NuForce Icon iDo Black Audiophile-Grade DAC and Headphone Amp for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
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- Bit-perfect, low jitter USB Host Mode operation
- Digitally controlled analog volume control provides precise control, accurate channel tracking and superior resolution.
- 3.5mm headphone output jack
- 24-bit DAC
- No sample rate conversion
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The Icon do delivers audiophile-grade CD quality sound to Digital music files stored on Apple® mobile Digital devices. do is ideal for music enthusiasts and musicians alike who primarily listen to—and have their Digital music libraries stored on—these devices. Icon do also offers a built-in headphone amplifier capable of powering power-hungry headsets, giving users a total audio experience. By properly powering headphones, Icon do enhances the auditory performance of the headphones because optimal amperage is being delivered to them, allowing for greater audio clarity.
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This is it. I wanted a good-sounding DAC and amp in one unit, sufficiently solid and well made to last a long time (or at least until something so much better that I can't live without it comes along). I looked at many units priced from under $100 to over $1000, some with a tube or two and some solid state. And although I couldn't find one to audition, the NuForce Icon iDo looked to be just right for my needs. So I ordered it with the intent to return it if it didn't sound good. I didn't have to return it.
This is a beautiful piece with the solid look and feel of a miniature sculpture that screams Bauhaus! It's dead simple - plug the input cable into the phone or iPod, plug headphones into the jack, turn it on and adjust the volume with a nice big knob on a stepped control that feels as great in use as it looks. It sounds wonderful through my AKG701 and older Sony headphones - plenty of volume, deep tight solid bass, and impressive clarity & neutrality. It's good enough to make the difference between MP3s and FLACs painfully obvious, too.
It's a keeper.
This box is fantastic and at under $100 a great deal. I decided to write a long review because I went around and around about whether to get an external DAC, especially this one. and I hope that my review will help someone else. I am graduating/upgrading from a FiiO E11 Portable Headphone Amplifier - E11 which is a great unit. What I miss so far is the pounding bass that the FiiO put out. I am a musician and a long time ago I worked in pro sound so I have pretty good “ears.”
It is plug and play with the iPhone 5 and works with the Beats service (I would assume most audio out). I was listening to music in seconds. It does NOT have audio out from voice mail so you have to pick up the phone for that. My iPhone 5 (software version 8.x) seems to maintain a separate audio out level (which should be kept at 100%) for the USB out. The packaging was excellent: it is large but makes quite a presentation. You will need to provide your own Lightning to USB cable, but it charges your phone while it is connected so you can use the one from your charger.
This is very solid. It weighs 13 oz (on my postal scale). It is about the size of a small paperback book. It is easy to carry around but needs to be connected to power to work: it is definitely a desktop device. The volume knob is aluminum and it is a stepped digital potentiometer. What this means is that you are controlling the digital output instead of the analog and you won’t get scratching sounds as the potentiometer gets dirty: it is not in the signal path. It has a great feel and you can get very precise changes in volume, you need to turn it many times to get from lowest to highest volume. The case as all aluminum. I won’t open it but there are normal Phillips screws and allen bolts if I ever feel like it. It comes with a very functional rubber base that stands it vertically. There are tasteful LEDs that show whether you have the unit plugged in for charging and a blue one that indicates the current volume setting. It has a solid push button to turn it on and the power cord is adequate. It is cool to the touch after use: no heat generated at all.
As I did some A-B testing against the iPhone 5 direct out I reminded myself that the headphone output of the iPhone 5 sounds very good by itself! This device has a different sound.
A good external DAC makes a difference. I was skeptical, but it is true.
Other people refer to this sound as "lifting a veil" and that is exactly what it sounds like. I have listened to a variety of music so far and you will hear a very clear, detailed, flat sound. It sounds slightly brighter to me (tiny boost to high end?) but It is less fatiguing to listen over long periods of time. Also if the sound stage seemed to be one inch from my head before a good recording will have a “stage” that expands 2-3 inches away from my head. This is probably due to the improved high frequency response combined with the placebo effect lol.
One of the most apparent differences in the playback is the ability to cleanly render sounds approaching silence and then fade to perfect silence between tracks. It is great for cymbals, reverbs, acoustic guitars and other live instruments. I hear a lot of new sounds in very familiar mixes. You will be rewarded when listening to detailed music: Rap sound collages, acoustic music, heavily multi tracked music. You are sacrificing the rock guitar/Rap “punch” to get this clear and detailed sound: you hear details in electronic music bass or guitars instead of BOOM. So if you want the boom just disconnect this device and crank up the iPhone output.
With the beginning of "Time" by Pink Floyd on Dark side you can hear the details of the clock mechanisms. With Earth Wind and Fire I hear the finger snaps that are mixed in low in the background and in a recording of the Brandenburg Concertos I can hear the character of the instruments, the “room” and the pluck tone of the harpsichord. On Boston’s first album I could really hear the acoustic guitars in the mix and track layering (many guitars at the same time). On BassNectar and NWA I heard a lot of detail and melody in the bass notes that normally sounds more like a “whump” through other systems. I found that Cannibal Corpse sounded more satisfying/brutal through the iPhone direct out, but the cymbals really cut through on the iDO and it was less tiring to listen to.
I have used it at work with some older closed back Sennheiser gaming headphones that are similar to the Sennheiser PC 161 PC Gaming Headset and at home with Audio-Technica ATH-AD700 Open-air Dynamic Audiophile Headphones
(much too much sound escapes for work, but enhances the “open” sound stage), and the Apple earbuds. The iDO improves the sound of all of them. I listen to music “Rock Loud” (completely drowning out a noisy office) and I rarely put the unit past 60% . Output past about 80% would probably deafen you pretty quickly with most headphones. I don’t have high impedance headphones so I can’t speak to that.
For $100 you really can’t go wrong. You can charge your phone as you listen, it looks cool and sounds great.
One minor complaint: If you unplug the iPod and plug it back in, music will not play on the current track, period. You have to advance to the next track (I was rebooting at first to deal with this). So, unplug, re-plug, advance forward, advance back, now your original song is playing once again.
The Apple 30 Pin to Lightning conversion plug works perfectly with this device.
The result? This device is the most profound value in listening quality I've EVER experienced. EVER!
I just connected the unit to my IPod Touch using my Bowers and Wilkins P.5's.
I am absolutely blown away by the new listening experience. That's all I can say.
If you need something portable, go with the FiiO E-12A SE