All about the new NuForce DDA 100 digital integrated amplifier at Totally Wired.
The NuForce DDA-100 has been on our radar from the moment it was launched and in our own little way we've helped to get them here to New Zealand. We thought, given the first review in the Absolute Sound and subsequent write-ups that it was always going to be something special but I've got to be honest and say that what we have here is a game changer in more ways than one. As they say, it's a design innovation you have to hear to believe. But we think you'll really, really want to hear simply because it's so good.
The DDA-100 redefines what makes a hifi system. You'll have preconceptions - you can't avoid this. But if you are prepared to be a bit open minded - and simply listen, you’re going to be rewarded in ways you might not have considered. If you have any music in digital - on CD, on computer, iPod or iPhone, coming in via Sky or your TV, you are part of the new generation that is going enjoy what the DDA-100 does. It's time.
So take one or many of these digital sources and connect them to the DDA-100 - it doesn't even have to be directly - as a huge fan of the little Apple Airport Express 2, I fully expect most of the NuForce products we sell to end up communicating wirelessly. As I sit writing this in day two of my exposure to the DDA-100 it's listening to music on my laptop beaming across the room. And this is in a house that doesn't even have broadband outside of a little data stick.
I'm going to build my little green socialist utopia around the NuForce DDA-100. It's easily affordable, power efficient, light on materials and completely without snob value. A choice of silver or black, a simple box. But absolutely fantastic sound. Which is a claim that warrants substantiation, so lets look at the background.
Vinyl records comprise the bulk of my music collection and our home system is built around these. But we also have several computers, a couple of ipods and an iphone all with barely co-ordinated yet extensive collections of ripped CDs and assorted downloads that cover both duplicates of the analogue records but also many albums and snippets that come our way. It's all in iTunes - some lossless, some just as it came.
We've had several runs at digital at home - The HRT Music Streamer, NuForce HDP and Wadia 121 have all found their way in. But they were inserted in what is an all analogue system, and as good as they were, we rolled back to the turntable all too easily. The DDA is different because it's not just a DAC running into conventional amplifiers - but rather an almost ground up solution of a digital only amplifier - so everything north of the speaker cables was bypassed -Well Tempered turntable, phono stage, power supply and amplifier and connecting cables - all of which collectively cost more than 10 times the price of the DDA-100.
Our speakers are the Sonus faber Auditor M - on the dedicated stands in a rather unusual and uncompromising room - a full open plan glass and concrete miesian box some 18m long yet only 4 across with the only concession to comfort being drapes at either end and a single couch with the speakers firing across the room. If you know me you'll understand this all intentional. It's a setting that has the potential to dissolve into a mess of high frequency hash that could cut glass. So you can take it as a given that we expect a warm analogue sound, but at the same time expect high levels of accuracy and detail. Even the most subtle change of component or setup is immediately obvious. Despite the large room volume, the abundance of hard surfaces allow it to fill quite easily.
So the scene is set. While it's theoretically better to have a direct USB connection, my laptop sits on my lap and communicates via AirPlay with the little Apple AirPort Express 2 base station next to the NuForce so we are doing it no favours other than a nice Wireworld optical cable. The mains are untreated and connected via the supplied but meaty AC cable which does have a chunky ferrite suppressor fitted. SlinkyLinks pure silver speaker cables are our choice. Music choices simply reflect my age and location - often independent, guitar driven and local but also sound tracks and even a bit of country. While there is some duplication between the digital and analogue collections up until now I've found the former to be curiously unsatisfying. But at work, the vast percentage of listening will be via digital.
The set up and operation of the DDA-100 is absolutely fool proof and at most you'll only need to glance at the manual. So having devoted less than a minute to doing this, I just pressed play and shuffle while cooking dinner. The warm up of digital components is quite different from that of analogue so be aware that if you listen to a brand new cold unit, the sound will change quite markedly in the first 30 minutes and from there on in improve, but in sometimes unpredictable ways.
Even in the first few minutes it was apparent the DDA-100 is indeed a unique and special component. But a day later it is nothing short of a revelation. Everything I value in sound is there - it's involving, absurdly detailed - vast tracts of information I've never heard despite countless playings on many different systems. The projection of soundstage is remarkable - right up there with very good analogue. This baby fills rooms - move your speakers as what might have worked OK with your old amp is probably going to need revision - I’ve opened out the toe in on our own speakers and the improvement is immediate. There is no digital hash or harshness - in fact I'd characterize the sound as rich - the bass can fair thunder even from small speakers such as ours.
