Are ICEpower amps really that good?


Hi folks, it's getting a bit boring now, but I would like to hear your opinions about the following issue. I have the eAR ICEpower based amps (with the ASP1000 modules with built in SMPS). Some audiophiles and amp manufacturers believe they are just trash. In my opinion they are no slouch compared with the almost 8 times more expensive Accuphase A-50V stereo amp. In fact, I prefer the ICEpower amps above the Accuphase. Now I'm a bit in doubt (audiophiles are such weird creatures): are this sub $2k ICEpower amps really that good that they can compete with the $$$ Accuphase amp, or is it due to my own shortcoming (I might have some form of insidious and progressive hearing impairment) or is it just imagination? If the ICEpower amps are really that good, what's the point of buying $$$ amps? Btw, I have Dunlavy SC-V loudspeakers.

Chris
dazzdax
I just found out that Bel Canto has an in-house 30 day demo of their amps. Because these amps are very system dependent, anyone considering these can try them in their home with their system, risk free. That is the way all audio equipment should be auditioned.

Click on this and go to "how to buy" for details:

http://www.belcantodesign.com/prodmain.html
I believe the answer depends on the type of sound you like. If you prefer detailed, transparent, incisive, dead-neutral and uber-accurate sound, then ICE amps...and many digital (or "non-digital", i.e. NuForce) amps will be perfect for you.
Dazzdax...You are suffering from the early stages of upgradeitis. The cure is to buy a much more expensive ICE amp like the H2O.
I bought the Nuforce 9s after extensive auditioning of several mega buck tube and SS amps in my system. While the 9s and Bel Cantos do not have the midrange tube bloom of good SE amps, it's the only thing they DON'T have.
For me, clear answer is YES- THEY ARE THAT GOOD! I'm done!
Hi Tvad, if you are right that the ICEpower amps are hyperdetailed, transparent and dead neutral, then we are talking about the best (most honest) amps in the world? Or am I wrong? If some audiophiles don't like the sound, that would mean they don't want a dead neutral sound, with other words, they want a colored sound. You see, it is not very clear to me whether the sound, or better: the non-sound of ICEpower amps is in fact due to lack of distortion or is it due to insufficient rendering of harmonic overtones (fucked up harmonic structure).

Chris
Tvad,
I have read an Nuforce owner argue (Audiogon thread) that it was more musical and warmer than the Conrad-Johnson SE60 it replaced. Have you ever listened to an ICE power based amp in direct comparison to the type of amps you believe are "better?"
I haven't, but I am definitively interested in exploring this evolving new amplification.
Mind if I ramble a bit?? Your question is interesting in part because it brings up the old conflict of descriptors such as "detailed", "warm", "veiled", etc. It comes down to preference. In thinking about your question it occurred to me that we all have so much time and money invested in our equipment that it becomes very personal. There are those of us who like a certain sound quality when we listen, and some who just want to perfectly recreate a studio or concert hall recording, warts and all. Maybe the SET and tube officiadoes prefer Van Gogh or Rembrandt, and the Icepower lovers prefer the pointalists or photographic art. Not that we don't appreciate one or the other, but what do we like the most, and spend our money on? What do you listen for in recordings?
06-04-06: Arni
Tvad,
I have read an Nuforce owner argue (Audiogon thread) that it was more musical and warmer than the Conrad-Johnson SE60 it replaced. Have you ever listened to an ICE power based amp in direct comparison to the type of amps you believe are "better?"
I have auditioned NuForce Ref 8 and CI Audio D100 and D200 in my system. I don't know if they are ICE based amps.

The NuForce Ref 8 that I heard in my system...and the NuForce Ref 9.02SE that I heard at the LA audio show this weekend were less warm than any tube amp I have ever heard.

Honestly, I believe warmth is a product of distortion, as the distortion fuzzes up the leading edges - among other things - and creates what we consider warmth. That in combination with attenuated highs.

Since digital amps have such low distortion specs, and have such wide bandwidth, I find it difficult to believe that they can be warm in any sense of the traditional audiophile definition of the term.

It's somewhat system dependent, I'm sure.

