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Review: Peachtree Audio Nova

post #1 of 44
Thread Starter 
Introduction:
I humbly began my adventure into computer audio with the SuperPRO DAC707USB. My sale of that unit incidentally followed the sale of my modest personal speaker setup, comprising a vintage Denon receiver and a pair of Infinity Primus P152s. In its place I picked up a Travagan's Green. The overachieving Green was destined to never fulfill its full capabilities, its teensy 5WPC integrated amplifier going to complete waste without speakers to power.


I really liked this amp. I thought it was an outstanding value for my money, even without using the integrated amp feature. And so small, too!

I was very impressed with the Green. I had purchased it entirely upon a whim simply because it happened to catch my interest, and the reviews I read after the purchase seemed lukewarm to favorable. The Green breathed new life to my JH13s compared to every source I had used prior, though the vast majority of these sources were (save the SuperPro) portable. I found the Green instantly superior to the SuperPRO in terms of resolution, control, and coherency – though the SuperPRO was very likely limited by the Denon receiver’s reasonably poor headphone-out.

I played with an EMU 0404 USB for a while as well. I found it excellent as a DAC, more resolving than the Green. However as an amp it was seriously lacking, and I sold it in my inexplicable search for a do-it-all.

The Nova was also purchased on a whim. I remember HeadphoneAddict having suggested I purchase one from the FS/T forums a good while back. That particular Nova was long sold, but I eventually came up with the money (I’m an undergraduate student) to afford a brand new unit. I had little expectations, but my reading since the purchase has led me to believe that the unit possesses a respectable integrated amplifier for the price, an outstanding DAC, and a nebulous headphone amplifier (with reviews of the lattermost ranging from outstanding to disappointing). I set to put to rest these presuppositions with a long sit-down with the unit.

Other than the Nova, I toyed with the prospect of several discrete options, the most memorable contender being Meier Audio’s beautiful-looking Corda Concerto + StageDAC combo deal. I also looked at other combo units like the Lavry DA11 and the Benchmark DAC1 Pre. Hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to scrounge up the funds and purchase one of these solutions – which I’d compare head-to-head against the Nova in a review that would be more useful to those of you already in the deep end of audio enlightenment.

I am a college undergraduate that has had dreams of becoming an audiophile ever since I was a dirt-broke fifteen year old. I feel those dreams are slowly coming to fruition. I am no home theater buff, and thus my review will focus primarily on the Nova’s merits as a DAC/headphone amplifier solution (which is more appropriate for the head-fi audience as well). I do intend to purchase a set of speakers and a subwoofer in the future to complement the unit (i.e. for sexy parties in my midtown apartment) and make better use of it, and I intend to keep it for quite a while.

The Nova
Signal Path International’s Peachtree Audio Nova represents, as far as I know, their second broad circuit topology. The Nova is a significant evolutionary departure from their premier Peachtree Decco, integrating a newer and superior DAC chip. This chip is the ESS Sabre 9006, the entry-level champ of ESS Technology’s line of ultra-premium DACs. In this case entry-level is nothing to scoff at – the 24-bit ES9006 is regularly thought to rival flagship DACs from competing manufacturers, especially when implemented well.

The Nova represents an all-in-one unit encompassing several different functions. It intends to replace your standalone DAC, pre-amplifier, and integrated/headphone amplifier. The unit is a hybrid design featuring a 6922 tube in dual-triode configuration as a defeatable buffer stage for the pre-amplification. The rest of the amplification circuitry is a solid-state design.

The headphone-out of the unit shares the class A pre-amplifier circuitry. The integrated speaker amplifier serves up 80 watts per channel at 6 ohms, and is rated to operate efficiently with passive speakers of impedance as low as 4 ohms. It is designed to work well with speakers with sensitivities of ~84dB and greater.

The DAC section features 5 inputs – it doubles up on coaxial and TOSlink, and offers a single USB-B receptacle. The ES9006 is rated for an upsampling 24/96, though only 16/48 is accessible via the USB input. The section has 11 (!) regulated power supplies and a bunch of goodies like organic caps, class A output, galvanic isolation from USB bus noise, and is rated for an epic 122dB SNR. The effective SNR turns out to be ~118dB via USB, but that’s still no slouch.

