The Peachtree Audio Decco is a 50 watt per channel, hybrid tube integrated amplifier with an onboard digital to analog converter that can improve the sound of many digital sources. iTunes or Windows Media, Squeezebox, Apple TV and Airport, Sonos, XM or Sirius tuners are just a few devices that work well with the Decco. The Decco, designed by well known DAC guru Scott Nixon, has a USB input for your computer, a coax and optical input for any of the digital devices listed above. It also has two analog inputs for docking stations, CD players, tape decks or phono preamp. If you’re a headphone lover, the Decco has a headphone section that mutes the speakers when headphones are plugged in. If you want to add a subwoofer or outboard amplifier, the Decco features a variable preamp-output.
The Decco is designed to be an all-in-one solution for digital playback, though it does not contain a disk drive or transport of its own. Most Decco owners seem to be using this unit as a DAC/preamp combo. In fact, with the growth of the music server segment of the audiophile marketplace, there is a great need for components that effectively bridge multiple digital sources (music server, satellite radio, iPod/MP3 player, and CD/DVD/SACD player). The Decco's market timing could not be better. It is a veritable Swiss Army knife of a component, able to fill any number of roles. But does it really provide a Hi-Fi bridge between all these digital sources and a high-end music system?
• 50WPC at 8 ohm, 68WPC at 4ohms
• Tube (6922/6DJ8) pre-amp section
• 2 analog inputs
• 3 Digital inputs - USB, SPDIF, Coaxial
• Decodes MP3, MP4, FLAC, AFF, WAV
• Preamp Stereo output for additional amplifier or subwoofer
• Non-upsampling DAC
• Remote control volume and source selection
• +5dB, 55Hz bass EQ for small speakers
• Slot in back to accommodate Sonos ZP80
It certainly has the right list of features for the job. The "ins and outs" of the Decco are not quite what you would expect. There are two analog RCA inputs (Aux 1, Aux 2), three digital inputs (Coax, Optical, and USB), and one set of RCA pre-outs that are attenuated by the volume control. Nice pieces of audiophile kit with UBS inputs are still relatively rare, and this feature alone is enough to entice many shoppers who are looking for effective and economical means of extracting music from their computer systems. However we are still not done with the Decco's back panel. It also has a docking station for a Sonos ZP80 music player. I never tried this feature, as I primarily fed the Decco with the optical output from my SlimDevices (now Logitech) Squeezebox. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the panel is the +5dB, 55Hz bass EQ button, meant for use with small speakers. The yesteryear name for this button would have been "loudness". Finally, there are speaker outputs. These WBT-style binding posts for the speakers are excellent and accept any common speaker cable terminal. Overall, a busy back panel indeed.
Unlike any other component I have encountered, most Decco users (at least those active in the audio forums) do not use the Decco to its full potential as an integrated amplifier at all. Instead, most users enjoy the Decco primarily as a DAC and preamp, saving the amplifier section for backup duty. I mostly used the pre-outs to drive a pair of monoblocks (Tube Audio Design Hibachi 125's). I also tried it as an integrated amplifier, and even tried subwoofers with it in a couple of configurations. When using the Decco as an integrated amplifier, this leaves the pre-outs free for driving a subwoofer. Of course, if you are using the pre-outs to drive another amplifier, this leaves the speaker binding posts on the Decco free to drive a passive subwoofer, or even an active one if the sub has high-level inputs. Given the relatively modest power output of the Decco (50 WPC into 8 ohms), I would not suggest using it to drive a passive subwoofer. However, I found it quite capable of driving an active subwoofer from either the RCA or speaker terminals.
Before listening to a component, you usually have to look at it. I still have not made up my mind about the styling of the Decco. It sure is different from most Hi-Fi (not the standard sliver or flat black), and the white face is unlikely to match anything in your rack except for an older generation iPod or some Sonos components. The glossy black case looks great when it is perfectly clean, but the rest of the time, which is most of the time, the piano black finish is an extremely effective attractant for fingerprints and dust. The lines are elegant, and the tube window revealing a glowing triode reminds me of some of the Vincent or Kavent components with the same tube "bling". Also like the Vincent/Kavent gear, a little red LED actually provides much of the glow, not just the 6922 inside.The Decco is available in two additional colors, cherry and rosewood for and additional hundred bucks.