I'd have paid someone at the LA audio show if they could have pointed me in the direction of a demo room with a warm sound. The Acapella and Wilson rooms came closest. Even the Lamm room was not warm, although I liked the sound.
Hi Tvad,

Can I ask you what preamp they paired the Nuforce Ref 9.02SE with at the show? I am curious to know. Thanks

Dazzdax,
I haven't heard your specific amps but the Nuforce have me rethinking what was possible at different price points. I auditioned the Nuforce in my own system and was pleasantly suprised. I don't own them yet.
There are those of us who like a certain sound quality when we listen, and some who just want to perfectly recreate a studio or concert hall recording, warts and all.
Exactly. So, the answer to the question, "Are ICE power amps really that good?", depends on what sound you're after.

There is no right answer that can be applied to everyone.
06-04-06: Nicksgem10s
Hi Tvad,

Can I ask you what preamp they paired the Nuforce Ref 9.02SE with at the show? I am curious to know. Thanks
I believe it was the NuForce P-8 preamp, but I'm not certain.
ICE-based amps are not necessarily inexpensive. See for example the Rowland 302 stereo and the 301 monos.

My reference amps include a BAT VK-500 with BAT Pack and a Classe DR-8 amplifier. I listened to several ICE amps in a variety of set-ups, to my ears they didn't seem to have the current to handle transients well. Very linear, uninvolving sound to 'em. That's not to say they can't be improved upon, maybe a manufacturer will incorporate the ICE principles with a massive power supply and make their product more appealing to the discerning 'phile. I want to think this will be the new wave in amplification, but I suspect there's a maturation process that is (so far) in the very early stages. Stay tuned?
Hack, you are describing the H2O.
Hack writes: I listened to several ICE amps in a variety of set-ups, to my ears they didn't seem to have the current to handle transients well. Very linear, uninvolving sound to 'em.

Muralman1 responds: Hack, you are describing the H2O.

Are you sure you meant to say that, Vince? (Muralman1)
Hi Boa, this is what I agree with:

"That's not to say they can't be improved upon, maybe a manufacturer will incorporate the ICE principles with a massive power supply and make their product more appealing to the discerning 'phile. I want to think this will be the new wave in amplification, but I suspect there's a maturation process that is (so far) in the very early stages. Stay tuned?"
To Hack: Hi, so in your opinion the ICEpower based amps are seriously compromised? What is according to you the most striking about the ICEpower based amp compared to a well designed conventional power amp? Is it the insufficient rendering of harmonic overtones (sterile sounding)? Does it have a "dry" sound, lacking "air"? Is it too bland, too dull or too harsh? Doesn't it have the proper micro- and macrodynamics? Doesn't it have enough PRaT? Personally I don't know what to do (a bit confused I think): if I'm seeking for the sound that is closest to the "master tape" sound, should I use the ICEpower amps, though they are seriously compromised or should I use the Accuphase, because it is a more evolved design (solid state pure class A)?
Thanks for the clarification, Muralman1. Sorry for my mis-read.
Hack, when you listened to the various ICEPower amps, did you try them with improved (eg. thicker gauge) power cords or any power conditioning? In my experience with the ICEPower amps from Bel Canto and NuForce (as well as some home-made amps based on ICEPower), all were significantly improved when using thicker gauge power cords instead of the stock power cord as well as power conditioning...far more than I've experienced with other power amps.

(disclaimer: I'm a Bel Canto dealer).

Hello again,

I didn't mean to stir up so much controversy, just commenting on my experiences to date. I wouldn't go so far as to say ICE amps are compromised but I do feel they have a ways to go before they reach a level of performance most 'philes will find palatable. This isn't a surprise given the relatively short amount of time these products have been on the market. What's missing to my ears? To answer Dazzdax's questions; I found the ICE products to provide a very consistent tonal quality across the board, so to keep the response short let's characterize the sound as lacking harmonic structure and offering very litte PRAT. This characteristic seemed to be "universal" in all the ICE based amplifiers I've heard (so far) and led me to believe that the new designs would benefit from much beefier power supplies. Philnyc alludes to noticable improvments by paying close attention to power conditioning and aftermarket power cords, this in part confirms my suspicions that the ICE products could use some more power supply refinements. I noticed Nu-Force came out with a new Reference amplifer (reviewed on 6moons.com)that uses 30 capacitors! Evidently Nu-Force is still tweaking the design since there are reported quality issues after a short burn in time.

