Peachtree Audio iNova ($1,799)
Computer audiophiles seeking simplicity, options, and great performance in a single box will be impressed with the new iNova. This unit is a preamplifier, amplifier, and digital to analog converter (DAC) all in one component. Connect a pair of speakers and the audio system is complete. There is no hierarchy of deep menus to navigate just to play music. Simple yet elegantly illuminated round buttons on the front panel are self explanatory for nearly every human being. This simplicity should not be mistaken for lack of capabilities. The feature set on the iNova is similar to the original Nova. Digital inputs for optical S/PDIF, electrical S/PDIF (upgraded), USB (upgraded), and iPod (new) join analog inputs including one with a home theater bypass function. This bypass feature is really nice for people combining a two channel and five channel home theater system. It allows pure playback of two channel through the iNova directly to the speakers bypassing all the processing of a home theater receiver. Like the previous Nova the iNova's solid design handles noise from grounding and switching power supply problems through galvanic isolation and transformer coupling the digital inputs. This isolation is no small matter especially for components designed to function with computer sources.
There are four major differences between the original Nova and the new iNova. The three performance based differences were easily identifiable during my listening sessions while the one external difference (iPod dock) was identifiable by simply looking at the component.
The iNova contains a higher resolution DAC chip than the original Nova. After extensive testing Peachtree elected to use the ESS 9016 Sabre32 Ultra DAC [PDF]. The ESS 9016 re-clocks the incoming digital audio before processing this signal. According to Peachtree this reduces jitter to less than three picoseconds. In addition to better specs the new ESS 9016 enables the iNova to handle incoming digital audio from 16 bit / 44.1 kHz CD quality up through 24 bit / 192 kHz high resolution via its coaxial (electrical) S/PDIF input. The original Nova could not accept audio over 24/96 via any input. The iNova also introduces the capability to handle 32, 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz via its USB input. Astute computer audiophiles will notice the iNova's lack of 88.2 kHz support. I discussed this with David Solomon and Jim Spainhour of Peachtree shortly after receiving the review sample. David and Jim told me they elected to use the Tenor USB chip without 88.2 kHz support as partly as cost decision and time to market decision. That's an answer I can accept from Peachtree selling a $1,799 all-in-one product such as the iNova. When I reviewed the $4,800 Esoteric D-07 DAC the fact that it did not support 88.2 kHz via USB was a very serious issue. The D-07 is a purpose built digital to analog converter from one of the premiere digital audio companies in the world. I believe a product from Esoteric at $4,800 that has a sole purpose of D to A conversion must support 88.2 kHz. It would be very nice if the iNova supported 88.2 kHz, especially to play the new Rolling Stones HDtracks releases, but I don't believe it's a show-stopper. The more technically inclined readers will be interested to know the iNova is an Isochronous adaptive data endpoint as opposed to an Isochronous asynchronous data endpoint. In other words the iNova is an adaptive USB DAC not an asynchronous USB DAC.
Information received via USB Prober:
Audio Class Specific Audio Data Format
Audio Stream Format Type Desc.
- Format Type: 1 PCM
- Number Of Channels: 2 STEREO
- Sub Frame Size: 3
- Bit Resolution: 24
- Sample Frequency Type: 0x04 (Discrete)
- Sample Frequency: 32000 Hz
- Sample Frequency: 44100 Hz
- Sample Frequency: 48000 Hz
- Sample Frequency: 96000 Hz
Endpoint 0x03 - Isochronous Output
- Address: 0x03 (OUT)
- Attributes: 0x09 (Isochronous adaptive data endpoint)
- Max Packet Size: 582
- Polling Interval: 1 ms
The iNova, like the Nova, includes a vacuum tube buffer that can be turned off and on with the press of a button on the remote control. The original Nova used a 6922 tube whereas the new iNova buffer contains a Russian 6N1P tube. Some Nova owners have said the 6922 tube does not provide enough warmth or tube bloom to notice much of a difference when the tube is on. In a direct comparison between the Nova and iNova with its new Russian 6N1P tube I can attest that the difference is clearly audible. Whether one prefers this audible euphonic affect coupled with a humongous soundstage is another question.
It's really nice to have solid reasons that backup one's listening impression. This helps eliminate the placebo effect when listening to one component versus another. Such was the case when listening to the Nova versus iNova. My listening notes include statements like "iNova more resolving in bass than Nova. More strength and control of the drivers. Very noticeable on Just a Little Lovin'" At the time I wrote the notes I was completely unaware that Peachtree upgraded the capacitors on the iNova amp seeking a "more dynamic and punchier bass". The design change succeeded in its goal.
