Tonally accurate sound across multiple inputs
Slightly bloomy presentation with valve switched on
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Peachtree Audio has already graced the pages of Hi-Fi Choice, when we reviewed the Nova integrated amplifier and DAC. Now the superficially similar iDecco is here for your consideration, but beyond the similarities in appearance, the iDecco is an altogether different piece of equipment.
In fact, Peachtree see the iDecco being used in a different way to the Nova and while the two units share some components, they are a different design.
Peachtree claim that the iDecco is the first "valve hybrid integrated amp with digital iPod dock, headphone amp and multi input DAC." While we are fairly sure that the word 'first' could easily be changed to 'only', the iDecco is a well-specified and flexible device.
It produces 40 watts into six ohms, which should be sufficient to drive most speakers likely to be partnered with it. The preamp features a single 6N1P triode visible via a window in the front panel. This can be switched in and out of the circuit via a button on the front panel and the remote, which makes the iDecco able to operate in both hybrid and completely sold-state modes.
As well as the internal amplification, the iDecco features on board digital-to-analogue conversion. And like the larger Nova, this is built around a version of the ESS Sabre DAC, that is capable of extremely high measured performance and variants – which feature in a number of highly regarded products, including the Audiolab 8200CD.
The relationship to the Audiolab is stronger than the chipset used, as John Westlake (the designer of the Audiolab) also designed the Peachtree DAC which accounts for the similarity in approach between the two devices.
The iDecco DAC board features eleven regulated power supplies and transformer coupling of each input. This is an impressively rigorous practice in a product of this type.
While the Nova features, five digital inputs, the iDecco has only four, a USB, coaxial and optical connection on the rear panel and the fourth is allocated to the iPod dock on the top of the unit. This is closely related to the PURE i-20 and, if the performance of the PURE is anything to go by, this is no bad thing.
The iDecco also reduces the number of analogue inputs supported to just one, but adds a component video output that allows the iDecco to output video material from an iPod to a screen while replaying the audio. Preamplifier outputs and a Class A headphone socket complete the connectivity.
For £999, this is a lot of functionality and the appeal of a product that offers the flexibility of direct iPod connectivity with the performance of a separate iPod transport is a strong one. It would be possible to construct a system of roughly equivalent price that would be able to match the functionality of the iDecco, but this would rather miss the point of the Peachtree, which combines this functionality in a single neat package rather than in a host of little boxes, all requiring an attendant mains plug and cabling between them.
Back in black
Aesthetically, the iDecco is styled in a similar fashion to the Nova, with a wrap-around chassis with appealing curved edges. We think that the gloss-black finish of the unit is more handsome than the 'wood' finish of the Nova and combines with the silver front panel to good effect.
The fit and finish of the iDecco is generally good. The controls operate with slickness and precision and panel gaps are small and consistent. The iPod dock could benefit from a dust cover to keep the connecting socket clean and the remote is rather hideous and nowhere near as pleasant to use as the front panel controls.
Given what the iDecco is offering in terms of features and considering the price, these are not serious gripes. At 380mm wide and with the iPod socket on top, its either going to have to stand on its own, or be on the top of a stack of equipment, should you need to take this into account.
Connecting a Cambridge Audio 840C to the iDecco (via the analogue input) in order to get some sense of perspective of the amplifier on its own, the Peachtree revealed some likeable traits. This is a smooth and refined performer which can be listened to for hours without coming across as fatiguing or overly bright.
The tonality feels accurate and well-judged and voices, in particular, are well handled and sound engagingly real. Connecting the CD player to the digital inputs did not significantly alter the presentation of the iDecco, but the presentation becomes slightly more forward with a little more attack to the leading edges of notes.
Switching the valve in the preamp on – signified by an extra light illuminating the valve window on the front panel – produces mixed results. The valve sound is slightly stereotypical, in that there is a pronounced midrange bloom and a softening of the low end, but this can make thin and aggressive recordings more listenable and switching it back out of the circuit is simple enough to do.
With up tempo music, there can be a sense that the iDecco does not pick up the pace and stays a little relaxed to be truly exciting, but equally (even when pushed very hard) there is little sense of harshness or stridency.
Given that the unit is likely to encounter quite a bit of compressed music, it is good news that performance remains very listenable with all, but the most heavily compressed material.
This presentation stays consistent across the three rear panel digital inputs, including the USB. This connected to both PC and Mac quickly and efficiently and possessed the same sonic qualities as the coaxial input.
The iDecco also features an adjustable digital filter and a jitter bandwidth switch. The latter allows it to better 'lock on' to a source with very high jitter levels, but nothing we had to for the test produced enough jitter to defeat the switch in the 'narrow' position, let alone the wide one.
The filter produced subtle, but noticeable changes to the presentation, with the 'slow setting' making the iDecco more forgiving of compressed and bright material, while the 'sharp' position allowed lossless material more space to breathe.
An iPod connected and playing AAC lossless files is indistinguishable from a laptop connected over USB playing the same material. This is extremely impressive for an inbuilt device and gives the iDecco a very strong advantage to anyone who has made the jump with their iPod from peripheral to hi-fi .
The iDecco has much to commend it as a piece of design and audio engineering. This is a well-built and well-thought out piece of kit that is perfect as a modern take on the music centre or as a very high-quality addition to a PC or Mac.
Some of the features are a little gimmicky, but Peachtree do at least give you the option to turn them off. The quality of components in the DAC board make this a consistently talented performer with modern digital sources.
This is a lifestyle product with sufficient hi-fi credentials to appeal to a broad church of users and it has the performance to offer something for all of them.
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