First, I'm still on the "jouney", so not all of this is first hand, and you can accept or reject accordingly. The claim is oft made that they can/will outperform separates at a similar (combined, including interconnects) price point. And frequently some multiple is claimed ("...performs better than separates at up to twice it's price"...). I can understand and pretty much accept the former, not so sure about the more extravagant claims. Have heard a number of people upgrade to an outboard amp and still use receiver as pre/pro, and claim very noticeable improvement. I've done this bit with a mid-fi receiver, and a much better (but still mid-fi) receiver, and a good quality amp that costs as much as the better receiver (one-half of separates at twice the price, so to speak). There IS a very noticeable improvement with the outboard amp, although less so over the better receiver. Insofar as the amps go, I believe it has a lot to do with how easy is your speaker load, and do you have multi-channel demands, and the amp design of the receiver.
I just have a hard time rationalizing putting $3k or $4k into a super-receiver, when so much of it is now in a/v technology that will be superceded if not obsolete in a year. Great amps are great amps forever. Once I got over some $ threshold, I'd put my money in long-term amplification, and buy "disposable" pre/pro's. YMMV.
It isn't as good as my current setup, an Arcam Alpha 10 Integrated Amp. and a Denon AVR-3300 working in a combined system. I paid $1850 for the new B&K when they lowered the price last year(list was $2850). I bought the Arcam and Denon used for $850 and $400. IMHO, this $1250 setup is significantly better for music and is as good for HT. Also, I found the B&K cumbersome to use. The B&K was beautiful and well built, but I didn't like the ergonomics and I did return it after 2 weeks.
I really like my "combined" system and would challenge any $1250 HT receiver to be as musical. It is perfectly suficient for HT too. Once set up, and using a good learning remote with macros, it is just as user friendly as a stand-alone receiver too.
Just my $.02 worth.
I don't have direct experience with all of the pieces you mention, but I can comment about the "good as separates" claim. Its no trick to build similar circuitry into one box as opposed to two, and many better receiver manufacturers do exactly this. However, there are some important pitfalls to single box design that are difficult to overcome. Typically, a receiver will use a single power supply to drive both channels, instead of individual supplies for each channel. Splitting the power generally means providing less to each channel, so the each side sweats a bit more when the amp is driven hard (which doesn't necessarily mean loud -- transients in the music at normal volumes are a strain on the amp). Bigger is nearly always better when it come to power supplies. Secondly, a single box design will suffer from crosstalk between the channels, which is a source of distortion and reduces separation by some degree. The technical issues here have long since drifted from memory and I could be wrong here, so perhaps some of the more knowledgeable folks can step in to correct me on this.
All that said, there is no reason that a great receiver can't be produced (and many have been), but the claim that is as good as separates is likely to be more of a marketing issue than it is an audio or technical one. Putting the same circuitry into separate boxes will nearly always show benefits. As for comparing apples to oranges (Bryston separates to a Denon receiver for example), folks are free to say whatever they want -- its entirely subjective.
Separates are more tweekable. Every separate component I have in my main system that is included with a receiver is a different brand. Did not start out this way, but by swapping different things over time. This includes things like trying different cables links between components.
A smaller system in my den/home office has an integrated amp. The rest are separates. More of a space issue and its good enough as is.
My HT system in the family room has a HT receiver (Onkyo). The only separate is the DVD player (there are receivers where this is built-in also). This was done because it is good enough for me for movies, the rest of the family likes it, and it is easy for them to use. They are not into gadgets and just want to plug and play.
So I guess I believe in separates where the sound is the most important thing. I will compromise for convenience.
The Magnum Dynalab receiver (designed with Sim Audio) has received some glowing reviews, and at $2k list may be worth investigating? My concerns with all-in-one units is a lack of flexibility when it comes time to upgrade, and the power supplies aren't usually big beefy beasts like those found in quality separates. In theory, recievers ought to be better, since the tuner and preamp are hard-wired and have very short cable runs internally, as opposed to separates that rely on IC's.
I would go with inexpensive separates. You can have great performance from brands such as adcom, mccormack and conrad-johnson (even more so if you are willing to go to lesser known brands). The quality and longevity will be greater too.
The modern denon receivers are some of the better sounding ones out there. They still have a little 'haze' and metallic tinge to their sound. Fine for home theater. Fine if it doesn't bother you. I don't think their sound even approaches something like an adcom 750 mated to a mccormack dna amp.
I have to apologize for my last post -- somehow I was stuck on thinking that "separates" meant monoblocks and described what I saw as the difference between stereo and mono amps. I'm should know better than to try and think before noon. Anyway, I believe that the power supply arguments apply to pretty much any piece of audio gear, but I'm not sure I can place my finger on the specific technical differnce between a receiver and separate preamp/amp.
However, as mentioned by others, I've always found the sound of separates to be somewhat finer than that of a comparable quality receiver. Perhaps its the need for each component to stand on its own against others of its kind that causes the manufacturers to put a bit more effort into designing and producing them. Maybe its that folks are willing to pay more for separates that enables them to be of generally higher quality (at the very least, two power supplies rather than just one). Or maybe its just all in my head. In any case, if you have the opportunity to listen to comparable systems of both types, it might be worth the effort to see if the marketing blurb is real, or just hype.
Depends on what you seek from the system.
For me, I have Marantz SR18EX receiver, which some say is as close to separate as possible. I bought good front speaker because I thought Marantz deserved better speakers. Then, I bought stereo integrated amp ($3K) because the new speakers deserved better amp for 2 channel use. The sound is REALLY night and day. See? Bottomline - if you use the system for 2 channle music more than movie or other HT use, then you must know that receiver ($3K to $5K) is not good enough. I have not compared with separate multi channel system, but I am sure the separate decent power amp is far better than the amp section of the receiver. Now I really regret spending so much on receiver.
BTW, I still use Marantz for movies connecting paralell - doing a good job for movies. Movie is movie. A movie theater is NOT a concert hall.
Great Comments, it will be hard to add anything of tangible worth; but I'll try.
I have the B&K 202: it is said that B&K put in their Reference 20 pre-amp in the package, then added 5x105wpc amplification to it. It is a fine receiver, but added the B&K 250wpc monoblocks to run my B&W N802s.
Where I'm going with this, is Receivers are a compromise of some sort, to some degree. The critical flaws in all of them is upgradability: while B&K says that the machines are, the proof is not yet here; I assume the same is true for the 5800.
As I look to upgrade for the new Audio and Video streams, I'll pay extra for upgradable products: these most likely will be separates. Frankly, I can not hear the difference: an age thing.