Peachtree Audio iNova

Device Type: Integrated Amplifier/DAC
Input: 1 RCA line level, 1 RCA line/Home Theater Bypass, 4 S/PDIF (2 Coax, 2 Toslink), 1 USB, iPod doc
Output: 1 pre-out, component video out (from iPod), 1 fixed level line out, 1 pair WBT Binding posts, 1 headphone out Amplifier: 80W/ch. @ 6 ohms
Dimensions: 5” H x 14 3⁄4” W x 14” D (including volume knob and speaker terminals) Weight: 26 pounds
Availability: through Authorized Dealers and Direct Online
Price: $1,799
Manufacturer's Website: www.peachtreeaudio.com

A Box O Fun
I have a bunch of confessions to make the first being I used to frown on docks in amps. I viewed them as a blemish on the face of serious listening, an affront to our finer sensibilities. This impulse to look at things that make life easier with scorn (screw caps, auto-focus, stretch-waist jeans [actually, they deserve our scorn]) as we age is something we need to fight with all the force our gray hairs and beer bellies (I'm not saying you have one but I know I do) can muster. Listening to music is supposed to be fun, dammit!

Peachtree Audio hit the ground running and the iNova is their current top-of-line Integrated Amp until the Grand Integrated hits the streets sometime in December 2011. The iNova packs a lot into one box so lets hit the high points. The iNova is a hybrid design combining an 80W/ch into 6 ohms MOSFET-based amplifier with a tube-based (6N1P dual triode) preamplifier. The iNova sports 6 digital inputs (1 USB, 4 S/PDIF - 2 Coax, 2 Optical and 1 iPod dock) that run through an ESS ES9016 Sabre32 Ultra DAC providing 24 bit/96kHz via USB and 24 bit/192kHz via S/PDIF. There's a front-mounted headphone out, a remote that lets you toggle that lone 6N1P tube in and out of the preamplfier circuit according to taste and mood. To finish off the connectivity options, a pair of WBT binding posts are ready for your speaker cables and there's a component video out to play your iPod-based movies on your big screen TV (why do I think someone with children thought of this option?).

There's also a little button around back that reads "Filter" and the options are "NOS" and "NAL". Peachtree describes these options in the manual as follow - "NOS (no filtering or oversampling) is preferred by many audiophiles for its smoother sound. NAL (non-aliasing) provides better measurements and is preferred by some listeners". Even though the manual does not list the iPhone as a compatible device for that doc up top, it works. Before I upgraded my iPhone to iOS 5, it would display a message when first docked but I didn't write it down. You can ignore it, I did, and just play your music. I did.

I also highly recommend reading Jon Iverson's review of the Peachtree iDac ($999). As David Solomon of Peachtree points out, the iNova is the iDAC plus an 80W amp, preamp and headphone amp so you'll also want check out John Atkinson's measurements section within the same review. I tried not peek at either during this review process, it strikes me as cheating. Other noteworthy facts—the iDAC received a Class A Rating in the most recent Stereophile Recommended Components and the original Nova was Stereophile's Budget Product Of The Year in 2009.

Have It Your Way
Can audio be fun and accurate? Can we listen for sonic minutiae and sound effects while enjoying the music at the same time? I'm of the opinion that our ability to do both is like that Filter switch on the backside of the iNova—we're either on or off. We're either enjoying or measuring. The Peachtree iNova encourages enjoyment. It practically begs you to enjoy yourself. From the dock up top and the associated video outputs so you can watch your own funniest home movies on TV, to the seriously fun music it makes from any number of input options and finally to its decidedly non-boxy I'm not your typical stodgy box-O-hi-fi appearance, the iNova damn near begins to feel like a music-serving pet.

During my time with the iNova I listened to 24/96 (and under) files via USB and Coax via the Musical Fidelity V-Link being fed music from my MacBook Pro running Pure Music, AIFF files stored on my iPhone, CDs from my Playstation 1, LPs on my Rega P3/Denon 103/Auditorium 23 Step Up into a Leben RS-30EQ Phono Preamplifier and finally into one of the line-level inputs in the iNova and all of that out through a pair of DeVore Fidelity The Nines loudspeakers. I even plugged in my Audio Technica W-1000 headphones into the iNova's headphone jack and all the while I flipped that Filter switch (I preferred the NOS mode) and clicked that lone 6N1P in and out of the equation with the handy remote (I preferred it in).

