Separates or Integrated? What makes more sense?


If you had $10,000 to spend on amplification, would you put all that money and get a really great and pricey integrated amp like a Pass or Luxman. Or, would you use that 10k to buy a really great preamp and amp combo. Apart from the convenience and space consideration, hypothetically how would you choose to spend that 10k if sound was your main criterion.

J
tyan42
There is no wrong way to go, it simply a matter of personal taste. It's also a choice of greater flexibility with seperates or a single box solution.  I have had both setups over the years, but now have a IA with no plans of going back to separates.

My IA is a Viva Solistino,  having avoided tube amp for years, it was my speaker's that prompted me to consider making the move to tubes. I re searched various tube IA for abouts eight months...before deciding on the Viva. 

Good luck in your  search!
Given space is not a constraint, at that price point, I would opt for separates. That would provide for flexibility down the road regarding system placement and changes one might wish to make.


Everyone will choose differently. You have many choices for that price including many top notch sounding integrated amps available these days.  You might not appreciate the ease of an integrated currently but may become a bonus someday. 
I guess the question I have is if a 5k amp and 5k preamp going to sound appreciably better than a integrated which cost 10k?  The ability to build my own amplification combo by mixing and matching is attractive.  On the other hand, good IA have an inbuilt compatibility.  Are Integrateds overpriced because of all the extra engineering and design, and is this compromise affect the sound.  
No, I would not get one like Pass or Luxman. Come on. Get serious. That kind of money, I would get something good. Which coincidentally is just what I been working on. Which also coincidentally was exactly $10k, but I notice just now they raised it to $10,995. Whatever. This absolutely positively cannot be beat with any combination of separates without spending a lot more. Which is why I will be getting it.  Some day....

Behold. The Raven Reflection MkII https://www.ravenaudio.com/product/reflection-mk2/
hypothetically how would you choose to spend that 10k if sound was your main criterion. 
There is no hypothetically with me, not where sound is concerned. Sound quality is always my main criterion, and that means getting the most for my money, and that means getting an integrated. https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/8367Man that Reflection is gonna look even sweeter than the Melody.
I would go with the Luxman integrated.  I would listen, take a look-see, and then buy.  
Hi,

Happy owner of the last new 507ux in the US here. :)

Luxman really did put in a top preamp and amp in the combo. Many brands say they do, and then it is still a step down. Not true with the Luxmans.

The only reason in my mind for separates in the Luxman is power/current needs. If you have hard to drive speakers and must have the extra large power supply.


<10000$ integrated for sure.
 >$15000 (and if you are an experienced audiophile, and esp if you are going for tubes) then separates. 
There are too few tube integrated choices in the higher end price point. With separates you can do the tube preamp/SS amp combo.
They both make equal sense.
Hard to make recommendations without knowing your speakers but if they are reasonably efficient, the Don Sachs 6SN7 preamp and KT88 amp for around $6K combined is an incredible value. Spend the extra $4K on music.
I learned long ago just how hard it is for separates to match the performance of a good integrated. Of course no one can say for sure without doing a lot of comparisons, but I would bet money no one can do it. Not without spending a whole lot more money. 

The problem is two fold. One is, for any component, a big chunk of the design budget goes into the chassis and face plate. This represents a huge cost savings the integrated designer can then afford to spend on higher quality parts. Separates have no way of ever really making up for this big disadvantage. 

The other problem is separates require an interconnect and at least one extra power cord. This again is mega. Especially at the $10k level, the interconnect alone commensurate with this quality level is a good $3k all by itself. No way on Earth anyone spends $3k on an interconnect, and then with the remaining $6k buys a preamp and amp. I mean you can do it. Sure. But you will have spent your $10k, and it will sound almost as good as if you had bought the Raven Osprey for $5k less. 

But of course you wouldn't do that. What you would do is take the $5k and buy really good power cords, fuse, and whatever are your tweaks of preference, still have a couple grand left over, and be so far ahead of separates its silly.

That's what I did 20+ years ago. Compared. It wasn't even close. Guys love their separates, I know. They have their advantages. Or so they say at any rate. Among them however is one notably missing: sound quality.
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who says that you have to spend the whole $10k ?       
The most useless word in high end audio is “always”.
There are cheaply made separates and cheaply made integrateds. Depending on your budget, space and system synergy there are great options for either choice ~ if you do your homework and listen carefully.