The Nova has 3 paired analog RCA inputs, with the third functioning as a Home Theater Bypass – this uses the Nova’s integrated amp (hooked up to a receiver’s pre-amp outputs) to power the left and right front channels of your home theater setup, leaving your receiver free to handle the other channels with less amplifier strain. There is a variable pre-amplifier output affected by the volume control and a dedicated line-out that comes straight from the DAC.

Bear in mind I am not very electrically inclined and am no audio engineer, so I have no extensive knowledge of these last few paragraphs. For example, I have no idea of the electrical differences between a class AD and class A amplifier circuit. But onwards!

Design

I don't think it could have been any more bigger than I expected.

The Travagan’s Green was much, much smaller than I expected. The Peachtree Audio Nova is exactly the opposite. It is a gargantuan unit, measuring 5”x14”x14.75” (HxDxW) and weighing in at 26 pounds. That’s about 27 Travagan’s Greens in weight, and an untold number in volume. This thing dwarfs my dorm room desk! It is however substantially smaller than the vintage Denon audio receiver I had previously owned, though it weighs quite a bit more (going by memory here).


Wow, it's actually even prettier than the pictures made it look, even with all that extra weight.

But it looks beautiful, and its build quality and cosmetics are stunning. I thought the Green was well-built for the price, and the Nova is commensurately the same story. The piano black finish is handsome, and the white front finish was something I was predisposed to dislike, but have grown to find very attractive. The front face flaunts eight circular LEDs displaying the status of the various inputs: USB, COAX 1, COAX 2, OPT 1, OPT 2, AUX 1, AUX 2, AUX 3/HT. The active input is illuminated in a dreamy (if a little bright) blue. The power button/LED is to the left of the face, just south of the status indicators, and is illuminated in either red (standby/off) or the aforementioned blue (on). The single 6922 tube window is to the right of the status indicators and is illuminated the same blue when the tube buffer stage is engaged. The large, dimpled volume knob is to the right of the tube, and the quarter-inch headphone output is tucked to its southeast with its accompanying headphone graphic. The IR receiver is just under the status indicators at the center of the unit. Besides these functional endowments, the face is adorned with beautiful grey typeface: “peachtree audio” and “nova.” It’s stunning, effective, and very professional-looking.


It's alive! Of course, now my TV's 5 inches higher than it used to be...

Within each circular LED is an actual button. The power button obviously powers the unit on, whereas the various input buttons – surprise – select the inputs.

The piano black casing of the unit is austere and empty save for two cooling vents at the rear of the top panel of the unit, and several at the bottom.


The rear of the unit is all-business. It's pretty well-built, but the speaker terminals could be better.

The rear is all-function, with the various inputs and outputs. My only design qualm emerges here: an empty cavity (accessible by a removable plate) is reserved for a Sonos ZonePlayer to fit into. This abscess takes up substantial space, and contributes significantly to the unit’s overall size. The outputs and inputs themselves are well-built, but the speaker terminals feel a bit chintzy and rattle a bit when unscrewing. There is also a filter switch that can be depressed for Slow (for personal listening) and Sharp (for RMAAs and computer measurements) filters on the built-in DAC, which inspires confidence on each click.


The remote sucks.

The included rubber remote is something I do not care for. It feels at once durable but cheaply made, and is all function and no form. I do find it hilarious that the volume knob rotates appropriately on the unit itself as you adjust the volume via the remote – a wonderful touch that I am not used to seeing.

The Nova comes packaged with its remote, manual, AC cord (which is uncommonly thick), and two AAA batteries for the remote. No input/output cables are included.

Test Setup
I intend to communicate as best I can what I hear, with comparisons to what I’ve heard prior. I feel my tastes encompass a number of genres and artistic aptitudes, but tragically I find myself not very fond of stuff way before my generation (unfortunately I'm not much of a Beatles guy, not much of a Floyd guy). Nonetheless I hope something towards your taste is among these selections.