The fourth major difference between the Nova and iNova is the addition of a digital iPod dock to the iNova. The iNova is a 100% compliant Made for iPod* device. There are no hacks or tricks involved to pull the digital audio stream directly from the iPod to the iNova's DAC. It's been my experience that pulling a digital signal from the iPod is by far the best way to get good sound. During this review I used my iPhone 4 connected to the iPod dock. Upon connection I received a warning about the iNova not being designed for my device, but this appeared to have no affect on usability. One method I used to send audio wirelessly from my computer to the iPhone 4 was with an application named WiFi2HiFi. The application works but there are very few details as to how it works and what type of audio it supports.
*“Made for iPod” means that an electronic accessory has been designed to connect specifically to iPod and has been certified by the developer to meet Apple performance standards.
Based on specs the iNova is certainly more than an original Nova with an iPod dock. The four major differences are equally as identifiable on paper as they are with one's eyes and ears in the listening room.
Peachtree Audio Design 5 Loudspeakers ($999 pair)
Note: Prior to 2011 the speaker brand name was era acoustics. The era acoustics brand has now been rolled into the Peachtree Audio brand.
Pictures simply don't do the D5 loudspeakers justice. At $999 per pair it's not easy to find a speaker with such a nice fit and finish, and with build quality this solid. A standard knuckle rap on top of a D5 provides one that good feeling of fine craftsmanship. I received speakers with the Rosewood finish for this review. This finish matched the iNova's Rosewood finish perfectly.
At less than one foot tall the D5s weigh nearly sixteen pounds. The 5" long excursion driver and 1" soft dome tweeter were designed by Michael Kelly of Aerial Acoustics. From the moment one firsts listens to a pair of D5s it's immediately evident that these speakers produce incredible bass for their size. Peachtree's goal was to create a small speaker that extended low enough to make a subwoofer optional. I believe Peachtree can check that box off the list of goals easily. The D5s extend down to 50Hz. This is not common for such a small audiophile grade speaker that retails for $999. I'm sure there are car subwoofers smaller that extend lower but the quality of those speakers is painfully horrendous. The D5s retain good quality sound down to the lowest supported frequencies.
Complete System ($2,499)
The iNova at $1,799 and Design 5 speakers at $999 are priced very competitively. There's real deal to be had by purchasing this as a complete system for $2,499 and saving $299. It's very tough to beat this level of sound quality for less than $2,499.
I listened to the iNova is many different configurations using different inputs, sample rates, filter settings, and sources. The best sounding combination in my system was via USB input with the filter set to Non-oversampling (NOS). Readers familiar with my review of the original Nova may remember that coaxial S/PDIF was my preferred input on that unit. I obtained great sound from a Windows 7 / J river Media Center 16 server, Mac OS X 10.6.6 / Amarra and Decibel servers, as well as the Auraliti PK100 (S/PDIF only).
I broke the iNova and D5 loudspeakers in for nearly a week playing reference Recordings' Grammy winning album Britten's Orchestra at 24/176.4. I continued to use this album for critical listening of the S/PDIF input long after the break-in period. Other albums used throughout this review were Shelby Lynne - Just a Little Lovin, A. A. Bondy - American Hearts, Adele - 21, Minnesota Orchestra - Bolero!, and I even used the Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc for the first time in recent memory.
Listening to this Peachtree system with the new Russian 6N19 tube buffer was a very different experience than listening to the original Nova with the 6922 buffer. The 6N19 has a major affect on the sound of the iNova. Some readers will fall in love with the 6N19 while others will simply disable the tube buffer. In my system the new tube buffer muted the top extension somewhat resulting in a loss of shine or shimmer when I thought it should have been present. Overall this system sounded like it was about ready to let loose but never could get over the hump. The one benefit of the new tube buffer that may be enough to cause listeners to forget the aforementioned issues is the incredible soundstage. The system imaged from side to side, top to bottom, and front to back like nothing I've ever heard close to this price point. Playing well recorded and produced albums creates an almost autostereoscopic volumetric 3D presentation. Readers seeking great imaging and a large believable soundstage will almost certainly prefer this tube buffer over the 6922 buffer in the original Nova.
Most of my listening took place with the tube buffer disabled as I thought this was a more accurate reproduction of the original source material. The 6N19 is a bit too bloomy and euphonic for my taste. Without this buffer enabled the upper frequencies were more defined and raw. There was no tube intermediary in between my ears and the solid state circuitry. With the top end now more open I sensed the tiniest bit of lost focus in the mid range. Like everything in life there was no free lunch when disabling the tube buffer. The incredible, perhaps over cooked, soundstage was no longer present. This will be good new for some and disheartening for others. The sound as a whole was still way above acceptable and very good.
