For years (more than I care to admit) my listening system consisted of separates including amp, pre-amp, transport and DAC with all the associated cables. About a two and a half years ago I bought an integrated amp and haven't looked back. Does it match the sound quality of separates? To my ears yes it does. The price tag for the equipment now installed is probably 20% of what it once was and still it satisfies my needs. Basically I was an equipment junkie, now I listen to music. My experience, good luck.
Historically, buying separates made sense on three counts:
1. there are fewer design and performance compromises when you go with separates ... purchase an individual component that does its respective job well.
2. allows for a sensible and logical purchasing approach and upgrade path.
3. if a component breaks down, only that piece has to be replaced.
Working against this, is that going with separates requires more room in the equipment rack and the ability to match up components (system synergy) is supremely important.
Power amps, primarily because of their heat generating and heat dissipation parts, create the biggest roadblock to integration. You don't necessarily want the power supplies, transformers, and heat sinks interferring with your preamp and possibly, tuner.
With all that said, there are some great integrated amps out there. I have happily owned from a budget NAD C320BEE to a Musical Fidelity A3 to a Prima Luna Prologue Two. The convenience of the integrated makes sense and I have never been a zealot about needing that ultimate level of performance. In those systems where I have gone with a power amp, I opted for either an integrated preamp/tuner (ADCOM GTP 500) or a preamp/cd player (Musical Fidelity CD PRE 24). It's unfortunate that there are not too many top flight receivers out there, because they make the most sense from an integration point of view.
In the end, it really is about what is important to you and what you are willing to spend and tolerate to play your tunes.
thanks Rich. nice bit of clarity. Agreed about receivers. Just put a serviced, slightly upgraded Marantz 2245 into service. sounds great before its 2 day warm up even started, and does beg the question...
Funny that you mention the Marantz 2245 ... I am using a Marantz 2240 in a bedroom system. I had the 2240 overhauled about 3 years ago and was not satisfied with it at first. I tried a number of small monitors with mixed results and finally started fiddling with the tone controls. I haven't used tone controls since 1979, when I purchased a pair of EPI 100 speakers and they suggested not using tone controls. Well, go down two indents on the bass control (leaving the mid-range and treble tone controls in the '0' position) and the Marantz sounds like a champ ... very smooth and musical sounding. I have it paired with NHT SB2 speakers and a Pioneer PD-65 CD player ... not bad for $800 total. Go figure ...
Separate power supplies are the biggest advantage of separate amps. Traditionally speaking integrated amps just don't have the type of power supplies in them that even mediocre power amps do. That said, we'll have to see what the advent of digital amps does to the integrated market...could get interesting.
Hi Rich. funny you should say that! Having not played with tone controls for years myself i turned my bass down 2 notches last night. also turned mid and treble up a bit. Also found the Marantz takes 2 days to warm up! Matti, I also am about to mod a t-amp. One of the things that's really bugging me about all this is that things often only obviously better AB'ing them. For musical enjoyment perhaps timrhu isnt so wrong. I've just bought a Taylor 313CE guitar on Epay, and am bemoaning the lack of a good piano right now. No hi fi i've ever heard can differentiate between pianos,well, let alone a 6' and 5'6" Steinway. Play 'em and you know! A crappy upright is more musical than most high end gear. Decreasing returns for money spent and reviewers superlatives, and the way speakers alter sound makes me wonder at Avantgarde Duos and a reasonably priced SET integrated with a nice mc phono stage on board if one exists
I agree the individual power supply is a plus, however, given the other factors I don't see why integrates should be second best. I think it's a cultural thing. Audiophiles feel inferior with integrateds.
I went from seperates to integrated, and I'm happy with it.
>>I think it's a cultural thing<<
No, it's a performance thing.
>>No, it's a performance thing.<<
I we're talking about quality components, which measured parameters are bettered by separates over integrateds? If there are no consistently measured differences then I'd say it's a personal thing. This is assuming we admit there are percieved differences in sound quality. And on this forum I'd say that's a given.
I just bought Primare I30 and traded with my Krell KSA 80B and Sonic Frontiers SFL-1. Just wanted to get new stuff over the old ones and short of cash.
But my experience with I30 was great, the transparency, vocal sweetness, details and separation are better than Krell. I could hear many things with I30 but Krell has more Bass Slamm that;s all.
another reason is to buy nuforce ref 9 and Primare I30 as Pre-amp since it is dual mono balanced output.
