Peachtree Audio Nova Integrated
In our quest to hear that elusive live-performance sound in the
comfort of our own homes, we hi-fi enthusiasts can sometimes get caught up in the lust for
cost-no-object audio equipment at stratospheric prices. The list of audio components that
I dream to own one day -- everything from a pair of B&W Signature Diamond loudspeakers
to a Krell FBI integrated amplifier -- now has a total retail cost of over $200,000. But
when my inner realist surfaces, I remember that Im a long way away from being able
to afford such exotic gear -- and find myself lusting for that live-performance sound at a
price I can afford. Peachtree Audios Nova ($1199 USD) looked as if it might get me
part of the way there.
Peachtree Audio is owned by Signal Path
International, a company based in Bellevue, Washington, and best known for producing the
Decco integrated amplifier and Era computer speakers. Their Nova is an integrated
amplifier that also houses a highly sophisticated digital-to-analog converter. At first
glance, the Nova looks sleek, in a rounded real-wood case that comes in cherry, rosewood,
or the piano black of my review sample. It measures 14.75"W x 5"H x 14"D
and weighs 26 pounds. The Novas MOSFET amplifier puts out a claimed 80Wpc and is fed
by a hybrid sold-state/tube preamp section. Peachtree includes the tube -- a Russian-made
Electro-Harmonix 6922EH -- because they believe that a tube in the signal path can smooth
out the harshness of digital signals while still retrieving a high level of detail.
Theyve even gone so far as to allow the user to switch between solid-state and tube
preamp modes -- a nice touch that allows you to choose how to feed the internal amplifier,
preamp output sockets, and even the class-A headphone amp, and thus tailor the sound to
your taste, making pairing the Nova with different types of equipment much easier. All of
the Novas functions can be accessed via a high-quality, rubber-like remote control.
The star of the Nova is its DAC. This advanced piece of
equipment uses the ESS 9006 Sabre DAC chip, "organic" capacitors, 11 regulated
power supplies, transformer-coupled digital inputs to avoid grounding problems, and a USB
input galvanically isolated to help keep PC noise from reaching the DAC. According to a
Peachtree webpage, "The ESS Sabre DACs patented jitter reduction circuit
re-clocks the digital signal to almost 0 jitter before passing it through a
high-resolution 24/96 upsampling processor thats also capable of 122dB s/n
The Nova has a large assortment of input connections: three
analog (one for home-theater bypass), two coax, two optical, and one USB. All of the
digital inputs accept 24/96 signals except the USB, which accepts only 16/44.1 and 16/48
signals. Theres also a line-out that lets the DAC section be used alone, as well as
a Pre-Out jack to hook up an external amplifier or subwoofer.
A nice touch that were starting to see on more audio
products is the ability to choose among digital filters. On the rear of the Nova is a
button that selects between Sharp Slope and Soft Slope filters. A sharp filter usually
measures better, but a soft filter usually sounds better. Indeed, I found that the
Novas Soft Slope filter did sound better, and thats what I used throughout my
One unique feature of the Nova is the ability to install in
it a Sonos ZP-90 ZonePlayer. A plate on the rear panel can be unscrewed and the ZP-90
installed. Then, all the user need do is hook up the ZP-90 to the Nova via its digital
outputs (coax or optical). This turns the Nova into a wireless high-resolution
integrated amplifier. I am aware of no other product on the market that lets you do this.
My reference system for this review consisted of an Oppo
BDP-83 Blu-ray/SACD/DVD-A/V/CD player hooked up to the Nova via Monster M1000 unbalanced
interconnects. I used my HP Pavilion notebook computer to stream digital files from a
500GB Western Digital external hard drive via Kimber USB cords. The Nova was connected to
my Paradigm Reference Studio 10 v.5 monitor loudspeakers via Monster MCX-2s cables. AC was
run through a Lindy power conditioner.
