Typically, when audio enthusiasts hear the term "monoblock amplifiers," they immediately think of massive, heat-sink-laden behemoths that require a few strong friends to position. Lights flicker when they are powered on and they produce enough heat to turn your living room into a sauna. Most enthusiasts fortunate enough to afford them gladly accept their inconveniences in the pursuit of audio nirvana. Having a dedicated amplifier for each channel inherently offers many advantages over traditional two- or multi-channel offerings. These include complete isolation from the other channels, providing a cleaner signal chain, a dedicated power supply that needs to only feed one circuit and a coolness factor that is off the chart.
NuForce uses patented Class-D analog switching technology, which is so efficient that it doesn't require massive toroidal transformer power supplies or banks of transistors to generate big power. Each amp is rated at a healthy 190 watts at eight ohms, but can produce peaks of 325 watts when this is required for dynamic musical passages or home theatre explosions. The Ref 9 V2 SE is the latest iteration of NuForce's mono amplifier, which debuted several years and many revisions ago and can be purchased as a pair for $5,000. To my ear, they have gotten everything right with this. It has an iron-fisted grip of low frequencies that is tight, punchy and quick. The midrange is open and transparent, while upper frequencies are fast and detailed. Soundstaging is also excellent. The NuForce creates a stage that is wide and deep, allowing each note to hold a distinct place in space and time. What more could be asked of an amplifier, especially one that comes with so few downsides? While $5,000 may seem like a lot of money for a pair of amplifiers that weigh only eight pounds each, this is a true bargain when one considers that they perform close to some of the very best amplifiers costing exponentially more.
• The NuForce Ref 9's small size allows for it to be placed virtually anywhere, which is especially useful for multi-channel applications.
• Extremely low heat output and energy consumption helps to keep the environmentalist inside each of us guilt-free. Hell, you could call this a "green" amp if you like. Knowing this, you could keep your pair powered on at all times to sound their best.
• Single-ended and XLR inputs allow for integration into any system. Not every amp today offers both varieties of inputs. For audiophile systems, I always feel the XLRs offer a better connection, although I know that there are some who would argue the point. Regarding single-ended RCA inputs, most home theater preamps lack balanced (XLR) outputs, requiring you to run your system single-ended. With the NuForce Ref 9, you get the best of both worlds.
• Sonically, the NuForce Ref 9 sounds fantastic. It is quiet, ultra-dynamic and liquid in the midrange. It also creates very little heat.
• I would like to see better terminal posts for securing speaker wires. These are small and close together, which make it difficult to get a good grip while tightening.
• The amplifiers require a long break-in and warm-up time to sound their best. Out of the box, it took a few weeks for the amps to really open up and start making music the way they are ultimately capable of doing. I also noticed that, when they were powered off, it took a minimum of four hours for them to regain their best performance. Until then, they sounded a bit compressed and closed-in. My advice is to just never turn them off, so you will never have to worry about the problem. They aren't power hogs like a Class-A design is, so there is no significant reason to worry about your electrical bill.
The NuForce Reference 9 V2 Special Edition monoblock amplifier is a true breakthrough product. It is small, light and extremely energy-efficient. It may not have the cache of the stratospherically-priced amplifiers that are best described as living room jewelry, but the music made by the Ref 9 can embarrass most of them.