Peachtree nova220SE Integrated Amplifier

The idea of an integrated amplifier has always appealed to me. Combining the amplifier and preamplifier sections in a properly isolated design makes economic sense—just sit back and enjoy the music without the bleed-through of a tuner.

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing Peachtree’s nova125 integrated and, while I enjoyed both its form and function, I wondered what impact nearly doubling its power would have on the notoriously power-hungry Magnepan 1.6 speakers. Well, I now know—and it’s been worth the wait. The nova220SE possesses tremendous grip, never letting the Magnepans beat it into submission.

Delving into orchestral music with Beethoven’s 9th by the North German Radio Symphony conducted by Günter Wand, I experience the symphony’s beautiful, complex inner movements and quick pace changes, which prove a great test for the nova. Where lesser-quality amplifiers struggle to keep instrument separation, the nova performs exceedingly well. Even under the intensity of the Magnepan’s 2-ohm load drops and volume levels crossing 100 dB, the amp stays in control. It revels in being driven hard; this isn’t an integrated for those who enjoy listening to music at whisper levels.

Nuts and Bolts

The nova continues Peachtree’s distinctive and curvaceous design. The various stained-wood cases have been replaced by black lacquer, and the front panel is brushed aluminum, with a similar gray color to that of Kyocera equipment from the 1980s.

The nova’s front panel is clean, though I do wish the selector buttons were identified with a slightly larger font, as the contrast on the panel is minimal. The power button is located in the lower left, with the five source buttons—USB, coax, opt 1, opt 2, and analog—encircled by blue LEDs. Following the Peachtree tradition, a blue LED-lit oval window displays the nova’s Russian-made 6N1P tube. A large, smoothly rotating volume knob completes the front panel. The back panel is nearly as clean: wired remote and source inputs, jacks for pre-out and RCA, right and left speaker binding posts, power cord receptacle, and master power switch. The amp is 14.8 inches wide, 5.2 inches tall, and 11.5 inches deep, and it weighs just over 19 pounds.

The matching anodized-aluminum front remote is also straightforward, with two groupings of buttons; the upper for controlling volume and tube buffer and selecting the USB input, and the lower for selecting the other four inputs.

As I go through my various test tracks, the toms on the drum kit really stand out. The nova makes the various hits pop with intensity. Whether reproducing the attacks of the Who’s wild man Keith Moon or the magic of Buddy Rich, the exact placement of the drumsticks on the toms is distinct and easily discernable. Chalk that up to the class-A preamp section and the 220/350 watts per channel (into 8 and 4 ohms, respectively) of the class-D power section. The clarity between the left and right hits on Dan Fogelberg’s “Higher Ground” has me replaying the track several times over.

Until recently, praising class-D power amplifiers came with a warning that proper speaker matching is crucial. Just like Peachtree’s nova125, the nova220SE needs no such disclaimer. With speakers from Harbeth, Totem, ACI, Golden Ear, and Magnepan, this integrated amplifier shows no weaknesses—though the combination with the Golden Ear Triton Sevens is a particularly good match, both sonically and financially. Just one listen to “Still… You Turn Me On” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer convinces me to keep the amp-speaker combo together for a week.

A Lot to Love

To the team at Peachtree, the word integrated means including a built-in DAC that utilizes the asynchronous ESS Sabre Hyperstream 9022 chip, USB and coax inputs that can handle resolutions ranging from 16 bits/44 kHz all the way to 24/192, and two optical inputs (which are limited to 24/92). Using my MacBook running iTunes/Pure Music and a Wadia i170 iPod dock, I’m able to test all the configurations. The DAC section is a fine performer—definitely not a gimmick. I find it bettering the Audioengine D2 DAC by pulling out greater inner detail, which is especially noticeable in the guitar and piano of William Ackerman’s “Climbing in Geometry.” On the same song through my reference Simaudio 300D DAC, the edges of the highest frequencies come out a hair shriller than through the nova, and the acoustic guitar is a bit drier—but overall the nova puts forth an impressive effort.

Since my wife works from home, I spend a great deal of time using the nova’s headphone output, which offers 1,170 mW into 32 ohms and really brings a pair of Sennheiser HD800s to life. Bonnie Raitt’s mellow masterpiece “Nick of Time” holds the same acoustic properties as when running through speakers, signaling that the headphone section wasn’t an afterthought but a well-thought-out part of the nova220SE. For those readers who wonder if the headphone output gets the tube buffer treatment, the answer is yes and it offers the same tubey goodness as the amplifier does.

When listening to the nova through speakers, I keep the tube buffer engaged for the most part, as I’m a fan of the harmonic pleasure that vacuum tubes provide. But at times it’s hard to tell when the 6N1P tube is in the auditory loop, which I attribute to the superb class-A preamplifier section. Consider the tube buffer as a tone control for the 21st century.

