By most normal standards, the Essence pre/power amplifier combination would represent the uppermost tier of product performance, size, weight and price. In Gryphon Audio Design’s world, Essence is the starting place in its pre/power line. There is a long way to the top of the Gryphon tree.
Essence is the new preamplifier and power amplifier line from the Danish brand. It joins the Scorpio S CD player, the Diablo 120 and 300 integrated amplifiers and possibly Mojo S loudspeaker at the start of the line. Although no-one’s going to call a preamp costing £20,299 in its full configuration and £17,800 worth of power amplifier ‘a bargain’, set in the context of the company’s Pandora preamp, Legato Legacy phono stage, Kaliope DAC and Mephisto mono amplifier flagship line (which all weighs in at a substantial £156,000), it’s hard not to see Essence as ‘Gryphon, for non-millionaires’. Of course, that only works if the Essence brings Gryphon standards of design, build and performance, rather than a corner-cutting exercise.
Any notion of corner-cutting evaporates the moment you take the product out of its clever fold-away crate. Gryphon’s repute is built on some very well made and nicely designed products, and the Essence rams that reputation home. These are designed and built to the sort of standards we should expect from high-end audio. Panels that don’t flex to the touch. Designs that are at once informative and ergonomic; slab-sided and bold looking black designs with bright blue and red illuminated accents, yes, but laid out sensibly dual mono so confusion need not reign. Everything is custom made, right down to the remote handset; this has an additional side grip making buttons fall more readily to thumb; granted this last isn’t quite as successful if you are left-handed but is impressive all the same.
That impressive approach even extends to the manuals, which seem more like slimmed down coffee table art books than hook-up guides. Yes, they meet those needs well too, but the whole package has a sense of ‘event’ that one should experience when first accessing a high-performance amplifier – given every coffee company has its own distinct ‘fot’ sound when breaking into a new jar of instant coffee granules and Aston Martin spend considerable amounts of time tuning their exhaust note to sound ‘just right’, let’s not trivialise that need for ‘event’.
Beyond the boxes, what’s underneath is impressive too. The Essence preamp is a zero negative feedback, dual mono Class A design. It’s fully relay-driven, microprocessor controlled, with an optional Zena DAC module that supports signals to 384kHz PCM and DSD512 and an optional MM/MC phono stage module based on the Legato (you can specify one, both, or neither). It uses a unique discrete fixed 42-step resistor array volume. The large fluro display allows you to name and trim inputs.