iFi xDSD Gryphon Review
Pros: + Neutral, transparent and accurate
+ Natural and musical sounding timbre
+ Dead silent
+ Great technicalities
+ Clear and resolving
+ Plenty of power for a portable device
+ Various sound enhancements
+ OLED screen
+ Multitude of inputs and outputs
+ Excellent Bluetooth implementation with minimal sound loss
+ Separate USB charging port
+ Compact and lightweight
Cons: – Average battery life
– A protective case is missing
– Some buttons feel loose
The Gryphon was kindly loaned to me in exchange for a honest review.
The review was originally featured in hxosplus printed edition and website.
This is the translated and adapted version for Head-Fi.
Griffin, the legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion but the head and wings of an eagle.
Yes, you read that right, this is still an audio review, the subject is the new iFi portable DAC / amp with the emblematic name xDSD Gryphon, which aspires to combine the best elements of the two previous models xDSD and xCan in a slightly only larger chassis.
It is a compact, lightweight battery-powered device that combines a high resolution digital converter with a powerful balanced topology headphone amplifier.
IFi uses a Burr-Brown Hybrid MultiBit chip, the same one found on the flagship Pro iDSD Signature, which acts both as a digital converter and a signal receiver.
A global master clock is used to greatly minimize jitter.
Thanks to the Burr-Brown chip’s four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD follow separate paths.
The xDSD Gryphon uses an amplification circuit called PureWave, it is a balanced, symmetrical dual-mono topology with short, direct signal paths.
Maximum power output is 1,000mW at 32 Ohms and a whopping max 6.7v output to drive high impedance headphones with ease.
The automatic “turbo” function adds +6dB in addition to the maximum output level, greatly increasing Gryphon’s ability to drive difficult loads, making it one of the most powerful, battery powered, DAC/amps in the market.
Furthermore iFi engineers recognised that different parts of a circuit benefit from specifically optimised feedback loops and have developed a negative feedback system that is much more accurate than the usual approach.
This incorporates multiple feedback paths instead of a global loop, each path optimised for a particular function and working synergistically with the others to deliver optimal overall performance.
The amplifier section is essentially the same as the one found in iFi’s portable flagship, the Diablo, with the only difference being the lower output power due to the smaller size of the power supply.
The volume control
A multifunction button is used to adjust the volume and navigate through the various menus.
iFi uses for the first time a software-driven volume control, called CyberSync, that operates in the analogue domain and the way it synchronises with any digital source to which the xDSD Gryphon is connected is very different.
It provides perfect volume synchronisation between the source and the DAC.
It detects which operating system (OS) the DAC is connected to – iOS, Android, Windows, Mac OS or Linux – and instructs the source’s OS to bypass its software volume control. Whether volume is adjusted using the xDSD Gryphon’s rotary control or on the source device, CyberSync ensures the change is performed purely by the Gryphon’s superior analogue control chip, while also displaying the adjustment on the source device’s screen.
Volume curves differ between operating systems and apps, but CyberSync ensures perfect synchronisation between the source device and the DAC every time.
A very handy feature is that the multifunction button is illuminated by a LED that changes color depending on volume level so you can instantly know the setting in order to protect more sensitive earphones from accidents.
The Gryphon is the first portable DAC/amp from iFi, to use an OLED screen for easier navigation through the system menus.
This is not a simple OLED screen though, it is a SilentLine design which ensures that there is no electrical noise to interfere with the audio signal.
The way its switches between settings has been engineered to ensure sonic transparency – FET-based switching is handled by a microcontroller, which only ‘wakes up’ when the user changes a setting, thus eradicating any sonically deleterious interference.
Tailor your sound
The Gryphon incorporates the following, exclusive iFi technologies that offer fine tuning to the sound.
XSpace adds back the cavernous sound stage of recordings.
XBass II reinstates the missing bass from open-backed headphones or for recordings that you hanker for bass slam.
You can select these two options by the means of a button that is located in front of the unit.
Under XBass II you can select ‘Bass’ and/or ‘Presence’ so that the upper midrange frequencies are correctly added back into your favourite recording.
This is done with a handy switch that is located at the back corner of the chassis.
iEMatch – is a proprietary tech which reduces the annoying hiss from high-sensitivity headphones without losing any dynamic range.
The option is available for both the headphone outputs and can be selected through a switch that lies underneath the chassis.
With digital sources, users can choose between three bespoke digital filters via the on-screen menu: Bit-Perfect without signal processing, Standard which is a simple low pass filter and GTO (Gibbs Transient Optimised) that does upsampling to 384/352kHz, each having a fine-tuning effect on sound.
Gryphon is a swiss army knife with a variety of inputs and outputs both analog and digital.
The user can choose between the wired USB type C and S/PDIF digital inputs or go wireless thanks for the Bluetooth 5.1 Qualcomm QCC5100 chip that supports all known codecs, from the legacy SBC to the high resolution aptX Adaptive, aptX HD,
LDAC and HWA/LHDC as well as multipoint coupling.
