The True Digital Revolutionaries

Bookmark and Share

by Josh Ray on July 05 '06


NuForce continues to rack up killer reviews and here's another from Bob Levi over at Positive Feedback, saying of the new fiery orange NuForce Reference 9 Special Edition amps, "it would be difficult to name a solid-state competitor at ANY price that will beat them in all parameters." $4200 a pair for state of the art technology.

Or is it? What many people may not know is this whole "digital revolution" happening in audio right now with ICEpower, NuForce, Hypex, Tripath and others is actually not digital power at all, but "switching power" and is, in fact, 20 years old (Hypex and Tripath are a little different, but belong in the same gang). So have Linn and Chord been forgotten already? Chord essentially invented the switching power supply amp in the mid 80s, with British legend Linn releasing switching amps a few years later. You may be shocked but both Linn and Chord still make switching amps, Chord taking switching power to the extreme (pictured right) and Linn covering all price ranges. Of course, both companies claim patents for their implementation of switching power and tend to trumpet their uniqueness over their similarities, giving their creations flashy marketing names.

 Products10 Icepower200Asc

Chord and Linn both foster huge followings and regularly receive rave reviews, but no one seems to want to include these giants whenever mentioning the "digital revolution." In fact, the qualities that are normally attributed to the new digital boys (low noise, blacks, warmth, dynamics, bass, cool-running, etc.) have been championed by the Brits since the beginning. Naturally, the Brits keep their technology to themselves. But when Bang and Olufsen came on the scene with their ICEpower module (left), they made it easy as pie for any design firm to jump to switching. ICEpower modules are now in Focal, PS Audio, B&W, Cary, Bel Canto, Jeff Rowland, Sanyo, Samsung, and Rotel while dozens of new companies are suddenly legitimate with no more than soldering iron skills. Tripath, Hypex, NuForce and others are also in the OEM game with their wide variety of plug-and-play modules.

That's not to say the new kids on the block aren't putting out fine products, it's just that we need to give credit where it's due. This so-called digital revolution has been happening for two decades and if anyone is blazing trails into the future of switching power amplification, it's Chord and Linn. Hats off to the true revolutionaries.

(Chord SPM 14000 Ultimate amplifier above)


I thought Linn and Chord used switching power supplies only. I believe the Linn is actually a class A/C (feed forward error correction) originally patented by Quad as "current dumping" but with a switching power supply instead of a linear power supply
Now if memory serves me right there were 2 companies in the mid 70's that first came out with class D switching amps, Sony and Infinity ( not absolutly sure the second was Infinity but thats what i remember). So they would both have beaten Linn and Chord by about 10 yrs in any case. While I agree that prop's have to go to Linn and Chord for very fine products, what we are talking about with them is switching power supplies not switching amplifiers. They use class a, ab, bipolar, mosfet etc and dont use digital (switching) class D type of outputs.
$4,200 a pair for a pair of switching amps that cause huge amounts of interference? I keep asking myself whether this whole Nu Force craze is a big joke or just some sort of fascination with tiny amplifiers.
well, it's like with so much supposedly "new" stuff out there: as it turns out, most of it has been around years and years before, only never gained that popularity.
Stu - It was Infinity. They showed a digital switching amp at CES in the mid 70's. Designed by John Ulrick (Spectron) and Dr. Jim Henderson, it was called the SWAMP I. M
Still this deserves a Johnny Carson "I did not know that....." Gregg
The real revolution is icepower - they have commoditiesed the amp part of the audio value chain, just like it has happened in other mature industies. Why it had to take so many years for someone to do this is the true mystery, but then again the audio bizz is a strange beast where garage outfits can sell normal wire in the killo $ range!