iFi Audio has not taken its foot off the gas for almost two years and the British manufacturer of portable and desktop audio DACs and Headphone Amplifiers has something very special just in time for Black Friday and the Christmas/Chanukah shopping frenzy. The iFi xDSD Gryphon has been reborn from the fires of Mordor and it is the portable audio DAC/Headphone Amplifier to rule them all?
The xDSD was first introduced in 2018 and was among the most popular portable DAC/headphone amps in iFi’s range – a feature-packed model that earned a stellar reputation and a fancy mantle of awards thanks to its blend of convenience, versatility and performance.
Soon after its launch, the xDSD was joined by the xCAN to complete iFi’s mid-level ‘x-series’ of portable devices. Housed in the same distinctive contoured case with ‘dark titanium’ finish, the xDSD and xCAN perform differing functions – the former is a portable DAC/headphone amp for digital sources, with USB, S/PDIF and Bluetooth connectivity; the latter is a headphone amp with purely analogue inputs, plus the added convenience of Bluetooth reception for smartphones and so on.
The Head-Fi crowd is pretty excited about the launch of the next-generation x-series device, the xDSD Gryphon – iFi’s most ambitious portable DAC/amp yet. It replaces not only the xDSD but also the xCAN, combining the functionality of both with redesigned circuitry that elevates performance to another level.
One DAC/amp to rule them all?
Retaining the contoured design of its predecessor, the xDSD Gryphon is clearly an x-series device. Although a little larger, measuring 123 x 75 x19 mm, it remains sufficiently compact to stow away in a small bag. Those who want a more eminently pocketable go-anywhere DAC/headphone amp will find iFi’s recently launched GO blu and hip-dac 2 fit the bill.
At 215 grams, it is not an overly hefty device thanks to its lightweight yet robust alloy enclosure, and its gunmetal grey finish is less prone to fingerprints than the glossy dark titanium of the original xDSD and xCAN.
The extra space provided by the xDSD Gryphon’s larger chassis is fully utilised by the entirely re-engineered tech within, harnessing iFi’s latest technical developments to deliver extreme versatility and performance in a compact, portable format
The iFi xDSD Gryphon’s flexibility is one of its key points of differentiation; digital and analogue cable inputs are provided – the former in USB and S/PDIF flavors, and the latter via balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn and single-ended 3.5mm sockets. High-definition Bluetooth reception is also provided, enabling smartphones, tablets and more to deliver a better sonic experience when listening to hi-res streaming services like Qobuz and TIDAL.
Built into the top surface is an OLED display strip, showing a range of useful information including input selection, volume level, battery level, digital audio format and sample rate, along with various other settings.
The iFi xDSD Gryphon’s ‘digital engine’ is based around a Burr-Brown DAC chipset that iFi uses extensively, selected for its natural-sounding ‘musicality’ and True Native architecture.
The xDSD Gryphon uses a low-latency, 16-core XMOS microcontroller delivering enhanced processing power; iFi’s in-house digital development team has programmed the XMOS firmware to optimize sound quality and ensure a perfect partnership with the Burr-Brown DAC. Extensive jitter-eradication technologies are also applied to the digital stage, including the latest generation of iFi’s GMT (Global Master Timing) femto-precision clock and intelligent memory buffer.
Digital Format Support?
Hi-res audio support is state-of-the-art, handling PCM data to 32-bit/768kHz, all levels of DSD to DSD512, and single- and double-speed DXD. Thanks to the Burr-Brown DAC chip’s four-channel True Native design, PCM and DSD take separate pathways – this enables DSD, as well as PCM, to remain ‘bit-perfect’ in its native form right through to analogue conversion.
If you care about MQA, the xDSD Gryphon has you covered. MQA – the hi-res streaming codec, as used by Tidal’s ‘Masters’ tier – is also supported through the USB and S/PDIF inputs, with full decoding of MQA files up to 384kHz. This means that the full ‘three unfold’ decoding process is performed internally, as opposed to only the final unfold in the manner of an MQA ‘renderer’.
Better Bluetooth Performance
While it doesn’t support Bluetooth aptX Lossless at this point, the xDSD Gryphon makes full use of Qualcomm’s latest four-core QCC5100 Bluetooth processing chip, every current high-definition Bluetooth audio format is supported, including aptX Adaptive and aptX HD, LDAC and HWA/LHDC.
Other codecs covered include regular aptX and aptX Low Latency, AAC and SBC (the ‘plain vanilla’ Bluetooth codec). This means that every possible source device is handled at the highest audio resolution its Bluetooth specification allows.
Clever configuration enables the sheer variety of devices that can be connected to the xDSD Gryphon whilst maintaining its compact form. At the rear, two USB–C ports are provided – one input for digital audio, handled asynchronously, and the other for charging, thus keeping the audio and power lines separate for reasons both practical and sonic. Next to these lies the S/PDIF digital input, which allows both optical and electrical (3.5mm) connections.
3.5mm and 4.4mm Pentaconn analogue sockets are also supplied at the back, for single-ended and balanced connections respectively. These double as both inputs and outputs – inputs when the xDSD Gryphon is being used as an analogue headphone amp; outputs to enable its use as a DAC/preamp in a home audio system, with fixed and variable options to connect to an amp and speakers.
At the front, a pair of headphone outputs are provided – a 3.5mm socket for headphones with a single-ended cable/connector, and a 4.4mm Pentaconn output enabling headphones equipped with balanced connectivity to take full advantage of the xDSD Gryphon’s balanced amp design. The 3.5mm output benefits from iFi’s S-Balanced circuitry, cutting crosstalk and related distortion in half when used with regular, single-ended headphone connections.
Price & Availability
The iFi xDSD Gryphon is available from mid-November 2021 at an RRP of £599, €599 incl. VAT and $599 excluding tax at https://ifi-audio.com/products/xdsd-gryphon/.