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From Hi-Fi World - October 2010 issue
BUY THE MAGAZINE (back issues subject to availability)
Peachtree Audio's iDecco is more than just another style systme, explains David Price....
So here we are in 2010. It is no longer illegal, as far as I know, for serious audiophiles to be seen using – or even purchasing – so-called ‘style systems’. No, the likes of Arcam’s Solo and Linn’s Classik have effected a change in the rules, proving that putting everything in one box doesn’t necessarily spoil the sound (of course, many such systems still sound rank, but it now no longer automatically follows...). So, here we are in our brave new world where (almost) anything goes. Audiophiles are allowed to own things that don’t have seven separate boxes and as many mains cables, and a few select one box systems can actually deliver serious sonic goods. Where does that leave the new Peachtree Audio iDecco?
Well, on first look, it could be just another Chinese box with blue LEDs. Spend any sort of time in China now and you’ll see a whole raft of hi-fi utterly unknown in the West, invariably made in Shenzhen by an ‘OEM’ manufacturer when they’re not running out a few hundred thousand AV receivers for a big Japanese name. Trouble is, these anonymous contraptions are generally pretty awful. Although many of them have valves, are packed with buzzwords that titillate Western audiophiles (LC-OCC wiring, 24/96 upsampling, etc.), they so rarely deliver; full of Eastern promise you might say, but as sour as mouldy tofu...
The iDecco is not one of these, and one key reason for this is its substantial design input from John Westlake. You might know him from a little something he prepared earlier. Noel and I can still remember being around to sample this, fresh from the oven, so to speak. The delectation I’m referring to was the Pink Triangle Da Capo DAC. I can still remember the look on Noel’s face, as sometime back in 1994 (I think?), he switched it on, only to experience pleasures unknown to those previously confined to digital. The Da Capo was a seminal digital product, as impressive as any turntable to come from the Pink Triangle stable, which is really saying something, and certainly to Noel and my ears was the best we’d ever heard 16bit CD.
John’s career didn’t stop there though, as he then went to work for Cambridge Audio and did the CD 4SE CD player. My brother still has one of these £249 machines and always asks me, every couple of years, if it’s worth upgrading to a modern silver disc spinner. No, I say - it’s a John Westlake design. Kind of asking if you should change your Dieter Rams Braun watch for the latest all singing, all dancing Swatch... Then there was the DACMagic, again a stupidly good product at its vanishingly low price. If there was ever a guy whose actions spoke louder than his words, it’s John.
Well, some of his engineering DNA is to be found here, inside the Peachtree Audio iDecco. It’s not, in all fairness, the result of his life’s work; look to the forthcoming Audiolab CD8200 (reviewed in next month’s issue) to see where’s his heart is at. But still the iDecco has been heavily breathed on by John, especially of course the digital section, which as you’ll see plays a big part.
Essentially, this is a 40W MOSFET Class A/B amplifier with a DAC and an iPod dock built in. The amp sports a preamp with a switchable tube buffer, and the iPod dock extracts the direct digital datastream from the iPod (iPod Touch (first and second generation), iPod Classic 80G, 120G, 160G, Nano second to fifth generation), a la Wadia i170, so it’s not a 'lifestyle-y' thing; this is a real piece of work. The signal goes to an ESS 9006 Sabre DAC, its implementation said to be the result of two years development, on a mutli-layer DAC board with over 450 components and 11 regulated power supplies! Its patented jitter reduction circuit reclocks the digital signal before passing it through a high-resolution 24/96 upsampling processor. Each digital input is transformer-coupled so noise associated with ground problems and switching power supplies from computers is said to be eliminated. The USB connection is galvanically isolated, eliminating noise generated by your computer’s switching power supply and greatly improving sound quality, it’s claimed.
The preamplifier section employs a Class A tube buffer with a 30 Ohm output impedance, the tube buffer being switchable by a button on the remote control, and polypropylene caps are used in the signal path. Aside from the iPod, there are three digital inputs (USB, coaxial, optical) plus one analogue input. There’s also a Class A tube (6N1P) headphone amplifier, which mutes the speaker outputs, and a component video out so you can plug in a flat panel TV or monitor. Round the back, there’s a switchable digital filter, marked ‘sharp/slow’ to help fine tune your listening preferences, and also a fixed analogue line out. It sports an IEC socket so you can experiment with mains cables.
In use the iDecco feels like a nice piece of kit. Its gloss black case is solid and finely finished, while the aluminium fascia inset looks good. I’m not convinced of the aesthetic merits of having that little window for the tube, which is of course uplift when it’s in circuit, but there’s no denying it will catch eyes. The controls have a decent quality feel and there’s no sense at all that you’ve bought a cheap product, unconventional though it is.