Re(al)view: NuForce Icon with S-1 Speakers

Re(al)view: NuForce Icon with S-1 Speakers

peter
Feb 20, 2009

We recently got our grips on a small set of audio reproductive devices from NuForce. They sent us their …iconic… Icon amp, a set of their S-1 speakers, and the cables to connect them. We had read some good stuff about the amp and were anxious to hear what all the hoopla was about. Now you can enjoy our hoopla...

Beginning with the look; the amp itself is gorgeous- love the extruded and anodized body- very simple and modern… perhaps even timeless. Not huge fans of the look of the stand but it's function is outstanding (see that?). Made from a hard silicone, it grips the body of the amp tenderly. One of the great things about this baby is that it is so small. Usually you expect to see a huge box and finding a place for it can be either an extraordinary pain or a deep, penetrating pleasure... depending on how much you want your electronics to be seen. With the Icon; either way it's great. It is easy to hide, should you want to do that. If it is seen, it is gorgeous and minimal… also a great conversation starter, if you like talking about these sorts of things.

The specs:


  • Inputs:

  • RCA

  • USB (USB 1.1, 2.0 compatible)

  • 3.5mm Stereo

  • Speaker Outputs (RJ45 connectors with 15 micron thick gold plating). NuForce RJ45 to banana plug speaker cables are provided with NuForce Icon.

  • Headphone Output:

  • Maximum output @32 ohm Load: 31.25mW

  • THD (20Hz ~ 20KHz) : < 0.03%

  • Frequenc Fresponse (20Hz ~ 20KHz) : < -1dB

  • Line Out (for Subwoofer) connection

  • USB DAC: USB 1.1, 2.0 compatible. USB native bit rate: 32-48kHz, 16-bit

  • Power = 12WX2. Peak power =15WX2

  • THD+N=0.05%, 1kHz, 2W @ 4 ohm load. THD+N=0.06%, 1kHz, 2W @ 8 ohm load.

  • Power Bandwidth : 26Hz ~ 50kHz, -1dB, 1W @ 4ohm load

  • SNR = 84 db at 7W @ 8ohm

  • Maximum sampling rate: 48kHz

  • Resolution: 16-bit

  • S/N Ratio: 98dB

  • Power Adapter - 12-14V, 25W, 100-240VAC worldwide voltages

  • Dimension: 6" x 4 1/2" x 1"

  • Weight: 1 lb. Shipping weight 5 lb.

Now to the sound. NuForce sends along a sheet of definitions to educate listeners on the fine oints of audiophilia. They list terms like "attack" and "soundstage" and "air" and the usual stuff you will see in reviews from high end audio product reviewers. These people clearly care about what they are doing and want the general public to know how audiophiles define their world. We would say that this amp doesn't need this kind of introduction. It is one of those products that simply delivers. You listen and you love. That simple. Everything is so tight and clear that you will feel like going through all those old albums that you haven't listened to in a while.

We will briefly mention timbre and attack because they are worth noting here. "Timbre" is the quality of the sound; the discernability of the differences in sounds that are the same pitch and volume and "Attack" is the initial delivery of a sound- usually mentioned in reference to surrounding sounds within the music. With most amps you will get three things: volume, bass and treble. These things are generally delivered with lots of enthusiasm and little talent. Play music through a typical amp and you will probably turn up the sound for that first song or two, and then you will turn it down and into the background. Because of the sharpness of Attack delivered by this amp, you will be able to hear, with great clarity, what is going on in your music. Each sound comes on the scene with ripe immediacy: like shiny bubbles popping in front of your face. You can leave the volume up longer because the sound never becomes that booming sludge that is so easy to end up with in the marketplace. Below you can see what this looks like in a living room. We just wired everything up without regard for aesthetics, so just use your imagination. Tiny:)

Ear fatigue is not a factor. The same goes for the headphone part of the equation. The Icon also has a headphone amp built in. Since this amp has its own DAC you won't have to hook it up to your headphone out, though. Just plug it into your computer via USB and get the full value from their engineering. They really give you options here- USB in (use this if you want the best sound from your computer), RCA in, mini stereo jack in. Then for outputs you have a headphone out, line out(!) and speaker out. Lovely:

We have talked a little about full range drivers before. They are something that we really enjoy for their simplicity. No crossover, no timing issues, no multiple point sources; they have their upsides and can sound very natural and alive. The downside is that they can be difficult to get a "true" full spectrum sound from with the top and bottom end suffering from roll off. It Is one speaker driver (per channel) trying to do everything, so maybe that should be expected. This final word will most always come down to personal preference.

The S-1 speakers from NuForce are a modern, red horn on black body- really nice if they match your décor. They do come in several color combos, so make sure you get the one that matches your room and not just your favourite colour because all the choices are bold and they might clash with your interior palate.

We weren't initially impressed by their sound; it seemed a little brittle right out of the box. We left them on though, and while typing away on important world changing issues, something special happened. It happened while we were listening to some Japanese koto music we had burned from vinyl. We have listened to this recording a number of times on headphones and determined that the stereo imaging had been faked by splitting up different instruments into different channels… then… suddenly the music came alive, faked stereo or not. There was some substantial pluck to be had from these instruments that we had not heard in the digital version before. These are still very small speakers and serious bass should not be expected from them, but they sound quite nice at their optimum volume and will be ideal for small listening environments.

We have been using internet cable for speaker wires for years, but this company has taken this internet sensation to heart and actually made terminals for their system that accept straight cat5/6 cables that you would pick up in any computer store- talk about easy to find and use speaker wire! No longer do you have to cut and crimp and solder and whatever- just pull those old cables that came with all the dsl modems you have stacked up in your closet and you are good to go. Of course, NuForce has their own cables that are tailored for their product... so maybe just go with those. They are certainly nicer in appearance than standard network cables and unless you buy their speakers or modify your own speakers to accept network cables, you will need the banana plugs on the other end:

Not a huge surprise that all of this turned out so nicely, these amps have been reviewed well all over the net and we certainly don't have any major disagreements with those opinions. This is a really solid amp and you can't do much better at $224, off the shelf.

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