NuForce isn’t the first company to bring high-end audio to the desktop, but their first complete PC audio system blends trendsetting aesthetics and audiophile-quality performance to form one of the most intriguing new PC audio systems we’ve yet seen. Do the Icon-1 and S-1 provide a little slice of audiophilia on your desktop?
A complete NuForce Icon-1/S-1 system comes in two boxes – one for the Icon-1 integrated amp/DAC and a much larger, heavier one for the S-1 speakers. The speakers and amplifier are sold separately, for those who might care to pair the Icon-1 amplifier with other speakers than the S-1. The Icon-1’s packaging is an attractive plastic box, while the S-1s come in a more utilitarian cardboard package, though I can’t say whether NuForce has something more elaborate in the plans for further production runs of the S-1.
You’ll first want to unpack the NuForce Icon-1 amplifier from its slim product box. The Icon-1’s package includes the Icon-1 USB DAC/integrated amplifier module, a switching power supply, a set of special cables that terminate in a RJ-45 connector for connecting speakers to the amp, an AC power cable for the power supply, and a silicone-rubber base for standing the amp module upright.
Next, unpack the S-1 speakers. They ship with short cables terminated in RJ45 connectors at either end, to make connecting everything a ‘snap’. The cables appear to be the same as Ethernet cables, but their terminations are wired differently than a typical LAN cable. Two pins are shorted to inform the amplifier that the S-1 speakers are connected – since the S-1 speakers’ unorthodox design requires some active equalization at the amplifier itself.
The NuForce Icon-1 amplifier feels solidly-built at first heft, with its aluminum shell and steel chassis – certainly a notch above the plastic enclosures of some competing integrated amplifiers in this category. Its large knobs also feel solidly anchored to the cabinet, and they turn smoothly. The aluminum shell serves to dissipate heat, and is stamped tastefully with the NuForce logo on either side. The NuForce Icon-1 amplifier is available with four anodized color treatments to its aluminum shell, to complement just about any listening environment or personal taste. When placed in its rubber cradle, it also has a remarkably small footprint, and its styling unobtrusively complements even the most minimalist PC setups. We’re definitely already feeling the audiophile ‘vibe.’
The supplied documentation for the NuForce Icon-1 amplifier also includes an article entitled “A Beginner’s Guide to Good Audio”. Recognizing that many who might purchase the Icon-1 system may never have acclimated themselves to the task of critical listening – listening into the details of the musical and audio performance – NuForce has taken the time to lay out the range of considerations that go into producing a true audiophile experience, which go far beyond big, booming bass and sizzling treble. It’s a nice touch, and a good sign that NuForce is attempting to introduce its customers to the world of high-end audio, instead of catering to some of the more misguided tastes prevalent in the consumer audio market segment.
The sense of quality associated with true ‘audiophile’ components is further enhanced by the S-1 speakers, which are also available in a variety of color combinations to complement a range of decors. My review sample was furnished in ‘basic black’, but even the combination of the piano-gloss finish on the round waveguide and the more subdued matte painted finish on the solid-feeling cabinets served to heighten the aesthetic. The drivers themselves feature natural-colored titanium cones, and a copper-anodized aluminum phase plug (the rigidly-mounted ‘beak’) at the center of each cone adds another elegant touch. (The original prototypes of the S-1 speakers that were shown at various trade shows leading up to their launch had natural-colored aluminum phase plugs, which I’d have personally preferred.)
Now that we’ve taken a look at the Icon-1 and S-1 from the exterior, let’s go a little deeper and see how the unique design features of the Icon-1 and S-1 contribute to an elevated audio experience.