There are those who say the CD is dead and streaming is the only way forward. Gryphon Audio Designs would politely counter that those people are nuts! Because, while sales of both CD players and discs are down on their 2000 acme and new top-class transport mechanisms are thin on the ground, in fact CD performance has reached something of a zenith recently.
A part of the reason for this is down to chip development for streaming pushes the resolution ever higher, and making 16-bit, 44.1 PCM tracks on a CD sound good is not exactly taxing on a chip. However, a lot is also to do with a more discerning CD buying public; the standard of LP replay improved significantly after the launch of CD in no small part because the lower end of the LP market simply evaporated. What was left for the longest time was specialists intent on aiming ever higher. That last – aiming ever higher – is best evidenced by Gryphon’s Ethos CD player. This is CD unapologetic, a device that – by necessity – makes playing a CD into an experience that no amount of web-browsing can ever hope to better.
We’ll get on to the technology soon, but first just bask in the whole ‘otherness’ of the Ethos. Where most audio devices are rectangular boxes, the Ethos is triangular, with an aluminium alloy top, a curved Polyoxymethylene (POM)/tempered steel base and a manual swing arm to lift and lower the top-loader disc lid. This is more than just for show, and its constrained layer damping and carefully engineered mechanical integrity of the Gryphon Ethos eliminate digital noise and interference between the various stages of the player. That said, give it some flashing lights and it looks like it would abduct Richard Dreyfuss. The usual way with a top-loader is to try – and largely fail – to affix the disc-holding spinning magnetic clamp. Gryphon, instead, turns it into a valuable token, more like a coin than a puck, that you manually place on the disc before lowering the lid (just don’t lose it).
Gryphon is well-known for its industrial design, but it knocked the Ethos out of the park. It’s not simply a CD player; it’s a source statement of intent. The only downside to this statement of intent is it’s a big one... possibly larger than many equipment racks in their own right. Fortunately, Gryphon can now point you at its own StandArt equipment support system, which is perfectly accommodating of the deeper than usual chassis of the Ethos.
Back to that technology because the Ethos is as sophisticated on the outside as it is on the inside. Gryphon has a long and commanding reputation for building upsampling CD players; it first added a 88.2kHz asynchronous upsampling option to the CDP-1 of 1998, way before upsampling was fashionable. Gryphon went to 24-bit, 96kHz when the world was splitting between MP3 and DSD. However, Gryphon designed the Ethos integrated CD player to be a something of a moving target in the now-rapid evolution of digital audio. In addition to handling standard 16-bit/44.1 kHz ‘Redbook’ CD, the Ethos offers playback up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and DSD128 conversion on the CD-media but up to DSD512 on USB. These formats can also be accessed by external digital sources through its BNC-equipped S/PDIF, AES/EBU balanced digital connection and USB. It can also output a digital signal via AES/EBU for those wanting to treat the Ethos as a transport mechanism. Hardware is keeping pace with software here, with downloaded, streamed and CD-based files all treated equally by the Ethos.