integrateds in the modern age: consensus?

Hi everyone,

Integrated amps are pretty well established now as a viable component category. I don't think are many people left who scoff at the basic concept of an integrated.

Is there any sort of general consensus that has been reached on the issue of integrateds vs. separates at a given price point? As in, would a great $5000 integrated -generally- be considered equivalent in standing to a great $2500 preamp plus a great $2500 power amp? The answer's probably no, but I thought it would be interesting to see.
I would say definitely not, and it totally depends on the system. It is all precieved value as well. If an integrated cost 5000, and that's all the consumer has room for on their shelf, they may feel it is of a higher value. As far as sound quality, there are intergrateds that cost 19K or more, that can run with almost the best separates out there.

There are many different systems with many different users, and many different manufacturers to accomodate everyone.
If all the source signals are at line level (which means that any TT has its own outboard phono preamp) a separate box called a "preamp" really makes no sense. It costs very little to build the selector switch and volume control into the power amp, and perhaps add a gain stage. As a bonus, this eliminates an interconnect. In theory it ought to be better than separate units.

The idea of a separate preamp derives from the days of hum-prone tube circuits. A high gain phono stage on the same chassis as a hefty power supply was asking for trouble.
I prefer Integrated amplifiers simply because you can get a better cost/performance ratio. You not only cut the cost of interconnects, but it also costs the manuf. less money to build the unit material wise. I beleive a $3000 integrated will outperform a $1500 amp and $1500 pre-amp.

If you would like an example I purchased a Simaudio Moon I-5 which cost me around $3000 canadian. The best seperates I heard around $3000 were Parasound Halo P3/A23. The A23 on paper has more power but the I-5 still outperformed the A23. On top of that the I-5 has better quality components (WBT compared to cheap plastic) and is built in Canada.
Of course I'm talking in 'used-prices' but I'll place my Passive Placette/Belles 150a hot rod against any combo/intergrated--in the 1600-for-both,range. It goes against the grain in performance for the price.---Sure you need good stuff ahead of the pre and good speakers to hear just how good cheap stuff is.
its always been about synergy within the system. many quality integrateds have always sounded competitve with expensive separates. the only 'tangible' thing you are certain to give up is the ability to change or experiment with pre and power components(pre outs etc solve that problem though).
Interesting thread. I've been wrestling with this again. Early in my audiophile career, I made several upgrades in certain product lines from integrated to separates, and the move to separates was always a big improvement. But that was then, and in a total price range under $6K.

I'm not so sure that experience is necessarily applicable any more; now that the market is crowded with ambitious integrateds from high-end manufacterers, especially clustered around the $2500-6K range.

Edge, Chord, now PS Audio with its 'control amp', Plinius, SimAudio, a new Bryston integrated, the Bel Canto Evo 2i, Lavardin, YBA, Unison, a host of good tube integrateds; Pathos, Prima Luna, ASL, BAT, ARC; - the list just keeps growing. I think you're getting hard-pressed to say you've found separates for no more money that blow all these away - but let us know.

Interested to hear from more from tekkies who can explain in lay terms the inherent engineering advantages and disadvantages between separates and integrateds...Eldartford made a pretty good start...
Well, I am not sure about a consensus being achieved on anything in this crazy hobby, but I do have an integrated which for me solved the issue of matching a preamp and amp.
I got a Musical Fidelty A 300. Was pretty happy with it but.....

Not one to leave well enough alone, I am having it modded by the experts at Tube Research Labs for their standard $550 mod fee which they charge for digital, dacs, transports, etc.

By the way, they are just debuting their new ST 225(225Wx2)integrated SS amp which they feel is quite a performer at the $5500 price point.
Considering they usually make $20-100K+ preamps and amps-this is a new venture by them of note.
I have a friend who is trying it with his Soundlabs which they feel it will handle, so they must have a lot of confidence in the unit.

I bought my Plinius 8150 integrated in New Zealand, the country of manufacture. So I didn't have to pay transportation costs for an import or any agent or distributor markups. At the price there are no separates that come anywhere near its performance. Maybe it is not so clearcut where Plinius is competing overseas.
Plinius 9100 & 9200 are definitely on my short list. I have to drive about 6 hours to hear one though, unless I care to order without an audition.
Have not an integrated yet with a TVC.

Pots and electonic/digital volume attenuators leave something to be desired IMHO.

YMMV of course.
If I were into SS sound I would have an integrated amp provided it had high power and current delivery capacity so it could drive different speakers easily. That way I wouldn't have to buy a new unit if I changed speakers. But I'm not.....

I like tubes and I like the flexibility of being able to make tonal adjustments by just changing tubes to accomodate different placements, rooms, speakers or new source equipment. Having a pre-amp gives me one more location to make changes (although I rarely mess with the pre-amp). Tinkering can be fun on a rainy day! :-)
here's a shocker.....last time i checked, many worthy tube pre amps as well as ss integrateds had tone controls..... everyone from saul marantz to frank mcintosh saw as a way to adjust your stereo system's balance to the room it is in. this beats changing tubes everytime you scoot your speakers around or move to a different room or change listening chairs
I am a current owner of the Edge G3, this after years of seperates and other integrateds. I am completely happy with the G3, match it with a great source (for me the Naim CDX2) and speakers and it works. It works better for me then most seperates. I must admit WAF and space drove me to take a close look at integrateds.

I am reviewer for and have had the chance to listen to several integrateds. My review of the Plinius 9100 and the G3 will be posted soon.

If I had a dedicated listening room and mucho $$$ of course I could do better. All in all I am not feeling the least bit deprived.
I agree that the integrated amp has been elevated to a viable high-end product. That said most manufactures that make “high-end” integrated amps also produce more expensive, farther-up-the-chain separates.

Here is an excerpt from the Levinson site on some pros for the integrated amp:
Combining power and preamplifier functions into a single chassis is a well-established method of delivering high performance in a more convenient and cost-effective package. In addition to savings on chassis and shipping cartons, two interconnect cables and their associated connectors are eliminated. With preamp and power amp sections designed to work together, the preamp output buffer (found on separate preamplifiers so they can be used with a wide range of amplifiers) may be eliminated.

Here is an excerpt from Larry Greenhill in a Stereophile review.
Why is the integrated more economical? It's less expensive to build, having just one chassis and shipping carton... …and achieve further savings with a closed design that doesn't interface with other amplifiers or preamplifiers. This eliminates the circuits for a preamplifier output buffer and power-amp input buffer.

There are other savings. Packing a stereo preamplifier and two amplifier channels into one chassis saves space. Hum is reduced because amplifier and preamplifier now share exactly the same ground voltage, so less shielding is required. … Equipment clutter goes down, and the spouse acceptance factor goes up. This "sweet spot" of compact size and affordability keeps the integrated alive.

Most of us here know the importance of synergy in a system, with an integrated amp two (or three if you count the PC) variables are eliminated; those being, matching the amp and pre and also matching an extra interconnect.

Separates also have their pros, such as more flexibility and the chassis being separate give manufacturers more room to “elaborate” on their designs…

I don’t think we can categorically say there is a price point where an integrated is comparable to separates; there are too many variables and always exceptions. It simply comes down to two separate options to the same means.