What do you get when you take just about every form of connectivity (outside of 1/4″), both wired and wireless, and squash it into a single portable amplifier? Then you add in a high-end Burr-Brown DAC inside and make it ever-so-clean? You get something like the xDSD Gryphon Portable DAC by iFi audio. We have been playing with this one for around a week to really get a feel for it and have been blown away by its performance.
We have come across our fair share of wireless and not-so-wireless DAC amps over the years. Ranging from huge units that sit on a table/desk to something nearly as small as an Apple Shuffle that fits right in your pocket. Quality runs all over the place from decent to jaw-dropping. However, to get jaw-dropping, you are typically dishing out a lot of cash.
This one, however, brings something exquisite to the table (or the pocket) while not costing as much as we would have expected. Making it a little easier on the wallet for a wider range of consumers.
It can be used virtually anywhere thanks to an internal Li-Po (lithium-polymer) battery. So it ventures between a normal desk solution to getting close to some of the portable DAP solutions (digital audio players) out there. Although it isn’t a player, therefore it still requires a source to feed it.
What does it support?
More like, what doesn’t it support? The xDSD Gryphon offers a smorgasbord of features, covering everything from the general consumer to the obsessed audiophile.
For this section, we will begin with some of the inputs and outputs that are supported. Giving you an idea of what can feed it, and what it can deliver. Then we will move on to some of the other features throughout the body of the unit.
When it comes to inputs, this DAC operates on all levels. On the analog front (line level inputs), you have a 3.5mm input, as well as a 4.4mm balanced input. These inputs can also be used as an output if your source is anything else other than line). Allowing you to feed virtually any analog source to the DAC.
Then you venture over to the digital inputs. This includes S/PDIF, which can take signal from an optical or coaxial digital source using a Toslink Mini-Plug. An example of this would be this one from StarTech. Beyond that, it offers USB-C support, allowing you to feed it from any computer, laptop, smartphone, or tablet, that offers USB-C (or audio through USB-C for some of the mobile devices).
So you can feed it digitally via USB-C from your PC and then use the 3.5mm or balanced output to daisy over to a pair of speakers or any other source. Keeping the inputs on the front open for headphones.
In addition to these inputs, it also offers support for Bluetooth 5.1. Allowing you to wireless connect media sources (phone, laptop, computer, portable media player, etc) to it. For this purposes, it supports all of the modern Bluetooth codecs, including aptX HD and Sony’s LDAC (specifically: aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA, AAC and SBC).
So you can send audio via analog, digital, and wireless sources. Thus, it can be driven by virtually anything. Of course, Bluetooth would be your last choice compared to the other two. Analog is still king as long as you don’t have any weak links in the mix. However, digital over USB-C absolutely claims the modern throne thanks to various advances and throughput capabilities.
You also have a hard-switch for Bass, Presence (mids), or Bass+Presence. All modes given you a boost in each category. Allowing you to dial the DAC in for your listening preferences.
As for the second USB-C connection, this is reserved for power. It is used to charge the internal battery and this can be done while also actively using the DAC. Although the company does state that it will (clearly) charge slower if you do this. For the best (fastest) charge experience, iFi recommends that you keep it turned off until finished while using a fast charger (it supports up to 1900mA).
Thankfully, the company does provide all of the USB cables necessary. You have USB-C to USB-C which should cover most modern laptops, many desktop systems, and even many mobile devices. Then you have a USB-C to USB-A for desktops and laptops that lack USB-C. As well as a USB-C to Lightning for Apple users that luck a USB-C port.
You can use the USB-C to USB-C cable or the USB-C to USB-A cable to charge the DAC from a wall adapter or computer. The company does not provide a wall adapter, which is pretty common although unfortunate at the same time.
On to the front, you’ll find (again) a 3.5mm and a balanced 4.4mm connection. These would be for headphones and the only outputs on the front. Mostly because this is a headphone amp before anything else. You can use it for other means, but ultimately, this is for mid to high-end headphones.
Beyond these two outputs, there is a scrolling volume wheel that also doubles as a MFB (multi-functioning button). The most important function (outside of volume control) is power, allowing you to power the unit on and off if you long-press the wheel down for around 3 seconds. It can also play/pause music when feeding it via USB-C, using single presses. For some other sources, this will mute/unmute. It can also be used to scroll around the options menu that is triggered by the settings button.