When nothing but heavy metal will suffice, the nova, like a Detroit muscle car, is ready to go balls to the walls at anytime. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” from Led Zeppelin’s BBC Sessions alternates between stoplight blues and accelerating guitar riffs. The sheer grunt to put the listener back in his or her seat is the nova220SE’s specialty. Get comfortable and enjoy the sonic ride.

Obvious differences between the $1,999 nova220SE and my reference $8,000 Simaudio Moon i-7 integrated are subtle but prevalent. The little things are missing from the nova’s resolution. For example, the xylophone notes at the beginning of Steely Dan’s classic “Aja” don’t take on the three-dimensionality that I’m used to hearing. Steve Martin’s exceptional banjo picking through the nova occasionally sounds a bit flat when measured against the i-7. But beyond that, the nova is a very worthy competitor.

For the digital junkie, the nova’s myriad inputs enable CD playback, mass storage, and streaming from multiple sources without swapping wires—just push a button and jump from a hard drive to AirPlay or Sonos. Vinyl lovers only need to plug their favorite phono preamp into the nova’s auxiliary input to enjoy their favorite records. For those with budgetary concerns, the low energy usage of the nova’s class-D power section and its versatile preamp section, along with Peachtree’s two-year warranty, make it a wallet-friendly investment.

Final Tally

As smitten as I was with the nova125 last year, I’m totally impressed with the nova220SE. With nearly twice the power and an improved preamp design trickled down from Peachtree’s top-of-the-line X-1 integrated, it makes terrific music with every speaker combo I have on hand. Right now, if I were forced to change integrated amplifiers, the nova220SE would be my choice. The sheer value of its capabilities as an integrated amp, DAC, and headphone amplifier makes the nova220SE a no-brainer. The only thing keeping it from being perfect is its lack of a built-in phono preamp. Perhaps Peachtree will incorporate one into the next iteration.

nova220SE Integrated Amplifier

MSRP: $1,999


Amplifiers SimAudio Moon i7 integrated amplifier    Vista Audio i35 integrated tube amplifier   Virtue Audio Sensation M451 Tripath/hybrid integrated amplifier
Phonostage Simaudio Moon LP5.3
Sources Rega RP1 turntable with Ortofon Super OM40 cartridge    MacBook iTunes/PureMusic    Wadia i170 w/iPod 160 Classic
Digital Processor SimAudio Moon 300D
Speakers ACI Emerald XL    Harbeth Compact 7ES3    Golden Ear Triton Seven   Magnepan 1.6 with Skiing Ninja crossovers Totem Acoustic Rainmakers
Cables Shunyata Venom 3 power cord    AudioArt IC-3 interconnects    AudioArt SC-5 speaker cables

Peachtree Audio deepblue Bluetooth Music System

Some audio fans crave a stereo experience courtesy of multiple components. Of course, more equipment means more money. Plus, each component needs its own power cord, interconnects and shelf space. For those who seek a smaller, more portable home-audio experience—or for those who simply want a more manageable music system outside of their primary listening room—a single-box wireless audio product, like the Peachtree deepblue, is a great solution.

The elliptical cabinet of the deepblue measures 8 inches tall, 6 inches deep, and 16 inches long, and it is slightly flared at the bottom. The unit weighs a substantial 16 pounds. This form factor makes this Peachtree portable and it can bring a lot of sound to any size room.

The deepblue’s facade comprises a black plastic case with a metallic grille, which extends the full width and height of the unit. The result is slightly cheap looking, but those who believe sound is more important than appearance will easily forget the unit’s aesthetic. The grille protects the forward-facing drivers neatly packed behind it. On each side of the unit resides a small tweeter placed above a midrange driver. These four drivers flank a centered 6.5-inch woofer. Thanks to the deepblue’s onboard amplifier, the package can put forth a hefty 200 watts.

Peachtree’s design for button controls on the deepblue is a model of simplicity. There’s a power button nestled between a volume up and a volume down button. That’s it. And that’s all you really need. The deepblue’s remote control enables a few additional and helpful adjustments. In addition to selecting standby power and volume from the remote, the user can adjust the unit’s bass output for various types of music or preference. It’s also nice to have the ability to adjust bass to compensate for placement near a wall or inside an enclosure, which sometimes result in bass “loading,” or boominess.

Connecting the Equipment

The only wires a user needs to contend with for the deepblue are the power cord and the mini-jack auxiliary stereo connector. This 3.5-mm input allows users to connect an external source manually. But for those who want to scale down to just the power cord, deepblue also accommodates Bluetooth pairing with devices like an iPad, iPhone, or a computer, as long as those devices support A2DP Bluetooth audio. The remote also enables source switching so that the listener can choose between the connected auxiliary source and the Bluetooth source from the comfort of a listening chair.

