Proven power, magnificent majesty and very versatile too!
Steven R. Rochlin,
Enjoy the Music 11/2016
Am no stranger to Gryphon Audio as have reviewed their impressive offerings over the years and always came away impressed. This includes a complete system review with their Atilla integrated amplifier, Scorpio CD player and Mojo speakers plus another review of their incredibly impressive Hi-Res Audio Kalliope DAC. Would the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 integrated amplifier, as reviewed here, be within the same league of excellence? Or would it finally be something of a miss, with it being ever so close yet not quite. While I very much can take advantage of the 300 Watts per channel stereo @ 8 Ohms (950 @ 2 Ohms) of the Diablo 300, the recent announcement of the Diablo 120 stereo integrated amplifier, which as the name implies produces 120 Watts per channel @ 8 Ohms (440 @ 2 Ohms) is the newborn little sister, have been a better choice? Perhaps that depends on your speakers, room size, and of course how loud you party with music playing. As high-end audio seems to be moving towards more integrated amplifiers, Gryphon Audio has expended their range to readily mate with virtually every system.
The Diablo 300 is not new quite frankly, and generally I love to be among the first to review a new product. So this begs the questions why didn't I patiently wait for the Diablo 120? Because I'm not always known for being the most patient guy, plus the added wattage of the 300 would be put to good use on my 6-foot high floorstanding recording studio / mastering speakers. Modded Dunlavy SC-IV Signatures if you must know, yet wait until you read what happens when I use the ELAC Debut F5 floorstanders (only $558 per pair). But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
A Bit Of History
Approximately a decade ago the original Gryphon Diablo was their very first integrated amplifier. Combining a preamplifier, multiple inputs, and amplifier, this made it very easy to music lovers to have a single unit that handles equipment switching and drive high-end audio loudspeakers. To quote the company, "...the integrated amplifier was finally realized in the Gryphon Diablo, so far ahead of its time that it - with typical Gryphon longevity – remained the absolute reference in its class for a full decade". And this brings up a great point as Gryphon Audio is not known to just release a new unit every year, thereby outdating previous models. When you invest your love of music, you want it to be a wise decision that brings joy into your life for many years. In addition, if a high-end audio manufacturer truly produces the best product they can, odds are it'll remain that way for many years to come. The Diablo 300 has been around for a few years and continues their journey is producing prestigious high-end audio products.
The only exception of a long life cycle might be digital audio decoders (DACs), and here is where the brilliance of Gryphon Audio really shines. Their latest Diablo series handles user-pluggable modules for DAC or phono stage. Thus as digital audio becomes more refined they can easily upgrade to the latest spec. Then again considering their current DAC module handles 32-bit/384kHz and DSD, it is hard for me to see that this will need to be updated anytime in the next five years, perhaps more! Of course it is easy up update the firmware within Gryphon Audio's Diablo 300 via USB. So yes, there's a common sense way to handle updates with in the comfort of your home. And that is another benefit of their gear, as they take a no compromise approach at every step of design and engineering. Of course when we're referring to a true reference-level product that is €12,800 without DAC module (€17,600 with DAC, and add €1800 for MM / MC phono stage module), this is top-tier quality at what some might consider a realistic cost. Plus if you look at the used marketplace, you'll notice Gryphon Audio products hold their value quite well too!
Internally Yours, Gryphon Audio's Diablo 300 Integrated Amplifier
When initially designing the Diablo 300, Gryphon Audio's R&D team analyzed their longstanding experience and knowledge with previous products. This includes, according to the company, "concepts, components and technological breakthroughs that emerged during the evolution of the much lauded Gryphon Pandora preamplifier and Mephisto power amplifier. The ultra-transparent, fully balanced volume attenuator topology fully exploits the two balanced inputs. Unlike the vast majority of solid state volume controls that typically introduce dozens of resistors in the signal path, the Diablo 300 employs no more than two for any given level setting". Forget the so-called Hi-Res Audio designation, as the Diablo 300 obliterates it handily. The Diablo 300 extends from 0.5 Hz to 350 kHz, which is far above and beyond the basic specs needed to qualify as Hi-Res Audio. And that power output you ask, even those of you with low efficiency speakers. You get 300 Watt @ 8 Ohms, a doubling to 600 Watts @ 4 Ohms and 'only' 950 Watts @ 2 Ohms. Nine hundred and fifty Watts of power, wow!
