Back in 2018, when iFi Audio introduced the xDSD, the first model in its x-series line of portable DAC/Amps, it was groundbreaking, both in terms of design and feature set.
The xDSD DAC/amp was shortly followed by the second model in the line, the xCAN, which was equally innovative with its powerful amp section and hi-res certified Bluetooth receiver.
Fast forward to 2022, and iFi has launched the next generation of the x-series lineup, represented by the $599 xDSD Gryphon Digital to Analog Converter/Headphone Amp Combo.
The Gryphon is their most sophisticated transportable DAC/Amp combo yet, and It’s intended to replace both the xDSD and xCAN (we loved them both, BTW). It combines the best functions of each while adding innovation. It also has an LCD screen, a first on an iFi portable DAC.
Ifi Audio calls it a “hi-fi system in your pocket,” and while it’s probably a little large for most pockets, I get the idea. You do get a lot of functionality in a relatively small package.
So is the xDSD Gryphon the serious hi-fi component that iFi is advertising? Is it worth the $599 price tag? Read on, and I’ll let you know what I think!
Disclaimer: This unit was sent to us by iFi Audio in exchange for our review. In the interest of full disclosure, iFi is a sponsor of Hifitrends. However, no input was given or promises made regarding the content contained in this evaluation.
|Bluetooth 5.1 (aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA, AAC and SBC Codec)|
768/705.6/384/352.8kHz, Double/Single-Speed DXD
Up to 96kHz
|Battery||USB-C charging. BC1.2 compliant up to 1900mA charging current|
|6.7V max. (variable)|
3.5V max. (variable)
|<110dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
<110dB(A) @ 0dBFS
|<0.007% @ 0dBFS|
<0.015% @ 0dBFS
|>1000mW @ 32Ω|
>74mW @ 600Ω
>6.7V max. @ 600Ω
>320mW @ 32Ω
>40mW @ 300Ω
>3.5V max. @ 600Ω
|<116dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
<115dB(A) @ 0dBFS
|THD+N||<0.005% (1V @ 16Ω)|
The xDSD Gryphon carries over the wavy metal design of the original x-series products, but this time there’s a gunmetal finish instead of shiny chrome. I prefer the more subdued motif, as it looks more upmarket, in my opinion.
To me, Gryphon’s design is just more refined overall, as the undulations in the case are just a little less severe, and the case isn’t as chunky. That said, it does have a slightly larger footprint (4.8″ x 3.0″ x 0.7″) than the xDSD and xCAN, but the difference is negligible.
It might also be noted that I am totally in love with Gryphon’s tiny rubber feet, which come pre-attached to the bottom. They keep it firmly in place on my desktop, which is a big deal. Sometimes it’s the little things.
A quick look at the front and back of the Gryphon shows no shortage of connections. There are two headphone outputs on the front (4.4mm balanced, 3.5mm single-ended), then four inputs on the back, comprised of two digital (USB-C and 3.5mm S/PDIF/Opt/Coax) and two analog (4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single-ended)
That means you can plug just about any source into this thing, including laptops, TVs, CD players, etc., and use it as a bonafide preamp.
There’s also a separate USB-C port for power/battery charging. It’s there just in case the source device doesn’t have enough juice to power the Gryphon on its own (a smartphone for example). It also helps when you’re using power-hungry headphones.
If you’re using a device like a laptop, which can provide power and data at the same time, you can use the USB-C input exclusively.
Then, of course, you can also use the internal battery to play tunes on the go once charged up. iFi says a 5V fast charger will charge it in about 6 hours.
In addition to the connectors, there’s a wide variety of buttons, lights, and switches on both sides of the device. Most notably, there’s the multi-function knob on the front panel, which has a multi-color led light to designate the volume level.
Speaking of volume, the xDSD Gryphon has CyberSync, a new feature from iFi. It’s a fantastic little function that syncs the volume adjustment between the source and the DAC/Amp.
With CyberSync, the iFi device takes control and smooths out the adjustment, so you don’t get the odd volume increments that specific sources, especially computers, are known for.
That said, at specific points, due to the sync feature, I had to be wary of the volume on the source when first connected. That’s because it would sometimes raise the volume on the Gryphon unexpectedly. For example, the UAPP app on my Samsung phone sometimes starts up at a very high volume, which will in turn raise the volume on the DAC/Amp.
Ed. Note: Initial Gryphon units with early firmware may have an issue with the amp jumping to max volume at random intervals. The current firmware, available for download on the iFi website, will resolve this issue.
Besides volume, the multi-function knob also controls muting with a short press, power on/off with a longer press, and scrolls thru/selects menu settings.
Additionally, on the front panel, there are also lights for sample rate and input, which utilize different colors to represent the various inputs and audio formats/rates. There’s also a button to switch inputs on the device, along with a button to turn on the XSpace spatializer or the XBass bass boost (or both).
On the back, next to the connectors, is a switch to adjust the XBass II bass enhancement. This turns XBass II into something of an EQ function that can enhance the “presence” or upper midrange region as well as the low end.
Unlike the original XBass, which boosted mainly mid-bass, this new feature lets you add both bass and presence to your mix, which can help headphones that sound dark and/or closed-in.
As usual, iFi does these sound enhancements well, as they are tastefully implemented without too much impact on transparency.
On the bottom of the DAC/Amp, there’s the IE Match gain switch, which reduces the gain on either the 3.5mm or 4.4mm headphone jacks. This allows you to use the Gryphon with more sensitive IEMs and headphones.
On top of the Gryphon, there’s an impressive OLED screen that shows a lot of helpful information, like battery life, source, and file format. This is the first time iFi has put a screen on one of their portable devices, and now that I have used it, I don’t know how I ever did without it.
