Firstly I would like to thank Wofgang0119 @ Nuforce for the review sample..More info can be found here
The ICON dac has been burned in for over 200 hours and tested with my Samsung HDTV, Denon receiver, Sony CD and Bluray players, Panasonic cassette dec, Ibasso DX50 and Fiio X3, my Media laptop, Shure SRH1540, Fidelio X1, Sony XBA-H3, AD900X.
I remember the first time I really fell head over heels for a sound. It was my High school days during the 80s it was my Panasonic Shockwave Cassette player
This player to me was the proverbial Bomb! That big bass and that full sound was all I needed to take me to another level in sound. But truth be told compared to the sound of today's equipment these don't sound all that good but case in point I got the ICON DAC and even on open box trial it was clearly evident to my ears that I was dealing with a very nice sounding DAC..I will get to the sound later but I will run down the merits of the ICON DAC...
The ICON DAC measures H 6” (15.24 cm) X W 1” (2.54 cm) X D 4.5” (11.43 cm) and weighs in at 1 lbs..It has a solid all aluminum build that one would expect from Nuforce. I am happy to report the build gets a solid A in construction and form factor. The ICON DAC was made to be used vertically so it comes with a thick rubber base that was provided.. Though this is one of my complaints about the whole package. While this works just fine for putting the ICON DAC into place. The actual holder has too much give and with a slight tug in one direction or the other the DAC itself can easily be tipped over. I think the holder needs to be more stiff with less give way. Maybe a hybrid plastic rubber footing would be better. Which leads me to my other minor complaint. The first night I tried the ICON on my PC I was excited to give it a go so I had it on my desk next to my PC and in my haste to plug in the ICON, I went straight for the wall somehow thinking it would have been long enough cord to make it there. Nope, it slammed onto the hardwood floor..So unknowingly I actually tested the build quality of the DAC. It survived the fall with no issues whatsoever. The cord is approximately 4 ft short. Just barely long enough to be connected to the wall but barely..4ft longer and it would have been perfect..Yes I am nit picking as these 2 were the only real faults of the player..Now to the good stuff.
To me a source is one that should be versatile as well have the sound quality to be worth the investment..The ICON succeeds in both of these fronts. I used the ICON as a pre amp between my TV and Denon receiver..Threw on Judge Dredd Blueray and Oh my the sound out of the subs was clearly THX in quality and impact. The power of the ICON was clearly evident..Rumble of the JVC Subs connected to the receiver shook the room with an earth quake like rumble.. Sound out of the ICON through speakers is clean dimensional, balanced and has that low impact that I appreciate from Nuforce sound tuning..Connected to my Sony CD player the room came alive with an invigorating full sound that kept me looking deep into my CD collection..The power of the ICON was undeniable. It supplied that extra juice that most sources just can't touch. I can definitely appreciate that raw power. I think my NFB-5 is the only other source that can drive with similar ability to the ICON but all my others just don't hang..Connected to my media PC is where the sound qualities of the ICON was evaluated as well as my portable sources DX50 and X3 both connected to the 3.5 in on the back of the ICON.
I noticed one thing about Nuforce tuning..Each manufacturer has a "house sound" they like that is used for their various gears and the house tuning for Nuforce is clearly in full strength on the ICON. To my ears there are some similarities of how this source was tuned to the U-DAC-3 but obviously at a higher level in power and sound quality.. There are also similarities to the NE-700X earphones in sound to these sources as well.. What they all share is that full range sound and bass that is to die for..The abilities of the ICON in full force is very much in line with my own personal preference in sound signature. I would call myself a complete head.. Not a treble head or mid head or bass head.. A total head.. It is too much to ask to have all that your music has to be in full force? That is in fact what you get with this sound..Going from the DX50 by itself using my SRH1540 and then connected to the ICON. The difference is massive. It goes from the good performer to a full blown out sound that leaves one slack jawed.. There is more than just a little jump in performance. It is clearly audible. The stage and depth increases. Vocals a touch more forward and lush, bass has more texture, weight, treble is clean and more refined. I would say the overall tonality is a touch over neutral leaning toward warmth with a more musical tilt vs an analytical sound. Which is in line with my own sonic preference. A musical deep wide sound in approach and presentation. I notice vocals have amazing clarity and instruments have solid weight and definition..Using my Fidelio X1..That stage that depth..I found myself listening to my X1s till the wee hours of night enjoying every minute of the session..
The detail of the sound is not only exemplary of a nicer tuned DAC but. That BASS!!. Using my XBA-H3 in ears the bass is in full bloom..While it is not the same effect as my JVC subs, for earphones these in ears house some of the largest dynamic drivers for a hybrid earphone that does bass when in conjunction with the ICON just flows them low notes. I am not talking about that bloated messiness stuff. I am talking about fully textured and layered real bass that digs deep into your soul. It is the very essence of synergy on steroids. Authority with the best quality I have heard for low notes from a source easily.. It isn't just the low notes but the entire sound.Just when I think this synergy is the best using my H3s..Here come my SRH1540. I am simply blown away by what the ICON is doing for all my in ears and headphones. That lushness of sound using the SRH1540 connected to the ICON has brought the sound of the SRH1540 to another level..Now it is not all peachy with all my gears..I recently acquired a fantastic pair of in ears called the Zero Audio Doppios..These are a brand new dual BA in ears that while sound amazing on a simple source. It's 12 ohm sensitivity is a miss match for the ICON and was the only in ears that sounded terrible using the ICON. Minus this all my headphones from the AD900X to the SRH1540 all sound better than they ever have..
Nuforce got it going on. I have a new found respect for Wolfgang and company at Nuforce..To say I am enjoying the ICON DAC is an understatement. I kinda knew it was going to be better than the U-DAC-3 but I had no idea just by how much..The ICON easily hand my Audinst MX2, its lunch and dinner for similar functionality with much more power and engaging sound.. While I have been happy with my Meridian Explorer I have to admit I much prefer this sound tuning over the ME..Now the only real competition the ICON has was my NFB-5 and while I love the sound out of the NFB-5 It is simply too big to lug around. In comparison. The form factor and power of the ICON is much more ideal. Simple to use. Simple to play with it's plug n play functionality..Versatility and sound quality that merge into a powerful soild form factor..Fantastic job by the sound gurus at Nuforce..