• Peachtree Audio iNova Integrated Amplifier and Design 5 Loudspeaker Review

    Over the last year I participated in a few computer audio seminars around the country with Peachtree Audio’s David Solomon. During the events I spent a fair amount of time listening to the Peachtree Design 5 loudspeakers. Every time I listened to these speakers I commented positively about either the aesthetic design, build quality, or impressive sound quality. The one thing left to do was listen to the D5 speakers in my own listening room where familiarity with the environment would lead to much more accurate judgments. Fortunately David offered a pair of D5s for review while we discussed my review of the new iNova integrated amplifier. I accepted the offer to review the speakers and the amplifier as a complete system. There was no hiding the fact I liked the D5s based on previous experience. That also meant I had high expectations for these speakers. On the other hand I hadn’t listened to the iNova enough to leave a lasting impression in my mind. That said I still had high expectations because of its lineage. I liked the original Nova very much. In fact I liked it too much according to some Computer Audiophile readers. It was time to find out if the Design 5 speakers were as good as I previously thought, if the new iNova was anything more than an original Nova with an iPod dock, if Peachtree refined the highly regarded Nova into something better, or simply sat on its laurels riding the previous wave of success.



     


    Peachtree Audio iNova ($1,799)

    satisfactionComputer 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.

    One
    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




    Two
    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.


    Three
    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.


    Four
    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 WiFi2HiFilink. 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.
    d5-1d5-2d5-3


     

    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 24/176.4link. 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.


     

    Conclusion

    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.



     



     




     



     



    Product Information

    • Price - iNova ($1,799), Design 5 ($999), Package ($2,499)

    • iNova Product Page - Linklink

    • Design 5 Product Page - Linklink

    • Package Purchase Page - Linklink




     



     



    Associated Equipment:



    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.

     

