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Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Esoteric X-03SE
Analog Source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood, AS WTB211, Grado Reference Sonata 1, Denon DL103, Esoteric E03, Nagra BPS [on loan]
Preamplifier: Wyred4Sound STP SE
Amplifier: Genesis Reference 360, McIntosh MA2275, Yamamoto A08s, First Watt F5
Speakers: FJ OMs, Zu Essence
Cables: Zu Varial, Zu Libtec, ASI Liveline interconnects & speaker cables
Power Cords: Zu Mother, ASI Liveline power
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Isolpads under electronics, ASI resonators and sugar cubes, ASI Heartsong racks
Room size: 21' x 13’ x 7.5'
Review component retail: €11.500

As in any other industry, some brands in hifi become iconic. This is no status one can bestow upon oneself by claiming to make the best speakers on earth. It's certainly no status reviewers can bestow. Not even a list of awards as long as an arm will do. A brand becomes iconic just like a soprano becomes a diva. People know. The signs leading up are subtle. There’s a certain timelessness which needn’t be advertised much if at all; new product releases are few and far between yet each new release is welcomed as a revelation; and perhaps above all, anyone buying into the brand feels she or he is somehow not quite like everybody else. Once bought in, one usually doesn't look anywhere else. The brand becomes the journey’s end. One has come home.

What truly matters to define an iconic brand is a vision or more precisely a sound that’s coupled to an unflinching drive to achieve its purest expression. As a result iconic brands like Kondo, Nagra, FM Acoustics or Gryphon from Denmark—this list isn’t exhaustive—actually exhibit more pronounced personalities and differentiated sounds than one would expect when pursuing the purest reproduction of a recorded event in general. That's because each of these brands is the non-compromised expression of their designers’ vision.

One other thing that differentiates iconic brands from the masses of cost-no-object wannabe legends is that although fit 'n' finish and build quality are without concession, such creations are not merely overbuilt glitzy jewels. Above all they are superior electronics. That's why an Ongaku is mythical and a Lars will never be.

In a spirit of full disclosure as it were, I have admired Gryphon for almost as long as I have enjoyed listening to music. I actually discovered the brand on the same day as I heard my first Ongaku. That was the day I realized there was no single path to enlightenment. To my surprise two different technologies could sound radically different yet end up being equally revelatory. Leaving the Paris audio show, I was contaminated by the audio virus. Although I could not afford the Gryphon Tabu integrated I’d heard at the show, I soon settled on what then was the only option for Gryphon aspirers of limited means - a Sphinx Project 10 (a brand now defunct but the Project 10 still serves honorably in my video system almost two decades later).

Fast forward to 2010. Gryphon now belongs to the most exclusive, exuberant and elevated systems on the planet yet search the web for reviews and you’ll not find many. That by itself is not enough to make Gryphon legendary. Neither is the rather exclusive pricing. What makes Gryphon special is the desire to reproduce what's recorded without any concession - and the feeling of belonging. Nobody understands the need to empower a brand with more than just technical qualities better than Flemming Rasmussen, the brand’s emblematic creator. Limited edition Gryphon statues, limited edition CDs, key chains, shirts, Gryphon embossed golf bags and 25th anniversary glossy books retracing the company’s and its founder’s steps from 1985 to today are just a small sample of what the brand does for its customers. I did not receive the custom golf bag designed by Gryphon's Taiwanese distributor. I did get a copy of the anniversary book. This was tremendously helpful in better understanding Gryphon and Rasmussen's philosophy. My point here is that while buying Gryphon is primarily about music, it also buys you an experience very few other brands can or care to emulate. Yet that's what being iconic is all about.

As importantly, the book helped me understand why Flemming Rasmussen seemed initially reserved about a US review. Gryphon does not currently have an American distributor. The last one ended up costing Gryphon literally millions of dollars and almost sunk the company. In 1997 it was saved only by investor Peter Lyngdorf, owner of NAD at the time. Since then Lyngdorf has sold his shares to Valdemar Børsting, Rasmussen's silent business partner for the past decade.

If that weren’t enough to make Flemming Rasmussen careful about anything connected to US business, he also recalls a painful experience where his refusal to give away a DM100 power amplifier under review translated into a less than flattering write-up by a US based journalist. Although the reviewer later apologized, the damage for the US market was done and Gryphon lost its then distributor.

With that in mind, I need to thank Gryphon's French and Belgian distributor David Rio from Fusion Acoustic for vouching for me and Flemming Rasmussen for actually finding a reviewable unit since his gear is not presently imported. As it happened, the Diablo I spent weeks with actually was Andy Payor’s, the mind behind Rockport Technologies in Maine. Word has it that he runs his giant Arrakis speakers off Gryphon's exclusive pure class A €76,000/pair Colosseum monoblocks and €22,500 Mirage preamp. When next I go up to Maine, I want to hear that system!

Over the past 25 years Gryphon survived changes in stockholders, burnt-down warehouses and bad reviews to become the company it is today – successful and prosperous primarily due to a very strong presence throughout Asia and Russia. Although most people know Gryphon for its electronics, over half of their current business actually derives from its speaker line from the two-way Mojo to the iconic four-tower Poseidon. In Gryphon's amplifier line, the Diablo under review is second from the bottom yet this is far too restrictive a descriptor. I could just as easily call it Gryphon's top integrated or their most powerful amplifier. That still would be incomplete. The best way is as Gryphon's attempt to deliver the lion’s share of their house sound in a manageable, hardly compromised and significantly more affordable package - the last point being obviously relative. But even that won’t quite do yet. I'll add that the Diablo was simply the best amplifier I've ever had at home at any price – and yes, that includes the $25,000 Esoteric C03 and A03 combo or the now $28,000 marriage of SMC VRE-1 and Genesis GR360 (although admittedly both combinations came very close).