That being said, next to this MFB volume wheel, there are two additional buttons. The closest is a settings button that allows you to quickly toggle between XBass, XSpace, or XBass+Xspace (aka even more base, or stage presence). Also, if you hold it down for around 3 seconds, it will trigger a proper settings menu. From here, you have access to all sorts of settings like Digital Filter, Screen Brightness, Volume Limiter, Factory Reset, and more.
The furthest of those two buttons is your input button as well as your pairing button for Bluetooth. So you can switch between Line, USB, S/PDIF, and Bluetooth. Holding it down while in BT mode will trigger pairing so that you can pair your source device to it.
Most of the status LEDs exist across the front of the unit. This includes giving you a visual confirmation of what format is playing, which input it is in, what settings are enabled, and the range of volume you currently have it at (colors separated into groups of dB range), The only other status LED is on the backside for charging and battery status.
The top of the DAC contains a simple OLED display. This is where you can see your various selected settings, volume, input, battery level, as well as the format being fed to it when connected via USB-C.
This screen features what iFi calls “SilentLine technology”, which means it won’t add any noise into anything. It can even be turned off to make sure, but we never felt it necessary ourselves.
We can’t forgot the final switch that is located on the bottom of the unit toward the front. This switch triggers iEMatch and can be selected between 3.5mm, 4.4mm, or off. This is a proprietary feature from iFi and can only be found on some of its products and is for pairing it with some of your higher sensitivity IEMs (in-ear monitors), helping to reduce any hiss you might experience. In most cases, you won’t need to mess with this switch. This is likely why the company chose to hide it on the bottom.
In our testing, we paired a number of in-ear models against it and none of them required use of this option.
Performance – Wired (Analog/Digital)
Finally, the most interesting part of the article. Taking a look at how well it does, what it does. And it does do what it does quite well. It won’t exactly live up to something like the SPL Phonitor x Balanced Headphone Amp/Preamp (a favorite of ours), but it does fulfill all of our expectations for an amp of its size.
Starting with Bluetooth, as mentioned, it supports nearly every codec out there. This helps it in every way live up to modern (Bluetooth) expectations. So you are only limited by your source device (and modern Bluetooth capabilities) and you’ll need something relatively modern to match up to some of these codecs. Is it going to live up to a wired analog or digital source? No. But it will match up to some of the best Bluetooth solutions out there. This is a win.
Likely, you won’t be using it for Bluetooth (much), though. The average user would be more interested in its wired performance and this is where this DAC really puts on a show. We switched between analog and USB-C sources, both of which providing an equally enjoyable experience.
Much of this time was spent connected via USB-C to a Thunderbolt dock. We used the included USB-C to USB-C cable. By doing this, it opened us up to most of your music that includes everything from general lossless FLAC files to DSD and more.
As well as MQA sources since it can properly unfold MQA source music. To make use if this though, you do need an MQA supported software (like Amarra Luxe), a media player or Tidal subscription (a popular streaming service that supports MQA).
Right out of the box, we were able to get USB-C support from the unit. Although the company does have USB drivers via its website that help you get the most out of everything when connected to a PC.
As for software, we stuck to the basics. This included VLC and Foobar2000 (including current public and beta releases). This was enough to completely win us over.
We started with various mid and high-range over-ear models of some of our favorites headphones. We bounced around until we finally broke out the Beyerdynamic DT-880 600ohm Special Edition Black headphones. Something we haven’t played with in awhile. This was a perfect chance to see how well the DAC handles such a high-impedance model (which does fall within its specs).
The end result was that the DAC handles these headphones quite well, in fact. Deep lows, crisp highs, and plenty of volume. You do (naturally) see a noticable dip in volume. Because of this, we were able to take it to the full 106dB to max out the DAC. However, we typically found ourselves within the 95-102dB range for just the right volume. This is some of the better results for these headphones from a solid state amp of this size.
We listened to “Rodrigo y Gabriela – Diablo Rojo” (DSD) which is so much fun between these headphones and this DAC. In fact, the entire album is a lot of fun to listen to. Enough that I personally listened to the whole album twice before taking the headphones from my head and needing a break to walk around and stretch (I say it time and time again–I do love my job).
We wound up spending the most of our time with the Beyerdynamic headphones attached. Digging around all sorts of albums. Boz Scaggs, Sting, Dire Straits, and more. All of it sounding magnificent. Then we switch to MP3 to really take a chance and the outcome of that was fantastic as well.
