• Peachtree Audio Nova Review Part II

    A little over one week ago the Peachtree Audio Nova review was published here on Computer Audiophile. Since that time many CA readers read the review and left honest comments. I've also read and re-read the review and spent quite a while reading every single comment several times. I was initially surprised by the criticism. After a few days I came to the realization that the CA readers were right. The review was in fact rushed and didn't contain much information to make it useful. It clearly did not live up to the CA trademark All The Bits Fit To Print™. Thus, I'm taking full responsibility for a half-assed review and making it up to all the supportive CA readers. Over the last five days I've dedicated time to using the Nova in almost every configuration imaginable. What follows are my impressions from "The Nova Sessions."


     


    Back By Popular Demand

    A brief recap of the Nova's specs is in order before an explanation of what I call The Nova Sessions. The Nova consists of an 80 watt 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. I utilized every feature except the headphone output during The Nova Sessions. The music server used was a Mac Pro running OS X Snow Leopard and Windows 7 64-bit. The components and configurations used are as follows.

     



    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Wavelength Audio Proton > Analog RCA > Nova AUX3

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Benchmark DAC1 PRE > Analog RCA > Nova AUX2 & AUX3 Home Theater Bypass Mode

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > PS Audio DLIII > Analog RCA > Nova AUX1

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Nova USB input

    • Mac Pro OS X > Airport Express (wired) > Nova optical digital input 2

    • Mac Pro OS X > Built-in optical TosLink digital output > Nova optical digital input 1

    • Mac Pro Windows 7 > ASUS Xonar Essence STX > Coax S/PDIF > Nova coaxial digital input 1

    • Mac Pro Windows 7 > ASUS Xonar Essence STX > Coax S/PDIF > PS Audio DLIII > Analog RCA > Nova AUX1

    • Mac Pro Windows 7 > ASUS Xonar Essence STX > Coax S/PDIF > Benchmark DAC1 PRE > Analog RCA > Nova AUX2




     

    Needless to say the Nova looked like a high end audio Medusa with a plethora of cables coming out of the unit. There isn't enough time left in 2010 to compare every component and interface combination possible. I used some logical combinations to compare the Nova's DAC to that of the DAC1 PRE, Proton, and DLIII. I compared the interfaces on the Nova to determine what sounded most accurate to my ears. I also bypassed the Nova's DAC and Preamp section to single out its amplification prowess when connected to the DAC1. All of these comparisons must be taken with an abundance of caution. Singling out a single interface, DAC or any one piece of these components is nearly impossible. One can only try different configurations and report sonic impressions related to those configurations. Each of the DACs involved has its own analog output stage that suffers from its own coloration. In addition auditioning the coaxial S/PDIF interface of these components I used the ASUS audio card that may have limited or enhanced the performance compared to other digital I/O cards available. Hopefully readers can use my impressions as data points to supplement their own listening sessions and cross reference my words with those of many other people who've used these components.

     

     

    The Nova Sessions - No Pictures, No Large Print, Just Results
     

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Wavelength Audio Proton > Analog RCA > Nova AUX3

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Nova USB input


    Listening via the Wavelength Audio Proton connected to the Nova's AUX3 analog input produced a very noticeable background fuzz. This fuzz was absent when listening via USB straight from the Mac to the Nova. This is likely due to volume control compatibility "issues." I was unable to find the right combination of volume level on the Proton and volume level on the Nova. The closest to satisfied I got was with the Proton's volume set to 94. When the proton was set around 90 or below I had to turn up the volume on the Nova to one or two o'clock. The background fuzz was apparent in this configuration as well as with the volume in the mid 90s. However with the Proton's volume set in the high 90s I heard major distortion. This was remedied by turning the Proton's volume down and the Nova's volume up. I did not use the Home Theater Bypass feature of the Nova in this configuration as I'm not a fan of using the Proton's software based analog volume control directly connected to an amplifier. Many CA readers have absolutely no problems using it this way. As I stated in my review of the Proton I don't like depending on software volume controls that may not be as responsive as I need at any given moment. All of this aside the sound of the asynchronous USB Proton DAC was superior than feeding the Nova's USB input directly. The Nova smeared the overall image and severely hindered the decay. Cymbals appeared to face much more naturally via the Proton's DAC connected to the analog input of the Nova. The Nova made voices sound good and a little larger across the sound stage but suffered from a little less definition via it's own USB interface.

