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Do Separates actually perform better than Integrateds?

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#1
For those who may not know:

"Seperates" refers to separate audio components that each have their own individual chassis. A separate pre-amp, separate power amp, separate DAC, etc.

"Integrateds" refers to two or more audio components that share an enclosure. A receiver is probably the most typical example.

So the question is this: given the same/similar performing/specced components, do separates perform or sound better than integrateds?

Paul McGowan of P.S Audio is a staunch believer that separates are indeed, better (of course, he has a financial stake in the matter). Here's his stance:

And here's a clip where he talks a bit more about it in the context of pre-amps:

What does the community think? Do you give any credence to the idea that separates are better than integrateds?

Personally, I prefer the modularity of separates; if one component breaks or fails, the rest of my system is still fine (in theory).

Here's to my first post on ASR!
 

Hypnotoad

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#3
When using a separate preamp and power amp, I use the pre on the pass through mode so virtually the only thing that is working is the volume control. Probably the reason that separates sound better is that the power amps "generally" are usually higher powered with much beefier power supplies and being the higher end models from a manufacturer usually would have had more attention to detail in their designs. With separates you're getting into the cost is no object area, whereas most integrated's are built that way so there cheaper. IMO.
 

restorer-john

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#4
If you have the space, the budget and an understanding partner, separates offer the most flexibility, upgrade ability, reliability and potentially the best performance.

The days of the truly high end 2 channel integrated are well and truly passed IMO. Even the TOTL offerings of today leave a lot to be desired compared to offerings from the past.

How far you go into separating is the issue. There's D/A converters, RIAA stages, Tone stages, Passive/Active buffers and monoblock power amplifiers (at least 6 pieces) or one integrated amplifier that does it all.
 

LTig

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#5
For those who may not know:

"Seperates" refers to separate audio components that each have their own individual chassis. A separate pre-amp, separate power amp, separate DAC, etc.

"Integrateds" refers to two or more audio components that share an enclosure. A receiver is probably the most typical example.

So the question is this: given the same/similar performing/specced components, do separates perform or sound better than integrateds?

Paul McGowan of P.S Audio is a staunch believer that separates are indeed, better (of course, he has a financial stake in the matter). [..]
What does the community think? Do you give any credence to the idea that separates are better than integrateds?
Technically spoken yes, although this does not mean that bad seperates are better than good integrateds. The points stated in the videos are mostly correct. It should be possible to prove this with measurements.

But: I am not sure if those differences, when they can be measured, are also (and always) audible.
Personally, I prefer the modularity of separates; if one component breaks or fails, the rest of my system is still fine (in theory).
Me too, although my system has shrunk over the years (passive speakers and monoblocks replaced by active speakers, analog preamp and separate DAC replaced by AV preamp).
 
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#6
Good thoughts all around.

... It should be possible to prove this with measurements.

But: I am not sure if those differences, when they can be measured, are also (and always) audible.
With that being said, I'd also be interested to hear what (our resident review/measurements man) Amir's thoughts are.
 

BillG

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#7
What does the community think? Do you give any credence to the idea that separates are better than integrateds?

Personally, I prefer the modularity of separates; if one component breaks or fails, the rest of my system is still fine (in theory).
It depends on how well engineered and constructed they each are.

I see no reason why a well made integrated unit, my own personal preference as I dislike the clutter of separates, should't last as long and perform as well as a component system. Granted, integrated units restrict one's upgrade choices. But if one's purchases are well thought out to begin with, there's no need to swap out electronics often.

Right now, my own system consist of a streaming integrated amp, passive speakers, and several networked computing devices (a smartphone, a tablet, and a desktop) as sources. My next will probably be active, wireless speakers and several networked computing devices as sources.
 
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Soniclife

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#8
The days of the truly high end 2 channel integrated are well and truly passed IMO. Even the TOTL offerings of today leave a lot to be desired compared to offerings from the past.
What do you make of Devialet? A effectively a very modern integrated amp.
 

restorer-john

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#9
What do you make of Devialet? A effectively a very modern integrated amp
I don't honestly know much about it. I haven't seen, dismantled, repaired or studied one.

I would have to defer to someone who has done that.

:)
 

Frank Dernie

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#10
I don't honestly know much about it. I haven't seen, dismantled, repaired or studied one.

I would have to defer to someone who has done that.

:)
I have partially dismantled a D-Premier, their first model. Beautifully made but have never needed to repair one since I have never had a fault...
It is a modern “industrial product” though and I would guess that “repair” would probably mean a board change.
 

invaderzim

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#12
Is audio the only big industry where a large portion of the customers anxiously listen as the manufactures tell them what they will like better?

I don't see a huge loyal following of people watching videos by James Hackett of Ford discussing why they should have a different car for every purpose or how the bigger the SUV they buy the more they will enjoy it. Yet throngs of audiophiles look to charismatic CEOs from audio companies for their buying advice. Making marketing videos under the guise of being educational or just friendly chats is truly genius.

I will admit that I enjoy watching people that are excited about their products discuss them but when it comes to advice that always comes back to "spend more, enjoy it more" it is frightening just how many will blindly follow.

Sure, I may be completely jaded and they may make separates because they strongly believe they sound the best but logic also says expensive separates are the best way to make a lot of money selling audio.
 

JJB70

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#14
This is interesting. I do see a potential advantage in not having all your eggs in a single basket in the event that something goes bang. That said I think an integrated amplifier is fine. For me the argument is not so much about whether to go for separate boxes for pre-amp, power amp, DAC and disc spinner but whether or not to go for active digital speakers. In most aspects I like the idea of abandoning hi-fi components and reducing things to just the speakers but I must admit I am wary of spending a lot to put all my eggs in a basket which is probably going to be repair by exchange.
 

mindbomb

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#17
We've seen here measurements of equipment that performed badly in terms of low frequency hum specifically because of the use of an internal power supply that either needed to be external or a different design.
 

