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Promising new portable headphone amp (Mobile Icon) from NuForce

post #1 of 486
Thread Starter 
I am a delighted owner of a pair of NuForce v2 monoblock amplifiers for my home stereo. I didn't need to be convinced that NuForce can perform audio magic and do so at very, very competitive prices. So I was intrigued to see some advanced product information up on their website (Nuforce, Inc) on a very sleek headphone amp. I'm a long-time portable audiophile too and am a happy owner of my third Headroom Total AirHead, the current model, each one being a substantial improvement on its predecessor.

I contacted NuForce with lots of questions about the Mobile Icon, and Jason Lim offered me the opportunity to stop by and listen to their prototype. As I work only 10 minutes from NuForce's Milpitas, CA headquarters, I jumped at the opportunity.

Initially, I was disappointed to learn that the Mobile Icon does NOT use the same "analog switching" technology that makes their v2 monoblock amps among the very best in the world (at a fraction of the cost, size, and power consumption of the others). Rather, it uses a conventional gain-stage transistor amplification technology. Just happens to be a very good implementation.

Frankly, I didn't expect that Mobile Icon to surpass my beloved Total AirHead. But it did so quite substantially. The AirHead provides plenty of bass, but the bass through the Mobile Icon had lots more punch and substance. Detail at the high end was even better on the Mobile Icon -- with a lower noise floor.

My source was an 80GB iPod with Apple lossless music ripped from CDs. I listened on both my Ultimate Ears Triple.fi 10 Pro in-ear monitors and on my AKG K701 standard headphones. The Mobile Icon had no problem driving the K701s to acceptable listening levels without the increase in noise I get when switching my Total AirHead to high-gain to drive the K701s. Both headphones revealed the same improvement in dynamics and detail for the Mobile Icon. I also listened directly to the iPod for reference, which sounded like life had been sucked out of the music compared to either headphone amp. On a scale of dynamics, I think I'd put the Total AirHead about half-way between the iPod direct and the Mobile Icon, to help give you some sense of the magnitude of the improvement.

The Mobile Icon does lack two nice sonic enhancements of the Total AirHead. First, it doesn't roll off the high-end to compensate for the fact the music is mixed for room playback and will sound slightly bright on headphones. Second, it doesn't crossfeed attenuated, delayed signals across the channels to restore stereo spatiality. On the Mobile Icon, like the iPod direct, the soundstage tends to collapse to the center of your head. Still, the overall improvement of the Mobile Icon more than offsets the loss of these two enhancements.

One huge advantage of the Mobile Icon is its size. I played with a bare board, not an encased product, but I expect the final product to be smaller than an iPhone / iPod Touch and maybe as thin. In contrast, the AirHead is a mini-brick.

The AirHead is very poorly shielded, and it picks up interference from any GSM phone nearby. I have to put my phone in airplane mode when I'm listening. I placed my GSM phone next to the Mobile Icon throughout my audio testing and never heard any interface. It would only be better when encased.

I didn't audition the USB input on the Mobile Icon. But the fact that it includes this makes it really competitive with Headroom's BitHead rather than the AirHead at the substantially lower price of $99. I look forward to when it is in production (late Nov08?) to buy one.
post #2 of 486
In terms of overall performance (a.k.a. not "bang for your buck"), would you recommend this over the Hornet? Or is it just wishful thinking that a $99 amp is as good as or better than a $370 amp?
post #3 of 486
Thread Starter 

Not familiar with the Hornet

Unfortunately, I can't give you any advice wrt the Hornet, as I'm not personally familiar with it. You'll just have to wait to try a Mobile Icon. However, if you are familiar with what NuForce has done in the world of high-end audio amps, then you know it's not unreasonable for them to outperform products that are far more expensive.
post #4 of 486
One problem:

The nearest pro audio store is in NYC, which is 1.5-2 hours away from me...

I have no way of trying them both.
post #5 of 486
Yes, I too can not wait to read about the comparisons between the NuForce, Predator, and iQube. It would be so great if the NuForce is another giant killer.
post #6 of 486
I was just thinking... Nuforce, could you please put a digital out on your amp?
post #7 of 486
looks like a p.o.s. in a fancy ipod-like box

probably $20 in amp, $20 in packaging, the rest in "design"
post #8 of 486
Thread Starter 

Mobile Icon innards

I can't help you with a complete parts list, but Jason Lim did tell me the DAC is from C-Media and the amp from TI.
post #9 of 486
I am really quite disapointed in this offering as well. I design is really quite lacking, it doesn't seem all that well thought out and it just seems to lack any kind of 'make you want it' factor. I can't see it taking off.
post #10 of 486
Oh great. Another USB DAC amp I'll end up having to review.
post #11 of 486
I too have a Apple IPod 80gb 5th gen video and run to myTotal Airhead via LOD with Hearyourslf C-3's triple driver customs playing both .WAV full file and Apple Lossless music ripped from CD's and I am so loving every minute of my time. I will of course get a Newforce mobile just because my inguiring mind wants to know. The one thing I wish Mobile Amp manufact. would add is a push to hear mic. My Shure PTH is just what I need but way too many wires.
post #12 of 486
I think the design is great, the price point is crazy, and if Nuforce carries on their product traditions with this is will be a killer.
post #13 of 486
Quote:
Originally Posted by jrosenth View Post
I think the design is great, the price point is crazy, and if Nuforce carries on their product traditions with this is will be a killer.
+1

I don't know what's with the naysayers earlier. Look at the feature list, sleek design, Nuforce stuff has always been decent sounding.
post #14 of 486
Could this possibly sound better than the iBasso D3?
post #15 of 486
Quote:
Originally Posted by jsplice View Post
Could this possibly sound better than the iBasso D3?
I will buy the amp and if it sounds better than the D3 I will shoot the D3 with my AK47. hahahah
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