What a feeling to fly
Over mountains and forests and seas
And to go anywhere that I please.."
I am glad to inform you that today we are scheduled to meet with the new masterpiece of portable audio from the British brand iFi Audio!
In 2021, which we just had, iFi brought the world a range of absolutely amazing audio devices, updating already highly popular models with the release of HIP-DAC 2, micro iDSD Signature and the grandiose flagship of the iDSD line - Diablo, a line of PRO devices and ZEN-series, and also expanded its assortment with new products: Zen Stream (network player / streamer), desktop audio combine NEO iDSD and miniature masterpiece - GO blu.
And now there has been a landmark update to the xDSD line, which many audiophiles have been waiting for with awe - the brilliant Gryphon DAC / Headphone Amplifier! The Gryphon is a mythological winged creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle. Indeed, if you ride our flying beast from iFi you can soar to the most distant sonic heights! Flying high, high I'm a bird in the sky!
But before proceeding directly to the review, let me wholeheartedly congratulate everyone on the already come New Year, wish you good health, happiness and all kinds of blessings! And if Santa Claus has already given out his gifts, then the audio-ph editorial board is just starting to do it.
So let's flap our wings, take to the skies and fly into the realm of sound, "flying high, high like a bird in the sky" with xDSD Gryphon!
Text: Alexey Kashirskey (aka Hans Barbarossa)
DAC chip: Texas Instruments Burr-Brown DSD1793 (Bit-Perfect Burr Brown DSD, DXD, PCM)
Display: OLED / CyberSync (monochrome)
Formats: PCM / DXD 32 bit / 768 kHz and DSD512
Full support for MQA x16 up to 384 kHz
Digital filters: Standart, Bit-Perfect, GTO
Bluetooth: 5.1 (aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, LHDC/HWA, AAC and SBC Codec)
Inputs: USB-C (Charging), USB-C (Data), S/PDIF, 4.4mm (Balanced), 3.5mm (Single-Ended)
Headphone Outputs: 3.5mm (S-Balanced), 4.4mm (Balanced)
3.5mm (<1 ohm) / 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced (<1 ohm)
3.5mm output power: 320mW @ 32Ω, 40mW @ 300Ω, 3.5V @ 600Ω
Output power 4.4 mm: 1000 mW at 32 ohms, 74 mW at 600 ohms, 6.7V at 600 ohms
Functions: Xbass + and Xspace +
Battery: Lithium-polymer 3600mAh
SNR: Balanced S-Bal (SE) <116dB (A) @ 0dBFS / S-Bal (SE) <115dB (A) @ 0dBFS
THD + N: <0.005% (1V @ 16Ω)
Dimensions: 123x75x19 mm
Weight: 215 gr.
Appearance and kit
xDSD Gryphon comes in a presentable white box, the top of which is a print wrap. Above is the brand logo, next to it there are already two golden stickers, Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Audio wireless, in the center is a photo of the device in all its glory, and below is the designation of the model and its type of activity: xDSD Gryphon - Ultra-Res portable DAC + Headphone amp.
A complete list of technical features and specifications can be found on the side and back of the package.
Next, put forward a boiled white box with silver letters "ifi". Everything, as always, with my beloved Britons - stylish, laconic, neat, but without the slightest hint of boring stiffness.
With trepidation, we open the box and extract all the contents from it: the xDSD Gryphon itself, three connecting cables (USB type-C / USB type-C, USB type-C / Lightning, USB type-C / type-A), then we take out the fabric case, an "iFi" sticker, instructions and a warranty card.
Well, now let's get down to admiring the device, without this, in the case of iFi creations, it is absolutely impossible.
Like its predecessor, the first xDSD, Gryphon received an original and striking appearance. It resembles an exquisite cigarette case or flask with longitudinal ribs. However, a number of key points have been improved here.
To begin with, the dimensions of the device have slightly increased (123 x 75 x 19 mm), its weight is 215 grams, the color is now silver-gray matte metallic, the material is aluminum. Looks Gryphon, I want to tell you, unusually beautiful, but in the hands it feels even better!
The upper part has taken over a nice oblong OLED screen, which displays all the necessary information about the format being played, connection, battery level and additional functions.
On the front panel of the device there are two headphone outputs (3.5 mm TRS and 4.4 mm Pentaconn TRRS balanced), two indicators that display the selected input and the frequency of the reproduced signal, and a round volume control with a small LED signaling the level in different colors signal. The regulator, in combination, is also a button, when pressed, the device turns on / off. Slightly to the right are two indicators of the XBass + (bass increase) and XSpace + (space expansion) modes, the button for switching these modes, which, when pressed for a long time, takes us to the function menu (all information is displayed on the screen): Selecting a digital filter - Standard / Bit-Perfect / Gto; Voice assistant; Adjust the brightness of the screen; Dual USB Type-C charging capability, and reset function. Next comes the button for switching inputs: USB / BT / SPDIF / Line-Out. She, when pressed for a long time, searches for devices for pairing via the Bluetooth protocol. All information is clearly displayed on the screen of the device.
