Diablo 120 i Mojo S
Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1 & H1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Wyred4Sound STP-SE MkII, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVC module), COS Engineering D1
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; Bakoon AMP-12R; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE Up NC500MB monos; LinnenberG Audio Allegro monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, Titan Audio Eros cords between wall and conditioners and on the amps
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review components retail in Europe: €8,900 Diablo 120 [add €3'400 for DAC, €1'800 for phono], €20'000/pr Mojo S in standard gloss paint w. stand [add €1'500 for metallic paint]
Gryphon's Diablo 300 super integrated collected awards across the audiophile press like bees collect honey; including from us. It then was just a timely matter until our Danish makers felt that the devil we knew should beget a smaller devil we didn't; as yet. Now the baby Diablo replaces the company's long-running Atilla integrated. It inherits from the 300 the dual-mono architecture, the modular digital/phono options, the near power doubling into 2Ω, the black aluminium/acrylic package with touch-screen display, the gold-plated 2-to-4-layer PCB with 70µm copper traces and the socketry. The remote wand is new.
The 120 of the name signifies 8Ω output from two pairs of Sanken transistors per channel. That's slightly less than half the power of its big 300 brother. But a stout 1'200VA Holmgren toroidal power transformer and 60'000µF/ch. capacitance show that even half a devil still lives large. Anything less wouldn't be a Gryphon. Cue Jack Nicholson from the Witches of Eastwick.
A passive microprocessor-controlled relay-switched resistor array controls volume. The setup menu hides all manner of calibration niceties like four levels of display brightness, min/max volume, eight-character source labeling and an A/V bypass function. There's a 32/384PCM DSD512 DAC option based on the Sabre ES9018. This 4-layer PCB module inside a metal case includes a 12.5 farad super-cap power supply for its USB transceiver to act as virtual battery. It runs 1st-order PCM and 2nd-order DSD filters with polypropylene capacitors. When installed, the digital module shows up in the display with its active input, sampling frequency, digital filter setting and file format. For analogue there's an MM/MC phono option. There's also 38dB of voltage gain, input impedance of 8kΩ RCA and 20kΩ XLR, output impedance of 0.03Ω and -3dB bandwidth of 0.1Hz-250kHz. What none of these shiny specs can reflect is cachet and renown. That's encapsulated in the Gryphon name. If that branding elicits no reaction, you haven't paid attention. Under the stewartship of soft-spoken giant Flemming Rasmussen, these Danes have positioned themselves at the very top of our sector for already decades. In an industry where reviewers routinely won't agree on much, everyone respects the winged lion and reviews are invariably most laudatory. Today's Diablo 120 is their most compact all-in-one solution. But one brand's entry-level model is another's very best effort. Even a baby Gryphon is still quite the beast.
To complete a full Gryphon system in the same spirit of what we'll call the proudly luxurious entry level, there's the winged Mojo S. This 3-driver two-way monitor disguises its actual speaker box beneath curvy cladding like a motorcycle hides its engine. In Gryphon's portfolio, the S-for-superior Mojo usurped the original Mojo's 7-year rein. That had ended the Cantata's rule of 6 years. No short-lived product cycles in this catalogue. With its dedicated sand-fillable stand, the Mojo S is an über monitor which uses an air-motion transformer tweeter from Mundorf. Surrounding that on the concave baffle are two Seas 6-inch pulp-paper mid/woofers with a 44Hz free-air resonance. Those couple to dual 52Hz rear ports. The 2'000Hz filter network is a 4th-order type. Claimed response is 37Hz-40kHz -3dB, sensitivity is 89dB/4Ω. Snap-in graphite Duelund resistors on the rear afford a three-step ±1dB tweeter adjustment without switches. The cabinet floats its three 38mm front baffle sections atop a 22m sub baffle via rubber gaskets. The cabinet's rear is aluminium. Its inside panels are lined with bitumen whilst the tweeter chamber gets a felt and wool mix. Though a reasonable 39x47x122cm WxDxH, each compact Mojo S puts a solid 65kg ship weight on the scale. And as an exclusive Scandinavian product, finish options are mostly limited by the client's imagination.
