Based on my listening tests, the Nova would hold its own quite nicely in comparison to like-priced integrated amplifiers—even if it didn’t include a killer onboard DAC. Three sonic qualities define the Nova’s sound. First, its tube-driven front end confers a gentle (but definitely not sloppy-sounding) touch of organic warmth and harmonic richness that make the Nova sound much more “alive” than many of the solid-state-only integrated amps I’ve heard. The Nova also sounds good in solid-state only mode, but with a presentation that, while very clean, is somewhat less rich, three-dimensional, and involving than when the tube circuit is engaged. Second, the Nova has a remarkably focused and well-defined character, and handles low-level details very well. As a result, imaging and soundstaging details are conveyed with the sort of precision and solidity that remind me of far more expensive integrated amps. Third, the amp’s bass sounds very tight and well controlled, exhibiting none of the looseness I’ve observed with some all-tube integrated amps. In short, the Nova, like many hybrid-integrated amps, is a best-of-two worlds design—one that marries tube warmth and harmonic richness with solid-state tautness and control.
The only drawback I noted, and it seems almost unfair to mention it, is that the 80Wpc amp does not have quite as much dynamic “grunt” or low bass punch as some higher-powered amps in its class. But don’t get me wrong: the Nova offers good dynamics and bass with the limits of its power envelope. It’s just that certain speakers require a bit more wattage than the Nova has on tap in order to really clear their throats and sing. But to put things back in perspective, remember this: virtually none of the Nova’s higher-powered competitors can match its versatility.
The strengths of the Nova DAC parallel those of the Nova amp, and one of the first qualities you might notice about the DAC would be the strikingly clear, delicate way in which it renders low-level sonic details. If you listen carefully to the decay of percussion instruments through the Peachtree, for example, you’ll hear the shimmer of cymbals or the shudder of bass drums trailing off for a much longer period of time than through most DACs. Similarly, the Nova let’s you hear instruments reverberating within recording spaces long after other DACs would have buried their sounds in background noise—a quality I attribute to the Peachtree DAC’s excellent claimed signal/noise ratio. On paper these might sound like subtle or potentially hair-splitting distinctions, but in practice they mean that the Nova lets you enjoy noticeably more nuanced and finely shaded renditions of your favorite recordings. The sensation is the equivalent of finding sonic buried treasure; the Nova is your “all-access pass” to valuable layers of detail that simply weren’t audible before.
I was also mightily impressed by the Nova’s ability to convey a flowing, expansive sense of dynamic “bloom” whenever the music called for it. Some DACs seem to handle dynamics in a relatively crude, “color by numbers” fashion, but not so the Nova. It faithfully renders both subtle as well large-scale shifts in dynamic emphasis (and all points in between), making good recordings sound unusually expressive and vibrant—almost as though you can feel the music breathing. At more than a few points when listening through the Nova DAC, I found myself thinking (put on your best Dr. Frankenstein accents, now, please), “It is alive…”
Performance tip: For best sound, Peachtree’s Jim Spainhour recommends “at least a 72 hour break-in period due to the organic caps (capacitors) in the DAC.”
Sharp and Soft DAC filter switch settings: I tried flipping back and forth between the Nova’s “Sharp” and “Soft” filter settings and found the Soft setting gave consistently superior results. The “Sharp” setting, while pleasant enough for casual listening, dilutes some of the signature liveliness and harmonic richness of which the Nova is capable. The “Soft” setting, by comparison, yields a noticeably more detailed and dynamically responsive sound.