>>If there are no consistently measured differences then I'd say it's a personal thing.<<
No sir I'm sorry you are incorrect here. There is no disputing the advantages of separate power supplies on separate chassis. That is the heart and soul of the individual component argument which transcends the "personal" and "cultural" arguments. I hope that helps you understand more clearly.
No Stanhifi - you've done nothing but restated what I said earlier that there is a benefit to having seperate power supplies, but other than rehashing what I said and saying who's right and who's wrong you didn't really help us understand anything more clearly.
Robm - I'm not sure that you can show me an integrated that acts as a voltage source down to 2 ohms and below. Or one with the S/N ratios of the better separates. But I do agree that there is a lot of performance available if you're willing to consider a nice integrated.
Cleary there are excellent examples of both designs...with intergrateds really gaining ground in terms of popularity and price/performance....and in real world listening enviroments...that is average size rooms with modern efficient/stable speaker loads...it is no wonder intergrated amps have created a following...with a short,simple,signal path...not much power is really necessary for real world listening...that being said...I own seperates myself for the mix n matching flexibility(tube pre/solid state amp,etc) more so than the perceived gain in audio quality...and in truly hi-end, state of the art, cost is no object audio...seperates are still the componets to be judged(30 k monoblocks,etc)...at any rate...both are capable of truly stellar musical reproduction....and both have merits and potential shortcomings depending on the system in question....
Stanhifi, I understand your point very clearly, I just happen to disagree with it. Now I'm not talking about extremes here such as comparing a $3K integrated to $30K worth of separates. Let's compare the measured performance of a $3K integrated to $3K worth of separates (not including cable). I don't have the data at my fingertips but I feel confident the difference in specs would be statistically negligible. Some listeners would prefer the sparates while other would prefer the integrated. I call that personal preference.
Is the advantage of having separate power supplies disputable? To those who prefer the sound of the integrateds, I think the answer is an indisputable yes.
If the power supply in an integrated amplifier is designed and built properly for the application, not an impossible task, then there is no advantage to separate power supplies.
I also understand your point very clearly, Stanhifi. It all makes a lot of sense.
However, while I was shopping for a new tube amplifier a while back, I happened to come across the Jadis Orchestra Reference. I guess after hearing it, a lot of the conventional wisdom went out the window in my mind. The so - called experts didn't seem to get this one right, that was certain. Instead of buying a stereoblock, or another pair of monos, I surprised myself to an unbelievable degree by finally buying something after a long search - an integrated.
To this day, with the right tubes, I have yet to hear better midrange from any amplifier. And, yes, I have far more expensive and well respected separates than this overlooked integrated.
While the JOR is now gone, a DA30 has taken its place in my wife's system. No, it doesn't have the same midrange, but it does offer a richness and liquidity in the midbass up through the lower midrange that once again makes me wonder why I mess around with other stuff.
I guess my point is there are just very few absolutes in audio...
Trelja I totally agree. A well designed integrated amp will smoke a poorly designed, poorly built pair of separate components. My point is, all things being equal, separates offer inherent advantages that cannot be matched by an integrated. I stand by that and it is indisputable despite the other chatter here. Thank you for the qualification.
Thank you for your response, Stanhifi.
At heart, I agree with you. However, that darn JOR was just so good sounding, that it ended up throwing my whole sense of things off.
My mono tube amps, extensively modded Atma Sphere M60 MKIII and Granite 861, are both very well designed components, brought to market by uniquely creative, intelligent men, respectively, both of which I consider to stand out from the norm. Both products easily have more power and superior performance at the frequency extremes than the JOR. So, if we are talking those attributes, or even measurements, then I will allow they probably smoke the Orchestra Reference.
But, and this, to me, is the essence of why I am in this hobby, the JOR produced a purity of sound I have never before or since have heard. Never have I encountered what I consider "perfect midrange", and by that I mean a triangle sounded as if a triangle was in my room, vocals sounded as if the person sang before me, etc. Cliches, yes. Overused, most definitely! Words cannot convey what I heard. But, once I retubed it with the output tubes I figured would best suit the buyer's sonic priorities, I do believe I heard it. I was so excited that I was hearing music, and not audio, that it was a sad day in having sold it.