This review will assess the Diablo 120 and Mojo S on their own before teaming up our Danish dragons for Gryphon's take on a simple system. Just add file player and cables. That revisits the concept of last year's Diablo 300 and Pantheon review where I presented Gryphon's next-size-up proposition on building a high-performance system around a super integrated.
As a Lamborghini delivered on a bullet-proof lorry? I haven't the faintest. I do know that a pair of Gryphon Mojo S will arrive in self-palletized man-sized crates. Cradled in massive foam corners, stands and monitors bolt to massive end-cap MDF plates. Those integrate handles for convenient removal and safe set-down without marring the flawless finish. All necessary tools with detailed instructions are included. Unpacking and setup was a very manageable one-man job. That's because Gryphon had wisely opted not to ship the speakers already bolted to their contoured perches.
Though it's likely bad form to go Mr. Gaga over packing quality, this Danish delivery was a prime example for how such things ought to be done. As the drawings indicate, all a customer must do is remove the protective plates, bolt the cross bars to the stand bottoms, insert the frontal spikes, affix speakers to stands with four bolts each and finally snap the top fairings into their retainers to completely disguise the rectangular boxes beneath. Voilà, a rakish set of Mojo is ready to rumble. Raise that mojito.
Here we close up on the high-gloss snap-on helmet with its rippled speed stripes; and the folded Mundorf air-motion transformer tweeter surrounded by felt.
Fine detailing on speaker and stand abound. Being replaceable, the wings can easily change colour.
To only change one item at a time, I'd first sample the Mojo S with our usual amplifiers—a pair of German LinnenberG Allegro monos and the American Pass Labs XA-30.8—before the Diablo 120 would replace those for the full Gryphon hit. Then our usual Audio Physic Codex 4-ways would finish off on the Gryphon integrated to complete the picture.
Bandwidth. Coming off the rather larger Codex 4-ways, potential shoppers not previously exposed to the abilities of modern über monitors will feel a bit tweaked to read that Mojo's native bass reach wasn't far behind - about ten cycles. To illustrate, I tried to sneak in our Zu Submission subwoofer. At 40Hz, far too much upper bass bled through. After all, no 4th-order low pass is a brickwall filter. That sub control wanted to be at 10Hz to add the occasionally useful not distracting thing. Gold Note's fully balanced P-1000 preamp in for review packs a rare purely analog 2.5/5dB@40Hz boost option. 5dB proved clearly excessive. Half that built out certain ambient fare that had significant content across the first octave. If your room is capable of developing the longest bass waves without boom; and if your amp has sufficient headroom to be worked harder there... you'd be surprised just how low two compact paralleled mid/woofers can go when they are of Mojo calibre. Suffice to say that with Maurizio Aterini's little 2.5dB boost trick, these Danes behaved practically full-range in our open 4x6m hifi den by adding just enough of an LF lift to, in stereo, give those very low pedal notes or synth beats more weight. If our room exhibited the typical wall behind the listening seat, I'd not dream of any Mojo S add-ons. Since ours is in effect 14 metres long to support very low bass where recorded, I was merely curious how the Gold Note or Zu options might play out. On certain material, I preferred the Gold Note's 2.5dB boost. Otherwise I defeated it. The subwoofer remained sidelined for the duration.
At the other extreme of the bandwidth, the high treble far exceeded my ear's ability to tap out but expressed none of the dynamic forwardness or heat which I've noted on Mark & Daniel's earlier AMT efforts. Let's remind ourselves of the operating principle of air-motion transformers. They don't push the air but squeeze it out of many folds. This nets a claimed 5-fold increase of propagation velocity over the ubiquitous 1-inch dome tweeter. It's perfectly obvious that to match their speed and dynamic envelope requires unusually capable mid/woofers. Clearly Gryphon's paralleled driver choice excels dynamically in both directions: down into the bassment; and up to where the Mundorf tweeter takes over. This is a dynamically aspirated box that will have your music lunge forward whenever a musician hits the gas as though a twin-turbo engine ran in a lower gear for maximum acceleration. In that sense of dynamic twitchiness, it's a sportier ride.
