Yet another Integrated vs Separates advice post


Hey Audiogon! Help me spend my money.

I've recently upgraded my speakers and analog rig and it now has me wondering if I could be getting more out of my amplification section. I've had a trusty Hegel H200 integrated amp for about 6 years and it's to its testament that until now I haven't thought about upgrading it. But the upgraditis is getting to me, especially after my analog section has taken me into a different tier on the source side.

My questions:

If my goal is to move into the "reference" quality tier (and by that I guess I mean, at least providing a sniff of the creme de la creme; Stereophile Class A-quality for lack of a better way to put it), should I take this opportunity to move back into separates? 

Second question: if my budget is around $7k, what should I consider that would be a significant upgrade over the giant-killing Hegel? Some components I'm considering:

For separates, PS Audio BHK preamp + PS Audio Stellar Monoblocks (though I'm hesitant about class D amps)
For integrated, Aesthetix Mimas, or a Luxman integrated
Someone in the running: integrateds from Krell, Mark Levinson, and Ayre

My requirements: my rack limits me to standard-sized 17"-wide components. I need at least 2 balanced inputs unless there's a built-in DAC. I mainly seek a "warm" tonality with rich midrange, and greatly value components that image exceptionally well.

My system: Hegel H200, Doge 7 DAC, Avid Volvere turntable, PS Audio Stellar phono preamp, Egglestonworks Emma speaker
hudsonhawk
Since your goal is to spend money then nothing, absolutely nothing, beats separates. With an integrated amp one thing like the Raven Reflection MkII will get you right to the very top, but will not even get you to $11k! https://www.ravenaudio.com/product/reflection-mk2/ What a joke! With separates you could spend more than that on power cords and interconnect alone and still not sound as good. Its just no contest! You would be nuts to even think of an integrated if your goal is to spend money.
Dedicated Luxman fanboy here, the integrateds are pretty amazing.  Extension in bass and treble, liquid midrange, quiet, great tone controls. Have 2 balanced inputs. 

Among your list, my next favorite are amps from Ayre, but not auditioned their integrated versions.


if you can stretch to 9k so you could pick up a used or demo ML 585.5 which has a very good phono section and hi rez dac. I expect the Luxman 509x is very good as well. I’ve given up separates for top drawer integrated amps without feeling any remorse and I’ve had some very good gear. if you don’t need a phono section a used ML 585 will stun you. their latest models are not dark and grayish sounding as the older models. they apparently have a super design team. fwiw
@4425 The ML 585 is one of the only pieces I’m considering that I’ve had the good fortune to audition. It is indeed an incredibly impressive piece of gear, absolute control of the sound and checks my imaging box, though it was more on the neutral side at least paired with the Revel speakers at the Harman showroom here in NYC. Gorgeous to boot. I am extremely satisfied with the Stellar Phono so I actually don’t want or need onboard phono. 

@millercarbon Ha, point well-heard. I wish I could go back to an all-tube integrated but my stereo does double-duty on my TV and it seems like a waste of tube hours to sit around marathoning Schiit’s Creek on Netflix. I am open to a hybrid tube amp like the Aesthetix.
@erik_squires wish I could hear a Luxman, they’re certainly impressively well-reviewed an beautiful. I don’t really need the phono stage or tone controls but they don’t seem to stop people from raving about them.
hudsonhawk O
Yet another Integrated vs Separates advice


Separates always better, as you can choose/change your active preamp coloration flavor.
Or at least an integrated that can by-pass the preamp with power amp inputs.

Preamps:
Active Tube.
Active Solid State
Or Passive
(You can get all three with a Schiit Freya+) https://www.schiit.com/products/freya-1

Or even "Direct" from source into the amp which is my no.1 if all other components don’t need any of the coloration’s from an "active preamps"

(though I’m hesitant about class D amps)
As are the majority, for hiend .

