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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 1
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gryphon

Callisto 2100 integrated amplifier

as reviewed by Ed Morwaski, Roger McNichols, Jr.,
and Victor Chavira

 

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ED MORAWSKI'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Alon Capri.

ELECTRONICS
Bryston 4B-ST amplifier and a Muse Model 3 preamplifier.

SOURCE
Muse Model 5 transport and 296 DAC.

CABLES
Synergistic Research Kaleidoscope interconnects, AudioQuest Slate speaker cables, and DIY power Cord.

 

one.jpg (6551 bytes)When I was asked to review the Gryphon Callisto 2100 integrated amp, I hesitated. Don't real audiophiles have individual components? However, being a sucker for marketing, I liked the name Gryphon—it sounded exotic and high end. When the 2100 arrived, I immediately knew that it was substantial. The box was heavy! Opening it was a true pleasure. The Callisto is sleek and stylish, with two huge rubber feet in front and a single pointed cone in the rear. On the back is a pair of balanced inputs and a bevy of gold-plated RCA jacks. Most impressive, however, are the speaker connectors—huge, ratcheted gold-plated binding posts that hold the wire as you tighten down.

By now I was anxious to hear this exotic unit from Denmark, so I hooked up some Synergistic Research Active Shielded Balanced cables and inserted the banana plugs into my Meadowlark Kestrel Hot Rods. Sitting back with the coolest remote (it's hardly bigger than an expensive pen), I pressed the On button. Nothing! I was confused. Finally, after consulting the manual more closely, I found the Master Power switch under the front of the unit and flipped it on, and Mariah Carey's first CD flooded the room with rich music. I noticed that the bass seemed a little muddy, but as the amp warmed up, the bass tightened. By track eleven, the room was rocking. Gryphon recommends a 45-minute warm-up, and this matched my experience. It sounded so good by this time that I replayed the entire CD.

The Callisto is rated at 100 watts into 8 ohms, and I'd say that was extremely conservative. These must be the hardest-working watts in audiodom, because they sound like twice as many! The bass was way down and solid, the mids smooth, and the highs pure. Carey's voice was sweet, with subtle nuances, but not overshadowed by the instruments. The Gryphon sorted everything into perfect harmony and balance. It had an immediacy and accuracy that created the sense of a live performance. The imaging and soundstaging were awesome, totally three dimensional.

I then tried "Dress You Up," on Madonna's first CD. If you're not familiar with this song, it has lots of highs and extremely fast bass lines. The Gryphon followed along flawlessly, portraying all the dynamics. Next I moved on to more restrained music by Loreena McKennit. Her productions are strong on strings, especially harps and cello. The Callisto let loose with an airy array of beautifully-reproduced notes that seemed to float down from on high. Diana Krall's The Look of Love proved that the Gryphon could handle vocals as well as instruments. Krall's voice is the epitome of subtlety. On many components she comes across as dry and cold, but with the right equipment you can hear a vocal style that is really much more engaging. The Gryphon brought that tiny bit of warmth to her voice.

Two of my current favorites are Keiko Matsui and Vanessa Mae. These ladies create some complex sounds that never tire me out. With the Gryphon, Keiko's restrained piano sounded as good as I've ever heard, giving just the right amount of harmonics while remaining true to pitch. Vanessa Mae's Storm is a real treat of electric violin that is astonishingly different from track to track, though she is always backed by a large orchestra and a good bass line. The first few seconds on the first cut are so low in level that many systems miss them completely, and I make it a point to use this track to test low-volume capabilities. If there is one area the Gryphon Callisto really outshines a lot of other amps, it's here. The amp reproduced every note perfectly, but when I cranked it up, the Gryphon filled the room with Vaness Mae's incredibly fast playing.

I just couldn't fool the Gryphon or make it cringe. No matter what I threw at it —fast, slow, loud, or low—it performed. I was about to say "like a Ferrari," but I didn;t want to give the impression that it is cranky and can only do one or two things really well. The Gryphon is like your all-around dream vehicle. It's like a Ferrari AND an SUV, able to all things really well.

The Callisto has completely changed my opinion of integrated amps. The pros: (1) Shorter signal length. In the case of the Gryphon, there are no wires between the inputs and the outputs, and the circuit traces are twice the normal thickness. (2) Reduced noise and interference. Everything is contained in the same box, with the same ground plane. (3) Smaller size. The cons: Same power supply for both amp and preamp. Although this doesn't seem to bother the Callisto, its power supply is the source of my one and only complaint. The 2100 has a huge toroidal transformer, and it hums. Don't misunderstand, though—there is NO noise whatsoever through the audio circuitry.wpe98.jpg (11273 bytes)

Is the Gryphon 2100 perfect? It's awesome. It's by far the best preamp I've heard lately, and the best amp I've heard. It's just all in one box. The build quality is old-world European (meaning very high). It looks stylish and sophisticated, and it has plenty of features. (Each input, for instance, can be named with preset levels for convenience.) The remote is clever and will make for a conversation starter with anyone dropping by your place. During my time with the 2100, I tried it with three different speakers, and it handled them all impeccably. I played dozens of CDs, of every type of music, and enjoyed them all.

