Separates w/internal phono vs Integrated + phono

Given the same amount of money say $8-10k what is the better way to go? Separates with an internal phono or an integrated with a stand alone phono? Anyone done reasonable comparisons, is it just trade offs or is there a clear winner? A really good phono can make a huge difference but can it fully shine through an integrated?
Interesting question. I can't say that I know the answer, but I'm posting because this subject is also of interest to me. I am currently running a full function preamp with a separate amp, but I am considering moving to an integrated amp with a separate phono stage.

As with anything in audio, I highly doubt that you will find a clear winner in this debate though.
Dear Musichead: Obviously that depends on the quality of those audio items but everything the same I prefer a Phonolinepreamp + amplifier.

In a Phonolinepreamp the delicate cartridge signal has a short paths that with a stand alone PS and with lower degradation. An amplifier is almost always a compromise about sharing strong electromagnetic pollution and some kind of noises that contaminate the phonoline signal.

At the end in a Phonolinepreamp the output signal is a strong one and if the Phonoline preamp has a low output impedance then we can be sure that the audio signal that goes to the amp is in " pristine condition ".

My take is to take care the most for the cartridge signal that is the source where every degradation to that signal you can't recover any more.

regards and enjoy the music,
I don't think that criteria should be based on separates vs. one unit. Once we didn't even know what is integrated amp, because they were all integrated or receivers for home audio. One box unit with properly desinged power supply will be OK standing next to even great designed separates.
I have no relevant experience, but I would doubt that the answer is anything other than it depends on the specific designs.

Also, I would expect that the answer will depend to some extent on how much power is required, and if there is a preference between tube and solid state for the power amplification function. Those factors will affect how much of the budget should be allocated to that function, and therefore how much will be left over for the preamplifier and phono stage functions, regardless of how they are integrated.

-- Al
It will also depend on how much you are interested in tweaking your sound. Separates allow you to dial the sound in to get what works best for you. You have more control over each part of the system.
I run a Manley Steelhead into the aux on my Musical Fidelity M3 Nuvista integrated amp, and also use the phono input on the amp. The Steelhead sounds better, as it should, but it is not night and day better, so much depends on the quality of the external phono preamp, the integrated amp and the phono board in the amp.
I understand there are lots of variable that can influence and change specific results but it's a very general question and given a range of equipment to work with (which I don't have access to) I could probably understand what path has the most potential. For example putting a $4k phono with $5K integrated vs $9K of separates (internal phono). Does the $5K integrated choke the benefit of the $4K phono (that is probably the question)? $5K should buy you a decent integrated, $4K a decent phono and $9K a decent separates.

Just hoping someone comes around that has challenged the two different approaches to allocating the $$.
It depends on the intelligence of the Designer.
You can have a
- good internal Phono Board (rare)
- mediocre Phono Board (normal)
- good separate Preamp (also rare)
- mediocre separate Preamp (normal)
The only advantage is, there is no mismatch internally compared to separates from different manufacturers.
Audible Illusions had a good internal card, maybe Accuphase,too. Manley is good, too. They also have a interesting 2k phono amp......
I don't think it is a straightforward answer, you really have to look at the specific options that match your unique needs. You have to see what your budget will get you among the configurations you have to choose from. It may be better to skew the budget towards amplification vs. the phono, maybe a more even approach or integrated is better? It all depends.

I saw a thread on vinyl asylum where someone had compared a separate phono to the one in a shindo monbrison and thought that the stand-alone was a tad better but he could live with (forgo the expense) of the stand-alone. I myself am tempted to fund a better pre-amp with phono by selling my stand alone phono but we will see.
I go with separates. A phono box, preamp and separate amp.
I do have one preamp with a built in phono. An Audio research SP-15 solid state with a three tube phono section. It is nice.
My main preamp is a $5K Bryston, and a $5K amp another Bryston.
Then the Bryston phono box which would also be $5K (except it can use the Bryston preamp power so with that the stand alone phono box only (currently) costs $3K or so.

I would say one really does not want the phono stage in the same chassis as the amplification.
Other than that plenty of options.
The other issue is since the mid 80's very few good phono stages in any preamp. BEFORE 1980 plenty of good phono stages in preamps. And since the mid 1980s plenty of great stand alone phono boxes have been made.
So for ease of finding a good used stand alone phono box yes.
Plenty of integrateds have been made in the recent past too.
You also have the advantages of separate power supplies for separate components, generally thought to be a good thing.

Though on the other hand, with an integrated you don't have to worry about component synergy to the same degree.
Elizabeth makes an excellent point. Around the time that CD's were annoited the "perfect" replacement for vinyl lots of manufactureres started treating phono preamp sections as an after thought.
Into the details:

I own a Modwright LS100 w/phono / KWA100SE combo. The phono stage is not an after thought and has been very well designed and received. Fantastic system but does it maximize my front end which is DV XV-1s/Rave One/TW 10.5? probably not.

I have never heard any of the high end phono stages which leaves me curious if my front end is being limited by the internal phono or how much more does a separate phono bring to the picture. With limited funds at this point in my life I see the option of moving to an separate phono + integrated? Gain in the phono but lose the separate advantage in theory, but maybe not is there a gain + gain situation?
How about this for a plan: Purchase a high quality separate phono stage, and connect it to a line-level input of your existing preamp. Compare it to the results you have been getting with the preamp's built-in phono stage. If there is not a significant improvement, sell the new phono stage. If there is a significant improvement, you can then decide whether to stay with the existing preamp and power amp, or replace them with an integrated amp.

