Re(al)view: NuForce Icon Mobile: Headphone Amp for Two

Re(al)view: NuForce Icon Mobile: Headphone Amp for Two

May 1, 2009

How many times have you been on a plane and seen two luvahs sharing a pair of earbuds? We do it all the time on the Unplggd jet. Maybe you are watching a DVD on your laptop or maybe you just want to listen to music for two (preferably by Yanni or Kenny G). How often have you wished that you could use some decent headphones with your portable player, but the power just wasn't there? How many times have you gone out somewhere and needed a headphone amp that also allowed you to receive calls on your iPhone?
Nuforce knows what you need- read on...

Last week we talked a bit about NuForce's NE8 earbuds and we also gave their original "Icon" the once over a while back. The NuForce Icon Mobile is essentially a portable version of their increasingly famous Icon, but for headphones only (and preamp duty if you want to use their lovely DAC).

The Mobile is obviously much smaller and is designed for two types of inputs: One "line in" and one USB for those who want to hook it up to their computers. Naturally, the USB input has its own DAC so definitely the way to go when you are listening to your laptop. We would be very surprised if there were any computers out there with better DACs (that aren't specifically built for audio editing/playback). We'll just write "DAC" one more time for luck;) (do we even know what one is? Converts your Digital signal to an Analog one that can be played by speakers and headphones- see if you can figure out the acronym from the preceeding description...)

The size is actually perfect in that it is smaller than most portable players and is very thin:

Ok, not that small- more like this:

Two output jacks = too much fun for two:

The look is pretty hot- like their other products- whoever is doing their design is at the top of their game. The top plate is aluminum with what appears to be a TPR coated plastic cover. The cover has just enough resistance to it to give you a good stick to surfaces that might otherwise be very slippery.

The rubberband that comes with the Mobile is functional. If you are sliding your little knobby fingers across your touch-screen, this can obviously be a problem... you learn to cope... Put the whole thing together and you have a bit of a tangle on your hands (and in your pocket) but you gotta take the good with the bad. This is a device that is VERY flexible in that it is not "iProduct" specific and can do many splendid things. Apparently it is equipped with a microphone ring in the jack so you can pass your phonecalls through to your iPhone or other portable phone. We didn't get to test this feature, nor did we audition the iPhone specific adapter (which would certainly remove all the extra wires).

Some people will never use it for its mobility- we spent a lot of time with it hooked up directly to a home Sony CD player. There is nothing like playing a CD with no skip protection, no compression, no compensation of any kind, just the pure "1's" and "0's" going straight to your ears (what a non-reality... hopefully poetic, though).

Sound is reaaaally good. Attack is phenom with the clarity we have repeatedly seen in all of NuForce's products. Soundstage is much improved over the typical "center of the head" mumbo-jumbo you get out of your naked 'phones. We feel the dimensionality of the instruments themselves. Not able to place them exactly, but the sounds are not clumped together and there is depth that fascinates!

Pair this up with the NE8's that we reviewed last week and you will hear clear audio magic... they were obviously built for each other. We also spent a lot of time with some Grado SR125's, Nike sport-style headphones, Panasonic RP-HTX7's (the classically styled ones) and the standard iPhone "mega cans" that come with the phone. We really plugged away at this amp and were delighted with its capabilities.

The USB charges up in two hours and you can listen for over ten hours on a charge- really more like 13 hours. Add another set of phones and that will be reduced, obviously... we don't know how much, exactly.

One big issue we had is that there is no on/off switch. The rig turns on when you plug your headphones in and will drain the battery if you forget to take them out when you are done. We are quite sure this will change in future models because it is something you always have to be thinking about. "Did I leave the iron on?" and "Did I unplug my headphone amp?". Certainly there is higher cost incurred when adding parts and we are sure they had limits they had to work within- that's business. The allure of switching jacks is hard to ignore for the product developer. We drained the battery accidentally about 20% of the time. If you happened to be hanging out with MacGyver you would not be able to rely on this to save a small Eastern European village- MacGruber, maybe. You would, however, be able to share some serious beats to woo some of the local townsfolk.

There are literally metric tonnes of ways to use this Icon Mobile- pick one up for $99.


  • Two headphone/line outputs: a 3.5mm 4-pin mini stereo (with mic) jack and a 3.5mm 3-pin mini stereo jack for driving earphones and line-level sources such as active speakers.

  • A 3.5mm mini stereo external input.

  • A high-quality rotary volume pot for maximizing USB and iPod signal-to-noise ratios.

  • A Gain Select switch provides compatibility for a wide range of headphones and earphones.

  • A built-in, rechargeable Lithium Ion battery with USB featuring a 2.5 hour charge-time for 13 hours of continuous playback with maximum power.

  • Support for USB audio input and ouput

  • The Battery-Low indicator blinks when the battery requires recharging.

Headphone Amp:

  • Power output: 80mW x 2 @ 16-Ohm
  • THD+N: 0.054% @ 25 mW, 1 kHz
  • S/N: 98dB @ 40mW


  • USB 2.0 compatible
  • Supports 44.1kHz and 48kHz native sampling rates
  • Microphone input: 16-bit ADC 4-pin mini stereo compatible headsets

Bundled Accessories:

  • 3.5mm stereo cable
  • USB cable
  • Silicone band
  • Plastic tool for adjusting gain setting


  • 88mm x 55mm x 12mm

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