So how do they do it? First we start with the critical power supply. Gryphon Audio's Diablo 300 has an electrical power reservoir of 68,000 microFarad and employs local active shunt regulators for excellent noise suppression. You'll find polypropylene coupling capacitors in parallel with high-grade electrolytic capacitors within various amplification stages. With a vast amount of electrical power reserves, the amplification section that operates in high Class A/B bias should never run out of juice. Naturally there are an abundance of hand-picked audiophile-grade parts, chosen only after many hours of listening. As you'd expect from a reference design, low-capacitance pre-driver transistors plus increased current in the voltage amplification stage are some of the highlights. Improvements within the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 over the previous longstanding design include using non-inductive emitter diodes versus the previous model's wire-wound variant.
Once they chose all the parts and circuit design layout, Gryphon Audio mounted them to military spec dual- and four-layer circuit boards. Signal traces are of course 'oversized' and optimized to ensure a short path of very high reliability. The amplifier section has zero negative feedback, as the Gryphon Diablo 300 "avoids both the intrinsic time-delay caused by sending the output signal to the input for a comparator loop and the resulting intermodulation distortion between time-offset signals". Win! Due to the immense capability of power output, we're talking nearly 1000 Watts per channel @ 2 Ohms, Gryphon Audio gave the Diablo 300 highly efficient, yet recessed large heatsink arrays to ensure clean lines visually.
Sure I could go on about the ability to dim the display (100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, and off), custom naming inputs, temperature compensated bits... Rest assured all that is needed has been taken care of. Speaking of inputs, there are two balanced pairs via XLR, three unbalanced pairs via RCA, a subwoofer output and tape loop as standard. The DAC module and phono stage add more inputs (more on that later). The loudspeaker binding posts are large and incredibly substantial! A wireless remote control is included, yet for those of you with home automation the Gryphon Audio Daiblo 300 has both control and IR IN via 3.5mm jack. Employing Philips RC-5 standard for infrared communication, there are 16 codes that are easy to add into your home's electronic control system.
Phonostage And DAC
Either at time of purchase, or later as your system and desires grow and/or changes, you can easily install a state-of-the-art 32-bit/384kHz and DSD DAC. Perhaps you love vinyl LPs, and so a MM / MC phono stage is more fitting for your musical lifestyle? The DAC module adds five digital inputs (USB, AES/EBU, TosLink optical and dual S/PDIF). Vinyl lovers benefit with the optional MM / MC phono stage. High gain of 64dB for MM and 42dB for MC. Gryphon Audio's phono stage has a low noisefloor and there are adjustable settings available for vinyl LP enthusiasts.
Overall, the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 comes in a stately satin black brushed aluminum chassis. Gryphon Audio chose aluminum for the main chassis as it is non-magnetic, and then they carefully shaped it to ensure a non-resonant chassis while also isolating the power supplies from negatively affecting the critical analog stage. The centrally located easy-to-read faceplate / display is black acrylic to bring to center the beauty of design and style. Touch sensitive controls on the front panel allow you to fully operate the unit. Their software-based menu display gives you the power to customize key functions. As for the display itself, I found it was always very easy to read from across the room. The large alphanumeric Vacuum Fluorescent Display shows you which input is active plus your chosen volume setting. As I said previously, you may custom name each input source for up to eight characters. Furthermore, the Diablo 300 "can be configured for automatic level matching of inputs to protect the owner's ears and equipment when switching between sources with varying output levels. The volume control is linked to the Mute control to prevent increasing volume while the muting circuit is active. This eliminates the risk of loudspeaker damage through accidental overpowering".
In addition, and a features I did take advantage of, is that you may choose an initial volume level upon start-up. Also, you can choose a maximum volume level so that you never, by accident of course, turn the volume up so high as to overdrive, and possible destroy, your speakers. Remember, this jewel produces 300 Watts per channel, yet can peak at 950 Watts at 2 Ohms, so be careful! Of course if you have a playful dog or cat, they sometimes get ahold of remote controls and always seem to find a way to, well, you know. So this startup volume setting and ultimate volume level limit is a great set of features. Of course there's a smart non-invasive protection system that constantly monitors operational status and thus will shuts down the unit quickly and safely if it senses a problem.
Gryphon Audio, like many top-level high-end audio manufacturers, seems to have a 'family sound'. The Diablo 300 is no different and it is a sound I truly adore. During my review of this impressive integrated amplifier with DAC I enjoyed many styles of music. This includes classical, jazz, vocal, pop, EMD and of course rock n' roll. On the big 6' high modded Dunlavy SC-IV Signature mastering studio speakers, the Diablo 300 easily took control and there was never a moment where I felt more power would have been beneficial. With 300 Watts per channel having plenty of reserves, such as 600 Watts at 4 Ohms and so as a loudspeaker load may ebb and flow the amplification section was there to deliver what was required. Subtle nuances, as found in well-recorded classical and jazz music, came through with such grace that my ears were greeted with both high and low level dynamics.
