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Nuforce ICON-HDP-SILVER High Performance Digital to Analog Converter, Headphone Amp and Pre Amplifier (Silver) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
- USB 2.0 Full Speed compliant and 1.1 supported, 8-96kHz/16-24-bit (88.2kHz is not supported)
- S/PDIF input: Coaxial up to 192kHz/24-bit or Optical up to 192kHz/24-bit
- Analog input: 3.5mm or RCA input
- Audiophile-grade DA converter
- Low-distortion, high-current headphone amplifier
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This item Nuforce ICON-HDP-SILVER High Performance Digital to Analog Converter, Headphone Amp and Pre Amplifier (Silver) (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
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|Item Dimensions||4.5 x 6 x 1 in||3.15 x 4.27 x 1.16 in||1.5 x 3.1 x 0.5 in||2.2 x 3.82 x 0.51 in||0.79 x 2.36 x 1.18 in||0.39 x 1.57 x 1.57 in|
The Nuforce Icon HDP incorporates a full-speed USB DAC (24bit/96kHz) and full-function S/PDIF D/A converter (24bit/192kHz), plus a headphone-amplifier circuit and preamp output. Supporting Digital USB, S/PDIF in coaxial and 3.5mm optical (3.5mm) modes, along with an analog line input, the HDP accommodates all manner of audio devices. The Icon HDP, which has been designed to serve as the heart of a high-performance audio system, competes head-on with DACs and preamps costing several times its price. Nuforce USB Audio devices are designed to work with x86 architecture. Tablet devices running Windows 8 (RT) are not supported.
Top customer reviews
The DAC is quite good. I don't claim to be a golden-ear who can hear minute differences between mega-priced audio components and cables, but I do care about sound quality. I'm of the belief a DAC should be transparent, not adding its own colorations to the sound (you choose your amp and speakers/headphones for that if desired). The HDP delivers in this regard, with excellent dynamics, deep clean bass, and revealing highs.
The headphone amp is sufficient to drive my 650's louder than I would want to. I usually have volume between 1/2 to 3/4 (depending on source material) when using headphones. That's a bit higher than I would have expected, but means I still have some headroom so I think it's sufficient. The sound is never fatiguing with this combo, even at high volume levels.
In addition to its reputed audio quality, I chose the HDP because of several key features:
- Both headphone and pre-amp outs, with auto switching (speakers disabled when headphones are plugged in).
- High quality analog volume control for both headphone- and preamp-outs. This gives me easy access to a volume control on my desktop (leaving the computer's software volume at 100% where it should be for maximum audio quality), and allows me to leave the volume control on my powered speakers at a high enough level to avoid channel imbalance issues at lower listening levels.
- USB DAC that can handle 24-bit/96khz sound. All the other devices I researched only support up to 24-bit/48khz over USB.
- The USB DAC can auto-switch between output formats when using WASAPI exclusive mode, without the need to go into the Windows Sound settings to change the default output format. So I can seamlessly switch between a CD rip and an high-res FLAC with no extra configuration steps.
My one minor complaint, and the reason I give 4.5 stars instead of 5, is that the USB DAC does not support 24-bit, 88.2khz sampling level. For the few recordings I have in this format, I have to use a re-sampling plugin. I don't see any reason for this format not to be directly supported except simple oversight, given that 24/48, 24/96, and 16/88.2 are all supported.
If all you need is a DAC, the Musical Fidelity V-DAC is probably a better value. But if you also need a headphone amp, multiple outputs, or 24/96 over USB the Icon HDP is worth the price premium IMHO.
At first, the unit appears very well made, with a brushed aluminum cover and solid knobs. However, I often use the device in a darkened environment, and I noticed that light from the internals was leaking from the right side of the faceplate. Upon closer inspection, I could see that the front plate did not align properly with the aluminum case. Moreover, as others have pointed out, the unit stays on, even when the power is turned off. When I powered the unit down, an internal red light came on, and it was clearly visible through the gap in the faceplate. I contacted NuForce service, and they agreed to send out a new unit, but only after they had received my faulty unit. I complied, and had to go without desktop audio for ten days, which is an annoyance, since I use my audio setup for music creation as well as listening. When the second unit arrived, I was dismayed to find that the light bleed was even worse. Back on the phone to customer support, who this time agreed to send me yet a third unit. Guess what? Same problem with the third unit. According to the factory, this known defect is "within the factory tolerances" of this Taiwan-made unit. The Icon HDP that I own does not have this problem.
The other area of concern is the lack of power when it comes to driving high-impedance phones like the DT880's. The unit is a preamp for external speakers, so it either requires active monitors or an amp in the chain. But for headphone use, this device is billed as a Class A amplifier. I don't listen to music that loudly, and I often listen to demanding classical music. There is no doubt that the HDP reproduces sound very well, but it takes turning the volume to well past 3 o'clock on the rotary dial to get the music to that level where it "fills" the cans. For low impedance phones, this is not an issue, but for high impedance cans such as the DT 880's and others of its caliber, it is a major issue. Even at high volume, I never have the sense that the unit is really bringing out the best that the cans can offer. While at that level the amplification is sufficient, there is a sense that the unit is really straining. I had a Fio E9 headphone amp for a short period of time, and though a different beast altogether, it handled the impedance of the DT880's with nary a hiccup. Given that the HDP bills itself as an audiophile-grade headphone amp (and one of the reasons I invested in it), and that the company states that it can handle the most demanding headphones, its lack of power is surprising and off putting. I often get the feeling as I listen to one of my mixes or a demanding piece of music that it is struggling to keep up.
I gave serious thought to returning the third unit, primarily because I believe that a device that bills itself as audiophile quality and costs $450 ought to be constructed sufficiently well so that odd lights and gaps don't reveal themselves. In the end, I kept the unit, primarily because the sound quality is excellent, and primarily because I could not find another device at this price that does what the HDP does in terms of its simple interface and useful connectivity. The combination of its headphone amp quality (though underpowered), its DAC for computer-based applications, and its high quality preamp ultimately compelled me to keep it. Just barely.
Most recent customer reviews
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