I compared the solid-state versus tube sounds of the iDecco and found that, as with the Nova, the solid-state output section sounded very clean, but also somewhat less rich, three-dimensional, and involving than the tube circuit. Candidly, if I owned the iDecco I would leave the tube circuit engaged probably 95 percent of the time. For this reason my comments, below, refer to the sound of the iDecco preamp with the tube circuit in play.
The core sound of the preamp has three defining characteristics. First, the preamp offers excellent natural clarity, with plenty of focus and definition. More so than many products at its price point, the iDecco offers lots of resolving power, meaning that it handles low-level textural, transient, and especially spatial or soundstaging cues in the music with remarkable acuity. Second, the preamp delivers bass that is very tight and well controlled, exhibiting none of the looseness or sloppy romanticism you might hear in other affordable tube preamps. Finally, the iDecco preamp does a great job of capturing the sheer richness of both tonal colors and (especially) of harmonics in the music—in this respect sounding much more like an expensive standalone vacuum tube preamp, rather than an inexpensive integrated amp/DAC.
In my tests, I used the iDecco preamp to drive a pair of NuForce Reference 9 v.3 Special Edition monoblock amps and though the power amps cost many times what the iDecco does the Peachtree did not seem at all out of place. On the contrary, the match seemed a very good one, with the two products playing off of one another’s strengths in a beautiful and musically satisfying way. But one thing the wide-bandwidth NuForce amps did reveal—and please consider this a minor nit—is that there is a bit of noise produced when switching between the iDecco’s various inputs (or when turning the tube output stage on or off).
But let me be clear: though there is obviously more to the iDecco than its preamp section, I would be very hard pressed to name a preamp at the iDecco’s price that I would rather use in a high-end system. It’s that good.
When used as a standalone DAC the iDecco, like the Nova, provides solid-state outputs only. For the most part, the strengths of DAC parallel those of the iDecco preamp. The DAC sounds extremely detailed and it resolves low-level sonic details beautifully—qualities that together help the DAC create highly believable, three-dimensional soundstages. Through the Peachtree, for example, you’ll hear long reverberation tails on individual sounds and can easily hear how those sounds interact with the acoustics of recording spaces. The DAC also captures both large and small-scale dynamic contrasts very effectively, letting listeners not only hear but feel the living, breathing pulse and flow of the music.
If your reactions are anything like mine, you may be struck by the fact that the iDecco DAC doesn’t conform to your mental image of a budget DAC. In fact, it doesn’t really sound like a “budget” anything, because it produces the sort of big, richly textured, wide and deep soundstages that are traditionally the hallmarks of higher-end audio components. In short, the iDecco DAC offer overall levels of sonic refinement and acuity typically experienced with DACs that cost as much if not morethan the entire iDecco does.
Fast and Slow DAC filter switch settings: I switched back and forth between the iDecco’s “Fast” and “Slow” filter settings and found that the “Fast” setting seemed to sap some of the iDecco’s typical dynamic vividness and sense of life. The “Slow” setting, on the other hand, restored a more detailed and dynamically responsive sound.