iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Headphone Amp Reviewed

Price: $599.00

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The iFi xDSD Gryphon (buy at Crutchfield) is a portable balanced headphone amplifier and digital-to-analog converter from a company renowned for both its DACs and its HPAs. It will handle just about any connection you can throw at it, including USB, S/PDIF, and Bluetooth 5.1 inputs with support for every codec known to man, along with 4.4mm and 3.5mm headphone outputs. In terms of power, there are likely few cans it can’t drive, given its specified output of 1000mW into 32Ω and 74mW (6.7V max.) int 600Ω. While that might not be enough to power HHIFIMAN’s thirsty, $6,000 Susvara headphone to satisfying listening levels, most headphones you’re likely to bring with you on the go should be fine.

Wired headphone lovers who are on the move will love such a product, but so might traditional, fixed-system audiophiles. Today’s modern DACs are so small and so evolved that they can statistically smoke DACs from years ago that were big, bulky, and expensive. Some audiophiles make like a DAC in a traditional audio component form factor better. I am not the only reviewer at FutureAudiophile.com learning that this isn’t always the case, though. Let’s explore what this new product can do in a modern audiophile system.

iFi Gryphon headphone DAC reviewed
iFi Gryphon headphone DAC is a modern form factor DAC/headphone amp for audiophiles

What Makes the iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Amp Special?

  • The DAC portion of this unit supports most HD audio formats. It decodes MQA, PCM up to 768 kHz, DSD up to 512 kHz, DXD up to 768 kHz via the USB connection, and via S/PDIF supports PCM up to 192 kHz and DoP—and that is just the wired formats. You also get support for regular aptX, aptX Low Latency,  aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, along with LDAC, HWA/LHDC, ACC, and the standard SBC.
  • One of the best features of this product is its ease of use. One of the issues I have encountered with HPAs is that they can be difficult to use because the manufacturer wants to keep the form factor as small as possible, which impacts ergonomics. With its compact screen and numerous indicator lights, the xDSD Gryphon always gives you a good sense of what it’s doing and how to make it do something different.
  • The small form factor makes the Gryphon equally suitable for your gear-rack or your travel kit. Is it as clean as using wireless headphones? Nope, not even close, but if you want to take more of a facsimile of your home audio rig on your next flight, then this DAC/Amp could be for you.

Why Should You Care About the iFi xDSD Gryphon?

If you’re someone who likes to get out and walk but also spends time sitting at a desk with headphones on (I suspect there are more and more of these people with working from home growing in popularity), then the iFi xDSD Gryphon is a fantastic choice. There are also some features you typically don’t see from audiophile brands, such as iFi’s own XBass II feature, which helps enhance the bass if you feel like your headphones are lacking a bit in that department, along with the XSpace feature, which really helps bring the sound out of your head to create a bit more of a lifelike soundstage. Let’s not also forget that this DAC features three reconstruction filters. You have the standard filter that iFi describes as modest filtering with modest pre and post ringing, Bit-Perfect with no digital filtering, and GTO, which up samples to 384/352kHZ with minimal filtering, no pre-ringing, and minimum post ringing.

Some Things You Might Not Like About the iFi xDSD Gryphon

  • By all means, you can use the iFi xDSD Gryphon on the road, but note that it can be a bit bulky to have in your pocket. It didn’t keep me from using it when I went out for an evening stroll, but there were times where I found myself accidently turning it off or adjusting the volume when I didn’t want to.
  • The S/PDIF input doesn’t use a standard coax or optical connector. If you want to connect a S/PDIF source, you will need to use a Toslink Mini-Plug. These connectors aren’t necessarily difficult to obtain and shouldn’t cost you more than $10, but it might not be something you have lying around the house like you might a standard optical or coaxial cable.
iFi Gryphon headphone DAC reviewed by Andrew Dewhirst
The small form factor of the iFi Gryphon on display here with an iPad and some IEMs.

