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On inner values the IA-18 needn't feel bashful against the reference machines. It includes a trickle-down version of the P20's preamp section, two V3 output modules plus a dense capacitive bank dubbed cross matrix array. Each output module delivers 150/200w into 8/4Ω to promise levels well in excess of room volumes. For precise settings there are 99 steps of 0.5dB each implemented not with a traditional pot or chip but a custom ladder of discrete resistors. According to Nuforce this inserts a single resistor into the signal path regardless of volume. It's such details which talk of the machine's upscale ambitions. Further evidence are the preamp Jfets—very low-noise field-effect transistors—which I last encountered in Plinius M-8 preamp from New Zealand whose sonics I recall with fondness.

The top attraction is clearly the output stage which Nuforce stresses is an analog switching circuit, something we already covered. One area of distinction between D-class amps is how the high-frequency carrier wave and its distortion components are filtered out of the signal before it hits the speaker terminals. Here one encounters the typical low-pass filters about which Nuforce claims that the competition suffers clearly limited bandwidth and rising distortion values. For theirs they claim barely affected bandwidth, constant low distortion and minimal phase shift. But as Helmut Kohl put it, what matters is what comes out the other end. Playmates became my CD/SACD Bladelius Gondul M and for acoustic conversion a pair of Kharma Ceramique 3.2 whose good-natured impedance plot and healthy 90dB sensitivity wouldn't unduly stress the power reserves on hand. This promptly manifested in pressurization which recalled earlier pre/power combos.

Liz Wright's The Orchard already impressed me during its 2008 release year with a rather potent low end which my then active studio monitors of Klein & Hummel O500D with their butch 400-watt amps cottoned to like bears to honey. Despite my rather bass-absorbent listening room, their dual 12ers naturally had had no issue with parlaying bass attacks with massive reach and enormous blackness. This could nearly approach too much of a good thing. Now driven from the IA-18's class D modules, my Kharma 3.2 obviously didn't mete out the same violence as the big-woofer'd studio artillery had. With 7” mid/woofers that'd have rewritten physical laws.
Even so I enjoyed more than a vague notion of the bass burnt to disc. Precise, black and tactile was the low end my just 1-meter tall 2-ways with their 35Hz F3 put into the room. This spoke to high damping factors whilst bigger woofers surely would go further. Never mind, Liz Wright's voice featured center stage and in more than one dimension. Because this contains good dynamic potential ("Speak your heart"), first impressions of the Nuforce were that of a quicksilvery, lively and rather bass-potent amp. Thankfully I detected no tendency to nervousness or any treble emphasis. A clearly structured midband and properly dosed treble rounded out in perfect balance. The sense of wellbeing I usually associate with this album arose instantly. The music is timeless, the voice touched by genius.

After this promising start, I needed classical chamber music. Would the placement of instruments come off? How about size? Would that default into operatic gigantomania? All review subjects must deal with such concerns. Meanwhile the workable number of instruments with such chamber fare would also serve me to weigh tonal balance.

During last year's Klangbilder show in Vienna I acquired an interesting SACD by local label Gramola. Now I picked this music of the charming Viennese pianist Barbara Moser and the Salzburg violin virtuoso Thomas Magnus Irnberger to answer my questions. Following the notion 'as good as any of the guys', these two performers are committed to reintroducing works of lesser known female composers of the 19th and early 20th century to a broader public. That this would be most pleasurable isn't just due the good sound quality of this native DSD recording but at least to the same extent to their very lively virtuoso interpretations.

Over the past few months I'd heard this music regularly over my Tenor Audio 75Wi monos as well as Devialet's fascinating flounder. In either case the results were convincing. Where the valves impressed with soundstaging and the clearly 'prettier' silky yet rosiny tone—particularly so on Irnberger's rare Guarneri del Gesu—the French tech marvel ran away with extreme transparency and the type of intelligibility which unearthes details others give up on as being below the threshold of perception to not matter. As the third contender the IA-18 really had its work cut out with this exceptionally fresh but uneditorialized recording.

Despite the abject price handicap the Taiwanese/American didn't shipwreck. Tonal balance stayed put without tendencies to ease categorization by turning bright or dark, too precise, round, analytical or musical. One in fact suspects that its designers deliberately tweaked for invisible tonality. The only character trait should be the very well controlled lower registers. The concert grand of "Tarantella, Allegro Vivace" from Pauline Viardot-Garcia's Six Morceaux was recreated on a most solid foundation whilst the other end of the scale enjoyed sufficient air to bloom without limits. Irnberger's parallel violin pizzicato remained a discrete sound source despite routinely disappearing behind unison passages.