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Golden Ears: iFi xDSD Gryphon Portable Balanced DAC/Amp Review

Portable Powerhouse

Christopher Coke Updated: Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

As PC enthusiasts, we’re all about the tech that drives our favorite experiences. Sometimes that means a great graphics card. Sometimes a high-end monitor. But here at Golden Ears, it’s all about audio. Today, we’re looking at a brand new portable DAC/amp from the team at iFi Audio with the iFi xDSD Gryphon. It offers a full watt of power to drive even the most demanding headphones, wired or high-res Bluetooth support, the ability to act as a high-res soundcard for your PC, balanced and single-ended support, so you won’t be left searching for cables, and even the ability to increase bass and soundstage at the push of a button. Coming in at $599, it’s competitively priced while still being prime Golden Ears territory. 

Enough with introductions. Let’s dig into this killer piece of kit.

Specifications

Click to Enlarge

iFi xDSD Gryphon - Overview and First Impressions

Thousand-foot view: the iFi xDSD Gryphon is a powerful and portable DAC and amplifier that supports both balanced and single-ended connections, and is also Bluetooth-enabled to cut the cord when on the go. It features an excellent, high-resolution multi-bit DAC and a full watt of power (balanced, 320mW single-ended), so you can drive demanding headphones but somehow manages to be nearly the same size as the Hip-dac2 (reviewed here a couple weeks ago). There’s a built-in OLED screen to quickly keep track of your source, resolution, Bluetooth codec, volume, and more. It supports full MQA unfolding, DSD, DXD, LDAC, AptX Adaptive, and virtually every other high-res Bluetooth codec. It’s also fully compatible with PC and can act as an external soundcard, elevating your entire entertainment experience from gaming to getting down with your favorite music.

This is a device designed to deliver the full audiophile experience no matter where you happen to be and doesn’t demand multiple bricks and a mess of wires to achieve it. It is a wholesale success. At this price, you would be right to say it should be, but, the reality is that there are other devices out there trying to do similar things, but few are quite as good as the xDSD Gryphon at this price. It’s an expensive product but also a high-value one looking at the wider market. The mix of features, power, and enjoyable sound really make it something special.

As we’ve seen with the other iFi products we’re reviewed recently, the company is very targeted with the products it offers and fine-tunes them to meet that particular market. The Gryphon is the third in a trio of recently released products to meet the needs of different consumers. The iFi Go Blu was for the portable user who wanted above-average power and sound quality but in as small of a package as possible. The iFi Hip-dac2 was for the user who didn’t mind connecting with a wire and needed some extra power in a small and stylish package. The iFi xDSD Gryphon combines those two worlds, providing users the option to connect wired to their PC or smartphone, or to connect wireless without sacrificing anything in-between.

Zooming in for a closer look, we find a device that feels eminently premium. Like the Hip-dac2, the body is made entirely of metal, but it’s thicker and features a grooved surface to improve grip and aesthetics. Aesthetically, it’s very similar to the original iFi xCAN.  The face of the unit features a bold multi-function volume wheel that feels great to use with its clicky tactile steps and click-action. Two buttons reside to the right, nearly flush with the xDSD’s surface. One is used for selecting the input source. The other is used to sound-craft between xBass II and xSpace and can be held to enter the system menu. To the left of the wheel are 3.5mm and 4.4mm inputs for S-Balanced (single-ended) and traditional balanced outputs, as well as an RGB LED to quickly display the audio format being streamed.

Around the rear of the unit are the inputs to physically connect the Gryphon to different sources. There are two USB-C ports, one for power and the other for connectivity (but both can be configured to deliver power for use with PC). There’s also S/PDIF, 3.5mm, and 4.4mm inputs. There’s also an xBass switch to customize the sound even further, but I’ll get to that in a moment. 

The top and bottom of the unit also have notable features. The top houses the aforementioned OLED screen and displays all of the pertinent information for your listening. The bottom of the unit features four pre-installed rubber feet to protect your desk and an IEMatch switch. This feature allows the xDSD Gryphon to intelligently adjust its power output to match the earphones currently connected. Enabling it reduces line noise for a cleaner signal and takes some of the guesswork out of finding a good level for your earphones. 

Under the hood, the Gryphon is running a Burr-Brown multi-bit DAC. It’s a high-quality chipset, able to output up to 32-bit/768kHz audio, which is top of the line right now. More importantly, it supports all of the important high-res audio formats, like DSD 512, DXD, and MQA for Tidal master tracks. It has a neutral sound that doesn’t color the audio unduly and delivers excellent dynamics for a realistic, spacious, and slightly warm sound.

With that, let’s get into the listening impressions!                     

iFi xDSD Gryphon - xBass II and xSpace

Headphones used for testing: 7Hz Timeless (IEM), Moondrop Kato (IEM), HIFIMAN Sundara (planar over-ear), Meze 99 Neo (dynamic over-ear), Sennheiser HD6XX (dynamic over-ear)

Like any good DAC, the iFi xDSD Gryphon does not transform your headphones. It doesn’t suddenly turn a shrill headset into a lusciously warm one or vice versa, but it absolutely can help those headphones reach their potential and solve some problem that may have been plaguing them. Your HIFIMAN Sundara won’t suddenly become a bass-cannon, but with the help of xBass II and xSpace, you can restore that low-end punch without ever touching a software EQ and expand the soundstage at the same time. 