Years ago stereo receivers were popular but high end fans panned them because these single boxes were cramming the tuner, amp, pre amp, connects and power supply in one case. The higher end market produced separate boxes for amps, preamps and power supplies with better components and shielding from noise, etc, for those who wanted the ultimate flexibility. 

Building a system with a rack full of separate components can be the fun part for some fans. Some folks love this “its the center of this hobby” aspect while others just want great music with as little fuss as possible. No right or wrong here.

But stating that sound quality is missing with separates is just total nonsense...


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Really agree with the interconnect and power lead dilemma with separates. Bottom line is if you like the sound of either separate(+connections) or integrated that's all that matters.No real right or wrong.
I like to have the preamp near the listening position (for accessibility) and the amp near the speakers (for short speaker cables). That also means only a small amp stand between the speakers, not something large that potentially messes with the imaging. So separates for me.
After 40 years of this and that, using amp friendly impedance curves AND efficient loudspeakers, eliminating a set or two of wires between components, integrated makes complete sense. Now you have a choice between long lasting tubes and outrageous SS. Best of both worlds might be LTA? Depends on what you are driving and the driving conditions. 


 
Buy an accuphase integrated. The best integrated I’ve heard. IMO better than pass or Luxman. 
Primaluna’s latest offering is surprisingly good for integrated in the $4k to $5k range. There is no magic in spending $10k versus some other sum...

Quick example: friend has massive system, in the $250k to $300k range (think Focal Grand Utopia). I’ve spent about 20x less. Is his system better. Absolutely. We both agree when comparatively listening. Is it 20x better? We both agree not. 

Some great pairings happen when carefully listening and choosing components that go well together, regardless of price tag. 
under 10k, get integrated, close or above 10k, get power amp, and then preamp later, or both at same time if you can afford.
It may be that the challenge with IA’s is finding one with a preamplification section as good as what can be had in a proportionally priced line stage. I’m told it is often the preamp in the IA that is the weak link and degrades the sound enough that what gains you get by losing a set of ICs is not recouped. I’ve heard this a number of times in conversations with designers/manufactures who I respect but of course who would probably rather sell their separates than IA’s in their lineup!
Millercarbon, what is it about the Raven Reflection MkII integrated amp you like so well above others in it's price range? It is sharp looking and made in America, but what else in terms of audio performance strikes your fancy? 

Mike
Tough choice. Separates do add more to go "wrong" in a system. Cables etc. Plus routing etc. There is something to be said for a solid integrated. As others have said, it really would boil down to preference and space requirements. Personally, it would most likely be integrated for me (is currently) but at that price point probably a two channel amp and fully featured Pre. I do have space issues, so it is what it is. 
Yes it depends on who builds it.  I have a completely rebuilt from the ground up Heathkit integrated.  It was built by Sam Kim and with the right speakers it's magic.  It also has a great MC phono section.
Too many compromises with integrated amps. I’ve had a few really good integrated amps and when I compared the sq of their integrated to the same manufacturer’s separates, the integrated amp fell short.
I had a nice Hegel H300 integrated that worked nicely with my Usher mini dancer II speakers. When I upgraded to the larger usher’s, I needed more power so the integrated was useless. I sold it and got separates, the new amp is the same wattage as the Hegel but has more power to control the larger speakers. If I decide to get different speakers in the future that demand yet more power, I would just replace the amp and keep my preamp
I used to use tube pre + power separates for long time and always look down to Integrated. Till 1 day, a dealer sent me the Gryphon Diablo 300 integrated to try. I was blown away and I bought it. With Diablo 300 powering Kharma S7S really bring good music. Tighter, lower bass. Fast transient, bigger staging..Never expect an integrated could do that...

I can say, integrated amps are now much more advance and better than 20 years ago. Anyone should give it a try/chance
tyan42
Separates or Integrated? What makes more sense?

Separates because these days, systems have heaps of gain, and may have too much, and you could be better off sonicly using a passive preamp.
With an integrated you've got no options, unless the integrated has inputs on the back (power-amp in) to bypass the preamp stage, not many have this option. 

Remember what Nelson Pass said here.

Nelson Pass,

"We’ve got lots of gain in our electronics. More gain than some of us need or want. At least 10 db more.

Think of it this way: If you are running your volume control down around 9 o’clock, you are actually throwing away signal level so that a subsequent gain stage can make it back up.

Routinely DIYers opt to make themselves a “passive preamp” - just an input selector and a volume control.

What could be better? Hardly any noise or distortion added by these simple passive parts. No feedback, no worrying about what type of capacitors – just musical perfection.

