Gryphon Diablo 300 Has Arrived: First Impressions.
After a very long and drawn out search for a new amplifier for my B&W 803 D2's, which included in-home demos of McIntosh (452/C2600), Bryston (4B3), SimAudio Integrated's, and others that I tested in-store, I finally landed on the Gryphon Diablo 300. With the optional DAC module and phono board.
I feel lucky to a short trip away from one of the seven Gryphon dealers in North America, or I would not have found my amp. Some who are familiar with the Diablo may see my list of other amps I tested and think, those brands are not in the same league as Gryphon. And, after having painstakingly scrutinizing every demo component, I would have to agree they would be right. Those other brands cannot even come within striking distance. But here's the thing: from a pricepoint perspective, I'd be spending the equivalent amount of cash with those lower end brands once you factor in a pre/power amp, power cables, and interconnects - and it wouldn't sound as good as the Diablo. So, while expensive - the value is tremendous with the Gryphon Diablo 300. Others on this board have confirmed their opinion that I'd need to spend double on seperates before I could better the Diablo's performance. Including Whitecamaross, OP of the well known and ongoing "long list of amplifiers..." thread. I recognize that my search did not include uber-integrates from T+A, Dartzeel, etc. No way to consider these were I live. But I think that the Diablo is likely better suited than these alternatives for my use-case, with the power, current, and ability to drive my speakers in a large open space with a vaulted ceiling.
So I picked up the Diablo and it came in a great wooden crate that is smaller than you'd think, and has very handy clips that allow each panel of the crate to come off one panel at a time. The DAC was not pre-installed, and came in a seperate box. The phono board was also seperate, and was sold to me at a discount as it was a pulled from the shop's demo Diablo 300. I had expressed interest in installing these modules myself, so the shop said they'd let me have the experience of opening the brand new Diablo. Having installed the module and board (without incident), it was a little tricky. I would not suggest others try this unless you have some experience working with electronic components, PCB's etc (I do). And for safety you definitely want to ensure the Gryphon's massive and many capacitors have fully discharged prior to working inside.
On to the sound, out of the box with 0 hours run-time. The Diablo was a bit of a gamble for two reasons: 1) The dealer does not do in-home demos, and 2) The closest speakers I could test with to my 803's were the B&W 802 D3's, and 3) No returns or exchanges. Having fired up the amp and connecting to my digital source, right off the bat the music was thoroughly engaging. And here's the thing: When purchasing new gear over the course of 20 years or so, I've not once purchased any equipment that I've loved in the first month. This is the first. On my 803 D2's (or Diamond, whatever B&W calls this generation), I found that for the first time in all my amp-testing I was not listening for things like "dynamics","timing", "linear response", "imaging", but rather listening to people playing music. All instruments and voices have this solid and real quality to them. An example: with the tambourine at the start of Reckoner by Radiohead, you can sense the impact of each strike of the tambourine against the musician's hand. The same effect is there for vocals, with backing harmonies having a texture to them I've never heard. Another way to describe this effect is that rather than simply hearing the instruments, you are aware the sound is caused by something physical happening. Like with snare drums, it is more tangible than with any other gear I've heard. I've always thought that trailing notes or chords at the very ends of songs are just there as musicians need to signify that the song is over. But now, there is a presence and drama and texture to these endings I've never heard before. Just as I said earlier, I'm no longer listening for things like "dynamics" and "timing", but rather hearing the musical manifestation of these things. The midrange is absolutely beguiling, as one pro-reviewer put it. I think this may be partially due to the DAC based on my in-store testing I did. So far I've only tried the USB input at home. I am quite sensitive to harsh mids and highs, especially on poorly recorded hard rock, and can find this type of music very grating on hifi equipment. But not on the Diablo. The mids and highs are smooth. There is no sign of any harshness at all. But counter-intuitively, at the same time, there is so, so much detail to the music. Everything is revealed, in a presentation that is paradoxically smooth and engaging. Is this an analytical amp, or a musical amp? It's both. Don't know how they pulled it off. The bass is one of the Diablo's most striking qualities. Just as with the other instruments, the base is tangible, highly detailed and deeply textured - it creates a groove in the music that is so satisfying. I didn't know my speakers could do this.
This amp absolutely has a voice to it - it is not a "just the facts" amp. So those who are looking for that sort of amp may not like the Gryphon. But for me, this is exactly the sound I was looking for. Some have said there is a slight "dark" quality to the presentation, and I thought that sounded negative. But I understand now and have come to realize that this dense, detailed, and rich smooth voice is exactly what I was looking for.
In terms of how it performs on my speakers vs with the 802 D3's in the store - there is quite a bit of detail, and soundstaging, that is not present now. But on the flip-side, I actually like the overall presentation at home even more, and the detail that is there is still incredible. And, I'd expect more detail to emerge through the burn-in period. Even now, I'd be totally happy if this is the best it gets. In the store, I found the high level of precision of the 802 D3's just a tad distracting. For example, in the store, if I turned my head slightly, I could hear the entire soundstage shift quite dramatically. My 803's at home don't have this issue.
I have not finished upgrading accessories yet: I am running this amp on inadequate sub $1K Van-den-hul D352 speaker wire, and my source is a Mac Mini with Audirvana/Tidal Hifi. I do have it running with a brand new AQ Hurricane power cord. My Mac will be replaced by an Innuous Zenith MKIII but it's on backorder. Might be a month or two wait. Don't know what I'm going to do about speaker wire quite yet. I'd like to try Valhalla 2 just to see if it is worth it!
Overall, extremely happy. Expect things to get even better with the dedicated music player, upgraded speaker wire, and some more hours of burn-in. One more thing - I don't think that Flemming Rasmussen designed this amp. Batman did. And just look at the remote - case closed.