Review - Moondrop Chu (sub 50€)

Review - iFi Audio xDSD Gryphon

English | Español

Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 

The xDSD Gryphon was very kindly sent to me by iFi Audio for me to try and to post this review. They did not request anything specific, not even the inclusion of links, however, as always in these cases, I will leave the link to the official iFi Audio page below.

I need to add a bit of a spoiler alert as I have already reached out to iFi Audio in order to pay for the Gryphon. This is actually the first time that I have done this. I have had items loaned to me for review that I have purchased at a later date but I have never actually decided to keep the device before I even got to the point of reviewing it.

Anyhow, the official page for the Gryphon can be found here: https://ifi-audio.com/products/xdsd-gryphon/


Intro…

Just as a word of warning, all of my iFi reviews usually turn into long ones, in this case, the Gryphon has so many things going on that it will probably become even longer than usual and even then I may miss something, so forgive me if that is the case.

Before diving into the Gryphon, I want to jump back a year, to March 2021, when I reviewed the iDSD Diablo, a device that changed my opinion of what portable devices can do. Since then, I have been on a search for a device that was close to the Diablo in sound quality but with less power and a few extra options that I found missing on the Diablo for its price point. To be fair, the Diablo is more about hardcore power and SQ, it’s not really something that is built to multifunctional, it is something that is built to run almost any set of headphones you can throw at it while not being tied to a power socket.

In this time I have come across a few devices that I liked, although none of them have been perfect. My favourites (coincidentally the ones that I have actually kept) have been the Aune BU2 and the iFi Go Blu. Both of these devices are very good at what they do but aren’t devices that cover all of my needs. They serve specific functions (which they are very good at) but are not quite versatile enough to be my only portable device.

Basically I want a device that can become my reference setup for testing and reviewing, enabling me to have the same setup at home, in the office and in a hotel room while travelling. Being totally honest, I don’t need the power that the Diablo offers when outside of my home my difficult to drive stuff stays at home, at the side of my full size rig. So, I needed something that would run most headphones, except for very hard to drive models, and IEMs.

This is where the Gryphon comes in. A device that covers all of my needs and then some. 

The Gryphon is not perfect, there is always room for improvement, but it is a lot closer to perfection than I thought I would be able to obtain from device of this size.

So, let’s see what makes the Gryphon special and, more importantly, worth its 600€ price tag.


Presentation…

The packaging is the usual iFi Audio standard. Packaging that is simple but elegant and well thought out.

Inside a white box that shows an image of the Gryphon on the cover, along with specs and other details around the outside, we find the Gryphon, a bag to protect it, 3 cables (USB-A to USB-C, USB-C to USB-C and Lightning to USB-C), the usual iFi warranty card and an instruction booklet. 

Everything that is needed is included (even for the Apple users) so I will keep this section short and just say that, as always, the iFi presentation is more than adequate.


Build and aesthetics…

Both the build quality and the aesthetics of the device are great, in my opinion of course. The unit is made of metal with a small portion at the back being made of plastic (something that is usual on a device that has BT connectivity, as BT has issues transmitting/receiving through metal). 

There are smooth ridges along the top and bottom of the unit which make it a bit more aesthetically pleasing than if it was just smooth, along with a gunmetal grey style finish and a screen on the top of the unit, make the Gryphon look rather good, again, in my opinion. I like the fact that iFi are one of those companies that always try to be a little different, you might love or hate the result, but they are never run of the mill and bland.

As far as connections, there are plenty, along with plenty of dials and buttons for those of us who like to play around with settings etc.

On the front of the unit, from left to right, we get a 3.5mm unbalanced headphone output, a 4.4mm balanced headphone output, two small LEDs that show kHz and input status, a volume wheel with a coloured led and led ring (more on that in a moment) that is also a push button, two more LEDs that show status of Xbass and XSpace, a push button that controls XBass and XSpace, along with access to the menu, and finally one more push button that selects input.

