Peachtree Audio nova150 Review
I've been a fan of Peachtree Audio ever since I saw the team demonstrate its products using an AppleTV as a source, way back before the HiFi industry realized someone moved its cheese. Peachtree Audio introduced products with USB inputs long before most of the industry realized it was possible to connect a computer-based product to a "real" audio system. This was around the time when a notorious New York City audio dealer would kick people out of his store for bringing in iPods to use as a source. It's funny how life works, that dealer's business is now a shadow of its former self and computer audio is taking over the world of HiFi. After Peachtree Audio's meteoric rise and success all over the world, the company had a a few growing pains that one could expect from any small company growing at record speed. During this roughly 2-year transitional period, Peachtree turned out a few products to make sure the company stayed healthy; all the while working on the line they always wanted to do. In the Spring of 2016 the company re-launched, with co-founder David Solomon back on-board, as Peachtree Audio 2.0, during an event at Stereo Exchange in NYC. The Peachtree team was at the event to let people know what was in store with Peachtree 2.0. This wasn't a smoke and mirrors type of HiFi event, rather it was a brass tacks type of event. Peachtree Audio had undergone some big changes, during Solomon's absence, in how it designs and builds its products, and the company wanted everyone to know. In fact, there was a big sense of pride visible in the Peachtree team because of what it had accomplished with its new products. The main attraction at the NYC event was the nova150 integrated amplifier. Since listening to the nova150 in NYC in March 2016, I've been waiting for my review sample to arrive. The nova150 sounded great at the event and looked fantastic with its gloss ebony mocha finish. But, there's no substitute to hearing a component in one's own system and spending serious time playing gigabytes of familiar music. After spending the last week listening to the nova150 for hours on end, I can say without a doubt that Peachtree Audio 2.0 is much more than just a number. Compared to previous Peachtree products, the new nova150 is in a different class. A different class of design, and more importantly a different class of sound quality.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
Better Engineering = Better Sound
Anyone familiar with product development cycles and the time it takes to bring a product to market, understands there aren't concepts such as "add to cart" and "free two-day delivery" in this world. Real products take real time to design and deliver. Two years ago, about the time David Solomon took a break from the company to work for and launch Tidal HiFi in the US, Peachtree's Jim Spainhour and Andrew Clark hired a completely new engineering team to redesign its nova series. This new team, who must remain nameless due to contract obligations, has designed some of the best products many members of the Computer Audiophile community have ever heard. I guarantee it. Following the engineering team change, Peachtree Audio also moved its manufacturing to a facility in Canada. This new facility also specializes in high end, life and death type of medical devices. Sure, we are talking about audio here, but it's nice to know the new Peachtree Audio products are manufactured to very high standards.
The new nova150 is the first Peachtree Audio 2.0 egg to hatch. Both inside and out, this new nova150 offers features unlike many previous Peachtree products. The nova150 features the ESS Sabre32 9018K2M Reference DAC, that many computer audiophiles have come to love. It also features a nice Unity Gain: Direct Amp In setting. This works by holding an input button for five seconds to enable the feature. Once enabled, the nova150's volume level is set to unity gain and provides direct access to the amplifier section. The cool thing about this, is it enables the user to control volume with an application such as Sonos, Roon or JRiver Media Center's 64-bit volume control. If people prefer to stay within a remote control app on their iPhone or iPad to select tracks and control volume, this is the perfect feature. My preference is to not use this feature, and use the included metal-faced Peachtree Audio remote control for volume adjustments.
One feature of the nova150 that's exclusive to Peachtree Audio is the Dynamic Noise Elimination Circuit (Dy-NEC). Before describing this new technology, let's back up a bit. The nova150 features both USB A and USB B input ports. The USB B port is the normal USB DAC input that most people recognize. The USB A port is the type that is on almost every computer manufactured in the last 20 years. This USB A port on the nova150 is compatible with Lightning iOS devices (iPhone / iPad), and is asynchronous, just like the USB B port. It's possible to connect an iOS device directly to the nova150 and send the unaltered digital music stream right to the nova's DAC. This is a great thing, but comes with a serious issue, and that's electrical noise. On some audio components, using an iOS device and swiping one's finger across the screen can cause some ugly noise to emanate from the loudspeakers. This noise, and unacceptable design, is anything but high end. To bring the USB A / iOS device input on the nova150 up to HiFi standards, Peachtree's engineers developed the first system in the world that eliminates audible power supply fluctuation noise and screen-derived noise. This technology is what they call Dy-NEC. Based on my tests using both an iPhone 6 Plus and iPad Air 2 connected directly to the nova150, I believe Dy-NEC raises the level of sound quality of this type of input to a new level. The sound quality from the USB A / iOS input is nearly as good as the standard USB B input. I'm willing to bet the remaining sonic differences have more to do with the source devices than anything (I used a Sonore microRendu with the standard USB input and the iOS devices streaming Tidal on the USB A input).
