Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
Another amplifier is aiming right at the balls of the established order of high-end consumer electronics. Out of the gate that last statement might seem a little crass, but by the end of this I hope to (at least partly) justify it. Peachtree Audio (website) has been looking to exploit the high-end audio market’s major weaknesses for over a decade. Many of the long heralded brands we have come to know and love have been slow to adapt to the changing marketplace, either out of fear of losing their diehard fan base, or just for lack of understanding how the markets are changing. The leading minds at Peachtree have been a guiding light for many to follow with their groundbreaking products over the years. Many of those products have bridged the gap between audiophiles and the tech savvy music lovers of a new generation. Maybe Peachtree wasn’t the first to create a tube-solid state hybrid integrated amplifier with a built-in DAC, but they definitely were the first in that group to make it popular.
Their Nova series has garnered many press awards, magazine covers and industry accolades along the way. It would seem to most that Peachtree could do no wrong. So why not hold position? To the forward thinking designers at Peachtree, the Nova series products should always be advancing, evolving, and looking better year by year. Not many companies can say they have done as much in ten years to develop some of the most cutting edge products ranging throughout a category. When Peachtree has sought out to continually reinvent its own wheels, most by comparison remain stagnate.
Quirks and Features
Every time I see a new Nova series amplifier getting released I think to myself, “This time they’ve done it.” — only to have that feeling continually repeated as time and technology change. The Nova series has been refreshed and outfitted with some class leading features that I think could steer the audiophile hobby — as a whole — into new markets where un-evolving and sometimes outright archaic design choices have left us with an industry still clamoring to hold on to its existing and aging customers.
The Nova300 at first sight redefines what we consider to be a high-end look. With high-gloss veneers or piano black wooden chassis cladding, there is nothing else like the Nova300 on the market. When put before friends and strangers (including those on the road), so many people (of all genders) commented on just how gorgeous the Nova300 looks when compared to other amplifiers and receivers in popular memory. In some aspects, the Nova300 represents an alternate timeline in aesthetics, where the wooden chassis boxes of McIntosh had stayed the norm for high-end electronics. Peachtree does well to reinterpret a vintage look for welcoming modern tastes.
As for the build, it can’t go unspoken than the new Nova series of amplifiers are made entirely in North America. The Nova300 amplifier I have on hand for review was fully built and tested in an ISO 9001 certified facility in Canada, then shipped to Peachtree’s Belleview Washington USA facility for final assembly with its wooden case, and a second round of quality testing.
The amplifier isn’t the whole story here however, as the DAC included with all Nova300s is an overbuilt ES9018K2M SABRE32 chip, decoding everything from 32bit/384kHz audio up to 5.6DSD. Gone is the tube buffer from the Peachtree amplifiers of yore, and with that also the higher distortion figures. The new Peachtree Nova300 is a highly focused and detailed piece of electronics, with remarkably low noise thanks to its unusually high power sampling rate of 440K, and final component signal to noise ratio of 111db.
The source inputs are many. Two USB, of which one is solely dedicated to intelligently sync with Apple products. From there a single digital coax, followed by two digital optical inputs. On the analog side, a processor loop, and one single set of RCAs that double as both auxiliary and home theater pass-through. A moving magnet phono-stage with ground is included, which may also double as a second RCA line level input when switched to that mode via its dedicated front fascia input selector. Furthermore, there is a WiFi input feature (that I did not use) which should excite those who take a more tech heavy approach to music listening.
Features, power, and connectivity options put the Peachtree Nova300 well out of reach for many of its competitors in and above its price point. None offer what the Nova300 does for the price. None do it as efficiently either. It’s really hard not to outright recommend the Peachtree Nova300 to everyone based on features and price alone. In conversations I’ve had about amplifiers that “do more“, or are for those looking to simplify their systems down from multiple components, I guard myself from blurting out “Peachtree Nova300!” too quickly, in advance of understanding someone’s specific needs.
On The Road
On the road, the Peachtree threw its power around with fury and measured intentions. Large spaces were of no issue for the Nova300’s power reserve. In situations where I had more than one amplifier on hand, the Nova300 often won out with listeners who felt that anything other than the Nova300 sounded under-powered and strained.
The Headphone out of the Peachtree Nova300 is a dedicated Class-A circuit that in some ways really made its headphone amplifier the other star of the show. For myself I found the headphone output more than genuinely hi-fi, and to those on road — it was a godsend.
The remote control in most electronics reviews isn’t often heralded or criticized as much as it should be. As consumers we tend to overlook bad remote design, but in Peachtree’s case, they didn’t. The Nova series remote is comfortable, legible, and tacitly intuitive. Of all the remotes I put into several people’s hands during my time on the road, the Nova300’s remote garnered all the praise.
