Before we go (super?) sonic, a parting shot at Essence the preamplifier before its lids went back on. If the dual mono scheme doesn't look entirely complete, it's because a reflective rail runs along the right cheek. That shields the power cable on its way from the rear IEC to the transformers at the front. Said rail obscures the outermost part of the motherboard's right channel. The DAC module consists of two storeys. One only spies a few parts of the bottom layer through the perforations. In full view meanwhile are the two white super capacitors. Right adjacent to the big metal-enclosed USB transceiver module, they serve as its virtual battery supply. The suggestion of heat sink ripples along the enclosure's sides is just cosmetic to pick up on the actual heat sinks of the companion amp/s. The very tall footers maintain sufficient ventilation clearance should stacking be necessary.

To break down my twosome, I had to review each separately before combining them for the final listening sessions. I'd start comparing the amp against our class A Pass. Before I do, know that my personal tastes have shifted to now consider the Pass heavier, darker and slower than my ideal. My favorite amps are the 1MHz LinnenberG Liszt monos from Germany (no longer made but replacement monos with now bipolar output devices are on the books and for stereo there's the current Widor). The Liszt are DC-coupled class A/B push/pull circuits based on lateral Exicon Mosfets. Clearly quicker, more extended on top and rather more lucid overall, they render the Pass subtly fuzzy, thick and indistinct by comparison. I call some of that the 'leading lady soft focus' trick of classic movies. They softened close-ups on their female stars. Against prior Gryphon assignments and despite class A bias, I expected the Essence amp to bridge my Pass/LinnenberG gap and prioritize dynamics and bass as all other Gryphon electronics had done before. I also expected that on perceived speed as transient startle factor and perspicacity plus treble illumination, it'd still trail the 200-watt monos. Whenever one enters a review, it's good to be clear on personal expectations, assumptions and biases. Having them is human nature. Communicating them is key to allow others to better relate to one's findings and opinions. And when a component rewrites assumptions, a bit of gotcha can be great fun.

Before I had my fun—or Essence its fun with me—I read up on the two blue light-ring switches which bracket the belly button mains switch. A green light bar signifies low class A/B bias, red high class A bias. In display mode 1 that soon returns to the standard blue. In display mode 2, bias color shows permanently. In display mode 3 aka stealth, only the green 'on' symbol remains lit. To set display choice, pushing the mode button confirms 1/3rd of a white light bar for 1, 2/3rd for 2 and full for mode 3. When slaved to the Essence preamp via Green Bias cable, bias changes automate relative to volume control position. The user can subsequently alter the voltage values which Gryphon pre-set to trigger their bias changes. Starting with our Vinnie Rossi L2 linestage, I used manual bias in the 2nd display mode to have a permanent red or green strip show my setting. If I lived with this amp long term, I'd set it to stealth.

Green or red pill? To get a handle on my pharma options, I defeated the direct-heated/direct-coupled E-2A3 triodes in the Vinnie Rossi. In class A, the Gryphon now behaved pretty much as anticipated. It set up shop somewhere between Pass and LinnenberGs. It was neither as thick/heavy as the American nor as lithe/light-filled as the Germans. Versus the Pass, I presume that Essence produces less 2nd harmonic distortion and/or adds more of the 3rd. In class A/B bias, color temperatures cooled down just a bit. Separation sharpened up. Treble energy increased. Perceived density went down a tick, subjective fleetness one up. Either way, bass didn't achieve Pass mass. Instead the Essence was more developed on top to prevent the XA-30.8's darkness. Once I switched on the grounded-grid Linlai triodes in the preamp, dynamics increased. But they still didn't equal the 200W LinnenberGs or—invoke usual disclaimer!—my memories of Diablo 300. On bass power and dynamic impact as two of my typical Gryphon observations, Essence the stereo amp didn't load up as heavy as expected. Over the years I've grown allergic to the coagulate effects of 2nd-harmonic injections. I hear leading edges grow subtle fuzz like wet stone acquires moss. I now heard some of this coagulate action but nowhere near to the extent of our Pass. Still, it affected separation, air and space between/around images. Our triodes + Gryphon's class A/B mode were reasonably similar to our usual balance to not upend it, just shift it. In low bias alas, I'd not financially exploit this hulking amp's raison d'être. For proper capitalist exploitation, I thought that I'd probably want to combine class A bias with Gryphon's own preamp to retain active drive's dynamic advantages but bleed out the subtle harmonic enhancements which, by design, our boutique triodes inject into our usual very lucid and quick amps.