It’s hard to keep my enthusiasm bottled when something arrives for a review directly from Gryphon Audio and Flemming Rasmussen. Gryphon Audio has become a story of success and a brand that many high-end audio companies are looking upon.
Many years ago Flemming told me how his vision for Gryphon Audio mirrored what Lamborghini represents in the high-end super sports car world and more then three decades later, I think we all can agree how Gryphon has become one of the most iconic and recognized brands in the luxury audio world. Despite going through turbulent, times Flemming and his team managed to keep his vision focused and intact.
Gryphon Audio’s distinct and iconic logo—resembling a perfect union of the power of the lion with the grace of the eagle—has become a synonym for something extraordinary. Denmark is a country of many intriguing things and Flemming managed to encapsulate the mythical aura across brand’s complete product line. One can recognize unique design cues from a distance and the same goes for the sonic virtues which also became an iconic story of its own.
Gryphon encapsulates a sense of unlimited power and embodies the intricate and sublime inner workings of music with raw and unaltered energy.
MEET THE LEGATO LEGACY
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of evaluating numerous Gryphon Audio products but never their phono stages. With my recent grand refreshment of the analog setup, everything just aligned when Flemming asked me if I wanted to review the Legato Legacy.
Legato, in Italian, literally means "bound together." In classical music, a composer's instruction to play in a smooth, flowing manner without detached notes. As you can read later on, Gryphon Legato Legacy follows and reflects the meaning very intimately.
Anyone who follows Flemming’s work and the Gryphon Audio venture knows that their phono preamplifier design points towards Gryphon historical cornerstone—the original “The Head Amp”, that led not only to development of phono preamplifiers, but pushed the brand into the spot light.
Gryphon Audio is known for their dual mono approach. This radically eliminates crosstalk and other interferences and pushes forward channel separation that consequently translates in an ability to materialize an objective sense of space, three dimensionality, and recreation of complex acoustical spaces.
As with all of their products, Legato Legacy implements heavily regulated, multistage power supplies that actually operate as main conditioning filters. Phono stages are particularly prone to all sorts of electrical pollution and hubris and Gryphon’s team went to great lengths to insure a noise-free increment. Even displays and control circuits have their dedicated separate power supplies in order to prevent any interfering with the signal path.
Fully balanced operation is Gryphon’s leitmotif for decades. Legato Legacy is no stranger and it operates balanced from input to output in complete absence of op-amps and IC´s. Further on the fragile, ultra low-level signal is fully shielded, again in dual mono nature and without internal wiring which further ensures the best RFI protection.
Gryphon’s research into the detrimental effects of magnetically induced distortion (MID) has led to the elimination of magnetizable materials wherever possible. To eliminate the effects of stray magnetic fields, non-magnetic materials are employed throughout, with the unavoidable exception of the transformer shield box.
Completely sealed PCB’s are specified to the highest military grade standards and, as with all Gryphon preamplifiers, Legato Legacy is also designed with zero negative feedback.
Again, pointing back to Gryphon’s iconic first born, “The Head Amp”, Legato Legacy brings extremely wide frequency bandwidth. This opens the universe of ultra-sonic frequencies, where linear phase crosses the audible frequency range and comes as a constitutional attribute.
Gryphon’s Legato Legacy embraces the particular technology where it’s needed and follows the established and tried electronic solution, with the new additions at the right places. This ensures Gryphon’s performance with a touch of advancement being implemented where’s crucial.
Let us look at some of the Gryphon Legato Legacy’s highlights:
- Selectable MC input impedance from 10 Ohm to 47 kOhm
- Selectable gain
- Extremely low noise
- Fully balanced circuit, a Gryphon phonostage innovation as early as 1994
- Select premium-grade components
- Zero negative feedback
- Available as stand-alone unit or as integrated modules in the Gryphon Pandora and the Gryphon Sonata-Allegro preamplifiers.