One additional feature that goes along with the USB A / iOS input, is the ability to control playback on the iOS device with the physical Peachtree Audio remote control. Similar to USB DACs that send HID commands back to the computer, the nova150 sends the infrared signal through to the iOS device enabling the user to control track forward/reverse and play/pause without toughing the iPhone/iPad.
A feature that Peachtree Audio was famous for has been removed in the nova150, and that's the vacuum tube. Those who love the tube sound will be happy to know Peachtree is considering a separate tube buffer that works in conjunction with the nova150's loop in/output. The reason Peachtree removed the vacuum tube in the nova150 is because of the great signal to noise ration in the new units. Previous Peachtree products have a S/N of about 95dB and about 88-90dB with the tube engaged. The new nova150 has a S/N of 111dB. If a tube was enabled and raised the noise to 88dB, a swing of 23dB, the sound quality may be unacceptable to even the largest tube lovers. Readers should also note that the nova150's 111dB S/N is a preamp level and 105dBA at speaker level. The Peachtree Audio team is very happy to demonstrate this to anyone willing to listen, by setting the nova150 to an empty input and cranking the volume all the way to its maximum. With the volume set at this level, one can place an ear up to the tweeter and hear next to nothing (or absolutely nothing in a normal room).
The amplifier section in the nova150 features the new Class D ICE Power ASC modules. These modules deal with power supply noise by sampling the switching power supply at over 400 kHz per second. According to Peachtree Audio, and backed by my listening tests, these amps offer better performance than anything the company has done with Class A/B amplification.
Two additional features that are great, but I don't use are 1) home theater bypass and 2) a dedicated analog phono section. If you have a home theater and want to use a better DAC/amp for two channel listening through your main FL and FR speakers, then this is the feature for you. If you have a turntable ... go sick with this all analog phono stage that keeps the analog signal analog all the way. Because my house is like the town in Footloose where dancing was banned, there are no turntables allowed on the premises. Only kidding, but I didn't test the phono section of the nova150.
The new nova150, and all novas in the new series, are WiFi ready. Peachtree is working on a new WiFi module that will internally upgrade any nova150, nova300, or nova500 to use its new wireless platform. I've seen what the platform looks like and it's very nice. It's loaded with streaming services, DLNA, and more. The upgrade charge will be $200 for the WiFi module. In the future, novas will be available with or without the module, saving those who don't want WiFi about $200. Those purchasing a nova now can upgrade the nova with WiFi, when released by Peachtree, without a labor charge.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the beautiful cabinet of the new nova150. The gloss ebony mocha finish is something only seen on much more expensive components. Sitting near my $45,000 TAD CR1 loudspeakers, the finish on the nova150 looks very similar in quality and attention to detail. According to Peachtree, "The gloss finishes take two weeks to complete. The process is very old school by applying a coat of clear finish, allowing it to dry, sanding to an even finish. Then repeating this same process 13 times to give a finish that looks like water on a surface."
Given that the best album of all time was released on this day in 1959, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, I have been in a Miles kind of mood. I've used KoB in many reviews and this time want to mix it up a bit with the album Relaxin' With The Miles Davis Quintet (XRCD K2) and the track You're My Everything. Throughout the track, there's a clarity and purity to Miles' trumpet, yet it's still harsh (as his trumpet should be). Coltrane's tenor sax comes in very smooth, lush, and every so appealing to the ears. The contrast of harsh to smooth sounds just wonderful through the nova150. This is what it's supposed to sound like. Paul Chambers' bass is ever-present throughout the track, but just underneath the action, in the background. There is delineation in all his individual notes even though the bass isn't very forward in the mix. The nova150 appropriately gives you just enough of his bass to make you want more, as if this was a Ray Brown album. I must have listened to this track three or four times today alone, and really liked what I heard through the nova150 each time.
The nova150's ability to convey the feel and aura of a recording that may not sound the best is also very good. Blind Faith's self titled album is one of those with great music, but less than stellar sonics. My favorite track, Do What You Like, sounds really good through the nova150. The sound of Steve Winwood's keyboard has such an organic, somewhat smooth feel to it amongst a sea of gritty rock and roll. The star of this show is clearly Ginger Baker's drum solo. At high volumes, how I tend to listen to great rock music, the nova150 has great impact and at the same time reveals the essence of the drum head that's being struck. In contrast to previous versions of the Peachtree Audio nova, the nova150 has much more impact or ability to reproduce the transients with punch, whereas the other novas may have had a much more, almost too much of a sound people may consider "analog." When comparing the sound of old versus new novas, I can only describe previous models as less clean, clear, and detailed in what, again, may be considered more analog by some listeners. Maybe it's the much better signal to noise ratio and the lack of a vacuum tube circuit that pushes the nova150 so much further in my direction of what appears to be accurate reproduction.
