I see a lot of comments on this thread that would easily be interpreted by fence sitters as negative, when they need to be understood with context that is often unspoken in esoteric audio circles.
An example is when high end audio reviews slam a piece of kit with a potentially ‘jarring’ review; the review reads like the equipment gets nothing magically right and has little positive to say, and may even give a three (out of five) star result.
Of course that same piece of ‘three star’ kit can be totally magic. Like video game reviews 6-7/10 often just means that the game ‘adds nothing’ that hasn’t been done before (although may still be super fun for those who like ‘these sorts of games’).. I am tangenting. (Verbage using verbal diarrhoea, of ‘tangent’)
Audio component reviews are measured against other kit OF THE SAME CLASS.
a two star rated $5000 Disc spinner (eg CD/DVD/Bluray) might get docked a star for being overly priced vs other kit of the same class, and lose a further star for not being better than the same model last year- in this case, finding this same piece of ‘two star’ kit second hand for bargain basement dollars (eg $1500) would be brilliant, and would likely outperform much ‘five star kit’ that sold for $2000 or less..
Context is key.
Many points of discussion in this thread (and many others especially with regards to beloved hifi kit) become emotional. Or do not give reference to what the user seeks. typical example is saying this doesn’t have enough power to drive (specific) headphones, without establishing that the user only listens to death metal at ‘full volume’ on the dial. The same reviewer would diss many models of headphone amp, before realising that they may have the wrong headphones for their needs’ or need to increase their budget for amp selection. It doesn’t mean that a given product isn’t suitable, just not suitable for them.
Of course we all give opinions, but some words to qualify the opinion really matter.
When so few people qualify their level of hi-fi knowledge, and offer ten words or less, generally scathingly, without suggesting why/what needs improving/is wrong, the discussion isn’t moved forward, nor proves helpful for general readers, or those ‘less knowledgable’ about this industry.
Is very ‘flavour of the moment’...
Prices are driven by buying trends.
I have had orthodynamic headphones by yamaha dating from the early eighties, and take note that any headphone bought in the nineties was generally under two hundred dollars and usually had large 50mm drivers.
Once the masses got ’into headphones’ (thankyou skullcandy and beats), it became acceptable to wear large headphones in public, and REAL audio first/fashion second brands could sell into a massively growing market segment. Where price points all massively rose and now >$200 is needed for 50mm (large driver unit) headphones.
I use the vioelectric v100 (amplifier) as a useful example of price rising as the masses start to buy into this stuff.
The models that replaced the V100 that offered the same level of kit, were higher,... but fit with the audio quality that people would expect at said price points.
Which brings me onto the Nuforce Icon...
This things were a bargain right before the price rise hit EVERYTHING headphones..
Spec sheet bragging rights is the WORST THING a budding hifi enthusiast can follow.
Even to the well trained enthusiast, they are at best a very loose and general guide as to what a piece of kit might be doing right. I generally would trust the weight of the component more so that a piece of paper. (Some TV manufacturers cottoned on to this class of customer, ‘back in the day’, and included giant construction bricks/building blocks inside of the TV set to add weight. Pre shipping. From Turkey. I am sure it was to help stabilise the product.... ;-)
Anyhow, owning an ICON already, and having some real world experience with it, I would like to contribute a few observations.
(this is based on having owned some of the worlds best consumer hifi kit, and having played with hifi for thirty plus years)
:”not doing 88khz sampling rate as a reason to consider it inferior”
With nice revealing kit, most users learn to lock to the sample rate of the playback file. Whilst this is mitigated somewhat with 384khz (up)sampling rates (a nice neat multiplication of 44/48/192 etc), I always set my Asus Essence STX sound card to the sound rate of the playback file, so I actually drop back to 44.1khz sampling rates for majority of my audio files. It avoids dithering and generally, in the real world, keeps cymbal crashes etc, sounding metallic and ‘sharp’.
not having 88khz sampling rates could be a great feature to ‘drop’ when focusing on what users want.
:”not enough power to power X”
Yes this is a low power amp focusing on headphone impedance above 100.
That being said, it drives my B&W P7 headphones beautifully (rated 27ohm I believe). These same headphones running off the Asus STX sound poorly. Not bad. Just different to how they should sound on perfectly matched equipment. On the STX sound card (a very high quality headphone amplifier by PC standards) the bass frequencies become overbearing and the balance is incorrect. Other headphones are less prone to this frequency shift, whilst observing the 10>1 rule of drive power, and the B&Ws are just NOT A GOOD MATCH.
Those same headphones on the Nuforce Icon sound much better (brilliant) and even though the Icon SHOULDN’T make them sound this way (based on science and spec sheet observation/rule of 10>1 etc) they do, and that might be my opinion, but I give it here so as to qualify a few things...
:”not enough power..” continued
Whose ears are listening to this?
Some random internet reviewer or yourself- Find reviewers with similar headphones/music selections/and listening habits and their opinion would no doubt be massively more practical to a ‘matched’ end user.
I drive some Beyerdynamic T90 (not unlike dt990 etc)(although many could argue this point, this is ‘enthusiast talk’ splitting hairs... for the sake of moving forward I will push on..) and I wouldn’t drive these headphones at more than 10:30 on the volume dial (12 o’clock being ‘midway’ to full). Yes the headphones will take a lot more volume, but these headphones are quite rich in high frequencies, and if the driver is not controlled properly (damping factor?) they become shrill or sibilant up top.. By lowering the volume to what I am happy listening too, I find this amp pairs quite well with the headphones.
The output seriously flogs a well rated FIIO X5(III) and is very revealing and not ‘overly bright’ as the Tesla Beyerdynamics are known for.
Those B&W P7s? Reveal no hiss or drive issues that many in this thread have suggested happens when an amp like this pairs up with <100ohm headphones. I cannot speak on behalf of balanced armature/in ears that will easily reveal noise/hiss..
:”Is this part good value”
Outstanding value. It isn’t bolstered spec sheets for nil audio enjoyment. This is the bare minimum to make excellent high quality sound. VS my parasound decodor/DAC it misses some ‘air’ but I have NO DOUBT a power supply overhaul/mod/replacement for the ICON would level the playing feel here wonderfully.
Vs good hifi home seperates, the front to back imaging is a step behind (I’d certainly recommend a power supply upgrade /cabling for the ICON to return the playing field to ‘fair’(er)).
But the quad dac and isolated boards, i2S digital handover etc really makes this bargain basement pricepoint part punch “so far above its’ weight class”.
Recommend one in a heartbeat at (mass)drops’ price points.
Even just for secondary rooms/desktop PC add-ons.
Heck I ran a baby ICON into the loungeroom just to use as a DAC for the Nintendo Switch (yes it works wonderfully), which required pinching the $700 interconnects from my Rotel CD player.
Very much worth it. The Dragonquest XI (demo) soundtrack was so obviously rendered richer that the parasound front end. Richer in ‘the right ways’. With a power supply mod I would think this ICON could hold its own against multithousand dollar seperates. (Or be within ‘the last 5%’ of their sound quality). Of course like all things random in this large multiverse we live in, there are no doubt equivalent bargains, like this Nuforce (Optoma) Icon, in the higher tiered hifi offerings that would make that statement very challengable...
I understand why these units at $600+ (australian) dollars set the world on fire.
I just bought another one, the HDP model, over a range of Cambridge audio second hand parts that were easily available. It might not be as good as an NAD m51 dedicated hifi rack part costing 3x more money, at the Icons full retail, but for the paultry (mass)drop asking price, these are a bargain, and well worth buying if not just to play with.
There will always be a place to use a macguyver device like this one.