Cheers George


I'll  toss in something to save you some money. Anthem STR Integrated has internal DAC, 1 set balanced inputs, MM MC phono with adjustable rumble filter and phono EQ, ARC. 
The Anthem looks great, just not sure it would be a clear upgrade from my Hegel
I have not heard the Anthem integrateds, but I'm very happy with the AVP.
You could connect a preamp to the H200s amp section, if you wanted to slow your wade in to the waters of separates. I did that as an experiment with a Lamm L1 and an H160. The L1 has only single-ended inputs, and I am not suggesting it particularly anyways. It was, though, a big difference in terms of tonal color. The amp section of the H160 is pretty damn good. 

At shows e....works is usually paired with Rogers. May be that is a thing? Other owners should know.
Does your current set up lack warmth or a rich midrange? What cartridge is in use? It appears to me you need tubes somewhere in the audio chain. The Aesthetix Mimas is very well received I have not heard it. Or if you can get by with 30 watts of class A consider a used Pass Labs XA-30.8 amp with a XP-10 preamp. Both Pass and Aesthetix have top level support and solid resale.
There’s no question that a quality integrated is a better value, particularly at the ~$10K price point. I have an integrated in a 2nd system and it’s an easy solution with good sound. But I have to say, an integrated as a main system is a commitment, and if you lose flexibility to swap out the pre section more easily down the road for instance. It’s all about knowing yourself and your priorities.

As you get beyond the $10K level the performance of separates starts creating some "separation" from integrateds in my view. Having an amp and preamp share a common power supply or even the same box (and power cord) starts creating a loss of fidelity compared to what separates can deliver. EMI/noise has to be dealt with in the box, isolation is difficult etc. Add quality interconnects and most of the better separates will sound better than the better integrateds.

To me it boils down to your price point, being ok/not ok with having limited flexibility, and having physical space. If you want the best possible solution for a $10K budget and you don’t mind the inflexibility you’re not going to do better than a quality integrated. As you move higher price there is no question that you will get better fidelity with separates - it’s all about priorities.
@hudsonhawk in my experience you need to hear these things for yourself to make a decision that leads to long-term happiness. You mentioned you'd love to hear a Luxman - I'm happy to send you a L509X to audition and, instead of wondering, you'll know.

- Colin

Luxman dealer
https://gestalt.audio
@dayglow I really like the Hegel in every way, which is why it’s stuck around so long. That said, upgrading from my VPI Scout / Blue Point Special / Dynavector P75 analog section to my current Avid / Dynavector XX-2 / PS Audio Stellar Phono analog section has made me realize that there’s more to be had. It’s made me think I could achieve even great clarity, performance, and engagement if I upgrade my integrated (and maybe my DAC...) My DAC is tube and I’m a big tube fan, hence my interest in the BHK and Mimas.
@three_easy_payments Thanks for the thoughtful post. Exactly the problems I’m weighing! I recognize the value to be had from integrateds... but the flexibility of separates both tempts me and might be a rabbit hole.

If I were to go separates, I’d be heavily leaning towards the BHK (or the Pass Labs preamp my local dealer has). That would leave me $3-4K for a 2-channel amp - what would people recommend in that price range? I mentioned the Stellar Monos but my anti-Class D bias has me too scared to pull the trigger on those. Plus that’s 2 more components instead of just one more component to fit into my limited rack space and buy power cables for...
I had the hegel h100, tried the h200, Then bought The h300. The h300/h360 are a big step up in sq vs. the h200.
When I moved up the speaker chain to the larger Ushers, the h300 just didn’t have the power for the 11” woofer. I went back to separates, now using the ps audio bhk 250 amp with a Mcintosh c47 preamp and a ps audio ds dac. Separates are the way to go if you have the $$$ because if something changes, you can swap out a single piece instead of the whole integrated
@rbstehno thanks for your perspective - that’s interesting to hear how the H200 compares even within the Hegel line, I’d always assumed that it would have performed similarly to the H300/360. Definitely confirms there’s room for me to get a lot of improvement, just a matter of picking my lane. The C47 + BHK must sound incredible.
hudsonhawk

another +vote for Aesthetix or Ayre.  Have fun!

