RMAF 2018: Gryphon Audio and Tweak Studio

I closed my eyes.  A strange but familiar world of percussion and bass beats opened up in my imagination across a vast soundstage.  I forgot about my exhaustion from a full day of walking the halls and taking hundreds of photos.  I reconnected with Yello in a way that even my system back home was not yet capable of.  “La Habanera…La Habanera…”  The walking bass line Yello is famous for was vivid.  There was a wonderful flow to the music.  Note decays trailed off into infinity.  The electronic beats of Yello were incredibly seductive.  I was in heaven for this long, percussive opening track.

I opened my eyes and reality returned.  I felt relaxed.

Off in the distance, a Sonorus modified Revox PR99 was spinning its gold tape hubs.  I saw the Yello One Second box.  We were listening to superb reel to reel.  Pure analog sources are magical and this Horch House release is very well done.  I wish Philip O’Hanlon had the rest of the Yello catalog but nevermind, this was sublime.

Philip O’Hanlon, the Irish showman of high-end audio, presented one of the very best rooms at RMAF with the Gryphon Audio loudspeakers.  Gryphon call them the Pantheon ($52K) but they disappeared so completely that maybe they should be called The Houdini.  I am sure the quality of the Gryphon electronics helped as well.  Low noise floors could likely be traced to a Shunyata Denali power conditioner.  Everything was top notch.

This system really rocked but then again Philip typically has great sound.  Every show, Philip has a new demo CD on offer, almost all new music to me.  This year, he had something unusual…Jeff Beck track with Tom Jones singing blues rock!   Jeff Beck’s guitar soared.  Tom Jones’ vocals were rich and detailed.  Dynamics out the hoo-hah as my friend Bob Levi would say.  This track was called, “Goin Down Slow” from the Red, White & Blues album.  Philip cued up a Ben Webster track and there was a nice amount of presence on the sax.  Next, we heard Johnny Hartman with dead-on piano tone.  I doubt I would get tired of hearing this system at home.  It was beautifully natural, not “hifi” in perspective.

But while I was impressed with the dynamic power of the speakers and really the whole rig, the big news was the debut of the Zena preamplifier.  Here is the official press release from Philip:

The Zena preamp is based on an exclusive, fully discrete, DC-coupled Class A topology with zero global negative feedback and extended 1 MHz frequency bandwidth, all contributing to high slew rates, extreme transient fidelity and zero treble phase shift for proper focus with fine ambient micro-detail.

The Gryphon Zena replaces the Athena ball-bearing volume wheel with touch-sensitive up/down buttons to create a volume attenuator consisting of 43 individual steps in 2 dB increments, with no more than two resistors in the volume control signal path at any given time.

Among the numerous component upgrades of the Zena is an ultra-precise array of SMD metal-foil resistors and hermetically sealed, gold-plated, ultra-low capacitance Pickering reed relays.

Equally crucial, the Zena volume attenuator is fully balanced, with no conversion of the signal from the XLR inputs to single-ended prior to attenuation, as was the case with the Athena. This simplification of the Zena signal path represents a major step forward in sound quality.

The Zena employs shunt regulators in the voltage supplies to the active circuits of the volume attenuator, in order to ensure a DC supply with ultra-low output impedance across a wide frequency band and optimal noise suppression.

To allow use in a surround system without compromising the stereo performance of the Gryphon Zena, the preamp now includes an expanded AV throughput function, so that either Input 2 (XLR) or input 3 (phono) can be configured as a 0 dB AV throughput for ideal integration with the owner’s multi-channel installation.

The Zena will be available in November from authourised Gryphon dealers, prices starting at $17,500 excluding phono stage ($2,250) or DAC module ($6,000).

Zena’s clarity and build quality were very high.  Gryphon amplifiers were the Antileon EVO stereo amp and MIT provided Oracle Matrix cables via Tweak Studio.  Gryphon’s Kalliope DAC and Scorpio CD player served up reference digital playback.

This was a spectacular room.  Philip is an excellent host and I believe Gryphon is quite brilliant in selecting him as the new distributor.  Now if only Santa will bring me a Sonorus PR99 tape deck for Christmas…Hey, I’ve been good!

The system as presented:

  • Gryphon Pantheon speakers $52k
  • Gryphon Antileon EVO stereo amp $39k
  • Gryphon Zena preamp $17.5k NEW
  • Gryphon Scorpio S CD player $9,400
  • GryphonKalliope DAC. $25k
  • Revox / SonoruS PR99 vintage $Varies
  • Artesania Exoteryc equipment stand $7k
  • Artesania Aire amp stand $4,000
  • MIT Cables, interconnects & power cords. $Varies
  • Shunyata Research Denali line conditioner $5k

About Lee Scoggins 118 Articles
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Lee got interested in audio listening to his Dad’s system in the late 70s and he started making cassettes from LPs. By the early 80s he got swept up in the CD wave that was launching which led to a love of discs from Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs. Later while working on Wall Street in the 90s, Lee started working on blues, jazz and classical sessions for Chesky Records and learned record engineering by apprenticeship. Lee was involved in the first high resolution recordings which eventually became the DVD-Audio format. Lee now does recordings of small orchestras and string quartets in the Atlanta area. Lee's current system consists of Audio Research Reference electronics and Wilson Audio speakers.

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