When I listened to the Peachtree Nova right out of the box,
I was immediately struck by its clean sound. Backgrounds were noticeably quiet, and
soundstages were very open and clear. The Novas sonic signature appeared to be very
neutral, even with the tube stage engaged. However, I like to give any new audio product a
solid break-in of 100 hours or more before I draw any conclusions. That done, I sat down
to do some serious listening.
I began by feeding the Nova a traditional analog signal
from my Oppo universal player with the Novas tube disengaged. What caught my
attention again was its neutral character. Voices were presented very clearly, with good
tonal balance. The Nova was very transparent and served up a lot of detail, but not in any
way that made it sound clinical or aggressive. It had a slightly warm character -- that
is, it was a little laid-back. For the detail-oriented listener, however, it still served
up plenty of microlevel nuances that never seemed veiled from its overall sonic character.
All of these attributes caught my attention when I listened
to "Temptation," from Diana Kralls The Girl in the Other Room (CD,
Verve 000182612). At the beginning of this track I could vividly hear the strings of a
double bass being plucked with a great sense of resolution. Notes decayed as they would in
a live performance. Kralls voice chimed in with realism, surrounded by a sense of
"air" -- not thrown in my face, but presented on a beautifully rendered
soundstage. Each instrument of the band was in its own space -- I could close my eyes and
easily pick out each instrument. One of my pet peeves tends to be soundstaging -- if a
component doesnt do this well, the music just doesnt sound real to me. The
Nova soundstaged very well. Listening to Krall shed light on how balanced the Novas
sound was: The midrange was smooth and expressive, instruments had balanced timbres, and
the Novas retrieval of detail was first-rate.
When I put on music that doesnt need to be played
excessively loud, I was rewarded with a first-class midrange. I stayed at moderate levels
because it became clear to me early on that the Nova cant be considered a
"dynamic" integrated amp. It could definitely play music quite loud, but this
wasnt its sweet spot. The Nova didnt have the power and muscle to handle the
higher decibel levels, especially with rock music.
Thats not to say that the Nova lacked authority. It
had good attack when the music picked up the pace, and it got my toe tapping many times
during my review. Beyond that, the Nova had good control over the bass and created a
tight, tuneful sound. When I played the Doors "Riders on the Storm," from The
Very Best of the Doors (CD, Rhino/WEA 277180), the bass line that drives this song was
delivered with force and composure. It didnt have that powerful slam associated with
higher-power integrated amplifiers; instead, it focused on tighter bass, with a sense of
warmth that never sounded bloated. Another great example of this is U2s "Sunday
Bloody Sunday," from War (CD, Island 001083202). Through the Nova, the bass
was tight and focused, and helped bring this song to life. The Nova also brought
Bonos tenor to life in startling fashion. It put a grin on my face to hear his voice
rendered in such a way through this integrated. Bonos upper register sounded
delicate and sweet, re-created with a great sense of realism.
Thus far, everything Ive said about the Nova has
described its sound with its tube disengaged. Switching the tube in-circuit gave the sound
more body and depth while making it more laid-back, smoothing out the digital sound and
adding a bit more warmth. Detail wasnt lost, however; it was still there, just a
touch smoother. The soundstage was slightly bigger, and voices seemed to take a step
forward and grow in height, giving me the sense that the stage was more three-dimensional.
When I listened at loud levels, the tube really helped cut down on listening fatigue, but
since the tube is in the preamp stage and the power-amp stage is still operating in
solid-state, the bass was still tight, with the same impact as before.
An interesting characteristic that I noticed was that when
the tube was engaged, some tracks sounded better while others did not. For example, jazz,
classical, acoustic, and vocal-oriented music sounded much better through the tube. On the
other hand, if I played something with a faster rock beat, the Nova sounded better with
its tube disengaged. This will be a matter of taste. Luckily, you can switch the tube in
and out from the comfort of your seat, via the remote control.
