Review: NuForce DDA-100 digital amplifier

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The NuForce DDA-100 stereo digital amplifier is available in silver and black finish

The NuForce DDA-100 stereo digital amplifier is one of the Californian brand’s most intriguing models. Solely fitted with S/PDIF and USB inputs, the NuForce DDA-100 doesn’t carry out any digital-analog conversion but transforms PCM signals into PWM signals before filtering, directly in the power unit. With 2×50 W at 8 Ohms (2×75 W at 4 Ohms), the NuForce DDA-100 has adequate features for hi-fi or home cinema stereo listening purposes. What is this little digital amplifier worth when tested with demanding floor-standing speakers?

NuForce DDA-100: packaging content

With NuForce, user experience starts with the NuForce DDA-100 box, which has been designed in the style of high-tech product technology. There is no recycled cardboard, but a nicely presented box. Inside, the amplifier comes with an anti-parasitic ferrite power cable and a compact-sized remote control (with its CR2025 battery).

Le NuForce DDA-100 est compact et léger
The NuForce DDA-100 is extremely compact and light
La mini télécommande du NuForce DDA-100
The NuForce remote control is as stripped down as the amplifier

 Installation

The NuForce DDA-100 amplifier that we tested is a Silver model (black is also available). Compact and light, it has a brushed aluminium covering with impeccable graining. The front panel is dotted with micro-perforations which reveal two LED displays, one for the active input and the other to indicate the volume. The NuForce logo is etched in the centre and on the right is the volume potentiometer.

The rear panel has a digital audio S/PDIF coaxial RCA input, two S/PDIF optical Toslink inputs, a USB input (type B) and an optical S/PDIF Toslink output. The screw terminals are compatible with banana plugs.

Borniers HP du NuForce DDA100

We recommend that you use banana plugs to connect speaker cable bigger than 1 mm².

The insertion port for speaker cable is very small and can only hold 1 mm² section cable. We therefore used banana plugs to hold our Norstone Silver 150 cable.

Face arrière du NuForce DDA100
The NuForce DDA-100 has 4 PCM stereo compatible digital inputs.

Test configuration

We tested the NuForce DDA-100 with Klipsch RB-51 compact speakers, Q Acoustics 2050i floor-standing speakers and Focal Aria 926 floor-standing speakers.

Enceintes colonne Focal Aria 926
Les enceintes colonne Focal Aria 926 ont été testées avec le NuForce DDA-100

Three digital audio sources were used during the test ? a Pioneer N-50 network player (connected with a coaxial digital cable), a laptop computer (USB connection) and a LG television (via S/PDIF Toslink output). With the Pioneer N-50 player, we listened to Internet radio as well as MP3 files, FLAC CD and FLAC HD files stored on a NAS Synology DS212j. From the LG television, apart from a few programmes on digital, we listened to films and concerts in DTS and Dolby Digital, downmixed in stereo by a Dune HD TV-101 player and a Zappiti Player Mini multimedia player.

Ergonomy

Using the NuForce DDA-100 is very simple. It must be activated using a switch on the rear panel, then switched on using the remote control or by pressing the volume potentiometer. Changing inputs is done using the remote control or by pressing as many times as necessary the volume potentiometer located on the front panel. The LED display can be dimmed with the remote control, by pressing the ON and INPUT keys simultaneously.

L'afficheur LED du NuForce DDA-100
The LED display is made up of a series of red micro diodes.

First impressions

The NuForce DDA-100 impressed right from the start…as well as throwing us off course completely. While our current listening tastes had us listening preferably to SACD conversion, FLAC files or files downloaded from Hdtracks or Qobuzz, we took great pleasure in listening to ?Jazz on Fip? streamed in MP3 at 128 Kbits/sec. The sound of the NuForce DDA-100 is clearly different from most integrated amplifiers.

Not once and regardless of the type of audio files we listened to, did we note the slightest harshness or invasive nature of the music.

Passées quelques heures de rodage, l’amplificateur NuForce DDA-100 nous a semblé gagner en rendement. Le son proposé est extrêmement nuancé, ne faisant aucun cadeau aux mauvaises prises de son, qui sont livrées brutes de décoffrage. En cela, force est de constater que les mixages des pistes audio des disques Blu-ray sont bien mieux balancées que la plupart des CD-Audio. Mais nous y reviendrons plus tard.

La version SACD de la Cantate Domino, éditée par Proprius
La version SACD de la Cantate Domino, éditée par Proprius

Les écoutes

With so much softness and accuracy, we decided to listen to ?challenging? tracks with both the Q Acoustics 2050i tower speakers and Focal Aria 926 speakers. We initially used the Pioneer N-50, whose S/PDIF optical output is excellent. Listening to internet radio, FIP in particular, we noticed that an MP3 audio stream at 128 Kbps can be not only a source of music but a source of listening pleasure. The differences between the different tracks are amazing. If you’re in doubt about the quality of Internet radio, listen to FIP with the NuForce DDA-100 and you’ll soon change your mind.

The NuForce DDA-100 is relentless with bad recordings.

Jack Nitzsche – The Last Race (Death Proof, MP3)

An aggressive track where the hum of a Mustang mixes with strings and brass, all crushed by a heavy and saturated electric guitar. It’s quite simple, there is no overspill with the NuForce DDA-100 and despite the mono mix, you can still clearly hear the hum of the Mustang.

