NuForce Icon USB-input Integrated Amplifier

The NuForce Icon ($249) is an audiophile-grade Integrated Desktop Audio Amplifier featuring two 12-watt outputs, a 3.5-mm stereo input for connection to an iPod or other portable device, a USB cable for operation with a PC or Mac, and standard RCA inputs for employing the Icon as the heart of a conventional audio system; all enclosed in a tiny 6" x 4 1/2" x 1" package. The USB DAC for converts a PC or Mac's audio signal to high-quality analog sound. The NuForce Icon also offers a seperate high-performance headphone output amp. Stereophile has a in depth review of its performance and sound quality.

Comments (2)

As I started reading yet another Smart Home article, the hair on my neck stood up, because I’ve seen over 30 years worth of articles saying the Smart Home is The Next Big Thing, because it’s still not here. But as I continued reading, I found this to be one of the best articles on the topic in years. I especially liked the discussion of Learning – first learning what’s normal, and then learning how to handle exceptions, including getting guidance from humans through a smartphone interface. Learning is a key to mass-market adoption, because the custom installation of automated homes so far requires professional installation and yet another “truck roll” for each new device or change of behavior introduced into the system – i.e. NOT SMART, and not scalable to mass markets. A question not answered is where the learned intelligence resides, so the occupant can move or replace one network operator with another, although there was some discussion of the problem of storing it in the cloud if the Internet connection goes down. Consumers will want to take their stuff with them, including what is known about their devices and habits. Besides being a dashboard, I see the smartphone as also becoming a marketing channel to educate consumers about new capabilities to consider. This is important because existing channels (BestBuy, Home Depot, Lowes, Staples, and broadband providers) don’t have a good way to demonstrate the value proposition. Appliances are in one part of the store and lighting, HVAC, security, window treatments, PCs, phones, and wiring & networking products are elsewhere — i.e. no place to see it all work together. Networking standards are important for device interoperability, but I don’t really see smartphones adding Zigbee radios when they already have Bluetooth & Wi-Fi, because these technologies are extending into the Zigbee space. Besides, while the phone offers a superior user interface, it doesn’t serve well as a network bridge or gateway for the smart home, because it leaves the home dumb when the phone is away. So there’s an obvious role of hub devices like Home Depot’s Wink, Lowes’ Iris, Staple’s Connect, BestBuy’s PEQ, and AT&T’s Digital Life, which each have separate ecosystems, as well as point products like HomeSeer and SmartThings. There was a good example of monitoring seniors that could have been extended with a discussion of prevention by monitoring trends. Motion sensors, for example, can be used to monitor slight changes in gait over time to suggest a mobility problem that may later lead to a fall. ‘Better to notice the trend and prevent the fall than to respond after it happens. The last thing I’ll say, which is a nit, is that not only is today’s smartphone as powerful as a mainframe computer from decades ago, but my (now old) iPhone 5 is 10,000 times faster than the IBM System/370 Model 158-3 mainframe computer I worked on in the mid-1970s, which cost about $3.5 million (in 1975 dollars) and needed special air conditioning, support teams, and expensive maintenance contracts. Not only is my phone faster, battery operated, and small enough to fit in my pocket, but it’s mine and not shared by hundreds or thousands of users, and it can access the world’s knowledge base over the Internet. Heck, the embedded microprocessor in my Philips Sonicare toothbrush can execute machine instructions 10 times faster than that mainframe. Supercomputers today are measured in teraflops (trillions of floating point operations per second) instead of 1 million instructions per second like that old IBM.
It is indeed an exciting time with smart home technologies becoming the norm for households. We're especially excited about the energy efficiency technology TED: The Energy Detective combining with devices to manage them and save money.

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