The files are Amazon 256kbps MP3s unless otherwise specified)

Tracks
Alpha Beta Gaga – Air (Talkie Walkie)
Days Are Years – Blue Sky Black Death (A Heap of Broken Images)
The Dead Tree Gives No Shelter – Blue Sky Black Death (A Heap of Broken Images)
Switchback – Celldweller (Celldweller)
Truly – Delerium (Chimera)
Parisian Goldfish – Flying Lotus (Los Angeles)
Inertia Creeps – Massive Attack (Mezzanine)
Bbtone – Pinback (Blue Screen Life, ALAC)
Seville – Pinback (Blue Screen Life, ALAC)
Trains – Porcupine Tree (In Absentia)
Chop Suey – System of a Down (Toxicity, ALAC)
Moving Mountains – Thrice (The Alchemy Index Volumes III & IV: Air & Earth)
H. – Tool (Aenima)
Take Me Into Your Skin – Trentemoller (The Last Resort)

These tracks are from a machine running Windows 7, via the latest release of foobar2000 outputting in 16-bit/44.1KHz USB (no upsampling).


The modest, humble, but proven personal audio devices I'll be gluing to my ears.

Headphones used:
John Grado’s venerable HF2 (~500 hours on them), stock cable with stock bowls
Jerry Harvey’s outstanding JH13 Pro (unfathomable number of hours on them, not that it matters), stock cable

Speakers used:
Infinity Primus P152s (fortunately the friend I sold them to allowed me to borrow them for the purposes of this review)

Sources of comparison:
Realtek AC’97 onboard
Realtek AC’97 optical -> Nova OPT 2
USB -> Travagan’s Green
USB -> Travagan’s Green Line Out -> Nova AUX 1
USB -> Travagan’s Green Optical Out -> Nova OPT 1
USB -> Travagan's Green Coaxial Out -> Nova COAX 1
USB -> Nova USB
iPhone 3GS
iPhone 3GS -> AUX 2

I let the Nova sit for 2 hours playing a pink noise FLAC non-stop, tube buffer engaged, before testing. It is possible more burn-in will yield further improvement if you subscribe to that school of thought (I'm agnostic).

The Nova is plug and play when using USB. On Windows and OS X the drivers are automatically installed on the first connection.

The Sound
Grado HF2
Dead silent throughout the volume knob. 9:30-10 o'clock is pretty cozy for my listening needs.
The Nova seems to do a really good job improving the transient response of the HF2s. I was never particularly enamored with their speed – they seemed slow and sluggish, possibly due to their bass weight. NB: many of you out there will listen to the Nova at significantly lower dial levels as my MP3 files are normalized to an ultra-quiet 80dB.

With the Nova the saltatory notes of Air’s Alpha Beta Gaga are really much more distinct and precise than I’ve heard them before. The attack and decay is spot on and remarkable, yet the individual notes themselves reverberate into the background in a believable way. The imaging here is excellent, as the beats that warp around the back of the head (early in the track) are rendered with delicate precision and excellent transience. Interestingly the soundstage seems to be aptly widened but not to a gargantuan status – a suspicion I confirmed with later tracks.

I found the HF2s renditions of guitars to be particularly admirable, but the Nova certainly brought this strength into sharp relief. The riffs breaking out in the opening minutes of Blue Sky Black Death’s Days Are Years are absolutely amazing here – the synths fade out where the guitars crunch into brilliant life. It is here I notice that the Nova complements the HF2’s natural tone very perfectly. Instruments sound very correct, and in comparison to my previous listening experiences they were imbued with a sense of organic being.

Blue Sky Black Death’s The Dead Tree Gives No Shelter underscored this instrumental prowess. I think the Nova and HF2 are very well suited to handle classical pieces (this track is not nearly classical, but comprises samples of strings, brass, and percussion). The strings and piano were voiced realistically, so much so that I found it possible to envision them in front of me throughout the piece.

The Nova also enables the HF2s to be a bit more aggressive and edgy. Such was apparent in Celldweller’s Switchback, a track that combines elements of electronic and hard rock rather effectively. The guitars of the intro are delivered with a newly invigorated crunch, and the synths that take over after each guitar bridge evolve from a perfectly black background with speed I didn’t believe the HF2s to even be capable of.

Thrice’s Moving Mountains is a much closer piece, and the Nova drives the HF2 with borderline uncomfortable intimacy. Kenrue’s raspy, yearning vocals are saturated very appropriately with emotion here. The mids of this combination really reach into your heart and evoke serious emotional response. They are as forward as they have been, but emotional in ways that I have never before heard. I notice here that the Nova has really strengthened the HF2’s soundstage – it is appropriately close and upfront here, as it has always been. But now I perceive a much wider image – the soundscape seems panoramic, and I feel almost there. The resolving power and retrieval of micro-details is also quite brilliant here, with the straining tone of the guitar represented in the tiny squeals that I had not heard in previous sessions, and the Kenrue’s own breathing during the piece much more obvious. Moreover the opening and ending of the track is much more highly resolving, and I can clearly discern now the creaking of the chair, and the footsteps fading out.