Which amps should you use in your system, the ICE-based stuff or the Accuphase? Let your ears decide. Happy listening, Jeff
Hack, I wouldn't trade my monos for any amp you may name, at any price. Srajan of 6 Moons is accurate in his assessment.

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/h2o/m250.html.
I don't think I have ever heard the ICE amps, but have definitely heard my share of digital amps. Most enjoyable of the bunch were the Channel Islands amps. They don't look like much and they are simply designed, but the sound was excellent. However, I would not classify the sound as analog like. It is actually hard to describe although it was pleasing to me. Rick at EVS is supposed to have some new amps that are outstanding as well.

Dazzdax - if you really want that analog sound from your amp you need to listen to the solid state TRL D-225 or ST-225 integrated. I have had the D-225 in my system for about 6 months now and it is trul amazing. I am now using it primarily with a passive preamp (although I am contemplating the TRL battery powered preamp) and it is amazing how much more analog the sound is versus my older tube set-up. These amps aren't much on looks, especially versus Accuphase, but they have the sound you desire. Cost wise, they are not in the same league as most of the ICE/digital amps, but they are an excellent value nontheless. You should give Paul Weitzel a call. Money back guarantee as well.
The Channel Island Audio amps are based on a module called "UcD" which is similar in concept to the "ICE" module but supposedly incorporates an improved topography which eliminates sensitivity of distortion to load impedance. I have five D200 amps in my multichannel system, and I am well satisfied with them. Like the H2O amp the CI Audio amps use a massive conventional power supply.

If you want to try a top of the line digital amp for less than a grand, and can do a DIY project, the UcD modules, and power supply modules and transformers are available from Hypex (www.hypex.nl).
I have to agree with Tvad, there is nothing warm sounding about the Nuforce amps.

Eldartford, you are very fortunate to own Channel Island amps which have a linear power supply. I prefer a linear power supply in my digital amps as opposed to switching.
Eldartford, are there any digital supply UCD amps out there? It seems to me almost all ICE amp builders are taking the cheap way out, sacrificing the best sound. I don't know anyone around here that has a UCD amp, only TacT and ICE.
I don't know anyone around here that has a UCD amp, only TacT and ICE.
Muralman1 (System | Threads | Answers)
By "around here" were you referring to Sacramento or Audiogon? Eldartford just said the Channel Islands D200 amps he owns are UcD.
And Nuforce are neither ICE nor UcD, in case that is not clear to folks.

I happen to think Nuforce does sound reasonably warm. Tonally rich is a more prominent characteristic, however.

In LA this past weekend, for any room I suspect you could have found someone who thought it was the best sound at the show. It's all so personal.
No one has mentioned the Red Dragon B&O ice amps. I repeatedly returned to hear them at the RMAF. At first I thought it was the speakers that were so good, but it was the amps. There must be substantial differences among the ICE amps as I have heard the Nuforce amps and was not impressed.
Tvad, Here is Sacramento. The thing I was complementing was Eldartford's UCD's power supply. It makes all the difference.
There must be substantial differences among the ICE amps as I have heard the Nuforce amps and was not impressed.
Nuforce does not use ICE.

06-05-06: Muralman1
Tvad, Here is Sacramento. The thing I was complementing was Eldartford's UCD's power supply. It makes all the difference.
Gotcha. I agree about the effect of a toroidal power supply.
Dissonance reduction is common when you have just bought a product.
I'll throw in another option. Have any of you heard the Flying Mole 100wpc class D monoblocks? I have them driving Zu Druids, and I think they sound excellent, transparent and uncolored with more than enough power for the Druids, and very tight bass, in a package the size of a small paperback book. I don't think they can handle a difficult speaker load that drops below 3-4 ohms, but with the 12 ohm, 101 dB Druids they do just fine, and they are less than $400 per channel.
I have modified them because I can't keep my hands off my audio gear (especially the lower priced stuff), but they sounded pretty darn good stock. Just another SS option.
I am very interested in the Red Dragon amps given what I heard at RMAF and from a friend, as well as the rave reviews, but it seems no one here has heard them. Are there lurkers who have them?
Red Dragon amps were used at the LA show in the Adagio/Modwright room. Leviathan 600wpc mono blocks. If these are what you are referring to, then there are several members who have heard them in that context.
Let me throw my $.02 into the discussion.

