price point to move to separates vs integrated


Hi,
I have spoken to different dealers about the most effective way to spend my money on amplification and have gotten different views. (I know opinions are like elbows, everyone has one, or two...).

One fellow said something along the lines of: as soon as you can afford low end separates you should go that route over a more expensive integrated due to the interactions in the same chassis.

Another suggests still going integrated at $6K.

I realize my ears are the final deciding point but the grey stuff between them is longing for a more concrete set of guidelines.

Thanks for your thoughts and replies, the more the merrier,
Gus
gustav1
Assuming your speakers don't require bi-amping, you're not reaching for the absolute state-of-the-art and/or you're not wedded to tube amplifiers there's no real sonic based reason to use separate pre and power amps. The current generation top of the line integrateds from Ayre, Bryston, Gryphon, Hegel, NAD, Pass, Rega and others are truly great performers.
For a long time hardly any integrateds were woth writing about. In the last ten years integrateds have made a huge comeback, and no reason to shy away from them at all.
I still cling to the old separates, but that is my flavor.
Absolutely no reason to avoid high end integrateds if you want one.
that particular comment against integrateds the op quotes is one of those 'excuses' salesmen create which have little basis in reality.

Though curious i favor preamps with separate power suppies.. so in some way maybe something to it. LOL

As the posters above indicated, there are a number of excellent integrateds out there at a number of price points. For me the advantages of separates are twofold:

1) They allow you greater flexibility in tweaking the sound of your system. Now this can be quite the rabbit hole as you try mixing and matching, but if you are so inclined separates can allow you to really dial in a sound you like.

2) Separate power supplies for the amp and preamp should provide a performance boost (all other things being equal, which of course they never are). Separate power supplies is also a big advantage of monoblocks vs. stereo amps.
Elizabeth is on to something - separate power supplies. All things being equal, that approach will give you better sound. I suggest you map a path to acquire a good tube pre amp and use it to feed the input of your current power amp, assuming it is an integrate. I came to that solution in my system and I am very pleased. I also have a separate pre amp that I feed dual mono block tube amps. The sound is about equal, not withstanding the separate mono blocks further the separation of the power supplies.. So, don't buy another integrate, go for a separate pre amp and something in the future get mono block amps.
I personally think you'd have to be in the 10k range to warrant separates. There are so many great sounding integrated amps these days it doesn't make much sense. My experience has led me to believe that you have to spend a pretty good chunk or money to get a great preamp.
I've owned my share of int. amps along the way (the most in cost around $1500). I will say my bought used $125(slightly modified) Rotel RB-951 amp paired w/a completely stock $65 Adcom Gtp-350 pre/tuner sonically destroys any int. amp costing many times the price. If you don't have the space, int. amps are the best option. There are +/-'s for each, but I haven't owned an int. amp which has the drive of my onced owed Bryston 4B-ST. It's all about synergy.
I particularly agree with Roscoeiii`s 2nd point.Generally speaking seperates have the advantage of isolation, beefier and better power supplies.This is a significant factor for sound quality.
Regards,
One fellow said something along the lines of: as soon as you can afford low end separates you should go that route over a more expensive integrated due to the interactions in the same chassis.

LOL! What a twit! Maybe he meant that low end separates would beat a low end integrated amp, in which case he could be right.

Yes, in the last 10 years or so integrated amps have come a long way, yet some audio snobs still refuse to give them their due. I have listened to a $6500 integrated amp go toe-to-toe with $20,000 separates and not only did not get embarrassed, but was surprisingly close. I would say the results were mixed. That integrated amp also embarrassed many separates costing more than it did.

Yes, theoretically separates have the potential to sound better, but there are many mitigating factors that can keep that from happening. Mismatching separates, extra cables and power cords are just other chances to screw up the sound. My current separates list for over $11K, yet I would be very tempted to switch to that integrated amp if I could find one.

Integrated amps will give you the best bang for the buck. $5K worth of separates may beat a $2K integrated amp. $10K of separates may beat a $5K integrated amp, etc. It would probably take over $50K of separates to beat VAC's $22K Phi Beta 110 integrated amp.
I just like the idea of integrateds because it's one less $100 power cord and one less $100 pair of interconnects. It looks cleaner too.
I switched from an integrated to seperates. This choice was driven by equipment positioning more so than sonics. I wished to avoid having my equipment rack between speakers and at my side. I also did not want to run longer than 15ft speaker cables so split distance between ICs and SCs. As said above, integrated amps made today are very good, avoid one IC concern, and provide high sonic to $$ return.
I really don’t understand why this "integrated vs. separates" thing seems to be such a conundrum. First, unless we're comparing amplifiers of similar price, of what use is it to talk about additional chassis, power supplies, transformers, etc. Cost not being a factor, enhanced isolation will always provide an advantage; no one will debate that. But, in application, those advantages are very costly and seldom cost effective, IMO. When we equalize total cost (this includes interconnects, power cords and shelving) of moving from an integrated to separates or monoblocks, seriously compromised parts quality is the tradeoff.
I have been using integrated amps for years, some of the best, Viva, Lavardin, Karan and currently, a Pathos Inpol2 and Ayon Spark. I agree with all the comments suggesting integrated amps have come a long way in the last few years and can go toe to toe with much more expensive separates. Then I made the mistake of a prolonged listen to an ARC reference 75 power amp at a recent show.....big mistake. Now I have to work out how to fit a big power amp and pre, on my packed shelves, planned around an integrated amp.
Many good points made already. Hi end integrated amps are tough to beat. Areas to go one over the other is flexibility and features, which differ from brand to brand. The biggest reason goes beyond the hearing and the cost, but the heart. What would you like for yourself. Ultimate separates should sound better than top of the line integrated especially from the same brand. But in the end more than sound it may be what makes sense to you and what makes you happy.
At the higher price points it not just the sound but the style. What vision of your system brings joy to your heart and ears when you power up.