Bluetooth setup is very simple: activate Bluetooth on an external music source; press and hold the deepblue’s power button for five seconds (or just press the remote control’s “Pairing” button for two seconds); and then the unit’s light flashes slowly and initiates the coupling process. Peachtree notes that the deepblue has a maximum Bluetooth range of around 30 feet, although obstructions and walls can reduce that distance.

Those who opt for Bluetooth and commit their phone as the music source need not worry about missing a call while enveloped in the listening experience. The deepblue recognizes the call and will fade and stop the music, alerting the listener. Once the call is complete and disconnected, the unit resumes playing music. It’s a marvelous capability and it works flawlessly.

Testing Bluetooth functionality on an iPhone 4 with iOS7, I find that the process is just as easy and seamless as advertised. After holding down the “pairing” button on the remote at 15 feet away, the deepblue flashes its blue LED and “Peachtree BT” appears among the connection options on my phone. After I touch that source listing on the phone and after a brief pause, the phone connects. Selecting some music on the phone produces immediate and good quality sound from the Peachtree.

With a Bluetooth source, the paired communication enables the remote to advance or pause the song playing. So, when listening to the Police’s album Synchronicity, it’s easy to skip the song “Mother” before it has a chance to claw its way out of the speakers. When I test this functionality, the remote has some trouble interfacing with my iPhone 4’s controls, but I’m sure newer mobile devices will have less of a problem.

Diving In

Being accustomed to a large stereo reference system, I reset my expectations for the single-box deepblue. After much listening, I’m mighty impressed with what’s achievable for the $399 cost of the unit. Even in my large listening space—17 feet deep by 20 feet wide by 10.5 feet high—the deepblue puts out plenty of sound to fill the room without any perceivable strain. Whether the source is a Bluetooth-paired phone with songs ripped at 128 kbps, an iPod with lossless files or a CD player connected to the auxiliary port, the sound remains very good. The better the source material the more the Peachtree rewards the listener.

Given the deepblue’s design as a compact, single-box unit, a listener can expect inherent limits in stereo imaging and soundstage. All musical elements sound compressed together; however, considering that limitation, the deepblue offers a reasonable soundstage.

The deepblue’s portrayal of music remains generally relaxed, but it is not without punch. Throughout hours of listening to many types of music, stridency is limited. High frequencies, in some cases, sound a bit rolled off, but there’s still plenty of treble to satisfy most listeners. Vocals are nicely rendered and very present in the mix, but some vocal test tracks expose a bit of sibilance. Regardless of music type—be it classical, jazz, electronica or rock—the balance of instruments remains very well portrayed.

Even through a Bluetooth connection, the cymbals on the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk” offer a surprising amount of sparkle and decay, which appropriately jump out from the overall mix. Playing Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s debut album tests the Peachtree’s ability to handle a multitude of simultaneous instruments and vocals—and it does not disappoint. It’s still easy to pick out each instrument sonically, despite the limited soundstage separation.

Exploring the Depths

As mentioned earlier, the bass adjustment is a lot of fun to experiment with. While a small physical box has some limitations in the lowest frequencies, the Peachtree is definitely no slouch. Jean Michel Jarre’s album “Rendez-Vous” leads in with a hefty, synthesized bass roar. With the deepblue’s bass turned up, even at 15 feet away, the sound causes the sofa to vibrate slightly and unexpectedly.

On some tracks, I enjoy listening with the bass accentuated a bit, though some boominess and muddiness is occasionally the result. The overall sonic presentation is tighter with a solid, stable surface beneath the unit. For testing, I place the deepblue on a 26-inch-tall spiked speaker stand, allowing the tweeters to hover near ear-level. For home listeners, some placement experimentation is worth the time to find the balance that best serves a user’s needs and preferences.

Hidden Treasure?

The Peachtree deepblue is not a system intended for audiophiles seeking the greatest level of stereo reproduction, imaging and nuance. It is designed to be a simple, plug-and-play solution to fill any room with music. It meets its intended goals very well, and then some.