And yet there are guys out there who don’t care for the result. “It sucks the life out of the music”, is a commonly heard refrain (really - I’m being serious here!). Maybe they are reacting psychologically to the need to turn the volume control up compared to an active preamp."


Cheers George



Seems like there has been a lot of work on new integrated amps and they are now much better than 10 or 20 years ago. One I heard at an audio show that was really good was Absolare.

I have mainly seen plus sides of separates described in this thread and just want to say that the plus of integrated (except less space) is that it is fewer chassis and sometimes fewer parts (and cables) and can therefore, theoretically, be cheaper for the same sound quality.
As for sound differences, I suppose one question I'd have is this: In what circumstance could you do an blind A/B comparison with similarly high-quality equipment (i.e., the same manufacturer who offers both similarly priced separates and IA) in order to tell the differences? Otherwise, the comparisons would be hard for me to make due to all kinds of other factors (power, synergy with other components, etc.). Others may have keener senses or memory powers than I, but I find it very hard to assert either differences in overall quality or what is responsible for those differences, when heard. So many variables are changing.

I am currently considering this question, and many things I hear sound equally "good" but different, when they are above a certain quality level. Then, I return to other considerations — do I want to change out a separate later on, for fun? How will these work with my space? If I wanted to set up in another room, would both be equally moveable? What if I want to change speakers — would there be some advantage with IA or separates, there?
When I was young, separated were the way to go. Two things have changed. First, engineers have learned to build power and pre in the same box. Second the transformers and chassis have become much more expensive relative to the electronics. Listen to an Ayre AX5 and try to find separates that match the sound quality!
Separates allow you a lot more flexibility and greater resolution. They allow you to improve your setup incrementally, which is great on the budget!


In the resolution department as an example, you can keep your speaker cables short by placing the amplifiers right by the speakers. It was this very issue that caused me to look into balanced operation back in the 1980s; at the time it was impractical to place my equipment stand between the speakers so I was running fairly long speaker cables. When I got the balanced line preamp running and then ran short speaker cables, the increase in resolution was dramatic! Since then I have seen and demonstrated this many times.


Integrated amps can be very nice but in a nutshell represent a compromise.
preamp should be matched with the source (to get the desired tone) and power amp with the speakers so for me i would say separates. i believe most people would reccomend tubes in the preamp and then solid state for the power amp. i would look for transparent, good dynamics i.e the power output should double down as the impedance drops from 8 to 4 to 2ohm and would also look to avoid negative feedback.
A two month old (its birthday is written on the bottom plate) Dennis Had Inspire "Firebottle HO" single ended hand wired tube masterpiece, about 1200 bucks. New (original series) Schiit Freya, 700 bucks. Inexpensive Morrow cables...it’s like this stuff was almost free...cost of piles of tubes for ongoing sonic experimenting? Uh...never mind...
Hello, my issue is if tech changes you are back to square one. Second, you are sharing one power supply with both in an integrated amp. More power is better. Third, you may get things you do not need but still pay for: phono preamp, DAC, and tuner. one Note, separates require an interconnect between the amp and the preamp which might add to the cost. Another option is Hegel H90. Some one will sell you one for $10,000. It has an incredible DAC and 380 W per channel. 
I would also vote for separates for many of the reasons mentioned above. And yes you will need an extra set of interconnects but isn't that half the fun?! As a recently recovered cable addict I assure you it is fun! Also if you start out SS and want to try tubes or vice versa you can change gradually. I can almost assure you that at some point down the road you will get antsy to change something. Good luck!
really that's a speaker efficiency and room size question more then which is better.

 I agree that if you need power for in-efficient speakers the separates are the way to go. 

 If you have high efficiency speakers then I feel its less important and a good low power tube or class A integrated can sound as good or at times better then the separates.  

I've run into the too much gain problem with high efficiency speakers and see Nelson Pass's concern in no usable volume range. so matching amp-speakers is a huge part of the process to good sound. 

matching your preamp to an amp is also important to consider, gain, input-output impedances, etc. this area may be overlooked, the integrated can win easily if the pre-power amp is not matched right correctly. 

glen

An addendum to what I said above:  what is your strategy here?  Mine was to simplify and reduce the clutter, the number of boxes, etc., without compromising the joy I get from playing music in my home.  I have zero regrets going to integrated with two of my systems (a Luxman top integrated, SS, and a Lyric integrated, KT150-based).  I LOVE the sounds from each system.  BUT, I am not one to sit and study, focus, squint, try to hear small differences; instead I am one to revel in the music, and have found that moving/adjusting speakers has a huge influence/effect, vs any effect from a different front-end.  But, that's just me.  
I can speak to the Raven Reflection MK2 integrated amp as I owned one for 3 years.  Is it better than Luxman or Pass or Separates?  One can only debate and 10 people would have 10 different answers.  It also depends on the speakers, cabling, DAC etc.

