Once you get past a certain level it becomes all about power supplies. It's easier to fit over the top power supplies in separate components.
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Like anything, specifics matter.
Could they be? Yes, certainly. The issues of DC coupling and impedance matching of each stage to the other vanish, not to mention the need for another set of interconnects, and the possible issues with proper connections at each of those points.
One of the other places where separate costs don’t really add up for the consumer is in the cost of the cases. Separates require more casework and associated assembly times, so you pay for that without any direct value add.
I am very happy to have turned into a Luxman integrated owner. It’s solved a number of issues with space and connectivity as well as improved the overall sound quality vs. the previous set up.
At the total price point I am at, I would have a very difficult time doing better with separates. Now, if I were to spend 4x as much with separates, that’s another story. :)
I'm thinking the integrated could actually be an improvement over separates due to being a more "direct" connection. Taking away the flexibility factor of separates, is my line of thinking correct?
It is. To match the performance of a good integrated amp requires a very good and high quality (read: expensive) interconnect between the pre amp and amp. To say nothing of another quality power cord. Add in the cost of the extra PC and IC and its still possible to get better performance, but only by spending vastly more money.
If you're like me then and you care about performance per dollar the integrated amp really is the only way to go.
No! There is simply no getting around the advantage of separating components, power supplies, etc.
And also the biggest advantage to me is the, ability to be able to ditch the preamp, gaining transparency and dynamics if the source has a good way of controlling the volume without it.
Monoblocks beside the speakers with real short speaker cables, separate power supplies that minimize modulation from the other channel’s power supply sag on demand, separate circuits that minimize interference from the other channel’s electronics etc. Better imaging and soundstaging, and better stability and coherence of the music all round.
I agree that an integrated, theoretically, has an advantage over separates. Not long ago, I heard a Levinson 5805 integrated playing through a pair of Magico A3 speakers at a local dealer. I fell in love with the sound from the mids on up and the holographic sound stage illusion.
I use separates but this demo sounded so good to me that I was actually seriously considering trying the 5805 in my system and Magnepans to see if it would provide these same qualities. The dealer suggested a used Levinson 326S preamp that was just traded in, basically the same preamp section the 5805 contains internally, would provide what I wanted.
I was a bit skeptical, tried it anyway, he was exactly right and I bought it. My main point is to suggest you not discount the benefit of flexibility that separates offer. I'm using the 326S stock pc and the balanced xlr cables I use are decent but nothing extravagant.
Tim, you may wish to consider upgrading the 3.7i jumpers, and the power cord(s) and XLR. I would guess Magenpan might frown on the jumper replacement, and of course it would be "do at your own risk", however there is discussion of it to be found.
These would improve the performance significantly. :)
Regarding the jumpers for the speakers, refer to my review of the Maggie .7 at Dagogo.com
In a perfect world, where everything is equal, and for any given amount of money spent by the designer manufacturer, yes. Why? less money on chassis, better control of interfacing, fewer wires.
Now on the real world :-)
Nothing’s every equal. And separates have a cachet that means most designers' time will be spent on separates, if the products are designed for high end hobbyists.
That said i have a prototype integrated amp running right now, in my living room, and its every bit as good as the separates that it replaces, which cost at least 3x as much. Maybe more.
But that’s one of those cases where most of the major things ARE equal - because i made them so.
In terms of sound/dollar, if someone wants to make a better integrated, compared to equally priced separates, its pretty easy to do so, and very hard to do the opposite. Consider that the chassis is the single most expensive part of every component, and the packaging + shipping is sometimes #2.
So this isn’t rocket science.
That said i have found few integrated amps that really perform at the very high end; which is why this prototype exists. And oh, is it ugly!
BTW someone justified the difference based on independent power supplies. And why can i not have multiple power supplies in one box? I once designed and manufactured a power amp with 5. Why 5??? (insert old Audi ad joke "ya, because six vas too big" ) -- because it was the best way to get great sound, keep separation, and optimize each supply to the circuit it was supporting.
yea, power supplies matter BIG TIME. And i’d rather spend more money on them and less on bent metal and extra jacks.
So I would be interested to see what the answers would be if the OP had specified "at the same price point."
Which is why I answered the way I did. These sorts of questions are without qualifiers pure flights of fantasy. The OP at least did qualify it a bit by asking about connections. Still that is not much of a limitation. As anyone can see already we have not only separated into pre-amp and amp but even more separate boxes for power supplies for the separate pre-amp and amp.
I get why no one wants to talk about total cost. Throw in total cost, require people to actually listen to the whole package, it suddenly becomes very hard to find separates that even come close. But hey flights of fantasy are fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QH7hj1nauTc
Saddle up your unicorns!!
Well, arguments can be made, particularly depending on budgets.
But if you take that step, doesn't it make more sense in some ways to have an outstanding pre-amp, with a nice big power supply - and simply use powered speakers?
