Gryphon Ethos CD player-D/A processor

What kind of creature is this? Gryphon Audio Designs' new Ethos ($39,000)—pronounced EE-toss by its Danish manufacturers—is marketed as a CD player and digital-to-analog converter. It's decidedly au courant in that it includes two 32-bit/768kHz ES9038PRO Sabre DAC chips—one for each channel—with each holding eight individual DAC chips; offers optional upsampling to either 24/384 PCM or DSD128; and decodes up to 32/384 PCM and quadruple DSD (DSD512) via its USB input, or up to 24/192 (and no DSD) via AES/EBU or S/PDIF. It does not decode MQA or the high-resolution layer of an SACD disc, and it has no Ethernet port. Aspects of its styling are eye-catching and resolutely retro: Its strikingly lit, top-loading disc mechanism resembles an LP platter, access to which is gained by lifting a tonearm-like handle. The gold-plated puck that holds the CD in place (as on most or all toploaders) evokes nothing so much as a CD record weight.

Especially when its CD transport lights up from within during disc loading, the Gryphon Ethos is the most beautiful audio component I've ever had the opportunity to handle. Once I had made peace with its wide choice of reconstruction filters—seven PCM and three DSD—and decided whether I preferred its optional upsampling feature, or not, I found the Ethos among the easiest of components to control, whether by its front panel or (sturdy) remote. I frequently found myself gazing at what Gryphon refers to as the player's "vacuum fluorescent" front panel display.

Like the gryphon of Greek mythology—its eagle head and wings and lion body are thought, by company founder Flemming E. Rasmussen, to represent "the perfect union" of grace and power—the Ethos is a singular creature that plays by its own rules.

From there to here
Gryphon's heritage extends back to 1985, when Rasmussen founded the company and began designing the exteriors of all Gryphon components. Gryphon's first product, a pure–class-A dual-mono head amp, was intended at first to enable Rasmussen to discern differences between phono cartridges more effectively. The revelation of detail and subtle differences were priorities from day one.

"It was the first pure dual-mono, pure class-A amplifier in the world, and it set our path forward," Gryphon's sales director, Rune Skov, explained at the start of a Skype conversation that also included Gryphon's chief engineer/head of R&D, Tom Møller, and CEO Jakob Odgaard. For 35 years, the company has stuck to a philosophy that stresses a synergy between aesthetics and performance. Gryphon remains dedicated to pure class-A, dual-mono, and fully symmetrical balanced circuitry, and strives for a neutral sound that eschews an identifiable house signature—that and, in Odgaard's words, "no fooling around with surround and multi-channel. We stick to what we were created for." Take that, Kal Rubinson.

"We use the same pathways as in 1985 but have added a lot due to the creativity of Tom and the rest of the guys in the R&D team," Skov said. Gryphon released the world's first asynchronous upsampling CD player, the Gryphon CDP-1, in 1998. Speakers followed in 1999 with the Cantata, a large bookshelf loudspeaker that included outboard Linkwitz circuitry to correct woofer output to the room.

"Our philosophy is one of controlled madness," said Skov with a laugh. "It's controlled madness because it makes no sense building 200W pure class-A amplifiers. We don't hold back on performance and would rather wait six months or one year to launch a product so that the performance level we seek is there. That's why the lifespan for a Gryphon product can be 10–15 years." Gryphon's top-loading Mikado CD player with asynchronous 24/96 upsampling came out in 2001, and the upgraded Mikado Signature with asynchronous 32/192 upsampling remained available until 2013, when the company could no longer obtain Philips' top- loading CD-Pro2 drive mechanism.

The design of the Ethos is intended to evoke Gryphon's digital and vinyl heritage. The design called for a top-loading mechanism that could be aesthetically enhanced to resemble an LP player, and finding a high-quality CD/SACD top-loading mechanism was virtually impossible. So Gryphon went with StreamUnlimited of Austria's CD-Pro 8 drive, which only handles CD. The Ethos is supported by Gryphon's Atlas spikes, whose height is adjusted using the small tool and old-fashioned level that are supplied with the unit.