The Reflection sound combined with my Sonus Faber Amati  Homage Tradition speakers was just outstanding.  Clear, concise, very open, excellent bass, quiet to start.  I had KT 150 power tubes so I amped up the WPC.  I like to listen at low levels and be able to hear the twang of a guitar or cymbal.  I also like to occasionally play at 50% max power.  My house shook.  

Dave Thomson is the owner and he has some of the best tubes in the world.  He has been collecting tubes for years.  As a result, it is easy to tube swap.  His customer service is outstanding.  

Lastly, it really is a show piece.  If I was going to go with an integrated, I would definitely buy a Raven again.  


@willgolf what did you move onto after the Raven?
willgolf, then why did you get rid of it?
I was looking over recommended Integrated on TAS and Stereophile in the 10k range:  The Pass Int-60, Moon 600i v2, Bat Vk 3000se, Octave Audio v 80 SE, and a few others.  Any one of these in the category stand out?  I do like vinyl and tubey sound.  
"Quoth the Raven Nevermore"

There is no Balm of Gilead in this hobby.
Just make sure the integrated has a real preamp section, not just a volume control. Have owned a bunch, but the only integrated I will own in the future is a Viva Solista- as it’s a piece of art. 

Ive since moved to a Music First TVC with amp combo which I feel beats most integrateds for similar money. 
I have favored integrated amps for 15 years, and I love Krell. Just got the new K300i into my main system for $7000. It sounds fabulous!! Pushes my Maggie 1.7i with power to spare. I did not buy Krell’s Digital Board however. I am streaming thru my new LUMIN T2. I prefer these functions in separate equipment. Soundstage and bass are amazing. Vocal clarity and separation are on another level. 
Me personally,I prefer separates. I frequently like to switch amps,or preamps. With an integrated,I wouldn’t be able to get a different flavor without having to purchase another integrated.  The ability to switch things up,scratches that itch. 
hiphiphan - I sold my house and the buyers demanded my whole two channel system as a condition of the sale.  It is an extremely long story as to why I did not buy Raven again,  Let's just say I was stupid and got talked into buying Mola Mola Kaluga and Makua Class D amps sight unheard.  Given I had to start over with a whole new two channel system I purchased the amps before the speakers - another mistake.  I am building a new house and never used the Mola Mola Amps.  Once I decided on Viking Acoustic Grande Voix Horn speakers, I needed to sell the Mola Mola Amps.  I tried and tried on US Audio Mart and Audiogon and could not sell.  I ended up trading them into a dealer for Canary Audio Grand Reference Two Mono Amps and the C1800 Pre-Amp.  They are being built as I speak.  Trust me, I wish I never purchased the Mola Mola because I would have purchased the Raven Spirit 300B mono amps.  
I prefer separates for flexibility. I believe consumers should be able to choose source components to their liking. I prefer separate phono, separate DAC, separate tuner. But even if I were to go integrated, I would avoid one with a digital component in it. For me, a DAC should always be separate. Advances in digital audio come so fast, in no time a DAC becomes obsolete. I don’t want to live with the thought that I have an expensive gear with a now obsolete component. It would significantly affect resale value too. (With that, I don’t like the idea of, just for an example, PS Audio’s new Stellar Strata.)
10aK ?

 I would go separates!

 Integrated is just fine,
 only reason I went with separates is “statues”

 monos blocks, preamp, CD player is a high class statement is all.     I’ve always been poor, cruddy pay, poor job!

 Once I started making money, I went with separates!
  No other reason than it’s what the upper class does/has.  
 I may be a “keep up w the Jones’s” is guy.  
  BUT,......ONCE I WENT SEPERATES,  NEVER LOOKED BACK, THE SOUND, SEPERATION BETWEEN CHANNELS, ETC ETC, SOLD ME.

 IF UNCAN AFFORD SEPERATES, GO ALL IN!

MI WONT GO BACK, MONOBLOCKS, GOOD PREAMP, SPEAKERS, ....GOOD SOURCE, ALL MAKES IT WORTH WHILE.