Listening to the iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Amp…

The first track I used to audition the Gryphon was “Bleeding the Orchid” by Smashing Pumpkins(Streaming, PCM 44.1kHz). With this one, you get the full impact of the robust precision of Jimmy Chamberlin on the drums, as each cymbal hit sounds full and crystalline. When compared to other DACs I have on-hand, the bass drum had a rich, resonant tone that seemed more lifelike. The iFi xDSD Gryphon keeps the soundstage amazingly engaging when listening to the wired HIFIMAN HE-R9 headphones (review pending) I was using, as the track kept the shoegaze feel that the Smashing Pumpkins grew to be known for during the 1990s.

The second track I turned to was “Mantra” by Joshua Homme, Dave Grohl and Trent Reznor(Streaming, PCM 44.1kHz). This track is a bit unique, as it was recorded analog as outlined in the documentary Sound City. With the iFi in play, you hear unique blend of these three artists talents, with the vocal of Dave Grohl and Trent Reznor taking center stage, as well as much of the atmosphere being in place that Reznor has made famous with Nine Inch Nails, without getting into that industrial sound. The soundstage that was created during this track left me feeling completely encompassed and feeling like I was right there during the performance. 

Does the iFi xDSD Gryphon Have Any Resale Value?

Absolutely. You routinely find this product being sold in eBay around retail price, and with its supreme build quality there is no reason why it shouldn’t continue to hold its value over time. Retail value might not be a fair expectation over the longer term, but with the portability and performance paired at a reasonable retail price, I think this could be a pretty safe audiophile investment. 

iFi Gryphon headphone DAC reviewed by Andrew Dewhirst
The iFi Gryphon at work with a laptop providing audiophile sound at work.

Who Is the Competition For the iFi xDSD Gryphon?

The Chord Mojo 2 ($775.00) works in a very similar space. It offers a similar feature set, but with a bit more of a plasticky look. Chord also uses a FPGA chip for the DAC, and a sophisticated DSP allows you to tailor the sound more to your preferences. The specifications don’t list support for MQA, though. 

If you’re looking for something more portable, the iFi GO bar ($329) (buy at Crutchfield) might be the right product for you. This uses a Cirrus Logic DAC chipset and doesn’t have a built-in battery, so it will pull its power from the source (your phone most likely), but it is incredibly small and feature rich.

Now, if you’re not concerned about portability, the Topping DX5 ($449) could be a solid option. This product also features full MQA support and uses the ESS ES9068AS chipset. One other thing that makes this DAC interesting is that it also has balanced XLR and RCA outputs so it can also serve as a preamp of sorts.

Here is the iFi Gryphon installed in Andrew Dewhirst's system
Here is the iFi Gryphon installed in Andrew Dewhirst’s system

Final Thoughts on the iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Amp

The iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Amp (buy at Crutchfield) brought plenty of listening joy into my life. In the few months that I have had it, I’ve put hundreds of hours on it, doing everything from walking around town to sitting at my desk putting in a day’s work. If you love wired headphones, I’m sure the Gryphon can bring similar joy to your life as well, as it is a very capable DAC and the headphone amp has a lot of additional utility. 

With eight hours of battery life, and so much versatility, there is always going to be room for this product in your digital life to listen to music your way. iFi is known for their DACs and the xDSD Gryphon is a big reason why. One final note is that while testing the MQA support, I did encounter issues where in the last few seconds of the track, it would drop back down to PCM quality from MQA. I reached out to Tidal but I wasn’t able to resolve the issue, so it remains unclear if this was an issue with my iPhone, the DAC, or Tidal. It wasn’t during every track, but when the issue occurred it was quite noticeable. 

Long term, if the form factor of a portable DAC doesn’t scare you, the iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Amp is a perfectly suitable modern DAC for up-and-coming audiophile systems. The overall portability will appeal to headphone enthusiasts who need just a little bit more mobility but don’t want to give up on that at-home audiophile sound. You get an awful lot of audiophile value with the iFi xDSD Gryphon DAC/Amp at $599.

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John Hyman

For headphone enthusiasts looking for portability but don’t need the wireless capability, consider the iFi iDSD A battery powered AMP/DAC, the iDSD has similar output power and clean sound in a smaller form factor.

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