The HF2s are the closest things to fart cannons I’ve owned. I find their bass to inherently be sloppy and all over the place. The Green did a really good job of bringing them together, but the Nova does a near-perfect job as far as I can tell. Case-in-point: Trentemoller’s Take Me Into Your Skin. Typically I found the introductory bassline to possess significant note bleed and smearing, but the Nova keeps them in check. The Nova doesn’t diminish the HF2’s natural “strengths” – it does subdue the HF2’s bass into polite territory. It does, however, lend precisely the amount of articulation and control the HF2 needed in its nether-regions. And the slam is fantastic, brilliant even – the closing bass drives of the track shook my head a little bit.

The Nova does not transform the HF2, and I find that a good thing. There are aspects of the HF2 I find myself enamored by – the honest tonality, versatile headstage, and aggressive bass, to name a few. The Nova does not compromise on these winning features. The Nova does, however, resolve a few of the aspects of the HF2’s character that I take issue with. It speeds them up considerably, to the point where they are well-equipped to handle even the fastest tracks of my collection (e.g. Alpha Beta Gaga). It perfectly controls their otherwise farty and offensive bass, making them bearable for my bassier electronic tracks, without diminishing bass weight or impact. It improves slam, and it makes the tone of the HF2 shine with emotion. The headstage is improved beautifully so that the intimate nature of the HF2 is not at all compromised, but I have a much broader perception of each piece. But once again, the Nova does not transform the HF2 – it merely complements its strengths, and catalyzes its weaknesses into something better. They sound bigger.

The HF2 are still a little dark in overall sound signature, and (as always) fun and engaging. But now I find them sometimes preferable over the JH13s out of the Nova due to their strengthened merits (especially that slam), and there are times in certain pieces where they move me to tears. I always felt that the Green was a tad underpowered for the HF2, and the Nova really makes them sing in comparison.

JHAudio JH13 Pro
I play the Nova at about 7:30 o'clock through the JH13s. There is very slightly perceptible idle background hiss that disappears during playback (i.e. not even present in quiet passages), and at about 11 o'clock the hiss is taken over by some odd buzz. The HF2s exhibited none of these symptoms, but no one would ever listen to the JH13s through this at that volume level anyway. Channels are perfectly balanced even at the low volume level. NB: many of you out there will listen to the Nova at significantly lower dial levels as my MP3 files are normalized to an ultra-quiet 80dB.

I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I played Massive Attack's Inertia Creeps. My GOD, it sounds so REAL now! The vocals were absolutely vivid and hypnotic here, driving the song with heretofore undiscovered momentum and pacing. Once again the resolving power of the Nova is stunning – nothing smears, nothing smudges. No detail compromises another, as I now found the Green did. For example, sometimes the Green would push one detail at the expense of another, glossing over an important facet of the piece. Not here. Every detail is articulated and drawn with stunning precision.

With Delerium's Truly I can confirm that the JH13 sound much bigger than they've ever sounded before. It's an effect that goes beyond soundstaging, which really is unique to full-size headphones. The synth-y intro and smoothly evoked percussion in the opening minute of the track simply spontaneously generate from black space. It's an extraordinary effect that I'd never heard out of the 13s before. The ensemble of sampled strings, synth, vocals, and bass that follows are layered with such transparency and air that, for me, they redefine what I consider holographic. The JH13s were never truly holographic before now. And once again, the nuances of the track are drawn on-cue with effortless coherency – nothing hides in the presentation. Three-quarters of the way into the track I noticed again stunning imaging that I never heard out of these babies before. I eventually noticed myself singing along, with passion.

With Flying Lotus's Parisian Goldfish (and outstanding lesser-known party track, by the way), I found that the JH13s were now equipped to handle house-y music better than ever before. There was always a certain sampled percussion in the song that eluded my ear, but now the JH13 sees it well. The bass is fantastic here, rubbery and addicting. The texture is even better than I ever remembered, and the weight is quite substantial now (though they still do not slam like the HF2s do now).