At $399, the deepblue offers very good sound for its price point. Notable benefits are authoritative bass, enough horsepower to play at substantial volumes and solid rendering of all music types. This Peachtree does all of this with great user-friendliness. Plus, a listener can place it anywhere an electrical outlet is near. For those seeking a flexible, unobtrusive and turnkey audio solution, do yourself a favor and check out the Peachtree deepblue. You might find it to be a perfect fit.

deepblue Bluetooth Music System

MSRP: $399


Digital Sources HP Desktop Computer with JRiver Media Center 19     iPod Gen 7    iPhone4 with iOS7,    Audio Research CD3 MKII    Light Harmonic DaVinci DAC
Cables Jena Labs Valkyrie and Symphony interconnects    Jena Labs Twin 15 speaker cables
Power Conditioner Running Springs Audio Haley
Power Cords Cardas Golden and RSA Mongoose
Accessories Mapleshade SAMSON racks and shelves    ASC TubeTraps    Cathedral Sound room-dampening panels

Peachtree Audio novaPre and Peachtree220

Peachtree Audio burst on the scene in 2007 with its Decco integrated amplifier with built-in DAC and onboard USB input, which was somewhat of a novelty at the time but has since become ubiquitous.  It also has another fun feature: a vacuum tube in the preamplifier section that is visible through a glass window on the front panel, which breaks up an otherwise plain-looking case and combines design elements from audio’s past and present.  The success of the reasonably priced Decco—Peachtree sells refurbished versions of the original Decco for $499—led to a broader product line and contributed highly to the viability of a new renaissance of integrated amplifiers with built-in DACs.  Here, Peachtree was clearly a trendsetter.

Peachtree’s products combine stateside engineering and design talent with overseas manufacturing efficiencies.  It has grown its initial dealer-direct model to include an extensive dealer network to help support the company’s expanding product line.  Two of the newest additions to the lineup are the $999 novaPre and the $1,399 Peachtree220 power amplifier reviewed here.  The company has also moved further upmarket with its Grand series, which thus far comprises an integrated amplifier and a preamplifier.  We’ll explore these at a future date.

A Quick Tour

The novaPre features four digital inputs and an analog input, so those wishing to incorporate an analog source are not left out in the cold.  There are two single-ended RCA outputs, both with variable peak levels so that a powered subwoofer can be used, which is particularly useful for those employing a sat/sub system.  The Peachtree220 is a powerful Class-D amplifier, with 220 watts per channel into an 8-ohm load that almost doubles to 400 watts per channel when going into a 4-ohm load.  The review samples arrived with a beautiful rosewood finish.  (They are also available in high-gloss-black and cherry-wood finishes. Cherry is standard, rosewood and black a $100 upcharge.)

Fit and finish is impressive and build quality is at the top of the chart, with perhaps the only inconvenience being that the RCA jacks are a bit close together, which limits your choice of interconnect cables to ones with svelte connectors.  My reference cables from Kimber and Transparent just made it, but some others with large plugs may not.  Setting up the Peachtree combo has a low degree of difficulty.  Eschewing the stock power cords for a pair of Shunyata Venom cords adds a cost-effective bump in sound quality.

The novaPre’s digital inputs feed an ESS Sabre DAC capable of handling 24-bit/192-kHz data.  One of the digital inputs is the ubiquitous asynchronous USB, along with S/PDIF coaxial and TosLink inputs.  The novaPre’s optical input is limited to 24-bit/96-kHz data, while those from most others handle 24-bit/192-kHz data.  In addition to the variable line-level outputs, there is a headphone jack on the front panel.  The tube in the window remains, but now a 6N1P replaces the 6922 of the original Nova, and can be included in or out of the circuit with the flip of a switch.  In this case, it acts as a buffer stage—handy when a bit of tube warmth is really needed.  The 6N1P is a very reliable tube, but does not encourage tube rolling, as there are few variations on this one.  Oddly, the novaPre only features single-ended RCA outputs, while the companion power amplifier has a pair of balanced XLR inputs.

Good First Impressions

The Peachtree gear breathes life into familiar reference tracks as well as new favorites.  Marc Johnson’s latest ECM collaborative album with pianist Elaine Elias, called Swept Away, is a perfect example.  The natural elegance of the arrangements is reminiscent of Bill Evans—full of tonal color and richness.  Piano and acoustic bass are always tough to reproduce convincingly, especially on an amp and preamp with a lower MSRP than a pair of premium interconnects.  Particularly impressive was the Peachtree combo’s ability to control the lower frequencies, rendering the full-bodied, woody texture of Johnson’s bass lines, with no overhang into the midrange.  This only improves as the gear racks up listening hours.

Staying in the ECM groove, next up is Anouar Brahem, the Tunisian master of the oud, which is a Middle-Eastern variation on the lute.  Brahem’s recordings vary in texture, with accompaniment including saxophone, accordion and flute.  The Peachtree pair exhibited an overall smoothness and pace in capturing these exotic melodies and rhythms, which became simply hypnotic the longer I listened.  When mixed in with the other exotic instruments, the oud provides a true test of resolution that the Peachtree gear easily passed.

While I was drawn to recorded acoustic music, I also wanted to give the Peachtree gear a chance to rock out.  Texas singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham just released his fourth album, Tomorrowland, which is a more straight-ahead rock effort.  His previous outings were laced with Southwestern flavors, country and blues.  Bingham lets loose on this new self-produced and self-released recording.  He is pissed off and he wants you to know it.  The politically charged lyrics are perfectly underscored by the Stones-esque hard-charging backing.  The Peachtree duo did not falter in any way, providing plenty of the necessary drive and energy.

