NuForce DDA-100 Integrated Amplifier Review 
Home Theater Power Amplifiers Integrated Amplifiers
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 13 August 2013

In its relatively short existence, NuForce has become a household name among audiophiles. The Northern California based company has introduced many landmark products, including Class D monoblock amplifiers, desktop and portable devices, DACs, headphone amps, and a host of other interesting offerings. They have also delved into home theater, and wireless audio.

NuForce is also known for continuously improving its products and offering cutting edge technology. From my experience, the products are well designed, well built, and smartly use a combination of native brain power and overseas manufacturing. NuForce has also priced many of their products within reach of any budget. On the flip side, they also make reference level gear at higher price points.

I received in for review one of NuForce’s newest products, the DDA-100 integrated amplifier. “DDA” stands for direct digital amplifier. This is a cutting edge design used by just a few other manufacturers, including NAD and Wadia. Essentially, it is a “power” DAC that can drive your speakers directly. Equipped with only digital inputs, it converts the signal to analog only at the last stage, at the speaker binding posts. According to NuForce, “the DDA-100 doesn't require the typical DAC stage found in most of today's digital audio products. Rather, its PWM power amplifier stage is modulated directly by the incoming signal, and the digital-to-analog conversion takes place at the speaker outputs. In effect, the PWM power amplifier stage operates as a power DAC.”  Essentially, the digital inputs feed PCM signals straight to the Class D amplification section with no D/A conversion step in between. Class D is also known as PWM or Pulse-Width Modulation.

NuForce DDA-100

The DDA-100 is rated at 50 Watts RMS into 8 ohms and 75 Watts RMS into 4 ohms. There are four digital inputs, two optical, one coaxial, and one USB 2.0, listed as “adaptive”. Surprisingly, there is also an optical output. There are set of quality binding posts, and IEC inlet, and a supplied miniature sized, full function remote. The unit is available in black or silver. The review sample was supplied in black.

There are a few minor quirks of which a potential buyer must be aware. The optical and USB inputs accept maximum sample rates of 96 Khz, and the coax input accepts sample rates from 44.1 khz to 176.4 khz, but curiously not 192 Khz. Odd, since there is very little source material available at 176.4, yet quite a few 192 offerings at HDTracks and other download sites. However, the reality is this will hardly be a consideration for virtually all prospective buyers of the DDA-100.

Set Up & Listening

The DDA-100 is a real space saver of a component, barely bigger than a cigar box, yet it is well put together. I used it with a pair of Harbeth Compact 7 ES3 speakers, which are of average sensitivity, tethered with Transparent "The Wave" speaker cables. I used a Mojo Audio power cord, and sources were a Squeezebox Touch and an Onkyo CD player. Remember, there are no analog inputs, so I used TosLink with the Squeezebox, and coaxial with the Onkyo.

From the first few notes of the first album I cued up, I realized I was dealing with a product that was going to defy expectations. Specifically, there was more resolution and more musical information flowing through the speakers then from any component I have reviewed at anywhere near this price point. After just a few hours, I felt NuForuce had successfully made a case for the direct digital amplifier. Mind you, I was told the amp would need a good 100 to 150 hours of break before it sounded its best, and this was absolutely accurate.

The first 25 hours or so, there was a slight dryness to the treble, but that completely disappeared thereafter, and I heard nothing but silky smooth high frequencies that sounded as natural as any DAC I have had in the system. Acoustic guitars were all steel and wood, drums were woody in tone, and piano was amazing present and dimensional. The soundstage was amazingly wide, with the mix spread across the room, when the recording allowed.



Browsing through underappreciated singer songwriter Martin Sexton’s catalog, I pulled up his breakthrough album, The American. Having heard this album on countless systems, I was quite taken aback at how the DDA-100 unraveled some new layers in this recording. It really did feel like several layers were peeled away from the sound as compared to other DACs and analog amplifiers.

The 96 Khz, 24 bit download of the terrific new album by Tom Jones, Spirit In The Room, sounded spacious, clean, and vibrant. The organic, warm production suits the material perfectly, and Jones’ voice is impressively realistic. He covers such songwriting giants as Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, and Paul McCartney, getting to the heart of each song. The DDA-100 really hits home with the emotional impact.

NuForce DDA-100
The DDA-100 was excellent on naturally recorded acoustic music as well. On a live recording by the Wayne Shorter Quartet from Paris last month, the interplay between the incredible band was panoramic. Shorter’s horn was appropriately brassy, on occasion, delicate, and soulful. The support from long-time band mates Danilo Perez on piano, John Pattitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, came through as amazingly sympathetic.


Where does the DDA-2 fall short? Literally the only place I was left wanting, just a tiny bit sonically, is in bass impact. I felt the lower frequencies lacked the full weight I've heard from other amplifiers. However, the articulation and accuracy were simply superb.  Of course, matched with different speakers, results may be different.

My only other nitpicks are ergonomic, and quite frankly, minor. I do wish the DDA-100 decoded 192 Khz files. Also a sample rate indicator would be nice, which is always on my wish list, but rare to find at this price point. Other than that, NuForce has simply hit it out of the park with the DDA-100 in terms of sound quality, ease of use, and price.

NuForce DDA-100
Conclusion

After spending almost two months with the NuForce DDA-100 direct digital amplifier I can honestly say I feel it is a breakthrough product, especially considering the $550 price tag. The DDA-100 eliminates the need for an outboard DAC, and keeps the signal path for digital source components at a minimum. The fact that I heard more of the original source material's texture, ambience, and transparency through the DDA-100 than other, more costly, digital components is proof in the pudding.

As mentioned above, the only real concern I had was a certain lightness of presentation in the bass area, but this may be a speaker/amp thing.  For instance, I can say with certainty the DDA-100 would be a superb match with the wonderful Boston Acoustic M25 monitors I reviewed. I am even hoping NuForce builds on the unqualified success of the DDA-100 with a model with more power. That is how much I believe NuForce has nailed it.

I think most astute listeners would be surprised at the DDA-100's level of performance. I personally think it outperforms many far more expensive amplifiers in several key areas. Of course, a reminder is needed here -- if one has analog sources, or inefficient speakers, the DDA-100 won’t fit the bill. For those with only digital sources, it gets my highest recommendation.

Specifications



NuForce DDA-100: $550

●    USB: 2.0 compatible
●    Inputs: 2 x TOSLINK, 1 x RCA Coaxial 75-Ohm, 1 x USB2.0 adaptive mode
●    Maximum Sampling Rate: 24-bits
●    Power output: 75W x 2 (4 Ohm), 50W x 2 (8 Ohm)
●    THD+N  :0.07% @ 15W
●    Peak Output Power: 250W
●    Frequency Response: 20 to 20kHz +/- 0.1dB
●    Dimensions:9 in x 8.5 in x 2 in
●    Weight : 2.64 lb. Shipping weight 5 lb
●    USB Samping Rates: 44.1, 48, and 96kHz
●    S/PDIF Sampling Rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4kHz

Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch w/ CIA VDC-SB power supply
via Ethernet to MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate
external drives.
DAC: Bryston BDA-1, C.I.A. Transient Mk II
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Audio Research SP16, Belles Soloist 3, C.I.A. PLC-1 MK III
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Bob Carver Black Magic
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4, Bogdan Audio Creations Art Deco
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids,  Darwin Ascension (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audioquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner,Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Onkyo C7000R
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity V-DAC II, MyTek Stereo 192 DAC
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, NuForce DDA-100
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, MAD 1920S
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Transparent MusicWave (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS

 






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