The vocals in Pinback's Bbtone are really intimate through the Nova, with a human glow that they never really possessed before. The attack and decay of the guitars and percussion are substantially improved and more resolved: the impossibly good transients of the JH13 are improved in much the same way as the HF2 was. I notice now the scratching of the guitars at the opening of every pluck, and this detail is especially prevalent towards the closing of the track.

Pinback's Seville opens with a flurry of guitar riffs and chords, and the Nova does not trip here. Each guitar is now envisioned in its very own personal space, again evincing the feeling of holographic imaging than I noted earlier. The notes are not abruptly played in isolation as the Green used to, but rather carefully crafted out of their respective pockets of air. The air surrounding the instruments is especially apparent, a clear attribute of the Nova.

I fell in love with System of a Down's Chop Suey when I first heard it. Ever since I came to appreciate details I found myself yearning to resolve a certain component of the song that was, to me, forever elusive. On the ending quarter of the song there are string instruments, but I was never able to hear them until it was too late (the last thirty seconds or so). I had the suspicion that the strings themselves were resolvable quite before that (right after "Trust in my.."). And they are! Hot damn! With the Nova I was able to hear them, perfectly, no longer hidden behind the powerful riffs, furious drums and sizzling cymbals. Nostalgia was never so vivid, so unfamiliar, yet so awesome.

Imaging in Tool's brilliant H. is much better than ever before. The percussion is very appropriately distanced and spaced from the other components of the track, and the space and air around each hit is remarkable. Maynard's voice sounds great – full of the creepy mix of fear and anger I feel is unique to his vocals. The cymbals are also much crisper than I've heard them before, never subdued by the more aggressive, raw passages.

Honestly, I think the JH13s are very perfect. They seem to really present the best possible output from any source, really managing to sound great with anything. However, as many have suggested before, the JH13s also do a remarkable job of revealing the differences between sources. I honestly thought that the JH13s out of the Travagan's was really superb, but out of the Nova they are beyond outstanding.

Their sonic character is still largely untouched – they are as neutral as ever. They are more transparent than ever before, and more detailed than I have heard them before. They have more power now. They also sound absolutely holographic through the Nova, with "soundstage" never entering my head because they really are beyond that. Their bass reaches deeper with more weight and power, and their treble really shines as evidenced by their representation of cymbals and higher synths. The vocals glow with human warmth, but readily fly to raw emotion when the situation calls for it. The Nova presents things through the JH13s very effortlessly.

I found the experience so good that I was staying up to early hours just so the music wouldn't stop. When the music DID have to stop, I found that it took a while for me to meander my way back into the world.

Infinity Primus P152
I enjoyed my P152s heavily with my el cheapo vintage Denon receiver in the past, especially when I had my HD25-1 IIs. As soon as I got my HF2s, they quickly fell out of my favor as I realized their only real strength relative to my headphones was their imaging.

With some spare 16-gauge RCA speaker wire hanging around, I hooked these babies up pretty hastily. The acoustics of my dorm room are absolutely terrible and I didn’t have the patience to optimize their placement, but it was immensely clear that the P152s were a bottleneck for the resolving capabilities of the Nova.

The vocals in Pinback’s Bbtone and Seville were quite brilliantly rendered with all of the emotional zeal I came to expect of the tracks, but the overall pieces lacked coherency. The same happened in Thrice’s Moving Mountains – the vocals sounded emotive and demanded my attention, with the raspy “but I don’t know the first thing about love” resonating in startling desperation. But the guitars failed to come together. The rendition favored the vocals heavily at the expense of the overall musical ensemble. The performance did not gel cohesively in a manner that I could enjoy – it just seemed messy overall. The image was there, but lacked specificity.

It is important to understand that this is the best I’ve ever heard the P152s voiced. They are much better than my floormate’s AudioEngine A5s in all regards (this was when I drove them out of a Macbook to my 50wpc Denon vintage). It is just that they pale in comparison to the experience offered with my headphones, and they fell out of favor as I found myself preferring the substantial resolution and detail of my headphones (in particular the JH13s) over the soundstage and imaging of the P152s. I also know the speakers are capable of much more given the positioning and room acoustics they deserve – a dorm is no place to be expecting speakers to sound anywhere near their potential. I also feel that the speakers themselves and their suboptimal positioning have bottlenecked them heavily in this comparison, so I do not fault the Nova at all in this section. This trial was simply for fun and bears no weight on my headphone-focused evaluation.

