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Integrated vs Separates - low to mid end


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I have read many post about this, but has any one had any experience with this in the low to mid end, Cambridge Audio, Rotel, Arcam, or others, say sub $5000 mark.   And in particular, has anyone changed an integrated to separates of the same brand and heard any noticeable difference.  Happy to include more expensive amps here if the change has been the same brand.  I am just doing some planning for some future upgrades

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I've not tried Rotel but bought a second hand Cambridge Audio AM10 a few years back, sort of their budget model at the time, to replace a NAD D3020 which self-destructed. For the price, a really nice amp and surprisingly, to my ears, a definite improvement on the NAD. 

 

Then went from that to an Arcam FMJ A28. Lovely sound but maybe lacking a bit in excitement. I replaced that with a Bryston B60r which, again to my ears, is in a totally different league. All were way south of $5k although were bought second hand. The Bryston is around $5k or just above these days.

 

In terms of matching same brand components I did run an Arcam irDAC II with the FMJ A28 and they worked well together. Not so impressed when I ran the irDAC into the Bryston so replaced that with a Gieseler. At the moment my system is a hodge-podge of different brands. I did go for the Bryston amp as my speakers are PMC and they recommend Bryston amps. I guess there will be a synergy between separates from the same manufacturer. or those with a 'relationship'.

 

I've not heard any of the top end Arcam or Cambridge Audio amps or other products but they review well. They also tend to have a lot of extra functionality such as DACS, bluetooth etc... all of which the Bryston lacks. 

Edited by luapnodyl
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For roughly half that you could buy a 2nd hand Parasound A21 power amplifier and P5 preamplifier/DAC.

There was one such combo for sale in the SNA ads recently.

Far better performance than the units you mentioned and substantially better build quality.

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9 hours ago, Pegasus said:

For roughly half that you could buy a 2nd hand Parasound A21 power amplifier and P5 preamplifier/DAC.

There was one such combo for sale in the SNA ads recently.

Far better performance than the units you mentioned and substantially better build quality.

There are many ways to achieve this but many are very tunnel visioned about it. Such as using a new $500 Stereo Coffee preamp, used Audio Research Ls7 or Conrad Johnson etc around $700-1200, new Schiit Freya preamp, new or used Supratek $2-4K etc with a suitable new or used power amp. There are also combined CD player, DAC and preamp units that sound good also like Cambridge Audio 851C etc.

Edited by Al.M
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3 hours ago, Pegasus said:

For roughly half that you could buy a 2nd hand Parasound A21 power amplifier and P5 preamplifier/DAC.

There was one such combo for sale in the SNA ads recently.

Far better performance than the units you mentioned and substantially better build quality.

Agree, that was my combo that just sold. 

I went from a Musical Fidelity M5 integrated, to Parasound P5/A21 Combo. That combo was my mainstay for the last 4 1/2 years, the P5 really is the Swiss army knife of pre amps with a pretty good sound for its price. I did have some JC1's for a short time which was a big step up. 

I've now gone back to an integrated. 

Seems in the pursuit of sonic bliss you never know where you'll end up ?

There are plenty of good options that roll through the classifieds in that $$ range

Edited by Gambit 1870
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Neither separates or integrated are "bound to be better". It's really all about the implementation and the planned upgrade path.

 

Separates are bound to cost more or there's a 'skimp' somewhere. There are two power supplies (at least), two cases, two shipping boxes, etc. 

Separates can be upgraded one piece at a time. 

The amp can be placed close to the speakers and the preamp where it's convenient.

 

Integrated means (ideally) that the pre and amp sections are designed to work well together.

Integrated means that you upgrade both pre and amp at the same time.

 

(Of course it's much the same when looking at active vs passive speakers; and actives seem to be gaining in popularity. No separate amp needed with actives!)

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8 hours ago, Pegasus said:

For roughly half that you could buy a 2nd hand Parasound A21 power amplifier and P5 preamplifier/DAC.

There was one such combo for sale in the SNA ads recently.

Far better performance than the units you mentioned and substantially better build quality.

Hi Pegasus, the question was no so much about money, but more about, in this example, is there any real difference between say the Parasound Integrated, or the Parasound pre and power.  I have been looking at the Parasound A31 (as I want to power my centre channel as well) and the parasound Pre and Parasound Hint.  They also get good reviews with my Paradigm speakers.  Also looking at Arcam, Michi, others and second hand.  
A new Parasound is a little expensive in Australia, almost twice the price as the US$ price.  Other brands the difference is roughly the exchange rate

Edited by JkSpinner
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4 hours ago, Gambit 1870 said:

Agree, that was my combo that just sold. 

