Integrated Amps vs. Separates.

I'm curious what people think the better option is, integrated amp or seperates. It seems that integrated amps are a cost cutting measure, but do they also cut sonic quality? Assuming similiar price ranges, what would people here generally choose. Give me some examples/brands/models and comparisions from your experiences. Thnaks. Carter p.s. Is the Krell KAV 300i really the king of integrateds like many reviewers say (i.e not only better than all other integrated amps but better than most seperates)?
I really believe that the separates sound better at similiar price, the integrated are design for ease to use and cost like 1 box to 2 box, cables and.....if you compare the sound 1 box will not get the job done right! for example I would say the good old Mccormack combo (TLC/DNA) will beat the same or even much higher price 1 box. For the Krell KAV-300I I would say "yes" for(integrated) the used price around $1500.(if krell is the king consider classe cap-151 as the Qn) Do not go beyond that! also the matching to your speakers is important. anyway there is so much more separates you can buy that sound better than 1 box high price.
I suppose that in general, most separates are better than most integrateds. BUT, there are pros & cons to both, and my opinion lately is that there are some great integrateds out there that are as good as great separates. With integrateds you don't have to worry about the cost of interconnects, which are very expensive and do affect the sound. (And possibly power cords too, but I havn't gone that far over the deep end yet.) Also, there's no reason nowadays why an integrated cannot be designed with considerations for separation of the pre/power componants. (Although completely seperate power supplies etc is a good thing of course). And the manufacturer (hopefully) gets the perfect match between the two, which can be trouble when you're going for separates. I recently went through an upgrade,looking for amplification ~$3K, and finally decided on finding a nice integrated (tubes). My short list had units like the VAC Avatar, Bel Canto SETi40, ( both are Stereophile class "A" if that means anything)... I wound up buying a Cary sli80, and am VERY happy with it.
Audio Refinement Complete, built under license (i.e. designed by YBA) is the best value integrated on the market today. You can pick one up for under $700, hard to justify a Krell or even Classe integrated. Having said that, no integrated can match separates. Integrateds have a place in office and bedroom systems, seperates belong in your main rig. JL
I wish I had more time for this reply, maybe later. In the high-end arena, integrated's have always been sneered at. We are entering a new age where integrated's are making a huge come back. It kind of reminds me of the CD player, where the market went crazy with separates and now they are making awesome one box units. There are many advantages to a one one box, not just the advantage of one less cable. To build a chasis for a amp or preamp is expensive, so is packaging. There are a lot of companies that are coming out with integrated amps now that were dedicated to separates. I just purchased Mark Levinson's first integrated amp, the 383, and I love it. They claim that sonically it competes with their 380 pre and 334 amp, this is a $13,500 setup, the 383 is $6000. I encourage you to go to This is a copy of the review of the 383. I am not suggesting you read this for the sake of the 383, but they cover some good point to integrated amps and mention others. Gotta run!
At @$1500-2000 retail and less the best integrateds are very competitive and sometimes surpass seperates, but over this amount the cost of extra box is not overwhelming and the physical/engineering advantages of seperation will win out as superior for the best seperates. But under $1500 I would definitely look at integrateds, Sam
I've recently, for the first time in 40+ audiophile years, gone to monoblock power amps, enabling short speaker cables with long interconnects. That now strikes me as the one big irrefutable superior aspect of separates. Hard to do at a lowish price point, maybe, but worth working up to if you can. A big advantage of separates is given up without going all the way, to monoblocks. (The long interconnects raise no problems, even though I use a passive preamp.)
I was happy with my Sansui AU517 integrated for the 18 years I had it. There were space advantages and it had all the features I wanted. I actually miss it...but... I now have two systems. One is a Golden Tube SEP1-se preamp biamped with Adcom GFA54511 & GFA 535. This is the living room system. I also have a music room with Anthem Pre1l and Amp1 (both tubes). Being that the living room system is now for when we have company, or for TV, and is not where I do my serious listening, I too am thinking of getting an integrated. My top contenders are the Anthem Integrated 2 and the Bryston B60. Both can be used with extra power amps, or used as preamps. I really like the idea and sound of seperates, but in this case, I think an integrated will do well.
Brian, how many integrated did you audition, before choosing the ML 383? Was 383, that much better than the competition? Regards!
