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August 2014
Best Audiophile Product Of 2014 Blue Note Award  Enjoy the Music.com 20/20 Award
Superior Audio Equipment Review
North American Premiere!
Gryphon Audio Designs Kalliope DAC
A cost-no-object 32-bit/384kHz and DSD512 DAC for those who desire the very best in music reproduction.

Review By Steven R. Rochlin

 

Gryphon Audio Designs Kalliope DAC Unit  Ever wonder what happed to the brand Mark Levinson? I recall about 20 years ago they were at the cutting edge of Redbook CD digital audio. While it might seem like a strange way to start a review of Gryphon Audio Designs' top-line Kalliope DAC (€19,800, or approximately $26,600 USD), I feel the comparison is relevant. Achieving state-of-the-art performance via intense in-house design and nearly obsessive-compulsive engineering is very costly, yet the results speak for themselves. This was true back in the day, nearly 20 years ago, with the brand Mark Levinson. Today, the audio scene has greatly changed and Gryphon Audio is at the top of the mark for both sound and build quality. Designed and engineered in Denmark by a team spearheaded by Flemming E. Rasmussen, Gryphon Audio Designs' products have always been for those who appreciate the very best. These are no-compromise objects with an artful eye in design coupled with attuned listening to achieve industry-leading results.

Gryphon Audio Designs was founded in 1985 and grew from a one-off spare time project developed for the designers' own home systems. Like many audiophile companies, Gryphon Audio started as a hobby that today has grown to become a formidable manufacturer of source components, preamplification, amplification, speakers, cables, and a variety of other associated bits. The company's logo, the Gryphon, is no stranger to this writer, as four of them have been artfully hand-carved into the top legs of the wooden desk where I am now writing. The desk had been a dream of mine for many years, yet the price was a bit high. Perhaps the Gryphon, originating in Greek mythology, with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, appears on true luxury goods more often today than any other time in history.

Following Greek mythology, the Kalliope, meaning 'beautiful voice', is the eldest of the Muses and Goddesses of music, song and dance. Kalliope is also said to be the Goddess of eloquence and epic poetry. For me, Gryphon has always meant something special. Power, dominance, and expertise are three words that come to mind. When it comes to high-end audio equipment, Gryphon Audio means highly technical meets highly musical; and as we all know, each one is not always mutually inclusive to the other. Some gear is technically near perfect in engineering, yet can sound less than desirable. This may be especially true with digital to analog converters, since it is easy to soldier the basic parts together and have them measure quite well, yet resulting in aural performance that can be less than satisfactory.

According to Gryphon Audio Designs' website, "Three Reasons Why Bits Are Not Just Bits: The well-worn phrase 'bits is bits' encapsulates the widespread misconception that any reasonably constructed digital system will result in "Pure, Perfect Sound Forever," in the lamentable promotional slogan coined by the inventors of the compact disc.

1.) Digital audio is not a simple one-dimensional row of numbers, where all that is required is to keep the correct numbers in the correct order. In fact, it is a data stream of numbers flowing through time. And the right number at the wrong time is (almost) as bad as the wrong number.

The Gryphon Kalliope ensures effective correction/prevention of timing errors (jitter) using sophisticated circuit topology and exclusive, custom-built components.

2.) Following digital to analogue conversion, an analogue filter is required to remove high frequency noise. The deleterious side effects of a typical steep-slope "brickwall" filter include temporal smearing, energy loss, compromised resolution and reduced transparency.

The Gryphon Kalliope employs advanced technologies and an innovative, minimalist single-component filter with no adverse audible impact.

3.) Advocates of the 'bits is bits' attitude tend to ignore the fact at the end of all digital signal processing there is an analogue stage. The circuit design, component selection, power supply and layout of this stage are all just as critical now in the digital era as they ever were in the analogue age.

The Gryphon Kalliope draws on decades of experience in the design and construction of some of the finest analogue audio systems the world has ever known."