Tchaikovsky's 1812 by Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is a perfect example of delivering everything from graceful classical music to full-on orchestra. Add in a few cannons for good measure and you have a very wide range of dynamics and harmonics there for audiophile analysis. With great subtly in tone and texture, the Diablo 300 produced a natural and detailed sound as one hears during live orchestra performances. One of the joys with Gryphon Audio products is that they always produce great detail and dynamics, yet never at the expense of sounding artificially etched. As Zubin's 1812 continued, the buildup and release were emotionally captivating! It is that tense feeling as the orchestra builds, reduces, and eventually climaxes at the end. And oh what a happy ending it is! As the cannons released their sound and fury I was a bit in fear of what the neighbors might think is going on inside out home. Even during the loudest passage, never once did I sense any strain or dynamic compression.
Moving on to acoustic jazz, we'll go ahead and use the typical Mile Davis Kind Of Blue because it is a fave among audiophiles and jazz purists. Sure we've all probably listening to this recording hundreds of times, yet when you have a true reference system there are small subtleties and 'breath' that may make listening feel as if it is a renewed experience. The shimmer of the horn, the way Miles' phrases the notes, and of course the accompanying musicians ensure the beat goes on. Tonally and harmonically, I could not ask for more as Gryphon Audio's Diablo 300 presents a realistic sound that reminds me of my years in jazz band and the many concerts I have been fortunate to attend. Being a drummer and percussionist, the sound of the metal snares on the snare drum is a great example of producing a high level of resolution and the Diablo 300 didn't disappoint here. The fullness of acoustic bass joining in and of course the piano and sax. Great sax! Epic sax! Without a doubt John Coltrane's tenor saxophone is among the best sax you may ever have, and one of the reasons why this recording is so prized by jazz music lovers worldwide for many decades.
Vocal music; ah yes that staple of audiophillia that tends to find its way into my life. Diana Krall may be a fave of many, yet the recent Chesky Records release of Macy Gray Stripped fills the bill nicely here. While only recently released, it is already receiving well-deserved critical acclaim worldwide. This incredibly natural-sounding recording of her voice is met with a backing band of top billing. Recorded in binaural, the sense of air and space is filled with a truly natural bloom of music. For decades have been impressed with Chesky Records recordings and this latest release does not disappoint. Since Macy's voice harks back to my fave Billie Holiday, you can easily understand my desire to use Stripped within this review. As for the sound, I'll cut right to the chase and simply state that it felt as though Macy and band were literally within my home doing a live performance. The rasp in her voice, the sound of the backing instruments flowing naturally, beautifully portrayed soundscape depth.... It doesn't get much better than this my friends!
Pop and EDM = fun. Well, fun for me and perhaps for many readers too. Instead of using one recording for this article, as pop and EDM can take on so many musical colors, and so these are my overall impressions. First up is demonstrating immense power delivery and impact capability of the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 integrated amplifier. The ability to take control and drive of the loudspeaker is abundantly clear here. Skrillex, Steve Aoki, David Guetta, vintage Prodigy, Daft Punk, and the latest pop music filled my listening room to 'dance club' volume levels. Sure this is not audiophile music, yet when Friday night rolls around and we're ready to have a party, this music is a crowd fave and who am I to be a music snob? This is especially true due to loving many styles of music.
Overall, the sound is completely unrestrained. With the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 having great control of the drivers means that typical EDM phase tricks and bass drops delivery an acoustic energy that naturally recorded music simply in not capable of producing. Sure it is musical pyrotechnics at full force unleashed to the willing, and perhaps sex and drug infused audience, yet no one can doubt that the audience is indeed listening, dancing, and sure, a few other things too. Like Kraftwerk back in their day, modern music demands deep bass and a sound system capable of extremes. In a sense, high-end audio is also about extremes. My overall listening impressions, if summed up in a single human gesture, would be <jaw dropping>.
A Wild Idea With The ELAC Debut F5 Floorstanders
Am sure you’re asking yourself why a 'professional' reviewer would mate a $558 per pair speakers with an integrated amplifier with DAC that costs roughly $19,300. On the surface it seems a bit crazy, sure, yet have done this 'trick' many years ago while working at a high-end audio store. We had a pair of huge Class A monoblocks that weighted nearly 200 pounds in total and were some of the costliest solid-state amps in the market at the time. A customer came in to buy a pair of JMlab small monitors and after he auditioned them with a normal setup (read: same price category), before he came in I was working in the Big Room on hooking these amps up to speakers. Thus decided to ask the customer if he’d like to hear the small JMlab monitors within the Big Room and he agreed. The result even blew me away! Sure the JMlab speakers at the time were excellent monitors, yet through the big Class A monoblocks it was a sound to remember. With that said, let’s get crazy here for a bit.
