A different perspective ...
At some point, a logical progression is experiencing the sound that is possible with a tube set-up. I have two such systems:
1. One system based around a Prima Luna Prologue Two integrated.
2. One hybrid system based around a Prima Luna Prolouge Five power amp and a solid state Musical Fidelity CD PRE 24 preamp/CD player.
I find tube sound in the $1000 - $1500 range (new) to be more 3D like than what is achievable with solid state amps.
Within a single manufacturers' line, spending more money will often get you better sound but not always. Also, you may have to pay a lot more money to get a small improvement in sound.
Manufacturers try to avoid giving better sound for less $ in their lines for obvious reasons.
In the real world the integrated amp should work much better by subtracting the middle man, the interconnect cable between amp&pre.I would think a well built and executed integrated amp should sound better and be much easier to intergrate into our living arrangements.
At the 2000 mark I would go for the best used integrated that money can buy. If you have more to spend, then in my experience, nothing is better than what a world class preamp can bring to your system.
I recently went from a Plinius 8100 integrated to separates (Tube Technology tube preamp and Stan Warren SS amp). This combination was less than the Plinius and it sounds better. I really like the tube preamp and ss amp combination.
I think you have some really good options given your budget and I wouldn't put alot into cables.
I used to be a separates man and get better sound with integrateds....it depends on the equipment.
The reason separates are usually preferred is that the integrated equipment often shares power supplies. This get to be a bigger deal when the power supplies operate both channels. Additionally, a great deal *more* care has to be paid to ground loop and layout issues in integrated amps.
OTOH the connectivity issue brought up earlier is very real.
The ability to place your monoblock amplifiers near the speakers (keeping the speaker connection as short as possible) and then drive a longer interconnect from the preamp is where separates really shine. If you run balanced line to do this, most of the connectivity issues are overcome.
I remember your first post from a few weeks back about your Tannoy speakers that date back to the late 80's and whether they are keepers or not.
It seems like you are looking to upgrade your system, have a very real defined budget, and are looking for suggestions as to what to do next.
The old argument about buying separates (40 years ago) was that it allowed a reasonable upgrade path and also, if one component were to break down, it was easier and usually cheaper just to fix or replace the one item. Today, audio hobbyists change out (upgrade) equipment long before a component reaches the end of its useful life.
The thing to keep in mind is that you will reach a point in audio where diminishing marginal returns set in and upgrading to a real improved level (as opposed to different) will cost a significant amount of cash ... buying new or used not withstanding.
At the $2000 level (let's assume new), an integrated is still your best bet. An integrated with main outs which allows for a preamp change would be give your more options. To your original question, my experience has led me to think that most manufacturers have a certain "house" sound, so going up a manufacturer's line gets your "more better" of that house sound. I am sure that there are exceptions.
Going back to my original answer to your post, I think the next step is to consider the "tube" option. I was a "died in the wool "solid state fan until I took a chance on the Prima Luna Prologue Two about 2 years ago. It is not that there is no going back to solid state, it's just that a good tube set-up will give you sound and satisfaction that I have not heard in many solid state amplifiers, especially in the $2000 range.
Granted my tastes may run to the contrary as I have never been thrilled by some of the speakers that are highly touted here (eardrums that have been burst several times probably helps). But I do have both tube and solid state set-ups in my house that use the same speakers, the components are all pretty good in their own right, and so, I see the the tube/solid state paths as different ways to go. It probably all converges at the $20K point or so and I have no real desire to get there.
Excellent response to my question. I really appreciate your insight and I will definitely take it to heart and keep my integrated for now until I can eventually audition some tube equipment. Until then, I will buy a DAC for my Squeezebox and/or a used, quality CD player until I can afford upgrades.
For 2K I would second the integrated route though there are lots of paths to salvation....good luck,Bob
I took everyone's advice and upgraded to a Rega Mira 3. No seperates for now, just the Rega quality integrated.
So how does the Mira 3 sound and was it worth upgrading?
For your $2k, I would have recommended a used Simaudio I-5 or I-5.3 integrated amp.
The Mira 3 sounds excellent so far. I am a big fan of Rega, but some day when I have more money I am going to try out other manufacturers to compare, such as Naim, Prima Luna, Krell, Mark Levinson, etc. For now, with my budget and small size of my living quarters, the Regas are doing great.
Take care and thank you all for your advice.
One of the perennial questions, as respondents have already said, you get more bang for your bucks with an integrated. I went from a pre/power to a tube integrated amp, with the best sound I have had to date.
Traditionally the top of every amp line is a pre and mono blocks, perhaps that is just tradition. Some manufaturers, ASR and VAC come to mind, are producing integrated amps of real high end quality. I wonder if you said to CJ or ARC, money no object, make the best integrated you can, how close the result would be, to the standard Pre/monoblocks. I suspect they would not see a market for it, we are a traditional bunch and the conventional wisdom is, the very best sound comes from separates, so a high end integrated would not find a market with their customer base.
I know the arguments about separating power amp transformers from the Pre amp section and other advantages, but I wonder how much that is a justification for doing things the traditional way