     

    • Mac Pro OS X > Airport Express (wired) > Nova optical digital input 2

    • Mac Pro OS X > Built-in optical TosLink digital output > Nova optical digital input 1


    Optical input from the Airport Express did sound better than the optical feed straight from the Mac Pro's built-in optical output. Voices via the Airport Express appeared a bit further back. Cymbals via the AE were a bit harsh and somewhat unnatural but the decay was more appropriate than what I heard via the built-in optical output of the Mac Pro. Bass was a bit thin via the AE as well. The sound via the built-in Mac Pro optical output was better than the sound fed directly from the Mac Pro to the Nova via USB but not nearly as defined as the analog feed from the Proton. Bass via the built-in optical output was not real cohesive and was inconsistent lacking on some selections and a bit forward on others.

    Note: I used the Airport Express digital feed into the Nova's optical input number 2. This input has been adjusted by Signal Path to be more tolerant of sources with higher than average jitter at the sacrifice of a little sound quality. Users previously had issues during playback via an AE until this adjustment was made. In addition not all versions of iTunes and not all versions of the Airport Express work the same. These differences lead to inconsistent results for those seeking to test this at home.

     

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > PS Audio DLIII > Analog RCA > Nova AUX1

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Nova USB input


    The Nova was sonically superior to the DLIII in every way via both components' USB inputs. The DLIII was not cohesive and sounded artificial. Compared to the Nova everything via the DLIII just sounded wrong. This could be partially due to the automatic upsampling to 24/96 that was done by the DLIII. I didn't try upsampling to 24/192 during this listening session. Via the DLIII to the Nova's analog inputs images were very smeared and voices were not crisp when they should have been. Voices even sounded nasally compared to the Nova.The DLIII's bass definition was less than all the other components and the overall sound was fatiguing and over-saturated. Listening through the Nova's internal upsampling compared to the external upsampling of the DLIII was much better sounding. Upsampling is not a matter of where it takes place. In this comparison the Nova's upsampling produced a much more cohesive sound when compared directly to the DLIII via USB inputs on both.

     

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Benchmark DAC1 PRE > Analog RCA > Nova AUX2 & AUX3 Home Theater Bypass Mode

    • Mac Pro OS X > USB > Nova USB input


    Connected to the Nova's Auxiliary analog input 2 the DAC1 was set to calibrated mode via the switch on the rear of the DAC1. Calibrated mode bypasses the front panel volume control on the DAC1 for configurations like the one used here. The DAC1 PRE's bass was much tighter than the Nova's when USB inputs were used on both. Keep in mind the DAC1 PRE uses CEntrance code and the TAS1020B chipset for its USB input whereas the Nova does use a rather generic off-the-shelf USB implementation. Compared to the Nova this tight bass didn't have as much texture to it. It's hard to verify which sonic characteristic is the most accurate without hearing the mic feed at the recording. The DAC1 feeding the Nova produced vocals with pinpoint focus and revealing highs. Decay via the DAC1 PRE had a tad bit of overhang and appeared too bold for natural sounding decay. The Nova via direct USB input lacked air around the instruments that the DAC1 PRE displayed. The Nova's bass lacked the DAC1 PRE punch and instruments during complex passages all merged together much more so than the DAC1 PRE.

