Today we are talking about a new piece of gear from iFi Audio. Its no secret I enjoy iFi’s gear, but the XDSD line (original XDSD and XCAN) are two pieces I have never heard. The “X” series is iFi’s more portable line of source equipment and amps, vs the regular iDSD series (which I have heard and reviewed in the past.) The original XDSD was an all in one portable DAC/Amp combo, and the XCAN was primarily an amp for use with the XDSD, but it also had DAC/Amp capabilities, but only via bluetooth. The XDSD, whilst being slightly larger than the original XDSD line, aims to combine the two previous products, whilst also adding a few features and increasing the sound quality. Whilst the $600USD retail price of the new XDSD Gryphon is not insignificant, I think it is reasonable given the feature set, and sound quality.
The first thing we have to talk about are the capabilities of the Gryphon. I will do my best not to forget anything, as it is extensive. First off, inputs. The Gryphon can take USB-C, either separated into power and data inputs, or used combined on one input. It can also take SPDIF via a 3.5mm mini connector, and I think this also takes a mini optical input as a dual use input. The third digital input is the bluetooth input, which is capable of taking all current popular codecs. Lastly, there are both 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm single ended analog inputs to use the XDSD as an amp only.
Secondly are the outputs. On the front of the device there are 3.5mm “S-Balanced” and 4.4mm balanced outputs. The 3.5mm and 4.4mm inputs on the rear of the device are also dual use, to be used as line outputs as a DAC into whichever amp you please.
On the right hand side of the front of the Gryphon are the bluetooth/input selector, and the “Xspace” and “XBASS” selectors. This button can also be used to access the main menu of the device for setting your preference of filter etc…There are three settings for the Xspace and XBass features, either on, or both on. On the rear of the device, you can also choose if you want to bass setting to only boost bass, the 3000Khz “presence” region, or both. On the bottom of the unit is iFi’s “IEMatch” option, for easy to drive IEM’s, reducing hiss.
The feature set is the most extensive I have seen or tried on any piece of portable gear thus far. The fact the Gryphon manages this, whilst also providing a solid max power output, and decent battery life, whilst also not being huge, is honestly pretty remarkable. Now, all of that doesn’t matter if the Gryphon doesn’t sound good. Thankfully, it does.
In terms of overall tonal balance and “sound” I would say the Gryphon tends to be more similar to the iDSD Diablo flagship portable from iFi vs perhaps the iDSD Black label, or the original silver Micro series gear from iFi. This means the tonal balance is a bit less warm and smooth, and more focused on detail and a neutral sonic performance. I have no problems with this, and although years ago I tended to prefer warmer gear, I have slowly moved towards preferring more neutral gear. Sonic preferences, like most things, can change with time.
Now, as a pure DAC, using either the 3.5mm or 4.4mm output, the Gryphon performed in a solid manner. I don’t think it was as good as the iDSD Diablo, trailing slightly in terms of technical performance and resolution, but it was also a step up from the ZenDAC I reviewed about a year ago. In terms of using the Gryphon single ended or balanced, if you can, I would go balanced. The Gryphon does seem to perform better from its balanced outputs, either the headphone amp section or the DAC section. I never found the Gryphon bright or sharp sounding, which is something I notice fairly quickly usually if it is present. The overall detail levels, both micro and macro, whilst not groundbreaking, are totally in line with the price point.
Used as an all in one DAC/Amp is where the Gryphon shines in my opinion. It has a fairly healthy Max output of 1W at 32 ohms from the 4.4mm output, and can drive easy to medium difficulty headphones well. For hard to drive headphones I would recommend iFi’s iDSD Signature, and iDSD Diablo, as they will drive them in a much more convincing manner. Again, overall tonal balance is fairly neutral but I do think the amp section is perhaps adding a tiny bit warmth and overall fullness vs the DAC only section. I could be wrong in that thought, but that was what I felt I was hearing a few times. The Xspace setting is similar to the 3D crossfeed on other iFi pieces of gear, and I feel it works great on some tracks, less so on others. It will be entirely personal preference, so experiment with it and see what you personally enjoy. A word of caution, it can increase the upper mids and highs somewhat, so will make things a bit brighter. The Xbass setting is a tasteful boost, and if I wasn’t using software EQ on my computer would use it with a lot of headphones. I like a robust low end however, so again, try it out and see how you feel about it personally. Again, overall detail levels, both micro and macro are entirely in line with the asking price for the Gryphon, but nothing groundbreaking. The amp seemed to do soundstaging quite well and portrayed a nice sense of depth and width. Dynamic swings were handled in a convincing and capable manner. I do think with something like the Susvara it was running out of juice and didn’t have a convincing low end performance, but one can hardly expect the Gryphon to do so, that’s not what it is designed and built to do.
I never ended up using the Gryphon as an AMP only, as I didn’t feel I had a DAC that would be worth trying out in that capacity.
For input choice I usually ended up using the USB C input combined into one input for Data and charging. This made things a lot simpler and easy for connecting my laptop. If you are a purist, I could certainly understanding using the separate inputs, or the SPDIF input if your source has a SPIDIF output. I also used the bluetooth input extensively from my phone and laptop. Both performed well using APTXHD, and AAC. I do think the overall sound quality is still better wired, but the bluetooth was entirely usable and I would recommend it if you need less clutter and cables. Battery life was always a solid 6 hours or more, depending on what you were doing. If you are driving hard to drive headphones loudly, it will be shorter. DAC only mode will likely get about 8 hours, perhaps slightly less.
In terms of direct comparison as a DAC/Amp, I had a Fiio Q3mk2 on hand, which is much more comparable to the iFi Hip DAC V2. However, I figured it would provide a useful A/B test so gave it a go. The Fiio was a bit sharper in the highs, and sounded sort of claustrophobic in comparison. The Gryphon was an overall much more enjoyable listen in terms of tonal balance (less bright) and also had much more accomplished sound staging abilities in particular. The Fiio sounded sort of flat and lacking depth, and the Gryphon definitely improved on those areas. With that being said, it is still a $600USD piece of gear, so won’t compete with more expensive desktop gear, but that’s not what it is built to do.
In terms of negatives, I think the release of the Gryphon may have been rushed slightly. I didn’t personally have any firmware problems, but in following the discussions on forums, some people were having issues like the volume jumping to the maximum setting if the sample rate of the file changed, blowing their ears off. Not good. There were also some other little problems people were having with the firmware, but thankfully most seem to have been rectified with subsequent updates which are easy to install. If you end up purchasing a Gryphon I would recommend just checking out your firmware quickly and making sure you have the most recently upgraded option. It will make for a smoother experience hopefully.
Overall the Gryphon seems like the logical evolution of the “X” Series from iFi. It takes two pieces of gear, makes them sound better, puts them both in one chassis, and even adds some functionality, whilst not massively increasing the units size. If you don’t need the power and features of the iDSD Diablo/Signature, the Gryphon is iFi’s most complete and comprehensive portable unit yet. It’s like a Hip DAC V2 on steroids mixed with the iDSD Diablo. If you need a portable unit, the Gryphon might be the best option on the market currently, as long as it has enough power for your needs. If you are driving a wide variety IEMs and headphones, or just want a real Swiss Army knife of a source, the Gryphon might be worth a look!