Best pre-amp in an integrated

Hello all,

I am building my first hi-fi system on a budget and have a question for you:

For practical purposes, I will start with an integrated amplifier... just to get listening quickly. In the $1-3k range.

But if one day, I wanted to move to separates, is there an integrated amplifier with a pre-amp section that is so good that my best (most audible improvement-to-cost ratio) upgrade path would be to simply add a good power amplifier and use my integrated as a pre only?

Would love to hear Audiogon members' experience with using their integrated amplifier as a preamplifier when upgrading their system over the years.
Too many variables to give you a definitive answer. Most $3k integrateds will have excellent pre and power sections, how they will synergize with other components is hard to tell.
The Rogue Sphinx has an excellent preamp - check out some of the online reviews.
For that money you can go straight to separates. A Yaqin MS-12B preamp with NOS RCA blackplates or Telefunkens will set you back around $600. They honestly sound amazing. Then spend $1500-$2000 on a quality used power amp like a First Watt. Later on you can upgrade the preamp if you feel the need.

If you want to get listening asap and your source has a volume control (and you aren't listening on vinyl) just buy the power amp and plug your source straight in. I'm not one of them, but some people actually prefer running their system without a preamp. Just make sure the source volume is off when you turn everything on otherwise you could blow up your speakers and damage your hearing.
What features do you need on the preamp?
Phono,remote,tubes,etc. And how much power do you want on
the amp?
I am using a YBA passion 100 integrated for a preamp with my passion 600 power amp and it sounds excellent.
I agree with Robr45, too many unknowns regarding your quest. I few that come to mind:

Your budget range for the integrated is quite wide. A 3K integrated would fit nicely into a 10K system.

What other components do you currently own or are considering?

Are you going to build a system to accommodate the future purchase of separates and using the integrated as a short term bridge?

What is the perceived budget for the system with separates installed?
Thanks for the responses guys! I realize I didn't give enough practical details. Ideally I would want to spend a total of ~$2k rather than a full $3k on amplifier/DAC needs. The less I spend here, the more I can spend on speakers.

Source material: almost entirely high-res files (HD Tracks, etc.). Therefore, the idea of buying only a DAC and feeding it straight into a power amplifier has crossed my mind. Not sure if anyone has experience doing this? Good DAC for $500-$1000 with a volume control + Power amp for $1000-$1500.

By some accounts, I should just go with a Peachtree, Wyred4Sound, or Hegel (with built-in DACs) and be done with it
But Rogue Sphinx + Schiit Bifrost or Arcam rDAC has been my plan to beat so far. I figure having at least the DAC separate is the best way to make sure the equipment I purchase now can still be used down the line if/when I decide to upgrade other parts of my system.

I am generally* looking at standmounters by the likes of KEF/ATC/Nola, which is why I have generally omitted most of the tube integrates with less than, say, 70 watts from my search. High efficiency speakers by the likes of Zu/Tekton also seem like a good way to get into HiFi, but I've never had the chance to hear them in person. Dynamics are important to me. Looking for a big soundstage, good imaging, and good (but not perfect) detail (not all my music files are HQ). Not looking for a speaker that anyone would ever call "bright sounding"... overall more about the emotional involvement than chasing absolutely perfect reproduction of my source material.

Rogue Audio's Cronus Magnum has been on my list of integrates to hear for some time now, but I'm not sure how it'll work with the 85-88 dB standmounters.

Only other concern with full tube amps is whether they're the ideal match for my music tastes:
Jazz, 60s/70s Rock, Soul, Funk, Hip Hop, and a bit of House/Techno

In terms of requirements asked for: don't need remote, don't need balance control, definitely don't need a good headphone amp, and don't even really need the phono section. Built-in DAC optional but not required. Seems like you don't find bass/treble controls in integrates, though that does seem like a nice-to-have (but definitely not need-to-have) feature.
Harman/Kardon 990 - great integrated, gotta find a gently used one...

I think the Rogue Sphinx at 1295.00 would be a nice choice. At 100 watts it will drive your speakers fine. You will have the extra cash leftover for nice speakers and stands.
In your price range, I don't think any integrated has an actual active preamp section. I believe it's only an amplifier with an attenuator to control the volume. Just get a nice integrated within your budget and don't worry about going to separates. You can cross that bridge when you get there.
It seems to me that your best approach might be to decide on speakers 1st. Then select a integrated that compliments them and your tastes. I would stick to an outboard DAC to afford you greater flexibility should you decide to upgrade. May need to consider a DSD capable one.
I think it's often the plan to add an amp to an integrated, but by the time you buy the amp, you realize you can sell the integrated and buy a preamp better than the preamp in the integrated...
I agree with J135. If separates are a fairly certain future purchase I would buy a used integrated which could be sold at little loss when the upgrade is complete.

Enjoy the quest!
and if I am listening almost exclusively to digital music files, does anyone think that a DAC + power amplifier might be a better option than an integrated?

if I'm going to buy a separate DAC anyway, it seems like it might be a logical method... as plenty of DAC's have volume controls...

or is an integrated + DAC still the best option?
be wary of the volume controls in DAC's
I submit Integrated and DAC is the better option based on how much you want to spend. DACs that have good volume controls are expensive.
Speakers first, amp second, if possible an integrated and DAC in any combination. Then sources which may be the DAC alone or DAC/Pre. If you find an integrated that works magic with your speakers but has no DAC , obviously buy it and then add the DAC .
DACs are no longer a luxury of the technically advanced. I wanted to buy a demonstration "disc" today, only to learn that it was only available as a HD tracks album.
Anyone heard both the Schiit Bifrost and the Arcam irDAC? Tough call.
The reason I ask about the DAC+Power Combo Option rather than integrated+DAC (Rogue Sphinx + Schiit Bifrost) is also because I see things like this on Music Direct:

Fortunately/Unfortunately there are very many good products and combinations in your price range
The other variable here is how loud you typically listen to music and the size of your room.

I also agree, pick the speakers that you like best and build around them because there are so many variables in speakers that picking the amp first leaves too many choices.

You also mentioned the possibility of high efficiency speakers. They go best with very low powered tube amps, IMHO, mostly SETs. Personally, I think that is the best sounding combination of all, and will completely blow you away (hence my username). You would be extremely surprised at how loud 2-3 wpc can be with the right speakers. If it were me, I'd go for a 45 or 2A3 amp, some high efficiency speakers and separate DAC.
Given that you are developing your 1st system, have a budget of ~$2000 for an integrated amp and DAC, may move into separates in the future, it my opinion (what I would do, have done) would be to:

1st identify the speakers that meet your priorities regarding sonic characteristic preferences and will attain the loudness levels you require in the room within to be used. This requires listening to many which will help you know (learn ) what sonic characteristics you most desire.. I would think that given your budget for amp/DAC you should listen to those that fall into the $1500-$2500 range. You need not buy them prior to purchasing the amp but knowing what speakers you will be driving helps greatly in selection of the best amplifier. A speaker with 87-90 dB sensitivity, 4ohm+ across the frequency range, with a benign phase angle character would work well with most integrateds having 50wpc into 8 and 100wpc into 4 ohm loads.

Look for a used integrated amplifier (~ 5 years old or so) that mates well with your speaker selection. Help could be sought here. Budget ~$1000-$1500.

Buy a DAC that meets your need for source files. The Bitfrost with Uber upgrade and Gen2 USB comes highly recommended by many AudioGoners. There are many others in the ~$500 range. Differences between DAC will have less impact on the sonic signature of a system than that of speakers or amp.

Buy all cables used.

Again, good luck in your quest.