Audio Show 2016 • Best of Show

If Ultimate Audio’s CH Precision and Stenheim setup was a living embodiment of the Big Is (well, might be) Beautiful road to high-end audio nirvana, their Gryphon system was -- despite appearances -- a model of simplicity. Simple! Those Gryphon Trident II loudspeakers tip the scales at €120,000/pair, with seven drivers a side, active bass from their remotely controllable onboard electronics and weigh over 500 pounds each. At the other end of the system, the (sadly now unavailable) Mikado CD player acted as a transport for the €24,500 Kalliope DAC -- which is hardly a beer-budget front-end. But look at this in another way and what you have here is, in essence, a good quality source, a wide-bandwidth loudspeaker and sandwiched in between -- an integrated amp. Conceptually speaking, systems don’t get much simpler than this, and the thing that makes it possible is that amplifier -- the latest version of Gryphon’s Diablo, the Diablo 300, which costs a relatively modest €15,750. Okay, so that’s still a lot of coin, but it barely registers against the combined cost of the front and back ends in this single-source setup.

Get a good enough source and a decent match between amp and speakers and you’re most of the way towards a serious system. Opting for an HRS SXR rack and a full suite of locally built Audiofidem Nexus Argentum cables will help you on the way, but what really struck home about this system was just what a great job the Diablo 300 was doing, despite the demands being placed on it. Rhythmically and dynamically coherent, quick and responsive, the sound was all about the performers and their performance, rather than the performance of the system itself, playing everything from solo violin to OST mayhem with absolute aplomb. It may have lacked the cavernous acoustic space produced by the CH/Stenheim setup, but it certainly didn’t want for musical authority, generating solid images and real musical presence. This was sound with attitude and purpose, cutting to the very core of recordings and drawing the listener with it. You want big? You’ve got it. Perhaps more importantly, you want small? You get that too. For such large speakers, the Trident IIs are perfectly at home doing delicate and intimate, a subtlety that extends to the fff end of the scale too.

All of which makes the performance of the Diablo 300 all the more remarkable. The photos tell the story: the tall, imposing columns of the Trident II loudspeakers dominate the room, their wide stance accentuating just how small the amp set between them is. Of course, small is relative, with the Diablo 300 actually being bigger and weighing more than a lot of serious high-end power amps. But throw in the not insignificant fact that the Gryphon integrated can accept both an internal DAC and phono stage, and suddenly the Diablo 300 looks awfully like the nerve center of a serious (and yet seriously simple) high-end rig. Just add source and speakers.

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