NuForce Icon Mini Review (Part 1)First Impressions
Someone should give the art designer an award for the Best Design. Seriously who would have come up with such a beautiful and tastefully design box? From the exterior box packaging to the inside box NuForce really took every detail into consideration making sure it look really good.Click to enlarge
The packaging box is made of translucent hard plastic and the inside box is white color with a transparent window to show the color of the Icon inside. The inside box sports four slot bay for the amp (Icon), power adapter, stand, USB cables, and RJ45 to banana plug speaker cables. There is also another slim box which contains the power cord and a protective white rubber mat for you to place the Icon horizontally. Click to enlarge
The unit I got comes in a beautiful shade of red that gives you that expensive, stylish, avande garde look. What I also like is that sexy curve edge body. I simply love the knobs (Volume and Input Selector) on the Icon. It has this nice smooth texture to it and yet gives you that solid tight feel whenever you turn the knob. The volume control is also the on/off switch which gives a click sound whenever you turn it on or off. The headphone jack input can be found at the bottom of the front panel. At the back of the Icon, it sports a clean and simple layout. It come with 3 inputs, RCA, USB and 3.5mm stereo jack, a unique speaker output (RJ45) and a line out (for subwoofer) connection.Click to enlarge Audio
Set up was simple; I hooked up the Icon to my pc through the USB port which now functions as a USB DAC Pre-Amp. Next I connected a pair of Mark & Daniel Maximus Mini
for a stress test on the Icon. The Mini’s are a very hard pair of speakers to drive with an average efficiency of 82.5db.
Scrolling through my itunes, I selected Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven in 320kbps MP3 format. What came next totally hit me by surprise! My initial expectation of this little fellow wasn’t even high however what I heard next completely threw whatever assumptions I had on it. The sound was simply amazing; I could hear Clapton plucking the guitar strings so clearly. It was good clean music with no distortion played out. Clapton’s vocal was so warm and detailed that I could feel his pain and passion when he sang it. The most amazing thing is it could drive my M&D Mini’s! Like I said before the Mini’s are real hard to drive and it sounded good with the Icon.
At a desktop distant of less than a meter it was loud enough for me playing at 10 o’clock volume level. I got more adventurous by cranking it up to almost 1 o’clock. Guess what, it didn’t clip or sound stretched at all, I had to even turn it down as it was getting too loud for my ears. On my previous amp (KingRex) which was driving the Usher S520, it was clipping badly and even shut down when I played it up to 2 o’clock level! Simply put it this way, amps like Trends and KingRex will not come close to it.
Next I shifted the Icon to the hall and hook it up to an OPPO DV-983H and Mark & Daniel Sapphires
. I selected “Smooth Operator” from The Best of Sade album for my next listening test. This would mean a more grueling test on the Icon especially trying to drive the Sapphires which are one of the bigger bookshelf in the Maximus range. I was a little skeptical about switching from Mini to Sapphires but that’s what this stress test is all about, isn’t it?
Holy cow! I couldn't believe what I was hearing, this little chili padi could make the Sapphire sing. Now I am asking myself how on earth could this tiny little amp drive the Sapphires? I am simply lost for words, i couldn't believe what I was hearing. My assumptions had got the better of me again! What came out from the Sapphires was pumping tight bass. The smooth sexy sound of the Saxophone gave me a cool jazzy vibe. Sade's voice was so melodious and warm that i was singing along with her. Details like the beat of the Congo could be heard clearly with every finger knock. I could hear the bass guitar strumming away in the background blending in so well and smoothly with the music. All this was played at a loud volume level at 1 o'clock which the Icon didnt break a sweat. I must really say it sounded even better on the Sapphires.Inside of Icon
Overall photo of entire Icon circuit-board. Note very clean & nice layout, with great attention to component positioning & very short circuit-paths. The big black Nuforce Audio-Grade NH15 is Nuforce’s proprietary audiophile-grade DC-to-DC converter
This is a close-up of Nuforce’s proprietary analog-switching Class-D chip – very nice job! Note how close they managed to place it to the RJ-45 speaker output connectors!
Huge Nuforce proprietary audiophile-grade capacitor, one of the many nice, Nuforce proprietary components used in the circuit board.
Burr-Brown DAC used for the USB DAC circuitry. Again, very nice!Conclusion
I am still in disbelieve and in total shock of what i was hearing from the Icon. It was able to deliver, perform and exceed above all expectations for its price range. It is clean, neutral, dynamic and not bass shy is what I can describe the Icon. 12 watt is seriously an understatement so don’t be fooled by the numbers. I can assure you that it will be able to drive your speakers and you will be amazed by its sound.
Come to think of it, at this price tag the Icon is simply the best value for money amp. 6 key features on the Icon which none of its competitor can do:
- Integrated Amp
- USB DAC
- USB DAC Pre-Amp
- Power Amp
- Headphone Amp
It’s a multi-functional amp which performs top notch in every category.
NuForce has seriously set new heights and benchmark on the Icon. Well done!