"Many of our competitors take the current from the output and transform that into an analog voltage," Møller explained. "Instead, we take the voltage directly from the DAC circuitry and have a voltage-to-voltage, fully class-A amplifier that is a central aspect of the Ethos's sound. Around the analog stage, the other components surrounding the transistors are discreet. We don't use ICs or op-amps in the signal path—it is fully discreet. The only op-amps we use are incorporated as a DC servo to ensure that no DC leaks into the analog output. We use . . . Melf resistors, which have very low current and voltage noise. We also use polypropylene film capacitors and very good electrolytic capacitors as well. Because the power supply is indirectly part of the signal path, we paid a lot of attention to it. As for the player's ports, we tried an Ethernet with another product, and we preferred the sound from USB when fed by a very good high-end USB cable."


Other defining aspects of the Ethos's design include a fully balanced class-A analog output stage that employs zero negative feedback. Outputs are balanced Neutrik XLR and single-ended gold-plated RCA. There are two separate analog toroidal transformers and two digital power supplies. (The Gryphon website has a long list of additional features that this Polly needn't parrot.)

Getting it on
While it was a snap to connect the Ethos to my reference Audio Research Reference 6 preamplifier—I used balanced interconnects all the way to my D'Agostino Progression monoblocks—I encountered several challenges during setup and operation. Once, while playing hi-rez PCM and switching between PCM and DSD upsampling, the unit sent a few seconds of white noise through my speakers. It passed quickly, and no damage was done. It never happened again, even though I switched between DSD and PCM upsampling many times during playback.

Second, due to a production error in this early unit, its rear AES/EBU input lacked the requisite release lever. Once I had inserted my cable, I couldn't remove it. Rather than risk damaging the unit by forcing it or inserting some sharp tool, I returned the Ethos at review's end with the cable still attached and invited Gryphon to remove it and send it back.


I customarily send signals from my Roon Nucleus+ music server via Ethernet, but the Ethos is not a streaming DAC: I had to choose from its USB, AES/EBU, or S/PDIF inputs. Due to the structure of my multicomponent internet noise- isolation setup—a two-room equipment chain that Editor Jim Austin calls unduly complicated but which nonetheless contributes to my system's high level of transparency and detail—I lacked the ability to move the Nucleus+ close to the Ethos and connect it via USB. (I've figured out a solution for next time.) That left me with two choices: I could connect the Nucleus+ to my extremely transparent dCS Network Bridge and send that component's output signal to the Ethos via AES/EBU, which, however, limited playback to 24/192 PCM files (and no DSD). Or I could load files onto my Macbook Pro, play them with Roon or other software, and send the output to the Ethos via USB, which can handle resolutions up to DXD and DSD512.

At the start of my many happy listening sessions, I attached my 2017 Macbook Pro to the Ethos via a 2m Nordost Valhalla 2 USB cable that Nordost graciously supplied for the review. While the folks at Gryphon primarily use their own cabling for music playback, they recommend Nordost Valhalla 2 for USB.

Gryphon Audio Designs ApS, Industrivej
US distributor: On a Higher Note
PO Box 698
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92693
(949) 544 1990

Bogolu Haranath's picture

May be JVS could do a comparison follow-up review with the Kalista DreamPlay CD player ($43,000) :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? :-) .........

Jack L's picture

So CD player, CD player, which one sounds better ?

Electronic technology advances daily. A state-of-the art designed audio component todate could become a kid's toy soon in the near future.
So to pay big bucks, say $40,000, to acquire a Redbook CD player would be a shaky investment, right ?

Historic paintings, & brandnamed timepieces, like Rolex, for example, appreciate in the market value & are pretty profitable on resale - sound
investment !

Being a die-hard analogue addict enjoying a collection of 1,000+ vinyl LPs (95% classical music), my CD, DVD-audio, Blu-ray discs & streamer are only side-burners. Why? no digital music media todate, IMO, can touch the sound quality of vinyl.

