Nova150 Integrated Amplifier Review
High-end brand delivers best-in-class value for speaker successor
THE HIGH NOTES
- New digital Amp Design
- Super Quiet Preamp
- DyNEC iOS input
Company & Product Overview
It was a little less than 10 years ago when David Solomon and Jim Spainhour came by Audio Advice with a little integrated amp they wanted us to listen to. It was the first Peachtree product called the Decco. The Decco was a small integrated amp that sounded like it should cost 5 times what it did. It also was one of the first integrated amps ever with a DAC built in to usher in the computer audio revolution. We heard it and were super impressed at how good it sounded for so little money. Audio Advice became a Peachtree Audio dealer on the spot.
Soon, they introduced a line of small speakers designed by one of our favorite speaker designers, Michael Kelly of Aerial Acoustics. Peachtree was one of the pioneers in the computer audio realm, going around to audio shows all over the world before the computer as a source really took off. The entire Peachtree Audio line became a huge success at Audio Advice. However, as happens in real life, not everything has a silver lining. Unbeknownst to Peachtree, their overseas manufacturer was cutting costs that would show up later as product failures.
We were just elated when David came by this spring with a new integrated amp, the Peachtree Nova150. Not only was it designed in North America, like all Peachtree products, but this time it was also built in North America to strict quality control standards.
We could not wait to hear it and quickly had it connected up to a pair of Vandersteen Treos. It felt just like 2007 again when we first heard the original Decco. The sound was rich, warm and three-dimensional, but best of all, it was driving the heck out of the Vandersteens. Not an easy task for a $1,799 integrated amp.
David explained to us they wanted to come up with a reasonably priced integrated amp so people did not have to compromise on their speaker purchase because they did not have enough power to drive the speakers they really wanted.
Most audiophiles will tell you the speakers are probably the most important link in the chain but the better ones can be power hungry. Having a $1,800 integrated that can drive the big dogs in the speaker world with no strain is really pretty cool!
Design & Build Quality
With the Peachtree Nova150 integrated amp, you get a long list of features to complement its great sound. First, the Nova150 is rated at 150 watts per channel, using a new digital amp to pack a high amount of power into a relatively small box. Peachtree also set out to make this the quietest integrated amp on the market. It has a signal-to-noise ratio of an astounding 111dB. This means that if you turn the amp all the way up with no incoming source and put your ear near the speaker, you barely hear anything — incredibly rare in the high-performance audio world.
Many digital-based amps we have heard grated on our ears pretty quickly with a harsh sound that makes you want to turn things down, rather than crank them up. The Peachtree Nova150 is just the opposite. It is warm and musical with no sense of that sharp digital edge we hear in a lot of digital amps.
Peachtree built their audio history on having great sounding DAC’s. The DAC inside the new Nova150 is their best effort yet. They are using the ES9018K2M SABRE32 Reference DAC. That is a mouthful, but this DAC is regarded as one of the best on the market, supporting files up to 32bit 384k in the PCM world and 5.2Mhz DSD files. Suffice it to say, it can decode anything you throw at it. Without great supporting electronics around the DAC you lose all of its benefits.
We love the fact that the new Peachtree integrated amps are all fully designed and made in North America. Everything is built in an ISO 9001 certified facility in Canada, then fully tested. The units are then shipped to Peachtree’s offices in Bellevue, WA where they install the wood case and test each and every unit again. This makes the $1,799 price even more of a bargain and assures us it will give you many years of trouble-free listening pleasure.
The Nova150 integrated amp is designed to fit into just about any system. The ways you can get audio to it actually rival just about anything out there.
First, there is a dedicated iOS input specifically designed to go USB in from the lightning connection on your iPhone or iPad. Peachtree designed this circuit called DyNEC to minimize noise that is always generated by portable devices. The DAC in your iOS device is totally bypassed, giving you a great way to play files on your device or stream any music service into the Nova150. The supplied metal faced remote even gives you transport control!
