There's a strange irony in the fact that Albert Einstein never actually uttered the words, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." What he actually said was this: "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." Personally, I like the misquotation better, for obvious meta reasons. But whichever wording you prefer, you have to admit that it's a philosophy that the audio industry could stand to take to heart. And it's a philosophy beautifully embodied by companies like Peachtree Audio.
Peachtree's mission is simplicity incarnate; its product line is focused wholly on two-channel audio, with a strong emphasis on the digital side of things. The $1,999 nova220SE integrated amplifier combines almost all of Peachtree's product categories into one simply gorgeous, rock-solid, beautifully built chassis. Within its glossy black wood cabinet, you'll find a 24-bit/192-kHz upsampling DAC with USB Audio Class 1.0 and 2.0 capabilities (with a push-button toggle on the back panel for selecting between the two); two discrete Class A preamp stages (one to drive the power amp and headphone amp; one to drive the RCA preouts) with technology borrowed directly from the company's $4,499 Grand Integrated X-1; dual-mono Class D amplifiers that deliver 220 watts of power per channel into an eight-ohm load with both channels driven, and 350 watts per channel into a four-ohm load, with Total Harmonic Distortion of 0.2 percent either way; a triode tube buffer with a user-replaceable Russian 6N1P military tube (6922 variant); and last but certainly not least, a dedicated headphone amp and output capable of delivering 1,170 mW of juice into a 32-ohm load with 0.006 percent THD.
Around back, you'll find three additional digital inputs: one coaxial, also capable of accepting a 24/192 signal, and two optical ins with 24/96 input capabilities. There's also a stereo analog input, stereo preouts, and a 3.5mm 12-volt trigger. Despite its capabilities, the nova220SE's front panel is clean and uncluttered, with only five input selection buttons, a power toggle, an IR input window, and a nice, chunky volume control with really nice heft and inertia.
Ease of setup is, of course, determined by connected components, which in my case amounted to my Maingear Vybe media and gaming PC. If you're running Windows, tapping into the nova220SE's 24-bit/192-kHz USB DAC capabilities does require a driver download from the Peachtree website. For the bulk of the review, I relied on the nova220SE to drive a pair of GoldenEar Triton Seven loudspeakers connected via a pair of Kimber Kable 12TC speaker cables to the nova220SE's beautiful five-way binding posts. In the review's final weeks, the Triton Sevens were replaced with a pair of GoldenEar Triton Ones.
Honestly, the time spent with the GoldenEar Triton Sevens was more informative overall because I've lived with the speakers for a good nine or 10 months in my home-office two-channel system, and I've had the opportunity to drive them with quite a few different stereo preamps and amplifiers. With that in mind, I can say that, to my ears, the biggest difference that the nova220SE makes is its incredible capacity for dynamic range. Its punch. Its impact. Its ability to go from zero to rock 'n' roll in naught-point-nothing seconds.
The Black Crowes' "Descending," from Amorica (American Recordings), is a great example of what I mean here. I recall mentioning in a previous two-channel preamp/amp review that the strong sforzando moment at right around the 28-second mark, when delicate piano gives way to slamming drums and Dobro, didn't really deliver the goods through the Triton Sevens. The Peachtree nova220SE really reminds me of why I return to this song again and again when I'm auditioning new gear. It's not that "Descending" is an audiophile recording by any stretch of the imagination, but it takes the right combination of preamp, amp, and speakers to do the song justice. At the risk of being crass, that one little moment borders on the orgasmic when played through the nova220SE. It's a veritable explosion of sound. An exultant release of controlled ecstasy that makes you want to get up and jam along with the band.
Let's back up a few seconds before that sweet release, though, because the other thing that instantly stands out about the nova220SE's performance is just how wonderfully low the noise floor is. "Descending" may not be the best track to demonstrate that aspect of the amp's performance, but all the same I found myself taken aback by the subtle detail in the intro: the "accidental" percussion in the sound of piano pedals being depressed.
A track that shines a brighter light on the nova220SE's low noise and exquisite capacity for resolving fine detail is Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer's Child Ballads (Wilderland), specifically the first track, "Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)." It's a wonderfully recorded, infinitely intimate album that's simple in scope - two singers, two guitars, recorded live without headphones and with no overdubs - but drenched in subtle detail. There are elements of the mix that I'm accustomed to hearing only through my custom IEMs, but the Peachtree does a wonderful job of sussing them out even in an open room. Through the Triton Sevens, and especially later with the Triton Ones, the nova220SE effortlessly resolves the texture of the bottom three guitar strings, the quiet breaths between vocal lines, even the subtle little mouth smacks that normally get buried or blurred over anything but a good set of headphones.
Click to Page Two for more on Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...