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[Review] Nuforce Icon HDP

post #1 of 172
Thread Starter 

Here is my brief review of my recently acquired Icon HDP by Nuforce:

 

It's amazing!


Edited by SoulSyde - 11/4/10 at 4:56pm
post #2 of 172
Thread Starter 

No seriously...

 

 

After ~100 hours of listening I feel like I have spent enough time with my Nuforce Icon HDP to start judging its performance.  Flat out, it's the best piece of audio gear I have purchased in my 2 1/2 year long audiophile career.

 

My previous DAC was an M-Audio Fast Track Pro run to an external amp, so that will be the standard by which I judge the HDP.  There frankly is no comparison between the two.  The HDP's internal DAC is world class compared to the Fast Track Pro.  It is extremely accurate without any coloring of the sound.  Separation and sound stage/placement is very well produced.  I get the impression that I am listening to exactly what the mastering engineer intended me to.  I am starting to notice how awful some of my recordings are, this DAC will show flaws in music like nothing I have listened to before.  On the flip side, I'm picking up sounds from recordings that I have never noticed before.

 

The amplifier was what surprised me the most about this device.  The HDP has a pretty small footprint on my desk, especially when propped up with the supplied hard rubber stand.  Because of its demure stature I wasn't expecting the amp to be great, but it is!  In fact I have just come to notice that Jan (from Meier Audio) actually re-sells the HDP on his website - I am imagining because he's currently missing a small desktop Amp/DAC from his product line (not to mention it's a great Amp/DAC).  This amp pushes my Senn. HD600s with absolute ease and I am no where near 50% of the max volume level for average listening (maybe 60-65% if I'm getting carried away).  This amp has great attack and great punch and is very analytical compared to other amps I have listened to.

 

I think that long-term I may acquire a tube amplifier to connect to this world class DAC for when I want a warmer, more laid back sound signature, but in the meantime the HDP has found a very happy home on my desk.  For $450, if you are just starting out in the Desktop world I highly recommend this device.

 

Equipment used for my review:

 

PC & MediaMonkey (FLAC and 320 MP3)  ::  Nuforce Icon HDP  ::  Sennheiser HD 600, Sennheiser HD 280 Pro, Sennheiser PX-100 II


Edited by SoulSyde - 11/4/10 at 5:00pm
post #3 of 172

Welcome to HDP team and my HDP pairs very great with Denon D2000.

post #4 of 172

Thanks for the write up.  I actually like the first review!

 

Funny how we tend to think that a "good" amp must be big.  Small amps cant possibly sound good... right? wink.gif

post #5 of 172

I am enjoying my Nuforce Icon HDP paired with my Denon D5000s.  The amp is good, but it just doesn't have enough oomph.  When I use the HDP as a preamp (RCA) with my Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 speakers, I come very close to audio nirvana, for me.  The music sounds crystal clear up to the threshold that I am comfortable experiencing.  

 

With headphones, the bass seems to max out in "punchiness" at around the 10-11 o'clock setting (when the amp is in a vertical position).  This is more than loud enough for safe, sustained listening for a few minutes, but I can crank the volume beyond this limit and the sound really doesn't get much louder, except for some blaring high notes, like cymbals and hats.  The rest of the music does not increase in volume much, at least not with my Denons or Sennheiser HD-595s.

 

Please don't get me wrong, overall I am extremely happy.  I'm just trying to point out that there does not seem to be nearly as big of an increase in volume with headphones as I experience with speakers using the same amp and source.  I was a sonar technician in the US Navy for 8 years, and I learned that your ears adjust to the sound level, so my listening level is very quiet, except for occasional short bursts of increased volume when the mood strikes me. (20-80 seconds).  I listen at a level that just barely passes the point where this amp/dac is balanced.  Any lower and the left channel is quieter than the right.  The volume pot on my amp is terrible, but thankfully my sources are fairly level, so once I set the volume I don't need to mess with it much.  I will most likely replace this, myself, at some point.

 

Great value!

post #6 of 172
Thread Starter 

@sonitus mirus

 

Thanks for your thoughts.  My experience is definitely much different than yours.  I don't ever need to push my volume pot enough to experience the unequal volume phenomenon you've experienced.  One area that we definitely differ on it the expression of "punch" in the lower frequencies.  My HD 600s definitely smooth out a lot of "punch" in my music, but they excel in extending the deep frequencies.  However when I hook up my HD 280 Pros to the HDP there is a ton of "punch."  

 

Music used for this example: Ghostland Observatory - "Sad Sad City"

post #7 of 172

Threads like these make my decision easier! I am almost convinced to purchase HDP to match up with Denon 7K.

