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When it comes to Peachtree Audio products, I’m a fan and veteran. I’ve spent large slabs of time with their DAC*iT, iDecco, Nova and its successor the iNova. Here comes the Nova125 (US$1499/AU$1699). For this reviewer there's still no better-looking integrated at less than US$2000. The rounded corners are what sealed the deal on an original Nova purchase back in 2009. Those very same aesthetic buttons get pushed again three years down the line. It’s so Don Draper.

Peachtree's Jonathan Derda in action at RMAF 2012

The DAC in the iNova was a God of tremendous resolve and the star of that now-discontinued show. However as per all iterations of the Decco and Nova lines, it demanded careful loudspeaker matching. High-efficiency transducers took hold most readily. As with the iDecco, the iNova and Zu’s 97dB Omen led to a shotgun wedding. Job done. Tougher standmounts like the ProAc Tablette Reference 8 (86dB) exposed the shortfall of the iNova’s amp section with slight hints of bass overhang particularly with electronic music and dub techno especially. Its paper-specified 80wpc into 6Ω provided the ghost of a clue as to why.

Team Peachtree has dubbed their Decco65 and Nova125 the 'Performance Series' which also includes the NovaPre and Peachtree220 pre/power duo. For Nova125 performance with a capital P, Peachtree have pulled the handbrake on the speaker-matching conundrum by upping oomph. They’ve also defected from a class A/B Mosfet to a class D B&O IcePower™ circuit. The power rating now shoots straight into 8Ω and 4Ω as 125wpc and 220wpc respectively. It’s the latter figure that had me reach out to Peachtree’s self-styled ‘ambassador of awesome’ Jonathan Derda for this assignment.

More ch-ch-changes.
In the move from iNova to Nova125, gone is the iPod dock. The internal ESS Sabre DAC chip moved from the 9016 to the cheaper 9023. Has this changed overall p-p-performance? We’ll never know for sure as the fixed line-out has been air-brushed out from the rear panel of this Nova. Nova125 as standalone DAC isn’t an option. Variable pre-out and line-in remain. The core four digital inputs of USB (now XMOS asynchronous and capable of up to 24/192), optical (24/96) and twin coax (24/192) hold steady. From i prefix to 125 suffix, Nova pricing has gone soft. The Nova125 sells for a fair chunk less than the outgoing iNova. I see this as Peachtree Audio bringing its all-in-one game right to the door of Wyred4Sound's mINT (now there’s a tête-a-tête to command some future reviewer's time).

A tubed preamplifier section remained a constant of all Nova and Decco iterations. The switchable tube—here a 6N1P—remains a boon for smoother playback of more aggressive recordings and edgier MP3 files. Anyone streaming from MOG or Spotify will benefit from the increased humidity and body of blue-lit window listening. This held true also with Magnepan’s MMG. When friends stop by, I bust out MOG’s web streaming service for them to fire up tunes of their liking. It saves me having to explain 1) Audirvana+ and 2) a dearth of Led Zeppelin in my iTunes library. With the Nova125’s tube on go, edges get smoothed and my teeth ease up. In my world MOG’s low bit-rate stream only really satisfies for new band discoveries or on-the-go Apple earbud listening.

Hans Solo. Back in the critical listening chair, several readers believe the MMG to be the most laid-back model in Magnepan’s range. Having heard a friend’s 3.6 I can attest to a more up-and-at-'em eagerness with the treble and upper mids. The MMGs sound chilled-out by comparison. The Nova125 is the least forward of the three integrateds being run through their paces here. Richard Thompson’s "MGB-GT" [Mirror Blue, 1994] is held back to remain in line with the speaker plane despite an abundance of tonal mass and dynamics. This class D does nothing to counter expectations of firm bass. Thompson’s vocals are allowed plenty of breathing room and musical separation is good. Macrodynamics likewise. Everything sounds in its right place and nothing sounds out of place. Nothing stands out and all is easygoing.

Taking music as a whole instead of its component parts, the Nova125’s presentation is neutral bordering on plain Jane at lower volumes. It isn’t as airy or effervescent as Wadia’s 151PowerDAC Mini—not one of the three selected for this assignment—but the closest digitalesque amplifier on hand. The Wadia doesn’t have the heft of the Peachtree but connotes more caffeination and transparency particularly north of the lower treble.

Upping SPL on the Nova125, nothing gets shouty or confused. Impressive. This is one of the main attractions of class D - a financial shortcut to higher volume guts and glory. If you like to play loud, this Peachtree is a peachy choice. There’s an abundance of spare volume turn. I rarely took the pot past midnight. Elegance and creaminess with inner-detail exposure and a tight grip on lower frequencies aren’t the only standouts. Acoustically dominated music fanciers and jazz heads will dig its midrange capaciousness to the moons and back. One criticism? It's not as tonally flavoursome as rival units. Think of it as a big serving of chicken korma compared to the smaller plateful of Wadia jalfrezi.

Textural reveal on the horn blat of David Byrne and St Vincent’s utterly quirky Love This Giant (2012) underscores this integrated’s higher center of gravity. It’s relatively soft with transients and more forgiving of poor source material. This is an amplifier that expends more energy on the externals of soundstage sizing than it does on internal tonal exposure. Rhythmic smarts abound. Complex percussion lines are rendered speedily and with good propulsion. The Peachtree Nova125 sounds alert and energetic without drawing too much attention to itself. Clicking out the tube brings even greater transient incision and microdynamic flair. Only through extended listening sessions did I uncover this amplifier’s reticence to step forward and sparkle. It's something that’s not easy to pick from a 20-minute in-store audition. Know that I’m being super-critical here looking downhill from the performance of rival amplifiers that don't bundle a DAC and headphone amplifier into the bargain and cost you more.

Stepping back for some broader perspective, a Nova125 + MMG combo offers astonishing performance in the context of its relatively meager US$2100 combined sticker. Peachtree Audio has the best return-per-dollar margin of all three amplifiers under consideration here. Just add your own digital transport—Sonos, Squeezebox, PC/Mac—and you’re up and running with an amplifier that picks up what Magnepan are putting down. One final thought. With headroom to spare and an effortless softness in the upper mids and treble, the Peachtree Nova125 might be an even better match for the supposedly more eager-beaver 1.6 and 1.7.

Peachtree Audio website
Magnepan website