A word on the tube
The tube did not have a significant effect on the rendition of the HF2. The JH13s experienced a very subtle softening effect on the midbass and lower treble as far as my ears could tell, with a smidge of warmth added to the mids. Flying Lotus’s Parisian Goldfish took on a slightly jazzier character with the tube engaged, and the percussive treble seemed to glow a little more while the bassline seemed to bounce and reverberate more. The cymbals in Porcupine Tree’s Trains bloom a little more. The aggressive bass attack towards the closing of Trentemoller’s Take Me Into Your Skin also shakes my gut a little more soundly (but attractively) with the tube engaged. These differences were pretty apparent by engaging and disengaging the tube mid-track via the remote. It's subtle and pretty much isolated to the JH13, but I tend to leave the tube on.

A word on the filter
Slow was quite favorable to sharp as the latter sounded a bit more artificial and encoded. The sharp filter slightly diminished the vocal emotion present in Porcupine Tree’s Trains and Thrice’s Moving Mountains, and the inculcation of energy was much more apparent in the Grado HF2 (contrary to the JH13’s better revelation of the tube effects), rendering them in a far more emotional and concurrently involving voice than I had ever heard them before. Tool’s H., for example, sounds positively creepy and appropriately unsettling in Slow rendition. In Sharp, the track takes a turn for the worse with the vocals failing to reach me with as much intimacy, and the organic sheen replaced with a digital edginess that isn't as natural. I leave the filter on Slow (button depressed).

A word on sources
I was hard-pressed to find a difference in the sound between USB, coax, and TOSlink with the Travagan’s as the USB receiver. The TOSlink out of my Shuttle’s onboard is a little more compressed than either of the other inputs, with reduced dynamics. For instance the notes in Air’s Alpha Beta Gaga are less distinct, and the headstage is more constricted when the notes pass through the back of my head. I have read that the coaxial should sound better in ideal situations, but I doubt I have this ideal environment established and I have no coaxial to test. For convenience I leave my unit as USB from my desktop.

The amplification section is way superior to my Green’s and 3GS’s as far as I can tell (with as precise volume-matching as human ears and fingers can muster). To the auxiliary inputs, the Nova seems to offer more current and drive the HF2s in particular with more authority. I found the bass on the HF2s to usually be a sloppy mess in the closing attack of Trentemoller’s Take Me Into Your Skin, and the overall rendition of Air’s Alpha Beta Gaga to be lacking drive and coherency. The Nova’s amp section really pulls the HF2s together and reins them in, and especially brings that messy bass into control. I never found the HF2s bass tighter than through the Nova’s amp. I was flabbergasted with the visceral depth in the bass attack of Take Me Into Your Skin via the JH13s – the Nova allowed it reached into my gut and thrash my innards as a giant subwoofer would. Do note that the HF2s have “more” bass than the 13s, but the 13s are inherently tighter and reach deeper. Nonetheless, the newfound articulation the Nova brought to the HF2’s low end was remarkable. The amp section of the Green was clearly not in the same class, much less the amp section of the 3GS. The Nova was simply much more muscular, offering authority and control that I had not heard before. The Nova’s amp is a touch on the warm side of neutral overall, and clearly exceptionally capable. I wish I still had my HD 650s to test them with as I believe the Nova would have done them justice.

Of course, the whole experience is much better when putting the Nova’s DAC into the equation as well.

A word on movies/gaming
I play a bunch of computer games and movies on my PC as it’s a hybrid HTPC/gaming rig. Through the JH13s the Nova is absolutely brilliant for these applications. I have never found myself so engrossed in District 9 as I did with the Nova and 13s; the impressive rendition of the ambience and periphery sounds was truly phenomenal, and the gunfire, explosions, and weapon effects were gut-wrenching and on-point throughout. I could barely stand to play through Bioshock 1 and Bioshock 2 with the JH13s in this setup – the sound engineering on these games is brilliant, and the setup makes the splicers way too startling. Don’t even get me started on Dead Space – I simply refuse to play it with the Nova/JH13 combo as the sound design in this game is far more disturbing and terrifying than the visuals are. The overall setup is absolutely engrossing, even moreso than my parents’s substantial home theater investment at home. It's not 7.1, but I've never heard stereo like this before.

