Speak of an integrated amp to anyone other than an audio enthusiast and you’re likely to get a puzzled look in return. That’s what happened as we paraded the Peachtree Audio decco65 around DT’s Portland offices. First was the wide-eyed, mouth-agape reaction rightfully garnered by the decco65’s beautiful aesthetic; then came the confused, furrowed-brow of someone who wasn’t quite sure what they were looking at. And that’s understandable, because the integrated amp is something of an enigma. It’s not a receiver, but it isn’t just an amp either.
Simply put, an integrated amp is an amplifier and pre-amp built into one chassis. It doesn’t have a tuner in it, so you can’t call it a receiver. There’s no surround sound, no video switching or processing, and no cheesy LCD displays. These things are built to do one thing and do it well: make your speakers sing.
Integrated amps let you switch among all your sources, give you some volume control, and amplify the signal so your speakers can use it. Simple.
The problem is, the integrated amp has been long overdue for an update. This is a piece of technology that, until very recently, hadn’t changed much since the 70’s. Thankfully, the folks at Peachtree (and a select few like them) have managed to punt the integrated amp into the 21st century – and not a second too soon.
…the decco65 tends to either render the onlooker speechless, or inspire a string of the most flattering sort of colorful metaphors.
Here’s a fun reality check: You know all those kids who got their first MP3 players when they were 14 years old and started building up their digital music libraries? Those “kids” are now approaching 30 years old, they have good-paying jobs, and their tastes have matured. And with that maturity comes an appreciation for some of the finer things in life. Things like good sound.
But this new generation of listeners has no use for a rack full of components. Sure, they might own a turntable and some vinyl (it’s coming back, folks), but when they want to listen to music, 99 percent of the time they’re going to whip out their laptop or a smartphone; because that’s where their music lives.
Whether Peachtree was aware or not, it is this generation of listeners for which the Decco65 is ideally suited. It offers several digital inputs, plenty of high-current amplification, it looks gorgeous and, most importantly, it sounds gorgeous playing back everything from crappy 128k MP3’s downloaded from Napster in 1998, to advanced, high-res FLAC files from sites like HDtracks. Here’s what happened when we gave the Decco65 a run for its money.
Out of the box
In its box, the Peachtree decco65 could easily be mistaken for a box of lead. Sure, it’s only 28 lbs, but when 28 lbs is crammed into a 4.37 x 14.8 x 11.5 (H x W x D-in inches) package, it has a way of delivering a message that says “Yeah…we mean business here. What did you expect?”
When pulled out of its box, the decco65 tends to either render the onlooker speechless, or inspire a string of the most flattering sort of colorful metaphors. It is beautiful in a way that is both difficult to describe and nearly impossible to capture in pictures (though that didn’t stop us from trying). This integrated amplifier can class up nearly any joint, you only need to allow it to by placing it on top of something instead of inside something.
In the box with the decco65 we found a robust IEC power cord and a remote control with supplied batteries.
Features and design
The Decco65 may be simple in appearance and operation, but in truth it is the product of careful engineering, excellent parts and quality manufacturing.
The decco65 is available with a gloss-black exterior for $1000, but the upgrade to real cherry or rosewood finishes is well worth the added $100 expense. Our review unit came with the cherry wood finish and it was teamed up with a pair of Aperion Audio’s Verus Forte towers, also in cherry. From an aesthetic point of view, the two are a match made in heaven – we would later learn the synergy didn’t stop at the surface.
The deco65’s minimalist face includes soft touch buttons for power and its five source inputs. On the far right, a dimpled, motorized volume control turns with just enough resistance to be taken seriously. Just to the volume control’s left is a small window through which a single vacuum tube can be seen. When powered up, the tube naturally glows orange, but to highlight its presence and indicate it is active in the signal path, Peachtree has added a blue led which can be switched on and off from the included remote control.
On the back of the amp are its five inputs, including one for asynchronous USB, two coaxial digital, one optical digital and one pair of RCA analog ins. The amp doesn’t have a “subwoofer output” per se – there is no bass management on board – but it does offer a set of preamp outputs which could be used to connect a subwoofer or any other form of external amp, for that matter.
In order to have stellar sound, you must feed the amp with a high-quality signal, and that’s where the decco65’s ESS Sabre 9023 DAC comes in.
Inside the decco65 is where all the magic happens. At the heart of the amp is a powerful toroidal transformer capable of delivering high-current power to support virtually any kind of speaker. At 8 ohms, the decco65 puts out 65 watts per channels; at 4 ohms that goes up to 95 watts per channel. And Peachtree says the decco65 can feed a 2 ohm load if necessary.
But power only gets you so far. In order to have stellar sound, you must feed the amp with a high-quality signal, and that’s where the decco65’s ESS Sabre 9023 digital to analog converter (DAC) comes in. It can handle 24 bit-depth content with up to a 192 kHz sampling rate through any of its digital inputs and it will upsample lower-quality files to sound a little better than their native rate might otherwise imply (upsampling can’t work magic, though).
The decco65 also features some audiophile-wizardry such as a low jitter clock and a process which dumps digital noise to ground before it ever reaches the DAC. The result is meant to be cleaner sound.
