A growing segment of recent audio product introductions have come from companies making small, desktop-friendly devices that let you use your computer as a source for serious hi-fi . Nuforce is one player that has carved out a niche in this new world. Its desktop product line ranges from small speakers and subwoofers to USB DACs and integrated amps, all of which sport a compact, jewel-like form factor that lets them merge with, as opposed to dominate, your desktop.
Given its size — about the same as an early-’80s Walkman — it’s amazing how much Nuforce packs into the all-metal Icon-2. You get a 2 x 24-watt amp, a 96/24-capable USB DAC, a high-performance headphone amp, and even a line output to connect a subwoofer. Speaker outputs consist of RJ-45 jacks that connect to the supplied high-quality speaker cables. (The other end sports gold-plated banana plugs.) There are also RCA and minijack stereo inputs to plug in additional sources. A handy input on the front, just below large source select and volume control knobs, lets you easily connect a set of cans.
Connected via USB, the Icon-2 amp brought about a dramatic improvement in sound quality compared with headphones plugged directly into my laptop. With lossless-encoded files ripped from CD, music sounded crisp and full-bodied; even 320-kbps tracks that I streamed from MOG had improved defi nition. And when I went on to play a few high-rez 96/24 jazz and classical titles downloaded from HDtracks, they retained much of the air and impact I’m used to hearing when playing them on my big system.
Along with its sound, another impressive thing about the Icon-2 is its silence. When you jack the volume up during headphone or desktop-speaker listening (and the Nuforce proved capable of driving the sub/sat system I used it with to way more than adequate levels without distorting), you don’t want background noise to rise with it. With the Icon-2, backgrounds were consistently as black and silent as outer space.
Great sound, compact form, multiple inputs, and an ability to drive both headphones and desktop speakers — what’s not to like about the Icon-2? Wrap it up and put a bow on it. – Al Griffin
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.