Of course, we wouldn’t recommend spending too much time on MP3 as this becomes your weak point, for sure. However, the results were well enough to spend a good amount of time listening to some of the content that was there. Before bouncing back to higher-res files (of course). But again, for MP3, the experience was still fantastic.
We even broke out Audeze Euclid Closed-Back Planar Magnetic In-Ear Headphones and connected them with a 4.4mm balanced cable. We did have to take the volume up to around 70dB+ to get the best spot for the in-ears, but it drove them quite well. Turning on iEMatch wasn’t necessary as they were very clean, but we tried it anyway. The only difference we noticed was about a 10dB drop in volume.
Performance – Wireless (Bluetooth)
Now we switch over to Bluetooth 5.1 and pair it with one of Samsung’s flagship Galaxy models. This opens us to the latest AptX codecs as well as Sony’s LDAC, and another great experience as a result.
This is where the xDSD Gryphon becomes wireless, for the most part. Your headphones are still wired into it, but nothing else needs to be connected at this point. Unless you plug it in to charge while using it.
The experience is nothing like going wired, though. Again, this is because Bluetooth just doesn’t live up to a wired connection (yet). Eventually, we will get there, but that day hasn’t come yet. That being said, you are limited to a max of 96kHz depending on both your connected device as well as source content.
In our case, we spend all of our time listening to FLAC music, and again, it was a great experience (for Bluetooth). And again, this should simply be seen as a “oh, and I can also use it for this” kind of feature. Not something you’d be spending all of this money for.
It, at least, lives up to modern-day expectations when it comes to Bluetooth. And for that, it sounds great.
Price and Availability
With an MSRP of $599, the xDSD Gryphon may sound a little expensive. However, audiophile products are always expensive. For example, our aforementioned favorite solid state headphone amp (SPL Phonitor X) ranges in the thousands. So when it comes to price, iFi really delivered a fantastic product for what it is.
It is currently available. In fact, it’s actually been out for around a year now. It just took us this long to sit down with one.
Many hours were spent listening with this DAC and none of it was undesirable. I guarantee many more hours will be had with it as we continue to pair it to various tracks/artists as well as headphone models. From Beyerdynamic to Sennheiser to HiFiMan, to Audeze. We have already paired it with so many great options, all of which sounding terrific. The end result is a DAC that many audiophiles would appreciate having on their desk.
It helps that we are also big fans of Burr-Brown DAC solutions. For example, to this day, we still feel that the first-gen Yamaha Avantage AVR sounds better (in general) than all of the generations that have launched since. After that first model, Yamaha switched to ESS Sabre DACs, which sound great but just not the same (to each, their own). When it comes to this xDSD Gryphon, it feels like a wonderful pairing like a good wine to a delicious filet mignon.
The price point feels right as this DAC is a great find for the cost. It competes well with some larger name solutions that cost nearly twice it’s price (as well as some others that are simply a few hundred more). This is always a big win for a company like iFi as it will help promote getting its name out there all the better (for those that don’t already know who they are, at least).
In the end, it won our vote for Editors’ Choice 2022. We will likely come back and update this article as anything else really jumps out at us.
|Inputs||Wireless||Bluetooth 5.1 (aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA, AAC and SBC Codec)|
|Wired (analogue)||Balanced 4.4mm|
|DXD||768/705.6/384/352.8kHz, Double/Single-Speed DXD|
|Bluetooth||Up to 96kHz|
|Battery||USB-C charging. BC1.2 compliant up to 1900mA charging current|
|Outputs||Balanced||6.7V max. (variable)|
|S-Bal (SE)||3.5V max. (variable)|
|Output Impedance||Balanced||</=200 ohm|
|S-Bal (SE)||</=100 ohm|
|Balanced||<110dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
|S-Bal (SE)||<110dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
|Balanced||<0.007% @ 0dBFS|
|S-Bal (SE)||<0.015% @ 0dBFS|
|S-Bal (SE)||3.5mm SE|
|Output Power||Balanced||>1000mW @ 32 ohm|
|>74mW @ 600 ohm|
|>6.7V max. @ 600 ohm|
|S-Bal (SE)||>320mW @ 32 ohm|
|>40mW @ 300 ohm|
|>3.5V max. @ 600 ohm|
|Output Impedance||Balanced||<1 ohm|
|S-Bal (SE)||<1 ohm|
|SNR||Balanced||<116dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
|S-Bal (SE)||<115dB(A) @ 0dBFS|
|THD+N||<0.005% (1V @ 16 ohm)|
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