When you sit in front of your system for a bit of musical therapy, what are you listening for? It seems logical to assume that each of us listens in a different way and that we listen for and hear different things – or should I say that we hear the same things differently? Are you especially conscious of the sheer detail levels within the music or are you someone who is more sensitive to rhythmic elements and timing issues? Do you look for a system to have a broad tonal palette or is holographic sound-staging high on your list of priorities? Or perhaps you listen for all of these things at different times. I have a friend who loves pure in-your-face presence. He wants the music to leap out of the speakers and confront him head-on. Anything less and the system is of no interest to him and when buying any component he always imposes his notion of what a system should do upon the music. Whether an album has been recorded in that way seems completely irrelevant. Despite my pointing out the obvious pitfalls of such an approach to him, he wants to fashion systems that appeal to his particular tastes rather than appreciate that no two recordings are constructed in the same way.
Surely there can be no right or wrong here as it is his money and he spends it how he wants, but he is a perfect example to me of how a great many people have pre-set views of just how they want their music to be presented. What is vitally important to some is actually a big negative to others. For instance, I believe that a real-world, three-dimensional soundstage and a realistic portrayal of depth all fall under the general heading of coherence and those systems that have only height and width start at a disadvantage. But I didn’t always feel that way. When I had a system that was purely twodimensional I did not believe it was important. These are aspects of the recording more specifically than the music and fall under the remit of the producer whose job it is to realise the material into something solid and to use all the means at his disposal to achieve this. All of these questions have been on my mind since I began listening to the Gryphon Diablo integrated amplifier. This is an expensive product, especially by integrated amp standards, a powerhouse of a design that will drive just about any speaker to destruction. It makes a bold statement in appearance and sound, has seemingly limitless reserves of power and is tremendously well specified technically and is as user-friendly as you are likely to find. All good things and yet, even after hours and hours of listening to it, I still find myself having concerns over its ability to completely involve me musically. I have spent much of my time with it asking myself why. As with the Mikado CD player I reviewed in the last issue, the Diablo is all about high impact. It writes the music bold and large before your ears. You could never call it shy, but that does not mean that it is not subtle too. It grabs hold of a speaker and manhandles it with grip, pace and intensity across an impressively useable bandwidth and with exceptionally taut control.
Physically too it is an imposing object. Basically a large and fairly conventional box, the pen of Gryphon design supremo Flemming Rasmussen, has clad the Diablo been in acrylic and machined aluminium add-ons, giving it a stylish and distinctive appearance, a Ziggurat-like structure. It is very well built and has typical Gryphon attention to detail inside and out. All of their products are eye-catching designs, but at their heart they are extremely solid and serious components. The Diablo provides inputs for four single-ended and one balanced connection, plus a couple of outputs and has a single set of speaker connections. There are no moving parts on the front panel. All switching and volume control are carried out by light touches to specific areas and the vacuum fluorescent display, itself offering three levels of brightness, keeps you informed of the amplifier’s output level and selected input status.
The remote is one of the very best I have tried, a long, slim metal design that enables you to get where you want to be quickly and completely intuitively. It is an object lesson in uncluttered clarity and it makes the amplifier a joy to control. You need to be a bit sensitive with it though as the power comes on with a hell of a rush and that is one thing that this amplifier has in abundance. It can produce 250 watts into 8 Ohms, 500 into four and a whopping 800 watts into a 2 Ohm load. This makes it just about the most powerful integrated amplifier I have ever used and when you couple this with such a seriously broad bandwidth (0.1Hz-250kHz) you soon realise that you are in control of a heavy duty device capable of terrifying speakers into submission. Like the Mikado CD player, the well-named Diablo needs a fair bit of time from new to gather all of its strengths and concentrate them on the music-making process. It runs hot, takes a while to run in (though not as long as the Mikado), but be patient and let it cook for a few weeks and it slowly comes on song. After that you can leave it in standby and it will be back up to speed within an hour or so of re-awakening.