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NuForce Icon DAC Preview

NuForce Icon DAC

NuForce Icon DAC


  • Product Name: Icon DAC
  • Manufacturer: NuForce
  • Review Date: August 01, 2013 08:00
  • MSRP: $325
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool
  • High-precision 32-bit DAC
  • Supports Windows 7, 8, Mac OSX, Android 4.1.1
  • USB Input from Android devices
  • Supports PCM and DSD over USB playback (DSD support on PC only)
  • Supported file format: PCM 32 (192kHz), DSD 2.6Ghz, 5.8Ghz (>96kHz bit-rate down-converted)
  • Powerful 8V output headphone amplifier
  • 6.3 mm headphone output jack
  • 3.5 mm analog input and RCA analog output
  • Audiophile TOCOS volume pot
  • Multiple stage filtering and regulated up-converted 24V rail power supply
  • High-quality aluminum chassis

If being an Audioholic is a sickness, the symptoms vary greatly from victim to victim. For one, it is an unending quest for the lowest, flattest, most thunderous bass. For others it is the most pristine color reproduction with the deepest blacks and the cleanest lines. For some it might be room treatments and acoustical tuning, others it will be huge, monoblock amps that require a forklift to move. 

For a not insignificant segment, it is headphones.

Known by aficionados as "cans", headphone connoisseurs will, at the very least, have different headphones for different applications. They may even have different headphones for different types of music. But, eventually, they look beyond what is on their heads and start to upgrade other aspects of the headphone experience.

DAC stands for Digital to Analogue Converter. It takes the digital signal and transforms it into something that an amplifier can have a speaker reproduce. Every digital device with a headphone output has a DAC. Of course, not all DACs are created equal. While the DACs in most receivers are fairly robust (especially as you near the flagship models), the ones in your portable devices and even your computer are usually pretty basic. For someone that cares about sound, that just won't do.

The NuForce Icon DAC is a device that seeks to upgrade this conversion process.

Designed to be used not only with your computer but your portable device, the NuForce Icon DAC is a standalone DAC, a headphone amp, and a headphone preamp. Starting with the DAC, the Icon has a "High-precision 32-bit" DAC (the manufacturer is not named). The NuForce Icon DAC supports 24-bit asynchronous operation and can accept PCM 32 (192kHz) and DSD 2.6Ghz, 5.8Ghz over USB but it will downconvert any of the higher rates down to 96kHz.


nuforce_icon_dac_wiringGlancing at the back we find the expected USB input but also a pair of stereo analogue RCA inputs and a 3.5mm stereo input for connecting non-supported portable devices. The NuForce website says that the Icon DAC will support Windows 7, 8, Mac OSX, and Android 4.1.1. No mention of iOS so we are fairly certain that non-Android devices are not supported over USB. From the website we learn that only the HTC ONE X and newer versions, Samsung S3 and newer versions, and SONY Xperia Z and newer versions are specifically supported while "other mobile devices" are suggested. If you don't have one of these phones, you'll want to contact NuForce to find out if your Android phone is supported.

There are additional outputs on the back of the NuForce Icon DAC including a digital coaxial audio and stereo analogue audio. These outputs allow the NuForce Icon DAC to function as a preamp for your computer or portable device.

Getting back to the RCA inputs, there are many out there that worry that their analogue devices are not converted properly. There are others that believe that upconverting any analogue signal (even if it is coming from a digital device) would be beneficial. The NuForce Icon DAC seems to provide the means to do just that though it is unclear from the press release exactly how this works (or even if). The manual linked to on the NuForce site is to a different DAC.

The front of the unit has two knobs. One is a high quality TOCOS volume potentiometer. This digital, 32-bit, volume control provides extreme accuracy and precise channel tracking. The knob below it appears to be to switch between USB and analogue inputs. Below that is the standard 1/4" headphone output.

As promised the NuForce Icon DAC is also a headphone amplifier. It produces 24V rail-to-rail supply voltage to the amplifier circuits to make sure even the hardest to drive headphones will have everything they need - NuForce Icon claims even 600-Ohm headphones will be no problem.


Standalone DACs aren't cheap though the NuForce Icon isn't over the top. At $325 (the website says $299 but the press release says $325), it certainly is in the reach of many customers. From a functionality standpoint, the NuForce Icon does a lot. At $325 one would be happy with a headphone amp. Or a headphone preamp. Or a computer preamp. Or a standalone DAC. But to have them all in the same case? That is quite unexpected. While NuForce has given Apple the cold shoulder in favor of Android devices (which actually makes sense as Android is the most widely used mobile operating system), it is compatible with both Mac and PCs. With the analogue inputs and even a digital output, there are plenty of uses for the NuForce Icon DAC. It is up to you. At $325, that seems like a pretty good deal.

For more information, please visit www.nuforce.com.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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