Switching from gritty rock and roll to pop, I listened to Elton John's Candle In The Wind (acoustic at 24 bit / 96 kHz) through the nova150. The hallmark of this recording is Elton's amazing glossy vocal. Systems that aren't very transparent will dull this vocal into an unemotional drone. The nova150 reproduced it as glossy as it should be and at times a skosh bright, as it is on the recording. Accompanying Elton's vocal is a very natural and clean sounding acoustic guitar. Through the nova150 this guitar has an in-the-room sound that amplifiers at this price rarely, if ever, have. Despite what you may hear folks, not all amps are created equal and not all amps sound the same.
I've been listening to quite a bit of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks lately and this hasn't subsided with the arrival of the nova150. Although not my favorite song on the album, the vibraphone and guitar juxtaposition on The Way You Lovers Do is a treat for the ears. The nova150 does a great job of reproducing each instrument in its own space, naturally, followed by an aural mess of musical notes and screaming vocals to finish the track. The title track, Astral Weeks, is my favorite. Listening through the nova150, this track still brings out as much emotion in me as it does through much more expensive gear. The little flute in the background floating around Van's stressed vocal sounds quite exceptional. Continuing to listen to this track and hearing all the details in the acoustic guitar and bass, I must remind myself that this is a $1,599 component that contains a DAC, amp, and preamp. The nova150 is truly capable of excellent sound reproduction at a price both a novice and an enthusiast can enjoy.
An amp at this price certainly can't do everything as well as amps such as my Constellation Audio monoblocks combined with my Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS2. The two areas where the nova150 falls a touch short of much higher priced options are 1) transparency and air around the recording space, and 2) ultimate punch and control over the loudspeaker. When listening to Jack Johnson's song Inaudible Melodies, from the 2011 remaster of his debut album Brushfire Fairytales, there is a distinct lack of air around the drums compared to my reference system. Listening to Marcus Miller's Silver Rain album through the nova150 gives the amp a chance to really show how much power it offers when reproducing fast and deep electric bass. Overall the nova150 has very good power and can power through track like Intro Duction just fine. However, when paired with speakers like my TAD CR1s at 86 dB efficient, the nova150 could use a bit more gas. I'm willing to bet 99% of people would be very happy using the nova150 in combination with these speakers and demanding, bass heavy tracks, but those of you who are equally as demanding, you know who you are, may want to bump up to the nova300 or nova500. The bottom line is this, if one doesn't expect some less than perfect aspects of a $1,599 integrated amp, then he will be searching for perfection for ever. It doesn't exist.
The new Peachtree Audio nova150 integrated amplifier is a wonderful example of what better engineering and manufacturing can do for sound quality. These improvements can be objectively measured and subjectively enjoyed by anyone. Whether one is using the standard asynchronous USB input that supports DSD128/PCM384, or the iOS USB input with its Dy-NEC isolation, the quality of the output is nearly identical. Peachtree has packed a number of great features into the nova150, that place it on a pedestal for the competition to attempt to dethrone. World class engineers, made in North America, reference grade DAC chip, unity gain: direct amp in, Dy-NEC, 111dB S/N, home theater bypass, true analog phono stage, dedicated headphone amplifier, and an absolutely gorgeous cabinet for $1,599. The nova150 embodies the new Peachtree Audio 2.0 ethos with unmatched features and sound quality at an exceptional price. For those of you who thought previous Peachtree components were great, and for those of you interested in dipping your toe into the Peachtree waters, you must listen to the nova150 and the sound of Peachtree Audio 2.0.
P.S. I'm told the 300 watt per channel nova300 will be released any day now for those who need a little more power.
- Product - Peachtree Audio nova150 ($1,599)
- Product Page - Link
- Where To Buy - Dealers Locator
- User Manual - PDF
- USB Driver - Link
Where To Buy (CA Supporter):
- Source: Apple iPhone, Sonore microRendu
- DAC: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 2, Mytek Digital Brooklyn
- D-to-D Converter: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: TAD Labs CR1 Compact Reference
- Remote Control Software: JRemote, Roon Remote
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Air 2
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver Media Center
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): Synology DS1812+, CAPS v4 Cortes Server
- Audio Cables: Wire World Platinum Eclipse 7 Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Wire World Platinum Eclipse 7 Speaker Cables, Wire World Platinum Starlight 7 Digital Cables,
- USB Cables: Wire World Platinum Starlight 7 USB 2.0, AudioQuest Diamond USB 2.0, Nordost Purple Flare USB 2.0
- Power Cables: ALO Audio AC6 Power Cables
- Ethernet Cables: AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet Cables throughout system
- Network: Cisco SG200-26 Switch, Baaske MI-1005 Ethernet Isolator, Apple AirPort Extreme, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, ZyXEL C1100Z modem / router, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
- Product - Peachtree Audio nova150 ($1,599)