The person I sold it to, and he is a regular and respected member of these discussions, was also astounded by its performance. In fact, his main system consisted of AtmaSphere MA2, along with Kharma loudspeakers, and beyond the matters of power, scale, and low frequencies, was not sure he was stepping back one iota otherwise. The JOR was so far out of its own league (he had to upgrade his already very good ancillary components to a very serious degree in his office system to find out how high the JOR could rise) that all he could think about way trying it in the main system. And, we never even rolled the stock Ei 12AX7 tubes.
Though, and this is where I think you and I reconcile, before getting this amp, he tried many an integrated, not one of them he considered anywhere near acceptable. In fact, he found all of them to be lousy. Both Jadis integrated amplifiers actually produce a scary level of performance. So, if we consider them aberrations, then, yes, the separates, all things being equal, should be superior.
Where I do think many, many people (and companies) fall down is in matching the separates. Their preamps just don't work well with their power amps, and they don't know it. Or, the wrong choice in cabling also precludes them from their equipment from reaching its ultimate plane. In these instances, a well designed integrated may well easily produce better sound.
But, in the end, though I am saying a lot, I don't know any more than the next guy. The obvious questions to me are, why did I sell the JOR, and/or why haven't I picked up another one. Well, I did move up a step to the DA30, and though it offers some advantages in some areas (a type of rich, full sound that virtually no high end stuff these days has), I still haven't found that midrange...
Thanks Joe. Couldn't agree any more. To clarify my position succintly, I would bet anybody any amount that if your Orchestra Reference were split into a pair of monoblocks and linestage, the performance would be even better than a single chassis unit. I did not mean to infer a comparison of unlike products (Atma-Sphere, Granite, and Jadis); that was my error.
Talking about seperate components, I've tried so many one box cd player but was never satisfy. I would say I tried more than 20 different cd players but none of them give me the sound that I want.
Having transport and DAC provide a much more airy, analog and deep sound.
I probably couldn't show all of that, but at least youre hinting at some actual facts as to why separates may be better. I appreciate you not taking the condescending approach - "it's better cuz I said its better, indisputably"
Okay Stanhifi you convinced me........just kidding.
This depends on the price point we're looking at. As I said before, if we're talking about an amplification system retailing for $30K, separates will be superior. But can a separate system be built to compete with the NAD 320BEE integrated for $499?
>>But can a separate system be built to compete with the NAD 320BEE integrated for $499?<<
Of course not but price was not an integral part of the discussion.
Robm321, not condescending just being factual. Ask any designer or engineer involved in the trade. Perhaps you'll understand it with more experience in the hobby. Thank you.
Rob - I think we are in agreement that short of having to drive very difficult loads or the need to output tremendous power, integrateds might be the better choice for even seasoned audiophiles. And even then the MF KW500 integrated comes to mind as a possibility.
I think it's a pretty cool time to be a "beginner" in the hobby due exactly to the type of performance which is available from the equipment we're talking about here. Ya know?
"not condescending just being factual" - "Perhaps you'll understand it with more experience in the hobby"
Maybe you should look condescending up in the dictionary. I'm not even arguing with you. My experience has been that seperates sound better as the price goes up, but as the thread asks, WHY?" - I don't know why.
I was assuming that you could enlighten us since you seem so confident with the facts, but I can't seem to get any reason out of you as to WHY it sounds better. I just get your opinion over and over with nothing to back it up, so I'll give up.
I agree - it is a great time to be a beginner in this hobby.
Perhaps you missed the posts on the advantages of separate power supplies and chassis for each component. I hope that helps you understand better now. Good luck!!
If we all ignore him, he will go away.
The MF KW500 and TrVista are integrateds with separate power supplies. Maybe that why they sound as good as separates IMO.
Why haven't you guys asked Stan... if blindfolded can he pick out which is what? SS/tube separates or SS/tube integrated of equal quality(not price) setup on a speaker designed for either? Using the same source of course.I can pretty much guarantee he can't ..and neither can anyone else.LOL
Everything is system dependent .Not everyone needs a kilowatt amplifer to drive speakers.:-)
Stan, we don't disagree at all here except for the point about price. I always look at the price point to which a component was built when considering performance. If looking for the best sound on a budget of $2K or less then integrated amps should be considered. The originator of this post mentioned a $700 integrated as a possibility; that's where I was coming from.
