Beautiful music is made by beautiful instruments, and the Mikado certainly counts as one of these. First, there’s the way it looks. Shiny black and deep-grey panels make for an enclosure that’s hardly routine; one that’s topped by a motorised arm with a circular metal plate that requires more than 15 centimetres of headroom to swing fully open.
To paraphrase what Patrick Swayze said of Baby in Dirty Dancing, no-one puts the Mikado in a corner, or the middle shelf of an entertainment rack.
Inside, the CD well is surrounded by a row of blue lights. The effect is very bling – in a cool, Nordic Ice Queen kind of way – and it matches the hue of the front-mounted LCD. The CD transport itself is all-metal and supported by a solid die-cast metal frame within the Mikado’s chassis, creating a super-stable platform that works to isolate the disc from any vibrations caused by the machine while its operating. These, and the 40 gram magnetic puck that clamps the CD firmly onto the platter, serve to reduce – to the barest of minimums – the effect that even the tiniest of movements can have on playback quality.
And then there’s the way it performs. The Mikado is the genius of Gryphon Audio Designs, a Danish high-end audio company whose trademark is ‘dual mono’ design. This means that each stereo channel is independent of the other, so they don’t – as in most mass market gear – share power supplies or transformers. This has the benefit of eliminating interference between the audio and digital sections of the player, allowing the musical signal to emerge in as pure as form as possible.
To boot, the Mikado features Gryphon’s third-generation upsampling technology which, says the company, extracts the best performance from CD. This is not achieved, as some upsampling technologies claim, by adding more detail to the CD (which is impossible, anyway), but because it extracts more of the detail that already exists on the CD. The Mikado also claims extra-wide frequency response, meaning it can reproduce a wider range of notes – particularly at the top end of the spectrum – than even other elite CD players, with the pay-off enjoyed in enhanced imaging and ambience.
For $16,995 the Mikado will do delicious things to your CDs and only your CDs. It doesn’t play that format’s high resolution variant HDCD, nor will it play SACD or DVD-Audio. MP3 discs are beneath scorn, of course, and you assuredly won’t find an iPod dock anywhere.
What you need to find, though, is an amplifier equal in pedigree to the Mikado and, thoughtfully, there is a capable and cosmetically lush match from Gryphon’s own toy chest.
Integrated amplifiers are pooh-poohed by audio traditionalists, who prefer a combination of preamplifier and power amplifier components, but with 2 x 250 watts onboard the Gryphon Diablo has enough muscle to satisfy most tastes. These watts are courtesy of Class A amplifiers too, so sound quality is top notch. The downside is that the amp runs hot – as hot as hell, perhaps, considering that Diablo is Spanish for Devil – but in a smallish room in the dead of winter this could be used to cosy advantage.
The Diablo costs $15,995 and to complete the system – and keep it all in the family – you can choose from Atlantis, Cantata, Trident or Poseidon speakers, spending between $35,000 and $210,000, depending on your budget.