Since the ELAC Debut F5 floorstanders were hanging around within our game room, sure, let’s give the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 a run. Many of us have heard how impressive the ELAC Debut F5 sound at shows with reasonably priced gear, and the result is impressive. So how did they sound with the Diablo 300? In a sense, it is almost hard for me to describe. Yet since I’m one of those reviewer types, here we go.
Having great control and immense power, the Gryphon Audio unit easily manhandled the Debut F5 with such a convincing grip with music that if I didn’t know what was playing within the system, would swear the speakers had to cost 5x what they did, maybe 10x! Everything from imaging, harmonic tonality, soundscaping, and of course dynamics were at a level I never felt the ELACs could produce. It is simply incredible and whatever Andrew Jones did with the Debut F5 floorstanders he is truly a brilliant man. Sure there were some limitations, and I wouldn't call it the very last word in resolution or pinpoint precise imaging, yet what was there blew me away. Another benefit of having nearly limitless high quality amplifier power is the achievable volume level. For a brief period I turned up the volume with Kraftwerk playing and the speakers simply delivered.
Sure I expected to possibly blow up a driver (or two!), yet as many technicians will tell you it is not necessarily high power that can destroy a driver. Lower power that produces a 'dirty' waveform with problems can destroy a loudspeaker driver faster than higher wattage that is pristine. So if you feel the ELAC speakers sound great with an appropriately-priced front-end, maybe one day they'll use a Gryphon Audio Diablo 300 at a high-end event to truly show off their speakers. Ok, enough with this crazy system audio talk.
Gryphon Audio's Diablo 300 brings music into my humble home in a way that is both realistic and emotionally captivating. If there is a secret underpinning and meaning to this review, it is the sense of true human connection, and emotional release when the music is over. There's an afterglow of immense pleasure, which is why many of us seek out only the finest of high-end audio gear coupled with the best recordings. There are very few high-end audio systems that can successfully navigate, with ease, all styles of music at every volume level. Gryphon Audio produces some of the very best audio systems within the world. While this review concerns their Diablo 300 integrated amplifier with DAC, having heard a variety of complete audio systems by the company only reinforces my decision that when I win the lotto or IPO, a compete Gryphon Audio system may one day fill my home. Odds are this is not your first review of the Gryphon Audio Diablo 300, and after reading a few by other respected reviewers we all seen to agree this incredible integrated amplifier is a true prized passionate possession you need to have within your home.
Type: Stereo integrated solid-state amplifier with DAC and phonostage option
Power Output: Two channels, 300 Watt @ 8 Ohm, 600W @ 4 Ohm, and 950W @ 2 Ohm
Frequency Response: 0.1 Hz through 350 kHz (-3dB)
Inputs: Two stereo balanced XLR, three RCA
Output/Other: Tape loop and subwoofer output
Output Impedance: 0.019 Ohm
Power Supply Capacity: Two x 68.000 microFarad
Gain: +38 dB
Subwoofer Output Gain: +12 dB
Input Impedance, XLR Balanced: 40 kOhm
Input Impedance, RCA Single-Ended: 20 kOhm
Zero negative feedback
Microprocessor-controlled 43-step fully balanced relay volume attenuator
Military spec. dual-layer and four-layer printed circuit boards with up to 105 micron copper traces
Dual Mono Holmgren toroidal transformer with vacuum treated core and windings
Local shunt regulators for optimal noise suppression
Non-invasive protection system
High-speed, discrete single-ended Class A input buffer
Gold-plated Swiss Neutrik XLR sockets
Gold-plated RCA phono sockets with Teflon insulation
Fixed-level AV throughput
Input level matching to prevent abrupt level changes
Large Vacuum Fluorescent Display for easy legibility
Adjustable display lighting (100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, Off)
Backlit touch-sensitive front panel control
12V DC link input and output
Flash memory upgradeable
Infrared remote control included
Input for external infrared receiver
Optional MM / MC phonostage module
Optional PCM / DSD DAC module with one USB, two S/PDIF and TosLink optical
Price: €12,800 for the main unit or €17,600 as reviewed here with DAC module.
Add €1800 for MM / MC phono stage module.