I Believe by the great ’90s band Spain was the last disc that crystallized what the Peachtree combo is all about: nuance.  The band’s music is filled with deep emotional content, played at downbeat tempos, and finely textured.  The Peachtree gear allowed all the emotion in these beautifully layered compositions to shine through brilliantly, especially on tracks like “She Haunts My Dreams” and “Born To Love Her.”

Moving on, now using the novaPre as straight preamplifier, with a Marantz CD player connected to the Peachtree’s analog inputs, I heard much of what I heard with sources connected to the digital inputs.  I found the novaPre to be rather straight up, with bad recordings not at all flattered.  Mumford & Sons new album Babel is somewhat brittle sounding, which is exactly what comes through the novaPre.  On the other hand, U2’s classic track “Please,” from the band’s Pop album, is big and bold, with plenty of drama and a warmer overall sound that the novePre rendered with equal fairness.  Regardless of musical choice, the novaPre neither embellished nor detracted from familiar music.

This writer preferred keeping the tube in the signal path, so I kept it engaged most of the time. The difference is subtle but obvious.  Engaging the tube adds an organic ease and additional harmonic complexity to the presentation.  Of course, your preferences will vary depending on your taste and the rest of the system, but it’s nice to have the option.

Born for Each Other

Both units worked flawlessly in my system during the review period.  My only complaint is a minor one:  I wish the volume steps at the lower settings were more nuanced via the remote control.  One tap brought it from conversation level to total silence.  It would have been nice to have a wider gradation, as with the volume control on the front panel.

The integrated amplifier with onboard DAC is a category that continues to become more popular as more music lovers turn to their computer as a source component—and the novaPre is a prime example.  Mating it to the companion Peachtree220 power amp makes for easy one-stop shopping.

Additional Listening

By Jeff Dorgay

With an admitted bias against Class-D amplifiers, I was smitten with the Peachtree220 when I first heard it early this year at the Consumer Electronics Show, where the Peachtree folks were using a pair of Aerial 7T speakers to showcase their latest products.  For those unfamiliar with the Montis, this is not a particularly easy speaker to drive, as it presents relatively low impedance at high frequencies, which more often than not throws both tube and Class-D amplifiers a curve.

The Peachtree combo proved a formidable partner for the Montis, and I would have easily believed Peacthree front man David Solomon if he had he told me that these two boxes cost twice as much.  They gripped the Logans with aplomb, casting a huge soundstage combined with a smooth high end—impressive.

Before sending these two pieces to Andre for review, I made it a point to try both the 220 amp and novaPRE here with the variety of different speakers that I have at my disposal—and they passed all tests with flying colors.  Even a couple of the more difficult speakers in my arsenal (the B&W 802D and the Magnepan 1.7) were no problem, so whatever you might be using, rest assured, the Peachtree220 will be up to task.

The novaPre proved equally flexible, whether using the Sooloos music server, Mac mini or an old Denon CD player as a digital source, with everything from MP3s to the latest offerings from HDtracks.

Two words sum up this combination: value and refinement.  In a world full of five- and even six-figure components, these separates from Peachtree offer mega performance at a modest price, allowing the creation of great music system on a tight budget.  I am happy to award them both one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2012.

Peachtree novaPre and Peachtree220 power amplifier

MSRP:  $999 (novaPRE); $1,399 (Peachtree220)


Streamer Squeezebox Touch
DAC Musical Fidelity V-DAC II
CD Player Marantz CD5003
Speakers Boston Acoustics M25
Integrated Amplifier McIntosh MA6600
Cables Transparent MM2 Plus    Kimber Hero Ag    QED Genesis Silver Spiral   Shunyata Venom

Peachtree Audio nova125 Integrated Amplifier

In the world of hi-fi audio, some equipment just begs to be stared at, like gear with the big blue McIntosh power meters, or a brightly glowing 845 output tube.  Others, like classic 1970s Pioneer receivers, welcome being pushed, touched and turned.  In the case of Peachtree Audio’s nova125, this little integrated amplifier inspires anyone within arm’s reach to caress its real-wood casing.  The appeal is instantaneous.

Classic curves aside, the nova125 is a 21st-century integrated amplifier designed for the digital-audio enthusiast.  With USB, Toslink, and two coaxial inputs, the nova125 has one’s preference for music-server output covered.  Just a single analog input joins the digital quartet, leaving room for those needing a vinyl fix, with the help of an external phono preamp.  A set of RCA preamp output jacks are included if you desire to move up to separates, or want to add a powered subwoofer (or two) to your system.

