The NuForce Icon is an audiophile-grade Integrated Desktop Audio Amplifier featuring two 12-watt outputs, a 3.5-mm stereo input for connection to an iPod or other portable device, a USB cable for operation with a PC or Mac, and standard RCA inputs for employing the Icon as the heart of a conventional audio system. For the headphone enthusiast, the Icon also offers a high-performance headphone output. Of particular interest to the computer user, the Icon’s line-out functions as a PC or Mac USB-to-analog audio converter or can also be used as a connection to a subwoofer.
With the same patented technology that has won a string of prestigious awards, the tiny Icon brings NuForce’s celebrated sound quality to the music lover’s desktop.
1) As the core of a desktop audio system, the Icon connects to an Ipod, CD player, PC or Mac.
2) Via the best, jitter-free USB technology, the Icon operates as a USB DAC for converting a PC or Mac’s audio signal to high-quality analog sound.
3) For optimal headphone performance, the Icon includes a discrete, high-performance headphone amplifier.
4) For operation as an audiophile-grade preamplifier, the Icon’s linestage can be connected to a power amp or active speakers.
5) As a high-quality auxiliary power amp in a surround-sound setup, the Icon can be used to drive tweeters or rear-channel speakers.
User Ratings and Reviews
4 Stars NuForce Icon
I’m using the NuForce Icon as a DAC pre-amp going into power AudioEngine A-2 speakers. Until the NuForce S-1 speakers arrive ( 2-3 weeks from now ) I can’t comment on the “sound” of the Icon, other than saying that the quality of sound is much better, and the noise level is much lower than the on-board Asus motherboard-RealTek ( and Monsoon planar speakers ) that I had been using previously.
An interesting development is that I’ve had to discard quite a few compressed ( mp3) files, since their poor quality is dramatically in evidence when output through this superior sound system
5 Stars A gift from the high-end audio manufacture
NuForce is a high-end digital amp manufacture and they are known for the high performance proprietary Class D amp technology.
I knew their product on several auditions, I had a high expectation on this so I jumped at this chance to get it. It is well rewarded.
First, I connected Icon with my PC via USB DAC and YAMAHA desktop speakers. The sound quality of Icon was very nice from just out of the box.
I thought the ability is beyond the desktop speakers. Finally I set it up with my best speaker Dynaudio twenty five special via LINN IKEMI.
I was amazed by the quality of bass reproduction. It’s so rich and deep, I can not believe it from the tiny size of Icon-1. Lower register of the speaker is well controlled as expected from Nuforce reputation.
Second, I like musicality of the Icon. Icon is not sterile nor dry without loosing any virtue of the Class D amp. In fact, Icon sports a high resolution and low distortion.
I think the overall performance is far beyond the price.
As a bonus, Icon has a decent headphone amp. This is not a cheap trick, Icon employs a discrete circuit for the headphone amp. Again, the sound quality is very good, this is no mean feat for the headphone out of audio amps.
I highly recommend this to every audio fans from the beginner who use PC mainly as a source to the audiophile who want a second system.
5 Stars Mac meets serious audio
Some time ago I came to the realization that most of the music I listen to is sourced from my computer and the pair of powered speakers I scavenged from a cheap PC really were not up to scratch. I have a “proper” hi-fi system (carefully-chosen separates connected by decent cables within a reasonable budget rather than cost-no-object audiophile gear). I bought that 15 years ago. It’s too big to put in a bedroom and too disruptive of family life to listen to properly (loudly!).
The ICON and a pair of second-hand KEF Q-compact speakers (89 db sensitivity) allows me access to good quality music reproduction once again. I’m driving the Icon using the USB input and I have the speakers on my small computer desk on some wooden stands I made myself. I’m sitting around 2 feet from the speakers. In this setup I have found there to be ample loudness. The guy I bought the speakers from suggested I should drive them from a 100W amplifier but in my opinion the Icon would be loud enough for most kinds of music in any room up to 200-300 sq ft.
The only comparison I have done is to use an Oppo DV-980H DVD player as a source and compare the same music through the built-in DAC. The Oppo’s audio decoding ability gets great reviews; I would say it is a little better than the Icon’s USB decoding but both are clearly much better than the Cambridge Audio CD player in my “proper” hi-fi.
