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Did you pay attention?
Then you already know that "for full-range speakers, the EQ circuit would normally be in the speaker and thus after the amp [i.e. like any other crossover - Ed]. Hence the speaker will sound good with any amplifier. But to improve performance and increase efficiency, we moved the EQ for this speaker into the amp. Therefore the S-1 will not sound good with any other amps." Remember, the S-1 creates a nasty +6dB peak at 1.5kHz. That's smack in the heart of the presence region. Couple that to no bass to speak of. Without proper counter measures, you've got a lightweight forward presentation with mondo artificial presence energy. So, S-1 satisfaction absolutely depends on the Icon. Wedded for life. Depending on what music you want to enjoy and how you set up the small NuForce speaker, you'll also sorely need a bass extender. So how then does the S-1 perform in its intended desk-top environment where the widebander is expected to get a free lift from its supporting surface and possibly a wall should your PC rig face one?

"When developing the S-1, given the size and cost constraints, we had to decide on what to optimize. We could have saved the cost of the wave guide (it is costly to make due to the mounting, machining etc) and gone with a more traditional 2-driver design. But we would likely have ended up with an above average sounding speaker just like some good existing 2-way desktop speakers. We think that audiophiles would want to pursue the best possible sound even in this price range so we set out to make the S-1 with the best mid and high frequencies. You will discover more amazing details and clarity with this $249/pair speaker as you spend more time with it. With a little extra cost, a customer can complement the bass with a subwoofer. I think the S-1 is one of the few (maybe the only) desktop speaker on the market that can produce this kind of audiophile-quality soundstage and imaging. We also realize that women generally do not care about extra bass (actually many of them dislike it) so to women consumers, the S-1 and Icon is the perfect combination." Finally, "yes, the S-1 waveguide came from our S-9 speaker and Bob Smith had a hand in designing it. But he is not the only person who worked on the S-1 though SP Tech does get a financial benefit from the sale of S-1s. For the consumer product line, we simply do not intend to promote the designer and instead want to focus on our brand."

Cough. Invoking the "women don't like bass" argument strikes me as quite the spin job. It didn't take my wife a minute to volunteer that the S-1 solo in the above setup sounds threadbare, lightweight, thin and thus, plain bad. Naturally, she was right. Granted, the NuForce small print does admit that a wall reasonably close behind the speakers is highly desirable. But what to do if your desk top is freestanding like mine? Do you limit yourself to streaming CNN feeds and thus, predominantly the human speaking voice? Without a "sub", a wall is a prerequisite as I would find out.

I felt much genuine excitement for the Icon's budget-champ abilities during my previous mini assessment. That same excitement over the matching S-1 now was squarely stuck in my throat. I just couldn't agree with the design choices that had been made. To elevate midrange clarity and detail over realistic tonal balance amounts to little more than a turned-up treble control mated to a turned-down bass control. I'm overstating for effect but the gist remains. In a setup like mine above, the S-1 is sonically incomplete and mandates some kind of add-on bass extender. Given the intended desk top environ, that's not easy. You'll need another box at least as big as an S-1 to house a 5" driver that'll do 40Hz in the nearfield. You'll need a good crossover with that box to low-pass its contributions. Ha. Far easier said than done, never mind Jason's suggestion to the contrary. My old $299 Diva by Swans 5.25" two-ways with silk-dome tweeter, built-in amplification and treble/bass controls neatly sidestepped that whole misery while keeping my desk top nicely uncluttered.

To put it plain, should your desk top look like mine -- out in the open -- forget about music and the S-1s. Take a CD like Loreena McKennitt's Ancient Muse. All the meat and potatoes of drums and bass have vanished. Who cares about the gravy then? The whole miniaturization and simplification appeal of the Icon/S-1 deal goes kaput if you force your customers to add a self-powered quality bass module that'll fit on the desk. Nobody in their right mind should suggest putting such a thing on the floor. Not when the filter frequency is 80Hz or higher. No, the S-1 is marketed as is , no NuForce bass aid announced. Therefore it has to rise or fall on its own merit. Given the above, no further comments would hide the basic flaw that this speaker is only half a solution. I needed a wall. Pronto.

The dining table would do. It butts up against a long wood-covered and deep divider hiding cabinetry behind doors on the other side.

Spinning Apple Lossless and WAV files from a MacBook, this reinforcement with the wall right behind the S-1s definitely helped. I'd still not call it as full-range satisfying as Passion &ound's whizzer-fitted widebanders whose cabinet, it is true, could contain three NuForces stacked on their sides and another two piggy-backed behind 'em. You simply can't get bass something from driver or enclosure nothings.

Naturally, that Spanish rig below with its battery-powererd T-amp and matching monitors is a lot more expensive than the NuForce proposition. And it's not marketed for desk top use though perhaps it should be. It's stunning. More importantly, it shows what can be done. That then can ask whether NuForce's decision to optimize one area and disregard another makes sense. Or as a cynic might put it, why design an expensive waveguide whose very non-linear gain must be knocked down again with a compensation circuit in the first place?

Actually, the S-1 is very Lowther-ish in speed and openness. That part of the equation is no marketing hooey. It's sealed-box impulse-correct fact. Add the wall, don't apply certain bass expectations or material and for the money asked, the midrange and lower treble are silly good indeed. I simply need more reach into the bass (forget low bass, that's off the menu in this entire discussion) to consider the NuForce mini speaker viable as marketed - solo, without auxiliary woofer/s. Add-ons defeat the entire purpose though. Other critics will disagree. Let them make the as-is case. If NuForce doesn't plan to author their own bass module, I shall wait for them to recommend a specific one that mates to the S-1 optimally; doesn't screw up an iota where it already excels; and won't turn your or my desk top into a crowded parking lot and the area behind it into even more of a wiring mess. For now, this proposition is a bit heavy on spin and too light on completing the job. And why would NuForce rely on competitors to finish it for them? Call me a bit puzzled...
PS: After completion of the above, NuForce's Jason Lim informed me that "oh yes, we are working on a very small subwoofer targeted for a year-end release". Puzzle solved. I'm sure this will address all my reservations head-on. I'll be pleased as punch to report on it when the time comes. In the meantime, those readers "with a wall" and comparing the Icon/S-1 combo against equivalently priced commercial offerings could very well find the former's unusual transparency and openness far preferable even if it were still to lack a bit of fullness for their tastes. And, they now also know that NuForce will soon have their own bass solution that'll be matched in appearance, quality and price. Right on!
NuForce website