Well that's my two elbows worth.
This is a question that I ponder. I have not had an extensive ability to listen to separates in comparison to my current integrated. I have the best of both worlds in my integrated:

I have a Simaudio 600i, which is a dual-Mono design with an oversized power supply. Gives you the feeling of separates in one box minus the extra costs of cables. Again, I really have not done an A/B comparison, although I did get to hear a Simaudio W7 with a P7 preamp and really did not sound that much difference. I remember sitting in the shop thinking really my 600I sounds comparable to this and not worth the extra 15,000.

My only gripe is that I am not getting the full dynamic and bass response that I wish I had, but again I am running Sonus Faber Cremona Ms that may not have the bass response for the type of music that I listen to. So, yes, I am revisiting the idea of separates, but my answer may be simply adding a sub to what I have. I will only know when I start getting to play with different equipment.

Go listen to a good integrated with dual-mono such as the 600i and let me know what you think.
This is a question that I ponder. I have not had an extensive ability to listen to separates in comparison to my current integrated. I have the best of both worlds in my integrated:

I have a Simaudio 600i, which is a dual-Mono design with an oversized power supply. Gives you the feeling of separates in one box minus the extra costs of cables. Again, I really have not done an A/B comparison, although I did get to hear a Simaudio W7 with a P7 preamp and really did not sound that much difference. I remember sitting in the shop thinking really my 600I sounds comparable to this and not worth the extra 15,000.

My only gripe is that I am not getting the full dynamic and bass response that I wish I had, but again I am running Sonus Faber Cremona Ms that may not have the bass response for the type of music that I listen to. So, yes, I am revisiting the idea of separates, but my answer may be simply adding a sub to what I have. I will only know when I start getting to play with different equipment.

Go listen to a good integrated with dual-mono such as the 600i and let me know what you think.
I recently replaced a classe ssp 25 pre/pro with a lightspeed attenuator and I must say, if you have a good dac and the qualifying specs for the lightspeed, and can live without a remote, I don't think it's possible to beat the sound quality for the money. I'm talking $800 for my classe ca-150, $450 for my dac, $500 for the lightspeed, $200 for cables. My $2000 set-up sounds damn close to most $3000 pre amps paired with $4000 amps.
If you get separates you can control your sound by changing the preamp, amp, and/or the interconnect between them. Upgrading and fine tuning is thus more flexible. If you've got audio OCD that's probably the way to go. If you just want to find great sound and be done with it at a relatively lower cost an integrated makes more sense. I go separates, but I could easily be happy (and maybe happier overall) just buying something like a Hegel H300 and being done with it. How OCD are you? That's the real question. Best of luck.
If you get separates you can control your sound by changing the preamp, amp, and/or the interconnect between them. Upgrading and fine tuning is thus more flexible.

Agree! If possible, I will always use separates for this reason.
I didn't see any mention of space. This is one of the main reasons why people get integrated amps. Separate pre-amp and power amps take up space, where integrated will not. There are some very nice integrated amps out there. You should investigate them. If you have the space, money, time and love music, then take your time and really try out separates. It has taken me literally decades to get my system to where I am now. I started with integrated amp, separate tuner (otherwise that would be a receiver), tape deck (very nice one), and decent Klipsh speakers. I still have that integrated amp in the bedroom with some hand made Oak transmission line speakers with Jordon drivers in myh bedroom with a very nice CD player that sounds wonderful. I'm thinking about getting a tubed integrated, but I don't want to spend a fortune. My listening room system has evolved. So, you really can't go wrong with integrated or separates, because you can move the integrated into another room while upgrading your main listening room later if need be. Again, there are some really nice integrated amps out there.
Integrateds now are amazingly good, and I've heard some recent tubed Primaluna and Jolida stuff that sound beautiful...recently heard an old SS Creek that still kicks it. Much of the sonic disadvantages have been rendered irrelevant really, but if you're like me and many others around here, you like to tweek components, wires, placement (my tube amp near the floor away from other stuff makes speaker cable length and amp heat more manageable, the preamp up with other front end items), and other stuff that keeps you involved in the hobby.
I decided to stay integrated and just piked up a Line Magnetic 216IA. It is a wonderfully musical little amp.
Nowadays, integrateds can sound as good as separates up to whatever price point you care to name. Separates and the cables they require all add their own sound to the mix and yes, it can be pleasing but it is more accurate than an all in one box solution that can minimize those variables? It all depends on the design and how well it's implemented and how it sounds in your system. Anything else is conjecture.

