Anybody wanting proof of the burnin phenomenon as applied to hi-fi equipment needs look no further than the gryphon Mikado. Listen to one with anything less than weeks on the clock (months would be better) and you will hear a bright, vibrant and undoubtedly dynamic performer but it will be so forward and in your face that, unless you just happen to like that sort of thing or are comatose, you will likely write it off as just another pretty, but expensive piece of equipment that swells the ranks of similarly flawed machines.
Straight from the box it delivers an intimidating, stiff and forthright musical message that grabbed my attention all right, but very soon had me feeling weary of its tense and rather brittle character. Now, I quite like a bold and forward sound, but this was a step way too far. I couldn’t get far enough away from the speakers. Yet, beneath this insistently obvious presentation I couldn’t help but notice micro-focus and sharp resolution – and that intrigued me. So I left it on repeat in a separate room for several weeks. Now, all equipment needs running in and over the years I had been here many times before, as have all reviewers. There have been some startling caterpillar to butterfly transformations but none quite as stark as the player that was emerging when I re-installed the Mikado, and it has continued to blossom over the passing weeks into something very interesting indeed. This all-black, gloss-fronted player from Danish company Gryphon is a beautiful looking single-box design. Slim in profile it has a semi-detached, angled display that has its own power supply, completely isolated from those tasked with digital duties. An elegant circular, motorised door swings open with a rather unattractive wheezing noise to reveal the transport. It also offers a light-tight environment for the disc, which is instead bathed in blue light from several sources located around the disc tray.
As the lid opens these begin to flash, which also adds a bit of theatre to the whole operation. When you look at the design of the 40 gram clamp which secures the disc to the heavily modified floating Phillips CD PR0-2 transport and see those blue flashing lights, it is hard not to conclude that designer Flemming Rasmussen is a fan of 50’s American Sci-Fi movies (I’m thinking Forbidden Planet here). Gryphon have been a devotee of dual mono electronic design for years and the Mikado continues this trend. It has full-time up-sampling to 24/96 via four AKM Delta-Sigma D/A converters, each with an individually regulated power supply, four toroidal transformers and both single-ended and balanced outputs as well as a couple of digital outputs as well. I have often complained about the quality of remote control units supplied with expensive CD players and amplifiers but not here. The Mikado unit is a solid, felt-bottomed device that only adds to the pleasure of using the player. Don’t skimp on your power-cord either, as care here reaps rich rewards.
Although I have had limited experience of previous Gryphon products, they do seem characterised by a couple of things. Their physical appearance is always super-stylish, extremely distinctive and they are superbly built with a musical approach that is very involving and right to the point. This player is no shrinking violet. A well run-in Mikado puts you at the heart of the music and in the right system, will show you its innermost workings. It is extremely transparent with a broad, open soundstage and the ability to disengage the performers from the limitations of the speaker boundaries and almost float them in space before you.
But don’t get the impression that the pictures it paints are anything other than rock-solid. It is true that the Mikado never sounds as firmly grounded as my Naim CD 555, but it is endlessly dynamic in both big and small ways, and full of micro resolution that is not only instrumentally revealing, but also spatially. The Mikado makes extraordinary and ruthless demands of the system it is sourcing, as do all great products, but give it the right opportunities and you will be impressed at the sheer variaty of musical expression it is capable of. For me it soon becomes one of the player’s main attractions and the one that has endured. This is no ice-cold digital analysis and reconstruction of information. Although I would still describe the tonal balance as slightly cool, there is undoubted warmth and intimacy in the way that it brings the music into the room. David Sylvian’s Blemish remixes of The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter (Sound CD SIS 005) is both a very unusual recording and one of those discs that relies heavily on an open spacious soundstage for its dramatic effect. It is as if the music has been remixed in 3-dimensional space. I have never heard it sound starker than through the Mikado as the contrasts of scale and texture fill the room. It becomes so easy to hear the relative positioning and precise levels of everything in the mix and the mid-air materialisation of Sylvian’s quivering moody vocal is just plain spooky. Anyone who says that high levels of transparency, front-to-back depth and image are unimportant where hi-fi is concerned should hear just how critical they become here. This is a recording dripping in both atmosphere and weirdness and so much of its drama comes from the soundscape and the sheer distances between instruments and effects, making it a mix in the truest sense of the word. The Mikado’s superb transparency and perspectives lets the music live and the system becomes a kind of musical image projector. This is indeed a strange collection of tracks and ideas in sound and that is just how the Gryphon portrays it.