REFERENCE AUDIO – WITHAM ESSEX
BOB’s Review Series - No 45 – Gryphon Pandora preamp
Introduction – If you have been reading any of my recent reviews then Gryphon needs no further introduction, suffice to say that from their home in Denmark Gryphon design and make some of the finest electrical audio components available today. Gryphon are one of those companies that can offer a complete system from source to speakers including connecting cables and equipment racks. Pandora from Greek mythology was supposedly created by Zeus as the first woman on Earth and was “all gifted” so I wondered how the Gryphon Pandora preamp would sound in my system and whether it would stand up to its namesakes reputation by bringing something special to play.
The Gryphon Pandora is a two-box preamp and is next up the range from the entry level single box Essence / Zena preamps and has a current retail price of £28,000. It can have the Legato Legacy Phono Board added at the time of purchase or as a later upgrade at a cost of £8,000. A DAC module is not an option for the Pandora. It was designed for use with Gryphon’s Antileon and Mephisto power amplifiers so I wondered if and how it could enhance the performance of my Essence power amp which is normally driven by the Essence preamp.
Technology – Although this is a two-box unit it is in fact a four-box device with totally separate left and right preamplifiers and left and right power supplies that just happen (by design of course) to inhabit two boxes. It even needs two mains leads to connect it to the mains supply such is the level of obsession with separation. The PSU connects to the preamp with three umbilical leads that are sufficiently long to allow them to occupy different shelves in a rack. Two of these leads feed power to the left and right analogue preamp and the third one provides power to the digital front panel display.
The front panel has their standard and easy to read touch sensitive vacuum fluorescent blue display which is dimmable and there are no physical knobs, switches or buttons other than the large central 85 step volume control knob. The main on/off switch is located under the front panel with daily on/off into standby via the front touch screen which also contains volume up/down, input selection and menu controls for customising purposes including input renaming and output level adjustment. Looking at the rear panel the mono configuration is more obvious with all inputs and outputs on the left mirrored on the right including twin outputs on XLR only, there are no RCA outputs so bear this in mind if you want to use it with an RCA only power amp. There are three inputs on XLR and one on RCA plus one pair RCAs for a tape loop in/out. Input 4 becomes the phono input should the phono board be installed. There is also in and out 12v triggers and two Green Bias* connection for use with a Gryphon power amp (more on this later).
The menu accessed from the front panel or the remote allows changes to the following settings: Input naming – maximum and start up volume levels – Balance – Input level matching – AV throughput on/off – Display brightness – Green Bias set up – Restore defaults.
The Pandora uses the renowned Japanese Takman resistors and Charcroft Z-Foil resistors and has a 90.000 microFarad capacitor bank. The Pandora, like other Gryphon preamps has no tone controls, balance or mono controls and no headphone output, nothing they say to interfere with the purity of the sound. It runs in pure Class A and has zero negative feedback. The dual mono layout requires two mains transformers and each chassis measures 480w x 130h and 400d and together weigh 17.5Kg. Only the volume control is common to both mono preamps in the cojoined casework.
System Components used in this Review:
Pre Amp: Gryphon Essence and Pandora used for this review
Power Amp: Gryphon Essence
Streamer: Innuos Statement
Compact Disc: Shanling SCD-T200 CD Player
Music Streaming: Tidal, Qobuz, Roon
DAC: PS Audio Direct Stream DAC
Analogue Sources: Sansui TU-719 Tuner
Speakers: Marten Mingus Quintet
Cables: Jorma Cables throughout
Performance – Even though it costs nearly twice the price of my Essence Preamp I did wonder what more performance the Pandora could extract from my system. Thinking that the laws of diminishing returns must kick in I wasn’t really expecting anything dramatic. Then I started to listen and after a short warm up of around 45 minutes all became clear, literally. It’s rich, dynamic, detailed and expansive and what most impresses is its ability to hold on to notes as they linger, and naturally decay and this is something only the very best preamps can manage to do well.
Playing ‘Tubular Bells’ 2003 version (the one narrated by John Cleese) it was immediately obvious that the Pandora was digging deeper into the recording and releasing more information, life and emotion. It encourages longer listening sessions even late at night with the volume turned down when the increased layers of detail attainable are not lost into the background. Whether or not you like this version of the classic album Cleese’s voice is precisely articulated with noticeable inflections to his introduction of the instruments as they come in, wonderful stuff via the Pandora. It’s 45 years since Elvis ate his last peanut butter and jelly sandwich but listening to his distinctive and immediately recognisable voice via the Pandora made it entirely possible to believe he is still with us eliciting a feeling of joy and privilege to still be able to hear him with such clarity, meaning and vitality. We have lost so many of the greats over time and many far too early in their careers but listening to Elvis via the Pandora was a great way to relive his artistry.
One of the things I noticed and liked about having the Pandora in my system was the colour it brings to almost everything I played, and I don’t mean this in a bad ‘signal colouration’ sort of way but instead how it just lets through more life, detail and resolution in the same way that a Leica Camera can add that something special that other cameras struggle to match in terms of image and saturation of colours.
An example of this was ‘You My Love, And’ by Chris Rea where the soaring guitars are given a fresh lease of life by the Pandora, separating instruments and getting that bit closer to the holy grail of a live performance in your home. Listening to ‘Daytona’ also by Chris Rea there is an underpinning repetitive percussion that runs through the track and the Pandora took this and held it firm giving the track added speed control and agility without compromising vocal tonality and texture. I found the same with ‘Blue as You’ by Shawn Mullins.
Conclusion – What’s the most important component in any system? It always used to be the source and that is still a great argument today, some will say your power amp and most will probably say your speakers but I’ve always thought that the preamp is that special component that brings everything else together to make all the other parts of the system perform that bit better, especially where brand synergy plays a part. The Gryphon Pandora is one of those special links in the chain that seem to me to be the most important and if you hear it perform you might just agree with me.
How you use a Gryphon Pandora preamp rather depends, putting price to one side for now, on whether you are on an upgrade path or whether this is a one-off purchase together with a suitable power amp. Outside of a full Gryphon amplification rig then the choice will depend on other equipment in your system. If you already have or are about to buy a Gryphon Essence pre and power amp, then you will have a fine system. Upgrading to the Pandora will bring extra resolution, detail and musical enjoyment and will make your Essence power amp perform at its peak, it certainly did in my system. This route allows you to upgrade your power amp at a later date to the Gryphon Antileon Evo for the full Pandora experience. The next move is to keep the Pandora and further upgrade your power amp to the Mephisto for which the Pandora was really designed to accompany. Above this now lies the Commander and Apex pre and power amps from Gryphon, the pinnacle of their range and at real supercar money, I’ve not heard them yet, but the reports from our customers are very encouraging. So, investing in the Pandora preamp makes sense whichever Gryphon power amp you partner it with, it won’t disappoint and can stay with you through numerous other upgrade paths.
Insert it into your system, let it warm up for around 45 minutes, listen to your favourite track of the moment and reach for your wallet, it’s as simple as that. It leaves nothing in the box (pun intended) and comes seriously recommended.
Bob – Team Reference Audio