My nova125 review unit arrives with a dark rosewood veneer case—cherry wood and high-gloss black are also options.  The amp measures 14.8 inches wide, 11.5 inches deep and 4.4 inches tall.  It weighs in at just under 15 pounds.  While diminutive compared to my reference Simaudio Moon i-7 integrated, the nova125 is solid in stature.  Its elegant yet understated front face, with rounded buttons outlined in blue light when engaged, accentuates its curvy look.  Even the tube window has rounded edges.  The smooth, damped action of the volume control, should you choose not to use the remote, has the feel of an amp twice the price of the nova125, which has an MSRP of $1,499.

What’s in a Name?

True to its model designate, the nova125 delivers 125 watts per channel into 8 ohms (or 220 watts into 4 ohms).  This integrated begs to be pushed to the limit, easily pressurizing my 13-foot-by-18-foot listening space through my reference Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 speakers.

The thundering bass lines on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” pulsate through the room, with the nova125 keeping the woofers well controlled—the Harbeths are speakers that need major current drive to sound their best, and the nova125 delivers.  Keeping in the Zep groove, I turn to “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” the bluesy fourth track on Led Zeppelin III.  The nova125 reproduces John Bonham’s legendary drumming with incredible finesse at the beginning of the track, while Jimmy Page’s guitar eases in slowly and later screams with authority.  The Hammond B3 shines through very convincingly and with plenty of weight.

I then challenge this little amp with a pair of Magnepan 1.6s, which are notorious for easily absorbing the output of most amplifiers, driving them into fits of clipping.  The nova125 is up to the challenge, and proves its mettle.

Next up are various orchestral works, which the nova125 reproduces honorably.  Filling the room with “Jupiter,” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, which I play at high volume, the nova125 stays with the musical score, and the soundstage never collapses—my ears give up first.  Surviving this torture test proves that the amp has a robust power supply and the ability to drive a wide range of speakers, something that, until recently, was a problem for many Class-D amplifiers.

ICE amplifiers are known for their solid bass response and drive, and the Nova 125 does not disappoint.  The deep, sinister bass beats on Kanye West’s “Hold My Liquor,” from his recently released Yeezus, rattle everything in my listening room that isn’t nailed down.  A few classic tracks from Pink Floyd prove equally compelling.  The quality of the bass response that the nova125 delivers is as impressive as the quantity, with more texture than I would normally expect from an integrated amp at this price.

The 6N1P vacuum tube that lurks behind the nova125’s front panel can be used as a buffer stage, and it can be easily switched in or out of the circuit via the supplied remote.  Offering a bit more smoothness, the tube really adds some warmth to MP3-based selections, and it is also nice to have on hand for a bit of system tuning.  This isn’t necessary with the already forgiving Harbeths (though still enjoyable for this listener), but it makes a huge difference taming the edges on budget speakers.

The critical midrange region is perhaps the only area where the nova125 can’t really escape its price point and topology; though, to be fair, this is the downfall of all ICE designs.  Mumford & Sons’ “Hopeless Wanderer,” for example, is full of powerful acoustic guitar work, and it feels a little congested coming through the nova125 in comparison to my reference Simaudio i-7 (which, to again be fair, is priced new at $6,000, making it four times the cost of the nova125).  Luckily, the Peachtree amp’s tube buffer goes a long way to mitigate this.

I borrow one of Peachtree’s original Decco integrated amps from a friend for comparison, which reveals the tremendous progress that the company has made in a just few years.  The design of the nova125 is miles ahead in every respect.

Doing Digital

Connecting an Apple MacBook via the amp’s USB input allows me to compare how the nova125’s built-in ESS Sabre 9023 DAC chip handles 16-bit/44-kHz files versus 24-bit/192-kHz files.  S/PDIF and Toslink inputs are also available, so the nova125 should accommodate whatever source you have at your disposal.  Using iTunes with the Amarra upgrade works perfectly, and you can save $100 on a copy of Amarra when you register your nova125.

Dialing back from the hard rock of Led Zeppelin, I go with the Indigo Girls, whose stunning harmonies reveal that the nova125 is a cut above other ICE amplifiers.  The buttery smooth vocals on “Watershed” illustrate the openness and lack of glare that the nova125 provides when powering the Magnepans.  It’s a perfect example of clarity without the edge.  This amplifier is a non-fatiguing delight.

