February
2020

Country of Origin

Denmark

Essence preamplifer & stereo amplifier

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref,  AURALiC Vega, Jay's Audio CDT 2 MkII & DAC-2 SE
Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE 300B/VT52 or Elrog ER300B/50; Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module); April Music Stello HP100 MkII
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, SIT-3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; April Music Stello S100 MkII;  Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; SAG AIO; Bakoon AMP-13R
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Acelec Model One; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Kroma Audio Mimí; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Fram Midi 150 & 120; sound|kaos Vox 3f [on loan]
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000/5000 and Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub, Puritan Audio Labs PSM156 & PS106-DC
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands 
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: €12'800 ex VAT for the preamplifier, €16'800 for the power amplifier

The essentials. Someone tells you to pack 'em, quickly. You're to be off on an impromptu weekend trip. So you grab toiletries, socks, underwear and a clean shirt or two. Does any of it equate to the essence of you? Clearly not. Chasing essence, we get closer with aged spirits. They represent the matured essence of the grains or fruits they were distilled from. So it's telling that Gryphon's second-last design testament from founder Flemming Rasmussen would go by Essence. The preamplifier, stereo amp and pair of mono amps in this range must represent the perfect distillate of the company's design ethos and sonic ambitions. With their displays, these components continue the round-nosed triangle motif which the Danes had introduced with their Ethos CD player a year prior. Now only one design concept remains to be unveiled from the three Rasmussen had promised upon his retirement.

Anyone familiar with Gryphon circuits as executed by Tom Møller calls out class A bias, direct coupling for no signal-path capacitors, dual differential/dual mono and zero feedback. It's the company's four-square design base for all of their electronics. The Essence joins Zena and Pandora in 2020's catalogue on the 'preamplifier' page. It adds the familiar 5-input Zena digital board option for USB, AES/EBU, BNC, coax and Toslink; and the alternate RIAA option of PS2-S MM/MC phono module. In Hindu belief, ash as the only remnant of a thing completely burnt represents ultimate purity. It's what fire couldn't destroy. In Gryphon's Nordic religion, such purity means a sacrificial burning of all controls for phase, balance, mono, polarity inversion or headphones. Hookup cabling too has been burnt away except for a short ground lead, display ribbons and AC power wiring in a shielded channel.

User friendliness comes from a micro-processor-driven menu. It accesses input naming, max/start levels, input level matching, home-theater bypass, display brightness and green bias. With the latter, a companion Gryphon power amp's class A bias can be reduced by 25% or 50% if not all of its available power is required. Essence the preamplifier offers 18dB of voltage gain, a low output impedance of 15/22.5Ω on XLR/RCA, input impedance of 25/50kΩ on RCA/XLR, exploded -3dB bandwidth of 0.1Hz to 1MHz (!) and power supply capacitance of 2 x 26'000μF. The chassis measures 47 x 16.5 x 38.5cm" WxHxD and weighs 13.4kg.

Essence the stereo power amplifier generates 50wpc/8Ω in pure class A. That doubles to 100w/4Ω and just about doubles again as 190w/2Ω. It's testament to a very stout power supply with 1'350VA  transformer and 10 high-current bipolar Sanken transistors per channel. It's why the power IEC is of the 20A sort. Output impedance is a low 0.015Ω, input impedance 20kΩ and -3dB bandwidth an again very high 0.3Hz-350kHz. Voltage gain of 31dB too is high as is 440'000µF capacitance and 45kg mass from a 47 x 24 x 46cm WxHxD enclosure. When it comes to class A power, there's no free lunch on hardware. Whilst classic, it's a heavy-metal recipe. It's the antithesis of lightweight high-efficiency class D with fast-switching transistors, with switch-mode power supplies and zero serious iron. Class A output devices never turn off. They don't switch. They consume exactly the same power at idle as they do under full load. That stubborn behavior of being literally always 'on' avoids zero-crossing distortion between on/off states and switching noise but in trade requires copious thermal dissipation. That means lots of radiated heat so plenty of radiator fins since for dissipation, surface area is king. If you know that your speaker sensitivity, room size and listening levels don't use more than 20 watts, Green Bias can set Essence the amp to behave like a 25-watt specimen. Reduced dissipation for lower heat and less AC draw is the gain. Hello happier utility bill.

According to Gryphon, their Essence power amp was designed to be unconditionally stable. Owners are thus promised an end-of-life acquisition relative to not having to change amplifiers should their appetite for bigger tougher speakers increase over the years. Do it right the first time. You'll be set no matter what. That would seem to be the underlying premise. Which segues back to the name. If you've got the essence, what more do you need? By default and definition, all else becomes non-essential. So why bother with that?

Ouch.

The competition with less poignant names like UG-505tx just became irrelevant. Only kidding. Alas, names with actual significance do make a difference even if for gear, it's ultimately just totemic. Even so, if a friend asks you what amp you listen to, don't tell me that "a Gryphon Essence" doesn't sound a lot better than a "GRS Group S36K MkIII"! If a design team claims to truly consider each and every detail, why don't meaningful names matter? I've never understood that.

Hello Ford Mustang. Good-bye Subaru WRX STi.

… to be continued…