Continuing with the 6N19 buffer disabled I played a little Marcus Miller and Shelby Lynne. Miller's Introduction on the album Silver Rain is short but stellar. The electric bass is a wonderful test of a system's ability to control low frequency reproduction. The first words that came to mind when playing this track were Bass Monster. The Peachtree system was a bass monster. I mean that in the best sense of the words. This system is not the bass monster we've all heard at an intersection causing a small spike in the Richter Magnitude Scale and scaring retirees off the streets. Rather the Peachtree iNova and D5 loudspeakers are a controlled bass monster. Flat down to 50Hz as David Solomon says, these speakers with the control of the iNova amp and new capacitors completely outperform every satellite speaker I've heard close to $999. Even listening to Shelby Lynne's Just a Little Lovin' title track this Peachtree system rattled items in the immediate area. The baseline on this track, when reproduced with a controlled system, is pure magic. The iNova / D5 combo didn't reproduce the complete texture of the bass but certainly presented an awesome display of controlled low frequencies for such a small inexpensive loudspeaker. Versus the original Nova the iNova is more resolving in the low frequencies with better strength and control of the Design 5's drivers. From mid bass to the top frequencies both Novas sounded nearly identical via S/PDIF input. Via USB the iNova excelled beyond the capabilities of it's older sibling.
Comparing the new iNova USB input to my preferred S/PDIF input on the original Nova was another good differentiator between the original Nova and the new iNova. The original Nova's USB input was pretty limited and not as good as its coaxial S/PDIF input. It's more appropriate to compare the best input of each product in an effort to determine ultimate performance and allow one to extrapolate from this conclusion. Playback via the iNova's USB input was more vibrant with more separation of each instrument and different frequencies than via the Nova's S/PDIF input. Soundstage via USB was a touch smaller than via S/PDIF but male and female vocals were very solid and dead center between the speakers on all planes. The more I listened to the iNova via USB the more I liked the sound and the more resolution I heard versus the coaxial S/PDIF input of the original Nova and the iNova itself. Comparing these two inputs on the iNova it's easier to hear more low level detail via USB. However this system does require a bit more volume, to bring out all the details and intricacies of the source material, than other systems. That said, the other more resolving systems I can think of cost several thousand dollars more than the iNova / D5 complete package.
Peachtree Audio designs all its products with computer sources in mind. In fact they expect most users to have a computer source more so than anything else. Like all other Peachtree products the iNova's USB input is galvanically isolated. Peachtree has also wisely transformer-coupled every digital input on the iNova. This may seem like a logical design choice for all components but not all manufacturers have implemented such fine isolation.
The only other speakers I had on hand during the review period that were remotely close in price to the Design 5s were the floor standing Avalon Acoustics NP Evolution 2.0 ($1,995 per pair). Connected to the iNova the Avalons did outperform the D5s as expected. The iNova power the NP Evolutions handily with as much control and more refined sound than the D5s.The main noticeable difference between the D5s and the Avalons was the absence of texture through the D5s. Listening to David Oistrakh / Bruch: Scottish Fantasia the texture of the violin was much more apparent through the Avalon loudspeakers than the Peachtree D5s. The Avalons did not extend as low as the D5s in my listening room. The bass through the D5s was a bit more authoritative than the Avalons but at times the D5s were a tad less tight.
This complete Peachtree system has is strengths and weaknesses like every audio system at any price. The Design 5 loudspeakers are every bit as good as I previously thought even though I was able to find a few weaknesses while in my own listening room. Comparing these speakers to my Avalons revealed a little softness and lack of texture that I wasn't aware of from my computer audio seminar listening sessions. The Avalons are twice the price but I was easily able to flesh out what's possible from the $1,995 speaker versus the $999 Peachtree Design 5 while being driven by the iNova. The question of worth and value for the extra $1k always comes down to each individual buyer. Peachtree has once again solidified its good standing in the industry with the iNova. This integrated amplifier with built-in DAC is more than a small improvement over the original Nova. The sonic upgrades are audible to all but the most casual or background listener. The added convenience of a completely digital iPod dock may be enough by itself for some readers to consider upgrading or going down the Peachtree path for the first time. I can unequivocally say the Peachtree Design 5 loudspeakers and the new iNova integrated amplifier meet and surpass respectively my high expectations.
- Price - iNova ($1,799), Design 5 ($999), Package ($2,499)
- iNova Product Page - Link
- Design 5 Product Page - Link
- Package Purchase Page - Link
Avalon NP Evolution 2.0 Loudspeakers, C.A.P.S. server, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable, AudioQuest Eagle Eye 75 Ohm BNC Digital Cable, AudioQuest Redwood Loudspeaker Cable, ASUS Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim, Apple iPad, Sonic Studio's Amarra, Decibel.