At the conclusion of this initial session, I knew the NuForce were very good sounding amplifiers, but I could not yet grasp the true scope of their virtue. As a reality check, I quickly threw my Aragon 8002 amplifier back in the system, which I know to be a very detailed and generally excellent sounding amplifier. To my amazement, I was surprised to hear that by comparison, the Aragon sounded somewhat colored and definitely not as transparent. It seemed a notch or two below the kind of detailed and musical performance the NuForce had just delivered. This was starting to get interesting.

As days passed and I played through more of my favorite reference recordings I began to notice things about the NuForce like their excellent reproduction of high-frequency detail and their iron-fisted control of bass instruments and the notes they played. The thought of having to go back to one of my other amplifiers seemed less and less likely. I knew it was time to take the Reference 8s downstairs to serve as “guest amps” on my VMPS RM30 speakers.

Because the RM30s use some of the fastest and most dynamic drivers on the planet, I knew that if the Ref 8’s were truly worthy, they’d prove it on the VMPS. So I plugged those bad boys into my new PS Audio UPC-200 power conditioner via the aforementioned Stealth AC cords and popped a CD into my Rega Planet. The input and output cabling were from SignalCable’s Silver Resolution series.

From the very first notes of Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds: Live at Luther College CD [RCA 67755] I knew that my trusty reference amp was about to lose its coveted status in my system. Listening to Tim Reynolds pluck, strum, and slam the guitar strings gave new meaning to the phrase, “fast and furious!” On “Seek Up” I could hear those briskly played guitar notes shoot out to the limits of the available acoustic space – smoothly, instantaneously, and without any distortion, rounding, or smearing. I knew the RM30s were good, but I had no idea they were capable of this level of performance. The other thing I noticed about this live recording was that the audience sounded immense and very focused and plausible. Finger snaps, whistling, yelling, and applause all seemed so real – and there I sat, right in the midst of the spirited fray. No other amplifier that I have tried has allowed the VMPS speakers to soar to this level of realism.

As I played through more of my recordings each song seemed to excel in ways I’d never imagined. The soundstaging was wide and deep. It seemed that I could hear clearly to the back walls of the acoustic venue with an unlimited layering of sounds and details going on within this very-expansive envelope. When I played Seal’s Best: 1991-2004 [Warner Bros. B00063F8BW], Seal had so much substance that I felt like I could get up and walk around inside his body. On “Don’t Cry” (acoustic version) you can hear Seal’s voice quaver in sync with the bass, which enhanced the impact of his words. This effect was not nearly as dramatic when reproduced through my other amplifiers.

Some amplifiers seem to create a huge soundstage at the expense of losing their focus, bloating instruments and performers to unrealistic proportions. With the NuForce amps the image focus is well defined. The instruments and performers appear to be the size dictated by the specific recording.

If the RM30 speakers have one weak area, it’s a tendency to sound a bit under-damped in the bass. Through the Reference 8s, the acoustic bass runs and drum thwacks on Ray Charles’ “Fever” from Genius Loves Company [Concord/Hear CCD-2248-2], sounded very natural and poignant. Also, the bass on US3’s Hand on the Torch [Blue Note CDP 0777 7 80883 2 5] was more controlled and exhibited a better sense of pace, while at the same time appearing to extend lower. This may be due to the NuForce’s unusually high damping factor (>4000), which would imply excellent bass control.

It’s also worth mentioning that my reference amp puts out 300 watts RMS per side into 4-ohm loads like the VMPS. It seemed to me that the NuForce amps played louder in my large room with a greater sense of composure. The Reference 8s employ a fully regulated output stage that maintains extremely low distortion, even at full output, and they’re capable providing very high (short-term) peak power. These factors could account for my perception. It almost defied logic that such small amplifiers were capable of playing my system as loud as they did with no discernible sign of distress.

The best thing I can say about the NuForce amps is that they sound very natural and transparent in the crucial midrange. All kinds of acoustic instruments including the hard to reproduce brass, strings, and piano were rendered in a convincing and musical manner. The Reference 8s reproduced the pitch, the timbre, and the unique signatures of everything from trumpet, to cello, to xylophone, masterfully.

Maybe this has to do with its very low degree of phase shift, or perhaps its extended (out to 100k) bandwidth; I don’t know. But I do know that this is the first amplifier I’ve heard that uses digital technology and sounds more natural than many high-end purely analog designs.

The Balanced 8B
As far as I can tell, the balanced Reference 8B is very similar to the RCA-type Reference 8. The 8B does look a little richer with its thicker faceplate, but inside, the two amps are just about identical, with a couple of more parts at the input of the 8B.