This integrated amp rocks as well as soothes, depending on your music and your mood. It easily compares to my Muse 3 and Bryston 4B-ST combo. At $5700, it should, but the Callisto is more sophisticated. Its ability to sort out the most complex musical passages and faithfully reproduce them at thunderous levels is truly amazing. I can picture this unit in a lot of high-end homes, behind glass since it runs so cool, and with a very high WAF. The Gryphon and a good CD player (or turntable) would be all you'd need to enjoy the music. Ed Morawski

 

 

 

ROGER MCNICHOLS, JR.'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Sonus Faber Electa Amator. Acoustic Energy speaker stands. NHT SA-3 mono power amp & SW-P subwoofer.

ELECTRONICS
Rowland Design Group Concentra integrated amplifier.

SOURCE
Rotel RCD-975 CD player. Fanfare FT-1 FM tuner and Terk FM antenna.

CABLES
Transparent Audio MusicLink interconnects and MIT 750 bi-wire loudspeaker cables.

 

two.jpg (6646 bytes)Have you ever seen a Gryphon? You know, that awesome creature that has the head, beak, and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion? These fabulous creatures of Greek mythology are hard to find, especially in the United States, but I had one land right in my living room. Yes, it was a Gryphon—a Gryphon Callisto 2100 100 watt integrated amp, that is. My time with this mysterious beast, the symbol of strength and vigilance, turned out to be as eventful as any ancient Greek myth.

The Callisto is beautiful to behold. It has a satiny black, brushed aluminum chassis and a shiny black acrylic faceplate sporting a glowing red Gryphon when powered on. The unit weighs nearly fifty pounds, and rests on two front damping feet and one rear conical spike to ward off mechanical vibration. The display window comes to life when the stylish metal remote control is used or when any buttons are pushed on the front panel. Besides displaying the volume setting and selected source, there are many setup options, like the naming of each input, maximum level limiting, turn-on level, etc. The buttons control On/Standby, Mute, Volume, Source Selection, and the setup menu. The rear panel is well designed, and has four line-level inputs, a tape loop, and one balanced (XLR) input, as well as gold-plated, solid loudspeaker terminals.

Although the finish and functions of the amp are first class, the interior design is what makes the Gryphon magic. After spending time with this amp, I looked for more information and found it hard to come by. Being a Danish company, most of its sales and activities are outside the United States. Wanting to learn more, I looked for Gryphon at this year's CES, but unfortunately, although the company had signed up to come to the show, they had to cancel at the last minute. Seeing the large Gyphon Audio sign outside the locked hotel room door all week at the Alexis Park Hotel seemed to increase the mystery surrounding this company and its products.

That the mythic Gryphon is a dual beast seems appropriate, because the company states that its audio designs have dual goals, providing overkill power supplies and a no-frills minimalist approach to maintaining signal integrity. Just trying to lift the Callisto onto an equipment rack will convince you that the power supply is impressive. Gryphon describes it as a toroidal transformer with symmetrical dual mono design. Each channel of amplification consists of dual bridge rectifiers and twelve capacitors of 4700 microFarad each. The input stages are symmetrical, fitted with J-FET transistors regulated by high-performance circuits based on electroluminescent rectifiers for reduced noise. Each power amplification stage uses eight matched Sanken transistors (quadruple push-pull for each channel). These circuits employ zero negative feedback. The thick circuit tracks and all the components in the signal path are chosen with extreme care to protect the integrity of the signal.

Since my reference for amplification is a Jeff Rowland Concentra integrated, I was quite curious to hear how the Callisto would perform. After letting it warm up for about an hour, I sat down to do some listening. The Callisto was as powerful and seductive as any component I've heard. Although most high end companies claim that they keep the music signal clean, it was evident that the Callisto walked the walk. The music came forth in a natural, relaxed (though not laid back), and very enjoyable manner. I found the soundstage to be the largest I've heard. Nothing was fatiguing—the highs were airy, the midrange lush, and bass powerful and tight. Whether listening at low levels or high, I had several spine-tingling moments. The Callisto is a heavyweight that can sip tea or knock you out cold, depending on what the musical demands are. During my time with the Callisto, I was helping a friend shop for speakers, and was able to exchange my Sonus Faber Electa Amators for Von Schweikert VR-3s, PSB Stratus Gold "i"s, and Acoustic Energy Aegis Threes. The Callisto allowed each of the speakers to perform at their best. Whether I listened to acappella vocal groups, jazz, classical, acoustic guitar, or piano, I was drawn in to a very enjoyable experience.

