the itjerk

my adventures with technology

Monthly Archives: August 2008

nuforce icon

After reading an article in the Chicago Tribune, I decided the Nuforce Icon was just the type of Class D amplifier I was looking for: inexpensive, full-featured, and with audiophile sound. As such, it's much more of a solution to digital audio than the classic Sonic Impact T-Amp. Specifically, the Icon offers three audio inputs – mini-jack stereo, rca stereo jacks and usb audio – and a line-out for a subwoofer. Perfect.

Ordered Monday from Nuforce's store on Amazon ($249), the Icon arrived on Friday via Fedex Ground. The packaging – about as un-green as possible – has much to be desired, especially the dire static-electricity warning about the plastic case it comes in. The Icon comes with a 15V 1.6A power brick that accepts 110-240V, nice rubber stand, usb cable and a pair of RJ-45 to banana-plug speaker cables. Yes, that's right – the Icon has no speaker binding posts – but rather a pair of ethernet sockets! Why? Nuforce also markets a pair of Icon speakers which utilize the extra wires to activate a special equalizer circuit. So with your own speakers, expect something like this:

The unit includes a Brown-Burr PCM2706 DAC, and after plugging it into my Ubuntu 8.04 computer, the Icon instantly installed itself as "USB Audio DAC". That's great news. Now I have an amplifier that can take the digital audio out of my computer and convert it to analog – no reason to worry about the cheap onboard-audio of my soundcard as the PCM2706 is of the same quality that Trends Audio uses in their outboard USB DACs. Plus I can still connect a CD player to the analog RCA plugs, and have a stereo mini-plug for something else.

The other cool thing about the Icon is that its line-out can provide the signal to a powered subwoofer. Again, that's great news for me. In addition for my PSB Alpha speakers, I also picked up PSB's Subzero i subwoofer from the proceeds of my book. The T-amp circuitry prevents it from ever providing a signal to a sub, and T-amps are notorious for weak bass. So that's a big, big plus for the Icon.

So how does it sound? Well, Nuforce includes a sheet entitled "A Beginners Guide to Good Audio" in the package, and there's good reason: the Icon sounds like high-end audio. Sure, the RJ-45 connectors and short-cable lengths are a serious niggle and at 12 watts per channel it will just barely get loud enough. But put all that aside and get ready to enjoy some very, very pure sound from the Icon.

And remember the one thing Nuforce forgot to mention about high-end audio: a good system will also reveal just how bad those low-bit rate lossy files actually sound!

On the web: Nuforce Icon