A moment with the maker
Gryphon Audio Design is one of the most influential high-end brands in Scandinavia – and the world. In 2015, Gryphon celebrates 30 years of courage and innovation. During our recent trip to the Gryphon HQ, located in the small town of Ry in central part of Denmark, we took the opportunity to sit down for some small talk with the man behind the modern saga – Flemming Rasmussen.
Please tell us something about your personal, educational and professional background.
FR: My background is in arts, having a education from the Academy of Arts in Graphic design and Painting. Following that I was teaching Graphic technique and darkroom techniques for 10 years. After some year in the imprinted sportswear industry I started importing high end audio and was running a marked leading import business for a number of years. This was in the late 1970´s.
How did it all start out for Gryphon – what was the spark that later would evolve into the Gryphon brand?
FR: I was importing Kiseki cartridges, and found that much of the MC cartridge qualities was lost in poor electronics amplifying the extremely delicate signal, and that a noisy first stage would only be amplified in the rest of the chain.
For my personal use and curiosity I teamed up with a good friend of mine, a very gifted engineer that later founded TC Electronics – a leader in pro audio. Together we developed an “one off” head amplifier where no expense was spared.
To make the story shorter, the word got around. A sample sold to Japan and ended up on the best buy list of the most famous magazine at the time. Then followed a phono stage, a preamp, a power amp etc. up until today where we offer complete systems from AC socket to speakers.
How would you describe the overall philosophy behind Gryphon, and ultimately the essence of your brand and product offering?
FR: With the ultimate head amplifier as the – non intended – building block of the company, we simply followed the same technical foundations; dual mono, true class A, super high bandwidth, no negative feedback, no cabling, fully discrete and so on. A list of techniques that very few would dispute is the road to follow, but a difficult and expensive approach.
Not being a techno-nerd myself, technology was never the driving force, it was simply the tool to achieve the performance.
What are the specific and perhaps unique qualities of a Gryphon system?
FR: Realism, details, and involvement was – and is – keywords. I had heard so many systems that sounded “nice” but was extremely colored, applying a hue on the hole picture. A nice one yes, but still a coloration – distortion – like yellow sunglasses will turn that saddest day into a bright sunny day. Nice but hardly realistic. These – often tube based systems – also projected a soundstage that was charming but mostly in from of the speakers and often the same every time regardless of the recording – another distortion. I had also heard systems that was so detailed but missing all the tonal qualities and soundstaging that defines a real event. Detail in the recordings must be intact, the recording must be reproduced. The challenge is to get all the details right without losing the “soul” (if you wish) in the music. It must be involving – fun to listen to. Listening to detailed sound is boring and your attention will drift away.
So in the end it is a matter of listening to the final result and if it feels wrong, you use your technology experience over 30 years to find the solution. We do not “voice by mixing colors” just as we do not subscribe to the idea of synergy. All products must be neutral and be able to stand on their own feet.
What does the process look like when creating a new concept such as the new Kalliope DAC?
FR: When the download technology evolved to the point where it became listenable and improving all the time, we decided to get into this. We had the know how in-house. We were the first company ever to introduce a CD player with up-sampling many years ago and are no strangers to digital. But again, technology is not driving us, we like to drive the technology in a direction that serves us and our goals.
Gryphon has a long history of creating true balanced Class-A designs. In days of downsizing, Class-D technology etc, what are the real benefits of this technology? In what ways is it still superior in your opinion?
FR: The sonic qualities of class A has not been challenged yet, most certainly not by Class D.
It’s clear that the design and build quality of all Gryphon products are very well thought through. Please tell us how this very characteristic and unique design aesthetics came about.
FR: I personally design all Gryphon products, we do not make design a aesthetic dictatorship when parts and performance has to be compromised by the exterior design, I design in such a way that we can realize the best topology. As a designer I have no sympathy for chairs that look great but are impossible to sit in. That kind of design is to easy.
The Pantheon was introduced at the Munich High end show in early 2014. Even though it’s a quite large full range speaker, this is a model more suitable to most contemporary rooms and environments. Please tell us the story of the Pantheon and how this model came to life.
FR: We wished to make a slimmer version of our successful Atlantis based on our new design of the Trident. With its organic, true time aligned modular baffles it did not take long to get the vision of the design. We used our own developed midrange drivers and the EMT drivers from the Trident ll system and realized a passive bass.
The Trident gene is evident and performance is more than we could ever have hoped for in a passive speaker. It’s realistic, have holographic imaging and its lightening fast – as we like it. Anyone familiar with Gryphon knows that we are headroom freaks.
The Antileon and Antileon Signature power amplifiers are landmark products well known within the audiophile community and one of the cornerstones of the Gryphon offering for almost two decades. This amplifier has recently been updated into the Antileon EVO. What can you tell us about this new amplifier?
FR: It all started with the first Gryphon amplifier – the DM100. 100w, PURE class A, selectable bias, dual mono, high bandwidth. The Gryphon way. This was in the 1980’s and this amplifier would even today hold its own again most modern amplifiers because of its honest, involving and utterly musical performance. As with the head amplifier, this was the building block of future amplifiers, and over the years it has been improved and refined. As the name EVO suggest, this new amplifier is our finest example of an evolutionary process.
Gryphon has been a major player on the high-end market for almost 30 years. What still inspires you into developing new concepts and products?
FR: High end audio is as inspiring to me as ever. I can sometimes wonder over the paradox of a business where we try to be on cutting edge in technology, but at the same time, old school philosophies and technology – almost snake oil myths – are alive and well. I believe it’s still essential to remember what this hobby was born from. Was it the music or the technology? If you are driven by the tech that is fair enough, or if it is the music alone, that is certainly also fair enough. It is the confusion between the two that often is defining the derailed discussions on forums. There do not have to be a choice… If technology is unleashing the musical excitement, it serves its purpose – in my humble opinion.
What do you see in the future for Gryphon?
FR: I see a lot of future for Gryphon. We know who we are and we are grateful that enough people out there share our vision and how we express it.
This interview took place at the Gryphon Audio HQ located in the small town of Ry not far from Aarhus in the central part of Denmark. We would like to sincerely thank Flemming Rasmussen and Gryphon for their time and openness. Please read more about Gryphon here.