    Following this configuration I flipped the rear switches on the DAC1 PRE and Nova to enable the DAC1's volume control and Home theater Bypass on the Nova. The HT Bypass feature allowed the DAC1 PRE to work as a preamp delivering an analog signal straight to the Nova's power amp. To use an over-generalization the vocals in this configuration sounded like they came out of a cave. The decay was still bold, unnatural, and seemed to hang on for dear life much longer than appropriate. To say it another way, the DAC1 PRE tends to memorialize some events. If it's possible to make a clear conclusion I think the Nova's preamp was a benefit to the sound of the DAC1 PRE. I much preferred the vocal performance via the DAC1 PRE when HT Bypass was disabled and the DAC1's volume control was bypassed feeding the Nova's preamp. In addition I preferred the coaxial input of the DAC1 PRE feeding the Nova's HT Bypass analog input over the previous USB based DAC1 connection. This was better sounding but still required the Nova's preamp section to bring out the best DAC1 PRE had to offer.

     

    • Mac Pro Windows 7 > ASUS Xonar Essence STX > Coax S/PDIF > Nova coaxial digital input 1

    • Mac Pro Windows 7 > ASUS Xonar Essence STX > Coax S/PDIF > Benchmark DAC1 PRE > Analog RCA > Nova AUX3 Home Theater Bypass Mode


    The last configurations I tried used a Windows 7 64-bit based music server. The reason for the switch is the ASUS card does not work with Mac OS X at this time. I used J River Media Center v14 and WASAPI output in Exclusive Mode. I verified bit perfect digital output to the best of my ability via the HDCD illuminator on my Alpha DAC in addition to researching many different configuration options and their results on the bit stream output. The ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCIe audio card feeding the Nova via coaxial S/PDIF was clearly the best sound I received throughout The Nova Sessions. Again, the Nova in this configuration sounded better than all the other components and all the other configurations. The DAC1 PRE's USB input connected to the Nova's AUX2 analog input was a close second. During The Nova Sessions the tube section of the preamp was in use until the very end. With the tube disabled the bass had a bit more texture and the differentiation between bass notes was a tad better. Listening to John Mellencamp's Longest Days at 24/96 the Nova added a little gloss to the vocals that I hadn't heard elsewhere. I'm not a fan of additives in my music, but many readers may find this bit of added gloss pleasing in the short term. Using the ASUS Xonar Essence STX to feed the DAC1 PRE's coaxial input raised a bit of background noise not present when feeding the Nova directly or feeding the Nova via the DAC1 USB based configuration. This could be due to the preamp section or volume control of the DAC1 since the HT bypass only uses the Nova's amp bypassing it's DAC and preamp section. The pinpointed vocals heard via the DAC1's USB input were no longer present via coaxial S/PDIF. The overall sound was a bit sloppy compared to the DAC1's very good USB input.

     

     

    Real Wrap Up

    Once again the free flow of information and uncensored Computer Audiophile reader comments have lead to something good. I was called-out on a less than stellar review. After the initial shock I set out to work the Nova over like a speed bag to deliver actionable information and additional data points for the CA readers. The whole process involved pages of notes and a lot of listening to music. I couldn't be happier that the CA readers spoke up and pushed for better information. Bringing out my small arsenal of DACs for a comparison to the Nova was fun and informative. Another plus was Signal Path's David Solomon being open to and encouraging these comparisons. Not all manufactures will allow direct comparisons during reviews of their products. In typical Signal Path form David said, "Let the chips fall where they may." To recap my overall impression, the Nova sounded better than the other components and configurations using Windows 7, J River Media Center, WASAPI + Exclusive Mode, and ASUS Xonar Essence STX outputting bit perfect audio via coaxial S/PDIF to the Nova's coaxial input number one. The Benchmark DAC1 PRE using its USB input, feed by Mac OS X and iTunes, and outputting analog audio to the Nova's Auxiliary input number two was a close second place. The Wavelength Audio Proton is not a recommended combination with the Nova for reasons mentioned above. The Proton continues to be one of my favorite product of 2009 but there isn't any synergy with the Peachtree Nova. The PS Audio DLIII was out of its league during The Nova Sessions although it may perform better in other scenarios. I'd like to wrap things up by thanking the dedicated Computer Audiophile readers for providing constructive criticism that lead to the real completion of the Peachtree Audio Nova review.