Conclusion
I’m pretty impressed with the Nova. It delivers, and I have no regrets about it as (what I consider) a substantial investment. It’s not five times better than the Green as its retail price is (Green RRP: $240; Nova RRP: $1200), but it’s certainly better enough to be worth keeping in comparison insofar that it offers me a much higher-level experience. This experience is easily worth the money to me – it's simply exemplary.

A little over a year ago I was perfectly content with a pair of Sennheiser HD25-1 IIs out of an iPod Video 5.5G. I found little fault in the sound. Upgrading to the JH13 Pro revealed a world of difference, shattering my expectations of what stereo sound could even provide. The Nova provides me with a similar revelation – again opening my eyes to what is possible in today’s HiFi components. Despite my nascent level of knowledge in stereo hi-fi, I’d hazard to guess that the Nova is one of the finest all-in-one solutions available.

I find the Nova very easy to recommend for those looking for a Swiss army knife in a comprehensive stereo audio setup, or even just a really good DAC and headphone amp. I haven’t enough experience in home theater to recommend it for its integrated amplification capabilities, but I am pleased to report that its headphone section does not disappoint – it excels. For an overachieving unit that aspires so much to be all things to all people, this is easily worthy of accolades – the headphone features of the Nova have no business sounding as good as they do considering how much else is also integrated into its design.
post #2 of 44
nice review man, I too find the JH13 with my sabre 9018 and balanced to 'give my innards a good thrashing' with 'take me into your skin' a really challenging album for any set of drivers even JH13 if not properly driven and this piece is part of my rotation for testing any new gear. also in absentia is as articulate as I have ever heard it. funny you mention 'inertia creeps' that track (and the album its from) came on unannounced the other day and I found myself inthralled all over again, I highly recommend finding the lossless versions of trent and massive attack, 256kb just isnt quite enough IMO to bring the best out if gear of this quality and I think you will begin to find this out in your own time. seems you and I have fairly simialar and eclectic tastes in music as well, tho I can tolerate some past masters
post #3 of 44
Nice review!!!
post #4 of 44
Very nice review. I would love to pick up an iDecco for the office to drive a pair of K1000 as well as an HD580 and a Grado SR80 using a 160 Gb iPod Classic as a source. Wonder if anyone here has heard or owns an iDecco.
post #5 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by qusp View Post
nice review man, I too find the JH13 with my sabre 9018 and balanced to 'give my innards a good thrashing' with 'take me into your skin' a really challenging album for any set of drivers even JH13 if not properly driven and this piece is part of my rotation for testing any new gear. also in absentia is as articulate as I have ever heard it. funny you mention 'inertia creeps' that track (and the album its from) came on unannounced the other day and I found myself inthralled all over again, I highly recommend finding the lossless versions of trent and massive attack, 256kb just isnt quite enough IMO to bring the best out if gear of this quality and I think you will begin to find this out in your own time. seems you and I have fairly simialar and eclectic tastes in music as well, tho I can tolerate some past masters
Absolutely! The Last Resort is a brilliant album and the sound is really lush. In the past, it sounded really congested, compressed, and muddy simply because of the vast amount of sound going on at one time. It's funny because I had listened to Trent before I owned the JH13s and found it hard to listen to because of the congestion. Now I am appreciating Trent along with other brilliant artists and many more genres than I thought I would simply because of how much more I can hear and enjoy.

Also the JH13 does electronic really well IMHO, it's uncanny because even with the lowliest setup (e.g. just the 3GS) electronic ends up sounding better than other genres through if not for the absence of bass energy compared to a more robust setup.

I'm scared to go full-on balanced with the JH13s because they were amazing before the Nova, I didn't think it was possible for them to get better.. but now they're crazy good. These things have headroom to improve like nothing else and I'm not sure if anyone has maxed them out.

