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This review first appeared in the July 2013 issue of hi-end hifi magazine of Germany. You can also read this review of the Nuforce IA-18 in its original German version. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with the publishers. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of fairaudio or Nuforce - Ed.

Reviewer: Frank Hakopians
Bladelius Gondul M, Horstmann & Petter Ulysses table, Audiocraft AC 4400 and Horstmann & Petter Iason arms, Dynavector XV-1S and Denon DL 103 'Volpe' cartridges
Phono stages: Einstein The Turntable's Choice, Naim Superline, Tessendorf TE Phono
Preamp: Melody 1688 II
Power amps: Tenor Audio 75 Wi monos, Jeff Rowland Design Group Model.112
Loudspeakers: Kharma Ceramique CE- 3.2, Gamut Phi 3, Tocaro 40b, A.C.T. AL 4x4 subwoofer
Power delivery: Isolation transformers from Steinmusic and Moll Audio, AHP sound module, Furutech outlets
Review component retail in Europe: €3.499

Of course a colleague could have written up today's pulse-width modulating integrated. Perhaps one of the younger ones properly house-trained on computer fi and class D amps. That'd been convenient whilst I laid in wait for the next fat valve amp or petite class A ampino to arrive. But to keep one's eyes wide shut in the face of 'new' tech isn't proper discipline when class D amps have broken into the top echelon of performance. Just think of the super exclusive Kharma MPA 350 or the hidden power behind top active speakers like the Geithain 800K or Grimm Audio LS1. Add comparatively shiny efficiency of ~70% or higher versus the tightwad 20% of better class AB circuits. Since they don't rely on a constant idle current, class D amps tend to be green with low AC consumption and cool-running cases.

So far so good but in the high end most tend to stick with our old Kanzler's famous saying. What matters is what comes out the other end. In short, how's the sound? That's precisely why I had as direct competitor Devialet's D-Premier on hand. It's another integrated which doubles as incorruptible work horse and high-level fun maker. But I won't deny that it took me ages to warm to this new amplifier genre. Never mind, onward and up with Nuforce's new reference series IA-18. This firm designs in California but assembles cost-effectively in Taiwan. That's a quite common split of the work load today. Since its 2005 launch the company has developed a reputation as class D expert and laboured hard to attach a properly upscale high-end halo to their championed topology. Considering a heavy stack of awards and positive feedback in domestic and foreign magazines, that seems to have come off with good success.

But first the small print. Unlike popularly believed, a class D amp needn't be a true digital amp. Yes their transistors merely shuttle between two states of on or off to mimic the binary system of digital processing. Normally however the actual signal remains in the analog domain from input to output. That can get confusing however against specimens which do digitize their inputs—or only accept digital—and then convert from PCM to PWM to switch their transistors. The D-Premier is an example of this sub genre. So was the recently reviewed NAD C390DD. A central DSP brain manages the amplification which obviously requires digital signal.

That Nuforce's biggest integrated would encounter the equally flounder-shaped Frenchie seemed à propos when the Californians are quite loud about their amp's birthright to duke it out with the best. Here the D-Premier would serve as an established benchmark. Granted, at €3.499 this also rendered the Nuforce David to Devialet's €12.500 Goliath. Even so externals betrayed very little David stature. Flat and black but quite sizeable, the Nuforce IA-18 cuts a decidedly different profile from the ubiquitous folded metal box. For those where black trim gets too martial, Nuforce offers clear-anodized silver though the lid remains black. Of course there's a remote whose massive metal form factor conjures up a Jedi light sword. It's quite a surprise actually that a button press doesn't shoot out a hissing light beam.

Kicking the IA-18 out of standby was a rather more peaceful affair and despite its different shape the wand's feel in my hand was quite good and didn't irritate minorly like the clacking metal controls. The rear of the deck is quite sparsely stacked with five RCA inputs, a pair of output terminals and an IEC power inlet. Forget XLR inputs, subwoofer output, USB, phono, fixed or variable outs or a 6.3mm headfi socket. Call it barely sufficient or refreshingly purist.

To not miss anything I did take a nose dive into the manual. Perhaps there were sonically relevant goodies hidden in the depths of the embedded menu? I learnt that the IA-18 remembers volume settings for each input and includes a narrow ±3dB balance control with a convenient red reset switch on the back. Too bad then that my IA-18 lacked said switch. Apparently the reference preamp P-20 has it. The IA-18 not merely shares its enclosure but parts of the manual.