So those affordable digital music lovers, before spending big bucks, like $40,000, to acquire a CD player, why not look out from the 40-year-old Redbook CD box for other better option with more promising music source?

IMO, Blu-ray format is another option, much much more affordable.
Blu-ray HiFi Pure Audio discs are the new digital music star vs SACD.
There are so many Blu-ray music HD (4K) audio/video music programmes now available, e.g. Sony Music, EuroArt, UNESCO, etc.

Look out of the RedBook CD box to find new music source !

For an analogue addict like Yours Truly, my music pleasure surely worths
more than $40,000 yet without financing any exotic hardware vendors.

Listening is believing

Jack L

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Look at it this way ...... Either one of those above mentioned CD players may be a better value than the $50,000 tonearm reviewed in Stereophile :-) .......

Ali's picture

Thanks for review, reading your AR M160 review, I remember you liked Progressions without Ref6 pre. Anything has happened in between because you mentioned here that you were using Ref6 with better result. And generally, will you please advice if you prefer direct connection of your dCS stuff to power amp or using a pre. Thanks Jason.

Ali's picture

Thanks for review, reading your AR M160 review, I remember you liked Progressions without Ref6 pre. Has anything happened in between because you mentioned here that you were using Ref6 with better result. And generally, will you please advice if you prefer direct connection of your dCS stuff to power amp or using a pre. Thanks Jason.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hi Ali,

For an answer, please look for my forthcoming review of the D'Agostino Momentum HD preamp. It will help answer your question. As for the ARC Ref 6, it has just been replaced, with an upgrade for existing owners available for $3000.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How about comparing all those pre-amps with Benchmark LA-4 (reviewed by Stereophile) or Benchmark HPA-4 (reviewed by Hi-Fi News)? :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

If JVS likes the 'warm' sound of tubes, may be he could review the new McIntosh C2700 tube pre-amp with built-in DAC and headphone output, $8,000 :-) ........

rt66indierock's picture

Jason, it takes some time to find your optimal filter choices but once you find them it is pretty much set and forget. I find the choices helpful.

A nice review.

hollowman's picture

The review noted:
"Many of our competitors take the current from the output and transform that into an analog voltage," Møller explained. "Instead, we take the voltage directly from the DAC circuitry..."
In fact, most Delta-Sigma dac chips today (including those less than $1 ea.) are voltage out.
"So Gryphon went with StreamUnlimited of Austria's CD-Pro 8 drive, which only handles CD. "
Interesting ... and very cool that there are still high-quality drives out there. Not sure whether StreamUnlimited is superior to Philips or TEAC.
For a device THIS $$$, Jason Victor Serinus should have compared to more units (CD players), regardless of price diff. This includes older high-end players from Naim, Boulder, Meridian, etc.

barrows's picture

Mr. Hollow, Respectfully, the ESS 9038 PRO DAC chips can be either current output, or voltage output, depending on how they are loaded by the following stage. Interestingly, the ESS 9038 actually produces higher performance when operating in current mode (in terms of DNR), and this is how most manufacturers use these chips. It is unusual for a manufacture to purposefully use the ESS 9038 as a voltage source, so Gryyphon is doing something, perhaps unique, in their implementation of the chips. Although by doing so they are leaving some measured performance on the table; perhaps to gain in some non-measurable parameter based on their listening experience.

CG's picture

The problem with these sorts of expenditures is that they pretty much are disposable items. They become technologically obsolete because of the electronics in a few years.

If you purchased a Patek Philippe watch for the same dollar amount today, there's a really good chance that it would be worth more than what you paid ten or forty years from now, even accounting for inflation.

I can't explain why mechanical devices do better over time than electronics, but they do. Perhaps it's because the individual components go out of production in electronics gear, with very few replacements available over time. If you need a mechanical part, somebody can always machine you a new piece. That's pretty hard with silicon.

I'm not throwing water on a product like this, or critiquing anybody who purchases one. It's just an observation on my part.

teched58's picture

...then, what, it's only worth $35,000?

