A small footprint integrated amplifier, Paul Rigby finds a niche for the IDA-8
It’s a wee thing. The IDA-8 weighs in at 4.3kg (around 9.5lb) and spans just 235 x 281 x 55mm (or just over 9 x 11 x 2in), this integrated amplifier is aimed at those looking for a small-footprint design.
It is based on a Class A + D heart while sitting on a toroidal transformer so I was intrigued to see just how this one would pan out in sonic terms. The idea is to offer detail from its Ultra neat Class A module but in an efficient and low-noise manner. All of that rests upon four isolation feet.
Meanwhile the volume control – an oft ignored part when sonic excellence is sought – is based upon a resistor ladder method offering 99 steps of 0.5db increments with a single resistor in the signal path at any one time.
On the front of the low-slung chassis is an input knob on the far left. You press this knob in for a few seconds to bring the amplifier to life.
On the far right is the volume knob. Press this knob in to mute the sound. A numeric readout for both the source and volume is displayed in the centre.
On the rear left is an IEC socket and fuse. To the right are four, off-set speaker posts. To the right of those are a pair of subwoofer outputs and a single set of analogue inputs.
What follows is a pair of USB ports: a Type B to connect to a laptop (32bit/385kHz or DSD256), for example plus a Type A to attach a dongle only that adds Bluetooth or WiFi (I didn’t receive this dongle for the review) plus a coax and optical port duo (supporting 32bit/192kHz or DSD64).
Right there and then, you can see the target audience of this amplifier because of that digital emphasis.
Initially, I wished that the sub outs had been dropped in preference for an extra pair of analogue inputs. That said, I can see that the IDA-8 will attract users looking to build a compact AV system, wishing to connect the IDA-8 to a TV via optical. In this way then sure the sub outs make perfect sense.
Presented in either silver or black, in general terms, the IDA-8 offers a subtle styling, is solid in build and has just enough weight to it to have substance.
And let’s not forget the included and rather diminutive remote control which offers basic controls amounting to volume/mute, display on/off and source select.
So how does this one sound?
I began the tests with CD and one of my all-time favourite groups, Stereolab and the track, Doubt from the album, Switched On. This track offers relatively calming dual female vocals surrounded by cacophony from ye olde modular synths and electric guitars. Buried behind the stereo image is a quiet space into which the drums have been inserted. This pool of quietude allows the drums to offer a crisp strike pattern while the cymbals have room to breath but you need to focus on them to really hear them. It’s easy for an amplifier to swamp this area with the screeching bleed from the guitars. So the NuPrime had a task on its hands here.
Straight away I noticed the low-noise performance, specifically around the mids and treble areas.
Treble, in the form of simply hit cymbals, were buried in the mix. They really need space to manoeuvre. Without a low-noise presentation, you’re going to have to search for them with the ear or, at worst, you might miss them altogether. Not with the IDA-8 though. Not only could the ear locate the cymbal hits around the drum kit but there was an appreciable amount of space for cymbal reverb tails giving this low-key instrument a larger presence.
As for the adjacent drums? They performed very well indeed. Perhaps there wasn’t quite the bass-toned punch that you might hear on the lower cost Audiolab 6000A for example but nevertheless, the IDA-8 did offer a nicely positioned bass response. Bass wasn’t exactly shy here. It certainly offered a characterful performance and sat well in the mix. It never dominated the mids but took a balanced part in the overall performance.
Apart from the treble, the other major highlight was the midrange, specifically the upper mids. The amount of air swilling around the upper mids was plentiful. This meant that each instrument and vocal on this track had room around it. Nothing and no-one was crowded here which meant that you could hear the edge of the guitar, the drums, the modular synths and the vocals. This meant that any subtle detail made it to the ear intact. There was no smudging or blurring of that information. The sense of clarity was high indeed.
SWITCHING IT UP
Moving to vinyl and The Kings Singer’s 1971 Polydor LP, Encore and the track, None but the Lonely Heart provided a smooth and calming delivery of a distinctly neutral persona.
The harmony voices seemed to have plenty of time to do their work which meant that this track sounded relaxed, the vocals at ease and in control. The accompanying piano had a delicacy and fragility that only enhanced the emotion nature of this track.
I then plugged my MacBook into the rear of the IDA-8 via USB and played The Police’s classic single, Message in a Bottle via DSD64. The latter is the baseline resolution for DSD and it sounds it. DSD64 sounds a little restrained and tense when compared to say, DSD256 so it was a challenge for the IDA-8 to make much sense of this one but, by gum, it did just that. The midrange insight offered by the IDA-8 meant that the maximum amount of information was dragged from this file. Sure, there remained a slightly clinical feel to the track (wholly the fault of the file itself I have to emphasise, not the amplifier) but the IDA-8 made the very best of the band’s performance, offering both drive and energy combined with an admirably balanced output, considering. Bass drove the entire track while the percussive delicacy was also much in evidence.
In a similar vein, connecting my modded Astell&Kern AK120 via the optical port and playing I Shot the Sheriff by Bob Marley which provided a welcome balance to this track which can sound a little edgy in the hands of some amplifiers but here had a welcome balance and neutrality giving due space to the lead vocal while never also providing a sense of neutrality to the bass guitar and keys.
In terms of design, the IDA-8 is an odd one, small in stature and low in footprint, it leans towards the digital user in design terms with a surfeit of digital inputs but just the one pair of analogue inputs. Sure, you can hot swop the analogue inputs if you wish although it would be a hassle in the long term if you’re a regular user of both CD and vinyl, for example. Cassette users shouldn’t even apply.
That said, if you have a restricted HiFi chain, let’s say you own a CD player, a laptop and a digital audio player, then the IDA-8 will give you a neat and wonderfully sounding heart to your HiFi while providing a sort of docking hub for roaming digital devices like that laptop and that DAP.
Ideal for a those short on space or for those looking at a second system in a smaller bedroom or kitchen or even as the core to a simple AV system, the IDA-8 is a well built, neatly designed, beautifully sounding amplifier that will be a success in any stable HiFi system.
NUPRIME IDA-8 AMPLIFIER
Email: [email protected]
GOOD: small footprint, digital friendly, spacious mids, delicate treble, clarity
BAD: only one set of analogue inputs
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