Happy Listening!
Not sure about how your dac would compare with the dac built into either the h300 or h360. The h360 had the better dac between the 2. You might be able to sell your dac if the hegel built in dac is better. I never used the hegel dac because I had a ps audio ds jr or the ds sr dac at the time and these were far superior.
Another consideration is if you are using Roon because neither of these 2 hegels are supported by Roon unless something has changed recently. You can overcome this by getting a Roon endpoint device like an Apple TV or a little pi computer. For a few grand hegel makes a damn good product
Since your Hegel H200 is a solid performer(in your system) you don't want to make a sideways move. If the Emma speakers are a long term plan, contact Eggleston maybe they can help. As many agree the amp/speaker synergy is of utmost importance.
Aesthetix is awesome 
You might want to try the new Hegel H390 ( 250 wpc @ $6k) Same electronics as the H590 (300 wpc @ $15k). Many reviews favorably compare these integrated amps to reference separates. I have the H390 and I want to be buried with it.
When you go separate you then need another power cord and interconnect and another shelf and more vib/iso devices, so IMHO you will NOT NECESSARILY achieve your goal

PSA M700s are very good value, but did not compare to my RIc Schultz EVS1200 (alas he is in a holding pattern making more), BUT, Emerald Physics is about to introduce their Voyager GaN amp: GaN is said to be the next evolution in class D. I am in high anticipation to compare the Voyager to my 1200

Should you go to EP check out their awesome deal on W4S integrateds: both the amp and preamp have gotten excellent reviews

Short of these, consider a significant interconnect and power cord upgrade (WireWorld series 7 or 8) and/or Core Power 1800 power conditioner and Deep Core
hth
Four integrated amps that will have you not wanting more although several are out of budget.
ML 585
ML 585.5
Agostino Progression integrated amp
Luxman 509x
Dartzeel CTH 8550
Jeff Rowland(?)

Take one of these with a very good interconnect pair and power cord. Within their power range I believe that it would be impossible to determine that equivalent separates sound better. IMHO
Another vote for the Aesthetix Mimas which is right at your $7K budget. It’s the most musically satisfying integrated that I have ever heard.

I would suggest that you need to hear it with your speakers though, It sounds great with my Harbeth Super HL5+’s and with the Vandersteen Treo CT’s. These are the only speakers that I have heard it with so I cannot say how it will sound with your Eggleston’s.

A home audition will help you be certain that it’s the right one for you. Good Luck!
Going from the h100/h200 to the h300/h360 or even the h390 is not “just” a sideways move, it’s a night and day difference especially if you need the extra power, or the dac. If you can get a h300 for around $2000 or a h360 for around $2500, you would be hard pressed to find something better for anywhere near those prices.
i liked the hegel integrated amps that I owned, but I went separates and there is a big difference in sq but at a more lofty price
I picked up an older Bryston BP26 pre amp for $1200 and using it with a pair of Ampzilla 2000 Second Edition monoblocks ($5k/pair).
The power cords on the monoblocks are not changeable so I only needed a power cord for the Bryston.
The combination is stunning! Dead silent like my Hegel H190 that I use in my office setup (small 10x14 room).

So for $6200 plus about $400 for interconnects, this would meet your $7k budget.
Like you, I absolutely love the Hegel. Love the Bryston/Ampzilla even more!

I agree with baclagg and rbstehno 100%, the H390/590 is a true upgrade. So I guess I should be thankful the H190 is more than enough for the small room. Otherwise, ... Luxman integrated, H390, ...

I'm going to throw a curve ball into the mix.

Lyngdorf TDAI3400 , get the optional analogue input and consider the HDMI module if you like to double duty with AV. 

You could add a quality sub or 2 down the line as an upgrade path.

http://www.the-ear.net/review-hardware/lyngdorf-tdai-3400-integrated-amplifier-dac-streamer

Review here from a guy who spins vinyl. No DAC required it's a digital amp.

What sets this apart is you get is world class room control. This will have more of an impact on your overall sound quality than better measuring amps. You can even just use it as a pre amp down the line.