Xulonn

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#18
At age 77, with decent hearing for my age, I decided to "upgrade" one last time, and I think my "final" separate system will be truly "high-fidelity."

I just ordered a Topping DX7s DAC/headphone amp via MassDrop, and it should arrive in late May. Although I don't listen to headphones, I chose it over a more basic DAC only plus an external line-level volume control. Amir's review reports that it is an excellent unit - top-notch performance and substantial, robust construction.

I am still undecided on which power amp, but it will likely be a NORD, Apollon or Ghent Hypex because of price + shipping - and rarity on the resale markets. Other ampifiers using the same or similar Hypex, IcePower or even proprietary Class-D circuits are available for $400-600 used/demo/refurbished, and I will probably decide and order a basic stereo power amp - preferably with balanced XLR input connections to mate with the Topping DX7s. (Still on the horizon is a small well-reviewed/rated tower speaker system. I think I might be able to afford a pair of used GoldenEar Triton 7 towers later this year.)

That would complete my lifetime audio journey (I think) with a modern high fidelity component stereo system that is based on digital audio and video. I am not interested in trying to implement multi-channel sound in my little rental casita.

Features of my "upgraded" system:
  • Digital sources only, internet streaming and/or stored locally on a NAS.
  • A/V files managed and played via an HTPC - a dual-boot Intel NUC with headless audio (Daphile for now), and KODI for video
  • Digital out to a highly-rated DAC with remote volume control (no preamplifier necessary)
  • Modern high-efficiency 75-100wpc Class-D amplifier
  • Highly rated small speakers - my Paradigm Atoms for now and possibly the smallest GoldenEar towers - Triton 7's - later.
Approximate cost (demo/ used, refurbished) - $1.8K up to $2.4K total for a truly excellent A/V system including 40" LCD TV and 4Tb of digital media file storage via a NAS.

So for me, yes - I still prefer separate components for the flexibility and ability to adapt to new technology and components. Today it is simply a different mix with respect to my early systems, with modern source-related hardware - NAS, internet, HTPC and DAC have replaced past analog source components such as turntable, tape deck and tuner.
 

Shadrach

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#19
At age 77, with decent hearing for my age, I decided to "upgrade" one last time, and I think my "final" separate system will be truly "high-fidelity."

I just ordered a Topping DX7s DAC/headphone amp via MassDrop, and it should arrive in late May. Although I don't listen to headphones, I chose it over a more basic DAC only plus an external line-level volume control. Amir's review reports that it is an excellent unit - top-notch performance and substantial, robust construction.

I am still undecided on which power amp, but it will likely be a NORD, Apollon or Ghent Hypex because of price + shipping - and rarity on the resale markets. Other ampifiers using the same or similar Hypex, IcePower or even proprietary Class-D circuits are available for $400-600 used/demo/refurbished, and I will probably decide and order a basic stereo power amp - preferably with balanced XLR input connections to mate with the Topping DX7s. (Still on the horizon is a small well-reviewed/rated tower speaker system. I think I might be able to afford a pair of used GoldenEar Triton 7 towers later this year.)

That would complete my lifetime audio journey (I think) with a modern high fidelity component stereo system that is based on digital audio and video. I am not interested in trying to implement multi-channel sound in my little rental casita.

Features of my "upgraded" system:
  • Digital sources only, internet streaming and/or stored locally on a NAS.
  • A/V files managed and played via an HTPC - a dual-boot Intel NUC with headless audio (Daphile for now), and KODI for video
  • Digital out to a highly-rated DAC with remote volume control (no preamplifier necessary)
  • Modern high-efficiency 75-100wpc Class-D amplifier
  • Highly rated small speakers - my Paradigm Atoms for now and possibly the smallest GoldenEar towers - Triton 7's - later.
Approximate cost (demo/ used, refurbished) - $1.8K up to $2.4K total for a truly excellent A/V system including 40" LCD TV and 4Tb of digital media file storage via a NAS.

So for me, yes - I still prefer separate components for the flexibility and ability to adapt to new technology and components. Today it is simply a different mix with respect to my early systems, with modern source-related hardware - NAS, internet, HTPC and DAC have replaced past analog source components such as turntable, tape deck and tuner.
I'm probably heading the same way. Due to impatience I ended up getting the JDS Labs Atom and the Topping DX7. I can't tell the difference through listening. I borrowed a pair of Yamaha HS 8's for a few days and apart from being noticably bass light compared to my current speakers, I found the sound acceptable. I will probably look into some Hypex amps when funds are available, use one of the above for a pre-amp and hook the amps up to my speakers.
 
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#20
Is audio the only big industry where a large portion of the customers anxiously listen as the manufactures tell them what they will like better?
The video game industry and its customers are also very willingly terrible in this regard. Pre-order purchasing, microtransactions in already premium-priced games, and intentionally confusing/convoluted "versions" of a game (gold, legendary, ultimate, etc.)...but I digress, this is an audio discussion.

Certainly, an alarming number of "audiophiles" are like this, but I would not say the same of (much of) the ASR community, especially not the people in this thread. When I made my initial post mentioning Paul, I hoped to see a healthy amount of skepticism, and I wasn't disappointed.

Seems that of the people here that do prefer separates, it's for the practical benefits of modularity, and not so much for the reasons that Paul likes to shill.
 
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