I was always a proponent of separates. However, I now am greatly enjoying an integrated. The benefits of separates have been mentioned, and I agree. But, let's consider the benefits of a great(not good) integrated. Cost, space, the removal of possible mismatch between pre and power amp(happens a lot more than we realize), the removal of the possible mismatch between the preamp/interconnect/power amp, and the fact you can spend twice as much on a power cord(since you're only buying one). In the Stereophile review of the ML 383, the company maintains the integrated is BETTER(at half the cost!) than their equivalent 380/334 combination, UNLESS a perfect interconnect match is used. So, right now, I think for the majority of us(who do not have a cost no object budget), one of the great new integrated is better.
If your budget is limited I would suggest you still go with seperates, but take advantage of some of the great buys to be found on sites such as Audiogon. There is some really wonderful used gear to be had for cheap that is no longer the latest and greatest, but was well reviewed and loved in the recent past, and let's face it, amps and preamps have not improved that much in the last 5 or even 8 years. Here are a couple of recommendations. I've seen Classe 70 amps on Audiogon for as little as $450. This amp was a steal at $1200 when it was new and very highly reviewed in The Absolute Sound. Great looks and build quality and a very sweet sounding amp that will drive all but the most demanding speakers to reasonable levels. I own two of these which I use in a surround system, but every once in a while I put one of them on my high end system (Aerial 10t's driven with a pair of BEL 1001 MK3a monos) and am amazed at how good they sound. Another great deal to be had is an Audio Research LS2 or LS2B preamp. These can be had for $7 or 800 in mint condition. I could give you many more examples, but you get the idea. I can just about guarantee these will well out-perform all but the most exotic integrated amps and at under $1500 that's hard to beat. And avoid the hype around cables. In the words of J. Gordon Holt they are just passive tone controls. Some of the older Monster Cable is quite cheap used and highly underrated. Enjoy!
Once again I am short on time. Eldragon, I tested no other integrated amps. I was using a Meridian 557 amp and 502 pre. A guy I know locally offered it to me used. I disagree with the statements that for the same price separates is the way to go. It would cost a company less to make a amp/preamp in one box (i.e. interagted) than to make them in two boxes at the same performance level If money is no object, clearly separates are the way to go. Why? Nobody makes a "cost no object" integrated. And if they did, I can't imagine the size of it. But, for the most of us, if there is a itegrated in our price range, I would think it would be worth a listen. Drawbacks are the obvious up-grade factor. The Plinius 8150 has gotten great reviews. At it's price point, $3000, my guess is it would be hard to beat with separates. I would say the same with the 383 I just bought, at $6000 I think it would be hard to beat. Again, go to the Web site I listed and just read the first few paragraphs and read the strong points for them and a list that Stereophile has tested lately, a list that is growing rapidly. The Absolute Sound is testing a host of them in their current issue.
It really depends on your budget.The Sim Audio I5 is as good an integrated as i have heard.IMHO i prefered it to the Krell 300I.I was down to one or the other until I was seduced by the sound of the tube.If you have the soace and budget do the seperates.If you want to keep it simple go Integrated.Give the Sim I5 a listen if you can.Its worth every cent.
I agree with Tml2. I've owned the Sim Moon I-5 for almost a year, and can't be happier with it. If the I-5 were just a high quality solid state 75W/ch power amp, it would be worth the money. With the preamp section included, I think it is a downright steal!(especially if you live in Canada, where the prices are even better than elsewhere in the world)
This is a great topic, I have been bitten by this dam bug since i was 12 years old and i still have it. But a few weeks ago i sold off my levinson sepreates not to buy something else but to scale down and recoupe some of my money.Well I did not have music in my house for a few days and panic set in [ Sometimes i go for a month without even putting my system on] But knowing i only had my speakers and nothing else i stated to panic, then i remembered i had an old Fisher Intergrated amp in the basement, that i bought from a tag sale some years ago. Well guess what not only did i get my fix and the panic go away I love it.I am now looking for a tube intergrated amp with more power but I am sold on the concept.Thank you for letting me vent,who needs prozac!Or a shrink for that matter go and buy a stereo system an intergrated amp I am.
Thanks Brian! Also, VTL is coming-up with their integrated amp: IT-85, in about 3 months, at the price of 2500 US. I would imagine, it will be probably same thing as ST-85? It is so many (gear) to chose from! One, must feel like a "donkey and two carrots..."?!
I have heard the IT-85, and it is a very nice integrated system. I have never a-b compared an integrated to separates. I think on the used market you will probably get a little better deal on an integrated. You have to figure in a 100-400 savings on a good quality interconnect as well. Not to mention the sheer simplicity of a one box verses many solution. A third alternative would be to buy a CD player with variable outputs and a normal amplifier. You connect the CD directly to the amplifier. Sony, wadia , and cal labs make some of these.
