The latest from iFi Audio is the xDSD Gryphon headphone DAC and Amp. This powerful yet compact DAC/Amp is a pretty impressive piece of kit, coming in at $599.00 U.S. which is not cheap, but fairly affordable for what you are getting. iFi has yet to disappoint for a given price point and with my favorite portable notion from them being the Diablo the Gryphon had a decent challenge ahead of it. There is a 400 dollar price difference between the two so should we temper our expectations or hold it to the same standards? Does the Gryphon offer the sound quality we crave or the power? Let’s get into it and find out.
Gryphon setup and features
As we would expect setup is pretty straightforward, you pick the USB C to C, Lightning cable, or USB A cable you need to connect to your desired device. If you are connecting to a computer you may have to give it a moment to recognize and install needed drivers to play to a USB device, both my Macbook Pro and Windows 10 PC automatically switched audio out to the Gryphon, though your computer may differ. After you turn on the Gryphon, by holding in the volume button, switch to the USB input using the input selection button and you are ready to go. The Gryphon can also connect using Bluetooth 5.1 and S/PDIF. Bluetooth 5.1 supports full high rez so as long as you have a Bluetooth device that can send high rez you are set here for wireless connection. As for outputs you have both Balanced and Single Ended options on the front and the back so you can perfectly position or carry the Gryphon depending on your specific use case. I used both outputs and both Bluetooth and USB inputs. Speaking of USB inputs, you will notice there are two on the back, one for charging and the other for your signal. Something to be aware of is that the signal USB will not charge it so you may need to pick up an extra USB C cable if you want to charge the Gryphon while listening to it.
Additional features include the X Bass and X Space filters that you can have on or off in any combination of the two. Depending on which headphones I had on was a nice option. There is also a nice display that you may not realize is a display until the Gryphon is on. This is a feature not found on any of the other mobile options from iFi including the Diablo, which is actually something I would love to see on a Diablo Signature if that is in the cards. The display shows the volume, input as well as which if any filters are currently on.
Gryphon Sound and User Experience
The Gryphon offers exceptional sound quality as we have come to expect from iFi Audio and with great sound a decent amount of power for the size of the Gryphon. I tested the Gryphon with Meze 99 Classics, Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro (250ohm), and as a DAC for my 2 channel setup. With the Meze 99 Classics, I left the X Bass off but did like the X SPace on, the 99’s are already warm headphones and didn’t need any help in the bass department, However, the DT990’s being a semi-open back design have much lighter bass and sounded more exciting to me with the X Bass turned on. Something to note about the Gryphon is that 250-ohm headphones are about the limit for it as I needed to have the volume up to around -5 to 0 BD to get the same volume as I was getting from the 32ohm 99 Classics at around -30db +/-. If you are rocking some 600 ohm DT990s or similar you will need to step up to the more powerful Diablo.
Digital to analog conversion is handled by the Burr Brown True Native chipset claiming to offer bit-perfect playback. There were some anomalies in the comparison between the source recording and the recording coming from the Gryphon that I can not account for, slight differences in volume that were nearly impossible to get perfectly identicle likely lead to the minor differences between them.
It looks as though in the waveform comparison with the MacBooks internal DAC we are seeing a bit of loss in dynamic range and as if some detail is being lost all together.
The detail of the Gryphon is exceptional, as is the neutral tone of the amplifier stage. The Gryphon does not add or subtract anything to the music unless you ask it too with one or both of the filters. The Xbass is nice if you have very light or bright headphones, as I mentioned with the DT990 Pro’s this was a nice boost in the bottom end. The Xspace filter helps get the music out of your head and adds a layer of airyness to it. One of the things I don’t like about headphone listening is that the stage seems to all be in one tiny spacebetween the ears, open back headphones help a great deal with this, and the XSpace adds a little to it. It will not make closed backs sound like open backs, but if you need closed backs or prefer them but want some more width to your stage it’s great tool to have available. For the pricepoint of he Gryphon it is hard to beat, especially being portable. It can act as a great upgrade at home too for someone running an older or entry level Preamp/Integraded with either a lower quality DAC or none at all.
Using the Gryphon is simple and intuitive, offering easy connection just about any device out there through either direct USB connection or Bluetooth 5.1. Battery life is also pretty good. When using the 99 Classics I was able to get around a full work day out of the Gryphon though when using the more demanding DT990 pro’s this was cut down quite a bit. Depending on your headphones and preferred volume your mileage may vary. THe charging port being separate from the audio input is both a blessing and a curse, basically you need two cables to listen and charge at the same time, but you also do not introduce powersuply noise into the audio circuit. This may be an issue for mobile users as you typically only have one output on phones or tablets. Most laptops and desktops still come with multiple USB ports or some type of docking station so its much less of an issue for those users. At home in the audio room I charge it right from the Marantz while listening so again for that use it doesn’t pose much of a problem.
The size and layout of the Gryphon is very good for the power and feature set. While it is much larger than say the Go Blu, it also pacs way more power and thus requires a bigger chassis, though it is quite a bit shorter, thinner and lighter than the Diablo. The Gryphon is very pocketable, assuming you are not a lady, someday designers will give you actual pockets. The buttons are also fairly flat and the volume knob recessed to help keep it from moving while in a pocket or backpack. It would be nice to see a software lockout for the volume know to make sure it is not adjusting volume on the go. Another note about the volume knob is you have status LED’s to show the volume level in the event that you have the screen turned off or it is not as visible in a given situation.
Another use case I tried this out in was gaming. I am an occasional PC Gamer, so I wanted to try the Gryphon with the DT990’s and compare that to my gaming headset. The sound quality and clarity difference is immense. It makes hearing footsteps and pin pointing enemys much easier. I would say if you are serious about gaming, dumb the headset and get a good pair of headphones and a DAC, as well as a dedicated mic. Now this does come at a cost, as in a money cost. My and most gaming headsets average around the price of 100 dollars. Where as my Mic, DT990’s and the Gryphon will run you around 900 dollars. If that is not in the cards the Zen Dac is much more affordable and with a pair of easier to drive headphones will also sound much better than any of the gaming headsets I have tried such as options from Corsair, Razor, Astro and Logitech.
|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 Gryohon is a stunning piece of kit at a great price, that is hard to beat honestly. It offers an awesome upgrade in power and sound quality on the go as well as an external DAC when you are at home. I would be amiss if i said the Gryphon was cheap, but in the world of Hifi it is a great value. It packs loads of features, portability, power and soundquality into a relatively small package. If you are looking at the Diablo but having a hard time with the price and don’t have 600ohm headphones perhaps the Gryphon should be where you land. As a daily driver DAC/Amp it is probably my favorite from iFI out of what I have tested. The iDSD Pro is incredible but not portable, and also very pricey, other wise that would probably be my top pick. Unlike the Go Blu where I somewhat struggled to figure out the ideal person for it, the Gryphon is really something for anyone wanting to have high-quality audio, power and mobility. This can be end game for a lot of people in the mobile audio space, and even some in the home audio depending on what you need or want out of a DAC. This needs to be on Gamer’s radar as well as offering precision that will literally help you win games. Ultimately the Gryphon needs to be on your radar as you look for your next piece of mobile hifi gear.
For more information on where you can try or buy the Gryphon head to iFi Audio’s site below
Disclaimer: iFi Audio Provided a loaned Gryphon for the purpose of conducting a review, iFi Audio nor any affiliates paid in full or part in exchange for a review.