I can see you have excellent close to full range speakers, but adding a sub or two and playing with the digital crossover settings you can go down to full range bass and taking those bass notes away from the Emma's will improve the mid bass and higher frequencies.

You could also consider the chraper 2170 as a room correcting pre, you would lose the built in streamer.

My only caution is that power conditioning these digital amps can be very beneficial in my experience. However,  have lots of noisy dc pumps and led lights on the same power ring circuit, from my fish tank (That review implies you don't need conditioning, ymmv).

The sound is very neutral. You really tend to get the flavour of the recording and the recording methods and the recording acoustics. You can voice the system with presents and your own equalization. If I stream an analogue recording it sounds analogue. 


I have the Rogue Audio RH-5 linestage / preamp and Stereo 100 power amp.  I upgraded from the highly regarded Cronus Magnum integrated amp.  
The idea of separates as an upgrade mainly influenced dynamics and musical life like energy compared to the integrated which was already excellent.  
I tried a few very good solid state amps too but it didn't take long to realize I missed the smooth refined liquid Rogue family sound.  
FYI each are Stereophile class A rated, (appropriately so) and under your budget.  If you can forgo the bling and focus on the sound this is a very strong recommendation.  Peace.  
Very old news again.
I have been the "separates" route with lots of boxes on lots of shelves. Now I have a fairly simple set up (only two boxes) and have no desire to have a forest of cables ever again. IMO, separates are great if you change gear regularly or are a reviewer.
If your speakers don't need more power then stick with what you have. If you want to really upgrade then up you price point significantly.
I love Luxman gear but I wanted an integrated amp that could drive my stupidly inefficient (down to 2Ω) Shahinian Obelisks. I also prefer tube preamps and balanced inputs. I found a clean, used BAT VK-300x (6922 tube version) for a song on fleabay. Works great. So great, in fact, that I am thinking of demoing a new VK-3000SE. I do prefer the sound of 6922 tubes to 6H30s but we'll see.

The Denon pma sx-11 from Japan 
        Best of both worlds
                Best kept secret
A fun thought to work through!

For reference, I’ve been part of this hobby for 30 or more years. My first system was a pair of Adcom separates (I forgot which model’s), a Rega P3 turntable (forgot which cartridge) and Vandersteen 1b speakers. I remember driving through a snowstorm in North NJ to get to John Rutan’s store, Audioconnection to pick up the Vandys; my wife (at the time) thought I was nuts.

I’ve been through easily 40 or 50 different separates, integrateds, turntables, cables (lots of them) over the years. Too much stuff to list. I went pretty high in the food chain with an EAR 868 line state pre, a high end tube phono stage (an EAR I believe) a CJ Premier 140A monster tube amp. High end CD player (was Sony’s highest end). At that time my main speakers were a reconditioned pair of ESL 63’s with appropriate subwoofer.

Always had glorious sound!

Today my system is a pair of Harbeth 30’1’s powered by a Luxman L-507uxii, VPI Scount/Dynavector 20xl2, with Qobuz streaming through an MHDT Orchid DAC. I miss nothing. Nada. Thrilled to be rid of CD’s.

My point is that a GOOD integrated will give you all the sound you need. If you can afford a Luxman L-509x buy it and don’t look back. And if that’s a bit much take a serious look at the L 507uxii. Sounds great (nice MC phono stage) and is built with the precision of a swiss watch. 

Have a blast working through the process!
I have my equipment stand placed where its most convenient. That's not between the speakers.


I've found that keeping speaker cables short is helpful for increasing resolution and bass impact. So I run mono power amps as close to the loudspeakers as I can get them so I can keep the speaker cables short. This means running a long interconnect cable, but since my balanced tube preamp supports the balanced line standard (and is one of the few to do so), I can run the interconnects as long as I need; in my case about 30 feet. But they are not expensive yet sound great, owing to the fact that the equipment supports the balanced standard, which helps minimize the audible effects of the interconnect.

If you get the chance to hear what balanced line can do in the home when properly set up, there's no going back. This is how most LPs and CDs were recorded; balanced line is what ushered in the era of HiFi.