The Sound Music
Played through the Vandersteen 2CE Sig Mkii: “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” from Wynton Marsalis’ and Eric Clapton’s live album Play The Blues: Live from Lincoln Center had all the brute muscle I hope to experience in a live performance. However none of the searing pain often associated with high volume venues was there. Entirely listenable, no fatiguing highs, and controlled. It’s this added control with the lower frequencies that seduces me into believing what I am hearing is the real thing.
Played through the Vandersteen 2CE Sig Mkii: “Ponte de Areia” is Brazilian language opening track off of Esperanza Spalding’s self titled album Esperanza. Beginning with vocals and tabla drums, the recording shines. Drums are deep, resonant, and attacking. Esperanza’s solo voice and accompanying background vocals perfectly placed within their own soundstage planes. Enter the piano and western drum kit, and here is where I was reaching for the sparkle I often associate with this remarkable album. It’s veiled in warmth. Soft focused, the top end is giving me a gist of what is missing.
Played through the Studio Electric M4: “Sweet Love” from Anita Baker’s 1986 album Rapture comes in powerful and blazing hot with detail. Piano and drums stand proud and fast of a steady bass line intro. Everything retreats into letting Anita’s voice take center stage, where the Nova300 really shines, as Anita’s voice is full of lower range detail than most singers. Don’t get me wrong, she’s no Lou Rawls, but when her vibrato hangs at its lowest register, few components render it correctly. The Nova300 and Studio Electric M4 is by far my favourite for getting this point right, along with many others. The song soon underpins these delicate vocals with high power staccato piano, drums, and bass. Usually an preamplifier or amplifier will struggle to maintain the delicate portion of the track when so much else becomes less so, the Nova300 handled this better than any amplifier I’ve had in my listening room.
Played through the Studio Electric M4: Looking to attempt murder on this amplifier I reached for the Max De Aloe Quartet’s cover of Björk’s “Come To Me”. This cover is bossa nova jazz inspired and contains one of the best harmonica tracks I’ve ever found. Obviously Max took notes from Toots Thielemans on how record a mouth organ. The dynamic range of this track in what would be the vocal area is rich with microdynamics and textures. Challenging to portray, the Nova300 impresses and then some. The Peachtree machine offers a clear and direct separation between the harmonica lead and backing rhythms, more akin to how the song should sound. More often this track homogenizes itself on anything but tube components.
Played through the Acoustic Research AR-H1: The same warm character I encountered through the speaker outputs remains for the headphone section. Remarkably low in noise with anything I through at it, I challenge it with Mulatu Astatke’s 1974 track Yèkèrmo Sèw. Horn section instrumental layer themselves over organ and guitar. Sometimes sounding more like large river of sound on lesser systems, here instruments are flowing more like in the individual streams I have rarely encountered them to be. The Nova300 does well further to tame the 10khz bump often associated with these headphones. Noticing this warmth, I broke out the Grados and recorded the same experience. Overly bright headphones are well tamed by the Nova300.
Being of a neutral to warm character, when paired with the Vandersteen 2CE, more than a few recordings left me wanting for more detail and gloss. Often I found myself creeping up the volume knob as some sort of compensation for darkness. When going back to the Studio M4’s with these same troublesome tracks, my detail issues were resolved. So in pairing, I would lean the Nova300 away from warmer and laid back speaker designs. However I wouldn’t completely rule them out. Depending on the mix and mastering of the music I played the results did vary. In times where the sonic picture was at its best it was with recordings known for their inherent detail. To be fair, the majority of my time spent listening to the Peachtree and Vandersteen combination was in fact emotionally stimulating.
VPI Player Turntable with built in phono preamp
Emotiva TA-100 (FM Tuner)
Nakamichi CR-1A Cassette Player
Emotiva TA-100 (onboard phono preamp)
Peachtree Audio Nova300 (onboard phono preamp)
Schiit Audio Modi 2 Uber
Apple iPod, iPhone
Emotiva TA-100 (onboard DAC)
Music Hall Maven (onboard DAC)
Peachtree Audio Nova300 (onboard DAC)
Cambridge Audio 540a Azur v2 Integrated
Music Hall Maven Stereo Receiver
Emotiva TA-100 Integrated
Vandersteen 2CE Signature Mk II
Studio Electric M4
Legacy Audio Studio
Monitor Audio BX2
Acoustic Research AR-H1
Custom Dr. Collen Speaker Cables
Transparent Interconnects and Speaker Cables
Audioquest Speaker Cables
Blue Jeans Cable Digital Coax Interconnect
Monoprice Speaker Stands
Pangea Speaker Stands