On the rear panel there is a switch (Bass / Presence), a USB type-C connector for connecting a power adapter and charging the device (under it there is an LED indicating the battery charge level), digital inputs: USB type-C and S / PDIF, and also two analog line outputs: balanced 4.4mm (BAL) and 3.5mm (SE).
The bottom side received a three-position iEMatch: switch (3.5mm / 4.4mm / Off) and four silicone feet placed at the corners of the device. The back side of the case, where the BT-receiver is located, is covered with plastic, as a result of this approach, there should be no problems with the wireless signal.
The build quality raises no objections, no backlashes and gaps. Everything is extremely reliable.
Separately, I would like to mention the chic volume control, reminiscent of a flask lid, with precise, "clacking" adjustment, an unusually smooth ride and a multi-colored LED.
The battery, when switching between different digital signal sources (USB / Coaxial / BT), on average, lasts about 8 hours. Charging time takes approximately 4 hours.
As I already mentioned, the battery charge level is shown on the screen, and is also highlighted by an LED on the back of the device (a handy thing, especially if you charge the device in the off mode):
Yellow: ≤ 85%
Red (flashing): ≤ 10%
The indicator flashes / lights up while the device is charging.
Now let's summarize what's new in the second version:
1) Informative OLED display.
2) 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output (TRRS).
3) High power of the device.
4) Bluetooth 5.1 QCC 5100 / (codecs: aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA, AAC and SBC).
5) Full support for MQA x16 up to 384 kHz.
6) Choice of digital filters: Standard, Bit-Perfect, GTO.
7) Improved work of functions: Xbass + and Xspace +.
8) iEMatch for 3.5mm / 4.4mm.
9) New volume control.
10) USB type-C charging and USB type-C digital input
11) Updated design.
With such updates, Gryphon can honestly be considered a completely new product!
At the same time, we have not yet reached the main reason for which this review was written - the "voices" of our hero. And here, I want to inform you, the most impressive leap has occurred. But let's talk about this a little later.
When connecting the device to a computer via USB, it is recommended to go to the manufacturer's website and install the appropriate USB audio (ASIO) driver. The driver is downloaded and installed quickly. After installing the driver, an icon with the iFi brand logo appears in the tray and the system automatically finds the xDSD Gryphon. If you, like me, use the foobar 2000 software player, go to preference / output and select the device we need from the list. I also recommend updating the product software (firmware), which is also posted on the manufacturer's website in the "support" section. Personally, when I received the device, I fully charged it and immediately rolled the new firmware.
My scenario for using the device turned out to be the following: xDuoo x10t II digital transport via S / PDIF (optics, coaxial), Huawei p20 pro smartphone (USB) using the UAPP software player + Bluetooth (HWA) connection, Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 plus tablet - Bluetooth (LDAC), PC via USB with foobar2000 player (Asio iFi driver). In all these cases, no problems arose.
Well, we seem to have figured out the kit, appearance and functionality, now we raise our wings and fly forward to the sound heights!
The xDSD Gryphon's capabilities are impressive without any caveats, both for wired and wireless connections.
The device is built on a Texas Instruments Burr-Brown DSD1793 DAC chip.
Before listening, the device was burn-in for about 70-80 hours.
We used: Beyerdynamic DT250/250, Phonon SMB-02, Phonon 4400, Softears RS10 & RSV, FIR Audio M5 & VxV, 64 AUDIO A12t & A18, Vision Ears VE8, EVE20 & VE4.2, InEar ProMission X & ProPhile 8.
Mostly the 3.5mm output was used, with the exception of the IEM FIR VxV which was connected to the 4.4mm balanced output.
The device played very well with all IEM / CIEM / Headphones, no genre deviations were noticed.
Digital signal sources: Dell XPS laptop, Huawei P20 Pro smartphone + USB Audio Player PRO, Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 plus (BT), xDuoo X10t II portable digital transport.
Let's start with impressions when using USB and S / PDIF connections.
In fact, it is quite difficult to describe the sound of the device, which is almost impossible to find fault with.
From the very first minutes of listening, the device takes a rather serious approach to sound production, demonstrating excellent dynamics, practicing attacks, separating instruments, as well as working out plans, with a stunning transfer of the volume of an imaginary space. This is a neutral, well-balanced and unusually melodic manner of conveying the material.
The device transmits well the timbre component, the development of quiet and loud sounds, reverberations, as well as macrodynamics with a moderate, sensitive display of micro-contrast.
Gryphon does not try to push forward all the smallest details of the composition, he does it delicately, correctly outlining the volume of virtual space, portraying audio images harmoniously and proportionally, in a balanced and extremely naturalistic way.
In terms of the "level of competence", so to speak, the sound of xDSD Gryphon gravitates to what the flagship iFi shows us - iDSD Diablo, but in terms of sound habits, their handwriting, their manners are still different.