     

     

     
    Comments 40 Comments
    1. ELMitz's Avatar
      ELMitz -
      This is what we've come to expect Chris. <br />
      <br />
      "Not all manufactures will allow direct comparisons during reviews of their products."<br />
      <br />
      Please do not allow yourself to become just like the other paid-to-review outlets. If a manufacturer has this policy, please point that out to us and DO NOT GIVE THEM COLUMN SPACE. This can be just as valuable as the actual comparison.<br />
      <br />
    1. nyc4785's Avatar
      nyc4785 -
      many thanks for the interesting comparisons. I'm a Nova owner and like the product a lot. One thing I'd be interested in if anyone has updated thoughts is the gain that can be achieved by using an external amp and just using the dac/pre functions of the Nova and any high value amps that might work well. I've read that this is a potentially a path worth exploring here and elsewhere. <br />
      <br />
      best, <br />
      <br />
      Jim
    1. silverlight's Avatar
      silverlight -
      I recently recommended this unit to a friend to bought it to use with a Sooloos in a simplified setup and he loves it (well, I suggested the Olive4HD as the source but he splurged and went with the Sooloos). I'm looking forward to hearing it as well. The interesting question I'd have is how the unit would sound if you really upgraded the tube (I use nice 6922 tubes in my RWA Isabella for headphone use and the tube selection made a very big sonic difference on the sound, not surprisingly). It's not too expensive to upgrade to a great NOS Amperex single tube.
    1. audiojunky's Avatar
      audiojunky -
      <br />
      Thanks for filling out the review Chris - lots of useful info there. Your comparison between<br />
      the DAC of the Nova and the Wavelength Proton is especially useful for me. Perhaps I'm<br />
      being cheeky asking this - but did you try comparing the Nova and Proton in terms of<br />
      their headphone amp/dac capabilities? Headphone listening will be my main method of<br />
      listening. From your review, the Proton is stronger as a DAC but I suspect that the<br />
      Nova has a better headphone amp circuit.<br />
      <br />
      AJ
    1. musiciseverything's Avatar
      musiciseverything -
      You have elevated the standard for internet audio magazines to its highest level yet. Thanks for listening and responding.
    1. BobH's Avatar
      BobH -
      as the saying goes!<br />
      <br />
      <em>The last configurations I tried used a Windows 7 64-bit based music server. The reason for the switch is the ASUS card does not work with Mac OS X at this time. </em><br />
      <br />
      So does this mean that, despite going on to say that this configuraton provided you with the best sound, you only used a Windows platform because the Mac was unavailable to you with the soundcard you chose to use? Talk about damning with faint praise!
    1. j.SoundLabs's Avatar
      j.SoundLabs -
      Thanks Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I was one of many who read the first review and was left a little befuddled. BUT to my surprise, unlike any other forum/group/blog what have you, the constructive criticism was begun almost immediately, and it was really nice to have a civil group conversation over something as subjective as a audio product review.<br />
      <br />
      I really do appreciate you going back and making changes, and reworking your review as I am sure everyone else is as well. I was honestly a bit worried that this last online refuge of civil audio debate conducted with proper etiquette was fading away, THANKS for proving me wrong!<br />
      <br />
      -Jason<br />
      j.SoundLabs
    1. johnnyturbo's Avatar
      johnnyturbo -
      chris- you did what was needed to be done, with not a small serving of grace and style bravo. a solid helpful additional piece of work that provides exactly what was missing after the first posting. <br />
    1. salwani's Avatar
      salwani -
      for coming back to it with aplomb
    1. K Shep's Avatar
      K Shep -
      for the comprehensive review.
    1. bottlerocket's Avatar
      bottlerocket -
      Chris I think you are on to something with the multiple computer based configuration reviews. You probably are not going to outdo the stereophile reviewers in terms of test data and lofty audio prose, but this site is for music server related configurations and in this area your site is the best going.
    1. icebreaker's Avatar
      icebreaker -
