Nuforce MMP Review
First Impressions: For some reason I expected a bigger box. Opening it up the box is very compact and rather nicely all tucked up into itself. After opening, it was a bit of a bugger to put it back the way it was for storage but that’s hardly a concern. The amp itself is a little bigger than I expected its mightily light too. I presume its due it being a plastic case rather the metal you get and the FiiO E5 so despite being a bit big for a tiny amp its effortlessly light. It’s nice to see it takes a micro USB to charge rather than the more common (in little amps anyway) the mini USB. Of this I much approve as I like I’m sure most people do, have a bucket load of micro USB cables to hard for phones and such.
First listen and I notice that it doesn’t have its own volume control, it does have a high or low gain option but given I had planned to use with my Ipod’s Line Out that’s not going to be an option. Still that’s not what most would use it for, in the real world it will be hooked up to a phones HP out. Still as I had the Ipod out a quick flick between its HP out and HP out to the MMP, trying with the Senn HD515’s there is a pretty stark difference. The big cans thrive on more power particularly in the upper ranges. Could it be the amp is like its kin, the Icon Mobile and a touch bright? Time shall tell.
Source: Ipod 5G via HP out and Galaxy Nexus.
Lows: So many little amps were focused around the old FiiO’s model. Give a bit more power and offer a bass boost button. There is no bass boosting button here. The lows therefore are more dependent on what your headphone or IEM can do and how it responds to more power. As I flick between the E5 and the MMP with the HD515’s in use there isn’t the stark low end difference quantity wise. I get the distinct impression the MMP is spitting out a lot more power, and I mean A LOT. The bass isnt more plentiful but it’s a damn sight quicker and a considerably cleaner. Of course the 515 really responds to amping but god they sound completely different. Not entirely unlike the Fireye Mini, just a better version of it in everyway. (Sorry Fireye.) The bass feels so much more exuberantly alive and vigorous. The power, the speed, the control are all so vastly improved. Of course I have to give the Icon Mobile a bash and the lows are still better on the MMP. I still think a bass boost button wouldn’t go a miss but the amps largely flavourless administrations of the audio mean it should appeal far, far more to purists than the crowd that normally are pursuant of the mini amps out there.
Mids: Much like the bass there is essentially no flavouring here other than the colossal power boost. I might say they are more open and dry but it’s hard to say how much is just down to things being better driven and not adding any warmth as some amps are want to do. One things for sure if you’re after a warm, mellow amp this is not it. Clarity and cleanness are what’s to be found here. Mids on hard to drive things open up, become more expressive and most notably on the 515 much more holographic. IEM’s responded less noticeably as they just don’t have power demands in the same way. Still everything benefited particularly those things on the warm and heavy side. I might say this more open presentation made mids seem a little more forward but really its just adding some clarity. They being more clear could be mistaken for pushing them forward. Maybe a nice combo for warm and bass heavy things.
Timing on the mids felt much improved. They felt the extra power at work gave them room to breathe. Its like taking a car and putting in a wildly more powerful engine. It does what the previous engine did but it feels effortless and as though its giving you its fullest potential.
Highs: This may not have the scintillating brightness of its sibling but the high end was lifted a bit. In part this is due to the extra power allowing things to be more properly driven. Certainly it hugely sped up the treble on hard to drive things. This is a bit of a two edges sword though, yes the amp improved things but it began to show up what the source lacks. I noticed this most with the Ipod 5G as its HP out is less than accomplished in the high end. So I think a pairing with something aggressive or gritty up top (thinking DBA-02) and the Ipod got rather abrasive. It’s a shame there was no volume control to use with its Line Out. The highs were rather tamer on the Galaxy Nexus but then it uses MP3’s streamed from Google music so it’s never going to have the option of superb treble. The amp however I felt made the most out of what it had to work with, just maybe not pair it up with brightest headphones.
In the Hand: Light. It feels lighter than it looks like it should, not in a bad way as it’s nicely constructed, just light. It might have been nice if the corners were a fraction more rounded for in the pocket but visually its looked good.
Features: Pretty basic on the whole, you get an on/off switch. A high/low gain switch, a 3.5mm input on the bottom. More unusually for these sorts of things but like its sibling you get two outputs. Yep you get two 3.5mm out sockets so if your someone that want to share music with someone close by they can plug it and hear what your hearing. Oh and you get a little lanyard loop so you can attach something to it if you like.
Build Quality: For a little amp it’s a bit pricey but you gets what you pays for. The build quality is lovely.
Power: Loads. Upping things to the big HD600’s and I was able to use the high gain option. Actually I didn’t notice a lot of difference between high and low gain so you could just always leave it on high and save some phone battery power. (Edit: I didn’t notice lots of difference on the HD600 but I certainly did when I put IEM’s back in!) After all its going to need it more. Volume wise it didn’t seem to want to go to insane with the big HD600 but everything else would with ease. The 600 would too but the phone was up in the range to warn about listening too loudly for too long. The 515 and any IEM I tried felt like they had all the power they wanted and more.
Transparency: Easily the most transparent little amp I’ve heard. (TBH so it should as its easily the most expensive too.) Naturally the form factor makes me want to compare it to the now aging E5 but there is just no comparison. This is like a fresh spring breeze. So open and free. If anything it could be too open and transparent for those who like a rich sounding amp. This is all about cleanliness and transparency.
Value: As I’ve said before Nuforce stuff seems hard to come by if you’re not in the US. In the US its just US$59 (£38.68) but in the UK I only found it at one place and it was £52 (US$79.33) as you can see that’s a large jump. Eek! Bargainlishious if you’re a US’ian not quite so much if you’re not. For the same money in the land of Her Britannic Majesty your forgoing much functionality and making it compete with the E11 rather than the E6
Conclusion: I have really quite liked the sound of this little amp. Its functionality less so. I miss no bass boost, not that I really want one but I can see many would and the real omission is no volume control. To get any control you have to go back to the source and that’s going to be buried in your pocket somewhere. Of course with the amp you won’t get volume controls passing through. Having them on the amp itself would be really handy. Now I don’t know if that was a trade-off to get the sound quality so high but it was a missed feature. That’s the only gripe I’ve had with the MMP.
Acoustically I have found it a breath of fresh air. Nuforce IEM’s are always on the rich, heavy side and their last portable amp, the Icon Mobile, was notoriously bright. They complimented each other wonderfully though. So I assumed this would be aiming for much the same but it’s not. Here we have a little amp that is far more colourless. Maybe you could say it’s very open and transparent nature makes things seem a little brighter but it’s only a human perception. The highs are a little more noticeable due to its openness and as a mentioned it begins to show up what you’re feeding it. I can see this working well with the rich warmth of Nuforce’s IEM’s but I didn’t try them. I had planned to but once I started listening to the MMP it became clear that the amp belongs with better things. Sorry Nuforce but your IEM’s aren’t high end stuff, while thought your NE-600x was a stunner for the money it nor your others are quite going to do the MMP justice.
The MMP does not sound like it’s a little mini amp, it sounds like a proper portable amp. It’s also clearly got the oomph of a much bigger amp too. it’s just got endless power behind it and scales up very well to power hungry big cans. The HD515’s just loved them. The IE8’s too had a whale of time. (Were Nuforce aiming to complement Sennheiser’s?) The power and transparency really made the best of anything that was warm and rich. Nuforce claim on their website that “Your headphones will sound distinctly clearer” and I can confirm that yes they will.