Advice.. Integrated vs Seperates - Low Budget..

Here's the dilemna. I've got two different dealers I deal with primarily, I respect them both and they have very different sets of opinion - which is fine :) So I'm looking for a 3rd...4th.. etc sets of opinion.

I do have a Passive Pre-Amplifier. FT Audio's LW1S2 infact, and have been using it with my NAD C350 (now looking to sell it and move to a real poweramp).

However with my limited budget locally my choice for a poweramp is basically either the Rega Maia, or the Monarchy Audio SM-70. Both of which are hovering in the $800 CDN ($600ish USD) range.

So my one dealer is suggesting that I go for the Monarchy/Passive Pre-amp which does sound very good. The other one is suggesting that I give up on the whole idea of seperates and go to an integrated in the $1500 CDN range, which would be around $1150 USD.

I know that Integrateds have been getting better and better and that in the mid - high end it appears that there are integrateds that can match some seperates (Sim I-5, Plinus 9200, Vecteur etc). But for this price range - where I'm at wouldn't this very nice Passive Pre and match it with a good Power Amp best any similarily priced integrated?

As well can someone please correct me as to the benefits of seperates vs integrated? I had thought it had a lot to do with flexibility (ability to mix n match tube pre with ss amp for example) reduced crosstalk/rfi etc.

Thanks in advance,

Nathan Klassen
IMO the savings on the IC, which may be as much as $150, would be enough for me to get an integrated, so I did in my system. I believe in high quality wire even for systems like yours which are not high dollar but can benefit from a wire upgrade. I am sure you will get wildly different responses but I stick by my guns and recommend an integrated and take the money you save on ICs and upgrade speaker wire.

my 2 cents...
I agree with Phil. Integrateds are the way to go for me. I've had numerous different integrateds, and have also had a few different separates systems. I like the simplicity of the intergrateds, the savings of not having to buy interconnets, and knowing that you are getting a pre amp and power amp that are meant to run together. In your price range I could list numerous different integrateds that are worthing listening to. It just depends on the type of sound you are looking for. For 600 dollars, the two that come to mind are audio refinement and Musical Fidelity A3. I currently own the A3. I've the audio refinement 4 times, so I know it's good, but I think the A3 is better.
I agree with Philjolet that your interconnect, speaker wire and for that matter..power cables make a big difference. For your budget, you can stick your toe in the water of the low end of high end. Everyone here started like you are. Consider that you would be introducing 2 very inexpensive power supplies and power cords along with interconnects and you will be "missing" something that will send you into tweakers hell.

In your price range, try a Unison Research UNICO or a LFD Mistral integrated. I owned a UNICO and it was a wonderful integrated with a WHOLE lot of strengths. I currently have a BAT VK300xSE and I do not plan on going to separates anytime soon. I have upgraded cables and wish I had started there with the UNICO rather than trying to solve my desire for "more" by buying "boxes".

Do what you want as it is your money and your ears, although each option you have described above I believe would be far inferior to either the UNICO or the Mistral. If you are not afraid of used, you are on the perfect website to find a great deal of value. You can find SIM's, Unico's, Mistrals and Musical Fidelity gear already depreciated into your budget. There is an AMAZING difference when you step up above your budget as you will mostly find attention to the details that only a reasonable amount of additional money will make available.

Good luck on your quest and do what you like. All of us who have the time to "chill" on this web site have probably overanalyzed everything to the point where the law of diminishing returns has surely kicked in. Check out Ridge Street Audio cables New or used and synergistics used. BTW, what front end are you using. Rega has a good CD player but I am unimpressed with the sonics of their amplification.
Thanks for the input all.

My system is composed of:
Quad 21L Speakers
NAD C350 Integrated (To be Replaced)
FT Audio LW1S2 Passive Pre-Amp
Speaker Wire: NearSota - OTA Wire - Bi-Wired
Interconnects: Kimber 4 Strand Copper OEM (Similar to KS-1011)
Source: Toshiba SD-430V

First. I am of the mind that the source is incredibly important, however it was much to my surprise to discover that the NAD is a weaker link in my system than the Toshiba. The Toshiba ABSOLUTELY is the next thing to be replaced in my system.