And my hearing level is very low, so the amplifying the decibel itself does not concern me significantly.

 

Thanks for a great review! A question though. Which would be better: Having computer's volume low + Maximizing HDP's volume, or Maxing computer's volume and having small HDP volume? I hope this makes sense to everyone else.

post #8 of 172
When using a digital connection, such as the USB port, you want the source volume to be at a maximum level. You should turn the volume all the way up on the computer, both the overall system volume and the volume on the application that will be playing the music. You should only need to make adjustments to the sound level using the volume control on the Nuforce; however, if the quietest setting is still too loud for you, lower the computer volume a bit to make it comfortable. The best sound quality will be with the computer volume maxed, but lowering this a bit will not significantly impact the sound quality.
post #9 of 172

So I was using it the right way - Maxed computer volume and adjusted Amp!

Thanks a lot for clarifying this!

post #10 of 172
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kreisleriana View Post

Threads like these make my decision easier! I am almost convinced to purchase HDP to match up with Denon 7K.

And my hearing level is very low, so the amplifying the decibel itself does not concern me significantly.

 

Thanks for a great review! A question though. Which would be better: Having computer's volume low + Maximizing HDP's volume, or Maxing computer's volume and having small HDP volume? I hope this makes sense to everyone else.



I run the volume out of my PC at 80% so I can match the volume of my headphones to the speakers (I also have connected to the Line-Out of the HDP).  This way I don't have to radically adjust the volume on the HDP every time I switch from headphones to speakers (which I do a lot for my studio work).


Edited by SoulSyde - 11/7/10 at 3:48am
post #11 of 172

Our experiences might be the same, but I think I just did a poor job of expressing my point.  In the vertical position, the volume pot on my Nuforce does not make any sound until about the 8:30 clock position, and the left and right channels are not equal until about the 9 o'clock position.  And for the loudness, most of the increase is found up until around 11-12 o'clock, and any increase in volume beyond this point does not really make a significant increase in the sound level, especially with the lower frequencies.  I normally listen at the lowest possible level where both channels are even, and this amp is plenty loud enough for me, just something I observed.

 

It seems that an overwhelming majority of the volume increase can be found in the first section of the volume pot's movement, and the impact is significantly reduced the more it is turned.  I only raise the volume to about 10-11 for very short periods of time, and I simply noticed that I could increase the level with no real impact on the sound level after a specific point with my headphones.  
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by SoulSyde View Post

@sonitus mirus

 

Thanks for your thoughts.  My experience is definitely much different than yours.  I don't ever need to push my volume pot enough to experience the unequal volume phenomenon you've experienced.  One area that we definitely differ on it the expression of "punch" in the lower frequencies.  My HD 600s definitely smooth out a lot of "punch" in my music, but they excel in extending the deep frequencies.  However when I hook up my HD 280 Pros to the HDP there is a ton of "punch."  

 

Music used for this example: Ghostland Observatory - "Sad Sad City"


Edited by sonitus mirus - 11/7/10 at 3:56pm
post #12 of 172
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by sonitus mirus View Post

Our experiences might be the same, but I think I just did a poor job of expressing my point.  In the vertical position, the volume pot on my Nuforce does not make any sound until about the 8:30 clock position, and the left and right channels are not equal until about the 9 o'clock position.  And for the loudness, most of the increase is found up until around 11-12 o'clock, and any increase in volume beyond this point does not really make a significant increase in the sound level, especially with the lower frequencies.  I normally listen at the lowest possible level where both channels are even, and this amp is plenty loud enough for me, just something I observed.

 

It seems that an overwhelming majority of the volume increase can be found in the first section of the volume pot's movement, and the impact is significantly reduced the more it is turned.  I only raise the volume to about 10-11 for very short periods of time, and I simply noticed that I could increase the level with no real impact on the sound level after a specific point with my headphones.  
 



I does sound like we're in agreement.

 

Despite any of its shortcomings, I absolutely love this amp!

post #13 of 172
Thread Starter 

Since the initial review I have been able to put another 100+ hours on this amp and I wanted to add that it's Still Amazing!  I have also acquired a pair of Ultrasone Pro 750s which are a fairly even keeled set of cans, as opposed to my HD600s which can accurately be described as warm or dark.  I do notice that the HDP is slightly bright, which makes them a great match for the HD600s if you want a little more out of the high end.

 

I still have no regrets with his purchase, nor do I yearn for another desktop amp.

post #14 of 172

Did you notice any burn-in changes past 100 hrs?

post #15 of 172
Thread Starter 

No, but I'm not a believer in burn-in for solid state amplifiers (tubes yes, driver-based headphones yes).  My impressions only changed due to the introduction of another set of headphones.

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