Krell is the king of hype and little else. Look at the number of them for sale here and everywhere else. Once people actually listen to them for a few months, they realize how bad they sound.
I own a KAV300i, albeit used, and my impression was that it is a piece of crap. Maybe it's just a bad match for my speakers (Spendor S3/5), I don't know. I much prefer my Jolida tube integrated or my Musical Fidelity A3CR. On the subject of integrated vs. separates, I'm not sure I understand the general rule that separates are better than integrateds. Wouldn't you want shorter cable runs of the lower level signal(s), I.E. between pre-amp and amp? Isn't an integrated the shortest possible cable run? Also, I'm not sure this is how all integrateds are built, but wouldn't it be better to lower the amplification than to lower the signal that's fully amplified, thus reducing noise? The analogy I use is to driving: you don't change speed by shifting, you lower the gas.
I think there is a mis-conception of integrated amps. As I stated, there are no "all out, no money limit" integrated amps, at least that I know of, but there are for separates. In that light, separates are superior for all out performance. Therefore it is conceived that they are just plain better. Seprates have the ability to upgrade the two sections obviously. But at price points that include integrated amps, I have to believe they become very competitve. Heck, I too have fallen into that trap.
Hi Mailman. I recently heard a Gryphin (not sure of spelling) 100w integrated. After listning to Goldmund's top of there line pre amp and amp we put in the Gryphin. We did this twice. It was a short listning session. Not somthing I lived with. I have never owned or considered an integrated. Shame on me. The Gryphon sounded wonderful. I would like to listen to it in my system. But what if it sounds better than my big bad SE tube mono amps and my custom made pre amp? And what would my audio buddies think. Really, I was impressed. Everything in one sexy looking box and only 1 PC. Good thread Mailman.
Just a little comment regarding state-of-the-art, price-no-object integrated amps. They do exist, but are admittedly quite few in number. The Jeff Rowland Group Concentra comes to mind as offering some serious goods for their $5k+ price. Then there's that infamous Audio Note Ongaku, which is completely wired with high grade silver wire, even in the tubes and transformers, apparently. A new one costs a cool $60,000 if you can track one down.
integreted is a very convenient way to go but after having tried various units the krell included I still find all a bit lacking especially in the area of depth or should I say the lack of a 3d soundspace just too flat sounding to me I wish they did surpass separates but so far not quite yet but close
Jules, so you are saying no integrated can match any set of separates? The person who started this thread asked, "given similiar price ranges". I must not be making my point clear in the other posts. If you have a budget, lets say $4000, I am saying there is the possibility, you could purchase a integrated that would outperform $4000 worth of amp and preamp. Is that clearer? Now if you have NO budget, your best performance will come from separates. The availabilty and choices are clearly in favor of separates, but there is a surge in the manufacturing of integrated amps and selection is getting better everyday, especially in the high-end arena.
Jules, you sure are generalizing in this area. I have found most of the better tubed integrated I have heard(AR, Bel Canto, Bryston, CJ, Cary, Classe, Electrocompaniet, Jadis, MF, Rowland, VAC, YBA, etc.) to not be compromised in terms of soundstage/depth/whatever. We are entering a new golden age of integrateds. In my opinion, they surpass(overall) the separates of just of few years ago. I also feel that the Europeans are producing better sounding equipment than the American/Canadian faction. Producing lower power, but stellar sounding products. Perhaps, in response of the demand over there.
After much research, IMO, in the $3,000 price range, Integrated is definitely the way to go. Or else possibly used separates. My recent short list looked a LOT like Trelja's list above. I wound up getting a new Cary sli80 'signature'. There is no "compromise" when buying an integrated these days in that pricerange. All those amps mentioned above are wonderful pieces. No, you can't upgrade the pre, etc..., but the facts of perfectly matched impedance, 1 power cord, no interconnects,.. short signal path etc, are good things to remember. Also, these amp designers nowadays know how to arrange things, there's no reason a well designed integrated won't have as good of a soundstage etc as separates. These are old prejudices and they stem from the fact that for so many years, until recently, integrateds WERE 'budget'/compromised units. Not any more. There's actually a lot of positives to integrateds, and there are some negatives to separates. Now, I'm not going to make any sort of blanket statement in either direction, BUT, it is my opinion that separates actually have to cost more to sound as good as one of the integrateds listed above. In this 'golden age' of integrateds, if you go with separates, you just wind up paying more money for the luxury of swapping out your pre, fooling with expensive wires, etc.