NaplesRich's picture

Who in their right mind would spend $39,000 on a CD player? Even if I hit the lottery I would never spend that much

jimtavegia's picture

I guess I have no issue with someone offering such a "CD player", but the issue is are there any other players that come near or at the performance of this player for under $5K? Audio bling does not bother me any more the Michael Fremer owning a Caliburn turntable that I can't even afford to dream about. Do his reviews of LPs have any real-world information to pass along to me, one who has refurbished a Dual 502 and put a Rega arm on it?

I am sure that any LP Mr. Fremer would play would be totally revealed to be great or awful. I cannot make those value judgements on the gear I own. It would not be fair, as it would not be fair to judge music playback on such pedestrian equipment I own and use.

So the only real question is does this player have any flaw, because at that price I would think it must not. It is no surprise that DCS gear is so highly praised as cost is no object should win the day. When something is more that any of my first 3 houses in cost, I must pause and ask the question; Where is this hobby going? Can a Tesla be just "another" car?

I can readily see that this is a remarkably great looking player, but it is no wonder why people make fun of audiophiles. There have been CD players reviewed in Stereophile in the $5K to $10K range that have not survived the scrutiny of JA1 when put on the bench. I am glad that this one seems to have passed the test as I feel the owners who anted up a tidy some do deserve not just to have audiophile "bling", but also a truly state of the art player.

I will take some hits for saying this. And, maybe a big part of the cost of this player is the distribution of the R&D that went into the design and manufacture of this player based on the quantity of sales. Nothing come for free.

Archimago's picture

Measured performance better be great! Unless they messed up and could not deliver standard levels of performance which should be uniformly excellent.

I think most audiophiles appreciate that the price difference between this and a $1000 ES9038Pro DAC is not to be found in the sound quality.

Ortofan's picture

... consider the Marantz SA-KI Ruby or the Yamaha CD-S2100.

jimtavegia's picture

is that the $1500 CD player by Project uses the same transport, and the quality of the transport is never to be overlooked. I'll bet it is one heck of a player. Denon still makes an CD/SACD player in that same price range.

I just bought a slot load player from a reputable MFG for use at school for our concerts and music programs. Now the player won't read some commercial CD or some CD-Rs. Trying to get it serviced under warrant has been a pain for over a month now, as it is under a year old and still boxed up on my recording studio floor. I will pay more attention to transports of players I buy in the future. Warranties and length of do matter.

Daverich's picture

I just wanted to point out that Roon is not limited to DSD128 playback but will play files up to DSD 512 with equipment that supports it.

hollowman's picture

The affliction of CONSUMERISM is the same for the very high end as it is for the low-wage American walking out of WalMart once a week with cart full-o-useless landfillables.
Major pubs, like Stereophile and TAS, do not directly compare new products with legacy ones because of what they may find. Indeed, why have R2R dacs and non-oversampling dacs and vinyl and open reel come back? Better sound? Maybe. Boredom with same-ol'-same-ol'. Gettin' close!

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

First, some of the formats you mention never went away, and are the subjects of our reviews. Secondly, we don't compare new products with some of those you mention because each reviewer would literally have to pay for a warehouse to store all the products that our online critics have decided we "should" have used for comparison. We'd also have to own them or request them on loan, and have enough time and room for all the set-up required. Dear Sony, Could you please send me your CD player gratis so I can show how poorly it stacks up against the player I'm reviewing? I don't think so.

"Because of what they may find" suggests that we're afraid to voice criticism. Q.E.D.

hollowman's picture

I should've added that when cross-comparisons with legacy products are neglected, it is a disservice to gear manuf. as well. Because the product (or the product niche) never really evolves in time.
That said, John Atkinson's Measurement's section (and his devotion to that section) merits praise.

John Atkinson's picture
hollowman wrote:
John Atkinson's Measurement's section (and his devotion to that section) merits praise.

