Meet The Future.
It's small, power efficient, digital savy and affordable. But most importantly it sounds very, very good. If you were just looking at size or cost, you could easily underestimate what NuForce have done. The door has just opened on a new level of sound quality that everyone can enjoy.
From a stereo amplifier at only NZ$350, to a highly specified digital preamp that effectively renders the traditional separates redundant for under NZ$750, the NuForce products are the most exciting prospect we have heard when it comes to delivering great sound to more people.
NuForce is a California-based company devoted to the development of exceptionally fine consumer-electronic products. They launched as a brand in 2005 with audiophile-quality switching amplifiers based on patented, proprietary technology, thereby promptly becoming a leader in audio's high-end marketplace. This is no idle boast. NuForce has won Power Amplifier of the Year awards both in the United States and Japan. NuForce has since expanded into other aspects of consumer electronics.
Your introduction to the NuForce range centers around the following small but perfectly formed products.
Because NuForce do make some very seriously high end models at higher price levels, they have consciously undersold the 'Desktop' range. We have quickly found that while the description of desktop reflects the undeniably cute packaging, when connected to other quality components, the end result is a real ear-opener.
Icon2 – USB Integrated Amp
Let's first look at the centre of the range - The Icon-2 (NZ$549) is aptly described as 'The heart of your digital life. Operating from a technology platform that has won NuForce numerous awards and rave reviews, The Second-Generation Icon is an audiophile-quality integrated stereo amplifier featuring two 24-watt outputs, a 3.5mm stereo input for connecting to an iPod or similar portable device, a USB port for operation with a PC or Mac, and standard RCA inputs for employing the Icon as an amplifier in the conventional sense.For the headphone enthusiast, the Icon also features a high-performance headphone output. Of particular interest to the computer user, the Icon-2 line-out functions as a PC or MAC USB-to-analog audio converter. Which is a lot to cram into a streamlined box you can hold in the palm of your hand.
Connect the Icon-2 to any quality speakers via the supplied cables and you'll immediately understand where we are coming from. Its at its best playing lossless music stored on your computer, but is still highly capable when directly connected to CD player, radio tuner or an iPod or MP3 player, especially if via one of the new generation of docks. While we have been conditioned to equate high power ratings with quality, the reality is quickly hammered home that bigger brute force solutions are simply not that smart. The Icon is engaging, enchanting even. With appropriate speakers, there is more than enough power for normal listening. Traditional hifi can suddenly seem opaque as the Icon is adept at unwinding recordings and delivering a natural, relaxed and detailed performance.
Our best recommendation as a speaker to use with the Icon-2 is the Monitor Audio Bronze BX2 - they will show you everything the Icon-2 is capable of and as a system combination, we think they are unbeatable. Other compact lower cost speakers such as the Monitor Audio RX1 or Radius HD series are a happy match as are the Sonus faber Toys.
Icon Amp – Desktop Integrated Amp
The first NuForce model we heard was actually the NZ$349 stereo amplifier. We would not have believed it if we hadn’t heard it, but it comfortably bettered our long time favorite compact amplifier, the Perreaux SX25i. Like the amplifier it replaces, it has a single input and the only adjustment is via the solitary rotary volume control. What makes it much better is the state of the art high-efficiency, blidingly fast analog switching-amplifier technology. This translates to is a remarkable ability to deliver detail and clarity that is a revelation. At around 1/3 of the price we last sold the SX25i for. While our same speaker recommendation applies we can see the little Icon amplifier being used in a myriad of settings. The vanishingly low price redefines entry level and you could use the Icon via a CD player, Ipod, Tivoli Radio. And match with in-built. outdoor or a bewildering array of low cost speakers. Or utilise it as a power amplifier in a system with this...
Icon HDP – high performance Headphone Amp, DAC and Preamp
The Icon-HDP (NZ$749). This little box (they are all the same size) is really the giant killer. First off it can be considered a high quality digital preamplifier with coax, optical and USB inputs. There are also analogue inputs and a considerably more capable headphone amplifier. Control is via the analogue volume and 3 way input selector. And output via a very high quality pair of RCA preamplifier outputs.
There are 3 ways to use the Icon-HDP. The first and by far the smartest is to partner it with real active speakers - the Quad Studio Monitors being a fine example of the breed giving you an unbeatable combination of power, accuracy and value. The 11L at just $1400 a pair and the even better 12L at $1800, combine with the Icon-HDP to make a killer system that immediately establishes a new benchmark for sound quality at between $2200 and $2600. Even if splashing out for high quality interconnects and stands you are unlikely to pass the $3K mark and we simply cannot see a way to enjoy better sound for less. You could spend a great deal more and still come up short.
You may however already have speakers that you are very happy with - in this case, partner the Icon-HDP with one (or two if able to bi-amp) Icon stereo amplifiers. It is quite possible that you may end up spending more on the cables than the amplifiers in this system. But given the qualities of the NuForce amplifiers this will only make things better.
And thirdly, there is nothing to stop you incorporating the Icon-HDP into an existing system as a high quality multiple input DAC and headphone amplifier. Even if only used for a single function, the little NuForce is hard to beat at the price.
More about the Icon HDP
Icon uDac2 – USB DAC
As if to prove they can do the impossible, NuForce have also introduced a simplified and even smaller product that takes the essence of the Icon HDP and makes it not just affordable but effectively indespensible. The Icon uDac2 (NZ$199)is a standalone USB digital to analogue converter and headphone amplifier. As if this isn't enough it has both outputs for connection to a normal stereo but also a coax digital connection which bridges the gap in formats between most computers and home theatre systems. With 96kHz/24Bit support its performance surpasses that of most CD players. Just slot it in between your laptop and headphones, or computer and stereo - you'll find its the best $200 you could ever spend!
