By Anthony Kershaw
NuForce audio products have certainly made the rounds at Audiophilia. Henry Wilkenson reviewed the Reference 8.5 Class D monoblock amplifiers and followed up with the upgraded Reference 9 V2 Special Edition monoblock power amplifiers and its preamp sibling, the NuForce P-9. Henry liked them both so much, fellow Audiophilia reviewer Marty Appel wanted in on the action. So, two of my guys reviewed them and both purchased them! A rare occurrence. I was intrigued at least, and, at best, wanted a set to hear for myself. Ask, and ye shall receive.
Jason Lim, the head guy at NuForce, was very accommodating and sent me up the amps and preamp just for a passing glance and no promise of a review. I enjoyed my lengthy time with amps and preamp so much, I thought I’d add my two cents. Those New York City guys can’t have all the fun.
Anybody who knows me or has read Audiophilia for the past twelve years will know that I am a confirmed tubeophile. I love the glow, the warmth, and yes, even the ‘euphony’. Especially from a well-designed product that offers stability and longevity. For my audio personality, all heady stuff. Audio friends that I respect are somewhat surprised with my predilection for Audio Research. I’m lucky to know the distributor very well and she has been very generous with loans, etc. Some of my friends characterize the ARCs as lean. Euphony light. Not for me. I really like the sound and the much sought after stability and longevity - Audio Research’s follow up support for all its products is legendary (and $$$).
So, it came as a surprise once again to my friends and family that I enjoyed the NuForce gear so much. I’m not sure why they were so adamant that I would consider the amps second class citizens — I’ve loved many solid state gems; Burmester, Boulder, Moon. All of which could have stayed for longer periods after the reviews were finished. In fact, the Burmester 911 Mk II is still the finest piece of equipment that it has been my pleasure to review. Such sound. Such workmanship. Such vision. Thus, my mind was open when they arrived. I was very much looking forward to the listening sessions.
The box that arrived shocked me. Small, and housing four metal cases. These things are small, small, small. Your significant others will LOVE them. No, really. ADORE them. They give off almost no heat and sat happily, almost anonymously, in my Target stand. Setup is a snap. Tether the preamp and volume control, hook up the monoblocks to the speakers, and you’re off. I’d give them a good twenty minutes ‘till you’re really ready to rock and roll.
Lim told me that the boxes would need a 75 hour break in. They were quite defined and soulful out of the box, but 75 hours did open them up significantly. That said, they need 200 hours if they are to sound their best. Serious listening began after 75 but total enjoyment happened after 200 or so.
Martin Appel describes the technology behind the Ref 9 in his Audiophilia review. “It works on the principle that an audio signal modulates a power oscillator and is then reconstructed with the use of a filtering system. Apparently, the benefits derived from this methodology include extremely wide bandwidth (20Hz to 50kHz flat and extend to 90kHz), virtually, no phase shift in the audible frequency range and an extremely high damping factor. All this results in an incredibly quiet and distortion free amplifier. RMS Power output is 190 watts/monoblock at 8 ohms and peak power is 325 watts (20msec hold time) and at 4 ohms, the numbers are 300 watts RMS and 650 Peak, respectively. This is all coming from an amplifier weighing in at a miniscule 8.5 pounds. For a more in depth technical description, see their website.”
First off, these amplifiers do exactly what the best of solid state always gives — a clear, almost liquid sound stage, with plenty of depth and width. Instruments were well defined in the hall. The Atlanta Symphony’s Telarc recording of Hindemith orchestral works exemplified this superior imaging. In Noblissima Visione, the snare drummer has to creep in regularly underneath quiet strings and build to a huge climax. The almost imperceptible roll on the snare skin was heard from its beginning. Not only as a solo instrument but well balanced within the musical framework of the strings. The many flute and clarinet solos that pepper much of Hindemith’s great music floated above the orchestra. The artists could be heard and allowed to phrase with great expression. All heard very easily via both the P9 and powerful Ref 9s.
The two-box P9 is a study in over engineering. Audiophilia’s Henry Wilkenson describes it in his excellent review as “…The two box design goes further than simply housing the noisy power supply in a separate enclosure. Since the P-9 uses three separate power supplies, all of them along with the microprocessor control logic are contained in the control box. All of the analog circuitry is contained in the analog box. In order to achieve a very high degree of isolation, the amp modules operate within heavy copper shields with internal thermal insulation. Analog signals only pass through the analog box. The P-9 features an all discrete precision amplifier module employing ultra low noise, monolithic dual JFETs, specially selected MOS FETs and very flat hEE bipolar transistors in a dual-cascade design with a driven shield to reduce capacitive loading on the final voltage amp. All of these features combine to give the P-9 a S/N ratio in excess of 100db and a dynamic range in excess of 120 db. Essentially, these circuits are as complicated as they are unique. A number of peripheral circuits are used to stabilize the main circuit. The result is a component that is very stable and quiet.” The separation of church and state works well, but the remote control/volume pot interaction is a little clunky. Precision is only possible with lots of practice and a quick finger! That said, the P9 does not utter a peep and performs exactly as advertised. Musical, clear, functional.
Visually, both P9 and Ref 9 work beautifully in concert with one another. I auditioned them with different components with varying degrees of success. I did, however, really enjoy them best when together. The preamplifier controlled the almost limitless power of the amps, especially through my uber efficient fabaudio Model 1 loudspeakers. Both pieces held a tight grip no matter how loud or the load.
If your needs run to a new amp and/or preamp, I can recommend the NuForce products with much enthusiasm. Buy with confidence. The follow up customer service from Jason Lim and his team is first rate and the products are built to last. In addition, they are fully upgradeable as new ideas/improvements are developed. I will be keeping this review pair as a seconds to my Audio Research. They will fit the bill nicely if I’m without my ARCs. They are so good, they gave them a real run for the money, lacking only in the very last detail of timbral refinement. The instrumental tone was a little fleshier via the tubes. YMMV. I also like to loan out equipment to reviewers to offer an alternative to their reference systems.
Other than the touchy (but fantastic looking) remote, I have no quibbles with both pieces of kit. They do so many things well. And that they do so within such a small footprint and with so little heat, is miraculous. I wanted them. It was an easy decision. But, my wife? ‘What are you waiting for? Buy them’, she said.
Manufactured by NuForce, Inc.
356 South Abbott Ave
Milpitas, CA 95035
Primary Phone: +1-408-627-7859
Secondary Phone: 1-408-262-6777
Skype Id: nuforce-sales
Reference 9 V2 US$5000 pair
Source of review sample: Manufacturer loan