Why do I believe that the NAD is weaker than the Toshiba?
That is my in house roundup of a Rega Planet 2000, Cambridge Audio Azur 640c, Arcam 73t, Roksan Kandy mkIII, Cary 308, and Creek CD50mki.

No the Toshiba was not better than any of the associated players and I have my eye on the Cary or the Creek for my next source.

Without the Pre-Amp, bypassing the NAD's pre-amp section, it was nearly impossible to distinguish between players. Putting the pre-amp in it was not hard to tell the difference. One thing came through very clearly, my Toshiba could not image / had no soundstage etc. Also the Cary had a smaller soundstage than the Creek and even had one I would describe as small - this is something I have heard from no one else.

So recently I had both the Monarchy SM-70 and the Sophia Baby Tube Amp in my system. Suddenly the Toshiba has a soundstage, and can image. I'm sure that the Cary would do a hell of a lot better (as would most of the other players in that round-up). So while the Toshiba is weak, and it is but considerably better & non-fatiguing compared to my previous Pioneer DV-353 --- the NAD is really holding back the system as a whole.

Creek + Pre-Amp + NAD is about as enjoyable as Toshiba + Pre-Amp + Monarch/Other Poweramps.

Which is why I'm looking at th power-amp first - to enable me to be better able to evaluate a source when I get to that stage, and provide me a more enjoyable experience in the interim.

I guess I've always felt that Integrateds are ultimately a compromise at some level.
You might want to replace your NAD with the Jolida hybrid 1501A. They can be found for as little as $450 used and, I think", sound ten times better than NAD. And NADs do sound good for the money.

When I replaced my NAD with the Jolida it made the system really come to life beyond my expectations.
1. It sounds like your only source is CD, is that correct? If so, why not do what (it sounds like) you really want to do & get the best power amp you can afford--& plan on getting a CDP w/built in volume control.

2. I'm sure you realize you can move up in quality a LOT by buying used. For less than $1000 used you can get a C-J MF2250 (SS), or a VTL ST-85 (tube), both sweet power amps for the $$ (just 2 out of many many ideas I'm sure).

3. Totally contradicting what I said in (1), I agree with those urging you towards an integrated. Saying that "Integrateds are ultimately a compromise at some level"......well, yeah, at SOME level, sure, probably. But I think that level is a long way from anything you're even contemplating now. What about a used Classe' 150 or 151 Integrated? You can use either the pre-amp or power amp section separately, so you can try out different pre-amps (or power amps) when you get the urge......
YOu might want to consider some of the tube amps with volume control (a "one source" integrated you might say). At $1000US used, there are some pretty good products out there, including Sophias, and maybe if you are lucky, a Cary. New, there are lots of Chinese products out there, including Cayin, ASL, Jolida, Ming-Da, etc. Not familiar w/the efficiency/impedence curve of your speakers, but if you went used in this product range you save $ on ICs and pre, and maybe get enough to upgrade your source. The Cayin 30 is pretty well received integrated and can be bought new for about $800US.
Budget-wise, for the same money you get higher-end integrated then separates. One exception - if you need excessive power. For a price of my i-5 I could choose among several inexpensive separates. But in terms of sound quality, i-5 just belonged to another, significantly higher level of refinement.
Also, the required interconnects go from the same budget, which also lowers possible choices. Just my 2 cents.
I strongly recommend Audio Note Oto (SET) integrated amplifier - while rated at only 9 watts this little amp will power a normal effeciency speaker to decent levels.
As I used to have a system very similiar...Quads and NAD...I would have to of the sonic strenghts/traits of NAd amps is soundstaging...true they are not the last word in detail or bass extension...but they do get the midrange right...not all amps(cheap or pricey) due...and going from that into a Rega for example would be more of a lateral move...I agree tubes would be fun...a nice ss intergrated is the Bryston b-60...although the unforgiving top end of the Quads with the Bryston might be a little "hot" any rate...its a nice amp with very good bass extension....also soundstaging is very recording dependent and speaker placement is critical...I have since moved on From this set up...but soundstaging and imaging were never a problem...once last note...used Quad equipment would be ideal...enjoy...just my .o2