The landscape is rapidly changing when it comes to sources. The NuForce products are squarely aimed at a new generation of 21st century music enthusiasts and the primary sources are likely to be either a direct connection via USB from computer of from an iPod. See also...
Icon iDo – Audiophile Grade DAC and Headphone Amp for iPad, iPhone & iPods
Icon Dia – Digital Input Amplifier
Now - this will be the last time we put 'the iPod isn't hifi' arguement to bed. Every iPod and most MP3 players are perfectly capable of storing high quality LossLess music files which can be replayed as bit-perfect copies of CDs. With an appropriate dock or connection, these players will outperform a large proportion of CD players on the market.Any Ipod is really just a mobile storage device for the original music files which will be on a computer. Most computers are fully capable of downloading, storing and retrieving music that is available as of now, at levels of resolution and fidelity that far exceed the CD standard. The only limitations are internet bandwidth, speed and storage capacity. It is absolutely inevitable that in a short space of time, you will be able to enjoy a virtually limitless range of music in a way that will redefine the definition of high fidelity. As of today, you can start to experience this.
Here is a very good illustration as to why and how good a value the Nu Force Icon-HDP is - If we compare it to the similarly proportioned Perreaux SX components we have previously sold you'll find that it combines all the functionality of the Perreaux SXD2 Digital to analogue converter (introduced in 2004 and now at $1595) and adds an optical input and extends USB input performance to 92kHz/24 bit capability and 192/24 on both coax and optical. It supplants the SXH2 Headphone amplifier ($1195) as our preferred headphone amplifier and replaces the passive SXP2 preamplifier ($795) with a more dynamic and revealing active option. And the HDP pulls this all together in a single high performance package. The NuForce Icon-HDP is just $749. There is no part of the Perreaux performance that the NuForce doesn’t convincingly better. While you would expect, given the furious pace of development in the digital arena in the last 6 years, that there would be progress and improvement, it is the massive improvement in value that is most stunning. This isn't evolution - it's revolution.
You don't have to take our word for this - just get an NuForce Icon-HDP from us for a listen.
A little bit about the technology inside...
How Icon achieve the performance they do, comes from both cutting edge innovation and the application of technologies NuForce have been working on for the last few years. If you do some research you'll find that the Icon HDP employs the same DAC as the NuForce high-end CDP-8 which sells for US$1450.00 in the States and a preamp similar to that of the P-8S at US$1650.00. While they won’t tell us everything NuForce do give us some clues...
The following design features contributed to the stellar performance of the Icon HDP
The digital input has no capacitors in its signal path. The analog input utilizes a single DC-decoupling capacitor.
Components along the signal path are minimized.
The 24/96 USB interface outputs a I2S signal to a high-quality DAC.
The digital circuit occupies a separate daughter board.
The DAC chip consists of four internal 24/192kHz DACs that provide a fully differential and balanced output. The differential signal's DC offset operates without a need for decoupling caps.
Digital and analog voltages each have separately isolated internal power regulations.
There is a consistent thread in the NuForce designs - The utilization of state of the art digital technologies for inputs establishes first rung of maximizing fidelity. The compact size is made possible by the switching amplifier sections and power supplies with their attendant efficiency and cool running, and in turn, the use of surface mount components for these and other sections produces ultra short signal paths and minimal support circuitry which contribute greatly to the remarkable detail which flows through and the absence of nose and interference. And the design is completely user friendly and intuitive with simple but high quality controls and connection, right down to speaker cables provided with the Icon-2amp.
The modest power ratings of these products is absolutely intentional and contributes directly to the sound quality. In this modern world with efficient speakers and the consideration of other people, we have to ask 'how much power is really needed?' The extra support circuitry, mains borne interference and large heavy transformers of the dinosaur amplifiers all actively work against sound quality. And cost much much more to produce. Simply listen to a NuForce amplifier and it will immediately be obvious that size and power ratings have no connection to what you'll hear.
New Icon Cube Speakers NZ$ 179
'How cute are we? Very! These little colorful, portable speakers can go with you anywhere any time – your new friend. NuForce are the masters of small so this little 6cm square box encompasses a powered speaker, headphone amplifier and rechargeable battery. But here's the real trick, a audio level UBS DAC. This especially is what makes the Cube sound so much better than other offerings out there. As explained above the Nuforce DACs are exceptionally good for their size and cost. So along with your portable music source such as phone or computer, your Cube is your all in one miniature mobile sound system. Choose your colour from blue, red, black or silver.
NuForce are our kind of company - their power efficiency, their use of minimal resources to deliver maximum fidelity dovetail perfectly with our commitment to organisations like WWF. The affordability, lack of artifice and clear commitment to bring fantastic sound to the masses is as close to audio socialism as we'll ever get - we think this is a good thing. The concept of the audiophile having to sell their soul to afford some esoteric, expensive and often unreliable products to extract the elusive nuance of music is redundant. It's time for a new generation of music enthusiasts who appreciate that hifi is a means to an end, not the end in itself.
We think that 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.
Icon stereo amplifier NZ$349 including GST
Icon2 Integrated amplifier & USB DAC NZ$549
Icon HDP Preamplifier, DAC and Headphone amplifier combined NZ$749
Icon iDo DAC and Headphone Amp for iPods NZ$ 399
Icon Dia Digital Integrated Amplifer NZ$ 369
Icon Udac2 DAC and Headphone Amp NZ$ 199
Icon Cube Speaker NZ$ 179
All NuForce Icon models are available in blue, red, black and silver (except uDac which is red, black or silver only)
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