In many ways I preferred the USB input over Coax. It was certainly more forgiving of those ripped rebook CDs that were not so kindly recorded, i.e. the majority of regular non-audiophile CDs. Especially the nastier, testier stuff like The Birthday Party's Prayer's On Fire or Nick Cave and Co's newest venture in male-noise-making Grinderman 2. Sure, true 24/96 recordings sounded lovely and silky via S/PDIF and if you have lots of high def music I'd imagine this may very well be your connectivity method of choice. But if you have mostly ripped CDs and you're old enough to remember the most practical use of the gatefold LP, you may prefer, actually you may dig, that USB fatness.

If I was to criticize anything about the iNova, and that is kinda my job, I'd point to a lessening of tonal variation or if you prefer timbral color. There is a slight sameness to the overall presentation in terms of instrumental voice that makes music a bit less rich, a bit less dramatic especially where the subtle variations of tone colors paint the better part of the musical picture. One of the recordings that you may grown tired of hearing me talk about but is none the less one of my goto recordings for just this sort of emphasis is Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate's Kulanjan. Here, Taj Mahal plays dobro and Diabate his kora and they are joined by a number of musicians from Mali all playing traditional African instruments.

The voices I mainly listen for on Kulanjan are Taj's dobro and Diabate's kora; one is dark and brooding the other light and sparkling. You can make any number of inferences as to the sociological and ethnomusicological reasons for these different voices (I know I have), but an important aspect of the emotional content of this music lies in and is conveyed through these distinctly different voices that span continents, cultures and centuries. Through the iNova there's simply a slight lessening of difference and I'd mainly lay the blame on the upper frequencies lack of sweetness and sparkle. Taking that 6N1P tube out of the preamp stage added a hint more incisiveness but I'm not focusing here on transient attack, rather on instrumental voice. In any case, there's a subtle homogenizing as compared to other presentations I've heard of this same music through a good number of systems over a good number of years. It's also worth noting that some of those systems contained speaker cables that cost more than the iNova.

Having Your Music And Enjoying It Too

I admit I'm being extra hard on the iNova and especially picky about just one aspect of music reproduction. For some listeners this aspect is critical, especially those whose switch is perpetually depressed into critical listening mode. But my sense is this kind of listener wouldn't be interested in a product like the iNova anyway (you know, because it's an integrated amp and its got that damned dock!). For others, like regular people who enjoy listening to music and may even want to let other people like spouses and children enjoy theirs too, I'd suggest it may very well go unnoticed or uncared about.

And it may go unnoticed because in many other respects the iNova is just a blast. Dynamic punch to knock your socks off, bass slam to drive your extended remixes into the after hours, and an absolute iron-fisted control of your loudspeakers (keep in mind I'm talking about a pair of 90.5dB rated 2 1/2 ways that present a fairly benign and consistent 8 ohm load). This control translates into the aforementioned bass slam as well as a defined-in-concrete stage for your music to unfold within. Think tactile pulse-racing physical musical involvement.

If its not painfully obvious I enjoyed the hell out of the Peachtree iNova. While not the last word in ultra-refinement, the iNova nonetheless manages to convey music's adrenaline-inducing addictiveness while providing a near baker's dozen ways to do so including the ease and convenience of that damned convenient iPod dock and USB-based computer audio all wrapped up in one dynamically bodacious integrated amplifier.

COMMENTS
ThunderShark's picture

Great review of a product that's been on my radar for a while now, think I might invest.

One question: why the playstation 1? Don't you own a CD player or is it secretly known to audiophilles as an amazing transport? laugh

Michael Lavorgna's picture

To answer your question, what he said - http://www.stereophile.com/cdplayers/708play/index.html

Screwdriver's picture

Nice review....

The only thing I dislike about these types of devices is the iPod dock.....When Apple changes that interface, which they will....you have this dock that will be useless.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

But I can think of at least two workarounds - a) if Apple changes the interface on newer devices, older devices will still work so just keep using them, b) Someone will come out with an adapter.

Doug's picture

I appreciate the reported clarity of your experience, the facts presented, and the placement of the review within the context of the setting and system. Thanks for sharing the photos and the additional information via the questions in the Comments section. Thanks, Michael!

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