Both sides of the unit are curved and free of controls, while the bottom has a switch that controls IEMatch and 4 rubber feet and the top sports an oled screen that illuminates behind a mirror finished panel.

Finally, on the back (again from left to right) we get a toggle switch that allows us to choose the effect of the XBass (more on that in functionality), a USB-C charging port with status LED, a USB-C data port (which can also be used for charging), a an optical and coaxial input, a 4.4mm balanced input/output and a 3.5mm unbalanced input/output port.

As you can see, there is no shortage of connections and controls on the Gryphon. Now lets get into what can actually be done with all these connections and buttons/switches.


Power and specs…

Before getting to the functionality, just a quick mention of the specs. According to iFi, the Gryphon is capable of putting out 1000mW at 32 Ohms, with a max of 6.7v. Now, after looking at something like the Diablo with 3500mW, this may not seem a lot. I can assure you that it is enough to drive the vast majority of headphones unless we are talking about very hungry headphones. 

They also state that it uses a hybrid Burr-Brown DAC chipset which is the same as the one used in their Pro iDSD Signature (that comes in at over 3000€).

The gryphon can decode PCM up to 768kHz, DSD512, DXD768 and is also an MQA decoder. I think that should cover almost any file format you may be using especially while on the go.

It also sports Bluetooth connectivity with support for SBC, AAC, aptX, LHDC, LDAC, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive. Again, this should cover everyone's Bluetooth needs (unless you need a mic of course, one of the few things that the Gryphon doesn’t have).


Functionality…

There is so much going on with the Gryphon that I am not sure I can cover everything, at least not in detail, but I will try to cover everything at least in basic form. 

Let me say that I did use the Gryphon “as it came” for a couple of days before updating to the latest firmware, however, as I strongly suggest that anyone who gets the device does the update as soon as they open it, my usage is based on the latest firmware at the time of publishing this review (v1.43).

So, starting with the basics, to turn on or off the device, press the volume dial for a couple of seconds. Depending on whether you have activated the hidden function or not, you get an animation of a Gryphon flying across the screen.

The same push of the volume knob once the device is on, serves to control playback. A single press is play or pause, a double press is next track and three presses is previous track. This works not only via Bluetooth but also via USB, at least on windows. Obviously this is not going to work when using optical/coax or analog line in.

The button just to the right of the volume, as said, is to turn on XBass, XSpace or both, with each press making the next step in the cycle. While the XSpace is the usual iFi function of adding perceived space to the sound, on the Gryphon, the XBass can actually be set to do different things. This is done by means of the three way toggle switch on the back of the unit. By setting the switch to bass, the XBass is just a bass boost. If set to presence, XBass becomes a boost of the higher mids, and when set to bass+presence, it boosts both bass and the upper mids. This gives the Gryphon more sound options than are usually found on iFi units. These EQ changes are done in the analog realm, as always with iFi, and also affect the analog outputs on the back of the unit, so can be used with speakers or other amplifiers etc.


The same button also gives us access to the menu by means of a long press. This brings up the menu on the screen and allows us to set certain parameters of the device. The options are as follows.

Digital Filter: This changes the filter used in the DAC portion of the device, allowing a selection of Standard, Bit Perfect or GTO. There is also a fourth filter option, Minimum Phase, that can be unlocked by a combination of buttons. I am not sure why iFi chose to hide it (it was available on older firmware versions), but they did.

Screen brightness: This obviously controls the brightness of the screen and can be set to High, Low or Auto, with Auto turning the screen off automatically after a few seconds.

Volume Limiter: This allows us to set a maximum volume level that the Gryphon will not go past. When the unit was first released (on older firmware) there was an issue with volume jumping to high levels by accident, this function stops this from happening accidently. It can be set to Off, 95%, 80% or 60% of maximum volume.