Sonically, the amps are also quite similar, although I did not perform a definitive head-to-head comparison. But I can report that the 8B really excelled in the Newform system with the Michell Orbe SE turntable as the source. I don’t recall being quite as impressed with the RCA version of the Reference 8 on the phono. But when going through the balanced 8B amps, I can say without hesitation that I have never heard so much detail and layering from the Michell Orbe since I’ve owned it. And that includes plugging the preamp directly into my Stax 4040 Signature headphone system, which is a highly revealing tool by any standard.

I clearly heard faint little ticks from cymbals that I never knew existed. I also heard details on drum rolls and strikes that were either smeared or simply not heard with other amplifiers. Playing through old favorites on vinyl, like Midnight Oil’s Diesel and Dust, Suzanne Vega’s Solitude Standing, and Steve Winwood’s Back in the High Life, it became abundantly clear that the Reference 8Bs are indeed highly resolving amplifiers.

But the NuForce amps are not only about resolution and detail, they are also about conveying the heart and soul of the music. Recently I had a few friends over and they all managed to squeeze themselves onto my love seat, so I decided to offer them a special treat. I lowered the tonearm on Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around,” from the LP of the same title [American 440 063 336-1]. Initially, the staccato thwacking of Johnny’s guitar focused their collective attention, but when the man in black began to croon, “There’s a man goin’ ‘round takin’ names,” the sheer power and emotion in Johnny’s voice totally floored the lot of us.

Caveats
For some, the fact that the NuForce output terminals only accept spade lugs could be a problem, albeit not one that can’t be solved or cleverly circumvented.

Additionally, the Reference 8 amps have a tendency to amplify the residual noise in one’s system when a music signal is not present. This makes them a little noisier at rest than some of my other amps. One does need to get up close to the speaker’s drivers to hear it. This small amount of noise was not a problem with my speakers but is something to be aware of if using very high-efficiency speakers. NuForce is endeavoring to address the issue, again, not a big deal with most equipment. Note that the balanced 8Bs are very quiet, and noticeably quieter than the RCA-type Reference 8s (at rest).

Early versions of the Reference 8 amps emit a considerable amount of RFI interference, which will not let you tune weaker stations on an FM tuner. In an effort to fix (or diminish) the interference, NuForce changed the internal wiring from the silver-ribbon to Litz wire that is wrapped around a choke and then soldered directly to the output terminals.

The Litz-wire choke version has extremely taut bass, and slightly better image focus than the original silver-ribbon version. The original version is a little smoother in the highs and a bit more laid back. Both versions have extremely high sound quality with the Litz version having a touch more presence in the upper midrange/lower treble area. As of this writing, NuForce is planning to use the Litz-wired choke version to maintain high sonic performance while diminishing the RFI. I have no qualms about supporting that decision.

And Then…
Never content to leave well enough alone, I couldn’t resist rewiring a pair of Reference 8Bs with QED Silver Anniversary wire. This appeared to take the 8B’s to an exceptional level of performance that left me grinning like a baby having his first taste of ice cream. Listening to tracks from Jack Johnson’s mesmerizing new CD In Between Dreams [Brushfire B0004149 02] was a revelation. The close-mic'd acoustic guitar and the percussion flowed forth authentically and palpably, as the music’s natural timbre and sweetness were effortlessly conveyed by the QED-enhanced 8Bs. Indeed, it is a very clean and natural sounding CD and the Reference 8Bs let it shine to its very best advantage.

Curiously, the QED-wired amps sounded more natural and engaging with copper, heavy-duty Belden AC cords than they did with the NuForce Stealth AC cords. Go figure!

The Beginning
So, you see, dear reader, this is not really the end, but the beginning of a new era in audio amplification. The NuForce Reference 8 amplifiers have solidly met all my criteria for a true breakthrough product. Namely, they perform better than any other amplifiers I’ve tried in my system. And they provide this level of performance based on patented new technology. Moreover, these amps are considerably smaller and lighter than conventional amplifiers and are much more energy efficient.

The best news is that this new technology will be affordable to many audiophiles. Starting at only $1,600/pr., these dynamic, musical, and ultra-detailed amplifiers will seriously outclass most amplifiers at anywhere near their price—stone-stock, right out of the box.

From a practical standpoint, the NuForce amplifiers will not sound better to all listeners in all situations. No amplifier, no matter how competent, can make that claim. If you’ve take great pains to optimize another amplifier in your system and you are in love with the sound, don’t assume that these amps (as good as they are) will automatically sound better. System synergy and personal preference are variables that should never be overlooked or discounted.

As I end this review I am bracing myself for new products soon to be available from NuForce, including the Reference 8 Signature series, and a 350 watt monoblock amp that will weigh in at a trim 5 pounds. Stay tuned!
 

Frank Alles

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NuForce
356 South Abbott Ave
Milpitas, CA 95035
Phone: 1-408-426-4165
Primary Fax: 1-408-262-6877
Secondary Fax: 775-245-9746
E-mail: salesteam@nuforce.com Web: www.nuforce.com

Price: Model 8, $800 each. Model 8B, $950 each
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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