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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: Raysonic CD-168
CDP/Preamp/Integrated: Aura Note Completer

Amp: Audiosector Patek SE
Speakers: Zu Audio Druid Credenza; Mark & Daniel Maximus Ruby; Passion &ound monitor

Cables: Ocellia Silver Signature loom; Crystal Cable Reference power cords
Powerline conditioning: Furutech RTP-6
Room size: The sound platform is 3 x 4.5m with a 2-story slanted ceiling above; four steps below continue into an 8m long combined open kitchen, dining room and office, an area which widens to 5.2m with a 2.8m ceiling; the sound platform space is open to a 2nd story landing and, via spiral stair case, to a 3rd-floor studio; concrete floor, concrete and brick walls from a converted barn with no parallel walls nor perfect right angles; short-wall setup with speaker backs facing the 8-meter expanse and 2nd-story landing.
Review Component Retail: $1,199

In the summer of 08' I contacted David Solomon of Peachtree Audio with an order for their new Decco in cherry. As things turned out, that unit never made its way to Switzerland whereto I subsequently relocated and the review was cancelled. But by December, another Solomon e-mail announced the Novus. Would I accept his apologies for dropping the Decco ball and review the Nova instead? "Make it so". Rather than deleting the already penned intro on the Decco, I decided to retain it since it offers all the vital background on the company and the Decco platform upon which the Nova is built. Without further ado, here's the miscarried Decco preview as it would have appeared. Then we'll swap horses and segue into the Novus specifics...

2002, three musketeers crossed rapiers. "One for all. All or nothing." Close enough. It's the year David Solomon, Jim Spainhour and David Richardson formed Signal Path to distribute Music Fidelity for the US. The goal was to distribute and develop products for a market that held a surprising number of gaps "if one knew where to look". Spainhour had previously worked for Atlanta-based Teal Marketing and Solomon for Atlanta-based HiFi Buys. Respectively, both put in 15 years and later accepted parallel positions with Kevro's Monitor Audio and Musical Fidelity distribution until early 2002 when they went independent. Signal Path CFO David Richardson made his way in the biz by developing the RCMS system (POS) that is still in use today by some of the biggest dealers in the nation. For 12 years, he also ran the successful Freedman's Car Stereo in Charlotte NC before crossing and rattling sabers with David and Jim.

Thus the team was set, with Jim responsible for development and manufacturing of Signal Path products, David Solomon for sales and marketing efforts and David Richardson the operations manager. The first Signal Path products were Era speakers whose drivers and enclosures were designed by Jim's going-back-to-ADS friend Michael Kelly who had by then formed Aerial Acoustics.

With Peachtree Audio -- Atlanta, Georgia, the peach state; get it? -- the team strategically followed the writing on the wall from years ago. Computer audio and small speaker sales continued to snowball, traditional hifi sales and big speakers froze up like a cheap margarita. Hence Peachtree Audio's maiden product would be a high-value lifestyle component which the iPod and PC audio crowd could embrace without compunction or remortgaging their college tuitions. And it would match with the Era speakers. And owners would be enjoying a true high-end slice of - um, peach cobbler.

For all of $799 through a dealer network, the Decco combines a Scott Nixon-designed NOS (non-oversampling) DAC with USB input with a Scott Nixon-designed 50-watt National 'chip' amp* driven by a single ElectroHarmonix 6922 preamp stage whose glow is enhanced by a red LED at the tube socket and displayed behind a little window.

* So-called chip amps run operational amplifier (op-amp) integrated chips (ICs) at the outputs. The now burgeoning trend began with 47Labs' Gaincard. Working on his PitRacer digital transport, Junji Kimura wanted a basic work horse amp whose parts voicing he knew inside out. To not waste time on lengthy R&D, he assembled a basic chip amp. When word of its performance leaked, he found himself pressured to offer it up commercially. After suitable tweaks, the 47Labs Gaincard hit the market as using "the world's smallest number of parts - 9 per channel; shortest signal path - 32mm; and shortest feedback loop - 9mm". Because the Model 4706 Gaincard was expensive, copies dubbed Gainclones soon appeared. This kicked off the chip amp phenom. Today, has an entire forum dedicated to it. The most
popular chips are the National LM3875 and LM4780. They limit output power to between 40 and 50wpc. The Art Audio-marketed Gill Audio Lissa with remote control adds a Lundahl amorphous input transformer and, with remote, sells for $3,500. AudioZone's Amp-1 goes for $2,395 Canadian. My AudioSector Patek SE is $1,800 Canadian. Musical Laboratory's monos with outboard SMPS begin at €3,800. These all use the same chips. This also explains how a true high-quality amplifier could possibly fit inside the Decco's enclosure along with everything else. The only limitation of LM3875-based amplifiers are low-impedance speakers like B&W 803s which traditional class A amps with huge power supplies live for.

The entire Patek SE amp without power transformer, connectors and enclosure.
A stowaway bay 'round back can receive the Sonos ZP80 module to add wireless streaming. Simply loop the Sonos' digital output into the Decco's corresponding digital input and select 'coax' from the front panel. Two analog inputs, 3 digital inputs (RCA, Toslink, USB) and one pre-out (to external amp or subwoofer) round out connectivity. Plus there's a 1/4" headphone jack on the front right next to the volume control. This auto-mutes the speakers when a headphone connects. Thus a quickie recap of what the Decco can do calls it: a headphone amp; an integrated amp with onboard USB-enabled DAC; a tube preamp; and an all-in-one WiFi music box (with optional Sonos). Add source and speakers, shake and be stirred. Should your speakers be small but bass lust bulge or tickle you, a +5dB 55Hz bass EQ button can make little speakers sound more endowed in the nether regions. The 27V power toroid is prewired and switchable for 120/240V to make the Decco a global citizen. Naturally, the USB  input shakes hands with MP3/4, FLAC, AIFF and WAV files. In toto, this curvy box is a slick combo of the 47Labs-inspired and elsewhere proven chip amp recipe with Kusonoki-style converter. Add USB, a twin-triode driver, package the thing in a smartly styled black MDF case (for a $100 surcharge, optional cherry or rosewood skins are available that match Era speakers) and Decco could stand for Art Deco, decor, decadent or decked out....