Thank you. I do wonder at times how widely these measurements sections are read, but I consider them very important, given how few other magazines/webzines publish measurements.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I read them 'religiously', more than any religious books, I have ever read ....... Thank you JA1, you definetly deserve 'Knighthood' by the Queen :-) .........

wozwoz's picture

Very cool design - but the fact that it cannot play SACD means that the entire design places form above function, which really doesn't make sense at this price point. You could get away with it on a budget product designed to look nice - but designing a so-called premium product that cannot even play hi-res SACDs sadly means this is dead on arrival, other than perhaps as a photoshoot for coffee table books.

Anton's picture

Why build a device that will also play SACD? SACDs cost too much, everybody just buys CD, so this manufacturer is keeping the expenditure and price to the consumer more realistic by sticking to CD. Adding SACD would probably make it a 42,000 dollar proposition, and that would be ridiculous.

(Please note, I posted in 'sarcasm font,' no need to quote me any sales or specification data.)

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

The cost of manufacturing SACD is higher than manufacturing CD. Jared Sacks (Channel Classics), a major proponent of SACD and DSD, now only issues his best-selling artists in SACD because SACDs cost so much to manufacture. He issues the rest in CD format, and offers DSD downloads of those titles on

volvic's picture

But those of us who want a copy of Edith Peinemann performing Dvorak's Violin Concerto, have two options; I can purchase a potentially scratchy vinyl copy from ebay for $75.00 or I can buy an SACD copy from Japan for $49.99 which has plenty of those coveted titles we collectors yearn for. Sorry at $35,000 without an option for SACD is a non-starter for most folks. EMM labs still makes them as does Esoteric. Can get great performance from 44.1 these days from setting up a computer system and ripping your CD copy.

Ortofan's picture

... performed by Edith Peinemann not acceptable?

volvic's picture

No, it is not.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

JVS could tell us, if he still has the Ethos player :-) .......

wozwoz's picture

"... and offers DSD downloads of those titles on"
Unfortunately, the days of the download are pretty much over - consumers don't want them anymore, the file management issues are too difficult, and the cost prohibitive compared to streaming which has wiped out downloads in the non-physical market. This is a physical player - and it is not competing in that space because it can't play the relevant formats.

WJ ARMSTRONG's picture

This review brought back to mind a chat I had with the owner of a well know hi-fi manufacturer some years ago. He explained to me why he approached the whole reviewing process with trepidation: “A glowing five star review doesn’t add a single sale, but four stars - or any caveats at all really - can kill a product stone dead.”
Therefore despite both the undoubted prestige of being this month’s cover star, and the fact that JVS makes it abundantly clear he thinks the Ethos sounds pretty fabulous, I suspect the manufacturer's focus might be drawn more sharply to the brief somewhat cursory four point comparison the reviewer makes to his own dCS combo - the Brits proving preferable each time. And yes I know they cost $21k more, but I suspect if a potential customer can afford $39k to start with they will likely be able to make this stretch if so desired.
Many moons ago Gryphon withdrew from the American market following a review that criticised their equipment for being too neutral sounding (or at least something to that effect). Obviously there will be no repeat of that this time around. But I do still end up wondering if they will be that much happier with this one despite the overall positive tone. I guess we will find out when they reply in the next issue.

hollowman's picture

I wonder what rationale The Grypon used for nomenclature. "Ethos"?

They read the wiki:

Ethos (/ˈiːθɒs/ or US: /ˈiːθoʊs/) is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The Greeks also used this word to refer to the power of music to influence emotions, behaviors, and even morals.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

I didn't know 'power of music to influence emotions, behaviors and even morals' costs, $40K :-) ........

Ortofan's picture

... Goldring is called the Ethos.
Their stated intent for choosing that name is to reflect the character of the company - hence definition number one.

ok's picture

means decency.

hollowman's picture

Well, once you get the nomenclature outta the way ("Ethos"), other Greek trends begin to reflect in the echo chamber. Anyone see similarities ...

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Similarities? ....... Yeah ..... They both are very expensive and, they both look like UFOs :-) .........

mmole's picture

..."Viewmaster" capabilities.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ethos responds to voice commands ......... Just say 'open sesame', and the lid opens ....... Then load a disc and say 'close sesame', and the lid closes :-) .......