     
    Comments 34 Comments
    1. VT Skier's Avatar
      VT Skier -
      Hi Chris,<br />
      <br />
      I completely agree with your review. For the money, Peachtree is making very good products. <br />
      <br />
      I was in David's room at CES for close to an hour, absolutely floored by the MusicBox with the (larger) 4.5 speakers. Not the most accurate, a little warm, but a system that good for $1,000? Holy cow. <br />
      <br />
      Jon
    1. CatOhCat's Avatar
      CatOhCat -
      I saw video out-puts at the back of the iNova which doesnt exist in the Nova. How would that function perform?
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      The Video output is from the iPod dock. Full component output. <br />
      <br />
      One shame about the iNova (and others in Peachtree's range) is that they don't support the iPad (I assume). <br />
      <br />
      Eloise
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      If you want to use the iPad (I did this only once just to see how it worked), for iPad gen1, you can use the camera adapter as a USB out, and then use the DAC's USB in. I think I read the new iPad2 has its own USB out; the input to the DAC should still work the same. <br />
      <br />
      When I first saw the photo for the forthcoming iNova, I cynically thought they simply sacrificed one of the vents on the Nova to mod it for an iPod input. I am pretty sure I saw that picture before the iPad was released. If the docker interface thing wasn't recessed, it might work. The one in my car now works after the firmware update, and the one on my Zeppelin has always worked. So I think it is just an issue of steric hinderance.<br />
      <br />
      But the Apple TV or airport extreme is a much nicer solution. The digital dock is a nice touch, but is almost obsolete with air-play from an iPad (or iPod).
    1. Audio_ELF's Avatar
      Audio_ELF -
      Just noticed they've dropped the ability to mount a Sonos internally on the iNova. Shame they couldn't find space for an AppleTV (and a power cable pass through) that would have been neat!<br />
      <br />
      Yes I know the camera adapter should work via USB, but that's not as neat a solution as direct docking the iPad. Still swings and roundabouts. I guess as you say an Apple TV and use Airplay would work best (which brings me back to my first comment). <br />
      <br />
      Well nothing is perfect.
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      I think the iNova prototypes were made before the iPad was announced, and well before the new very small Apple TV. So the only thing I can fault them for is not being able to predict the future any better than I can.<br />
      <br />
      I guess the real question is would I have paid $1800 for this vs. $1200 for the one I bought 10 months ago? <br />
      <br />
      Most likely, yes. <br />
      <br />
      The biggest problem for computer audiophile use of the Nova is not the lack of iPod dock, but the 16/48 limitation on the USB input. That limitation is now gone, and with it the 96kHz limit on all other inputs with obligatory up-sampling has been replaced with a DAC/interface that can handle 192kHz. So it really is a fundamental improvement. The iPod mount for me is something I appreciate but probably would seldom use. (Even with my Zeppelin in the bedroom, once I hooked it up to an airport express, I never again used it directly as an iPod/iPad player.)<br />
      <br />
      The nice thing about the digital dock is it gives a potentially zero-compromise alternative solution for someone who doesn't want to use a computer with their iNova.<br />
      <br />
      Now if they could produce a variant with an air-play chip and receiver in it, like the new Zeppelin, that would be pretty cool.
    1. jstamp's Avatar
      jstamp -
      Chris, I for one would love, love to hear your take on how the iNova compares to Bel Cantos new C5i. These are the top contenders to anchor my new system and obviously with them both being so new it's nearly impossible to find both at showrooms. However, I seem to remember Bel Canto is near you and with this iNova review fresh in your ears...Please <br />
      <br />
      Really appreciate your efforts on this site by the way, I have been reading for some time now but haven't had anything to add until now.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks and keep up the great work!<br />
    1. kana813's Avatar
      kana813 -
      Chris & David in action:<br />
      <br />
      http://audiofest.net/2011/video_player.php?video_id=24&Sid=0d49d241fc4e62ce8 8f934e11e86a7aa
    1. Enicar's Avatar
      Enicar -
      Decisions, decisions, decisions.<br />
      I was about to order a Nova and out comes this review of the iNova. Better dac, better amp. More $ of course. Now I may just keep my PM-KI Pearl Lite (= PM8004 in US, I think) and get a DAC ( Rega?) even if I really like the idea of an amp with internal dac.<br />
      Or maybe...
    1. XP9433's Avatar
      XP9433 -
      Chris<br />
      <br />
      Did you (can you) get a chance to listen to and comment on the sound quality of the headphone amp?<br />
      <br />
      Thanks<br />
      Frank
    1. vajtful's Avatar
      vajtful -
      Great product!<br />
      <br />
      This is exactly the type of amplifier I will be looking for once AirPlay gets supported. It will open up the possibilities to many people who want to use iTunes to manage their music. Hopefully Apple will support high resolution audio soon.
    1. lightminer's Avatar
      lightminer -
      I'm setting up a system for a friend and am strongly considering this (they have a very tiny apartment), but at this price level I would think using a Wadia IPod dock for digital out would make the sound at least twice as good? Do you have one around to test easily? I would think anyone at well over 2k would spend just a tiny bit more to get the most of their mp320s...
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      The Wadia iPod dock does the same thing as the digital ipod dock included with the iNova.
    1. lightminer's Avatar
      lightminer -
      Oh, I should say, for this particular person they have a heck of a time getting a computer cable to the device, and while it can be done they basically refuse to do it. So it is a primary mission, not a secondary mission, to play from an IPod.
    1. lightminer's Avatar
      lightminer -
      Sorry wgscott, that isn't true - "There are no hacks or tricks involved to pull the digital audio stream directly from the iPod to the iNova's DAC."
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      I guess I must be missing something.<br />
      <br />
      Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought the Wadia was a digital dock for an iPod that you can connect to a DAC. <br />
      <br />
      The iNova does the same thing, but the digital dock is built in.<br />
      <br />
      What did I miss?<br />
      <br />
      I think you are misinterpreting the words you quoted.
    1. lightminer's Avatar
      lightminer -
      Hmmm...<br />
      <br />
      "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."<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Ohhhhhh - okay - weird, so he is saying that they paid Apple some money to sort of oem their way through getting digital out in an approved manner, vs what the Wadia people did.... That is a great clarification! Thanks!<br />
      <br />
      I read the last sentence above (Its been my experience...) as "this is what I would have liked to do, and do do in general, but couldn't do here."<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      Okay - now the $600 between the iNova and Nova is very justified, whereas before it seemed 'almost justified'.<br />
      <br />
      Excellent!
    1. wgscott's Avatar
      wgscott -
      They have a whole series of these. I think both they and Wadia get digital out via the officially approved Apple way. IDecco and Musicbox also are in their line and do a similar thing.<br />
      <br />
      So yes, it is as if you are getting a Wadia dock thrown in the box, except it is an integral part.
    1. lightminer's Avatar
      lightminer -
      Interesting, I had understood that the original ITransport by Wadia was done without Apple's involvement, but that later they synched up with Apple. Using google I found lots of forum jokers saying this, but couldn't find an official source. In fact, what I heard at the time is that Wadia singlehandedly forced Apple to open up that API as they had cracked it, and Apple previously had no interest in allowing digital out for music from the IPods. Again, none of this is from an official source, and may or may not be correct.
    1. lightminer's Avatar
      lightminer -
      Okay - so this system is very cool, and certainly takes up very little space. While this would take up a bit more space the speakers are smaller and otherwise its just 2 devices, one of which is very small. This has same cost. I wonder how it would compare?<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      DAC Beresford TC-7520 259<br />
      Amp Cambridge Audio 740A 800<br />
      Speakers Mark and DanielsMini 1260<br />
      PreToAmp Kimber Tonik 65<br />
      AmpToSpeakers Kimber 4' 4VS 48<br />
      <br />
      2432<br />
      <br />
      And as with all such things there is a lot of room to change things around. Get cables from Blue Jeans and then step the amp up, etc. This would be a very solid system...<br />
      <br />
      I think a lot of what you get is all of the integration and the nice wood. Which for a lot of people is very important.<br />
      <br />
      I haven't heard it yet, I think I have a feel for how the system above would sound, I should fine a local place with the Peachtree.