Just Add Analog

A well-rounded integrated amp, the nova125 offers a single analog input, making it easy to add a turntable.  Pairing the amp with the $200 Lounge Audio phonostage we reviewed in issue 55 and the $400 Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntable (with Ortofon 2M Red cartridge) makes for a synergistic low-cost, high-performance system.  For those craving a richer analog experience, the nova125 is not out of its league paired with the Rega RP6 turntable with Exact cartridge (though this duo has a higher price tag than the nova125), easily illustrating the increased resolution that the Rega combination has to offer.  As great as the nova125’s DAC is, the recent Mobile Fidelity 45-rpm remaster of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan underscores the palpability that this amp is capable of, capturing a lot of the space and decay in Dylan’s voice, along with the texture of his harp.

For the headphone crowd, the nova125 comes with 1/4-inch jack on the front panel.  The amp’s headphone section is far from an afterthought, delivering a sonic signature through a pair of Sennheiser HD800s that stays true to that of the speaker output.  The sharp percussion hits on R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People” stay quite even, with no edgy boost to break the smoothness.  Vocals lack the last bit of resonance that a dedicated headphone amplifier provides, but as a part of a multipurpose unit, the nova125’s headphone offers worthwhile private listening when speakers aren’t a viable option.

The Final Score

Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” a phrase that suits the Peachtree nova125 perfectly.  Great sound, contemporary industrial design and incredible flexibility make this amp a tough one to beat.  We are pleased to award the Peachtree nova125 one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.

And it really appeals to this Portlandia resident that Peachtree has taken a major green initiative with its products.  The California Air Resources Board has certified the MDF used for Peachtree cabinets, its packing materials are recycled and the company’s veneers are sourced from Forest Stewardship Council–approved suppliers.  Well done, Peachtree!

Peachtree Audio nova125 Integrated Amplifier

MSRP: $1,499

Peachtree Nova

When Peachtree Audio brought out their Decco amplifier/DAC combination two years ago it was an amazing product for $800. It featured a 50wpc integrated amplifier with a tube in the input stage to add a little bit of warmth to its basic 16/44 DAC smoothing out some of the digital grunge. It featured a slot on the back for a SONOS controller and a decent headphone amp on the front panel. Anyone wanting a basic system only needed to add a digital source, some inexpensive speakers and voila! Instant HiFi. The sound quality was excellent for the price point but if you moved up on the speaker food chain, you could hear the limitations of the Decco pretty quickly.

The guys from Peachtree didn’t let the initial success go to their heads with their sophomore effort the NOVA. At first glance it looks almost identical to the Decco, but it has been improved in every way. This is a serious piece of HiFi gear, folks.

The amplifier’s power has been upped to 80 watts per channel and they kept the tube in the preamplifier, offering you the option to switch it out of the circuit, running the amplifier all solid-state. It uses a single 6922 and for the life of me I wouldn’t know why you would want to do remove it from the signal path, because it still adds a welcome touch of warmth and body. If you swap that 6922 for a vintage NOS Mullard, the NOVA takes another big step in the musicality department and one exotic tube won’t break the bank. But the switch it is a very cool convenience feature, if you just happen to blow a tube late one evening and don’t have a spare you can just push the button on the remote and you are back in business. A very nice touch.

The outer case of the NOVA is available in a gloss black, rosewood or cherry finish. Our review sample came in cherry and was very attractive. When powered up, the NOVA’s power button glows red until warmup, then becoming blue, with whatever input you’ve selected pulsing with a blue glow until the signal is playing. The buttons have a damped feel to them, but the volume control feels somewhat benign. Of course none of this will matter if you use the handy remote control, and at this price level, I’d rather see a manufacturer scrimp in the feel department to maximize the sonic capabilities and that’s exactly what has happened in the NOVA.

Very versatile, plenty of inputs

The NOVA has three sets of analog inputs, with one of them switchable as a HT pass through, a pair of RCA S/PDIF digital inputs, a pair of Toslink digital inputs and a USB input. There is a fixed level output and a variable output, which allows you to use a powered subwoofer with the NOVA or just use it as a preamplifier, feeding a different power amplifier. There is one pair of speaker outputs, with the standard Chinese plastic coated binding posts. I’m not a fan of these but on a $1,200 integrated I can certainly live with them.

The slot for a Sonos still exists and I can’t think of a better match for a Sonos system than the NOVA. This has to be the most painless way to ingrate a music server into a 2-channel system. The front panel features a standard ¼-inch headphone jack and offers first class sound. I had the opportunity to use the new Sennheiser HD 800’s and was very impressed with the NOVA’s performance on a pair of headphones worth more than the NOVA itself! For the headphone listeners in the audience, I had no problems driving my Grado GS1000’s, Sennheiser 650’s and AKG K701’s; the NOVA’s headphone amplifier is very versatile.NOVA web rear

However, the NOVA’s digital versatility was what impressed me the most. Using the budget Pioneer 563 and a Marantz Pearl K1 CD players as transports, I also had the Wadia 170i and a Mac Book Pro connected to the NOVA to give it a thorough workout.
The NOVA has taken the biggest step up from the Decco in the DAC department, now featuring the ESS 9006 chips from SabreDAC, the company that supplies McIntosh with the 9008 chips used in their MCD 500. Those expecting the performance of the Mac for $5,000 less will be disappointed, but if you are looking for a very musical DAC with an integrated amplifier thrown in, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks to the analog inputs, I spun some records as well, adding the Cambridge Audio 640P and my modded Technics SL-1200 to the mix, again proving what an excellent all around achiever the NOVA is. Thanks to this flexibility, the NOVA should be able to cover any future expansion plans you have for your system.

