Jeff Fritz: You’ve said Gryphon is firmly committed to the CD, not music servers. Any further thoughts?
Flemming Rasmussen: Our success with the Mikado and Scorpio CD players has confirmed for us that there are many audiophiles that have large CD collections that they wish to play back on a dedicated player. It has been my perception that -- at least in the beginning -- the interest in music-server technology was based on convenience and the ability to rip CDs and did not offer any sound-improving qualities. It is nice to note that hi-rez recordings are becoming available for download and that changes the picture. It is a can/shall question: Shall we go into this because we can? I don’t think so. When we anticipate a shift of preferences with our core Gryphon clients, then we shall, and we do have the D/A technology to do it.
However, we believe that there will be a market for CD players at the top level for quite some time to come.
JF: Gryphon manufactures all the components that make a hi-fi system. What component type has been the most challenging?
FR: There is a widespread perception that a manufacturer can only be good at one kind of product and should stick to that. This is based on the fact that when the high end was young, companies were typically headed by a gifted engineer/audiophile with a narrow but deep expertise. This is naturally a great asset but also a limitation. I am not an engineer; my expertise is in industrial design and sound, but I believe that I have talent in finding the some of the best people in the business to work with. With this philosophy we can assemble teams with highly specialized knowledge and, consequently, engage in anything that is relevant within our company strategy -- and sometimes just to satisfy our own curiosity. The limitation should never be based on skills; if you can imagine it and you can find the people that can make it real, then you can be the world's biggest small company.
That was a long introduction to a short question, but it was something that is important to me to get across. The relevance is that we can make the challenges less challenging if we have the correct level of knowledge; our electronics designers would find it very challenging to make a speaker and the speaker guys would find it very challenging to make an amplifier. So it is a matter of people.
From a design point of view, designing speakers is the most challenging project I have done because the correlation between the physical design of a speaker and its performance is related. This is why we see many speakers that are interesting -- even beautiful -- to look at, but all the beauty comes at the expense of performance. And you see the boring bird-box speaker that makes wonderful sound. Finding the combination is very challenging and my personal favorite, as an illustration, would be our first speaker, the Cantata. It has so many "right" performance solutions but at the same time came in a package that found its way into many beautiful homes and are treasured by their owners.
JF: How do your markets around the world vary from country to country?
FR: All countries are unique. They may look alike and on the surface they may have the same needs. We have never designed products for a specific market or a specific sound to suit a specific preference. Some may call it poor business sense or arrogance. We believe that a better word is honesty -- we make products that we like and believe to be correct and hope that enough people share our views. In the last 25 years that has worked for us.
It is very easy to make the mistake of dividing the world market into large blocks such as the European market or the Asian market and developing your strategies according to that. It does not work like that; the differences are much bigger than we think. As an example: In Asia you will find huge differences between Singapore and Korea, or mainland China and Hong Kong, and the list goes on. The arrogance of viewing them simply as Asians is the kind of ignorance that creates the wars in this world.
JF: Where do you most like to travel to for business?
FR: Each country has its own charm. I am a nature romantic. I can get carried away over the sky over Montana, the trout rivers in Slovenia, the red soil in Australia, but I also get excited over the pulsing heartbeat in Hong Kong.
JF: What is your favorite Gryphon product of all time?
FR: The next one.
JF: What is the biggest challenge facing high-end audio in the coming decade?
FR: High end must find its own feet to stand on and realize that we are not the hi-fi business; we have different needs, different clients, and a different future. Most of the talk is about the hi-fi business and its trends. We should not necessarily respond to that but rather see if we can create our own trends. High end has moved so far away from the mere mortal hi-fi that even the word high end is misleading -- do we really still belong at the CES event's poor conditions along with their high prices? There is much talent in the high end and many companies have matured to a degree that we as a business should be proud of. We were never very good at working together toward goals that we could have in common; we still suffer from the "I don’t want to share the limelight with you" syndrome. It is important to realize that the high end is not just hi-fi with a larger price tag. It requires a different approach, a commitment from everybody in the manufacture/sales chain to provide quality in both the product and level of service and the knowhow that comes with it. Only then is the high price justified. If high-end-audio dealers are reduced to a showroom for fly-by-night Internet operators, then the dealer closes down and in the end the choice of products to the audiophile will be hugely reduced and he will have to buy products based on chance. I guess that Sound by Singer is a good illustration of this.
JF: How important is the visual element in your products?
FR: Very important. At the price level that we operate in, people are entitled to more than just great sound; the products are something that you will look at every day; you paid good money for it so it should be a joy to look at. Thank God that we finally moved past the "dumb blonde" syndrome where audiophiles believe that only ugly boxes can sound good.
JF: If you could design a product outside of high-end audio, what would it be?
FR: A cabin on a lakeside.
JF: Why is the Colosseum amplifier only slightly more powerful than the Antileon Signature?
FR: The idea of the Colosseum was to design a product based on a newer technology in a cabinet with less footprint. It was not from a need for more power. Colosseum owners find it to be a faster amplifier with very high resolution.
JF: Is setup of the Poseidon speaker system difficult with the four towers?
FR: It is extremely easy once you understand the Duelund design concept that is so beautiful and correct in its foundation. Everything kind of locks into place and set up is straightforward. I warmly recommend that people read the design story on our website.
JF: Tell me what Gryphon system you would set up in a medium-sized room for $100,000 USD.
FR: Atlantis/Diablo/Mikado Signature.
JF: What is the biggest fish you’ve ever caught and where was it?
FR: It would be a 25-pound Atlantic Salmon on a fly rod in Norway in 1992. I use to say that a lot of people catch bigger fish, or may be better fishermen than me, but very few enjoy it as much as I do. I got my best design ideas while fishing.