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NuForce Icon-1 Amplifier and S-1 Speakers
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by Rory Buszka on October 23, 2008 in Speakers/Headphones

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?

Final Thoughts

In both design and execution, NuForce’s first complete PC audio system is impressive. The stylish S-1 speakers and slim Icon-1 USB DAC/integrated amplifier convey a level of sophistication that’s thus far been unmatched by any other system I’ve encountered, and together they deliver an audio performance that befits their high-end audio pedigree.

Rather than cutting costs, NuForce has taken the uncommon route of trimming away features (like multichannel surround sound or a separate subwoofer module) and power output (24 watts for the system), favoring a simpler embodiment that maximizes component quality. And the result is an audio experience that mesmerizes, despite producing relatively little bass – the ‘see-through’ clarity, spacious realism, and unflappable solidity of the system virtually excuses the lack of low-end oomph.

However, that lack of bass may be a deal-breaker for some who can’t justify purchasing a complete PC audio system for $500, then spending another $150-$300 on a competent powered subwoofer. I’ll admit that I usually fall into the camp that feels a part of the music is ‘missing’ when the bass performance is lacking, but the Icon-1 and S-1 are a perfect fit for a small bedroom workstation where placement against a wall boundary is possible, and where it isn’t desirable to shake the house.

If you’ve already got a high-end audio system, the Icon-1 and S-1 together present an attractive solution for adding enthusiast-level sound quality at your PC. However, if you intend to turn your PC into the media hub of your home, it may make sense to couple the very competent Icon-1 USB DAC/integrated amplifier to a pair of larger bookshelf-style speakers for deeper, fuller bass.

I’m awarding the Icon-1 and S-1 speakers separate Techgage scores, since the two products are sold separately, making a variety of component pairings possible. The NuForce Icon-1 receives a Techgage score of 9 for its excellent source connectivity, and offering plenty of clean power on tap for rich audio performance on the desktop.

The Icon-1 is perhaps the most complete and highly-perfected desktop audio amplifier on the block at this point, and if you’re considering assembling an audio system for your PC that aspires to better performance than is possible from most PC audio solutions, the Icon-1 is a great starting point.

The S-1 speakers complement the Icon-1 nicely, and produce a lively, spacious, and detail-rich sound, though their lack of bass hamstrings them somewhat, earning them a score of 8. Off the top of my head, I can think of a few design decisions I’d have approached differently during the design of the S-1 speakers that would have provided improved bass performance. Still, their style and high-fidelity sound makes them a near-perfect pairing for the Icon-1, and a system consisting of the Icon-1 and S-1 can get you remarkably close to the true sound that the recording artist intended. And in this business, that’s high praise.

NuForce Icon-1 USB DAC/Integrated Amplifier

    Pros

  • Slim, space-saving chassis
  • Sophisticated industrial design
  • Accommodates plenty of source inputs
  • Offers subwoofer output
  • Taut, controlled bass response and clear, transparent sound
    Cons

  • 24-watt power output may not be enough for very large rooms

NuForce S-1 Desktop Speakers

    Pros

  • Attractive styling
  • Accurate, detailed sound
  • Solid build quality
  • Near-holographic “imaging”
    Cons

  • Somewhat large
  • Anemic bass response

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