I hesitate to say that the Diablo is all about its rampant nature but it goes about its business with such vigour that the way it employs those Watts is, let’s say, central to its character and there is always the temptation to advance the volume that little bit extra and see how it responds. It does become horribly addictive though as the Gryphon is not an amplifier that necessarily caresses the music. It does not suffer from big-amp syndrome, is not slow to react or sluggish in the turns. Instead it holds the speakers in a vice-like grip, hurling them into life, imposing a level of dynamic control that leaves them in no doubt as to just who is boss. It brings fresh meaning to the term “driving the speaker”.
Plug in their Mikado CD player that I reviewed in the last issue and you have a potentially explosive mixture of audio detail and dynamics that makes for very impressive Hi-Fi. The heady alchemy involved leaves you in no doubt that you are going to need to consider your speakers and cabling rather carefully. But don’t get the idea that the Diablo sacrifices too much finesse for pure muscle. True, it does carry the whiff of a hairy chest but remains extremely nuanced when the occasion calls for it and is well able to take advantage of the open, spatial sound-staging that the Mikado does so well. It has a finely structured and delicate sense of detail right across its considerable bandwidth and that keeps your attention as much as the sheer dynamic potential, both great and small. This is where its fine control of relative instrumental levels keeps the music locked in focus, even at low levels, where it is extremely impressive.
The bass is strong powerful and fast while the high frequencies, though clear and articulate are just a touch hard. I didn’t find too much in the way of tonal warmth through the midband and the balance remains resolutely on the cool side and especially so with the Mikado at the front end. For those wanting to bask in the colourful vibrancy of bowed and stringed instruments the Diablo/Mikado duet would probably not be my first recommendation.
Listen to the Alison Krauss collaboration with Robert Plant on Raising Sand and you will certainly be impressed with the superb separation of the instruments and their dynamic individuality but I found the amplifier missing out on the sense of intimacy and the warmth and affection between the two singers. Producer T Bone Burnett has done a great job in balancing the two distinctive voices against each other and the mix he has produced is masterfully understated. Sweet and sour, Ying and Yang, call it what you will, but, for me, this relationship is what the album is all about. Like hearing Ella sing against Louis Armstrong, there is something almost spiritual in the contrasting blend. This is where the Gryphon failed to get the juices flowing.
It’s elusive and you cannot easily point to it, but sometimes a system just has it and sometimes it doesn’t. I found exactly the same with the new Joni Mitchell release, Shine. This is her best work for sometime. Her now dusky voice, honed with a million cigarettes, has found the perfect instrumental environment on this album and the inclusion of the pedalsteel guitar is a masterstroke. Being a musician on a Joni Mitchell gig must be unlike anything else. Each player is given their own voice but she has this uncanny ability to pick their styles and fuse them together around the track. You will seldom hear anything superfluous on a Joni album and this is as lean and mean as they come. Again we are talking about intimacy and the ability of the system to call out to your soul, to go that step further and speak to you on a different and far more personal level. This is, for me, what makes some top-end audio worth paying for. It is not the extra bandwidth or the better control or the superior resolution as you can very soon get used to those things. Music, at its best, is art and should surely be about spiritual enlightenment, at whatever level you personally operate. Well, it is for me anyway but I definitely know, having read thousands of reviews in my time, that it isn’t the same for everyone. My real concerns are that the Gryphon often leaves music seeming somewhat impersonal and rather matter of fact. It is one of those amplifiers that you can really hear working as it reconstructs and feeds the information into a torrent of fine dynamic detail. I use the term information deliberately as I found the Gryphon to be too mechanical in the way it portrays music. In other words, it seldom sounds beautiful and the more I listened, the more I became aware of this. Some amplifiers seem like a wide-open window and just let the music flow through them, but the Gryphon imprints its mark firmly and tends to sound very busy and somewhat electronic.
Which brings me back to my first question. What do you listen for when you play your system? Because, technically speaking, the Gryphon Diablo really does tick most of the boxes. It is certainly great Hi-Fi – of that I have no doubt and I can easily imagine it both impressing and satisfying many people with its dramatic all-round abilities. At this level of performance though, it is other things that make the difference between you connecting with the music or not and surely that is what it is all about. You have probably gathered that the Diablo and I were slightly uneasy housemates during this review and I feel frustrated that I never managed to bind its considerable attributes to the music, to warm to its performance more than I did. I make no value judgements here, just a simple observation that comes from the heart rather than the head.