 

Technical Details
Gryphon introduced the world to the sonic benefits of 88.2 kHz asynchronous sample rate conversion with their CDP-1 CD player in 1998. Keep in mind this was the world's first implementation of this then advanced technology. In 2001/2003, Gryphon's Adagio and Mikado upgraded things to 24-bit/96kHz; then in 2008, their Mikado Signature CD player introduced their philosophies of dual mono and fully symmetrical balanced operation. They used two stereo DACs per channel in full dual-differential mode running 32-bit/192 kHz. Pretty slick stuff for its time! Benefits included a far and away lower digital noise floor, combined with greater channel separation for a more accurate rendering of the music's soundstage and sharper focus.

Now we get to 2014 and are treated to Gryphon Audio Designs' new Kalliope fully balanced DAC. With a selectable 32-bit/210kHz asynchronous sample rate conversion and a dedicated ESS SABRE ES9018 32-bit D/A converter per channel, these chips incorporate eight individual D/A converters in Dual-Differential coupling. Within the Kalliope, they naturally follow their philosophy of dual mono configuration, minimal internal wiring, fully isolated separate power supplies for analog, digital and control/display circuitry, and exclusive, custom components such as precision crystal oscillators and highly powerful toroidal transformers. The in-house engineered, four-layer printed circuit board uses a 70 micron copper trace to ensure optimal grounding, substantial power distribution, and safeguard the critical signal transfer.

To be powerful you need, well, plenty of power. Each analog channel within the Gryphon Kalliope employs a dedicated, custom-built 65 VA toroidal transformer and 34,000 microfarad power capacitor banks using the finest discrete components. While interviewing many manufacturers during the AXPONA 2014 event in Chicago, time and again they spoke at length about their power supply. So it must be incredibly important during these times as we now have to endure nearly endless ways to contaminate your power lines with RFI/EMI due to air conditioners, computers, light dimmers, microwaves, wireless routers and too many other factors to list here. In fact, the electrical current going to your home may be contaminated to a point where you truly need proper filtering. Kalliope's special design utilizes parallel-coupled clusters of smaller, high-performance capacitors. A total of 28 capacitors ensure achieving low series resistance. For car enthusiasts, think of it as a high-torque engine design. Within the Kalliope, this power is then split off to feed many highly regulated, high-current power supplies in turn feeding each of the necessary systems; yet without any interference that could cause one section of the circuitry to interfere with another.

 

Digital Details
While many reviewers love to go on about how one type of digital is better than another, I choose to look at each on their own merits. We all know that the recording engineer and subsequent mastering can make a far larger difference than choosing either PCM or DSD. We know that PCM has been around for many decades and the newest recordings go up to 32-bit/384kHz. Sony's DSD, which is a 1-bit type system, is now up to DSD512 within the Kalliope. Of course, lower resolution digital file types like DSD64 and CD's 44.1kHz are easily decoded by the Kalliope too. The bottom line is that Gryphon Audio Designs' Kalliope DAC can process and decode every type of digital music file I have today; and those we will all be able to purchase for many years to come.

 

User Interface
Since writing owner's manuals is not my forté, here are some slightly edited operational details from Gryphon's site. Gryphon Kalliope's functions can be accessed via the included remote control or soft-touch buttons on the front panel: On/Standby, Mute On/Off, Input Selection, Digital Filter selection, Sample Rate Conversion On/Off, and Phase +/-. The menu also includes five adjustment settings for the display brightness (100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, Off). For PCM playback, a fast or slow linear phase non-dispersive digital filter can be selected. For DSD playback via USB, a 50, 60, or 70 Hz Infinite Impulse Response (IIR) digital roll-off filter can be selected. The Kalliope DAC is fitted with an absolute phase inverter, since some systems and/or recordings can cause an inversion of absolute phase. Front panel menus provide control of additional features including naming of sources, default display brightness, word clock synchronization for use with an external word clock, output attenuation of 0 dB (Off) or -6 dB, and a user-selectable Auto Standby mode that is akin to an automatic sleep timer to shut the unit off when no signal is detected after a pre-selected period.