take it easy guys I stated in My experience I prefer separates I did not mean to offend anyone this is all a matter of taste for convenience yes I think they are wonderful but to my ears they cannot beat separates but they are getting very close
Nobody is getting excited Jules, you are just not getting the point. Dollar for dollar a integrated can sound better, that is the point.
sorry but lokking at the classified ads I just noticed a pair of rowland model 3 mono apmps for 2k now match that with any number of used preamps an audible illusions for instance at well under 17oo leaving more than enough money for cables and interconnect and I don't believe a 4k integrated will be as good but then again that is just my opinion
sorry but lokking at the classified ads I just noticed a pair of rowland model 3 mono apmps for 2k now match that with any number of used preamps an audible illusions for instance at well under 17oo leaving more than enough money for cables and interconnect and I don't believe a 4k integrated will be as good but then again that is just my opinion
Now Jules, why would you compare used prices for the separates and new for the integrated, come on!!
I don't think anyone(at least on this end) is getting excited or offended. I could care less if someone disagrees with me or not. I don't take these discussions personally. It is all about personal pleasure, and my tates will be different than anothers. Some of us(believe it or NOT) have come to the conclusion that a nice integrated tube amp is where it's at. I absolutely LOVE Jeff Rowland products, but when the chips(and lights) are down, spinning a few of my CDs through one of these great tube integrated that have emerged in the past few years brings me a magic that I haven't found elsewhere. I'm not sure it get much better. Maybe my preference is not the most accurate, neutral, or whatever. Call it warm, euphonic, sweet, etc., but there is some kind of wonderful appearing in the room. I mean no disrepect to people who have other tastes, but I swear sometimes I can taste nirvana. And that is what it is all about.
I'm sorry but you stated a $4000.00 budget I simply went for what I thought to be the best I could get for that amount of money. I do tend to agree with trelja it is all a matter of taste and as long as you are happy with your choice that is all that matters I shall speak no more on this issue happy listening gentlemen.
Ok, then compare a $6000 dollar integrated at a $4000 used price. And yes, all that matters is that WE are happy with what we have.
it is somewhat of a grey area. Before I bought my Cary int., I was looking at used separates, ( BAT vk60, VAC pa100/100, VTL monoblocks, Music Reference RM200, and many other amps I've forgotten about, w/ possibly Blue Circle 21, VTL 2.5, BAT 3i, etc.) These used separates were in the same ballpark as the new integrateds I was looking into. I wound up getting what I did because of a great price break, but I decided in the end that there really is no black & white definitive 'better' option, although I do "lean" towards thinking that the great int.s ARE better in the same pricerange because of the positives that I and others have brought up earlier in this thread. Of course I'll never know until I go through some sort of rigorous time consuming A/B which is completely out of the question, unless one of you guys with nice separates in the $3K range wants to bring your equipment down here to St Thomas for a week or so.
This has turned out to be a great thread. Thanks everyone for their input. The important part of my original post was the "in the same price range" part. I'm on a budget(as most of us are), and I just wondered were the money would be better spent(seps or integrateds). I have to agree that I think an integrated amp is the way to go for me. I'm looking at the Sim 5080 and I-5, Audio Refinement Complete, and some Jolida stuff. I think one of these will fill the bill well. I think that whatever I pay for one of these units I will get more bang for my buck than if I were to go with same price range seperates. Oh ya, I'm assumiung used prices for all. The mailman
Despite the fact that there are some excellent high priced integrateds like Mark Levison, Jeff Rowland, Plinius etc seperates have distinct physical/design advantages that can only be had with two box approach. British have been making quality integrateds (MF, Linn, Cyrus, Myryad etc) for a long time, and at @$2000 dollar point companies stop offering integrateds and only offer seperates. Again their long experience with integrateds has shown that above $2000 the cost of the extra box is offset by performance gains. For American audio products the price points are higher, but the principles are the same. For instance Brian's $6000 ML integrated would have to compete with $6000 amp/preamp from companies like Bryston, McCormak, Plinius, Musical Fidelity, Cary, Sonic Frontiers, Rogue etc. BTW I own both integrateds and seperates and appreciate the convenience and cost savings of integrateds, but recognize the compromise. I may stretch the budget to $3000 for a top American integrated, but above that I can get seperates for the same price that sound better, Sam
Listen to teh Naim, NAD, DK design group, Sim audio, if you really want to spend soem serious bucks, the Gryphon is absooutely pristine I have heard nto so good comments about teh Jeff Rolwland digital design for integrated, look into tubes if you're looking for timbre, tone realistic sound female vocals to die for, etc. etc.

Hope this helps a little;