Panoramic. With their time/phase-optimized filter and baffle, the Mojo S excelled at equal image density across the full width of the soundstage. Where other speakers focus best in the centre then thin out towards the sides, the Gryphon applied the exact same focus and substance across the full breadth of field. Yet unlike the proverbial wall of sound with its undifferentiated depth, this dense soundstage had very precisely mapped distance markers. This made for a clear counterpoint to Magico/Soulution tradeshow demoes where I heard an equally articulate mapping precision but not the Danes' sumptuous tone density. To my ears then, the Gryphon monitors walked a perfectly calibrated balance between the polarities of transparency and embodiment. Another equally valid pairing would be speed and substance. In that sense the Mojo S was a comfort ride. It carried full grocery bags of instrumental and vocal body.
From this precisely tuned balance arose a useful observation. The Mojo S didn't need to be played loud to convince. Any speaker which does is usually guilty of insufficient materialization. Things sound a bit ghostly and thin. Quite by reflex, we turn up the volume until those paler speakers fill out. But like a proper fire breathing dragon, the Mojo S didn't have to shout to make itself felt. And that meant I could listen to it without disturbing my wife. Clocking more listening hours equals more pleasure. That's a count where more is decidedly more. Here the minimalists have it all wrong. If all you see is an expensive compact speaker with three small drivers to shrug so what... you're missing the plot. Forget the delivery vehicle. Close your eyes. See whether the sound bears any semblance to minimalism or smallness. A few hours later, your mind will have caught up. There'll be reasonable rationalisations to save face. Yes, keeping cabinets smaller reduces panel sizes. That increases their resonant frequency to be easier suppressed. It also adds smaller reflective bodies into your acoustic environment. Less box talk equals greater clarity. There's less instinctual identification of the sound originating from two physical boxes. Instead it appears more like the wind: a physical force that may have a direction but no clear origin at all. It's simply present, very direct and tacit.
It's all proven and true stuff. Still, it can feel quite humbling when macho expectations to the contrary are blown to shreds by such monitors. And it is instantly followed by the obvious question why anyone sane would go after anything bigger when playing lower or louder are really nowhere on the menu. Delete that old belief system of the inevitable monkey coffins. It's the 21st century now. Upgrade your brainware. That includes eliminating a separate DAC, preamp and mono amps and their go-between cables. Combine all of that essential functionality in one box that goes between the speakers. Add source, be done. For today that would be the Diablo 120 fronted by the D100 Pro SD card reader from China's Soundaware.
It was expected then that input 7 aka AES/EBU digital could be named to actually say SD Card. Likewise for adjustable PCM/DSD filters, display brightness and that signal lock would confirm with an actual lock symbol. That a touch display behind shiny black Perspex appreciates the occasional Windex spritz to wipe off finger prints goes with the territory. Of course the black metal remote with the orange buttons is really all that's needed once you're done with initial housekeeping chores. Keep your paws off and the Windex bottle could remain in the kitchen. The mains rocker is on the belly nicely out of sight but easily reached just the same. It's all perfectly self-explanatory and as it should be. Gryphon are old hands at this. That's why I was dumbfounded by reader Patrick's email, about "I will receive my Gryphon Diablo 250 amp next week and am skeptical about the DAC to choose for listening on my PC... I do not have too much financial means to devote to this so could you give me some suggestions to get an expressive but warm sound?" Why would he trust Gryphon with their analogue but then play self-appointed skeptic over their digital?
It's a common mistake. It seriously underestimates just how much can be accomplished when playmates are predetermined, not open-ended. Standalone DACs don't know what transport and preamp or integrated they will have to work with. Their designers must account for the entire playing field of variables. The Diablo 120's DAC meanwhile knows exactly which bed it will sleep in. Its designers had to tolerate no guesswork. Rather, their D/A module dovetails ideally with the preamp/amp's electrical and sonic values for guaranteed results. Should Patrick hold on to the misguided if perfectly ordinary belief that he'd do better straying from the brand? Seeing how he wanted a warm expressive sound, I'd seriously doubt it. Because that's precisely what I got coming off my .aif/flac-loaded SD card.
