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Reviewer: Marja & Henk
Financial Interests: click here
Sources: CEC TL5100, Audio Note tube DAC; Philips DVP 5500S SACD/DVD player; Thorens TD 160; Thorens TD124
Preamp/integrated: TacT RCS 2.0 room control system, modified Audio Note Meishu with WE 300B (or AVVT, JJ, KR Audio 300B output tubes); Tri TRV EQ3SE phonostage; Trends Audio TA-10; Qables iQube; KingRex T20U and Slap; Yarland FV 34 CIIISA
Speakers: Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Omega; Avantgarde Acoustic Solo in HT 2.0 setting; Podium Sound Podium 1 [on loan]
Cables: Audio Note AN/Vx interconnects; Siltech Paris interconnects; Gizmo silver interconnect; Qunex 75 reference interconnect; Crystal Cable CrystalConnect Reference interconnect, CrystalDigit S/PDIF RCA/RCA and RCA/BNC, Y-cable, Crystal Cable Piccolo iPod to XLR, CrystalPower Reference AC-Eur/IEC CrystalSpeak Reference; Audio Note AN-L; Gizmo silver LS cable. Nanotec Golden Strada #79 nano 3; Nanotec Golden Strada #79; Nanotec Golden Strada #201 nano3; full ASI LiveLine set; LessLoss DFPC [in for review]
Power line conditioning: none
Equipment racks: Two double sets of Solid Tech Radius; Acoustic System amplifier shelf
Sundry accessories: IAR carbon CD damper; Boston Audio graphite CD damper, Denson demagnetizer CD; Furutech DeMag; Nanotec Nespa #1; Machina Dynamica Magic Box; TacT RCS calibrated microphone and software; Exact Audio Copy software; Compaq server w/Windows Server 2008 and XP; iPod; wood, brass and aluminum cones and pyramids; Xitel surround processor; Manley Skipjack; Boston Audio Design TuneBlocks; ASI TopLine
Room treatment: Acoustic System Resonators and Sugar Cubes; Gizmo's Harley Davidson cap
Room size: ca. 8.0 x 4.70m with open extension to a 2.20 x 2.40m A/V bay and open kitchen. Ceiling height is 2.50m, reinforced concrete walls of 45cm, reinforced concrete floors and roof of 30cm. Room has on one side a large glass bay.
Review component retail: €114 including 19% VAT [Holland]

After we had opportunity to review the Qables iQube and Ray Samuels Predator headphone amplifiers, the Dutch NuForce distributor wanted our opinion on the Icon Mobile. With a price that buys not even a third of the aforementioned amps, we knew a challenge (or possible challenger) was at hand.

The NuForce Icon Mobile is meant for the user who desires more than the sonic quality provided by the onboard amplification of a mobile player like an iPod, Zune, Creative Zen or Sony E. These devices all suffer the same problem. To market them at a spiffy price, the manufacturers compromised the parts budget - stupid in a way but a fact of life.

To upgrade a portable player, you can use its line-out and pass the signal to an external amplifier for more musical enjoyment. There are plenty of high-quality personal or headphone amplifiers for static use at your desk or Lazy Boy. For amplification on the go however, battery power becomes necessary. Ditto portability. That not only means low weight, the housing also should be small. And smooth. Due to its quartet of AA batteries, the iQube is quite heavy although its packaging is smoothly rounded over. The Predator is smaller and lighter due to smarter battery use but its casing is boxy and hard edged. For real portable use during a park jog or commute to work, these specific examples of portable amps are probably not the first choice.

Enter the NuForce Icon Mobile to shake things up. This full package weighs in at a mere 52 grams including the battery. With a size of 88 x 55 x 12 millimeters, this is an easy load on the road. Once unpacked, we were at first concerned that its battery was missing but it proved already installed. Our sample had a clear-anodized aluminium cover but the device also comes in bright colors like the Icon desktop amplifier. The aluminium top shows five printed icons and four pin holes through which shine LEDs of various color to indicate power on, USB lock, charging and battery status. The cover sits over a black plastic back whose top contains the mini input jack and two mini outputs. Yes, the Icon Mobile sports two headphone outputs for twice the fun. Invite another to listen with you. Or use a headset with a microphone. The middle mini jack provides an extra connection for that. This allows the amp to enhance VOIP communication when leashed to PC or laptop. Hook-up is easy with the mini USB port on the amplifier's cheek. This connector also is the input for the built-in DAC plus it charges the lithium ion battery. The cheek further houses the volume control and a tiny gain switch.

The Icon Mobile was delivered with a plastic screwdriver for the recessed gain switch, an off-the-shelf mini-to-mini stereo interconnect, a USB cable and a rubber band to attach it to an iPod or similar player. A leaflet held the specifications. Output is rated at 80mWpc into 16 ohms. Signal to noise is supposed to be 98dB at half power. Charging the battery for the first time would take 2.5 hours and a charge should last for 13 hours at full throttle.

Following instructions like good school kids, we charged the battery for the advised period via the supplied USB cable and a laptop. Going over the specs again, we were seriously questioning whether the NuForce stood a chance against the RSA Predator which also packs a DAC but lives in a costlier 'hood of town.