Gryphon Audio Design Antileon EVO

Antileon EVO

6moons.com

Reviewer: Edgar Kramer

Source: AMR CD-77.1 CD player, MacBook with BitPerfect player and AIFF files, DEQX PreMate as DAC and preamplifier
Preamplifier: Supratek Reference DHT with Bendix rectifier tube; NuForce P20
Amplifier: Gryphon Antileon EVO; NuForce Reference 18 monoblocks
Speakers: Wilson Audio Specialties Alexia
Cables digital: ZenSati Seraphim; Cerious Technologies; Harmonic Technology Magic; NuForce digital cables analog interconnects: ZenSati Seraphim RCA & XLR; Bocchino Audio Morning Glory; Cable Research Laboratory (CRL) Gold with Bocchino XLR and RCA; Cerious Technologies; DanA Digital Reference Silver; ETI Quiessence Reference; Exakte IC; Harmonic Technology Magic; MIT Giant Killer MPC; NuForce IC-700; PSC Audio Monolith AG; PSC Audio Pristine R30 Ribbon speaker cables: ZenSati Seraphim; Cerious Technologies; ETI Quiessence Reference; Exakte speaker cable; MIT Giant Killer GK-1 loudspeaker cables; NuForce SC-700 power cords: Cerious Technologies AC; Eichmann eXpress AC power cables; Exakte AC; Harmonic Technology Fantasy; PSC Gold Power MKII; Shunyata Research Diamondback
Stands: SGR Signature racks
Sundry accessories: Burson Audio Buffer, Bright Star Audio IsoRock Reference 3 and BSA IsoNode feet; Bocchino Audio Mecado isolation diodes; Black Diamond Racing cones; Stillpoints ERS paper in strategic positions, Shakti On Lines; Densen & IsoTek CD demagnetizer; Auric Illuminator CD Treatment
Room size: 6.4m wide by 7.1m long with high ceiling and narrow cavity behind speakers. Room has been professionally measured and found to be extraordinarily flat and neutral
Review component retail: €29'000 ex VAT

Man, if only I could go back in time, to experience once again my highest most wonderful moments; to have a second chance; to right the wrongs. Punting that dream across to audio, I'd rejoice at revisiting wonderful memories with Tannoy, Thiel, Duntech and Infinity speakers I once owned. Stepping back into the Audio Tardis, another time travel would see me once again relish Cymer Audio's masterpiece SE35 monos. A further voyage would have me experience the blissful symbiosis of amp and speaker as characterized by Thiel CS2.3 and Gryphon's entry level—but oh so marvelous—Tabu 100 power amplifier. Living with that 'budget' model from the Danish purveyors of upscale Class-A power amplifiers and subsequently high-end speaker systems... that gave me an insight into what intelligent solid-state design can reap from appropriate speaker systems: namely control, dynamics and resolution.

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I've had many amplifiers since but my desire to own one of Gryphon's Class-A behemoths always remained strong (while at the time my wallet was relatively weak). Fast forward to 2016. Due to a number of fortuitous events back at High-End Munich 2015 then further conversations with Gryphon founder and head honcho Flemming Rasmussen, an opportunity arose for me to review the new Antileon EVO stereo amplifier. Needless to say, after all these years I was literally chomping; and even more so in light of my extremely positive experience with the Diablo 300 I reviewed for Audio Esoterica.

The Antileon has been a constant at Gryphon for a number of years now. Various generations (I count the current as being fourth over quite a long life span since Gryphon don't arbitrarily release new models but only if and when they can offer genuine improvements) always shared superlative build quality and Class-A circuitry built around massive power supplies of ever-increasing robustness. 