Prearranged marriage. To liberals, the concept is archaic. To hifi finders not seekers, it can mean true bliss. It's about concrete results, not lofty notions. For a Diablo 120/Mojo S buyer, that goes well beyond proper power/gain matching, linear frequency response and taut timing. All of that really ought to recede from consideration. All of it must submit to the service of emotional persuasiveness. Otherwise our system would merely conform to technical ideals which can only mean happiness to laboratory test gear. What exactly renders a hifi emotionally persuasive? Good timing is certainly a prerequisite to draw believably steep transients which our nervous system reacts to as though real. But so is audible materialism. That must combat hifi's illusory weakness of convincing our ear/brain that musicians are in our living room when not just our eyes know they're not. It's really a conjuring trick out of thin air. Ideally then, the air should be so thick that we could almost cut it. And it's precisely this proverbial thickness of the air—tone density, aural substance—which the Danish combo has mastered. Reader Patrick had chased the warm and expressive. I'm convinced that those words of his aimed at the very same effect I've called thick air.
The result is a suspension of disbelief on the emotional level. Though each time our eyes open, there's still empty space between the speakers, there's no conflict. Our audible materialism has enough raw substance to bridge the gap. The black values of the colour palette are very inky. This enhances saturation. After their initial leading edge, sounds bloom properly. If our air were a canvas, it would actually be slightly wet to fully absorb the colours on the brush. And finally, rather than redline where everything is equally loud like swamped-out conditions, the Gryphon sound is dynamically expressive. It's transmissive to the small flickers of emphasis, be those caused by the variable air speed or pressure of a singer or the modulated lip, finger or bow pressure of a player. The image density creates the sonic substance, the high dynamic contrast imbues said substance with movement. Without that movement, density becomes static: robust but stony. Movement without substance gets nervy and jittery. But balance these two values as well as this system does and each informs the other.
Now the music becomes emotionally accessible and invested. The rest of it—the usual talk of frequency response, tonal balance, soundstaging etc—is just small print.
Auditioning the Diablo 120 also on the Audio Physic Codex and with different sources demonstrated even higher resolution in general and superior pitch definition in the bass in particular. By contrast, the Mojo S and 120 DAC played it slightly forgiving and holistic. But that's a natural side effect of highly materialized tone body. It always comes at the cost of ultimate separation which routinely lacks emotional conviction. Extreme separation becomes all about the leaves and their veins to miss the forest. And once the forest has vanished, it's very hard to get it back. Many audiophiles had it way back when their gear was basic. Once audiophilia set in, the hunt came on for ever greater detail resolution and transparency to hear everything. In trade, something simple but essential was lost. For many, music has never regained its true calorific nourishment.
That's where Gryphon's smallest system performs an expert course correction. Or call it an automatic reset of the factory defaults. And what are the defaults of good sound if not rich tone, easy timing and lively dynamics? It's the appeal and promise of built-in optimization from integration that gives a Gryphon shopper the confidence to pursue modern hifi with its sleek shiny looks and hi-tech parts without falling prey to modern sound's penchant for substance dilution. Okay, if you haven't outlived the allure of mix'n'match, you may not be ready to simplify accordingly. But if you've had enough short-lived hifi marriages, perhaps it's time to give a properly prearranged one a try. If the thought of a Devialet all-in-one with WiFi goes too far for you—it would for our Wifi-allergic household—Gryphon's Diablo 120 with DAC module (or phono) banishes the nasty microwaves.
Then it's about reconnecting with what's musically important whilst doing so with class and in style. We've heard it all before but it's good to be reminded that small—well, compact—really is beautiful. If you had overlooked the Gryphon brand assuming it was all about very big very heavy stuff (much of it is), you might want to look again at today's 3-piece system of super integrated and über monitors. It's Gryphon lite only visually. As our narrative made clear, sonically it's very much a heavy. And for hifi, that's a brilliant thing indeed...
* Gryphon's new €5'990 Sonett phono stage is of special interest to owners of a Diablo 300 or 120 when those have been optioned out with the DAC module. The Sonett moves the Diablo phono module offboard into its own enclosure with dedicated dual-mono power supplies. It's the perfect companion solution to accommodate digital and analogue within a Diablo context.