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Gryphon Diablo 300

If you’ve followed my “Benchmark Systems” series of articles this far, you know that the price of the first system I’m profiling has an upper limit of $5000. I’m listening to it as I type this paragraph, and I can tell you that it’s superb -- not in an oh, isn’t that sweet kind of way, but just plain superb -- without qualification. Sitting in front of it listening to your music, I’d bet you’d never guess its cost (all in USD unless otherwise noted).

The $5000 Full-Ranger:

Aperion Audio Verus Grand Tower loudspeakers:     $1798/pair
Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier and DAC:     $1895
DH Labs Silver Sonic T-14 speaker cables:     $303/8’ biwire pair with bananas
AudioQuest Carbon USB cable:     $149/1.5m
Apple MacBook laptop (used/refurbished):     $400 (est.)
Decibel music player:     $0 (est. under $100; soon)
Grand total:     $4545

$5000 system picture

System profile: It begins with the speakers. Most audiophiles would probably tell you that, at the $5000/system price point, the most prudent system model would include stand-mounted speakers, most of which have limited low bass and limited absolute output capability, due to their smallish internal cabinet volume and small-diameter drivers. However, the Aperion Verus Grand Tower is a good-sized, three-way, five-driver floorstander with low-frequency extension down to about 30Hz in-room, an extended and detailed (but not bright) top end, and robust output capability -- unlike some cutesy audiophile speakers I’ve heard. Technical highlights include dual Kevlar midranger drivers, dual Kevlar woofers, and Aperion’s Axially Stabilized Radiator tweeter. The gorgeous piano-gloss finish doesn’t hurt, either.

Aperion Verus close-up

The Aperions are driven here by the multifaceted Bel Canto C5i integrated amplifier with built-in DAC. The C5i is a power amp, preamp, and digital-to-analog converter, all in one compact, well-built chassis. The Bel Canto’s 60Wpc/8 ohms or 120Wpc/4 ohms power rating means the Verus Grands will be drawing about 90Wpc from the C5i -- enough to push the 6-ohm Aperions plenty loud. The built-in DAC is a sweet-sounding device capable of accepting up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution via USB using some nifty low-jitter design elements that make for great sound with your hi-rez music files. Buy the C5i and you won’t be skimping on electronics, and you’ll have enough budget left for speakers that can fill your room with sound.

Bel Canto close-up

The Aperions are ready for biwiring, and what better way to take advantage of that than with a set of Teflon-insulated cables of silver-coated, oxygen-free copper? Do we have to stretch the budget for that? No! Choose cables from DH Labs, specifically the Silver Sonic T-14 biwires. Unlike some of the cheap stuff you see, these are not rebranded Home Depot wires but full-on, beautifully built cables, made in the US, with custom banana plugs and able to carry enough current to suit our full-range system model.

If you don’t already have a spare MacBook, you can easily find a used or refurbished one for reasonable money on eBay or Craig’s List. Install the latest version of iTunes, strip out the programs you don’t need (look online for help), and off you go. Connect the USB output to the Bel Canto, adjust your Audio MIDI settings, and you’re ready to rock.

MacBook and Bel Canto close-up

But don’t use just some freebie USB cord. Instead, you’ve got enough budget left to upgrade to a really nicely made, good-sounding AudioQuest Carbon. Yes, USB cables can make a difference in the sound, and you don’t have to spend a fortune for a good one. The Carbon rounds out the hardware selection nicely.

Lastly, get thee to the Decibel website, where you can get great-sounding music-player software for free (or close to it; they might be charging by the time you read this). Decibel (formerly AyreWave) is software that you’ll run on your Mac; it takes the place of iTunes when you really want to hear more from your tunes.

Additions or alternatives: You could add a decent power conditioner. With this system I’m using a Panamax unit that’s a few years old, and it does seem to make the sound just a touch smoother. These certainly aren’t expensive, and can provide a decent measure of insurance against lightning and power surges. You also might want some external storage for your music collection. These days, a 1TB drive can be had for under $100; get one for your music collection and another for backup and you’d still come in under budget. Lastly, a couple hundred bucks more will buy you a Blu-ray player so that you can watch movies over the system as well.

Overall sound: Smooth up top, clear in the midrange, punchy in the bass, with a hint of tonal warmth all ’round. This system will let you enjoy less-than-stellar MP3 files, but also experience what high-resolution music has to offer. It’s not as ruthlessly revealing as some systems, but its overall accurate nature means that it will do right by good recordings. This little-big system can surprise you in the bass, and will, when the music calls for it, nicely energize the room with air and ambience. Voices come through with excellent texture and transparency, and the highs offer plenty of detail without ever sounding spitty or harsh.

Overall, the $5000 Full-Ranger produces a rich, comfortable sound that can play lower in the bass than you’d think possible, while providing a good helping of resolution for your 24/96 recordings.

. . . Jeff Fritz
jeff@soundstagenetwork.com