Peachtree Audio Nova125 Integrated Amp/DAC/ Headphone Amp

Power and Refinement to Spare

Equipment report
Integrated amplifiers
Peachtree Audio Nova 125
Peachtree Audio Nova125 Integrated Amp/DAC/ Headphone Amp

Well, let me come right out and say it: Peachtree’s Nova125 sounds terrific. Taking nothing away from the original Nova (and iNova) designs, I would say this new amp sounds like it belongs in an entirely different and better class of equipment than the original Novas did. The original Nova had a warm, friendly, inviting sound, but a sound that in truth did not provide the last word in resolution, definition, or focus. What is more, the original Nova’s dynamic capabilities were highly load dependent. By comparison, the Nova125 sounds as if someone has turned its resolution, definition, and focus “knobs” up to 12, yet without in any way causing the amp to sound sterile, mechanical, or edgy. More importantly, the Nova125 sounds powerful (and is powerful) in a way no previous generation Peachtree Nova Series amp has ever been. In short, this thing flat-out rocks, yet in a quite sophisticated way.

Some will surely ask, “Yeah, but can it actually drive truly demanding speakers?” To settle the question once and for all, I connected the Nova125 to my undeniably power-hungry Magnepan 1.7s, put on a dynamically challenging track, and let things fly. And man, did they ever fly. The track I am speaking of is the exuberant and boisterous all-percussion cut “Stank” from Jamey Haddad’s Explorations in Space and Time [Chesky]. “Stank” features some low percussion drum thwacks that are likely to loosen your molars, plus a plethora of (somewhat) more delicate higher percussion voices that supply piquant commentary and textures, with the proceedings as a whole captured in a wonderfully reverberant, natural acoustic space. In short, it’s the sort of track where there is a lot going on at once, serving up everything from bombastic, brute-force dynamics to multiple layers of delicate textural and transient detail. There is, quite simply, no place for amplifiers (or transducers) to hide.

Happily, the Nova125 has no need or desire to hide from any types of music or loudspeakers, because on “Stank” it rolled up its figurative sleeves and pushed my Magnepans with serious authority and a welcome dash of brio. The big drums on the track crackled and thundered as they should, while the higher-pitched drums exhibited excellent transient “snap” and beautiful variegated skin sounds that conveyed an impression of real players deftly varying the intensity of their touch and attack from note to note. Through all of this, the Peachtree did not whimper, whine, or wilt; instead, it just cranked out the song’s ultra-funky groove for all it was worth. In my view, this is something the old Nova could never have done—at least not with Maggie 1.7s. With the Nova125, then, Peachtree has cooked up a sensibly priced amplifier that possesses, in roughly equal measure, both serious dynamic muscle and a generous measure of finesse.

To explore the finesse dimension more fully, though, I decided to put on one of my favorite orchestral recordings: namely, the Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony performance of the Henry Brant-orchestrated version of Charles Ives’ A Concord Symphony (SRS Media). In particular, I focused on the third movement of the symphony, entitled “The Alcotts” (each of the symphony’s movements is named for an important figure or figures in the American Transcendentalist movement). What I’ve found appealing about this live recording (captured in Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco) is the way it provides rich but believable amounts of orchestral detail, while also placing the orchestra within the context of a naturally resonant, three-dimensional performance space (or at least that is what should happen with good electronics driving a music system).

Happily, the Nova125 did not disappoint. It did a lovely job with the voices of the various orchestral sections at hand, offering a particularly fine rendition of the winds and brass. Indeed, the brass theme introduced about three minutes into the movement sounded heart-meltingly beautiful, conveying that elusive mix of transient bite and blooming burnished “glow” so characteristic of brass at its best. Throughout the movement, the Nova125 also revealed enough low-level detail to remind me that the recording was captured live, yet without pressing details forward so insistently as to make a nuisance of itself. While the Nova125 can and does sound very focused—much more so than the original Nova did—there is also about this amp/DAC combo an over-arching quality of “just-rightness” that reminds me of the old adage regarding the importance of enjoying all good things in balance and moderation.

How did the Nova125 fare as a DAC? To find out, I used an Oppo BDP-105 as digital transport to test the SPDIF inputs and a Windows PC loaded with 100% uncompressed digital audio files to try out the asynchronous USB input. As a comparison standard, I used my reference Rega Isis CD player/DAC. What I discovered was that the Nova125’s DAC and SPDIF inputs sounded, again, more detailed and focused than the DAC section of the original Nova did. However, I felt that the DAC section’s best performance was realized through the asynchronous USB input, which was even more refined, tightly focused, and generally more spacious and three-dimensional than the SPDIF inputs. While the Nova125 could not match the even higher levels of resolution and all-round refinement of my Rega Isis, I felt it acquitted itself admirably given the huge price differential between the two components.