Muse, Knights of Cydonia (HAARP, FLAC 16/441,)

A compressed sound take – a racket which is not always easy to discern with the bass guitar hidden behind Matthew Bellamy’s vocals and frantic guitar. The result is quite flat but we can’t really blame the NuForce DDA-100. The mixing is such. We’d like to shake to this rhythm but the magic just doesn’t take hold. The audio engineers could have done better. There is however unquestionable sound leveling.

RadioHead, You and whose army (Amnesia, FLAC 16/441,)

Atmospheric and hazy, this Radiohead gem deserves more emphasis and depth as a fair amount of effects are used on Thom Yorke’s voice. The NuForce DDA-100 offers a sound delivery with extreme depth: totally atmospheric.

Björk, Hunter (Homogenic, FLAC 16/441,)

A reference track for testing the performance of an amplifier or speakers in the low end of the sound spectrum. The synthetic bass, which opens the song is delivered with surprising control by the NuForce DDA-100. The bass level produced is impressive: our Q Acoustics 2050i roar enough to give you shivers. The amplifier keeps the drivers under control without giving the impression of forcing when the volume is turned up. As Björk’s voice rises, carried by the strings and accordion, the NuForce DDA-100 demonstrates perfect control.

Le potentiomètre de volume du NuForce DDA-100
The volume potentiometer is also used as an input switch.

Hey Now, London Grammar (If You Wait, FLAC 24/44,1)

When a sound mix is good, you can immediately hear the difference. We’re not used to so much airiness. When the bass drum of the electronic set kicks in, aided by the bass guitar, we simply shudder with pleasure.

The NuForce DDA-100, despite its small format, is a giant in terms of bass delivery.

Cantate Domino, Oscar’s Motet Choir (Cantate Domino, FLAC 24/88,2)

A legendary sound take dating from 1976, proposed by Hdtracks in studio quality. The Cantate Domino is delivered with style and intensity. The church acoustics sound extremely credible. Despite the background hum of the original recording, we let ourselves be transported by the choirs and majestic organ. Not a hint of harshness when we listen, even if the neutral nature of the NuForce DDA-100 erased all our memories of a more impressive low frequency range.

Ma Benz, NTM (Suprême NTM, FLAC 16/44,1 kHz)

This is usually an ordeal for speakers and electronics, as the bass and drum machine ?thunder? to the point where we don’t always understand Lord Kossity. The NuForce DDA-100 unleashes itself while keeping impeccable control. Everything is solid and our chins drop to the floor, such is our overall impression.

Le NuForce DDA-100 fait des miracles en home-cinéma
the NuForce DDA-100, fitted for stereo home cinema?

In the context of home cinema

This is a pleasant surprise for anyone wanting a cut-down system to listen to concerts and Blu-ray films in stereo. The Nu-Force DDA-100 is extremely convincing. It impressed us with the range of its sound stage, with the Q Acoustics 2050i in particular. We chose action films (Pacific Rim and Star Trek Into Darkness) for this test. The infra-bass produced is quite simply astounding, regardless of the listening level. There are no limits to what the NuForce DDA-100 can do, but we haven’t even tried everything out during our listening sessions in a 20 m² room (while respecting our neighbours).

Star Trek Into Darkness in DTS downmix was the final proof we needed to be convinced that the NuForce DDA-100 is a success.

Why? Quite simply because as well as providing balanced and deep bass, the NuForce DDA-100 has managed to create a surround sound stage using only two speakers. Its versatility in both hi-fi and home cinema stereo contexts is extremely rare.

Which digital input should you choose?

Preferably the S/PDIF coaxial input along with a quality RCA coaxial cable. Then there are the optical inputs, the NuForce DDA-100 has a hardware system timer to get rid of jitter, which has excellent results. Our Dune HD-TV101 was connected with an HDMI cable to our television, which was connected to the DDA-100 with an optic cable. Despite the long path of the digital signal, the sound stage was perfectly consistent ? what we heard behind us when watching films is reflected in this. The USB port is just as good, but the user must use a software which can stream audio perfectly (Foobar 2000 with Windows, using Asio drivers). Once this is done, all is fine without taking into account the fact that PCM stream is limited to 24 bits and 96 kHz for this connection, as opposed to 24 bits and 176.4 kHz in S/PDIF. Failing that, you can use the inexpensive and highly convenient USB to S/PDIF NuForce U192S converter.

Le convertisseur USB vers S/PDIF NuForce U192s
The NuForce U192s USB to S/PDIF converter is an ideal solution to break free from the limitations set by the NuForce DDA-100 USB port

Which sources?

Any audio source equipped with an S/PDIF, coaxial or Toslink optical output will benefit from the NuForce DDA-100. We can recommend network players such as the Sonos Connect, Pioneer N-30, NuForce BTR-100 Bluetooth receiver or any network player, CD player or Blu-ray player and HD television (with S/PDIF output).

Conclusion

The NuForce DDA-100 digital stereo amplifier holds a special place in its category, with no other equivalent apart from the costly Wadia 151 PowerDAC. Used with a network audio player or mutimedia player, you can have an ultra-compact but very efficient system. With its 2×50 W at 8 Ohms and 2×75 W at 4 Ohms, the NuForce DDA-100 is not afraid of any compact speaker and complements perfectly any 4 driver floor-standing speaker, such as the Focal Aria 926, absolutely stunning in the lower range during testing.

 

 

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