REVIEW: Amphion NuForce Helium 410 creates home office audiophile excellence

Amphion are the speaker manufacturer and the NuForce Icon2 is a tiny amplifier which powers the speakers, made in Finland. The concept means that this combo removes the need for traditional hi-fi units and is a halfway house between an AirPlay iPod dock and a full size hi-fi, though it lacks wireless skills.

The build quality of each speaker is a big step up from the best iPod docks and it’s not surprising as the speakers are standalone hi-fi components which cost more than the highest priced iPod dock on their own. Combined with the NuForce Icon2, the Amphion NuForce Helium 410 bundle retails for £899.

There’s major benefits over a iPod dock beyond the fact that stereo imaging is easily achievable from two speakers. The digital amp input allows connection of home cinema equipment but the PC inputs allow 96 Khz sampling of digital files and the set-up is designed to be enjoyed at low volumes and close to the listener. Testing it on a large desk with the speakers placed roughly 8ft apart, there’s a great amount of detail from our first listen. Cleverly, the amp will also act as a headphone amplifier, boosting the performance of any pair of headphones above the £100 price point.

We played The Civil Wars 20 years from Spotify on an iPhone 4S (using the Extreme 320 kbps audio setting) and enjoyed the detail and naturally placed bass – often a failing of dock systems. We also used the set-up with a PC with Apple Lossless files in iTunes. Talib Kweli’s Eardrum album demonstrated plenty of punch – the combo of amp and speakers isn’t afraid to party. Jack White’s Blunderbuss album hits hard, guitars clear against a very heavy bass thump.

If you’re dissatisfied with the bass of docks which drown out detail, this is the set up for you. Happy when fed low (and high) quality internet radio, there’s little that troubles the system. The colour schemes may not match your home cinema set-up but, again, the detail is impressive. Hushed dialogue from The Sopranos impresses and the shoot-outs are meaty – a subwoofer would add more but for compact style, it’s an excellent compromise.

The speakers are best when place with their backs near to a wall and the simple amp can be placed out of sight when directly connected to your PC or source. We used the system as a desktop companion and it sits brilliantly alongside an iMac but equally alongside a sparse desk with just a wireless keyboard and mouse.

VERDICT

Ideal for your desk and small rooms and a real step-up from a dock. Beating the B&W Zeppelin Air Dock, the £899 price tag is high but you’re paying for performance and build. The handmade speakers instantly become home office art and listening sessions are comfortable and a instant sensation when played at low or high volumes. The next step is a hi-fi system at twice the price, which means this is the set-up for audiophiles who demand the best performance from a system that fits on a desk and aren’t fussed about wireless streaming.

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