BTW my first amp was an Eico integrated tube amp I had as a teenager back in the 60s. Been an active listener ever since.
Because of the variability of the interconnects. Because the best interconnect on earth can not possibly sound better than no interconnect at all. Because Integrated amps are designed as a single unit and there are no design compromises in trying to make the preamp compatable with a wide variety of amps. Because Because the amp and preamp stages are much better isolated than they were a decade or more ago. Because selecting interconnects at an unnecessary stage in the amplification chain confuses the already confusing issue of component matching. Although I do have a Melos SHA-1 through the DK Design interconnects and a modified Moscode 300 that still sounds better than anything I have ever heard, so go figure.
It comes down to both sides being correct. I have no doubt that in the upper reaches of power and performance, separates are unequalled. Whether this is because nowone has tried to produce a "cost no object" integrated, or because the ultimate limitations of an integrated chassis, set a performance limit. None of us, I think, dispute the benefits of separating power amp transformers and heat, from the sensitive low voltage preamp stage.
The argument is better put, that in the world most of us live in, at the price we can afford, what gives you "bang for your bucks". To me the cost savings of a single chassis, make the integrated a serious proposition. This is particularly so, because manufacturers themselves are taking integrated amps seriously, with a number of very good units available now. Take Accuphase, krell, Mark Levinson, Music Fidelity in SS and VAC, ARC, Jadis, Viva, Unison Research, in tubes.
I have gone from separates to a tube integrated, the Viva Solista and get what I consider, serious performance at a real world price.
I heard at a show a £30,000 cd player feeding a £X0,000 pre feeding a £30,000 power amp £12,000 pair of speakers with £x,ooo intereconnects. A bit of Ricci the violinist sounded amazing, certainly eual to my syastem, though no better i'd guess. so i asked him to play Hotel California on the Eagle's Hell Freezes Over cd, and it sounded absolutely awful. You could pay £300 for every thing and do as well. I AM NOT JOKING. On my system that track sounds great, and is beautifully produced, for those of you who havent yet heard it at its best. Heard it wonderfully through a car sterio last week as well (ok it was good alpine gear). So whats The Fuss!!! I am becoming increasingly despondent. My system is one of the few ive heard that can make a grand piano half way interesting. I am a pianist who can tell a 5' grand from a 6' one live, but know of no cd player that can get much past @it may be a grand piano@ if i'm honest. Also, that Jadis is getting awful writeups at audiocircle. I'd love to hear it for myself but refuse to pay £900 on ebay right now to find out! Damn! (probably my loss) I wonder if there's a follow my leader mentality in audio with lots of people. So Seperates vs Integrated - blind test and hava a laugh.In HI FI+ issue 34 they did blind ABing of speaker cable with 3 "experts" who write for them, and one of them put a £40 QED cable in a system over the mighty £2000 Vallhala cable. Also, to compound it, they then tried to give reasons for it and did a terrible job of making sense of the stats (I did maths at university by the way). I wish they'd used 24g ratshack copper nicely seperated for impedence as well just to really make fools of themselves. Are you getting my drift? Seperates vs integrated starts to become muddied water. And what about the room!!! My brain hurts. AAGHH
It's like I said at the very beginning of your thread ... In the end, it really is about what is important to you and what you are willing to spend and tolerate to play your tunes.
Ultimately, I buy what sounds the best to me. I know what I am willing to spend for a component (usually new) and I look to respect my budget. Compared to others on Agon, I live in the mid-fi world. I'm OK with that. I do make the occasional mistake when I buy something over the net without doing my homework, I just try to make it not so costly. It is why I am always looking for bargains and close outs. I also accept the compromises that either my hearing, my furniture set-up, my cats' climbing tendencies, and my wife's feelings add to the equation.
I have heard lots of equipment and easily 3/4 of it does very little for me and that includes some of the most touted brands here ... Vandersteen, Wilson Watt Puppies, Thieles, B&W's to name a few. I am off ... possibly, but as the Romans would say ... "de gustibus non disputandum est" (to each his own).
Enjoy the trip.
i have had separates and downsized my system with a very stable Chord integrated amp and have never looked back. it depends on budget etc., but for 5k and below there are many integrated amps on the market which can compete sonically with separates...
Thanks for your response Rarl, and it feels like a sane voice. i also agree with you Dgplo. Thanks, david