophile and you are fresh enough not be a know-it-all, folks will feel like they can talk without getting stepped on.

Audio people need to get their message out, You are a viable channel to do that, you will have Steve G's type of success with 159,000 Subscribers. ( or more )

Tony in Venice

Ortofan's picture

... none of them is anywhere near the performance level of the units that had the Biotracer tonearm.
https://www.sony.com/electronics/audio-systems/t/audio-components

A decent analog disc player doesn't have to cost a "fortune".
The price of the AR turntable and Stanton cartridge I started out with a few decades ago would equate to about $1,200 today.
For that amount one can now buy a Technics SL-1500C, which includes an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge.
https://www.analogplanet.com/content/sl-1500c-technics-cuts-price-not-sound-quality

tonykaz's picture

There are enough excited Vinyl participants to keep Chad going strong, at least for now.

Globally, Chad has an ever increasing clientele, perhaps.

The UK has just started administering a Vaccination which is hoped to free us all from our home prison and hobby time. Nearly everyone needs to recover from the financially bad year of 2020. Fingers crossed !

Still, folks are reporting their streaming experiences in a very positive manner. Our reviewers are admitting things like they were late to start Streaming and that streaming is changing the game. Mr.Fine is reporting high sound quality from the streaming services.

So, while the very nice Technics turntable has price within reach, streaming is far more accessible and affordable. ( I think ). The 20 year future will probably have us looking back and wondering how we coped with walls of Vinyl Records ??? ( I wonder how I coped back in 1985ish )

I'm waiting for the First Review of an Audiophile product done with streaming only, who will be the first? I'm betting on Mr.HR but that beyond clever Mr. Micallef might just sprint ahead and shock us all!

Tony in Venice

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