The Peachtree Audio Nova is a ton of fun and has a bright future as everyman's high end integrated amplifier, DAC, or preamp. Hence the title of this review, Champagne Supernova. Champagne always involves fun and Supernovae are incredibly luminous. Champagne Supernova is also a reference to the Oasis song of the same name. A seven minute anthem that hit number one on the modern rock charts in the U.S. and has been played at every Oasis concert since it was written. The song has been spinning my NAS hard drives quite a bit lately. Sure the Peachtree integrated amp is called the Nova, but the musicality, enjoyment, and versatility of this piece may warrant the name Supernova.
What's Wrong With Having A Blast?
In October 2009 at Rocky Mountain Audiofest I spent some time with Signal Path's David Solomon. Signal Path is the manufacturer of Peachtree Audio components and Era loudspeakers. We sat in Signal Path's suite listening to music through the Peachtree Nova / Era loudspeaker system while browsing David's family photos via an AppleTV. We got to talking about how exciting new technology is and how it's creeping into high end audio. We discussed having fun with high end audio and accessing all of our music with the click of a mouse. OK we also had some good laughs about the stuffiness that can be found in high end audio. It's healthy to joke about our industry from time to time and to place one's feet firmly on the ground.
The term unpretentious doesn't even begin to describe David Solomon. This everyday audiophile attitude is very evident in the Peachtree Audio products. Signal Path has managed to build the Nova with an 80wpc integrated amplifier, Class A <30 ohm variable preamp-output, five transformer coupled digital inputs, user selectable on/off 6922 tube output stage, three analog inputs, a galvanically isolated USB stage, ESS 9006 Sabre DAC, eleven regulated power supplies for the DAC, home theater bypass, and a Class A tube headphone section, all for $1,200 retail. The features alone are enough to peak anyone's interest in the Nova. The build quality of the Nova is really nice. My rosewood review sample is certainly an eye catcher. It appears like a far more expensive component. Within minutes I had the Nova connected to two of my music servers and I was ready to have some fun.
A Little More Juice
Signal Path also offers the popular Peachtree Decco ($499 direct, limited time B-stock) and new iDecco with 50 and 40 wpc amplifiers respectively. The new iDecco contains the Apple chip that allows digital audio output from an iPod. It should be available in the next couple weeks for $999. I prefer the 80 watt Nova as it produces a bit more power than its brethren without a sonic sacrifice. I paired the Nova with Verity Audio Fidelio loudspeakers that have a sensitivity rating of 88db. For the most part this pairing worked well. I would have liked more control in the bottom end but I could say that about many amplifier/speaker combinations costing much more than the Nova.
The simplicity of the Nova's one box chassis obviously does not equate to less functionality or features. The Nova has enough analog and digital inputs for almost any installation. On the digital side I connected my Mac Pro via the Nova's galvanically isolated USB input and one of my tiny Linux servers to the Nova's coaxial S/PDIF input. This galvanic isolation plays a large role improving the USB input's performance. CA Readers who attended the computer audio panel at RMAF in 2009 heard Bel Canto's John Stronczer stress the importance of this galvanic isolation as well. Stopping unwanted electrical current from flowing into the rest of the unit via the USB input can make everyone's life a bit simpler. This isolation can break annoying ground loops allowing many of us to remove those three-to-two prong cheater plugs.
One really nice feature on the Nova's remote is the ability to turn on/off the 6922 tube output stage. This allows the listener to have an all solid state amp or a hybrid amp for that extra bit of fun and pleasant "musicality." Plus I'll be honest the tube looks really nice when lit up. It has the usual tube orangish glow in addition to a blue light beaming up from underneath the tube. When I first received the Nova I called David Solomon to discuss the features and specifications of the unit. I asked him if the tube actually did anything or just provided a nice light enhancing the overall look. We both had a good laugh as David explained the effect of the tube would be more obvious as I put additional time on the Nova. Sure enough he was right-on. I enjoyed the hell out of the tube output stage when listening to my Analogue Productions jazz reissues. Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins sound very lush when the tube in the Nova is enabled. I preferred the tube off when listening to classical music with delicate instruments intermingled with loud drums. The added clarity of the all solid state configuration was much needed. Again, I enjoyed the Nova equally as much with classical as I did with Jazz. I was willing to sacrifice great sound reproduction in order to have the tube on/off feature and very good sound reproduction. This versatility and this level performance is well worth the price in my book.