The Callisto is relatively expensive, yet it offers true value in its impressive build quality, design, and performance. How does it perform compared to my Concentra? It was very difficult to choose. They are both at the very top levels in their field, both truly class acts. There are a lot of good integrated amps available now, but I would encourage you to audition the Gryphon Callisto. It will be worth the search! Roger McNichols, Jr.

 

 

 

VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Magneplanar 1.6 and B&W DM 302.

ELECTRONICS
Kora Explorer integrated. SCE Harmonic Recovery System.

SOURCE
Audio Electronics CD1 player.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Blue Heaven speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Monster Cables HTS 1000 AC center. Vibrapods, Lovan Trisolator, and Echo Busters.

 

three.jpg (8484 bytes)If you've got a black Escalade in your carport and all-black high tech decor in your listening room, I've got the integrated amp for you—the Gryphon Callisto. The Callisto is a dual-mono design that produces power from complementary high-speed Sanken transistors. The circuit features no negative feedback, a large dual-mono Holmgren toroidal transformer, mil spec printed circuit boards, and a microprocessor-controlled passive volume control. The level of fit and finish is superb. The Callisto can be ordered in any color you like, as long as it's black.

I placed the amp on a Lovan Trisolator shelf on the carpeted floor, and plugged it directly into the wall with its stock power cord. The unit produced tremendous amounts of fast, clean power, and it maintained superior control over the Magnepan panels. My usual custom is to ease into the music. With the Callisto, however, this was not an option. The Callisto had me up on my feet, moving in time with the clave of Poncho Sanchez's latest release, Latin Spirits, featuring Chick Corea. The Gryphon produced clear images and tonal contrasts. The soundspace of each recording was significantly more defined than with my reference Explorer. Bass was another forte of the Callisto. Bass was as firm as a freshly picked spring cantaloupe, as demonstrated on the soundtrack from the Latin Jazz film Calle 54. One track features the Michel Camilo Trio, with Anthony Jackson on six-string electric contrabass. The Callisto accurately tracked Jackson's nimble fingers as they grooved on his extended-range instrument. Camilo's trademark rapid-fire percussive attacks on piano were also vibrantly reproduced.

The Gryphon rendered a convincing soundspace, with a touch of emphasis toward the front of the stage. The overall character of the Callisto was more explicit than my warmer and less refined-sounding Kora Exporer. In fact, returning to my Explorer was like listening to music through a child's toy. The Callisto's power and agility simply outclassed the little French integrated. The Callisto rendered orchestras with true scale and drama. Classics such as Beethoven's Symphony #2 in D with Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony soared through the speakers with layers of sound. Like Solti, the Callisto kept impeccable timing. Each strand of the musical tapestry could be easily identified, creating an engaging musical experience.

Throughout my time with the Callisto, I felt that the only limitations to musical involvement were those set by my old CD player. Gryphon's wise choice to omit negative feedback resulted in an open and extended sound to which the Magnepans responded favorably. My criticisms of the Callisto have more to do with its austere aesthetics. The red dot matrix display cannot be read from across the room without the aid of binoculars. The unit emits audible clicks when switching between sources. Unfortunately, I made it click quite often, because the buttons on the slender remote wand are spaced too close together, causing me to change inputs when I wanted to increase or decrease volume. Apart from those minor faults, the Gryphon is a powerful performer, with a clean, uncluttered sound. No search for a high class integrated would be complete without first listing to the Gryphon Callisto. Victor Chavira

 

 

 

Gryphon Callisto 2100 integrated
Retail $5700

US Importer:
Dynaudio North America

TEL: 630. 238. 4200
e-mail address: Info@dynaudiousa.com
web address: www.dynaudio.com

MANUFACTURER'S RESPONSE

Dear Ed Morwaski, Roger McNichols, Jr., and Victor Chavira

Everyone at Gryphon wishes to thank you for your review of our Callisto 2100. It is such a pleasure and honor for us to receive so many kind compliments, and it makes  us all proud. Please look us up at shows and let us know if we can be of  help in any way.

All the best and thank you for your support,
Fleming E. Rasmussen (CEO and Founder)
and the Gryphon Crew

 

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