 

Every Connection You Desire
So you want seriously designed galvanically isolated digital inputs? You got it! There are three 75 Ohm BNC S/PDIF inputs and one 110 Ohm XLR for AES/EBU input. There is a 110 Ohm XLR AES/EBU digital output too, which takes the de-jittered signal from the selected input available to another component. In my humble opinion, Gryphon Audio Designs correctly chose to eliminate the RCA input for digital use within the Kalliope for S/PDIF connections. In fact, I tend to laugh when someone talks about the RCA input and calls it top-flight high-end, when no reasonable engineer would ever call it a fully-optimized interface. Thus the far-better BNC connector, a true 75 Ohm impedance connector, is the only way to connect S/PDIF to the Kalliope DAC.

Gryphon Audio Designs Kalliope DAC Rear Panel

Gryphon takes this galvanic isolation to the USB input too. A 12.5 farad (yes farad) SuperCap power supply for the Kalliope USB module acts like a true battery supply. Most DACs are relying on the PC or streamer to supply the power for this. Via asynchronous USB you can achieve the highest resolution file types, since USB handles full 32-bit/384kHz and S/PDIF maxes out at 'only' 24-bit/192kHz. With asynchronous USB transfer mode, the Kalliope's high-precision internal clock controls the data stream from the computer to a buffer near the DAC, thus virtually eliminating timing errors. Input signals sync to one of two clocks, depending on the signal's sample frequency,; a 22.5792 MHz clock for multiples of 44.1 kHz and a 24.5760 MHz clock for multiples of 48 kHz. The Gryphon Kalliope DAC offers the option of upsampling PCM sources with a native resolution of up to 32-bit/192 kHz to 32-bit/210 kHz. Clock rate conversion of up to 40 MHz in the DAC is said to minimize jitter and eliminates the need for steep-slope analogue filtering, shifting aliasing noise upward in frequency for zero impact in the audible range, for what Gryphon says is an effectively transparent filter function. All this is done with carefully chosen algorithms to execute these complex mathematical calculations. After much comparison and many listening tests, Gryphon equipped the Kalliope with very sophisticated DAC chips, with the final analog stages based on carefully selected, high quality, fully discrete components. Of course, anyone within the DAC game knows that today's digital chipset might not be better than that of those released four years from now. Thus, the company chose to make the Kalliope future-proof by employing modular digital audio sections that allow for updating. Many audiophiles use software from JRiver or the outstanding Apple iOS-only Channel D Pure Music, now in version 2.0. With an Apple computer, such as the top line and fully loaded MacBook Pro here, the unit works at top-level right out of the box. For those on running Windows, you should download the proper driver files from the Gryphon Audio website. Once everything is setup, the Gryphon Audio Kalliope is a breeze to use.

 

Hearing The Very Best
During my review I used a variety of files, from files purchased on HDtracks, to ones I created/recorded myself, plus many others from a variety of websites and friendly sources (read: private recording studio files I get from friends high up on the food-chain). The unit sounded stunning right out of the box! This is probably due to extensive testing by the factory before they ship any product to consumers. Within 20 hours, she was reaching peak and only (perhaps) exceedingly small refinements after the next 20. What blew my mind is how close the Gryphon Audio Kalliope DAC sounded to my own personal FrankenDAC, which is a project I began long ago due to the less than satisfactory sound of early DAC units. For many years, have been an admirer of Gryphon Audio due to their no-nonsense top-quality engineering and laser-focused efforts at delivering technically and audibly superior products. The Kalliope DAC follows the other Gryphon Audio Designs products I have reviewed, which were so extraordinary that they made me rethink my own system!

So here are my detailed impressions of the sound I was hearing. Starting at the bass, you can expect truth. No bloated bass to give the false aural perception of more than what is there. This is not to say it lacks deep bass reproduction, far from it! The bass during EDM and dance music was tight and tuneful, with appropriate timing and fullness, yet without the bloat found in lesser units. It is the combination of immediacy, definition, and timing that sets this unit apart from lesser units hoping to achieve excellence. If you play funk, you get those small timing cues that separate it from straight 4/4 as found most of the time in mainstream rock 'n' roll. Sure there is bass slam, yet it is produced with such accuracy and appropriate heft as the unit itself 'gets out of the way' of the music that was recorded. There is no doubt that the attention Gryphon Audio Designs' paid to power supply and distribution helps play a key role here. At no time did I hear any constraints, or feel there was any dynamic compression of the music.