I seriously considered buying the matching NuForce speakers but ultimately chose not to because, apparently, digital amplifiers don’t have a good reputation for long life and I wouldn’t want to have to discard the speakers if/when the Icon dies. While I applaud the direct sales approach, it seems that its almost impossible to personally make comparisons as that is part of the fun when buying audio gear.
I notice a little noise when no music is playing but not enough to really concern me. The only annoyance is the loud click when I power the Icon up. With that exception, I have nothing but praise for this neat little unit. I think anyone other than out-and-out audiophiles would be very happy to have this amplifier at the heart of a computer-based audio system.
5 Stars Unbelievable value
As you will see from other reviews, here and around the web, this little amplifier/DAC has fantastic sound quality. The stated 12w, surprisingly, seem more than enough to drive my bookshelf speakers (Ascend Sierra) to healthy levels without distortion. The bass is great.
This little Icon, in fact, wiped the floor with my receiver, the Panasonic SA-XR70, and now I’m thinking of an upgrade (to the receiver). If NuForce come out with a box that has more inputs, higher power rating, and a remote, it will be an unbelievable contender for the living room.
There is something else, special, about the Icon. It is an exciting and fun toy. Possibilities open up, new connections you had not thought about. It is so portable, so good at what it does, and has such style. It feels as right as a Swiss Army knife.
5 Stars A great hub to the perfect little desktop system
I bought this Nuforce amp (Silver color) just because of the reputation of Nuforce for offering audiophile quality amps that have tremendous value. When Nuforce announced they would be coming out with a $249 desktop amp, I had to buy one just because I knew it would be good.
First, look at the thing, it is beautiful in its simplicity, housed in a nifty attractive aluminum enclosure with simple knobs, and even the packaging is top rate. The unit comes with a hard silicon-like stand to stand it vertically, decent quality (but very short) banana plug speaker cables with an odd RJ-45 connection, a USB cable, a wall-wart adapter with universal voltage, everything you need to get started.
This unit can serve several purposes:
- It has two line inputs to connect iPods or your computer to it. Both analog inputs are switchable using the lower front knob
- And it has a USB input so you can plug your computer into it and it acts as a soundcard with up to 16bit/48Khz sampling rate. You can select this using the lower knob at position number 3
- It has a low level line out so you can use this as a preamp to your powered speakers or subwoofer. The output is controlled by the volume (top) knob.
- It has RJ-45 jacks which you use with the included cables to plug into any normal bookshelf or floorspeaker. It has banana plugs on the other end. They recommend a speaker with a sensitivity rating of above 86dB@1m.
I tried every one of its functions and it’s superb for what it costs.
The Digital amp is only rated at 12W per channel, but it’s enough to power medium efficiency bookshelf speakers to fill a small 12×8 room with sound. I plugged in my $900/pr NHT Classic 3 speakers and the sound quality was solid, tuneful, with very good bass impact.
Next I tried the preamp plugged into my $1300 Dynaudio powered speakers. The preamp output is very high grade, there is no appreciable hissing on the output even when the volume know is at full (with no music).
The built-in DAC is a great convenience feature, although its sound quality doesn’t compare to a good external DAC like a 0404 USB, it’s far better than any HD on-board chipset sound that is prevalent on many motherboards. I find the sound quite natural, and smooth. It doesn’t have the detail of a good high end DAC, but makes for a great alternative to buying a separate soundcard.
Then I tried my $350 AKG K701 and Denon D2000 headphones. The headphone amp is quite good. Not as refined as my $300 dedicated Headroom Micro amp, but way better than any laptop or computer headphone output jack I’ve heard. Again, very good considering its price. It would compete well to previous $100-150 headphone amps I had (like a Headroom Bithead)
The only two issues is the short proprietary speaker cable, but Nuforce sells longer ones if you want to buy it, and the pinouts are published on their website in case you want to make your own much longer ones. The reason they used this cable is because cable activates the amp’s built in equalizer when paired with matching Nuforce S-1 speakers. And the other one is that amp makes a pop sound through the speakers when you first turn it on with the front knob, so I always turn it on, wait two seconds and then continue increasing the volume so the pop happens while the volume control is still low.
So for those who are looking to upgrade their computer audio, getting one of these, adding some $250 PSB B15 bookshelf speakers will get you a great desktop listening station.