The Sound

I started my listening sessions with the NOVA with my recently acquired set of Spica TC-50’s because they offer incredible performance for the dollar (If you can find an unmolested pair) and possess a degree of resolution that you’d be hard to match with today’s’ budget mini monitors under $1,500 a pair.

If you’ve been around the HiFi world for a long time, you might remember when the NAD 3020 integrated amplifier hit the scene. For about 200 dollars, it was amazing in it’s ability to offer serious high quality sound for such a low priced amplifier and held its own with separates costing a lot more. Perhaps the (highly overused, these days) phrase “giant killer” came from reviewers listening to that famous little integrated. The NOVA does well to hold up this tradition.NOVA web overhead

To round out the review, I used a number of monitors from KEF, Snell, ProAc and Harbeth to investigate the amplifiers’ performance with more upscale speakers before the NOVA ended up in my living room system, paired with the ZU Essence speakers. The Zu’s are a little unfair because they have a sensitivity of almost 100db, so most anything can push them to way more than adequate levels, but they are an excellent reference because they are so detailed and offer great midrange tonality. If an amplifier is going to fall down, the Zu’s are merciless at revealing its shortcomings. Again, I was highly impressed with the combination and pairing the NOVA with the Zu’s provided incredible dynamic range. The NOVA is much cleaner sounding throughout the range than its predecessor and the extra power goes a long way to make it compatible with a much wider range of speakers.

The NOVA worked particularly well with ERA’s D5 mini monitors (also available from Signal Path International) and at $995 a pair, makes a pretty unbeatable combination. There’s no way you can get close to this level of sound quality at a mass market shop for $2,000. Watch for an upcoming review of the D5’s.

After extensive listening, all of the NOVA’s sins are those of omission. It could certainly use more refinement in the highs and control in the lows. But then it would cost $4,000. The difference between the NOVA and the higher priced gear is in the fine details. When listening to solo piano or violin recordings, the extreme highs became somewhat brittle and the level of tonal richness that you would expect with higher priced gear was absent.
Also, overall soundstage shrunk compared to the MCD 500 or the Marantz Pearl. This was expected though, as these players are $6,000 and $3,000 respectively.

When comparing the NOVA with an inexpensive transport to a number of CD players in the $800-$1,200 range, it was consistently as good or better. The minute you switch to Pearl Jam or Yello, your worries will disappear.

Well worth the pricetag

And remember, you are getting a preamplifier, headphone amplifier, power amplifier and DAC for $1,200! I dare you to come even remotely close for twice this amount of money with separate components.NOVA web remote

While the NOVA was an exceptional performer no matter which way I used it, I think the killer application is as the hub of a computer based playback system, because the NOVA’s USB implementation is excellent. I enjoyed this amplifier the most when playing uncompressed WAV files from my Mac Book Pro. With the low price G4 Mac Minis are fetching on eBay, you could build a complete music system that you could control from your iPhone for peanuts. A Squeezebox would also be an excellent choice.

Playing within its abilities, the NOVA will never cease to amaze you.

The NOVA is an outstanding value

The Peachtree NOVA offers so much performance and versatility for $1,195 that it is more than worthy of one of our Exceptional Value awards for 2009.

Whether you are an audiophile on a budget, need a great second system or are sending your kids off to college; anywhere you need high performance audio without a stack of components, the NOVA is the best suggestion I can make. I’ve never used the word best in TONEAudio’s history, but this is the best budget HiFi component I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. – Jeff Dorgay

The Peachtree Audio NOVA

MSRP: $1,295

Manufacturers Information
Signal Path International


Digital Sources Pioneer 563, Marantz Pearl K1 CD player, McIntosh MCD 500 CD player, MacBook Pro, Squeezebox, QSonix music server, Wadia 170i

Analog Source Sound HiFi Technics SL-1200, Cambridge Audio 640P, Sumiko Blackbird

Speakers Zu Audio Essence, Harbeth Monitor 40.1, ERA D5, Spica TC50

Cables Audience AU24 S/PDIF digital cable, Zu Libtec Speaker cables, ED 422 interconnects

Accessories Shunyata Hydra 2 power conditioner, Shunyata Venom power cord¬¬¬¬