Like the Go Blu, xBass II and xSpace are hardware-based sound enhancements that allow you to tailor the sound to your own taste. xBass II really fills out the low-end and adds thump. Compared to its little brother, the implementation here is improved. There is more power to the bass enhancement — which could potentially make the feature a turn-off for some users, if not for the added switch on the back. Using that switch, you can choose from Bass, Presence, or Bass + Presence. 

Bass really leans into the low-end enhancement, but Presence draws out the middle frequencies and restores some of the detail clarity that might otherwise be lost. I found this could sometimes sound a bit harsh on its own (depending on the headphone: this occurred with the Sundaras but not the Sennheisers or Meze 99s) but enabling Bass + Presence tamed it down on those tracks. It’s a best of both worlds approach and made my Sundara’s much more fun sounding without losing the detail retrieval they’re known for.

xSpace, on the other hand, is all about enhancing the soundstage. On the Go Blu, I found that it really acted like a treble boost. That effect is reduced here and instead, it truly does enhance the sense of space, separation, and atmosphere in your listening. It’s not a reverb effect like you’ll find from virtual surround sound gaming solutions but is more natural and non-destructive to the sound. 

iFi xDSD Gryphon - Listening and Daily Use Impressions

I’ve spent a bit more than a week with the iFi xDSD Gryphon and have absolutely fallen in love. There is a musicality to the sound thanks to the Burr-Brown DAC that I found very enjoyable. Everything I listened to, from rock and metal to folk and classical, presented wonderfully with this portable DAC/amp. The dynamic range is excellent and the timbre realistic and natural, giving the sound a holographic quality with excellent depth and width. 

Imaging and detail were also impeccable. I plugged in my HIFIMAN Aryas and found the Gryphon lacked nothing compared to my desktop DAC/amp stack. I was able to pull apart exactly where sounds and instruments were coming from, each with a sense of space and breathing room. This was a full-fledged listening experience. The Gryphon is not a device that forces you to sacrifice, well, much of anything.

That includes wireless listening. One of the reasons I loved the Go Blu was because of how easy it made listening to music on the go without being tethered to my phone. While the Gryphon is certainly more of a brick than the Go Blu, I didn’t find it to be cumbersome to carry around in my coat pocket. Like the Go Blu, I found myself wishing for a belt clip so I didn’t need to carry it in my pocket alongside my phone once I was settled at the office. Bluetooth connectivity is improved here, however, which is a good thing because I was able to move from room to room (15-20 feet with one to two walls in between) without the sound dropping out in the same way.

When I was able, I always chose to plug into my computer for a dedicated wired experience and to top my battery off, but I frequently found myself listening over Bluetooth with LDAC. The sacrifice going from wired to LDAC might be audible to dedicated audio enthusiasts trying to focus in on them, but going throughout the day when your focus is split on different tasks, that’s much less of a concern. The xDSD Gryphon let me enjoy my favorite headphones even when I needed to get up from my desk.

It’s also worth noting here that much of my listening was done on the single-ended connection and the unit didn’t lack power. This was a concern at first because there is a big difference in output between single-ended and balanced: 320mW versus 1000mW balanced. If you’re running very demanding cans, it is worth investing in a balanced upgrade cable to take advantage of the extra power. But, the Gryphon was able to drive both my Sundaras (planar) and my HD6XXs with headroom to spare. 

If you plan on using the Gryphon with PC, there’s a good chance you’ll be using it for gaming. I’m happy to share that it is an excellent audio upgrade for gamers. The precision imaging and ability to increase bass and soundstage is excellent for single-player and competitive multiplayer games alike. I had no trouble picking out enemy footsteps before they had even made it to my floor in Battlefield 2042 and the sense of cinematic scope made playing the game a blast.  

Final Thoughts

At this point, it’s painfully obvious that I found the iFi xDSD Gryphon to be an exceptionally great piece of gear. I’ve struggled to find points of criticism. The power disparity between single-ended and balanced outputs is surely one and something every user should know going in. Beyond that? Nitpicks. There are no track controls on the multifunction dial. There’s no 6.35mm input. I long for a belt clip. And, well… that’s it.

The Gryphon is a fantastic piece of gear that hits virtually every mark. It’s great for portable listening. It’s great for connecting to a PC or other “sit-down” audio source. It’s tuned to sound excellent and has an outstanding implementation of xBass and xSpace. 

Compared to its prior two releases, this device takes aim at both of those audiences and nails its delivery to both. The Gryphon has set me on creating an award specifically for Golden Ears products, but until that arrives, our gold stamp will have to do. If you have the funds, this device is an excellent buy and earns my highest recommendation. 

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

9.5Amazing
Pros
  • Excellent build quality
  • Outstanding sound - natural, detailed, slightly warm
  • xBass II and xSpace are even better
  • Wireless and wired support
  • Feature-rich and built well
Cons
  • No track controls
  • Big power difference between balanced and single-ended


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight


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