Always trade-offs, but I've often kicked around really seeing what the best integrateds I can afford could do.
New: the biggest bang for the buck, integrated.
Used: I gotta say separates.
For some reason, stereo bunnies, leave some really GOOD deals around.
Not to say the there’s not deals on integrated, just not as many.
I Wonder why?
Happy with what they have crowd, did a little more research crowd, bigger bang for the buck crowd, sound friggin’ great crowd. I can see why, for sure. Some really good ones, Accuphase, Man oh man. A true regret, when I sold that.
To answer the question are integrated technically better, NO, technically. But being well matched with each other,
Technically sounds quite a bit better for the NEW dollar....
Not to say the there's not deals on integrated, just not as many.
Price conscious (emphasis on conscious) value buyers tend to think longer term and tend to buy integrated amps. All the advertising, profits, and sales are geared up for separates. Consequently separates buyers tend to be less value and long term oriented. The fact of the top end of the market being people who actually consider a high price a value in and of itself drives separates far more than integrateds. All these things combine so of course whether they are realizing their mistake or chasing the next big thing either way there's gonna be more separates being sold than the market can support, and so there go the prices. Down. Where they should have been in the first place.
Integrated amps are almost always built on compromises. When a name brand comes out with an integrated, reviewers claim the integrated is a combination of this amp and this preamp and possible a dac and phono that currently exist in their separate lineup. But in reality, they are not. I have compared multiple integrated with the brands separates and the separates sounded better, but the separates cost more money. You don’t get anything for free. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t very good integrated amps out there because there are.
Very unlikely you’d reach the same power levels at the equivalent cost in an integrated amp.
Power wise, maybe not. Sound Quality I know it can be BETTER.
I had an Accuphase.. Integrated can have it all.. That unit bested many a Krell, Mcintosh, ML, setups... I know I owned them..Some units can still add singles along with the integrated, the best of ALL worlds.. Integrated, separates, SS, and or valve..
I'm pretty happy now, but for the dollar, starting all over again..I might go integrated.
My observation: It's simply not possible to fit all high quality parts and discrete components into an integrated. Take for example high quality capacitors which alone take a lot of space. In separates, you'd be able to use all the big caps you want, but in an integrated you'll probably have to settle with electrolytics in a lot of areas. My c-j phono stage does not have a single electrolytic capacitor, not even in the power supply; this design will not fit into an integrated.
Ditching the preamp may, but certainly is not, an assurance of superior sound. Soundstage and tonality may suffer without a preamp.
I'd like to hear any technical reasons you have for this statement, if the output/input impedance is fine between source and amp (which they usually are these days).
And the source has enough output to drive the amp to full power (which they usually have these days) even too much.
I have always preferred integrateds...just made sense to me.
But my last two systems have been separates and no way I’m going back.
Since we’re all being theoretical:
I think the signal is just too small and delicate coming into the preamp section. Any sins committed here are just going to be amplified (pun) downstream.
My preamp has two very small transformers for dealing with the signal appropriately. The amp has 3 big transformers.
Yes you can shield like crazy, add extra dedicated transformers all in the same box. But just like separate phono preamps...and monoblocks there are so many ways you can do better when you can isolate some functions.
I’m sure there are some integrateds that trounce some separates. Just like there are some stereo amps that outperform some monoblocks...but ‘that’s probably not the norm’ all thing being apples to apples.
I don't remember where I read it but some amp designers actually think that the best thing is to have an integrated amp with a separate power supply. That is a two box solution but with different separation of what goes in which box.
Another solution could be four boxes, pre and power and then separate power supplies for each. It may be technically better but it is very expensive.
Technically yes and no. Some of the advantages are shorter paths and same vibration across the unit.
Market wants to sell seperates for profit and integrates for share. Value wise an integrated unit is hard to beat. Consider what is required as accompanying material for preamp, phono, power, transport, dac and then prey for compatibility.
Market has plenty to offer and with careful matching of amp, speakers and room size you are close.
Seperates have the more potential but demand more patience.
When I am in my more involved phase I seem to go with separates for the fun-aggravation factor. There are more variables to consider and more components, cables And cords to swap out, mix and match. Matching separates can be a double edged sword. The “ what if?” factor can easily turn into the “ why did I?”one in this wonderful hobby.
Absolutely not, High powered amplifiers need to be kept as far away from preamplifiers as possible. Ideally amplifiers should be right behind the speakers with cables as short as possible. The lower the impedance of the speaker the more important this becomes.
Integrated amps are cheap solutions for people who do not have much room or who really do not care about the absolute sound.
That is not to say that there are not some very good integrateds out there. I suppose if you had very efficient, high impedance speakers allowing you to get away with a lower powered amplifier you might be able to build a very nice system. If the integrated had preamp outs and amp ins you could add a crossover and subs improving things further.
Just my thought, no claim to fame of being absolutely right.
