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Positive Feedback ISSUE 26
july/august 2006



Reference 9.02 amplifiers

as reviewed by Jim Grudzien






Dali Grands.

Naim Nait 5i and Xindak 6900SE integrated amplifiers.

Naim CD5i and a GamuT CD-1 MKIICD players, and a Denon 3300 DVD audio/video player.

JPS Labs Superconductor FX, Dali Wave 5000, Analysis Plus Silver Oval-In, and Wasatch Cable Works 105-U interconnects and Dali Silver Wave Four and JPS Ultraconductor bi-wire speaker cables. JPS Labs Power AC+ and digital AC cords.

Tripp-Lite Line Conditioner LC-1800.

I was chatting with a fellow reviewer about (what else?) audio gear, and he asked me if I had read Bob Levi's review of the NuForce 9.02 amplifiers. I had not. He urged me to read it, so I did, and that is how I came to review these amps, along with the NuForce P-8 preamp. I emailed Jason at NuForce, and a few days later, I had a box sitting on my front step when I came home from work. The components were finished in gold, which may appeal to you, but does not appeal to me. Fortunately, NuForce also offers them in silver and black (my first choice). I was blown away by how small and light these components were. Their build quality is good, though not great.

When I spoke with Bob Levi about the 9.02s, he strongly recommended using high-quality copper cabling throughout the system. Because I was using an integrated amp with a tube preamp section, I was using silver interconnects and speaker cables, so I arranged to get some copper cables from Mark Markel at Analysis Plus. Mark recommended that the cables get 300 hours of burn-in time, and NuForce recommends at least seventy hours for the amps, so I burned in the 9.02s while doing the same for the cables. Before long, the amps were raring to go, and so was I. I listened to them before their burn-in was complete, and they did not sound very appealing until they had been played more than fifty hours. With burn-in, music began to sound more real and alive, and was definitely getting my attention.

The NuForce 9.02s have a very wide bandwidth (20 Hz to 50 kHz), and can drive low-impedance loads. They are physically small (8.5 inches wide, 15 inches deep, and about 2 inches high), and weigh a paltry 7 pounds each. The preamp only accepts RCA plugs, but has XLR and RCA amplifier outputs. Their power rating is 160 watts into 8 ohms, 300 watts into 4 ohms, and 350 watts into 2 ohms.

The NuForce combination sounded wonderful with my GamuT CD-1 MKII CD player (the latest version) and Dali Grand loudspeakers. Nothing sounded bad unless the recording was bad. Dynamics were top-notch, and the components were able to handle subtle changes and wide swings effortlessly. They revealed layers of texture on almost every recording I tossed at them. Their transparency was out of this world. Let me tell a story here. After I had finished listening to the amplifiers, I delivered them to another reviewer's home, where we had planned to listen to CD players. During the course of our listening session, one of his tube monoblock power amps (which cost three or four times as much as the 9.02s) went down, and we replaced them with the NuForce amps. We continued with the listening session, and I never noticed a difference in sound. The NuForce amp blended in with the rest of the gear, and virtually disappeared.


The neutrality of the NuForce 9.02s is excellent. They convey the message of the recording without adding any artificial artifacts. Their bass is exquisite—the stuff of legend. Their control and pitch definition are the best I've heard to date. My Dali Grands can do bass very well, but teamed up with the 9.02s, they reached new levels of satisfaction. The midband of the 9.02s, while not as warm and luscious as that of a tube amp, is as accurate as that of any amplifier I've heard for some time. That fact is, they faithfully replay the signal, for better or worse. One the many things I liked about the NuForce components is that they do not change the signal—it's all-natural here, no artificial ingredients.

Two things impressed me the most about the NuForce amps. First, they brought an "aliveness" and sparkle to recordings. Live recordings sounded even better than studio recordings, if they were well recorded. Second, the soundstage was by far the best I've encountered in my home. When I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughn perform "Tin Pan Alley," I realized that he was six feet tall, standing right in front of me. His guitar, and the instruments of the accompanying musicians, spread across the front of my room, expanding far beyond the physical placement of my speakers. That was fun.

Though I really liked these amps, they are far from perfect, and I have several bones to pick. You have to be careful hooking them up, making sure that you have a load connected before powering them up, or you will cause major problems. The volume control is very slow, taking much longer to go up and down than any other remote volume I've used. They also give off loads of RF signals—so much RF that I could not get radio reception from my boombox in the kitchen, thirty feet away. NuForce has gotta fix that. Also, when I powered off the amps, there was an annoying pop from the speakers. Okay, end of beefs.

I really enjoyed my time with these amplifiers. My wife still prefers the Nightingale Armonia, so my plan to purchase the 9.02s was scuttled. I think that they will get better with some tweaking by NuForce. If you can wait a while to get a pair, do so. If my concerns are addressed, these amps will not only be worldbeaters, but be easier to use. Their sound is world-class, and with the quirks worked out, they could be staples in many a reference setup. Highly recommended. Jim Grudzien

Reference 9.02 amplifiers
Retail: $1250 per unit, or $2500 a pair.

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