NuForce iDo - Upsetting the Apple Cart
If you are finding the plethora of iPod related devices confusing, take heart in the fact that you are not alone. While Apples clear vision has allowed them to dominate the market like no other with iPod, Touch, IPhone and iPad* models, precious few other companies seem to share the same ability to focus and while their products connect to the variations in the iPod lineup, they fail to define exactly what the benefit of their particular device is.
*from here on in, just assume that when we say iPod, we include all variations.
NuForce are nothing if not focused. Their latest component, the iDo (NZ$399) has one simple purpose - to extract the best possible sound quality from the iPod. We were lucky enough to get our hands on the very first unit in New Zealand and we can tell you from the outset that this is a true audiophile component that is going to drastically revise your expectations. Here comes the apple cart…
Sept 2014: The iDo is no longer available but we can happily recommend the HRT iStreamer as an excellent alternative.
It's a mistake to think of the iDo as just another variation on the theme of DACs - most still can't connect directly to an iPod and hence the rise of products such as the Wadia 171 and Cambridge Audio ID100 digital docks. The ever expanding universe of USB connectible DACs almost all operate via USB (on your computer), Optical or Coax Digital connections. They also have to work with a broad range of sampling and encoding schemes, and it's this that appears to make the difference.
The NuForce iDo isn't just made to be compatible - it is specifically designed from the ground up to work optimally with both the connection and mechanical properties of the iPod as well as the software that controls music storage and replay. While it may seem counter-intuitive, the fact that the iDo is neither a 96 or 192Khz device is actually an advantage - because you can’t have either of these file types on an iPod. Do note that the DAC is a full 24 bit device. For the technically minded the iDo delivers bit-perfect, low jitter USB Host Mode operation with no sample rate conversion.
Let's not get mired in technicalities - as long as you understand that the NuForce iDo is precisely matched to the iPod you'll be fine. Now, heres the real kicker - any song we play on on our iPods via the iDo sounds considerably better than the same song played on our computers (multiple macs) via any DAC we have experience of. This difference is both immediate and obvious. And it gets better as it settles down after being turned on for the first time. If there is a word we could use to describe the sound it would be 'sweet'. NuForce have struck a fine balance between the open finely detailed sound we like so much with the best HRT Music Streamer and the heavier, more solid presentation of their own HDP preamplifier. It really has the best of both worlds and goes further than both in terms of resolution. Its one of those things you really need to hear for yourself.
You might also assume the iDo was probably designed on the basis that all songs would be recorded off CDs in Apple LossLess. There has been a lot of chat about the inferiority of lower bit rate formats - again, there are going to be a few assumptions shattered. With lower bit rate material - which means pretty much everything you download, the iDo weaves a very special kind of magic. We've got a lot of recent vinyl LPs that come with free downloads of the same album - up until these constituted just so much filler in our iTunes library. Now they sound fresh and while not the same as the record, it is really only different in just the same way that phono cartridges have different characters between brands. It's that good.
NuForce also manage to pack a lot into the iDo. While it's not the multi-purpose wonder that the HDP or Icon2 is, it's not far short. The key is to see if it fits in with how and where you listen to music. (bearing in mind that the iDo does have the potential to change this). Being classed as a 'desktop audio' item is also not doing the iDo justice - while it's perfect in a work environment, we are going to assume that you might want some separation between work and home. And that is where the biggest problem of computer audio exists - the computer is almost inevitably in a room distant from where you want to listen. Now, while we have many solutions such as Sonos and Airplay to get sound from computer to elsewhere, the iPod is easy.
Connection is simple - in the bottom of the iPod via the same lead you use for charging straight into the iDo. And yes, it charges the iPod. Connect via the supplied RCA leads to your existing stereo system, press play and turn it up. If you aren't sold in the first 60 seconds we'll be surprised. Give it a couple of hours to warm up and it will be absolutely singing. We think the iDo is the best sounding sub $500 product we have ever heard. I'd rather have the iDo with my iPod than any $1000 CD player I’ve listened to lately. It will go into systems where interconnect cables cost more and come up shining.
In the context of traditional audio systems, the iDo is absurdly cheap - that could prove to be it's biggest downfall because some will not take it seriously and feel compelled to spend much more without even trying one. More fool them. It's not a one trick pony either. The headphone output is superb by any standards. The digitally controlled analog volume control provides precise control, accurate channel tracking and superior resolution. The volume control operates both headphone and rear RCA outputs meaning you can also consider connection to either active speakers or power amplifiers.
The inclusion of a digital coax output suggests you might want to take this to either the digital input of a home theatre amplifier or another DAC - but right now we'd have to ask 'why?'. It would be hard to beat the performance of the iDo's DAC section. But it's there anyway and probably cost next to nothing to include.
NuForce probably considered a conventional dock arrangement with the iDo. We're glad they haven’t gone down this track because it's become obvious that the unique multi-pin connector on the base of all iPods is a real point of weakness - it's all to easy to have an iPod lever backwards or forwards in use and have this connection fatigue or break. Far better to just get one of Apples cheap and cheerful docks and connect to this if you want your iPod standing up - our ancient original 1st generation dock works perfectly! And before we forget if you are using the little Apple IR remote, the NuForce picks up the signal and spins in down the line.
It can take a little while to get your head around what NuForce have done with the iDo - on one hand it almost seems like a solution looking for a problem and until I actually listened to one at home I was struggling to see what we’d do with it. No-one will thank them for it but NuForce have rendered a lot of more costly alternatives obsolete - separate dock/DAC systems, laptop/USB setups, network streamers and some rather embarrassingly expensive server systems. Apple have made storage dirt cheap and the iPod touch panel in all its variations is a wonderful way to select and control music - the iDo simply makes it sound fantastic. Think about it.
The better your system, the more you'll get out of this little NuForce model. Conversely the low cost means we can do much more for less - teamed with the NuForce Icon amp and something like the new Monitor Audio BX2 speakers you'll have a system that defies the expectations of what you can enjoy for around $1500. If only this had be around when I first got into hifi! Then again, as I wrote this, it was listening to the iDo via an Audio Analogue tube hybrid amplifier and Sonus Fabers. If there were problems or a lack of ambition with the iDo it would have been obvious - instead I've been constantly distracted by new sections in songs I've heard a hundred times before on both this and different systems.
That's the key to the iDo - just as the Well Tempered turntable promises new music from your analogue records, the NuForce iDo delivers new life to your digital recordings - and they just happen to all be sitting on a the most friendly, ubiquitous and affordable audio device ever made.
Our proposition with the NuForce iDo is simple - you really need to hear it for yourself. It's small and affordable, well packed and ready to go so it's no big deal to spin one anywhere in the country. You have a choice of four colours (go on - do something more adventurous than black.) You can pay by either card or directly. e mail us for details and we'll have one on the way to you. If it doesn't do what we say, then just repack it and send it back - we'll credit you the purchase price back. Can’t really get fairer than that.
You could also buy one from us because you have fond memories of Dunedin, think Carolyn has a lovely smile or don't want the dolphin to get it. Regardless of the reasons, the NuForce iDo is a remarkable device that may well change the way you listen to music. If you've got this far, we must be of like minds and we'd love to make NuForce products work for you. We're committed to a future where high quality audio is available to many more people and we'll go the extra distance for you, making sure you get the right NuForce model, ensuring that it's matched as well as it's possible to be with other components, and that all connections contribute to a superior end result. e mail us now, call in or even use the old phone to find out more.
NuForce iDo NZ$399 including GST and delivery Currently available in Blue finish.
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