How on earth, can we accept the powersupply alone, of a power amp of say the 350 watt per channel like e.g. my X350.5 to have much in common with an e.g. 35 watt class A pre-amp powersupply requirement?
Next, the signal level is one heck of a lot more tiny, more delicate to interference than that of the poweramp.
Followed by, the weight of such an amp as the example is around 75kg i.e. over 150 pounds, plus about 18kg around 40 pounds for a pre-amp like e.g. my ML326S, using an alu chasis, no heavy metal.
Adding those two up, we'd be pushing some pretty heavy integrated, just to replace the 5' IC between these two, in this example.
To lug 150 pound is borderline acceptable for one strong person, so how about say 170—180 pounds?
One now can argue for e.g. class D power, and not that I'd tried with some like Mola Mola monos. Didn't cut it, PASS item has simply more authority, with my 89db speakers. (2 x 8" woofers).
So far, this clearly answers the OPs question for me in the negative.
Oh, ok I'm invested in a nice Transparent pre to amp IC.
Will any integrated solution sound better?
No, as also e.g. that former ML 383 offering could not nearly do it either.
Bottom line, much depends on your speaker type of course.
... some amp designers actually think that the best thing is to have an integrated amp with a separate power supply. That is a two box solution but with different separation of what goes in which box.Huh?
I’ve never seen such a product.
Do you have any actual examples?
It doesn’t seem to make sense. If you’re going to have two boxes, I’d think you’d want a separate preamplifier.
It all depends on the designer’s thesis. Some companies design to a pricepoint while others design to cover an inherent compromise. Others still design with a specific function in mind and then let form follow. There is no valid engineering reason that an integrated can’t be designed to perform in the typical domestic environment within its specifications to a degree that performance isn’t compromised. Once again though, most audiophiles don’t like to be constrained to particular speakers, cables, etc. When I read that someone built their system around a specific vacuum tube type, I get a little confused what it is they are after. Fine if its an engineering exercise in whats possible with the tube type being the constant. I believe its backwards but hey, you spend your money, you get to decide how.
Now, integrateds don’t check all the audiophile boxes unrelated to sound: its “cooler” for some reason to some who frequent here to introduce more complexity (both visually and physically) to satisfy some other urge than listening to music. We have all seen photos of these shrines where special ebony footers from one side of a particular river sound more “immediate” than the same wood sourced from the other side. More boxes and cables (and thus more variables) may bring joy to many. Its all good if thats what floats a persons boat but to summarily dismiss the concept of an integrated as being inherently inferior to separates is too general and as in all things in life, the correct answer is “it depends”.
Taking away the flexibility factor of separates, is my line of thinking correct?No. If you want to build an integrated amplifier that has the same performance as separates, you would have to have individual power transformers for each power amp in the box as well as whatever preamp is in the box. In a nutshell you're not likely to see that. Keeping all the ground currents straight is another engineering nightmare that has to be solved too; with individual boxes that's a lot easier!
There is also the issue of speaker cables. If you are running low impedance speakers, the cables become pretty critical and length matters! So you wind up being limited as to how far apart you can place the speakers. I like an expansive soundstage so the speakers need to be far apart; pretty tricky with everything in one box unless you have 16 ohm speakers (where the cables make less difference).
They are a compromise, plain and simple. The only reason this is a topic is because there are good integrated amps and fair separates so there is some crossover. But the best separates are not bettered by an integrated amp.
On one hand,
in integrated you can make signal path shorter. Especially in low power SET amplifier. You can build 2A3 or 45 amplifier using only 2 stages or 300B with only 3 stages.
In separates you need more stages and more interconnect cables. Each amplification stage, capacitor and cable add distortions and noise.
On the other hand,
in separated components you can use monoblocks with very short speakers cables, separate power supply transformers and chokes for each channel improves channel separation. A separated power supply for preamp and phono stage make noise level much lower.
Separates always will be better, technically. Also, separates give you opportunity to optimize amplifier with speakers, without changing signal processing part. In addition to amp flexibility, you can plug active speakers directly into preamp. Moreover, class A and high bias class AB amplifiers running very hot, which is devastating for preamplifier part of integrated, and that will shorten preamp life.
Each amplification stage, capacitor and cable add distortions and noise.All those gain stages are in an integrated amp too. Usually though you have a greater chance of lower noise with separates since crosstalk and intermodulations from the other channel won't exist.
To see how profound this is, this morning I was working on an integrated amp, and noticed a very distorted signal at the input of the power amp- on the first stage and throughout that channel. Chased it back to the input, which is all passive components on that amp, and realized that since I was only driving one channel, the unused channel had that distorted input (and output) going on as a result. There is nothing malfunctioning about this amp; but apparently this sort of signal (the result of crosstalk) is adding distortion to the amplifier, which it would not have were the channels merely separated. The amplifier was an older solid state amp made by Trio (Kenwood/Pioneer).