Moving up to the critical midrange, I could bask within it all day long; provided the recording is up to challenge. In fact, here is what separates the DAC men from the boys; since most acoustic music lives and breathes in the midrange, this is also where some recordings show their lacklusterness. The Gryphon Audio Kalliope was so incredibly transparent that certain aural cues most people never truly hear are laid bare, yet without minimizations or augmentation. Whatever digital music file you feed the Kalliope comes out the other end without any flavoring. If the song is musically involving, then that it is what you get. If the recording is a bit bright or recessed, you get that too. If I was to rename the Kalliope, it would be called "The Truth" because that is what it delivers.

Up in the highs, my ears heard a natural frequency extension that was suitably smooth. This is one of the only DACs to properly reproduce my personally recorded Crotales and all their harmonics. Being able to record at 192kHz/24-bit and go back and forth between a live music instrument and 'Memorex' means that a component is laid bare against the real thing. Since our goal is to reproduce music as accurately as possible, the Gryphon Audio Kalliope DAC would be at home not just with those seeking the very best, but also within a top-flight recording studio environment. Everything from shimmering harmonics and extension to phasing, this DAC is the best my ears have heard. As a percussionist and drummer, my ears have long been 'tuned' to hear frequencies that are said to extend beyond normal human hearing. While we can debate the technical aspects, the fact is that everything in the upper registers sounded ever so right with this DAC.

Imaging, soundscape, and all those perceptions of space are produced appropriately. Sometimes I wonder if most audiophiles truly realize all the information of space and time contained within their recordings. From speaker setup to time and phase smearing gear, there are many factors that can hamper the true natural space recoded on many minimal mic'ed acoustic albums. During shows, I tend to hear so much phasing chaos that I can forget about extension into the room, sound beyond the physical side and frontal limits of the speakers, etc. These recordings do not need to be high res either, as the 16-bit/44.1kHz CD from Chesky Records titled O Magnum Mysterium has an abundance of said information. Rarely does any DAC get this 3D aurally physical sense of space correct, yet the Gryphon Audio Kalliope gets it right in spades! And if it can resolve this with a lowly Redbook CD recording, now imagine what it can do with higher res files from studio and recording buddies. Yes indeed my friends, it is that exciting. The bottom line is that time and again the Gryphon Audio Kalliope DAC ensures you get exactly what you feed it.

 

Conclusion
Gryphon Audio Designs Kalliope DACWith the ability to play digital music files up to 384kHz and DSD515, there is no doubt you can enjoy everything available today – and in the foreseeable future. The Gryphon Audio Kalliope is so exceedingly accurate that you can reply upon it to tell you exactly what is in a recording. If you own a recording studio and/or are a master engineer for stereo files, you should immediately try this unit to fully hear what your job (and clients) demand. This is not just another high-end audio product, since the Kalliope is one of those rare products that easily exceed the performance demands for those whose profession relies upon truly knowing everything within a recording. Accuracy here is key! If the recording is musically involving, or perhaps has slight timing cues to add groove/funk, or has aurally small and subtle layering, well then that is exactly what you'll hear. Great recordings will deliver hours and hours of musical bliss. Those recordings with dubbing, multi-track, phase-error problems will sounds exactly as they were produced. Sometimes the search to achieve the very best is followed by the deflating feelings that some recordings are really not as well done as you felt they were. In fact, if a musician tends to move around the microphone quite a bit during a recording, you may hear that too.

It is hard for me to imagine a more musically accurate DAC in the marketplace today. Gryphon Audio merges creative art and edge-of-the-art science to produce a product that exceeds expectation. I would buy the Kalliope right now if I wasn't so deeply involved in getting new gear for Enjoy the Music.TV's high-rez audio/video studio. If you think high-end audio gear is pricey, you should check out what professional video gear costs! In fact, I'd buy the Kalliope in a heartbeat if I worked full-time as a recording or mastering engineer. At around $26,600, the Gryphon Audio Kalliope DAC is not an inexpensive investment. Yet when one considers that there are other lesser-equipped DACs selling for twice that price that are unable to play DSD 512 or 384kHz files, you can better understand how Gryphon Audio Designs focuses on delivering a true high-end audio product is capable of handling every high quality digital music file type with ease. Forget the usual "highly recommended" statement! Gryphon Audio Designs' Kalliope is exceedingly recommended for those who want the very best DAC with astonishing build quality and technology that can handle all digital music file types and those in the foreseeable future.

