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Amphion+Nuforce Helium 410 System Review

Pros

  • Incredible sound integrity at low volumes
  • Stylish, handmade design
  • Tremendous flexiblity
  • Surprisingly loud
  • Powerful bass for a 2.0 system

Cons

  • Jaw droppingly expensive

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £899.00
  • UDD sound dispersion technology
  • 2.0 80W two way, vented speakers
  • Optical, coaxial and USB input
  • Amp & USB DAC

Finland is a famously quiet country. Courses in small talk are popular
and with the lowest population density in Europe (just 41 people per
square mile), it could be argued much of Finns’ taciturn nature is by
consequence not design. As such it makes perfect sense that a Finnish
speaker maker would go against the grain and promote the quietness of
its latest speaker ahead of its volume.

5

The
‘Helium 410’ represents a new ‘entry level’ 2.0 arrangement in Amphion’s
audiophile product range and it comes with a simple philosophy: what you
hear at low volume is just as (if not more) important than what you
hear when it’s loud. The theory is solid, more often than not you
cannot blast your speakers due to family and neighbours. It also exposes
a dirty industry secret: many speakers need to be blasted before they
come alive. The obvious question is whether this is just a marketing
ploy?

Certainly straight out the box the Helium 410s are unusual.
They eschew the traditional use of wood and instead are constructed
from a composite material available in a matt black or white finish. The
effect is unusual – perhaps even polarising – but the build quality is
exceptional, which is unsurprising given all Amphion speakers are
handmade. A nice touch is the metal speaker grills are removable and
available in a wide collection of colours should you fancy a change.

7

Key
to the 410s is their versatility. Each speaker weighs 3.5Kg and
measures 259 x 132 x 220mm making them small enough to use as desktop
speakers, yet substantial enough to hook up to your TV. The former role
is assisted by a focus on near field listening, while Amphion promotes
the 410’s ‘3-dimensional soundstaging’ and correct placement of voices
to make them equally at home in the latter.

The 410’s are two way,
vented speakers with a 1in titanium tweeter, 4.5in paper mid/woofer,
crossover point of 1,600Hz, 8ohm impedance, 86dB sensitivity, 60 –
20,000Hz frequency response and 20-80W power recommendation. Amphion
also offers the 410 as a bundle pack called the ‘Amphion Nuforce Helium 410 System’ (which is what we have here) which includes a
Icon-2 amp which can operate as a USB
DAC.
The combination offers a great deal of flexibility since the Icon-2 can
take input via USB, an optical jack and coaxial sources. Everything from a PC to games console, TV to phone or MP3 player can be connected with the Icon-2 happy to swap between them
at the turn of a dial. 

10

So is quiet the new loud?

Amphion
is certainly onto something. Even at whisper-quiet listening levels the
Helium 410 maintains its intelligibility with highly detailed, yet warm
and full bodied sound. This has a welcome affect on listening habits as
you start to listen to music at lower levels because it remains
satisfying. If you value your hearing or the sanity of your partner
and/or neighbours this will prove a revelation.

This isn’t to say the 410s falter when you do crank the volume up. The
80W rating is deceptive as it will happily take on and beat higher rated
products including the famously bombastic
Zepplin Air (150W) and you’ll certainly be shaking the windows in
smaller rooms. Equally impressive is how well the 410 holds sound
together at high volumes with minimal distortion and wide, controlled
dispersion. If we are being picky, as a 2.0 system, there is a slight
lack of bass that is noticeable on bass-heavy tracks, though it remains
robust enough to make a fine job of even the most excessive action movie
explosions.

Another
joy of the 410s is their unfussiness. Amphion employs a proprietary
technology known as ‘UDD’ (‘Uniformly Directive Diffusion’) which
creates an even dispersion of sound to minimise the anomalies caused by
wall, floor and ceiling reflections and it allows the 410 to be
positioned almost anywhere. This is a pleasant change from the usual
speaker feng shui which often leads to furniture being rejigged in
search of that elusive audio sweet spot.

All of which means
there has to be a ‘but’ and sadly this but is substantial: price. On
their own the Helium 410 speakers retail for £635. Throw in the NuForce
Icon-2 amp (rear below), itself £319, and the official bundle price is
£899. With this budget a vast array of high quality 2.1, 5.1 and even
7.1 speaker sets are available. In fact our
surround sound product of the year, the 5.1
Jamo A 101 HCS 5, is priced at just £235.

6

Of
course we know what Amphion’s argument will be: these products are not
meant to compete. The Helium 410 (and its NuForce bundle) is something
completely different: a wonderfully subtle speaker set that has
incredible intelligibility at low volumes and enough flexibility to work
anywhere with virtually any product. It is the ultimate low listening 2.0 system for the financially very well heeled.

The
flip side is for £900 we can have the Jamo A 101 HCS 5 for our living
room, the
Bose Companion 20 speakers (£200) for our desktop and, if silence is
that important, we still have £465 left to spend on a top notch pair of
headphones. We’ll take the
Blueant Embrace (£170) and still have enough for a pair of
ACS T15 earphones (£149) for on the move and pocket £145.

”’Verdict”’
In their own right the Amphion Helium 410 speakers are remarkable. They ooze detail, warmth and surprising power with only a slight lack of bass at window shaking volumes. It is a superb achievement for small a 2.0 setup. Better still the 410 is truly compelling at low volumes, maintaining detail and integrity allowing you to listen more quietly without a loss in fidelity. In its bundle pack the 410 and NuForce Icon-2 create a wonderfully flexible package as well, taking input from a virtually limitless array of sources. The problem is cost. Unless you’re seriously into home audio recording, or just have money to burn, you’re better off spending the Amphion’s £899 bundle price elsewhere. If you have the means you will adore the Amphion Nuforce Helium 410 System, but for everyone else there are more sensible alternatives.

Trusted Score

Score in detail

  • Performance 9
  • Features 8
  • Value 5
  • Sound Quality 9
  • Design 9

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