June
2019

Gryphon's ethos

Having started in 1985 with a head amp then a phono stage, Gryphon of Denmark are the quintessentially analogue company.

Even though today's Gryphon Kalliope flagship standalone D/A converter can be optioned as a condensed fully encased module inside their Diablo 120, Diablo 300 and Zena models to cover all the bases, the company still don't do a streamer. That isn't an option.

What they did bow at HighEnd Munich 2019 however was the Ethos CDP & DAC. It replaces their earlier Mikado model which years prior had quietly phased out when Phillips discontinued its CD-PRO2 transport, then scuttled manufacture of upscale CD drives altogether. To retain sufficient replacement sleds for eventual service calls, Gryphon thus discretely discontinued formal Mikado production.

It's when Austria's StreamUnlimited introduced the new top-loading CD-PRO 8S as official CD-PRO2 successor last year that Gryphon spotted an opportunity to revisit their support of the undying CD format. Obviously Ethos would be packaged with a built-in upsampler and digital inputs including USB to support 384kHz PCM and DSD512. Being a Gryphon, the circuitry would also be front-to-back balanced, dual mono, no feedback and class A.

Prior to its demo in the above full-Gryphon system, CEO Jakob Odgaard was asked for a percentage. How much of the sound attendees were about to hear would be due to their new source? "About half. I couldn't exactly say 40% or 60% but a very significant impact on the overall sound." Recall that a CD's pits and lands aren't actual 1 and 0, just physical representations or analogues which are read by laser to register as two voltage states. That's not so dissimilar from how a cartridge reads the grooves of a vinyl LP.  Now we appreciate how the name 'Ethos' segues back all the way to the company's very beginnings. In fact, nobody listens to digital; ever. Hearing works only in the analog domain. All digital must first be converted before we can hear it. Whilst still in the digital domain, only measurements do any 'listening' at all.

For Gryphon of course, the form factor of triangulating not squaring the circle of the CD is absolute novelty. So is a two-tone scheme to introduce silver into the previously all-black range. Upon his retirement announced during Munich 2018, company founder Flemming Rasmussen had promised Gryphon another three concepts. The first of these final testaments is Ethos. It leaves us all to speculate what the other two designs will look like and in what component category they'll eventually manifest.

For Ethos, Gryphon's circuit creed demanded dual-mono converters, here one of Sabre's best ES9038Pro 8-channel chips to perform massive parallel processing per channel. That choice of conversion silicon includes 7 x user-selectable PCM and 3 x DSD digital filters. Asynchronous upsampling to 384kHz is user-selectable too. There's even on-the-fly resampling of PCM to DSD128. As pioneered for Kalliope, the USB input is powered by a super-capacitor bank for 12.5 Farad of virtual battery charge. More digital inputs are on 110Ω AES/EBU and 75Ω BNC. There's even an AES/EBU output to convert Ethos into a pure transport which then requires off-board conversion. Analog outputs are on RCA and XLR. Being a fully balanced circuit, the latter are obviously preferred.

Like a turntable's record clamp, there's a gold-plated disc clamp whilst three of Gryphon's Atlas footers make for precision leveling. There's their usual vacuum-fluorescent display with variable brightness and personalized input naming. There are 4-layer PCB with 70mm copper traces, 20'000μF/ch capacitance for the analog output stage, side-mounted heat sinks, a polished acrylic base and brushed aluminium top plate for constrained-layer damping. With Ethos, anyone who proclaimed CD was dead clearly still has something coming. In the same breath, it's perfectly fair to state that the core audience will be 50-something audiophiles whose often vast CD collections stay on heavy rotation. Ethos intends to give those libraries a new lease on life. Forget brooding Hamlet. It's definitely to be.