- Custom-made C-core transformers
- Custom-made C-core transformers
- 75 µm copper traces
- Custom impedance load option
- Dual mono configuration
- MM or MC input
- Dual mono configuration
- Fully discrete circuit
- Swiss LEMO connectors
- Short signal path with no internal wiring
- Dual mono external power supplies
- DC coupling
- Fully sealed double-sided mil spec PC boards
Flemming warned me how Legato Legacy operates only with LEMO connectors so I’ve ordered them prior to receiving the phono stage. Why LEMO? LEMO connectors are used in a variety of challenging application environments including medical, industrial control, test and measurement, audio-video and telecommunications for signals with ultra low-level signals needed to be taken with utmost care.
Athrough Legato offers both RCA and XLR outputs, it made all the sense to use a balanced signal flow as Legato Legacy was designed from the ground up as a fully balanced design. I connected via XLR to Robert Koda Takumi K-10 preamplifier and let the journey begin.
Legato Legacy follows the established Gryphon Audio DNA with a massive separated power supply similar to the one used for Gryphon Audio Pandora flagship preamplifier.
Before any settings, Legato must be turned off and all cables removed and then the top plate can be removed.
The Legato Legacy’s default setting is adjusted for Moving Coil cartridges with 80 Ohms loading. If you’re planning to use an MM cartage 47K, this can be done via five straps on the circuit board. For Moving Magnet impedance, it need not to be changed as it is set to 47K load automatically.
MC Impedance loading can be easily set with the help of a high quality, Swiss precision attenuator. This can be completely bypassed, when optimum loading is established.
The impedance selector uses removable super high grade, gold-plated jumpers (sockets), that ensure years of undisturbed performance and superior contact.
The selector has 6 positions:
- Position 1 - 10 Ohm
- Position 2 - 40 Ohm
- Position 3 - 80 Ohm
- Position 4 - 300 Ohm
- Position 5 - 800 Ohm Position 6 - 47 kOhm
All the straps are located in the center of the Legato circuit board with correct positions marked on the PC board.
If needed, cartridges can be loaded with any impedance ranging between 10 Ohm and 47 kOhm by simply inserting a resistor of exact value in the sockets on the PC board, left of the impedance loading socket.
What struck me most with the first record in play was the quietness. Silènzio! Without proper signal/noise balance you can simply forget about deriving minuscule details, that can get best out of the records and form a true, involving musical experience.
More than any other high-end audio gear, phono preamplifiers act as zeitgeist. By deciphering many secrets and magical moments not available in digital domain, phono stages takes quite a demanding task of story telling. Its sort of a time machine of its own. Not only for the sake or rarities and gems from the past, but even more importantly for the way both music and sound can be presented; experience, full of subtle insights and unique emotional bound.
Let me travel in time with a few of the recordings…
Vaughan Williams - London Symphony Orchestra, André Previn, Sir Ralph Richardson - Sinfonia Antartica (RCA Victor Red Seal, RCA Victor Red Seal (SB-6736, SB 6736).
Quite a story to tell and a demanding recording that can pin point many shortcomings of the system and especially points weak points at the phono stage. Rendering the cinematic soundscape of Sinfonia Antartica with full scale demands not only proper resolution, but also proper incentives from a phono stage.
Legato Legacy gravitated with a motion of full gestalt rather then a sum of chaotic parts and parcels, as often happens even with much pricer phono preamplifiers. Legato Legacy managed to handle orchestral complexity combined with fervent musical dedication. Consider this as a compliment on its own.
Saint-Saëns/ Liszt - Michele Campanella, Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra, Aldo Ceccato – Piano Concerto No. 4 / Totentanz | Hungarian Fantasy (Philips – 6500 095
There’s nothing like a sense of full scale grand piano. Michele Campanella's impulsive, thunder-like performance backed up with the Monte Carlo Opera Orchestra is a true challenge for any product associated with vinyl record reproduction, especially the phono stage.