Definitely agree with the source material as well.. Amazon MP3s were a consequence of getting tons of MP3 credit and gift cards from my workplace, and instant gratification being attractive.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Crookshank View Post
Nice review!!!
Thanks!
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrarroyo View Post
Very nice review. I would love to pick up an iDecco for the office to drive a pair of K1000 as well as an HD580 and a Grado SR80 using a 160 Gb iPod Classic as a source. Wonder if anyone here has heard or owns an iDecco.
The iDecco has the same DAC and pre-amp section as the Nova, only difference is a less powerful integrated amp (40wpc on the iDecco vs. 80wpc on the Nova) and of course the iPod digital dock. I find it strange that they are the same size but this is probably to cut costs and deliver the products at the attractive prices that they do. The iDecco also has a switch on the back for the digital inputs that adjusts jitter tolerance (some sources like the Airport Express N were reported to have higher-than-usual jitter that caused problems for the low-tolerance optical inputs) from narrow to wide. Since it should sound the same as the Nova I think it should be a really solid piece, especially with all it's got going on!

AFAIK no one has properly driven the K1000 through the speaker outs of a Peachtree product. I believe Ken of ALO did but the absence of a crucial component rendered the sound suboptimal, and someone else from Head-Fi (Sherwood? can't remember) drove the K1000 out of the headphone-out with decent results. I think the K1000 out of the speaker-outs would be pretty impressive since I've read nothing but good things about the way these drive speakers (provided the speakers are sensitive enough).



After some heavy thinking I think my next purchase for the setup will probably be a pair of Magnepan 1.6QRs. I heard them together at a showroom in Manhattan a week before I got the Nova and it was really quite brilliant.
post #6 of 44
So, just want to know if I get it right. iDecco is cheaper than nova, have ipod dock, have less powerful amp(If I'm planing on using this only with JH 13, is it positiv or negativ?) and shoud sound same?

Nice review BTW
post #7 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bína View Post
So, just want to know if I get it right. iDecco is cheaper than nova, have ipod dock, have less powerful amp(If I'm planing on using this only with JH 13, is it positiv or negativ?) and shoud sound same?

Nice review BTW
Yes, the iDecco retails for $999. The Nova retails for $1199. They also have the Decco2 which retails for $799 and is the same as the iDecco except doesn't have the digital-out iPod dock. I believe Head-Fi member Sherwood posted that he prefers the Nova as a DAC to the ~$1000 DACs he's heard, and as a headphone amp to the Headamp Gilmore Lite.. which would make the Decco2 a pretty ridiculous value since it also includes a speaker amp.

With the JH13 or any headphones the wattage on the integrated amp will not make a difference; that's for the speakers. The headphone amp is independent of the integrated/speaker amp and operates on the pre-amp circuitry.

If you are planning to get one for headphones only there is a lot of talk (from AVS forums) regarding a pre-amp unit in the works (no integrated amp so it's not for speakers) that will use the Sabre32 ES9018 flagship DAC and numerous other small tweaks. Should be insane for a headphone-only setup given how good this unit sounds with just the ES9006. It's projected to be released in the middle of this year and should be around $1000.

Thanks!
post #8 of 44
Quote:
Originally Posted by 3X0 View Post
If you are planning to get one for headphones only there is a lot of talk (from AVS forums) regarding pre-amp unit in the works (no integrated amp so it's not for speakers) that will use the Sabre32 ES9018 flagship DAC and numerous other small tweaks. Should be insane for a headphone-only setup given how good this unit sounds with just the ES9006. It's projected to be released in the middle of this year and should be around $1000.

Thanks!

I thank you for this part, interesting.
post #9 of 44
Great review, I love my Decco2
post #10 of 44
Motorized volume pot rather than digital huh? Cool stuff.
post #11 of 44
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by koven View Post

Great review, I love my Decco2


Yeah, I was also considering the Decco2. It's a great unit, though slanted more towards being a preamp. The cost savings from the Nova cannot be ignored, that's for sure.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ypoknons View Post

Motorized volume pot rather than digital huh? Cool stuff.

Yeah, not sure if this is common in more expensive audio equipment with remotes. Would be interested to know!

 

Funny, I'm also college-fi'ing from NYU, and from HKUST next fall.

post #12 of 44

hahaha well met. You doing Stern IBEX?

post #13 of 44
Thread Starter 

Yeah, that's exactly it actually!

post #14 of 44

Nice review, thanks :)

post #15 of 44

Great review.  I've been using a Nova for the past year in a second movie/gaming setup driving B&W CDM1SEs and couldn't be happier with the all-in-one functionality and awesome sound.

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