NuForce makes some amazingly good-sounding, expensive hi-fi equipment. Its revolutionary, high-end, Class-D amplifiers have won critical acclaim as well as industry awards, and its equipment has a strong following.
On the other hand, the company's gear is somewhat expensive. Paying $3,000 to $5,000 for an amplifier is not bad for audiophiles who demand the best, but it might give heart palpitations to today's "My iPod sounds good enough" generation.
The genius behind NuForce, a California company, is founder Jason Lim, who has taken note of what's happening to the music and hi-fi industries and created a series of items that are well priced and sound very, very good. I'll tell you just
good in a minute.
May the NuForce Be With You
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NuForce's new line of products consists of a little integrated amplifier that comes in four attractive colors, plus a pair of matching desktop speakers -- also in four color combinations.
These are not meant to be multimillion-dollar system-busters. They're meant to attach to your computer and re-create NuForce audio magic at close range, on your desk.
The Icon integrated amplifier weighs in at a measly one pound. It comes with its own stand so it doesn't tip over. Icons come in black, silver, red and blue.
The Icon delivers 12 watts per channel (perfect for the matching S-1 speakers and lots more). There's also a built-in headphone amplifier section.
Icon has three inputs: a pair of RCA jacks, a 3.5mm stereo jack (for a portable music player) and a USB input (1.1/2.0 compatible). The USB input is for the built-in USB DAC (digital-to-analog converter). That means you can bypass the questionable audio circuit board inside your PC or Mac computer and directly use the Icon's high-quality audio section.
The Icon's most interesting features are the speaker terminals. They are RJ45 computer jacks -- and the Icon amp comes with speaker wires with RJ45s on one end and banana plugs on the other. RJ45s support eight little wires inside. Three are used for the "plus" attachment to an amp and speaker and another three are used for the "minus" connections. That leaves two pins for other purposes -- which, in this case, are used only when you plug in a pair of NuForce's new S-1 speakers.
Shaping the Sound
The S-1 is a compact, desktop speaker system with one full-range, 3.5-inch, titanium driver in each channel's speaker enclosure. Around the driver is what NuForce calls a waveguide, which controls and contours the sound coming from the speaker. The speakers measure 9.5 inches by 6 inches by 4.8 inches, and weigh 5.5 pounds each.
As I mentioned above, they're made to match the Icon amp, so they come in matching colors: black/black (cabinet/waveguide), black/red, black/silver and silver/blue.
The speakers include their own connecting wires with RJ45s at both ends. That's where those extra two connecting pins come into play. Those pins activate a special optimization circuit in the Icon amp that helps extend the S-1's frequency response. The best bass response I heard comes from placing the S-1s near, or on a wall (but not too far away from your computer "listening" chair.
Here's the payoff: You will not believe how good this combination sounds. The Icon/S-1 combo produces the best-quality sound I've ever heard coming from my computer. I'm not exaggerating. The DAC produces much higher quality sound than my computer's sound board. Music files played from the analog output from my
sound pretty amazing too. Playing the Icon and S-1 combination is so good that there were times during my tests that I forgot that I was reviewing and just leaned back and got lost listening to the music.
But it didn't stop there. I had to hear what the Icon amp could do on its own. Since my classic, electrostatic hi-fi speakers were made to operate on lower-powered amplifiers I plugged in the Icon to hear how it sounds.
The Icon is one of the best sounding amplifiers I've ever auditioned in my system. If you have loudspeakers that sing with low-powered amps, you have to hear what the Icon can do for you.
Other audiophiles have discovered the Icon too. Reviews (
) have been extraordinary.
Mr. Lim is not taking audiophiles' reactions lightly. He's marketing a line of Icon accessories for critical listeners including a beefier power supply (it does make a difference), longer speaker cables and even headphones.
I've saved the best for last. You can turn your desktop/laptop computer into a super high-end audio system for $249 for the Icon amp and $249 for a pair of the S-1 speakers. That's a far cry from the price of NuForce's other gear.
A few decades ago, $500 would buy you a bare bones hi-fi setup. Today, that same $500 -- when used on a computer -- will buy you an amazing sounding setup for listening to your computer music files.
Search this stuff out. You won't be disappointed. The NuForce Icon amplifier and matching S-1 speakers are highly recommended.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.