Also, FWIW, based on everything I've read if I were shopping for a separate phono stage in the price range you seem to be describing, number 1 on my list of candidates would be the Herron VTPH-2.

-- Al
Only problem with that plan is I won't know how it sounds through an integrated until that comes into the picture. Finding a better phono stage isn't my objective its in context of downgrading from separates.
Bottom line Musichead is only you can make this decision. I've learned the hard way not to ask others to spend your money for you. As I said in my first post, "you will find no clear winner in this debate". Flip a coin and live with it.

07-12-13: Almarg
Also, FWIW, based on everything I've read if I were shopping for a separate phono stage in the price range you seem to be describing, number 1 on my list of candidates would be the Herron VTPH-2.

-- Al

Great reco Al!!

How does anyone know what power amp or integrated amp will work when you haven't told us what loudspeakers you're using. You asked a very general question when you really should have asked two specific ones. First, is there a preamp or separate phono preamp that can maximize the performance of the Dynavector? Second, please recommend an integrated that will do same for my XXX loudspeakers, or do I need a power amp?

Right now listed on Audiogon is an Octave Phono Module and a Hegel H200. Combined listing price around $7,500. If you don't like the Hegel integrated there are ARC, Coda, Pass, AVM, etc. in the approximate price range. Alternatively there is a Spread Technologies Ambrosia preamp w/ phono listed for $4,000. There are any number of better than decent power amps you could match that up to and stay below your budget. Assuming the changes in performance are actually worth $8k, which path makes the most sense for you?
I have had integrated amps, separates w/phono amps and separates w/built-in phono boards. It really is the amp quality, your personal listening preferences, type of music you like, etc. I don't think it is any one type of amp over another.

I have found that the quality of the amps involved are the greatest source of sound quality. However, having said that they must be able to sync together to produce the sound that you want.
I just did this. Went from using a Classe cp-60 with internal phonoboard and ca-200 amp and went to a tube integrated with an external tube phono preamp. The internal phono card in the classe preamp was expensive and just so so compared to external phono preamps for around the same price. A separate phono pre allows you to upgrade this piece instead of replacing the preamp.
Dear Musichead: To maximize any cartridge there are some desired characterisitcs like: very low noise phonolinepreamp, accurate inverse RIAA eq, very low output impedance and very low distoritons.

You are using tube technology in that phonolinepreamp that can't fulfill those desired characteristics because it's not accurate ( you can ask to the manufacturer the RIAA eq. deviation, noise level and phono distortion level. ), it has high output impedance and not the low noise required for a LOMC cartridge.

So IMHO that unit can't maximize the XV-1s needs. A change of unit is in order: independent if is a external or integrated phonolinestage unit. You need to change of technology at that precise stage.

regards and enjoy the music,
Sorry but I don't understand the frustration some people are expressing. I fully understand it's a decision that only I can make and there will be trade offs that are subjective. If I auditioned separates with an internal phono I would definitely ask the sales person to bring in an integrated and phono to compare. Seems like a logical comparison and I understand some of integrates are very good now but can some of them perform as good as the separates? Just looking for people have gone down this path to share their experiences.
Only problem with that plan is I won't know how it sounds through an integrated until that comes into the picture. Finding a better phono stage isn't my objective its in context of downgrading from separates.
Oops don't know how that got posted again :-)
07-13-13: Musichead
Seems like a logical comparison and I understand some of integrates are very good now but can some of them perform as good as the separates?

Absolutely!! There are many integrated amps out there that will outperform separates in the same price range, in fact I have heard integrated amps hold their own with separates costing 2-3 times as much money. I owned a $6500 integrated amp that came surprisingly close to $27,000 in separates. The separates will provide more flexibility though, but at a cost.
Thanks, jmcgrogan2

Curious what integrates you considered and what you settled with? I understand the phono options with my front end, the tt manufacture and us distributor recommend the Tron phono for the tt and xv-1s.
@Jmcgrogan2, what are you running these days? It seems like I recall you being into VAC?
I currently own a Cary SLP-98P F1 w/ MC phono stage, which I use with my VPI table/Dynavector XX-2 mk II cartridge. Amplifier is a Coda Model 11, 100 wpc of Class A solid state. This is after much downsizing, at my peak a few years back I was using a ARC Ref 3 preamp, BAT VK-75SE amp with mods from Bob Backert and a Klyne 7PX5.0 phono stage.

During the downsizing, I owned a VAC Avatar Super for a couple of years. The VAC came amazingly close to the sound of my best separates, and my current setup is not as good. Which is why I am considering selling my separates and looking to go back to a tube integrated amp at this time.
Been doing some reading on the net and the VAC Avatar Super and Rega Osiris sound like outstanding integrated amps and trounced many high end separates. Anyone heard the Acoustic Arts Power I? Any other contenders?
I owned the VAC Avatar Super as well, it is indeed excellent. The new VAC integrated which I auditioned is very nice as well but more expensive at around $10K. I now have shindo separates which outperform the VAC (in many but not all ways) but I think that it's more likely related to system matching and synergy rather than separate vs. integrated.
American way: The best of the best is overkill over over the overoverkill over the other overkill will most certainly work the best. Also try to shop for the units that have power supply in the separate box each including amp. Also use separate power conditioning for EACH unit that will give you a benefit of eveneven larger isoisoisolation. More boxes will bring more music!