Last year I compared the Wyred4Sound mINT with the Peachtree Nova 125 when playing into Magnepan MMG. Both mINT and Nova 125 came in at around US$1500. They both practiced the art of convergence: keeping DAC, (basic) headphone output and integrated amplifier under one roof. They both had the juice and Class D drive for the Maggies’ 4 Ohm load. The Wyred4Sound added HT bypass whilst the Peachtree offered a tube buffer stage for softening less than ideal source material. Each box represented entry-level hi-fi at its simplest and most compelling.
However, it took a photo finish to separate them on sound smarts alone: the mINT’s additional layer of marmalade zing edged out the Nova’s more plainly buttered-toast. This left potential buyers with a conundrum. Looks or brains?
In early 2014, snatches of conversation with Peachtree Audio’s Jonathan Derda hinted at forthcoming updates to the Nova and Decco lines. Derda was cagey on specifics. Requests for a press release were met with assurances that one would be forthcoming…eventually. Breath was not held.
It took a sharper eye at this year’s T.H.E. Newport Beach Show to notice something was up with Derda’s always-gregarious presentation in the Peachtree room. Derda danced around a new amplifier model that had only previously seen the light of day at January’s CES – the less ovoid the 220SE. To the left, a Nova 125…SE. WTF?
Peachtree Audio were releasing SE versions of the Decco 65 and Nova 125 sans fanfare and sans press release, leaving yours truly to piece together the story from what I’d seen/heard at the show in Irvine as well as that which was detailed on the Peachtree website. You can read those discoveries here.
Apollo Hifi in Sydney’s inner-western suburb of Marrickville is densely packed; floor to ceiling with what one might refer to as ‘the goods’. We forgive the entry-way’s Bose display – a man cannot live on selling Elac and Parasound alone. An interesting aside is that Apollo sells the majority of KEF LS50 landing down under. I’d dropped by to snap a couple of pics of KEF’s Wireless X300A actives in situ but as is typical of any visit to John Chillari’s store, he wants to show me something else. Can you guess what it is? That’s right: Peachtree Audio’s Nova 125SE.
“Take it home, have a listen”, he says. I explain the back-story – about how the original Nova was what got me into the review game. About how much I adored the iNova, in spite of its lack of ability to drive more punishing standmounts. About how Peachtree had gone Class D and down-shifted the internal DAC chip from ESS Sabre 9018 to the more cost-effective ESS Sabre 9023. About how the Wyred4Sound mINT pipped the Nova 125 to the post with Magnepan MMG!
Undeterred and curious and with Magnepan MMG once again running at DAR HQ, I poured the Nova 125SE into my car on the condition that if it didn’t offer audible improvement over its forerunner then my Nova story wouldn’t see advancement. In reading these words you’ll have correctly surmised that something is different about the SE.
Aside from the odd external DAC and USB-converter, Peachtree Audio’s main game has been digital audio convergence: sleeving DAC and amplifier inside a gorgeous wooden chassis – just add loudspeakers. End-user consideration of digital and analogue interconnects is consigned to the trash.
The piano gloss black unit sells for US$1499. My review loaner is the cherry wood finish, which, like the rosewood, attracts a US$100 premium.
If you weren’t paying strict attention you could easily mistake the Nova 125 SE for the original Nova; its rounded corners and blue-glowing source selector lights reminds us that the Peachtree’s industrial design isn’t broke and certainly doesn’t need fixing. If there’s better looking entry-level hi-fi out there then I’ve not seen it. Look through the window at the tube (buffer)– not only does it make those lower-bitrate MP3s sound a little smoother but it also glows blue when engaged via the rubberized-plastic remote. As alluded to in my review of the iDecco, Peachtree gear oozes retro-futurism.
Looking at the digital inputs on the rear you know that Derda and co. have their heads screwed on. A single XMOS-based USB input and a single coaxial input, both of which accept PCM up to 24bit/192kHz. Your average entry-leveller probably won’t give a monkeys about DSD but if that itch needs to be scratched then (something like) a Schiit Audio Loki can always been fed into the Nova 125SE’s single analogue input (which also keeps vinyl revivalists connected).
However, the most obvious indicator that Peachtree understands its target market is the presence of TWO optical inputs. Toslink is the more broadly adopted digital audio standard in the world of consumer electronics. Think about it: Apple TV, Airport Express, Xbox, PlayStation and pretty much every new TV rolling off its production line packs an optical output. That the PS Audio Sprout that doesn’t feature any has me wondering how many more they could have sold via their crowd-funding campaign.
