Some years ago, Peachtree Audio recognized that a seismic shift in the high-end audio universe was at hand—a shift wherein PCs would step outside of their traditional roles as office tools to become full-fledged digital-audio source components. Thus, long before others began to pursue the idea, Peachtree was hard at work developing integrated amplifiers fitted with easy-to-use, built-in, high-performance DACs. In retrospect, the concept not only seems brilliant, but downright prescient. Peachtree also understood that with the rise of interest in computer audio there would come a golden opportunity for high-end manufacturers to reach out to young music lovers who might never otherwise have considered owning high-performance audio systems of any kind. As a result, Peachtree has always sought to build components clever enough, hip enough, and accessible enough to appeal to young, computer-centric music lovers, but that also offered credible high-end features that appeal to veteran audiophiles. This requires, of course, finding a balance between simplicity and sophistication and between price and performance—a point of balance many Peachtree components have struck in a successful way.
If there is any drawback, I think it may involve the fact that some Peachtree components may suffer from a perception problem: Are they mid-fi (albeit very good mid-fi), or are they the gateway to the serious high end, or perhaps both? What causes these questions to be raised is that earlier-generation Peachtree amp/DACs traditionally have had front-end sections (typically comprising a preamp, DAC, tube buffer stage, and headphone amplifier) that offered considerably stronger and more sonically sophisticated performance than their associated power amplifier sections did. In fairness, the power amplifier sections of those earlier generation Peachtree amps could perform pretty well when matched with relatively easy-to-drive loudspeakers, but they offered limited current drive and power output capabilities and thus were not suitable for driving some of today’s best, but also most demanding, value-priced speakers (e.g., Magnepan’s excellent but power-hungry model 1.7s). Faced with this dilemma, Peachtree Audio founders Jim Spainhour and David Solomon did what high-enders have always done: They upgraded, and in a big way.
Accordingly, Peachtree has revised its entry-level integrated amps by improving their already very good front-end sections and then by equipping their new models with powerful, high-current Class D power amplifier sections. Consider, as an example, Peachtree’s new Nova125 amp/DAC ($1499), the subject of this review. The old Nova put out 80Wpc into decidedly benign 6-ohm loads. By comparison, the new Nova125 belts out a generous 125Wpc at 8 ohms and an even more impressive 220Wpc into 4-ohm loads. Moreover, Peachtree claims the Nova125’s “high-current output stages can comfortably drive any speaker load from 2 ohms” (something that could never have been said of the earlier Nova).
Then, where the original Nova provided a 24/96-capable DAC with an adaptive USB input and four SPDIF inputs, the Nova125’s onboard ESS Sabre 9023 upsampling DAC offers 24/192 resolution (except for the optical input, which is limited to 24/96), with an asynchronous USB input and three SPDIF inputs (two coaxial and one optical). Peachtree points out that the ESS 9023 DAC uses “a patented process called Hyperstream,” which “buffers the incoming digital bitstream and reclocks it from thousands of picoseconds of jitter to less than 3 picoseconds.” Expanding on this theme, the firm says the new 24/192-capable asynchronous USB input, “keeps digital jitter at bay by not relying on the audio clock in the computer, which can get thrown off by the thousands of processes running in your operating system’s background.” Finally, the Nova125’s DAC section is backed by a decidedly performance-minded new Windows device driver, which is provided on an included CD ROM. In addition to its many digital inputs the Nova125 also provides one analog input to support any legacy analog components the owner may wish to connect.
Astute Peachtree observers will notice that the old Nova did have a somewhat more generous mix of inputs than the Nova125 does (the old Nova offering five digital and three analog vs. four digital and one analog for the new model). But, given that the new DAC supports higher-resolution formats and asynchronous USB backed by more sophisticated device driver software, there is every reason to think that the sonic performance of the Nova125 should be significantly higher than that of the old Nova.
To give users a measure of control over amplifier voicing, the Nova125 can be run purely in solid-state mode, or, when desired, with a triode 6N1P tube buffer section engaged (the tube buffer can be switched on directly from the Nova125’s remote control). The tube buffer also provides a Class A tube-powered output for the Nova125’s headphone amplifier. According to the manufacturer, the Nova125 power amplifier section uses “the newest generation of Class D technology” with benefits said to include “extended bandwidth, improved dynamic range, and exceptionally low distortion,” plus the aforementioned ability to handle low impedance loads. The bottom line is that, apart from a modest reduction in the net number of inputs supported, the new Nova125 appears to be better than its predecessor in every way, but costs only about $300 more. All of this, of course, sounds good on paper and in theory, but how does the Nova125 sound in real life?