Volume Sync: The Gryphon can sync with the volume of the device it is connected to. However, there was an issue where the volume could be accidently changed in Windows (for example) sending the device to Max suddenly. This option can be set to Off, so that it is no longer sync’d with the source volume.

Volume Soft Ramp: To be honest, I am not sure what this does as I haven’t used it but my understanding is that it makes the intro to playing smoother, with a sort of fade in (I could be wrong, please let me know if I am!).

BT Voice Prompt: This can turn on or off the voice notifications when connecting to Bluetooth.

USB Dual Port Charge: This lets you decide if you want both ports on the back to serve as charging ports for the device or not. In other words, you can turn this off when connected to a phone and it will avoid the battery discharge of your phone.

Factory Reset: I’m sure I don’t need to explain this one.

All of those functions are available in the on screen menu, however, there is one more function that is accessed by the toggle switch underneath the device, the IEMatch. This is something that iFi sell separately and is to change the impedance of the output of a device so that extra sensitive IEMs can be used without and background hiss (something that I mentioned on the Go Blu).

The IEMatch can be set to 4.4 or 3.5, with each of them being designed for the 3.5mm or 4.4mm output. However, the 4.4 also affects the 3.5 and vice versa. This means that there are 2 extra settings that may come in handy for some.

But those are not all of the tricks that the Gryphon can perform. It can also be used as a DAC only device or even as an amplifier only device.

Apart from the digital inputs on the back of the unit, with a selection of USB, Coax or Optical (by means of an adapter for the last two), there are also 2 input/output ports, one balanced and one unbalanced.

These ports, when the device is being fed from a digital source, are automatically outputs, allowing the Gryphon to be used as a DAC to feed another amplifier or powered monitors, be these balanced or unbalanced.

However, these can also be used as balanced or unbalanced inputs, allowing the device to become an analog only amplifier, being fed from another DAC, or even another analog source such as a turntable (as long as the turntable has a built in preamp or you connect one to it).

When used as a DAC only or Amp only, the XBass and XSpace still work as they are in the analog path before the outputs, so you still maintain all the functionality.

I think I have covered everything but I have probably missed something, as there is just so much functionality packed into this device.


Sound…

So, the million dollar question, how does it sound? Well, that depends. 

I could just say that it sounds great, because it does.

However, as I believe I have said many times before, the differences between the sound of various good DACs, or various good amplifiers, is minimal. Yes, there are some differences, and some things just seem to “vibe” better with certain things (the so called “synergy”) but to be totally honest, they are not night and day differences, although some of us like to think so.

Yes, I found things like the S9 Pro to be overly sharp in the treble, yet I don’t hate the THX789, an amplifier that is “sterile” or “sharp” depending on who you talk to. This, in my opinion, is a combination of multiple things. There are minimal differences between (good) equipment, there are also differences in how we interpret sound, we have personal preferences and biases that make us hear things that may or may not be real. But again, all we need is for our brain to like the sound, who cares whether it is due to the different brand of capacitor, the pixie dust cable or simply a figment of our imagination, as long as we like the result, it sounds good.

And again, the Gryphon sounds great to me.

But honestly, there are so many things that can be tweaked on the Gryphon, such as filter settings, XBass, Presence, XSpace, IEMatch, balanced or unbalanced outputs, that the only thing that it can’t change is personal bias. If we don’t want to like the sound of the Gryphon, be it consciously or not, then we are not going to like it, no matter how many things we tweak.

However, for those that are open to loving it, I think that there are enough tweaks to suit anyone's needs and preferences. 

As far as how I like it? Well, I already said that it sounds great to me and I also said that I have reached out to iFi to pay for it and keep it, I don’t think I need to say anymore than that.

I have tried it with almost everything I have on hand, well, maybe not everything as I have far too many IEMs to test them all, but I have tried at least 10 different sets of IEMs and most of my headphones. I haven’t found an issue with any of them.

