A QUARTER of a century ago, if you were setting up as a hi-fi manufacturer, you had fewer factors to contend with in terms of formats, supply-and-demand and environmental concerns. The year 1985, when Flemming E. Rasmussen set up Gryphon Audio Designs, was a vastly different scenario from today – CD and the digital age were in their infancy, analogue (and vinyl) still ruled and computers had little to do with music.
Gryphon’s first product was the Head Amp, a home-grown project that quickly garnered much acclaim and led to the company evolving into a full-blown hi-fi manufacturer by the mid-1990s, its amplifiers drawing as much respect for performance and design as the ‘big-boy’ competition across the Atlantic pond.
Today’s Gryphon catalogue is impressive by any yardstick and for any era – integrated, pre and power amps (and mono blocs), CD players, phono stages, loudspeakers, cables and accessories. The Danish company’s website lists 26 products; it certainly is no more just a second-fiddle player in the global hi-fi industry.
Gryphon’s evolution, based on the principles of solid fundamentals, has been organic rather than hurried, thus building trust and customer loyalty, key elements in growing a company. And its product life-cycles are anything but brief, as evidenced by the Exorcist demagnetiser, which has been around since the 1990s. There’s certainly no rushing to catch up with market trends.
“As our book and track record show, we have one of the longest product lives in high-end history. We are not rushing into the market to be first (although we have done that) but are more concerned with introducing products that are ahead and will be competitive for many years to come,” says Rasmussen, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently, along with Gryphon’s co-owner Valdemar Børsting (pic below).
Of course, things change rapidly these days, and every other hi-fi manufacturer is paying more than cursory attention to the big growth area – computer-related audio. There has been a surge in the emergence of products like USB-equipped digital-to-analogue converters (DAC), streamers and media players in more recent years – surely, Gryphon cannot afford to ignore this factor when planning ahead?
Well, not to worry, Gryphon fans, because the company has something lined up that should be worth the wait.
“Next year, we will introduce a DAC that will provide the ultimate conversion for PC-based systems,” the Gryphon CEO reveals via a subsequent email.
That, however, is the extent of Gryphon’s nod towards the trend, at least at this point – Rasmussen says there are currently no plans to develop products like streamers or even wireless speakers (which are slowly seeping into the market, thanks to the likes of Dynaudio), not just yet.
“There is no doubt that streaming technology is defining the future. However, vinyl seem to have a hard time dying – perhaps it will not die before we forget what it sounds like.
“Our CD player sales are as strong as ever, there are large CD collections out there and not everybody likes the PC approach, so CD will be around for some time to come.”
A constant in the Gryphon approach has been the importance placed on design aesthetics. Rasmussen, after all, cut his teeth in design, including album artwork for a number of Danish bands back in the 1980s. Of course, this leads one to ask – there is obviously common ground with the lucrative and growing lifestyle audio market, so is Gryphon casting a glance in that direction?
“I never designed anything to follow a trend or meet a demand, I am designing products that are pleasing to the eye and that I would like to own myself.
“We do this without sacrificing performance of the product … and this philosophy will not change.”
Which brings us to the environmental factor. Gryphon has been a steadfast proponent of Class A amplification over the years, but these days, there is a growing awareness among consumers in general for “green” or environmentally-friendly products that will save on electricity usage, among other things. How will Gryphon tackle such consumer demands in future?
“All our Class A products have a ‘greener’ function allowing the user to use them in class A/B without any loss of power, so we are offering a choice.”
One significant change in the hi-fi market over the past decade has been the moving of manufacturing facilities to Asia – it keeps prices down but audiophiles, being a fussy lot, still tend to think it degrades the value of a brand. They need not fret over Gryphon, though, because the company intends to stay at home in Denmark. This, as a result, is reflected in the prices, and Rasmussen admits that while challenging, things will stay this way.
“Being a manufacturer in Denmark is a challenge because the cost of labour is high. But as a consequence of a very sophisticated production facility, we can set very high standards.
“We have a very rigorous QC process and are most likely to reject parts that some manufactures may approve. This is just part of our identity.
“After 30 years, we have naturally accumulated a lot of know how and technology to secure a uniform high technology,. But it will always be expensive to manufacture products at this level.”
The satisfaction, for the discerning audiophile, is knowing that every Gryphon product meets a standard that is among the highest in the hi-fi industry.