Sonically, it is hard to find fault with the Decco's DAC and preamp. Female voices are absolutely sublime, full-bodied sonic images that float in front of the listener. Pieces like "Simple Love" by Alison Kraus leave the listener flinching, almost feeling Alison's breath on one's face. The single dual-triode in the preamp section likely deserves credit for much of the body in female vocals through the Decco. When listening to more bass-demanding tracks, like "Let it go" by Great Big Sea, the Decco's articulate bass never bloats, unless of course you are running a full-range system with the "loudness" button engaged. If that is the case, your system is likely to start sounding like a Honda Civic stuffed full of subwoofers (minus the rattling body panels).
The DAC does not upsample, and therefore it does not add any of the harshness or smear that upsampling can introduce. Some prefer the sound of upsampling, but I am not one of them. Although upsampled digital music is easier to listen to and does not lend itself to fatigue, I always wonder what I am missing. Not so with the Decco. The highs are crisp without being harsh, and the music has gobs of detail.
The amplifier section of the Decco is not as strong as its front end. It almost seems unfair to criticize an $800 component for not being perfect at everything, but the quality of the amplifier is not quite on par with the rest of the unit. I tend to favor speakers with relatively low efficiency (less than 90dB), and cruel impedance curves, so it should not be a huge surprise that 50 WPC does not quite provide the level of grip and bass control that one would hope for. The problems don't end there though. In addition to the relatively modest power output, the chip amp fails to provide the same resolution and dynamics that can be achieved when using the Decco as a preamp alone. It still provides a very clean, open, spacious sound, but all the edges seem softer and less controlled. This is most obvious with bombastic orchestral music and hard-driving pop music, but when listening to smaller scale music (such as "Calling You" by Holly Cole), one would never miss the lack of power. The amplifier section does make some very pleasing, non-fatiguing sound, but it lacks the sparkle and drive that characterize the rest of the unit. It is fair to say though that more efficient speakers with more normal impedances would fair better. Used as a desktop system in an office or bedroom as it was mostly intended should meet the needs of most people. It is also fair to point out that most chip amps that put out 50 wpc would sell for much more than the Decco’s total $800. A quick look at Scott Nixon’s website reveals that he sells his NOS tube DAC alone (no amp or remote) for $595. That $799 looks pretty good, huh?
The only other quibble I have with the Decco is its remote control. It leaves a lot to be desired. It is small, plastic, fussy and not a lesson in ergonomics. The largest button is marked "on", and it is located at the top of the unit. Pressing this button does....NOTHING. Well, not quite. If you turn the Decco on using the front panel, then turn it off using the "standby" button, then the big "on" button will (sometimes) make the unit exit the standby condition. Why there is not a single "standby" button on the remote is a mystery to me. The buttons marked + and - adjust the volume, but only if you are perfectly level with the Decco, close to it (<6 feet?), and the moon is rising in Virgo. The source selection buttons allow switching between the three digital inputs and the two analog inputs. To my surprise, the "mute" button actually works. Even the color of the remote is non-matching in dull gray plastic. I have not figured out why, but I almost always hold this remote upside down at first. Something about the layout of the buttons seems to suggest that the big (placebo) "on" button should be on the bottom, and even after months of use, I have still not extinguished this bad habit. I wish I could find the designer for this device so I could confiscate all of their pencils. Perhaps Peachtree decided to put most of the money in the parts that make music. Again, for $800, one should not expect Krell cosmetics, but they might want to look into improving the range of the remote.
This is truly a "Swiss Army knife" of a component. It is so versatile that it can find a useful role in almost any system. It is priced low enough and compact enough to be perfect for that second system in the bedroom/office/cottage, and yet the DAC and preamp perform well enough to be placed in a primary system with judicious selection of speakers. A college student would love one of these. I bought this one and would love to have another.
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