The gryphon, also known as the griffin, is a powerful metaphor for a company to present to the world. A commanding presence: the body of a lion, with the spreading wings and lethal talons of an eagle – it can symbolise strength, agility, supreme authority. So does this allegory carry through to the new Gryphon Mephisto amplifier?
Flemming Rasmussen, as head of Denmark’s highest-profile high-end audio company Gryphon, may well have drawn inspiration from the creature’s mysticism to create the line of audio products that has become legendary for extraordinary engineering, superlative fit and finish and renowned sound quality.
The Gryphon components mix heavy gauge steel, aluminium and polished gloss acrylic – all in stunning black – to manifest an unmistakable identity. This is especially true of the company’s power amplifiers, every one a black industrial sculpture of imposing size and gargantuan weight.
Devil in the details
The new Mephisto stereo power amplifier carries the marque’s design signature even further. This is a massive component that weighs in at a hernia-inducing 108kg and will challenge any coffee table, size-wise, at 53 x 34 x 71cm. Power has been quoted as 175 watts into 8 ohms in Class-A, and doubles down to 1400 watts into a 1-ohm load. The pure Class-A claim is backed up by enormous custom-made heatsinks that flank the massive chassis – these get relatively hot, though not excessively, after about an hour’s use in high bias (more about that feature a little later). Dynamic range is an impressive 111dB and total harmonic distortion is quoted as below 0.06% at 50 watts, and still under 1% at 175 watts. Signal-to-noise ratio unweighted and measured 20Hz to 20kHz is specified as -80dB. The Mephisto is a balanced design only taking XLR inputs (gold-plated Neutric) which are married to an input impedance of 20kohms and a total gain of 31dB. It also bears mentioning that this is one of the widest bandwidth amplifiers I’ve ever come across, managing a -3dB figure of 0Hz to 400kHz without the use of global negative feedback.
The Mephisto uses no less than 40 high- current output transistors, and the design is output coupled via massive copper buss-bars. The true dual-mono topology features two massive custom Holmgren transformers which are backed by a 500,000 microfarad capacitor bank. The dual mono design necessitates the use of two IEC cables with their own on/off switches and fuses. There’s a 12-volt trigger socket and massive custom gold-plated speaker binding posts which accept both banana plugs and spades. Also around the back, you’ll find two large handles which are indispensable in the considerable task of lifting this beast.
The front fascia sees a similar motif that has been featured on Gryphon’s integrated Diablo amplifier. A horizontal black-brushed metal wedge with an acrylic window splits the massive black acrylic slabs on the front panel and is the location for the amplifier’s backlit touch-sensitive controls. Vertically the slabs are divided by a metal panel with a heatsink look. The controls, from left, start with a standby on/off button, mute, check (which is a start-up self-diagnosis) and a centrally-positioned back-lit Gryphon logo that flashes at start-up and stabilises once the amplifier is ready to go. On the right-hand side there’s the ‘Green Bias’ system with a low, medium and high setting. This controls the Class-A operation, with the high setting offering the maximum Class-A wattage for best sonics. It can work automatically or, if you’re hands on and you’re just warming up the system, or have background music going, the suggestion is to switch the Green Bias function to either low or medium, to conserve power and lessen the electricity hit.
The Mephisto will be an imposing presence in any sound room; it demands attention. It’s big, black and, in an industrial design and engineering perspective, makes an extraordinary modern technological statement.
Wings of desire
Upon delivery, the Mephisto was positioned in a convenient spot for cabling and preamplifier connection, directly onto thick rubber footers (under the unit’s own massive feet) on the floor. Once placed, we weren’t going to even attempt to move its 108kg mass. Connecting the amp is easy, as long as you remember that you need to run two power leads to it and that you’ll need XLR cables. The terminals are easy to hand tighten, and are very good all round, except we would have liked slightly larger spade-lug slots – a set of cables with large spade terminations would not fit in with both arms, but all other spade sizes were fine.
This unit was a demo/review model and I was told it had been extensively played, so running in would not be an issue.
However, I played the unit at low volume for several hours (low bias) before commencing serious auditioning (high bias). On the many sessions enjoyed with the Mephisto, I found that 30 minutes of warm-up were required before the amp performed at its best.
‘Serious auditioning’ was commenced, and grins were to be had from the outset. The Mephisto is a deceiving powerhouse, for starters. Yes, the Sasha is a fairly efficient speaker (though impedance-tough), but the Gryphon’s sound was as effortless as the big and double-the-power and similarly-priced Technical Brain monos I had in for review a couple of months prior. The sound was totally controlled, tight, staggeringly dynamic, fast and detailed.
I threw some challenging stuff to start with – after all, the Mephisto’s sheer size and aggressive visual demeanour screams “hit me with your biggest rhythm stick”. Curandero’s Aras features a mix of tracks with acoustic instruments all playing in unison while vocal effects are thrown in the mix. If an amplifier jumbles things around, no matter how good the speakers, you’ll get mush and congestion at the end of the signal chain. The Mephisto surgically resolved the most complex mixes, while hard-slamming with dynamic contrast and keeping tonality accurate. This Class-A monster actually delivers a high measure of the best triode sound magic. It’s in the separation, the space around the notes and sonic images that you’ll find the simpatico traits; no mean feat for a complex solid-state design.
But make no mistake; the Mephisto delivers the kind of bass control, depth, punch and dynamics that no triode amp could ever match. In fact no amp I’ve ever reviewed has delivered such almost-traumatising bass power. Acoustic bass was rendered with micro detail and harmonic content that was addictive. I found myself searching through the disc collection for bass-rich recordings, one such example being Brian Bromberg’s Wood. Here the bass was reproduced with profound depth, lightning transient attacks and lifelike tonality. With powerful and dynamically-adept speakers, such as the ones we use, the attack can be almost scary.
Apropos the dynamic swing comments, the Mephisto’s seemingly modest power rating of 175 watts is but an illusion.
The amplifier exhibits a total lack of compressive artefacts and displays the control and musical ease that my experience would associate with far more powerful amplifiers.
Leafing through the listening notes, I found some interesting remarks made on the fly. “Focus, focus, focus” was one such comment. Indeed. The Mephisto placed intensely-focused images within a large soundstage. Each instrument lived in its own space while forming part of the cogent musical whole. This was especially enjoyable with vocal tracks, where the performers were projected forward of the soundstage as holographic entities, you could say. This phenomenon was further enhanced by the extraordinary levels of detail that the Mephisto is capable of resolving, while never sounding brash or hard.
Of course, that last statement is very dependent on the preamplifier used. The Mephisto features quite a high-gain circuit, and similarly voltage-endowed preamps will bring the obvious excessive gain effects as well as potential sonic issues – a Gryphon preamp such as the Pandora, or a suitable high-quality valve unit, would be best.
The Gryphon Mephisto is monstrous in almost all respects: it’s massively sized, heroically engineered and overtly styled. But it flies with powerful yet delicate wings – it conquers any, and I mean any, speaker load, and with transducers of equivalent stature it can convey profound sonic beauty. Yes, it is stratospherically priced, but for the lucky ones who are able to partake in such extreme audio luxuries, the Gryphon Mephisto is, arguably, without peer.
Power output: 175 watts RMS Class-A into 8 ohms
Signal-to-noise ratio: Dynamic range: 111dB
Distortion (THD+N): Bandwidth: 0-400kHz -3dB
Input impedance: 20 kohms 20Hz-20kHz
Output impedance: Power supply capacity: 2 x 250,000uF
Dimensions: 50 × 34 × 71cm (WHD)
Warranty: Five years full parts and labour