Making Saint-Saëns/Liszt a dynamic swing entity of its own combined with proper tone and timbre balance takes more than just a few attributes.
Legato Legacy managed to portray edifice-like structure without equivocation. By fostering minute transformative dynamic shifts and an eerie morphing of properly sized piano is a virtual reality projection needing much more than a 3D mockup of a mediocre visual designer. Legato Legacy rendered decay, delays, and transients with ease and a sense of authority, magnetically gravitating towards the scope of reality.
Shelly Manne & Jack Marshall - Sounds Unheard Of! (LP, Album, RE, RM) (APR 3009) (Contemporary Records – M5006)
Surely one of the albums that any analog enthusiast or connoisseur should have in his collection. For many, its arguably the musical value, but I do enjoy Mane/Marshall composition greatly along with the one of a kind sonic realism. This is the record that so far has pushed even the most avid digital defenders into an interesting position when presented in my system.
I’m not sure how it was done and what was done to be so sonically distinctive, but the sheer realism that can be manifested is exemplary to say at least.
With a well-designed phono preamplifier, there are some “symptoms” of grand believability being displayed. Yet, it takes a true edifice preamp to evoke the sense of drama and realism. The Legato Legacy’s lifelike facsimile magnetized and locked performers with realism and a sense of serenity that is truer to the natural impact of instruments in play rather than even getting close to dismantling nature. I very much liked and enjoyed the lock and load realist ability of the Legato Legacy.
Larry Coryell - Philip Catherine – Twin-House (Label: Atlantic – ATL 50 342)
A happy accident record sort of speak. A must have for any acoustic guitar jazz fan. Interplay and complimentary guitar playing linguistic of Larry Coryell and Philip Catherine are more than just inspiring. I’m certain that most of you would recognize the masterful guitar playing of Michael Hedges, but this is the album that opened Pandora’s Box back in 70’s.
In order to resolve Larry Coryell’s guitar wizardry for its watershed importance, a phono stage should handle a small universe of miniature attributes like plucks, reverbs, decays, and delays most diversely. Dynamic diversification allows articulation to be formed properly and this is where the Legato Legacy managed to encapsulate the salient features of the original recordings with refreshing ease.
Michael Franks – The Art Of Tea (Label: Reprise Records – REP 54 048)
Exposing one’s intimate mind to the public and the fans is never a small thing. John Simon, known as a producer of The Band, Janis Joplin, etc. managed to capture Michael’s naïveté perfectly without its own saturated imprint.
Although it might be somehow hidden to the causal Franks follower, this is the album that perhaps revealed him most deeply. Sanpaku as an opening song translates more than needed even to the more casual listener. Henri Rousseau - Tiger In A Tropical Storm painting on the front cover couldn’t be more appropriate to invite one into Frank’s vibrant escapade.
This half-inch mastered record is among few of my desert disc records for many reasons. Let me leave exact reasoning for another sole article. Still, the combination of wit, wisdom, dreamscapes, and enrolled musicians like Bucky Pizzarelli, Kenny Barron, Mike Mainieri, Dave Sanborn, Flora Purim, Ron Carter etc. encapsulates Michel’s sort of timeless mystical musical poetry in a unique, one kind of way.
Album track pushes you gently across the almost sardonic, yet unforgettable musical journey, that ensures torrents of emotional blueprints being palpable, rendered to the one willing to digest the musical story in its full completeness.
Mike Mainieri’s Tiger in The Rain vibraphone solo alone is a celebration of subtleness. Like a myriad of layers of green shades from a Henry Rousseau painting, the notes collage represents one of the finest vibraphone solos.
I know this song and each passage by heart as I’ve literary wore off at least two records and two CD’s over the years. The complete album forays into Michael’s fine art, but more than a few times I’ve used the particular passage to lurk into the heart of a phono stage under the review.
The Legato Legacy exhibit a beautiful rendition. It served a vibrant and exuberant performance with locking micro and macro details, attacks, and in absence of too often introduced cognitive dissonance. Something seriously right was happening here!