I have not heard all digital amps out there but lets say they are in theory dead neutral as some people say.

My question is: are your sources and speakers dead neutral? If not, you'll be some amplifying nonlinear distortions which are not friendly to hear.

My main quibble with "neutral" amps are they don't have ear friendly distortions to counteract the unfriendly distortions making the sound lacking in texture. Digital amps are maybe beyond their time.

What really is needed, is system balancing and synergy with the right kind of distortions in the right places so in the end the sound that reaches our ears actually sounds like music.*>)

My main quibble with "neutral" amps are they don't have ear friendly distortions to counteract the unfriendly distortions making the sound lacking in texture. Digital amps are maybe beyond their time.

What really is needed, is system balancing and synergy with the right kind of distortions in the right places so in the end the sound that reaches our ears actually sounds like music.*>)

Kw6 (Threads | Answers)
Coming from a purely layman's perspective, I gotta say I'm in your camp on this one, Kw6.
Don't make a lick of sense to me. So, we have to have conventional amp smears, hyped highs, second order and third order distortions to cancel or mask speaker and player distortions? That seems counter productive to me.

We who have great class D amps find it an invigorating exercise to hone out great sounding components from the pretenders. I am continually amazed how most wires, preamps, and CDPs really mess up the music.

My speakers are one of the most neutral, and revealing speakers ever made. That's a good start. Non oversampling and upsampling players with no digital filters sound best. Less circuitry yields purer reading of disc material. I still am looking for the perfect cables and interconnects. Dielectrics fizz is real when you are trying to hear subtle textures, real textures, not contrived.

The beauty of it all is when all distortions are minimized, your reward is a treasure trove of subtle nuances locked into 16 bit CDs you can't hear otherwise. That is because of the barely audible fuzzys and fizzys generated by electronic wizardry, and winter jacketed wires.

I wince every time I read someone complaining how their new class D amp sounds all congested, bright, or dull. There should be no worry. You just have a little house cleaning to do.
Synergy is the key. (Personal preferences + depth of noticed detail) / (system capability + system synergy = satisfaction)

Bob Wood

Personally, I like my NuForces more than any amp I've had in my system. They are very clean and very dynamic. As or more detailed than I was used to. About the same imaging. And I sure like not worrying about tube replacement, sparks at turn-on, heat, and waits for warmup!
Where do I start.......?

1.) NuForce uses a topology of the their own design, coupled with an off-the-shelf SMPS.

2.) ICEpower supplies modules with a built in SMPS (ASP and ASC series), as well as stand-alone modules. We have built amps using all of them, and the only one that I am NOT wild about is the 1000ASP. Let's say that it is you have to be more careful in what speakers that you want to match it up with.

OK....you could make that point for nearly any amp, but let's say that particular one is trickier than any other I have worked with.

3.) The Hypex solution uses what is called the "Universal Class D" modulator, hence UcD. Philips owns the patent on that part. Hypex designs all the stuff that goes around it in order to make a working amp module. The guy who designed the modulator for Philips is now on his own, and does some consulting for Hypex. At some point down the road, they may introduce some sort of built-in SMPS. Key word is "MAY".

The big differences between ICEpower and Hypex is the post-filter, and where the feedback is connected to. As a result, one brand has a more marked sensitivity to speaker impedance, wrt frequency response.

(As a designer, there are other factors, mainly how many power supplies each module needs, and the current requirements. Some applications are a better fit for one over the other. That, and some people have a preference for one over the other. Which is why we use, and will continue to use, both technologies.)
Im reading this thread YEARS after it was active. A number of posters back then wrote about the possible/probable evolution of class D in general and icepower in particular. Now, 6 years later-- what has developed in this area and how has it changed the evaluation of these amps vs.A r AB typolgies?