A couple of weeks ago I saw an ad here for a Burson PI-160 integrated which I own and is now discontinued. The seller said it operated in Class A and I know it's a Class A/B design, so I emailed him to see about it and he wrote back that he spoke to Burson and they say that it does operate in Class A for most of it's output, almost to its rating. Considering that I have Tonian Labs speakers which are 95db efficient, it explains why it sounds so damn sweet, detailed and full bodied. Granted, it's not much to look at but that's not why I bought it. After learning more about it makes it all the more sweeter.

All the best,
Nonoise
Congratulations Gustav1. I hope it brings you many satisfied years of listening.
I replaced a CJ Preamp and Amp set up with a tubed integrated.

The integrated beats my former CJ gear. In Fact I feel my current
Integrated also is better than any othe pre power arrangements I owned-

Including Pass, Bryston, ML. So to me neither have any inherent
Advantage. It's how it's done. Either can be superb.
Im keeping my eyes on this thread very closely. Im definitely on that fence. My simaudio 600i is great, but since i got the Franco Serblin Ktema im lacking a little low end at low volumes. Have not spent much time swapping amps to evaluate differences, but looking forward to. My rule, separates will need to sound two times better for me to move up. Wish i had originally bought the 700i knowing i was going to purchase larger speakers in the future.
I see no point in going for seperates unless you want to spend mega bucks. Brands like:
Accuphase
Luxman
Symphonic Line
Pass
Gryphon
Cary
Naim
Vitus
Burmester
and many many others

Below 10K I do not see the point of seperates. But I 'll be the first to admit that this is all highly subjective.
IMO there is no such thing as a “price point” in determining separates vs. integrated - it simply depends on what your goal is. If your goal is maximum flexibility in tailoring your system to the type of sound you prefer, then go with separates (or mono-blocks if one of your goals is shortest speaker cables). If your goal is less expense (via fewer ICs, power cords, power outlets), more convenience, shortest IC paths, and/or less real estate usage, then go with integrated.
IMO if your going the pure class A route get a seperate power amp!
04-29-13: Rockadanny
IMO there is no such thing as a “price point” in determining separates vs. integrated - it simply depends on what your goal is. If your goal is maximum flexibility in tailoring your system to the type of sound you prefer, then go with separates (or mono-blocks if one of your goals is shortest speaker cables). If your goal is less expense (via fewer ICs, power cords, power outlets), more convenience, shortest IC paths, and/or less real estate usage, then go with integrated.

While I do agree that there is no set "price point" to switch from an integrated amp to separates, I would probably re-word what you say that if your goal is maximum flexibility in tailoring your system to the type of sound that you prefer, then go with separates. If your goal is to maximize the bang for your buck sonically, then go with an integrated amp. I wouldn't say that if your goal is less expense go integrated amp anymore than I would say if your goal is more expense go separates. Generally, people go with separates because they want more flexibility, it's not because they are simply looking for more expense. Same with integrated amps, generally people are looking to get the most sound for their buck, a preamp that will mate with their amp, no guessing games, they are not necessarily looking for less expense.

As I posted earlier, I know of a $6500 integrated amp that has embarrassed many more expensive separates, costing over $20,000. I also know of integrated amps that cost more than $10,000 or even $20,000. So it's not necessary to equate an integrated amp with cheap. More cost effective? Yes, simply by limiting the chassis', power supplies, and other double dipped items.

Sure, you could certainly spend a lot more money on separates, buying 4 box amplifiers (each monoblock having it's own separate power supply, etc.), 3 chassis preamps, etc., could put you well over $100,000. You can spend a WHOLE lot more money if you want to. Most of us economize to some extent. Economizing, or simplifying, doesn't necessarily mean the sound has to suffer. I've heard stereo amps that outperform monoblock amps. I've heard single chassis preamps outperform dual box preamps. I've heard integrated amps outperform separates.

I post this because I am currently considering an integrated amp, but I don't think I can afford it. At a $15,000 list price, it costs more than my separates do. I don't consider myself making this move with a goal of "less expense".
I wouldn't say that if your goal is less expense go integrated amp anymore than I would say if your goal is more expense go separates.

You misinterpreted my meaning. "Less expense (via fewer ICs, power cords, power outlets)". You can save money by installing fewer ICs, power cords, power outlets, dedicated lines, etc. That equates to less expense for ancillary equipment. I did not mean less expense because integrateds are cheaper.
Do you know the rules for input/output impedance. That's why an integrated is my choice. But if you know how to mix and match then separates or a choice also. I got tired of it. But YMMV.
separates all of the way!