All about the NuForce Dia Digital Integrated amplifier at Totally Wired.
Archived page: January 2016
– Please see the NuPrime range for our recommended new DACs and links to other options like up to date from NuForce.
We're a happy family*
NuForce make a family of the coolest little devices. We've already introduced you to the over-performing DAC and analogue preamp - the HDP, the Icon2 integrated amp with USB, and the iDo which renders every other iPod dock system obsolete. And now we have Dia - a completely digital integrated amplifier for just NZ$369.
All these NuForce models share the same compact casework and colour choices. But also a distinctive minimalism and purposefulness that other designers could learn a lot from. Most importantly, every one of them defines a new performance level at a price that we would never have even contemplated as being possible.
Key to NuForce performance are two distinct areas of expertise - digital to analogue conversion (DAC design and implementation) and Switching Analogue amplifier design. (more on both these aspects shortly)
The Dia combines these two elements in a user friendly, cheerful and engaging package that enables a new entry level for the modern performance conscious listener. And simply provides new ways to enjoy music.
There are two immediate scenarios that the Dia provides us with an instant answer for -
Anyone with either Apple TV or Airport Express has the capability to wirelessly stream high quality sound to any room in the house - but in both cases, it's a digital output. Airport Express has what appears to be a 3.5 headphone jack but this is actually an optical output - while it will work for headphones, the analogue quality is, without putting too fine a point on it, patchy. In digital however you have much better potential quality.
Up until now, to work with this we would have either needed a separate DAC and amplifier combination or one of the few stereo amps with an inbuilt DAC - or a Home Cinema receiver amp. In the vast majority of cases, cost, complication and compromised sound quality would be real negatives with these options.
That's where the Dia comes in - it's simple, easy to use, un-nervingly affordable and sounds seriously good. Plug Apple TV or Airport Express in one end with a halfway decent digital lead, connect any pair of speakers you like, press the 'on' button on the cute little remote and you're away laughing. When we say any speakers, we really do mean this. The Dia is a supremely capable amplifier that will astound with it's clarity, balance and control - while the award winning price/performance ratios of the Monitor Audio BX2 might seem like an extravagance in the context of the Dia's price,you should hear what happens with better models - Monitor Audio's own Gold series GX50s, or even Sonus fabers are by no means inappropriate once you start to understand just how exceptional this NuForce model is.
Most new TVs have sound that could be an awful lot better. It's a completely predictable consequence of both anorexic thinness and cheapness. What most of them do at least have is an optical digital output. If you don't want to go down the full surround sound track - again with cost, complication and sound quality issues, the NuForce Dia immediately solves the problem. In this setting we may well opt for speakers more on an aesthetic basis - the Monitor Audio Radius series both look and sound great with the Dia. Of course if you're watching a lot of movies bass can be a lot of fun - accordingly the Dia does have provision for a subwoofer and we can see a lot of settings where this would be more than just appropriate.
Remember also, that because the Dia has 3 digital inputs, it's possible to combine the above scenarios - improve the performance of Sky, video games disc players and computers. Note many laptops have optical out - Macs have the same 3.5mm combined optical and headphone output on all their models, so you don't actually need USB at all. The cute little remote allows you to turn the Dia on and off, switch inputs, take the volume up and down and mute if required - which really is all you need to do. Given the 'remote' ap from Apple can do so much with any ipod touch, iphone or iPod it seems crazy to try and replicate that.
If considering a new home system with built in speakers or extending into multi-room, the combination of the rapidly improving AirPlay software bundled in iTunes, Aiport Express and Apple TV, provides for the first time, a viable alternative to Sonos for simple systems.
NuForce have really built their reputation on both DACs and their unique analogue switching amplifiers - up until a couple of years ago, these were very much high end products. They clearly get a kick out of building the best most innovative products they can, but what is setting them apart from anyone else is their willingness to take key technologies and implement them in ways that are far more affordable than that produced by any comparable company. With the Dia, this is taken even further by combining the key elements into one ultra compact package.
The DAC in the Dia is a full 192Khz model capable of dealing with both full high resolution files and also making the most of anything else fed into it. Dia translates the digital audio signal to analog sound via high-quality 24-bit D/A converters that operate exclusively at the data's native sample rate for maximum clarity and detail. It's a measure of the Dia's quality that it makes the difference between sources clear - while Apple TV is pretty good, it becomes obvious that Airport Express is better. Likewise the digital output from a BluRay player is going to give you a great start and the conversion is considerably better than that found in most AV receivers. The closest directly comparable product might be the Cambridge DACmagic with a similar input array and 192/24 capability - yet the Dia somehow manages to add full remote control, sub out and 24 watts of amplifier while being rather less in price.
Which brings us to the big question - how on earth do you manage to fit a 24 watt per channel stereo amplifier in a box so small? To make it work at all, let alone sound as good as it does really warrants a full explanation.
Heat and bulk used to be the badge of amplifier status. Today, it is the badge of old technology. Traditional linear power supplies are not just massive and heavy, they are also highly inefficient. Class-A amplifiers typically utilize little more than 15% of the power they draw, with the rest wasted as heat. High operating temperatures also shorten the useful life of the electrolytic capacitors used in abundance in these amplifiers.
The comparison with NuForce amplifiers is stark. A NuForce amp is small enough to sit on the palm of your hand, and is highly efficient. Typically, 85% of the power is utilized, which means it runs cool and won't run up your electric bill. A common misconception is that NuForce products are Switching Digital Amplifiers (commonly known as Class-D). Right from the start, Class-D had enormous potential but some significant shortcomings. For example, they have limited usable bandwidth, and they use a fixed saw tooth waveform to modulate an audio signal. This is a source of audio pollution, because the waveform causes inevitable jittering that can mask or corrupt low-level music signals.
Instead of a saw tooth digital signal, NuForce has developed and patented a naturally occurring analog modulating signal that flows with the music and adds no noise or jitter into the system. Rather than using imperfect off-the-shelf solutions, NuForce has developed and patented a series of breakthrough advances that have unlocked the huge potential of switching amplifiers, without the problems that pure digital switching amplifiers have been unable to solve; in other words, the best of both worlds.
NuForce amplifiers switch at 500,000Hz – more than twice the highest CD sampling rate. At these higher frequencies, transformers and capacitors work far more efficiently and can be much smaller. In conjunction with a switch mode power supply, the entire NuForce package is shockingly small and hugely capable.
Are you still with us? For all the technical wizziness in the NuForce Dia, the end result is what's most important. We won't pretend that this amplifier will render our best amplifiers obsolete - there is still a world of difference between the $450 NuForce and something like Pure Audio. Even then, they have more in common than you might imagine - while the NuForce Dia is a very small fraction of the price of the Pure Audio and unashamedly digital, it is also beautifully conceived and finished, simple to operate, sounds just great and even has a New Zealand connection.
NuForce Dia NZ$369 including GST and delivery. Dia is currently available in black finish. Order here.
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