NuForce AVP-18 Processor and MCA-20 Amplifier
We don’t need to repeat ourselves, but we will anyways: Home Theater without surround sound isn’t really Home Theater at all. It’s only half of the experience. Without surround sound, you’re just watching moving pictures on the wall. But we’ve also stated that modern AV receivers are good enough and going the separate processor and amp route is overkill for most people. Today we put that theory to the test.
We caved under continual listener pressure and decided to take a pair of separates from Fremont, CA based NuForce for a test drive. They were nice enough to let us use the AVP-18all-digital HT preamp/processor (MSRP $1095) paired with their top of the line MCA-20 multi-channel amplifier (MSRP $1995). All-in the setup would run a cool $3090 – a bit higher than we’re used to paying for a self-contained home theater receiver. You can buy them online from a couple authorized resellers, but not Amazon, and not at a discount.
Setting up the pair of separates is in some ways a bit more work than a standard AVR, but in other ways actually much simpler. The one extra step is the RCA cables you have to run from the processor to the amp, one per channel. Audiophiles would recommend “high quality” cables for this. In reality you can use just about any RCA cable you have and never hear a difference (more on that later). You can pick up some good, short, RCA interconnect cables at Amazon for only $5.60. Each cable supports two channels, so you only need 4 of them for a 7 channel system. and a subwoofer cable.
Once you get your interconnects plugged in, you simply plug your speakers in to the amplifier like you would any other receiver (don’t forget the banana plugs), hook up your HDMI sources and your HDMI output (TV or projector), and you’re done. The part that is much simpler is the elimination of all the extra bells and whistles you get on the typical AVR these days. The features you get but never use. All the extra inputs you have to navigate through or figure out how to disable in a menu option somewhere. NuForce is all about the audio.
But the AVP-18 isn’t without all the features you’d want to see in a great audio device. It does have an auto room calibration option and includes the mic to make it work. The calibration works like most other AVRs – just plug in the mic and hit go. Once that is done, setup is complete and you’re ready to watch movies, listen to music or anything else that delights your ears.
AVP-18 features and specs:
- Fully HDMI 1.4 compliant
- Supports the standard audio decoding from Dolby and DTS, and the latest HD audio decoding; including Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, DTS Master, DTS Hi Res, etc.
- Automated or manual room acoustics/speaker equalization option
- Eleven programmable, fully parametric equalizers per channel
- Four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output employing high-speed switching technology
- Supports HDMI 1080P, YUV, RGB, DVI, HD audio, and 8 CH LPCM
- 3D video playback compatibility
- HDMI CEC control, HDMI ARC audio return
- Video input compatibility: HDMI/DVI, 480P, 576P, 720P50, 720P60, 1080i 50, 1080i 60, 1080P 50, 1080P 60, 1080P 24
- Support RS232 control for custom installation
- Support HD Headphone Surround Sound
Please note that the AVP-18 DOES NOT support USB Audio (as in a USB DAC). The USB connector (B-style) is used for firmware upgrades only. The USB connector that looks like a USB-3 marked ‘Bluetooth’ is reserved for a future Bluetooth audio option that will soon be available from NuForce.
MCA-20 features and specs:
- Proprietary high-speed, negative feedback design
- Very high efficiency PWM circuit topology
- Power Output: 278W/Ch. X 8 (4 ohm), 150W/Ch. X 8 (8 ohm)
- Peak Power Output:352W/Ch. X 8 (4 ohm), 187W/Ch. X 8 (8 ohm)
- Gain:26.5 dB
- Input Impedance:20k ohm
- Sensitivity: 0.89 V to rated power
- Frequency Response:10 Hz – 50kHz
We compared the AVP-18 and MCA-20 combo with a few home theater receivers we had around; a Pioneer VSX-1120-K, a Denon AVR-3806 and an Onkyo TX-SR608. All three of the AVRs would have been significantly less expensive if bought brand new when they were released. The Denon, at $1300, would have been the most expensive but still not quite half the price of the NuForce setup. That said, we still went into the review not expecting to hear much of a difference, if any at all.
And we were wrong. We tried the comparison with Klipsch Reference speakers, HSU Research speakers and even some KEF T-series speakers. In all cases, when paired with high quality audio like we get from a typical Blu-ray disk, the NuForce system sounded better. The striking difference was the clarity of the sound. It almost felt as if we could hear subtle details in a soundtrack that we just weren’t picking up before. And at high volume the detail remained crisp and intact. Nothing went muddy or mushy just because we were pushing it harder.
We had the biggest impact with the HSU speakers for some reason, with lesser impact noticed on the Klipsch and KEF speakers. But pairing the NuForce processor and amp with the HSU speakers made us very, very happy. We tried movies, soundtracks, video games, anything we could get our hands on, and loved it.
We freely admit that pitting the NuForce AVP-18 and MCA-20 against an 8 year old $1300 Denon wasn’t exactly a fair fight. A better comparison would have been with the Denon AVR-4520CI (MSRP $2499) or the Pioneer Elite SC-79 (MSRP $3000). But we didn’t have one of those lying around. Likewise we didn’t match the NuForce against a $20,000 setup from Krell, McIntosh or Mark Levinson. But what we did find is that there is clearly an audio difference between the $3000 NuForce system and a ~$700-1000 AVR. Whether the difference is enough to get you to fork over the extra money is up to you. But if you were in the price range already, NuForce is a great option.