Jumping in the opposite direction, the Nova150 also includes a Moving Magnet phono input. It will work well with a wide variety of MM cartridges. But wait, what if you have a separate Moving Coil phono stage? Well, with the push of a button, the MM input changes to a line level input so you can plug your phono stage in right there. Pretty slick!
For your digital sources, you get 2 optical and one coax. For computer audio direct you have a USB input that will also bypass the DAC in your computer and use the great DAC in the Nova150.
The home theater bypass is another great feature. Many people have their dedicated stereo system with their main speakers wired direct to the stereo amp. However, not everyone has the luxury of another room for home theater, so in many cases it’s a struggle to integrate a home theater system with a dedicated stereo setup. This is not a problem with the Nova’s home theater bypass. You simply connect the front preamp outs from your home theater receiver or processor into the HTB inputs on the Nova and it goes to unity gain when you select this input, allowing your home theater remote to control volume, yet the audio path for your main stereo system remains pure. If you do not need a HTB, this can become another AUX analog audio input.
Need even more power? Well the Nova150 has preamp out so you can use it just as a preamp. Finally, if you have one of the emerging digital room correction boxes starting to show up on the market or if you have speakers like some of the higher end Vandersteens that require a separate crossover, there is a loop in/out.
There is even a rear IR input port for a remote control system and a 12v trigger, should you wish to trigger a separate power amp to turn on when you fire up the Nova150.
I think we can safely say, the Nova150 has about the best input/output feature set we have ever seen!
Testing, Testing … 1, 2, 3
For testing we decided to use some tracks that would reveal any digital glare from the digital amp in the Nova150. We used a pair of fairly hard-to-drive Aerial 6T speakers with a CD player and fed its coax digital out into the Nova so that we could use its DAC.
The first cut is one that will really show problems if there is any harshness in the system. It’s “Tecumseh Valley,” from the Nanci Griffith’s album, Other Voices. She was dead center between the speakers with a very natural sound to her voice. A challenging part of this track is the harmony vocals done by John Prine. On some systems you can barely tell who he is on the first few refrains, but he was totally separated on this set up.
Next we tried “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning,” from the Cowboy Junkies album, The Caution Horses. This is another cut where any digital edge would be apparent, but we found none. Better yet, this is a track that’s very rhythmic and had us tapping our feet to the music in no time.
Finally we pulled out an oldie but goodie from 1978, the year Audio Advice started, Al Jarreau’s “All Fly Home,” the I Do cut. About 2 minutes into the track, the music crescendos and can be a challenge for many amps to handle the power requirements. We turned the Nova up very loud to challenge it and it did a great job for it’s modest price on this cut. Was it as good as some of our better $5,000 amps, no, but for the money it handled this challenge well.
If you are looking to get into computer audio or start out with a key component that you can use to grow your audio system, the Peachtree Audio Nova150 integrated amplifier should be highly considered. With it’ input and output flexibility, it can grow with you over time as you improve your listening experiences. For those of you looking at higher performing speakers, it will drive most of them really well, leaving you some extra bucks to upgrade to a bigger speaker model!
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
New Digital Amp Design
Peachtree has packed 150 watts per channel into the Nova 150, allowing it to easily drive very high end speakers. They were able to do this by using a digital amp, but not any off the shelf digital amp design. Most digital amps sound harsh and grate on your ears. Not so with the Nova 150, it sounds warm and musical.
Super Quiet Preamp
Noise can mask the fine details in music. Peachtree set out to build one of the quietest preamps on the planet, with an astounding 111db Signal to Noise ratio. You hear nothing but the music with the super quiet preamp stage.
DyNEC iOS Input
Let’s face it, there is a wealth of music you can stream from an iOS device, but how do you make it sound great? Enter the DyNEC iOS input. This dynamic noise elimination circuit gets rid of all the noise coming from the cheap audio section of your iOS and completely bypasses the internal DAC’s, opting instead for the great DAC in the Nova 150. You even have transport control of your iOS device with the Peachtree remote!