"We strive for a musical presentation rather than questing for that Nth level of "in your face" extension. The quest for music reproduction shouldn't be a contest to attain the highest number, rather one to seek an emotional experience while maintaining the musical intent of the artist. Our goal is for you to enjoy the music, not think about the box. " - Signal Path International
Technically inclined audiophiles will surely be interested in the Nova's ESS 9006 Sabre DAC chip. Signal Path is using this chip's 24/96 upsampling and jitter reduction capabilities. I've heard from several manufacturers that the new ESS Sabre chips are very special. The specs on the ESS chips are incredibly good. However, it does take a considerable amount of skill to get the ESS Sabre to perform up to its potential. In other words, tossing one of these chips into a component and calling it a day does not a DAC make. Signal Path has taken the Nova about as far as one can and still keep the unit very affordable. Using eleven regulated power supplies for the DAC is certainly something that could have been cut back if Signal Path was looking to cut corners and trim costs. Fortunately SP spent the time to make the Nova inexpensive and a real performer. It's much easier to go all out spending unlimited amounts of money or spending next to nothing than it is to hit a bullseye with the price to performance ratio. Signal Path has done well not only with the Nova but all its products.
A common mistake people make with the Peachtree Audio Nova is to view it solely as a typical integrated amp. This view may mislead people into thinking there is no upgrade path like many integrated amps. However, the Nova can be used as a DAC or pre amp or headphone as well. If the 80 watt amplifier is no longer enough power for a new set of speakers the Nova can transition into preamp and DAC duty by supplying analog audio to an external amplifier. The same can be said for using a different DAC or using the Nova as a DAC only. The Nova's versatility allows the user to take advantage of all, some, or just one of its features.
Sonos users seeking to enhance the sound quality of an existing system may wish to take advantage of the Nova's built-in Sonos port. A Sonos ZP 80/90 slides perfectly into the back of the Nova and connects via a single coaxial S/PDIF cable. I was unable to test the functionality of this feature as I don't currently have Sonos ZP 80/90. In the future I'd be interested in comparing the Sonos' built-in volume control v. the Nova's volume control. It's a win-win situation as either volume control can be used depending on each listener's preference. Again, versatile, musical, and enjoyable.
Getting back to the basics of why we are in this wonderful hobby is healthy. I love music. Whenever I can increase my enjoyment of music without maxing out my credit cards I'm thrilled. The Peachtree Nova is a component that can greatly increase one's enjoyment when listening to music at home or in the office. I can't imagine there are many cases of buyer's remorse within Signal Path's customer base. I haven't heard a bad word yet and I'm not about to start badmouthing the Nova. It's a great product with tremendous versatility and musicality that can do wonders for the everyday audiophile or the audiophile tired of listening to his equipment instead of the music. Bringing audio reviews into the new decade I'll finish with my favorite phrase, "Add to cart."
Link to PART II
ST mos-fet amp modules
80w/ch at less than 1% distortion in to 6 ohms
Internally wired like Sigma Servo control (two wires from amp to terminal) for better damping
Hybrid tube design (6922)
6.5V output @ 2.0V input
<30 Ohms at the output stage
Class A output stage
Switching relays in the signal path
Polypropylene caps in the signal path
Headphone Amp (shared with the Pre-Out stage)
Suitable for all electro-dynamic headphones
Frequency response: DC ~ 100 kHz +/- 0.1dB
Voltage gain: 10dB
Maximum output voltage: 7Vrms
output impedance: <30ohms
Maximum output power: 100mW into 8Ohm / 300mW into 150Ohm / 150mW into 300Ohm
Class A output stage
6922 Tube is in circuit
5 digital inputs 1- USB, 2 coax, 2 optical
24/96 upsampling ESS9006 DAC
11 regulated power supplies
Class A output stage
Transformer coupled digital Inputs for ground isolation
Galvanically isolated USB stage.
<1picosecond jitter measured at the Master Clock (Super Clock)
Size 5” H x 14 ¾” W x 14” D (including volume knob and speaker terminals)