I do find that, as with the Go Blu, that I prefer the single ended output for IEMs. There seems to be just a touch more warmth (all else equal) on the SE output, but this could just be me imagining. The SE output also allows me to use most of my IEMs without engaging IEMatch to account for any background hiss. I don’t have anything against IEMatch, I think it is a great idea and I applaud iFi for including it in the Gryphon (something that I thought the Diablo should have either included or at least shipped with), but it can result in a slight change in the lower frequencies on low impedance IEMs.

As far as headphones, I think I could live with just the Gryphon and the Arya v3. It drives them beautifully and even sounds good with them out of the SE. I do think that the balanced output suits the Arya more, especially the v2, but even out of the SE, the combination sounds better than many balanced options I have heard.

I also spent some time with the HD6XX, the headphone that I can love or hate depending on the time of day, and I must say that it was a very pleasant experience. The same goes for, well, anything I have plugged into it. I haven’t come across a situation where I thought “eww, this doesn’t sound good together”. 

Is it the best sound I have ever heard out of a headphone, well no, but it is good enough for me to have been happy with it. There is a nice touch to the sound that reminds me a lot of the Asgard 3, somehow very detailed but not overpowering. Yet, switching over to balanced, bitperfect filter and with IEMatch off, I struggle to notice any difference between the cleanliness and detail of the THX789 and the Gryphon.

Using it as a DAC only, it sounds glorious feeding the Asgard or the P20. I must say that I really like the DAC stage paired with other things.

When using it as an Amp only, fed from the Modi 3+ (or the SU-8), it is clean and articulate, easily replacing the Atom in my usual test chain.

What else can I say without repeating myself? I just find it sounds great.


Conclusion…

I guess that by this point you know I am not going to say that I hate it 😀

Is it perfect? No. 

Is anything I own perfect? No.

Is there anything that can beat it at the same price tag? Not as far as I know. 

I am not just referring to things that I have heard, I am actually referring to things that I know exist, and I really can’t think of anything that offers what the Gryphon does, especially at this price point.

There are desktop options that can compete but they are obviously not portable. There are portable units that may be able to compete as far as sound (for example, I like the neutral “no frills” sound of the BU-2), but they severely lack in options in comparison. There are DAPs that may have the same functionality with the added benefit of onboard playback, but I am not sure that DAPs in the 600€ price bracket are “better” in sound terms than the Gryphon. They may be of similar characteristics as far as sound or even power, but they can’t be used as Amp only, nor have multiple digital inputs, nor can they feed multiple outputs at the same time. If any of them come close to this, I can assure you they are not 600€.

If all you want is sound quality, then I am fairly certain that you can find something that competes for the price, especially if you are going the desktop route, but if you want all the functionality of the Gryphon, in a portable format, then I don’t think there is anything out there.

As I said, it is not perfect. I would like a way of bypassing the battery for example, as I would use this a lot with my laptop, so it would be great to avoid the stress on the battery. But then we get into the “clean battery power” discussion, which works in favour of the Gryphon.

I would have loved an onboard mic also, like on the Go Blu, as it would be great to be able to take conference calls on my laptop or phone without swapping devices/headphones. 

I could probably find more things that I would “like”, which would probably turn the Gryphon into the car designed by Homer Simpson, but it is really so close to perfect, I really can’t complain.

My plan is that the Gryphon will now become my reference source for review also. Until now, even though I listen on multiple setups, I always did my final “detailed” listening via the JDS Labs Atom (unless otherwise noted in a review due to power requirements etc). The Gryphon will replace the Modi 3+ & Atom setup, giving me a solution that offers me the same sound, no matter where I am.

And I guess I should leave it there. I am sure that this review reads more like an ad than a review but it really is nice to review a device (or headphone) that I really like. It makes my time spent with the unit a lot more enjoyable and, in the case of this device, as it is a DAC/Amp, I get to use any headphone or IEM that I want!