It’s quite helpful to read exactly what type of file of playing and see its exact sample rate. I also love seeing the volume level as a numerical value. It’s also lovely to see battery level at a glance.
As expected from an iFi Audio device, there’s also a ton of tech packed inside the xDSD Gryphon.
The DAC section is based around a 32-bit Burr-Brown True Native DAC chip, with iFi GMT (Global Master Timing) clock to reduce jitter and distortion. It supports PCM files up to 32-bit/768kHz, DSD up to DSD512 (22.5 MHz), and DXD up to DXD768.
It also offers full decoding for MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) files, which means it does the complete MQA unfold inside the device, providing the highest sound quality possible. You also get access to MQA Studio tracks, which promise to reveal the exact sound approved by the artist/engineer.
Wireless output is handled by a Qualcomm QCC5100 Bluetooth 5.1 chip, which supports many audio codecs, including aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA, AAC, and SBC.
I listened to the Bluetooth connection via the hi-res wireless codecs (aptX HD, LDAC), and the sound quality was superb. Using the Hifiman Arya headphones, I can’t say I missed the wired connection at all. Of course, when I did the A-B between the USB connection and Bluetooth, the wired connection was cleaner, but the difference wasn’t as big as you would think.
Last but not least, the Gryphon has an impressive amp section, capable of 1000mW @ 32 ohms from the balanced output and 320mW from the single-ended jack. Even from the SE output, it can run some pretty hard-to-drive headphones (like the Mr. Speakers AFC Closed). You can use the balanced output for more headroom.
The left and right channels run symmetrically in a dual-mono configuration, so each has its signal path. This is supposed to reduce crosstalk and take the noise out of the signal, and I have to say the Gryphon may be the most transparent portable amp I’ve ever heard outside of iFi’s Flagship Diablo DAC/Amp.
When it comes to accessories, you get a velvet carrying pouch, instruction card, plus a good assortment of cables (USB-C to USB-A cable, a Lightning-to-USB-C cable, and a USB-C-to-USB-C cable). These three cables should cover the majority of use cases.
For most of my sound tests, I hooked up the Gryphon to my HP Envy X360 laptop with the included USB cable and played a bunch of music from the TIDAL desktop app. As far as headphones go, I mainly used the Hifiman Arya (Stealth Magnets) and the Focal Elear. My sound impressions are without XBass II, or XSpace engaged.
If I had to sum up the xDSD Gryphon’s sound in one word, it would be silky smooth. Ok, that’s two words, but I couldn’t leave out the silky part. I love the tonal balance of this DAC.
I wouldn’t quite call the Gryphon balanced because it trends warm, but the counterclockwise tuning is not overdone. The main segment of the midrange is rich and detailed, as is the presence region. The sound is very natural.
Unlike what you see with many DAC/Amps out right now (including a couple from iFi), there’s no insistent push in the upper mids reaching for that wow factor, which to me makes it sound refined.
That said, if you want a little more clarity and sparkle in that area, you can engage the XBass II + Presence setting and get some quick. I repeat it, it’s an excellent idea, especially for those who don’t like to fuss with EQ.
When it comes to the low end, there’s a little softness in the sub-bass with the standard tuning, but the mid-bass is crisp and articulate. The good thing is, you do have the XBass II option which can add in some tasteful sub-bass if you wish.
Up top, the treble is a touch rolled off, which may turn off some folks, but I love the laid-back approach, as it lets you “hear into” the music instead of having a wall of sound rushing at you.
When it comes to detail, the Gryphon’s has excellent resolution but I wouldn’t call it analytical by any means. With songs that have good musical information, it serves it up to you organically, and it doesn’t try to dig up things like lower-priced DAC/Amps often do.
In the case of Dynamics, it’s a little of a mixed bag. Macro Dynamics are really good, as transitions between portions of a song are clearly delineated and felt as you listen. In other words, it lets you feel the groove. On the other hand, micro-dynamics are a little less defined, and I wish things like percussion would hit just a bit harder.
If there’s a place where I’m totally in love with the Gryphon, it has to be in the area of Soundstage and Imaging. While it doesn’t have a super-wide soundstage without XSpace engaged, the depth and height are spectacular, and the imaging creates a 3d space with remarkable separation.
Listening to Kurt Elling and James Morrison’s “September In New York” from their “Live In New York” album was like an out of body experience, with Kurt Elling sitting in his own little bubble in the soundstage, and the instruments sitting in their own little bubbles around him.
The separation and focus were uncanny, and I could clearly hear the ambiance of the space. The Gryphon put me in the middle of the Jazz club, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The Wrap Up
In the final analysis, I found the xDSD Gryphon to be a truly remarkable piece of gear. Especially at its very affordable price of $599. While iFi has come out with some really brilliant stuff over the last couple of years, including the Zen Dac V2, iDSD Diablo, and NEO iDSD, to me this new DAC/Amp combo is the best sounding of all of them.
The Gryphon may not have the power or depth of the Diablo, but to me, it has the best tuning of any portable iFi product, and it’s also more refined than the majority of their desktop products. Its smoothness, transparency, and separation made any headphone I plugged into it sing. The sound is actually good enough to warrant a place in many 2 channel hi-fi rigs.
Add to that a sharp, easy-to-read display, great sound customization options, a lightweight, sexy design plus a ton of inputs and outputs, and you truly have a serious hi-fi system you can put in your pocket. With its awe-inspiring sound and impressive feature set, this capable DAC/Amp could be the last one many folks feel the need to buy!
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.