Every once in a while along comes an oddball combination of gear which so surprises that it seems beyond the realm of possibility – yet the ears hear something so delectable, so stunning, it cannot be denied. That happened to me recently with a pairing of equipment so outrageously imbalanced,yet so perfectly complementary that I never would have thought it to be of reference quality. So, do you get the direction I’m taking in this article?
It started with my discreet order of a Peachtree Audio Nova integrated amplifier with integrated DAC (Read non-review; at the time of purchase I had no intent on writing about it and this is an unsolicited article). My second best system is in my office. Having Sonos as one of my sources there, I found the Nova an intriguing product. I had heard it a few times at shows and thought it was better than average HiFi. I occasionally purchase components for my non-reviewing systems on a whim, just to see what they are like. I thought it might be interesting to see what an integrated, built with a nod to the Sonos lifestyle, would sound like with my vintage Eminent Technology LFT-VI push-pull magnetic planar speakers and Hsu STF-1 subwoofers. I figured the addition of a bit of push-button tube magic might be enjoyable after running all solid state for a couple years – the Nova switches from solid-state to tubes in the signal path at a push of a button.
The unit was shipped to my house. Why not the office? Because my audio sixth sense was feeling something unusual might happen? Maybe. I have an almost incurable curiosity regarding audio systems. I’ll try combinations of gear that many might not. Consider that at the moment I have no amplification scheme in my reviewing room under $6K, with some up to $30K. So, what was a measly little combo integrated integrated going to do? Something spectacular? Nah! But you never know…
So I put together this rig:
Ayon Audio CD-5 Player (with integrated preamplifier) ($9,500)
Peachtree Audio Nova
Kingsound King full-range ESL speakers ($8,000/pair)
Wireworld Silver Electra power cable on Ayon CD-5, Electra power cable on the Nova, Wireworld Platinum Eclipse interconnect, and two runs of Silver Eclipse speaker cables
I used the DAC in the CD-5 and ran it with the output level at “Max”. I bypassed the lovely ESS Sabre DAC in the Nova and used the “AUXILIARY 1” input. Listening level was controlled from the remote of the Nova.
That curiosity which says, “You never know…” has birthed some spectacular discoveries. So, into the big rig the Nova went, alongside my reference player Ayon CD-5 and the Kingsound King speakers and about $5,000 in Wireworld cables. That puts the Nova, the amplification proportion of the system, at an unhealthy, un-audiophile-like 5.3% of total system cost! Yikes! Can anything good come from that? Surely not…
To answer that, I’ll let you in on a bit of my comment I sent to “the guys at Peachtree Audio,” as they call themselves in the owner’s manual:
…this pairing has been among the most outrageously imbalanced (An almost 10K source with just over 1K integrated/DAC) and yet extremely high end rigs I have assembled. I would not be hesitant to show this system at any show, and from what I’ve heard at shows it would compare favorably to many rigs approaching $100K. I know that sounds effusive, but I am trying to be factual and temper my praise with a healthy dose of realism.
Yup. Absolutely giant killer results. Just what was I hearing?
*A textured layering, a filigreed, nuanced tapestry of delicate interwoven sounds as luring as a Quad’s midrange; the primary difference being I was hearing it with glorious balance across the entire extended spectrum, not just the midrange.
*Taut, resonant bass with gorgeous decay to the strings, and impact – something woefully lacking from most ESLs.
*Lush, full-bodied piano with appropriateness to the instrument’s sound no matter which recording I played.
*Vocals with passion, hurt, lust, breathlessness, gruffness, you name it – the most “human” portrayal of vocal cords I’ve heard, akin to CES and RMAF showcase systems like the Evolution Acoustics/DarTZeel/Playback Systems/Music Servers Direct room.
*A “Center Stage” experience with a seamless extension to the sides of the soundstage. No rifts, no holes, no vacuum of space across the performance panorama.
*Every, and I mean every piece of music I play on this rig is captivating. It matters not the genre or the quality of the recording. Without fail it makes everything sound good. Even music I don’t normally care for sounds so good that I listen out of rapture at the beauty of the sound. Time seems to stand still when I am in the room listening to this rig. I look and it is two hours later, but I think, “Wow! That was fantastic!”
You think I’m being stupid, ridiculously praiseworthy of an economical product? Consider that the Peachtree guys debuted the Nova on a rig sitting at the $300K price point! They’re not making a schlock product, but one of which an audiophile can be proud. I certainly am proud of what I’m hearing from it. I had two audiophile friends over the same week and their reaction was one of incredulity. One kept commenting it’s not fair that such an inexpensive product can produce sound commensurate with exquisite separates. He owns expensive separates, and the sound was making him openly frustrated.
It must, however, be made clear that this would not have occurred without the stupendous Ayon CD-5 player at the fore. I conclude in my review of the CD-5 that it is a “game changer”, and indeed it completely changes the game with the little Nova! The guys that made this compact integrated/DAC did their homework – it’s lithe, rich, and eminently engaging. But when paired with the force-of-nature capacity of the CD-5 to “up the ante” by the marvelous adjustable Gain feature, the pairing is neigh unto unassailable. The experience of this particular source and particular integrated amp with the King is quite like having elite high-power amps in the system. I tried the Nova on the King speakers without the CD-5 and it was ok. It’s this particular paring which is incredible. It’s such a weird combination, an integrated CD player with an integrated (DAC) integrated! Who would have thought? The bonus is that it isn’t some 120-pound amp which I’d have to lug around again if it didn’t work out. No back strain and heavenly sound is an audiophile’s Holy Grail for an amp.
I will state it in absolute terms. I do not expect others to have this radical of an experience unless the Nova is paired with the CD-5. The Nova is a lovely integrated, a powerful package in itself. However, the synergy with the CD-5 elevates it to an absurdly high performance level. Five years ago, if I had been reading this article, I likely would have said, “Phhhhht! How stupid! What a crock!” Some will say that now. So be it. Some will put the two items together and think something much different.
So, where does this combo stand in relation to other systems I have touted? How about the Pathos Classic One integrateds in mono configuration? The Nova/CD-5 is far better. What about the Cambridge Audio Azur separates? No, they are not close. If you want this extreme experience you must pair the CD-5 and Nova explicitly. Any other combinations are subject to variance; I’ll not be held accountable for their sound missing the mark of what I have described here.
Might it be that with time I will find higher-end amps which will upset the little Nova’s reign on the listening throne? I had better! I don’t expect it to hold the title to best sounding rig when there are cost-no-object designs to hear. However, for it to stand its ground against some very pricey stuff (I’m thinking of systems without the CD-5) and to flat out wow me as no other economical component has done in my room – that’s remarkable! I was on the phone to “the Guys at Peachtree Audio,” pronto getting my second unit. After all, the one in the prime listening room was not going anywhere, and I still needed one for the office!
- (Page 1 of 1)