USB DACs are now a dime a dozen, but many of them are
carelessly integrated into their host components. They offer the connectivity that
consumers want, but in terms of sound quality they dont hold up against traditional
S/PDIF. But fed music via its USB input, the Nova sounded simply wonderful, producing a
deep, black background from which the music emerged. I listened again to all the music
Id played through my Oppo BDP-83, this time feeding the Nova WAV files from my
computers hard drive via a Kimber USB cable. The sound was equal to that from the
Oppos analog output. I could hear only slight sonic differences, which I chalk up to
the fact that the Oppo uses a Cirrus CS4398 DAC for its stereo outputs. There was still
air around the instruments, as with the Oppo, as well as good decay of notes, balanced
tonality, and soundstages just as wide as before. I then compared the sounds of the
Novas USB and S/PDIF inputs. Shockingly, I heard no difference whatsoever. Its
obvious that a great deal of research and hard work have gone into the development of the
Novas DAC section.
I had on hand a Cambridge Audio 840A V.2 integrated
amplifier. The 840As very powerful, detailed sound leans more toward the cooler side
of the tonal spectrum, though without sounding clinical. Like the Nova, however, the
Cambridge throws a wide soundstage, has good decay of notes, and good bass. The Cambridge
840A V.2 had the advantage in the power category. Its massive toroidal transformer gives
it stronger bass, and when you push it to high volumes, it can keep up due to its huge
power reserves. The Nova has a good-sized toroid, but isnt as powerful. This
isnt to say that I couldnt crank up the Nova -- it had no problem driving my
Paradigm Studio 10s to uncomfortable levels. You just have to be realistic. The Nova
pushes 80Wpc into 6 ohms, and the 840A delivers 120Wpc into 8 ohms. The 840A has more
muscle to drive difficult loads, and I could hear the difference. David Solomon of Signal
Path International pointed out that the Nova will be stable down to 4 ohms, as long as the
speakers impedance doesnt drop below that. If your speakers tend to drop below
4 ohms, he recommends you use an external power amplifier.
Both the Nova and 840A had very low noise floors. They
sounded similar when the Nova was in pure solid-state mode, but when I switched in the
Novas tube, music sounded more natural and lifelike.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Peachtree Audio Nova --
its a great audio component. However, its not a giant-killer in all areas.
Pushed to high decibel levels, the Nova could lose its composure, the soundstage tending
to blend together a bit -- not horribly, but images did mesh together. Rock lovers who
like to crank up the volume to 11 should look elsewhere, or invest in a hefty external
power amp. I found myself playing with the Novas tube option a lot -- it could get a
little old turning it off and on, depending on the recording. Two quibbles: the volume
knob on the front panel felt a little loose for my tastes, and the binding posts could be
of higher quality.
Other than that, I was impressed. The Nova has enough
connectivity to handle a wide variety of digital and analog sources. It will work great as
a traditional analog integrated amplifier, but with such a glorious DAC section, it would
be a crime not to take advantage of its processing power, with which any computer-based
music server can be turned into a hi-fi source. You can even use a Sony PlayStation
3s optical output and transform the PS3s sound into real hi-fi. The
possibilities are almost endless.
The Peachtree Audio Nova retails for $1199; from what
Ive heard, its sound puts it at the top of that price category. Even if you took
away its USB DAC section, the Nova would still be a relative bargain -- but having that
DAC section included at this price is just phenomenal. The Peachtrees sound
wont threaten products costing three or four times as much, but the Nova is a
transparent and composed integrated amplifier with an overall musicality that anything at
or anywhere near its price will find hard to beat. In a world in which you can spend a
great deal and not get much, the affordable Nova is a nice surprise.
. . . Kevin Gallucci
|Peachtree Audio Nova Integrated Amplifier-DAC
Price: $1199 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor; six months on tube.
2045 120th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98005
Phone: (770) 649-9544
Fax: (704) 391 9338