All digital inputs are housed in the back of the chassis together with the USB type C charging port.
The Gryphon has a separate USB type C port exclusively for charging its battery which allows it to be connected via USB while charging at the same time to accommodate for long term desktop use.
The USB digital input is compatible both with PCs and all types of tablets and mobile phones.
Sampling rates up to 768kHz / 32bit, DSD512, DXD768 are supported with full MQA decoding, while Bluetooth reaches up to 96kHz.
The Gryphon can also be used as a dedicated headphone amplifier to amplify signals through the two analog inputs (4.4mm and 3.5mm) that are located in the back of the chassis.
Input selection is done with a button that is located in the right corner of the front face.
At the left of the front face there are the balanced (4.4mm) and single ended (3.5mm) headphone outputs that can also be configured to act as dedicated line outputs with variable level.
The 3.5mm headphone output is supported by iFi’s unique S-Balanced technology which delivers the benefits of the balanced connection to single-ended headphones.
Build quality and appearance
iFi has managed to accommodate all that tech inside a chassis that is just slightly longer and thicker than the xDSD and the xCAN, a pretty novel achievement.
The compact body measures 123x75x19mm and weighs only 215g making the Gryphon your perfect travel companion while you can also accommodate it in a larger pocket.
The chassis fits in the palm of your hand and operation can be done one handed, thanks to the handy function shortcuts that can be performed by the means of the two press buttons and the rotary switch.
The all metal body has a beautiful and modern looking wave pattern while build quality is excellent.
The Gryphon comes bundled with three beautiful looking, good quality but rather short cables, a USB type C to C, a USB type C to type A and a USB type C to lighting connector.
A nice carrying pouch completes the package but a protective case should have been a nice addition.
As per usual practice, the unit was left playing music for 150 hours before listening to music.
iFi was generous enough to allow for an extended loan so I was able to have my time with Gryphon rather than doing a hasty review.
Various earphones and headphones where used, like the FiiO FD7, FiiO FH9, Focal Clear Mg, Sennheiser HD8XX, Sennheiser HD660S, HiFiMan Sundara and many others.
The Gryphon is dead silent and with the aid of the iEMatch is especially suitable for use with sensitive earphones while at the same time there is enough power for driving the majority of the full sized headphones without any distortion.
This makes the Gryphon extremely flexible and can be used both as your high end portable source and a desktop replacement at home.
As expected, the powerful amplifier and all the advanced electronic circuits have an impact on the battery life, which due to its small size has a rather limited capacity, thus offering an operating time of about six hours.
The sound is, without a single trace of exaggeration, excellent as it lacks absolutely nothing and it really became impossible to find anything negative of blame, considering of course the type of device and the price point.
A unique combination of transparency, precision and fidelity with an involving and highly musical imprint with the usual iFi naturalness of timbre and a diverse range of harmonic richness.
Visceral, deep and impactful bass with excellent layering, absolute control and great dynamic antithesis.
Rich and emotionally engaging mid-range with the most realistic tonality, instruments and voices sound lifelike and tonally correct.
Crystalline, sparkling and extended treble presentation without a hint of brightness or aggressiveness , the Gryphon is highly resolving without sounding analytical or artificial.
What is remarkable for a battery powered device is the supreme recreation of the soundstage which is extended, spacious, layered, with pinpoint imaging and great proportions, especially from the balanced output.
So if you have an earphone with good soundstaging properties then with the aid of Gryphon you are going to experience an utterly holographic sound with great ambience as I did when listening to the following French baroque album.
After trying all three digital filters, “bit perfect” became my favorite one.
The least intrusive of the three, lets the sound, without any digital manipulation, transform into wonderful music that evokes the senses and rewards the listener with great moments of pleasure.
The Gryphon may not reach the absolute technical perfection and driving ability of the Diablo but it manages to be very close while having the advantages of the smaller size and weight, much lower price and extra functions such as the bluetooth connectivity and the handy OLED screen.
Speaking of bluetooth, it’s probably the best implementation I have come across so far, in a portable device, with minimal sound quality losses.
The Bluetooth mode on the Gryphon is absolutely stellar and while the wired connection is definitely better and should be preferred when possible, the wireless performance is so good that you are not going to miss much when you need it, just make sure to use LDAC.
The Bluetooth is one of the strongest selling points of the Gryphon and it would have been just fine even if it was only wireless.
In the end
Eventually the iFi experiment was a successful one.
The xDSD and xCan were merged into one, the mighty Gryphon which is not the Frankenstein but instead a divine and majestic creature that commands the powers of music.
With the Gryphon, iFi is writing the story from the beginning, redefining the portable DAC/amp category and putting itself at the top of the list with a price to performance ratio that its competitors will have to work very hard in order to overcome.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.