I do push systems - especially with my choice of music. And given what I've read was expecting the DDA100 to choke at some stage. Yet it seldom ventured past '70'. Which on another amplifier might be close to maximum but the DDA remains clean close to the full 100 and even then proved to only run out of breath rather than turn nasty. It was never anything other than cool running and poised. If there is a noise floor I simply can't hear it - having been through years of humming and buzzing NZ made amps, chasing endless turntable related earthing issues, the silence of the DDA is indeed golden. Put your input on pause, turn it right up to 99 and put your ear to the speaker - nothing. Try this stunt with your present amplifier at your peril. Zero noise means nothing is lost.
The comparison of the DDA-100 in the shop with the DDA-100 at home is more than a little illuminating - despite the low price, this component positively loves expensive high performance speakers. I really expected it to fall short, but everything it suggested it might do in the shop on lower cost speakers was suddenly there in sharp relief. This can only lead to the recommendation that whatever you might save with the DDA-100 should go to the best speakers you can possibly match with it. But it will make even low cost speakers perform far beyond expectation.
A good number of my digital recordings are less than CD quality - many LPs have free downloads but often MP3 and there is a lot of cool free stuff out there to sample - despite this apparent limitation the DDA100 treats them even handedly when compared to CD rips or lossless downloads.
Is it a DAC or is it an amplifier? The DDA-100 is at once both and neither. The term 'Power DAC' coined by Wadia* for their own highly regarded and similarly proportioned product could be used but still seems inelegant as it almost implies a lack of function whereas the DDA100 has many applications. There are plenty of straight DACs in the same price territory as the NuForce and likewise for integrated amplifiers. But after some serious listening it's my contention that is beats all comers both in isolation and even more so in combination. Our previously best sounding DACs under $1000 - the HDP or HRT music streamer plus mk2 are well bettered. And even when mated with some very slick amplification at $2000 or more, the end result is still not even close. And as much as we hate to say it, the idea of a conventional analogue amplifier with an in-built DAC is obsolete almost as soon as it was introduced.
And the reason for this is the design of the DDA-100 - it's effectively digital all the way through with the final step into analogue completed just short of the speaker terminals. - a PWM amplifier output—giving listeners the same level of performance as far much more expensive audio gear. Because the DDA 100 operates in the digital domain from beginning to end, you'll hear a remarkably wide dynamic range, crystalline clarity and amazing detail A ground up design that does all it promises and more.
The DDA-100 doesn't require the typical DAC stage found in most of today's digital audio products. Rather, its PWM power amplifier stage is modulated directly by the incoming signal, and the digital-to-analog conversion takes place at the speaker outputs. In effect, the PWM power amplifier stage operates as a power DAC. This effectively eliminates the DAC-related problems that have plagued serious listeners in the past. Fewer parts result in a more direct signal path, resulting in benefits passed along to you.
*Wadia are now the only company we can take seriously in the same space as NuForce. The Wadia 121 digital computer still stands as an exceptional high value product and does bring features to the table that the 100 series products don't. That the DDA-100 achieves what it does for less than half the price of the Wadia, doesn't diminish the 121s capabilities in the context of an established component system - but for anything less, the DDA100 replaces both DAC and amplification components.
A word about volume controls. A rotating knob might be the standard control on most amplifiers but far too much is read into them - the size is no indication of quality or power. The 'feel' has no relationship to anything other than the internal drag on the mechanism inside. With the DDA-100 the volume is digitally controlled - movement just tells the amplifier to turn the volume up or down - you are not physically altering anything - it's no different to using the remote control. The scale on the DDA-100 runs from zero to 99 - and you can use all of this for all but the most full on songs (and even if you do, it going to be OK) Many amplifiers will have all of their available rated power in the first half turn and the dissolve in a mess of potentially expensive, speaker damaging distortion - which as often as not, does have a relationship to knob size. A good number of digitally controlled amplifiers also have volume scale that tops out around 60. And of course, the DDA100 comes with a cute little remote control so you don’t even have to get up to change the volume.
You are going to spend a lot more time listening if you get a DDA-100 - long periods at too high a volume are quite simply damaging to your hearing and tempting as it may be, I'm going to suggest you don't do this. Peter Walker at Quad once suggested the volume control should be seen as a focus - there will be a point that is 'right' where everything is in balance. Try it sometime.