Audio reviewers are often criticized for many of reasons. Objectivity can certainly be one of them. Essentially, what I’m feeling privileged about this job is the array of fine products coming in and out and perhaps, even more importantly, time being dedicated to the listening. Like with wine or gourmet food tasting and evaluating, senses and the brain develop a sort of refined and more subtle mechanisms to react upon. And the mileage seems to matter within all of these different sensual industries. As a sum of everything, objectivity certainly finds its merit.
It takes time and a lot of effort in trying out different combinations with different high-end audio products. Still, it’s one of the main luxuries of this niche industry and combined with a frequent exposure to live music, it can form a viable (objective) and critical process of transcribing the aural experience and conclusions within tests and reviews that can give factual info for the readers.
Why the elaboration in the paragraph above? Especially connected with the phono stage, both distortion and frequency response are closely connected with the sonic outcome. Both are “measurable” and their variations will either define or destroy the preamplifier leitmotif. This is exactly where Gryphon’s Legato Legacy comes with more than just a lot of merit and why all those high-specs matter and at the end actually translate into a stand out musical performance. And this of course, do fall into more of a subjective realm.
Flemming and his team have pushed hard to ensure the technology was at any stage subordinate to the music. It’s never easy to manipulate a fragile and fractured lowest level signal, especially considering that we’re talking and dealing with 21st century high-end audio devices where a vast selection of parts can easily take the sound to any of extreme directions.
By any means I do want to avoid paralysis by analysis as it can be an anti-pattern for a proper conclusion. Still, some knots needs to be joined. Let me continue…
There are many critics of a fully employed balanced design. The siding poles and discussions are going on for what seems forever. Interestingly and intriguingly, this was something that needed a breakthrough and establishing time even in an amazingly expanding headphone community. From the beginning many criticized the newly implemented balanced circuits for driving headphones. Fast forward to present day, this comes as a mandatory feature on every serious headphone amplifier. In a similar way, Gryphon Audio threw the ball with their balanced phono preamplifier decades back and the market followed over the years with its own pace and recognition.
Legato Legacy opens up the world of analog in a specific and unique way. Music comes from the deep, submarine-like black place and with a surprisingly low noise level. For any decent electronic engineer, killing the noise floor is not an utmost challenging task. The real challenge comes in the form of keeping the bandwidth of true scale potency that is not actually destroying the music (and flow)! This is where few phono stages excel and this is a particular advantage of Legato Legacy. The juxtaposition of a noise floor and musical potency puts the Legato Legacy on a specific throne, where vinyl records become a cherished medium of an analog gran amor.
Gryphon’s Legato Legacy strikes with its open nature, an involving act that bravely stands forward in the world of analog domain. It’s a matured product coming from a brand’s strong legacy and a proud continua of remarkable tradition spanning over three decades.
The Legato Legacy exudes Gryphon’s spirit and brand-enamored DNA. Despite of the Legato Legacy’s boldness, it’s a sensitive, narrative and sensual device that can instantly transport one into the realms of grander illusion. Magic realism of Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams comes to mind easily. Not for the mystical and unexplanatory, but For the tangible and vivid connection to the constitutional musical vibrancy.
Compared to some other phono stages on the market, the Legato Legacy is priced surprisingly competitive. For the Gryphon flagship phono preamp one would surely expect quite a heftier price tag, but I’m more than sure that owners and potential customers won’t mind the price positioning :). I know, I’ll be quoted, challenged and dueled, but can I dare to say that price performance is finally converging :) !?
One might argue about the importance of analog in the 21st century and especially with the exploding developments of ultra-high end audio digital playback devices, yet products like Gryphon Audio’s Legato Legacy phono preamplifier is here to prove them wrong at each and every step. For what it represent performance wise, and especially at what price point Gryphon Legato Legacy deserves to be spotlighted. I'm more then happily acknowledge this with Mono and Stereo ...... award.