Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

Budget Finds from Roger the Cheapskate

Call me a cheapskate, but I'm always on the lookout for great budget gear. When my colleagues at the SoundStage! Network start talking about $20,000 power amplifiers or $50,000 speakers that offer good value, I am usually not as enthused as they are. So when I come across a high-quality component that has been designed and manufactured by a specialty audio company and costs less than $1000, I can't help getting excited.

For example, I am in the midst of finishing a review of NuForce's DDA-100 direct-digital amplifier, which retails for an amazingly reasonable $549. For that price you get an integrated amplifier that accepts USB and S/PDIF digital signals and is rated by the manufacturer to produce 50Wpc into 8 ohms. I don't want to spill the beans on my upcoming review, but let's just say I had a lot of fun with this amp.

NuForce stack

When I visited NuForce's booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center this year, I was excited to see a whole stack of components that matched the DDA-100's compact form factor, pleasing aesthetics and attractive price. The review piece that NuForce had sent me had a nice matte-black finish, but the silver finish of these components was striking. The three components stacked one on top of another were a sight to behold for a budget-minded audiophile.

NuForce rear

While the stack included the $649 UDH0-100 USB DAC and headphone amp, what really got my attention was the $595 HAP-100 preamp and the $695 STA-100 stereo power amp rated at 100Wpc. Having not heard them, I can't comment on their sound quality, but based on what I've heard with the DDA-100, less than $1300 for a high-quality preamp and a 100Wpc power amp that look as good as these do is a bargain.

NAD stack

Perhaps even more intriguing than the NuForce components were the new digital components from NAD. These might not be as attractive as the NuForce products, but they feature NAD's Direct Digital technology, which they first introduced in their Master Series of reference components. These include the $499 D 1050 USB DAC/headphone amp and the $399 D 3020 digital DAC/amplifier. However, the most captivating product in the range is the $899 D 7050 digital network receiver. It costs substantially more than the other new NAD pieces, but its 50Wpc, versus the 30Wpc of the D 3020, will make it more suitable for use with larger systems. I can't wait to get some of these products in for review and pair them up with some excellent, inexpensive speakers so I can put together a complete budget-reference system for well under $2000.

Roger Kanno
Senior Editor, The SoundStage! Network