The new EVO model scales up that concept to a whole new level with a much larger power supply and a newly-designed input stage said to remarkably improve performance. And there's no disputing the amplifier's serious presence. This is a large black mass of heavy gauge metal and black acrylic with an arresting industrial design. Of course the heat sinks add to the ominous look but they are necessities to dissipate the large amounts of heat generated by any pure Class-A design. The stereo EVO (Gryphon also offer proper not bridged mono blocks) is specified as being 150 watts into 8Ω which doubles right down to 1Ω  drive (1200 watts quoted). An intelligent feature which Gryphon use in these Antileon amplifiers and higher-powered models too is switchable Class-A bias. This starts at 25 watts in its 'low' setting, progresses to 50 watts in 'medium' and culminates in full Class-A power in 'high'. Further, if you happen to own a matching Gryphon preamplifier, Green Bias setting economizes by adjusting relevant Class-A power to correspond with the volume setting of the preamp. Smart indeed.

As mentioned already, Gryphon champion large power supplies. The Antileon EVO is the company's smallest power amplifier yet rocks an astonishing 670'000µF capacitance (this is between 5-10 times larger than many amplifiers rated for higher output power) via four larger-than-coke-can capacitors, 40 high-quality bipolar output devices and two custom-designed transformers of 1.5KVA capacity each. The transformers are mechanically isolated, shielded and have been dipped into epoxy resin, then mounted to a suspension system to further dampen any possible vibrations. Separate windings and an independent bank of proprietary capacitors supply the driver stages. Internal wiring is Gryphon's own classy Guideline Reference.

In unison, all those items represent truly heroic overkill power supply engineering. This coalesces with Rasmussen's belief (as head of a design team which incorporates some of Denmark's brightest) that an amplifier's power supply is both its heart and lifeblood. Many designers share that sentiment, of course, but only a few follow through to these practical extremes.

Much of the rave about the EVO derives from its newly-designed J-FET input stage. That's said to be extremely clean and fast, allowing for improved dynamic expression, transient attack and micro detail compared to the previous generation. The amp's input impedance is a reasonable 20kΩ (some care may be needed with some admittedly rare very high output impedance valve preamplifiers) while gain is a hot 31dB. This last I thought a potential problem for my high-gain Supratek Reference DHT valve preamplifier but so quiet is the EVO's circuitry, so well designed —as is my preamp's relative to its direct-heated triodes—that next to zero noise came through the 92dB efficient Wilson Alexias. However, high gain from both preamp and amplifier did mean that the volume control rode the 9.30-10 o'clock mark. Any further movement upwards made playback too loud. A low/high gain switch would be a welcome future inclusion barring any deleterious sonic consequences. As per Gryphon's philosophy, the EVO is a wide bandwidth design with a span from 0Hz to 350kHz (-3dB).

The EVO's rear panel sports balanced XLR inputs only, two IEC power inlet sockets (it's a true dual mono design) and awesome speaker binding posts. Those are in-house designs I really fancy because they are large, provide a large opening and a solid grip on spades whilst also accepting banana plugs, feature rubber rings for non-slip tightening and, finally, are beautifully built. Large rear handles help when lifting should you wish to tackle this 84kg beast… yikes! Out and centred on the gorgeously black-acrylic fascia juts proud a semi-triangular inverted aluminium panel. This houses a row of LED-lit buttons to activate power, mute, bias (low, medium and high) and a system check/diagnostic circuit. Whether metallic or acrylic, build quality and overall finish are of the highest standards whilst the subtly etched Gryphon company identifier (a stylized griffin, i.e. mythological lion and eagle cross) on the large circular top panel makes for a classy touch.

In a conversation with the man himself, Flemming Rasmussen provided further design insights. First I asked about their power amps which all share Class-A circuits. Why so exclusively?
Even the very first Gryphon was an extreme Class-A design. To our ears there's something simply so right about Class-A performance even if weight, heat and price are downsides. When done right, most people know and agree that Class-A is a great topology. That also explains why so many manufactures unrightfully claim Class-A performance when it isn't factual. It still adds value to their product.

