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To leapfrog straight to the conclusion, the W-1 is the proverbial knight in shining armor to rescue the S-1 damsel in distress. Its appearance on the same desktop which previously had taken the pulse on the speakers solo now pronounced the playing field significantly altered.

Jan Garbarek is a perfect example. With his trademark piercing soprano, the necessary counterpoints are the synth pedals and drums usually embedded in his ECM exploits. Without the W-1, most of those are gone. Deleted. With the W-1, they and their ambience are back where they belong. The effect on the music is rather more holistic than just bass. Power, vitality, anchoring, excitement and impact are restored. With those, scale and profundity return.

It takes a light touch on the W-1 controls though. Remember, your ears are just one meter removed if your sub ends up between the speakers as did my loaner. My bass attenuator kept receding until it finally ended up at 8:30 on the dial to be just right. Now the bass apparently came from the copper-nosed tiny drivers rather than some other place.

The correct low-pass control setting is pretty vital too to blur out the dividing line. Right around 70Hz sounded spot on to my ears. The phase control remained at 0° of course since I had path-length equality between mains and sub. I parked the speakers atop inverted glass planters from Ikea, with felt pads on either end of the 'stands' to minimize vibration transmission into my glass table top. It's important to have the widebanders at ear level. At 17cm tall, this cheap Ikea plant ware proved tailor-made for the S-1. Even their bases were the same depth as the speakers.

Once I had the toe-in to my liking -- crossing a foot or two behind my head -- everything snapped into focus to lock in. Unlike with my 2-way Mark & Daniel Maximus Ruby monitors, the point-source unity dispersion of the NuForce speakers did not cause the eventual desire to sit farther back than the diagonal corner placement of my office desk allows. In short, this speaker has no issues cohering at the short distances we encounter on the PC.

Once again it was confirmed that unlike their Reference gear, the NuForce men have deliberately voiced the Icon to be warmer, softer and gentler while retaining their core emphasis on magnification power of fine detail. While the raw power and drive of the big gear is lacking to mostly limit the Icon to its intended nearfield application (the DeVore Fidelity Nines in my inventory are a very surprising exception), SET man fancies the Icon more. At $249 x 3 (the amp, speakers and sub are all priced identically), this is a very high-class 'intimate sphere' music system.

Class D has always been real good in the low frequencies. Even detractors grant that. Hence its use in subwoofers has become near ubiquitous, meaning you won't be surprised to learn that the quality and reach of the W-1's bass are quite exceptional for its size and price. Clobbering this mini rig with my usual bass fare aka Mercan Dede, Cheb i Sabbah and related 'organic ambient' music, I was routinely shocked to hear things I knew to be there but didn't expect to retrieve. It was a good reminder. 1-inch tweeters in headphones can do surprising bass as long as all the air volume they have to energize remains trapped between them and your inner ear. Getting premium low bass in my 13 meter long listening room with its open 2
nd story requires lots of woofer power. Quality bass in the small space set up between the S-1s, W-1, my office chair and the wall corner right behind it gets by with a lot less effort. Anything more than the NuForce box would be overkill, grotesque and thus, undesirable.

The flip side is, the S-1's deliberate focus on vocal clarity, enunciation and openness now blossoms. Its relative specialization no longer pretends at everything to focus instead on its root strengths. The speaker itself is unchanged. How the ear relates to it when accompanied by the W-1 has changed. The prior lack of grounding and tonal fullness no longer is the glaring distraction that allowed little appreciation of anything else. Now one gets to fully appreciate the wave-guided qualities because they are embedded in a complete rather than truncated bigger picture.

Mariza's voice now includes chest, throat and roof of mouth. Finger slides on the Portuguese guitar and the tchiki-tchiki-tchiki noises of gentle percussion have the kind of clarity one tends to get from speakers without crossovers anywhere near the presence region. It's a light lithe motional quality that's strong on timing precision. What was completely beyond the S-1 before were singers like Paolo Conte and Abed Azrié.

Now the downward force of these men's inherent gravity is restored yet the buoyant fleetness of foot the speakers already possessed remains unimpeded. The grit and dirt of a raunchy baritone sax have returned in their wet spittle glory. Ditto for the heaviness of piano power cords. In short, everything is accounted for except for the very highest treble. That's actually an asset in this context and subjectively warms up the proceedings to truly not be guilty of "class D aloofness, all clinical detail, no comfort".

The final sound of the 3-piece NuForce speaker system driven from the power-upped Icon is well balanced and utterly free of cheap-fi sins like sizzle, spatial squashing, clipped decays and vocal hardness and bite. Big systems give more scale and ambience of course, more physicality of impact, more soundstage depth. But all of that would be too overwhelming so close up and personal. Anyone who reaches for a large-scale symphonic work on the desk top and expects any sense of realism is clearly nuts. To unleash oceanic forces in a tea cup is completely irrational. The same goes for Power Rock or anything else whose impact in real life involves all the skin of your body and not just your ears. To a far greater extent than this system, that's what the in-ear speakers strip away.

What we have here is a very hi-end-ish 'starter' system that should last many people well past their first forays into the hobby. Resolution, clarity of vocal enunciation, separation and coherence all go quite beyond what the price tag might promise (or warn not to expect). It's probably the oft-invoked trickle-down effect responsible, here true for both the Icon and W-1 electronics borrowing from the Reference line and the waveguide speaker solution adapted from the bigger NuForce speakers. Quite shocking for the money are fit & finish, from the nicely rounded alu enclosure of the Icon to the solidity of its controls and the paint job on the speaker cabs. Feature-wise too, there's more connectivity and adjustments than one should expect. Heck, one could even daisy-chain another W-1 off the RCA stereo outputs of the first and go full-out stereo to 50Hz. Overkill on the desk top I'd say right away but if one mounted the S-1s on a wall to radiate a whole room or listening area, stereo W-1s could well be the ticket for a $1,000 lifestyle system that actually delivers the sonic goods and isn't just cute.

NuForce is to be commended for offering so much for so little and even throwing four color options into the mix. Front man Casey Ng is to be commended for returning to the lion's den after both David and I had rather skewered the unassisted S-1s on their first visit. It's hard to pick a favorite out of the components that make up the NuForce desk-top system. They're so well matched and thus complementary that the sum goes beyond just the parts. That's a sign of good engineering. It also maximizes bang for the buck. For all that, an award is in order. Congratulations, NuForce. We may have been reluctant at first but with the launch of the W-1, this mini rig has matured to perfection!

Quality of packing: Very good.
Reusability of packing: Multiple times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Easy.
Condition of component received: Perfect.
Completeness of delivery: Power cords, all necessary signal cables, Icon external power supply.
Quality of owner's manual: None included.
Ease of assembly: None required.
Website comments: Informative and easy to navigate.
Human interactions: Prompt.
Pricing: Aggressively competitive against all Chinese imports.
Final comments & suggestions: S-1 speakers need to be raised to tweeters at ear height.

NuForce website