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Instead of spending $40k on a CD player, one can buy any of the various servers available on the market and, transfer terabytes of CD data .......... Comfortably sit on the listening chair, and listen to music for hours :-) ......

Jack Pot's picture

It is simply a fact that wealthy hobbyists encourage manufacturers to push the envelope. New technologies then trickle down to benefit all hifi enthusiasts. It baffles me why some in the community cannot see the huge merit of this. And it is up to the discerning consumer to decide if he wants to buy into new technologies or not. This is a hobby after all, which keeps a lot of brilliant artisans and superb craftsmen usefully and peacefully employed, provides a income to artists and keeps us, listeners, very happy.
But I would like to comment on the physical media and my own experience with them. I do hope that manufacturers and producers read the comments posted on Stereophile. They might provide them with food for thought.
I am in the blessed position to own both a top-end vinyl replay system consisting of a Clearaudio Master Innovation with Statement parallel arm and Ortofon Century, and a 3-piece suite of dCS Vivaldi Transport, DAC and Clock. Amplification Burmester, loudspeakers Audio Exclusiv (full electrostatics). With a great deal of attention given to power supply, cabling and equipment support. With other words, a dream system built over many years and optimized to enjoy the sound reproduction of “non-electronic” instruments (classical, jazz, voice). 80% of my listening is classical. I don’t “do” streaming.
Being completely unbiased, and heavily invested in CD, SACD and vinyl with some of the best equipment to play them on, I can postulate today with confidence that SACD, when well recorded, is the King of Formats. And this notwithstanding the fact that I am obsessed with vinyl. But when I compare the same piece issued both on SACD and vinyl (Channel Records, Pentatone), SACD carries the day by a whisker: a touch airier, a slightly truer tone and yes, an even better “flow” that facilitate following the musical argument. On the other hand, vinyl’s sound stage remains unbeaten, as the ClearAudio parallel arm recreates a truly “cavernous” sound world. And although both media allow unrestricted (subjective) dynamics, SACD is simply a fraction quieter. CD is a VERY distant third (notwithstanding the dCS wizardry to bring it to life).
I find it therefore incomprehensible why Universal Music Group, which owns a.o. DG, Decca and EMI robs its artists of the opportunity to record on SACD. UMG even makes a mess of pressing vinyl. Listen for instance to the popping, cracking, rumbling (!) DG vinyls of Abbado’s Bruckner 9th, his last and deeply moving recording – with the superb Zimerman in Schubert D959 & 960 barely better. I therefore bade farewell to my roster of UMG artists and, when buying digital, I now exclusively buy SACDs. From labels like Ars, BIS, Challenge Records, Channel Records, Pentatone, RCO Live etc. And guess what: I discovered stellar performances by stellar new artists (or who migrated away from UMG), superbly recorded - by which I mean: “uncannily close to Live”. I wish opinion-makers at Stereophile would walk that extra mile in favour of SACD.
I would therefore also caution lovers of classical music and jazz when they audition the Gryphon Ethos. They should compare it with a good SACD player. SACD as a format is so much more enjoyable to listen to than CD, especially in the above genres. Is CD therefore a basket case? Probably. Although a small Dutch label, TRPTK, produces beautifully recorded CDs. Maybe it is on to something. Whilst vinyl remains vinyl: superbly tolerant of mediocre recording, poor power supply, shoddy bases, with the hardware delivering excellent performance even at humblest price points (Dual!). Supremely affordable, lots of fun, and endearing. My 40-year old records still outclass anything on CD sound-wise, the 2nd hand market is awash with great performances sumptuously recorded with mint copies going for under 10 euros, new productions avoid the pitfalls of CD – even in jazz, with new work on the Newvelle label or by the venerable, magical Charles Lloyd.

RaimondAudio's picture

Why not buy Topping D90 at 700$ and a cdplayer with another 700$ instead of this ?