The end of audio snobbery.
This - a simple system with the DDA-100 and a pair of speakers will outperform any analogue option at the same price - and a great many for more. As a long time vinyl enthusiast I always knew this day would come and today is that day. It's so easy to enjoy music with the NuForce I cannot see why anyone looking at their first system, upgrading or just wanting to simplify would not think otherwise. Despite knowing analogue inside out, I simply cannot make a record playing system sound as good at the price. Or to be completely honest, for twice the price. But this isn't the end - it's just the beginning.
Anyone into vinyl is into music - and the DDA-100 is a must-have for you too. Be brave and just get one - disconnect your speaker cables from your whole system and plug them into this little amp - put anything you like on the input side and just listen for an evening. If you want to get into digital with an existing system, don't get hooked into a DAC without first seeing if it's possible to make the jump into the DDA-100 - if you don't own a turntable then it's too easy. And amplifier upgrade with a stellar DAC thrown in or a DAC that just happens to mean you don't need your amplifier - which ever way you look at it, this is a winner.
There are some things the DDA-100 cant do. A+B speakers, headphones and despite the fact I've ramped it up to what I see as plenty loud, there will be some that want more. Which, given the low price is not all that surprising. For you, I do have the solutions. Add the NuForce DIA (there is a digital output that allows this) and you'll have the first two options covered, spare inputs and independent volume control and an additional 30% power - all for less in total than any competing amp that might boast these features. Still not enough go or resolution? Let me introduce you to the NuForce STA100 and a selection of preamplifier and DAC options. Or even tempt you with the Reference Series.
But back to the DDA-100. While I have concentrated on exploring its abilities in the context of a speaker system that costs ten times more than the amplifier itself, this isn't to say you need to do this - What NuForce have done is produced a unique product that will allow you to get far better performance out of even a modest speaker system than has ever been possible before. Put it with the 'best-buy' Monitor Audio BX2s - now only $650 the pair- and you'll be staggered. Jump up even a small step to the Silver series RX1s and it's that much better again. I hesitate to use the word audiophile with it's chin stroking connotations when talking about the DDA-100 - it's far too much fun for that. It’s had me singing along and damned near dancing around the house. This is the face of modern audio and to my mind, the NuForce DDA100 is the single most important, innovative and best value for money component I've dealt with in the entire time I've been into audio.
Do yourself a big favour - come in and see us, call or just e mail and let's see if we can make a DDA-100 work for you.
NuForce DDA-100 digital amplifer NZ$ 695*, was $899.
Buy any new pair of speakers in our range and the NuForce DDA-100 is just $695 Match the DDA-100 with any of our wide range of speakers - Monitor Audio, Sonus faber or Cambridge Audio and build your own great sounding digital system for far less than you'd expect.
A simple system with the DDA-100 and a pair of speakers will outperform any conventional option at the same price - and a great many for more. Whether you are playing music from your computer, iPhone, CD or BluRay player, AirPort Express or Apple TV, the DDA100 is the smart, powerful cool running alternative to conventional amplifiers. It's so easy to enjoy music with the NuForce I cannot see why anyone looking at their first system, upgrading or just wanting to simplify would not think otherwise.
"the sound of the NuForce DDA-100 is so impeccable, up to the point when it runs out of power, is still a sonic bargain. I haven’t heard any integrated amplifier with DAC capabilities priced near this combo that offers any serious sonic competition.
You may find that the DDA-100 is simply the best integrated amplifier solution that you've ever heard. And for those readers who still firmly believe that all-digital amplifiers are for someone else’s system, listening to the DDA-100 will be, as it was for me, a revelation."
Just check out all these great reviews -
The Absolute Sound
We've got a change in NuForce distribution in NZ and so have some sizzling but very limited specials on some of our favorite products. We've selected the best of these from the range for you - all are new and warrantied. The NuForce DDA-100 above is now absolutely unbeatable at this price. And the other separates in the Home 100 range - DACs, the brilliant STA100 power amplifier and matching preamp all represent equally stunning value. These specials will sell out quickly so don't hesitate!
STA-100 Stereo power amplifier was $1099 - now $899
HAP-100 analogue Preamplifier and headphone amp - was $999 - now $799
DAC-80 high end DAC and preamp was $1299 - now $999
UDH-100 USB DAC and headphone amp was $995 - now $799
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