Side Note: Please don't ask me to ship it back. Please. You can't blame a music lover for trying, can you? Hmm, come to think of it, Enjoy the Music.com should start a special social funding campaign called 'Save Steve's Kalliope'. We'll create an attractive and inviting Facebook / Twitter social media campaign... All donations will go towards getting the Kalliope here on a permanent basis. I'll start the campaign off by pitching in the first Benjamin.

As always, in the end what really matters is that you...

Enjoy the Music,

Steven R. Rochlin

 

Manufacturers Reply
Wow, what can we say? Any manufacturer would be proud so read such a positive review on any product. The Kalliope is a milestone product for Gryphon and being an all in-house development adds profound pride to it. We appreciate the focus on the fact that we have built in so much future into a technology that by nature is a moving target. Knowing Mr. Rochlin's background as a musician with studio expertise is adding so much credibility to this review and the amount of attention to detail and understanding the product and our ambitions, makes it a milestone review of our milestone product.

Thanks and Best Wishes,

Flemming E. Rasmussen
CEO & Founder
Gryphon Audio Designs

 

 

Specifications
Type: Ultra-high resolution audio DAC with balanced audio
Frequency Response: 0 Hz to 192 kHz
Converter Chip: ESS Sabre ES9018 32-bit/384kHz
  Each of the two ES9018 incorporates eight individual D/A converters in
  Dual Differential coupling for optimal performance
DSD: DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, and DSD512
Signal To Noise: < -118dB
PCM Via USB: 32 to 384kHz
PCM Via Inputs 1 Through 4: 22 to 192 kHz
First-order PCM analogue filters and second-order DSD analogue filters with silvered Mica capacitors
Analog Amplification Stage: True Class A, fully discrete analogue circuitry with zero negative feedback
THD+N: <0,0025% @ -6dB
User-selectable PCM and DSD digital roll-off filters
User-selectable asynchronous PCM sample rate conversion 
Temperature-compensated, ultra-low jitter crystal oscillators
  Better than 5 parts per million accuracy
Power Supply: 12.5 farad SuperCap power supply for the Kalliope USB module,
  which acts like a true battery supply
Digital Inputs: Balanced 110 Ohm XLR AES/EBU input and three BNC 75 Ohm S/PDIF inputs.
Galvanic isolation of BNC and XLR inputs for minimal jitter
Digital Output: Balanced 110 Ohm XLR AES/EBU output for de-jittered signal from selected input
Clock Output: 75 Ohm BNC connector for optional external word clock
Analog Outputs: Balanced XLR and single ended RCA
Analog Output Level: 4.3Vrms 
Custom Install Remote Power: 12V link in/out
Modular digital audio sections for possible future upgrades
Custom-built 65 VA toroidal transformer for each analogue channel
34,000 microfarad power capacitor banks for each analogue channel
True Dual Mono configuration
Ultra-short signal path with minimal internal wiring
Four-layer 70 micron thick copper trace PCB's
Personalized naming of each input
Vacuum Fluorescent Display with variable illumination
No drivers required for LINUX or MAC OSX
Driver available for Windows XP/Vista/7/8
Automatic standby mode with user-selectable interval
Infrared remote control
Dimensions: 48 x 13.5 x 38.7 (WxHxD in cm)
Weight: 24 lbs.
Price: €19,800 plus sales tax ($26,600 USD)

 

Company Information
Gryphon Audio Design
Industrivej 9
8680 Ry
Denmark

Voice: (45) 86891200
Fax: (45) 86891277
E-mail: sales@gryphon-audio.dk
Website: www.Gryphon-Audio.dk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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