It should be noted that the decco65’s DAC can’t process Dolby Digital or DTS audio streams; it likes good ole’ 2-channel PCM only. For most folks, this will not be a problem because most TV’s either automatically down-mix those surround sound streams to 2.0 channel PCM or offer the option to do so. But we did run into an issue with the LG 65LA9700 we were testing at the time. A s luck would have it, the LA9700 is one of the few TV’s that doesn’t automatically down-mix Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound streams to 2.0 channel PCM and doesn’t offer the option to do so in its audio menu. So, when we queued up Netflix and the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound audio got delivered to the decco65, all we got was some digital clicks. Switching over to our Roku player fixed the problem right up, as it allows a choice among audio streams. But for those who might connect a Blu-ray or DVD player to the decco65: know that you will need to set your player up to output 2-channel PCM in order for it to work nicely with the amp.
Now, about that tube we mentioned: It is a 6N1P Russian-made triode tube that runs in the pre-amp buffer section and is meant to smooth out the harshness often associated with digital music files. Some may be familiar with this practice since Samsung has taken a similar approach with some of its high-profile audio products. When used with the decco65’s headphone output, the tube makes for class-A output.
Associated equipment for this review included an Asus Zenbook Prime laptop, Antelope Audio Zodiac Silver DAC and headphone amp, Oppo BDP-103 Universal Disc Player, Aperion Audio Verus Forte speakers, Cambridge Audio Minx Xi digital music receiver, Cambridge Audio Aero 2 bookshelf speakers and, Golden Ear Technology’s Triton Seven floor-standing speakers, and an LG 65LA9700 Ultra HDTV.
We wasted no time putting the decco65 to some seriously tough work. Our first test track came from the Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007 DVD – Jeff Beck’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers.” Anyone who has heard any of the many renditions of this song knows that Beck has a way of coaxing sounds from his guitar that nobody else is capable of. On this particular recording, though, it is Beck’s young bass player, the wonderfully talented Tal Wilkenfeld, who takes the first solo and very nearly steals the show.
If the Peachtree decco65 hadn’t already had us right out of the box with its gorgeous looks, it sealed the deal with the very first note it played.
The decco65’s reproduction of Wilkenfeld’s bass solo through the Aperion Verus Forte speakers was spot on. Every dynamic move she made was nimbly executed while the wood of her 4-string Fender Jazz Bass rang out clearly just below the buzz of her strings as she moved deftly up and down the neck.
Soon, after some wild applause from the audience, Beck takes over and reminds everyone why he’s the leader of this particular band, pulling on his guitar in a way that makes it sound like it is weeping tears of joy and torment simultaneously. The decco65 didn’t miss a single nuance and, in fact, exposed some overtones that we haven’t noticed before.
In no time at all, the decco65 had already become one of our all-time favorite amplifiers. We could have stopped where we were and written up a glowing review, but there’s just no way we could stop listening. Pressing forward, we queued up Bruno Mars’ recently released “Treasure” and sat back as his tell-tale vocal husk cut through the room like a rusty scythe, the bass players stanky groove snapping back and forth in a syncopated rhythm that sat perfectly between the snaps of what were, suddenly, very apparently sequenced drum tracks.
The decco65 very clearly struck a special kind of synergy with the Aperion speakers, so we decided to switch things up and see how it did with the Golden Ear Technology Triton Seven, a much larger and more elaborately-designed speaker in comparison.
We’re going to save the details of our experience for our full Triton Seven review, but to suffice it to say that the pairing between the decco65 and the Sevens was nothing short of magical. As we continued to listen, we kept thinking to ourselves, “This is it…this is the kind of sound some people spend tons of money and their entire lives seeking to achieve. Yet, here it is, right in front of us, coming from a $2,800 system.”
As for movie soundtracks, the decco65 is certainly capable of delivering a satisfying movie experience with plenty of dynamic punch in most modestly-sized rooms, but we worry it doesn’t have the headroom necessary to deliver sustained, high-spl sound effects for extended periods of time in more, shall we say, cavernous spaces. Then again, we wouldn’t use it to drive super low-impedance passive woofers to gut-splitting levels in an outdoor venue or anything, either.
But that’s not what the decco65 is for. This is a music-first amp that doubles well enough to deliver all of your digital (and analog) media from one, simple-to-use, gorgeous package. And at that job, it is wildly successful.
Forced to complain about something, we might say the decco65 could use an extra analog input. Sure, it’s a digital amp, but just one more might have enhanced its versatility just that much more. Also, we’re not sold on the tube in the preamp stage. We did several A/B comparisons, and the difference was negligible. With that said, we’d still want to see the tube…it’s just sexy like that.
If the Peachtree decco65 hadn’t already had us right out of the box with its gorgeous looks, it sealed the deal with the very first note it played. Granted, taste in sound varies from listener to listener, but for our part, the decco65 just did “it” for us. It effortlessly displays detail, is melodically and harmonically faithful, and it is a beautiful piece to show off.
In an increasingly digital age, the Peachtree decco65 manages to bring an aging audio component into a modern era and make it more relevant than ever.