Where the older brother strikes with scale, conveying the width of an imaginary soundstage and his analytical manner of presenting material, Gryphon, with a slightly restrained rendering of the width of space, takes depth, conveying volume and macrodynamics. That is, switching from iDSD Diablo to xDSD Gryphon is not perceived as a transition from a higher quality sound source to a lower quality one. Rather, it is like comparing two exemplary audio systems with partially similar and at the same time different manner of sound delivery, realized in different acoustic conditions.
And, of course, it is worth noting here the fact that the scenario of using the iFi iDSD Diablo with sensitive IEM/CIEM is very doubtful, since it has excess power for this. Whereas xDSD Gryphon is ideal for such purposes.
In general, I will say this, if you need a sound source that can cope with a wide range of headphones, including even planar full-size models, and for all its portability can be a good replacement for a stationary system, then you probably won't find a better iDSD Diablo. And if you need portability in a more compact size, with a flexible use case and the ability to work with both sensitive in-ear IEMs and high-impedance full-size headphones (we do not take planar models into account, here you need to look towards the older brother - Diablo), then the choice Gryphon would be the best solution in my opinion. Well, do not forget that there is still the possibility of receiving a digital signal over the air (Bluetooth), which is perfectly implemented, which the older brother does not have.
Ok Ok, let's go back directly to the description of the sound of our hero, otherwise I got carried away a little by comparisons.
The sound of the xDSD Gryphon is thoroughbred, smooth and clean, with a bodily filling of sound images. The device has a wide dynamic range, excellent speed characteristics, excellent tonal balance and amazing musicality. This is a living layer of sound, in which a plastic, neutral, well-balanced manner and refined melody coexist harmoniously.
The low-frequency range is worked out precisely and bitingly, striking the ear with a clear pop and a tight, powerful blow. The bass is fast, prominent, dense and well-assembled, maintains the atmosphere with its dynamic manner, keeps the rhythm clearly and fills the middle with a dense velvety substance. The drums are extremely accurate, like artillery volleys, shoot their blows, scattering on both sides of the listener, and the parts of the bass guitar, cellos and double bass are transmitted unusually deep, lively and dynamically. The strength of each individual blow is clearly discernible. The register is transmitted cheerfully and harmoniously, powerfully and with the proper pressure!
Mids are distinct, smooth, natural, rich in timbre and texture. Here, every musical instrument and audio image is conveyed accurately and vividly. It is a well-balanced, pliable and multidimensional picture, with striking contrast and wide dynamic range, where every sound or instrument and every note played is clearly in its place in space. Stringed instruments, pipes and pianos - everything sounds pure, noble and harmonious. Male and female voices are displayed in relief, dense and naturalistic. There are no bright peaks or dips, everything is clear and to the point. This is a neutral, unusually dynamic, melodious, detailed and at the same time comfortable manner, presented in a melodic form.
High frequencies cleanly and clearly work out their own, correctly adding gloss and charm to the listening compositions. There are not many and not a few of them, just as much as needed. They are moderately restrained, there is not the slightest hint of friability or distortion in them. Everything is as honest, accurate and natural as possible. xDSD Gryphon transmits this register extremely competently, gracefully and multifaceted, smooth and informative, with good articulation, which completes the overall frequency harmony. Qualitative development of this range and nothing more. How I like it!
In terms of preference for musical genres, no weak points were found in the iFi xDSD Gryphon. He perfectly copes with everything: classical music, instrumental, jazz, electronics, old school rock and all kinds of brutal music styles.
Signal transmission via Bluetooth protocol.
When switching to a wireless connection, the sound of the device remains at a sufficiently high level, which is truly surprising. This is still the same manner as through the wires, but a little denser, with a little warmth and a greater depiction of the depth of the imaginary space.
Yes, the audio canvas loses a little in the transmission of micro-contrast, but at the same time it adds plasticity in relief, giving audio images more convex, and in general it becomes more musical. An amazing result. To be honest, I have never heard such sound quality when using various devices via Bluetooth. Although, it would seem, only recently I was very surprised by the capabilities of the iFi Go Blu baby, which I am not parting with now, but here the iFi engineers went further, making the sound even more serious.
xDSD Gryphon is, without exaggeration, an amazing machine! Everything is perfect in it: from design, implementation of the technical part, to the main thing - sound. It is a completely complete device in all respects, harmonious and balanced in everything. Without a doubt, the xDSD Gryphon will become one of the most revered and beloved portable tsapoi among audiophiles and music lovers.
I warn you that very loud words will be heard further, but this is my fully balanced opinion. So, I believe that at the moment in the world you can hardly find something better, given such functionality, sound quality and price. Although, of course, don't forget about the excellent Diablo! But here, when choosing, you need to proceed from the needs and scenario of using the devices.
At the time of writing, the MSRP for the iFi xDSD Gryphon was $599. Without a shadow of a doubt, I highly recommend this portable audio combine for your purchase.
Sound, design, functionality, price.