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Peachtree iDecco

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Peachtree iDecco
Sound quality
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From Hi-Fi World - October 2010 issue

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Juicy Fruit

idecco

 

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.


SOUND QUALITY
Starting off with the iDecco as an amplifier via its analogue line in, and you’re in no way left with the sense that this is a sub-£1,000 system. It has an open and expansive sound, in its way, which gave a confident and projective performance even through my Yamaha NS1000M speakers. No less impressive was its tonal balance; whilst not overly warm, the Peachtree is certainly on the benign side of neutral; again there’s absolutely on sense of this being a hard, thin, transistory amplifier. The result is a most enjoyable sound that covers its tracks well.

Cue up Zero 7’s ‘I Have Seen’ on vinyl and you’re greeted with a big, fulsome bass and crisp, quite delicate treble, between which is a smooth and capacious mid. It’s no rhythmic slouch either, letting the track push along with a fine sense of timing. Indeed, as I sat there I was trying to find any clues as to its humble origins (in the great hi-fi scheme of things), so enjoyable was it. There’s real ‘snap’ to the snare drums, a decent degree of dynamic articulation and the general sense of the track having a beginning, a middle and an end.

idecco_rear

Neil Richardson’s ‘The Riviera Affair’, a big, blustery nineteen sixties soundtrack packed with cascading strings and heaving brass, was brilliantly carried considering the iDecco’s place in life. Coming via the excellent TAC C-60, it was all thrills and spills, with lots of detail and a vast midband. The little amp pushed out far more punch than its modest power rating suggests; some forty watters sound like - to borrow from Blackadder - “an anaemic ant” by comparison. But I was intrigued to see how the iDecco’s internal DAC would compare, so I duly bypassed the C-60’s excellent DAC stage and fed the digital audio in coaxially. The result was quite a surprise...

If anything, the iDecco sounded better using its own DAC. Of course, you might say it should, because it’s bypassing one analogue output stage and a pair of interconnects, but in my experience the built-in DACs of all-in-one units are often such that you often lose more on the swings than you gain on the roundabouts. Not so here; the iDecco served up a more immediate, vivid and detailed sound, with better definition of the strings, which had a more finely etched ‘wiriness’ to them and superior space. There’s certainly no sense that the built in DAC is a ‘filler’, chucked into the package to make the product seem better value; it’s obviously been done very well. And I can report that it was no less impressive via the USB input too, fed from my MacBook Pro...

Intrigued to hear the ‘direct digital’ iPod dock in action, I duly packed my iPod Classic with a host of CD quality, non compressed music. Considering that until recently the only product that offered direct digital off an iPod was the Wadia iTransport, this was an interesting moment of truth; would it perform? Again the answer was a resolute yes; the iPod sounded powerful and engaging without a grain of harshness to be heard anywhere; certainly there wasn’t a trace of the limp, lifeless, thin sound you normally get via an Apple audio product. Blur’s ‘Charmless Man’ positively shuffled out of my speakers, with great pace and little sense of compression or compromise. Zipping back to the original CD via the TAC’s digital out showing a tiny loss of detail and a slightly more mechanical feel to the rhythms, but it really was quite marginal. Another result.

So is this the replacement for high end hi-fi? Well, not quite. It plays digital sources very well at the price but in absolute terms you can hear that it’s a decent but unspectacular MOSFET Class A/B amp; there’s a slight mush across the midband, a slight haziness to the sound that leaves you one less step closer to the sound than a good transistor amp at around £1,000. The tube ameliorates this very slightly, adding just a touch of colour and softening that transistory fingerprint, but in overall terms it has only a minor effect; a bit like adding half a teaspoon of sugar to your tea.


CONCLUSION
A very interesting product, this. The Peachtree Audio iDecco is a great purchase for those heavily into digital, but with little space in their houses or listening rooms. Its built-in DAC is good enough to mix it with anything at the price, and the amplifier is highly effective too. Factor in a direct digital idecco_valveiPod dock, plus several other audiophile friendly facilities like a decent headphone section, and it makes a very convincing case for itself. Instead of an attractive style system that’s a little light on audiophile engineering, think of this more as a serious grown up DAC and integrated amplifier that’s been magically shrunk into a lifestyle box. As such, it gets the Hi-Fi World thumbs aloft!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

verdict five globes

 

PEACHTREE AUDIO iDECCO £999.99
Computers Unlimited
+44(0)208 200 8282
www.unlimited.com

FOR

- direct digital iPod dock
- refined, detailed DAC
- smooth, open amplifier
- switchable tube buffer
- design, build, engineering

AGAINST
- nothing at the price



MEASURED PERFORMANCE

The iDecco produced 45 Watts into 8 Ohms and 64 Watts into 4 Ohms, enough power to drive reasonably sensitive loudspeakers, like 87dB large standmounters, loud. Small shelf mounters of 84dB will go loud, but not very loud.


The output stage had an unusual negative damping factor, where output voltage goes up instead of down when faced with a lower load, not unknown but never felt to be especially beneficial. Unfortunately, output conditions were not too well controlled; at very high frequencies response varied until slew rate limiting set in, not ideal. The open loop gain has not been curtailed at high frequencies in the chip amp used, as it needs to be. The amp was trying to work at 300kHz.


Sensitivity via the Aux input is very low at 750mV, good enough for CD players and tuners, but not most Phono stages.
Distortion was close to zero even at high frequencies, with the valve switched out, but that is what FETs with wide open loop gain plus a lot of feedback can do. The valve added just a little second harmonic, 0.04%.


The input DAC performed very well. It was unusually linear, so distortion was low, measuring just 0.14% at -60dB, a fine result. Frequency response was flat except with the filter engaged, and then it reached 17kHz our analysis shows, a well judged facility that will take the edge of much digital. Jitter injected via the optical input barely appeared on the amplifier’s output, whether the Jitter filter was switched in or out, so re-clocking looks solid.
The Peachtree will work well, but its excessive bandwidth may pass interference in 'noisy' locations; hi-fi amps do not work up to 300kHz or more. Otherwise the iDecco measured very well all round.
NK

Power    45 Watts
CD/tuner/aux.
Frequency response    50Hz-300kHz
Separation    72dB
Noise    -98dB
Distortion    0.04%
Sensitivity    750mV


FREQUENCY RESPONSE

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