So the EVO features a newly developed input stage. Many users say that this is a major reason for the substantial sonic improvements when compared to the previous Antileon Signature. How has the input stage changed from the previous design? The EVO input stage is a newly developed circuit with dual J-FETS with ultra-low input capacity specifically made for Gryphon. The driver stage supplies also are new design, with ultra-low noise and actively regulated ±71VDC rails. In your view, what are the benefits of a very wide bandwidth design? We get a very fast amplifier with near perfect phase response as the basis for a believable soundstage.

With a growing stable of Gryphon speakers, what role do the speakers play in the design of the amplifiers and vice versa?
We do not believe in synergy. If an amplifier requires a certain speaker or visa versa, it usually is the sign of a coloration or strong personality if you like. Our amplifiers drive any speaker that we know of and do not change performance as a result of its load. Naturally, we are very familiar with our speakers. For testing they are an excellent reference. But they are not specifically designed to be used together for best performance. It is essential that all our products can stand on their own feet in company with other high-quality products.

Got rhythm? I'll come straight out. This amplifier is no timid wall flower. It'll vise-grip your speakers by the short hairs and their response will be a squeaky "sure, where to boss?" I'm talking superlative control of the bass frequencies, all with astonishing power, dynamic expression and pace. Yes, this last is a rhythm thing, its existence much disputed by audio enthusiasts in fora worldwide. But listen to the EVO. You'll know what that means. The penny will drop the same way a personal experience finally takes true form from someone's mere verbal descriptions. And all this with a speaker that's one tough mother of a low bass impedance plot - my Wilson Audio Alexia.

Whacking on Tom Morello's "Take Five" from the Morello Standard Time CD was downright scary, felt through the stomach and even chest, my brain overactive and unnecessarily sweating over the long-term health of the woofers. Ditto for Brian Bromberg's Wood release where the bass notes—across the entire spectrum because that's how Dave rolls with his bass playing— were rendered with unhindered dynamic swing, snappy attack and unconcealed detail. If there's bass in them thar pits, and if your speakers are up to it, the Antileon will generously serve it on a delicious platter you'll voraciously engulf. 

in his review of the Gryphon Diablo 300 integrated and Pantheon speakers, fearless leader Srajan nailed one of the key aspects of the Gryphon 'house' sound. Gravitas he said. I hear you, mate. That's the quintessential description for the sound of the Antileon EVO, too. There's a sense of weight, power, dominance and uncompromising authority to music when played via this amplifier. And it's not just about the bass either. It's about overall dynamics that approach reality (yes, rest of gear permitting…) with explosive contrasts. This last came through even more outwardly when I connected George Stantscheff's Lightspeed Attenuator quad-matched LDR passive. The Lightspeed does no harm. It's as clear a conduit to the musical content from your source as you're going to get, provided all impedance parameters are optimal, and without hindering dynamic expression in any way, shape or form.

Conclusion. An amplifier with such profound qualities doesn't come around all that often. There have only been a few which moved me, excited me and motivated me to attempt acquisition or, if unable to at the time, at least yearningly lust after. Of those, the Gryphon Antileon EVO is at the very top. This time around, pulling out all the stops, this amplifier stays. In my interview with him, I asked Flemming Rasmussen a final question. Once happy with a design on paper and execution, how important are listening sessions? Should you fail to connect on an emotional level with a particular design, do you go back to the drawing board to adjust the circuit; or do you accept technical competence as the final arbiter?  The subjective performance must be our only target. Specs tell you nothing about what to expect. Funny enough, the realistic-sounding products will often have good specs but that's not what drives us. Our signature topology is wide bandwidth, Class-A, no negative feedback, all discrete and so on. These usually are the bearers of great specs. But our choice was never based on that. And then he continued by encapsulating the very essence of the Antileon EVO's influence on musical playback. My entire review in a simple sentence - if only reviews could be presented thus. So at the curtain call, audience standing, the last word is on you, Flemming: What matters is whether the music involves and excites you not just as a lot of detached details but as the whole package - with drive, nerve, dynamics, scale and more than anything else, that elusive soul.