For $799 brick 'n' mortar bills, the Decco obviously is sourced offshore. The nice thing about dealing with anyone from the SignalPath family is their service ethos. Customers become friends of the family. Anyone unhappy in the family makes the boss unhappy. Once the head goombah is unhappy... capiche? SignalPath's Era speaker rep is strong on value and performance. Put these three gents together in Peachtree Audio and their combined track record has real traction. As to value: "Scott's DAC is better than the $1500 Musical Fidelity XDACV8 and far superior to any $300-$400 DAC I've ever heard. The amp alone would be worth $800 if listened to blind with speakers driven well by 50 watts. Scott does sell this amp solo for $800. If you added each part, the Decco would be quite competitive at $2000. $799 is a deal and only possible because we build in China. This amp drives a pair of Gallo Reference 3.1s to loud levels in an Atlanta friend's rather large listening room. It drives our $699/pr Era D4 and $999/pr D5 to perfection." Throw in added functionality over Scott Nixon's individual pieces, gussy up the packaging, subtract 50% from the sticker but keep the dealers in the loop and that's the Decco. Just how this math works goes beyond grade school but there it is. The entire project was two years coming before first units hit retail shelves last December. 500 units sold in the first 11 weeks without any advertising whatsoever.
Good ideas are a dime a dozen. Making 'em happen takes more than a napkin sketch in a coffee shop. The SignalPath men had built up dealer trust and good will over many years of Musical Fidelity and Monitor Audio business. They could ill afford to follow up with a spectacularly priced but only half-baked component now - particularly with widespread dealer mistrust against Chinese electronics. Yes, SignalPath had preexisting infrastructure and a domestic track record, the very things eluding most Sino goods. Still, reliability, build quality and supply ability would be key; never mind competitive performance. And dealer protection. Here SignalPath implemented a rigorous unilateral pricing policy that puts Internet and storefront sellers on equal footing. To massage and dial the Decco unit to perfection, the team's motto was time & money. Spend the necessary time (two years) and money. Don't cheap out on anything.

David had already told that "I've seen a decline in the number of people walking through (specialty) retailers' doors because we're not speaking their language when we're discussing audio. We've been telling the download generation to come up to our level," Solomon said. "It's a brick wall that the industry built. We have to go down to their level." The idea for the Decco came about a few years back when one of SignalPath's top dealers said he was selling a ton of Sonos ZP80 units, an ampless version of the more expensive ZP100, and wanted a unit to further enhance the sound, Solomon said... But the main purpose of the Decco is to improve the sound of MP3s coming off most any PC or connected device... "There are about 170 million iPod and iTunes users out there and a whole lot more using their PCs to store MP3s... if we could just get one percent of those going into specialty retailers, that would be well over 100,000 additional customers. Our thinking is not that we have this really cool product; our main goal is driven by a love for the industry and a drive to bring people back into the specialty retailer." In the near future, Peachtree plans to release a ca. $700 separate digital-to-analog converter; a big $1,500 statement DAC with a tube front-end and headphone jack to be designed with input of John Westlake who was involved with the Wilson DAC project; and a $2,000 200wpc version of the Decco called the Decco D.J. with much expanded i/o connectivity.

Elsewhere, David had hinted at how good he feels the Decco is as a preamp. In love with big amps and fast cars, he personally likes 200-watt amps in his big rig. Apparently the Decco mixes it up in quite elevated amplifier company. It's something I'd have to check on during my audition.
At this stage of my own due diligence, I ordered a cherry peach from David Solomon because I hate finger prints. But I love chip amps. That's what my bridgeable-to-100-watt Peter Daniel AudioSector Patek SEs are. I like NOS DACs too especially for compressed Internet radio and music-site sampler tracks where their softer overall character is a real boon (in the super high end, think AMR and Zanden for NOS examples). And, affordable all-in-one solutions are brilliant to have in any reviewer's crib. They keep you honest when the expensive kit rolls in. Once the Decco rolls in off a late May shipment and this story gets on a roll, we'll check back in. For now, we'll let David conclude:

"We did an Atlanta Audiophile Society meet yesterday. As you know, most the 117 Million iTunes users rip their collections automatically at 128bps because that's what iTunes does unless you tell it differently. So I demmed the first three tracks to our Atlanta 'philes at 128. Max compression. When I told them afterwards, they were shocked. It sounded far better than popular hifi knowledge would admit. True, when I proceeded with uncompressed tracks, everyone heard the difference. But the point is this. Don't make the MP3 crowd wrong for how they've ripped their existing library to hard disk all along. Give them something that makes it sound as good as possible. For that you need a superior USB DAC and a low-level tube in the signal path. That we learned from Musical Fidelity. Then educate that crowd to the superiority of uncompressed FLAC or WAV files. What needs to stop is this judgmental snobbery that permeates high-end. Even MP3 at 128 can sound a lot better than most of those 117 million users currently know. If we could convert just 1% of them to turn their iPod Victrola into a Linn Sondek, we'd have built a bridge to support quality walk-in audio retail and spread the gospel of hi-performance audio as a lifestyle."