The newer Novas aren’t for those who consider the switching frequencies of current Class D implementations to be insufficient. Such idealists should steer clear and spend thrice on bigger, badder Class A/B designs. The Nova 125SE is far better suited to the pragmatic hunt for more serious output power that doesn’t come with a ball-breaking price tag. One thing gained by the Nova and Decco product lines’ switch to ICEPower modules is a significant uptick in output power. You won’t be driving no Magnepan MMG with the original Nova or iNova. No, Siree. As such, the Nova 125 SE is a pragmatist’s choice . Like its predecessor, the Nova 125 SE drives 125wpc into 8 Ohms and 200wpc into 4 Ohms. And that translates to flexibility for our entry-level audiophile should he choose to switch up loudspeakers. I’ve achieved satisfaction at both ends of the loudspeaker spectrum: with the aforementioned Magnepans and the high efficiency Zu Soul MKII. The Peachtree’s smooth, effortless dispensation of power ensures the latter’s nano-tech’d paper drivers don’t lean towards autumnal dryness.
However, the previous Nova 125’s über-smoothness had a tendency to burnish away textural information and keep micro-dynamic gestures on a tight leash.
As well as enjoying some trickle-down-tech from the Grand Integrated, the Nova125SE circuit shortens signal paths to “lower noise and improve transients”. Details on DAC chip have been eliminated from the Nova 125SE’s spec sheet but I’m assuming it’s still an ESS Sabre 9023. Peachtree’s website promotional copy state that it’s the chip’s power supply that has been upgraded “with new low-ESR capacitors”.
It was via the considerably more resolving and transparent Zu loudspeaker pairing that I could confirm initial thoughts drawn by the hands of the MMG: the SE iteration delivers more up top. Flair and delicacy have been afforded more breathing room. Reverberation no longer sounded stunted. Transient attack not quite so blunted.
There may well exist amplifier and DAC combinations that’ll best the Nova 125SE on tonality or separation but to extend one’s qualitative desires in any one narrower direction may well solicit the C-bomb: compromise. Red Wine Audio’s Signature 16 + Resonessence Labs Herus is a pairing that springs to mind. Heavy on tone but light on with go juice. Unless aural satisfaction comes from far lower SPLs, you won’t be hooking Rossi’s battery-powered amplifier into the Magnepan MMG any time soon.
If mixing and matching components – as well as choosing interconnects – is more your speed then go for it. This amplifier is for those who want to get it all done in one tidy hit.
Which brings us to possible upgrades. Going off board with a superior external DAC is eminently do-able but does that not spoil the joy of convergence? I’d heartily recommend a USB-S/PDIF converter if feeding the Nova 125SE for your computer. Peachtree’s inclusion of a USB power output on the rear means that, with the right USB cable, you can sever ties with your PC’s noisy power supply and slipstream in 5V from the Nova 125SE. Bravo boys!
If Apple TV is your transport of choice then I heartily recommend the Wyred4Sound Remedy (reviewed here). Like the Resonessence Labs Concero (reviewed here), deployment solicits a significant improvement in avidity. Both can be tucked out of sight so as not to spoil the Nova 125SE’s illusion of indivisibility.
Want to extract yet more performance? Invest in a decent power cord. The LessLoss DFPC Original (reviewed here) did only good things during my week of experimentation. Again, the enchilada remained whole.
The headphone output is still Peachtree’s weakest branch. As is true of many integrated amplifiers at this price point, the headphone output is included as a mark of convenience, a ‘nice to have’ extra. On ultimate drive and Audeze LCD-X satisfaction it won’t compete with a dedicated headphone amplifier. The Nova 125 SE’s quarter inch socket can play host to the likes of the KEF M500 (reviewed here) and Sennheiser Momentum but I noted struggle and strain when moving over to MrSpeakers’ Mad Dogs (reviewed here).
Know that this summary judgment comes on the back of only a week’s listening and without the comparative data points of original Nova 125 and Wyred4Sound mINT. It is from audio memory that I’ve been working.
I’m confident that whatever Peachtree have done to the internals of the Nova 125 to bring it to SE status they’ve exacted only good things. The resulting uptick in pep and textural information sees it close the gap on the mINT, transforming the entry-leveller’s decision to one of feature set, footprint and aesthetics.
With looks set to stun the Nova 125 SE will likely enjoy solid sales numbers irrespective of how it compares to the competition. Looks are what draws more aesthetically minded folk nearer, making the deal that much easier to close. I’m here to tell you that this latest version makes right my previous niggles such that a recommendation to audition from an obsessive-compulsive audiophile perspective now comes without reservation.
- Apple Airport Express
- Apple TV
- Resonessence Labs Concero
- Wyred4Sound Remedy
- Magnepan MMG
- Zu Soul MKII
- Brian Eno & Karl Hyde – High Life (2014)
- Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (2012)
- Black Dog Productions – Bytes (1993)
- Aphex Twin – Drukqs (2001)
Thanks go to Apollo Hi-fi (Sydney) for the unexpected, unsolicited review loaner.