A product I’ve been working on with an eye toward writing a future AVguide/Playback review is Peachtree Audio’s new Nova hybrid-integrated amplifier/USB DAC ($1199). Let me say from the outset that a big part of the Nova’s appeal involves its sheer versatility.
Depending on one’s needs or point of view, the Nova could conceivably play any or all of the following roles:
--80Wpc stereo hybrid integrated amplifier
--Class A vacuum tube-powered (using a 6922 tube) preamplifier with variable outputs (or solid-state only fixed outputs)
--Class A vacuum tube-powered headphone amplifier
--Solid state, “remote switching” DAC with 24-bit/96kHz upsampling and five digital inputs (1 x USB, 2 x coax, 2 x optical).
But wait, as the late-night TV ads might put it, there’s more. The Nova offers features that are not commonly seen either in hybrid-integrated amps or in high-quality USB DAC/preamps. Specifically, the Nova provides:
--A remote control that let’s you switch between inputs (3 x stereo analog, 5 x digital as outlined above), mute speakers, adjust volume levels, or—check this one out—switch between vacuum tube and solid-state front-end circuitry in real time.
--A rear panel switch that reconfigures one of the Nova’s analog AUX inputs as a Home Theater Bypass input.
--A DAC section based on the ESS 9006 Sabre DAC chip, which incorporates a patented on-chip jitter reduction circuit and which claims an astonishing signal/noise ratio of -122dB.
--A rear panel switch that lets you choose “Sharp” or “Soft” DAC filters to suit your preference (hint: Sharp measures better, but Soft sounds better).
--Transformer-coupled digital inputs to help minimize noise.
--A rear panel chamber where you can place Sonos receiver modules (or the like) to make the Nova part of a wireless audio system/
All of this would mean very little if the Nova didn’t actually sound good, but it does, though some of its operational modes are stronger than others. The DAC section of the Nova, for instance, is particularly good—so much so that you would be perfectly justified in buying the Nova purely to use it as a DAC. I spent a fair amount of time “drag-racing” the Nova vs. the critically acclaimed Benchmark Media DAC1 Pre and found that, though the two units are slightly different in overall sonic character, they are essentially very competitive with one another. This fact, I feel, helps underscore what a great value the Nova represents.
Consider this: the Nova can go toe-to-toe with the Benchmark on sonic grounds, offers more flexible inputs (3 analog and 5 digital for the Nova vs. the 1 analog and 5 digital for the Benchmark), comes with a remote control (you have to step up to the more expensive DAC1 HDR to get a Benchmark with a remote), and serves not only as a DAC/preamp/headphone amp but also as a full-on hybrid integrated amplifier—all for about $395 less than the price of the Benchmark. Even if you prefer the sound of the Benchmark (and make no mistake, a very solid sonic case could be made for either of these units), there’s no denying that the Nova offers terrific performance and flexibility for your hard-earned money. Watch for the upcoming AVguide/Playback review.