      I admit that I was off the mark supporting your first review. Sorry! While its true that for the majority of buyers of the Peachtree Nova and Era speakers its all about a product that brings great sound, fun times, and convenience with as little fuss as possible. This is Computer AUDIOPHILE! And for the readership here the glory lies in the details. One question leads to another. Thats how we roll around here. Thats our idea of fun. And since the Peachtree Nova is a product that will appeal to audiophiles as well as those looking for a lifestyle product...well you get the picture. :^)<br />
      <br />
      Regards,
    1. blueixus's Avatar
      blueixus -
      Thank you chris for this. I think your review brilliantly highlights the complexity facing the 'computer audiophile' in terms of the many combinations of getting sound from computer to speaker.<br />
      <br />
      For me the Nova is a fascinating and brilliantly well thought through product. It is clearly not aimed, nor priced, at the hardened computer audiophile. <br />
      <br />
      For me the clever part is the use of the 6922 tube in the preamp section. I use these in a Copland preamp and undoubtedly they can make mask alot of digital harshness which is so prevalent in low to mid price systems. I am also sure that the Nova would benefit from better 6922 tubes. I use Telefunkens which totally transformed my Copland but cost $300 for the pair.<br />
      <br />
      I also like the pre amp option which offers a clear upgrade path for the Nova. <br />
      <br />
      Overall the Nova looks like a highly intelligent product that has been very well executed and offers excellent value for money and above all convenience.<br />
      <br />
      I am looking forward to hearing one here in the UK!<br />
      <br />
    1. Cnewport's Avatar
      Cnewport -
      AJ,<br />
      <br />
      I was shopping for a system for headphone use and narrowed my choices down to the Nova and the Proton. The Proton had the price and size advantage, but the Nova had so many more features. After listening for about an hour each at my local shop I went with the Nova. It was smoother and didn't tax my ears - I found the Proton a little bright and harsh.<br />
      <br />
      BTW I was using Grado SR225's at the time.
    1. audiojunky's Avatar
      audiojunky -
      Hi Corey - thanks for that info. Ideally, I would do what you did and compare the two products but<br />
      this is not an option where I live (Ottawa). Do you know if the two units you compared had been<br />
      burned in? From what I have read, this is more important for the proton.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks again.<br />
      <br />
      AJ
    1. Cnewport's Avatar
      Cnewport -
      AJ,<br />
      <br />
      Both units were floor demo models that had been well used before I tried them. <br />
      <br />
      My first thought was a trip to Toronto could be in order and then I looked at the Wavelength dealer list - not very long right now <br />
      <br />
    1. BMCG's Avatar
      BMCG -
      My voice in appreciation for stepping up.<br />
      <br />
      Exactly the sort of detailed, informative comparison that yields you an advantage.<br />
      <br />
      Suggest you template this approach for your reviews.<br />
    1. johnnyturbo's Avatar
      johnnyturbo -
      thanks for the fine review. <br />
      question: the pre and dac options make the nova a solid deal. the amp portion, seemingly, not terribly well received. is there a consensus on buying the nova for the dac and pre, then using the pre out to a more 'solid' amp?<br />
      <br />
      thanks for your advice.
    1. awoof's Avatar
      awoof -
      Interesting, I am considering the Proton too. Anyone else have any insight into the Proton DAC. I am planning on a Proton DAC and a Creek Destiny amp though I don't know of any dealers that have both so I won't be able to listen to the combination before I get buy them. I was talking to a dealer recently that sold both the Proton and the Nova who preferred the Proton but he didn't have them both in while I was in town. It is hard work isn't it. I'm putting together an entirely new system which is super difficult when it comes to matching components. The speakers are set, I'm having a pair of Zaph audio speakers made for me, the 2 way ones with scanspeak revelator 6.5 inch drivers, the rest of the components though are not decided yet. I was set on the Nova but after some investigating I think a Proton DAC and Creek Destiny amp may be a better solution for not a ridiculous increase in cost.
    1. Tonto's Avatar
      Tonto -
      All I can say. I have NEVER seen an online reviewer EVER do what you just did - and really highlights your integrety and passion for our hobby. Well Done! <br />
      I strongly recommend a donations link on the site so you can be rewarded for your time and efforts.<br />