I went from a Musical Fidelity M5 integrated, to Parasound P5/A21 Combo. That combo was my mainstay for the last 4 1/2 years, the P5 really is the Swiss army knife of pre amps with a pretty good sound for its price. I did have some JC1's for a short time which was a big step up. 

I've now gone back to an integrated. 

Seems in the pursuit of sonic bliss you never know where you'll end up ?

There are plenty of good options that roll through the classifieds in that $$ range

I may stay with the integrated to, but as I am looking at several upgrades, the choice is now open.

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1 hour ago, GregWormald said:

Neither separates or integrated are "bound to be better". It's really all about the implementation and the planned upgrade path.

 

Separates are bound to cost more or there's a 'skimp' somewhere. There are two power supplies (at least), two cases, two shipping boxes, etc. 

Separates can be upgraded one piece at a time. 

The amp can be placed close to the speakers and the preamp where it's convenient.

 

Integrated means (ideally) that the pre and amp sections are designed to work well together.

Integrated means that you upgrade both pre and amp at the same time.

 

(Of course it's much the same when looking at active vs passive speakers; and actives seem to be gaining in popularity. No separate amp needed with actives!)

The upgrade path is what I am trying to plan. An upgrade path.  I can look at pre and power or integrated, hence the question

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8 hours ago, luapnodyl said:

I've not tried Rotel but bought a second hand Cambridge Audio AM10 a few years back, sort of their budget model at the time, to replace a NAD D3020 which self-destructed. For the price, a really nice amp and surprisingly, to my ears, a definite improvement on the NAD. 

 

Then went from that to an Arcam FMJ A28. Lovely sound but maybe lacking a bit in excitement. I replaced that with a Bryston B60r which, again to my ears, is in a totally different league. All were way south of $5k although were bought second hand. The Bryston is around $5k or just above these days.

 

In terms of matching same brand components I did run an Arcam irDAC II with the FMJ A28 and they worked well together. Not so impressed when I ran the irDAC into the Bryston so replaced that with a Gieseler. At the moment my system is a hodge-podge of different brands. I did go for the Bryston amp as my speakers are PMC and they recommend Bryston amps. I guess there will be a synergy between separates from the same manufacturer. or those with a 'relationship'.

 

I've not heard any of the top end Arcam or Cambridge Audio amps or other products but they review well. They also tend to have a lot of extra functionality such as DACS, bluetooth etc... all of which the Bryston lacks. 

Can still buy the Arcam FMJ pre and power at good prices

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16 minutes ago, JkSpinner said:

Hi Pegasus, the question was no so much about money, but more about, in this example, is there any real difference between say the Parasound Integrated, or the Parasound pre and power.  I have been looking at the Parasound A31 (as I want to power my centre channel as well) and the parasound Pre and Parasound Hint.  They also get good reviews with my Paradigm speakers.  Also looking at Arcam, Michi, others and second hand.  

The A31 is nowhere near the class of the A21. The power supply is much smaller and the capacitor storage is much smaller, which leads to a lesser ability to deal with large transients in your music.

I have done a side by side comparison with a A31 and a A21 at A QAC members residence. The A21 ate it for breakfast. You'd be better off running a small mono amp in bridge mode for your center speaker, like a small Bryston 2B pro model for example (which I have done).

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I would say the most common reason to get separates under $5k is when guys decide to get ncore or purifi base power amps and then connect to preamp. Many are using DAC/digital pre/streamer for volume control so there are not many analogue preamps left under $3k. 

Parasound

Musical Fidelity

Schiit

Weston Acoustics

Topping pre

Gustard 

Stereo coffee

 

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31 minutes ago, Pegasus said:

The A31 is nowhere near the class of the A21. The power supply is much smaller and the capacitor storage is much smaller, which leads to a lesser ability to deal with large transients in your music.

I have done a side by side comparison with a A31 and a A21 at A QAC members residence. The A21 ate it for breakfast. You'd be better off running a small mono amp in bridge mode for your center speaker, like a small Bryston 2B pro model for example (which I have done).

Wow - that is awesome.  My next email was to Parasound trying to understand the difference between the A21 and A31.  I asked Rotel a similar question.  I am also looking at the option of  2 channel high power / current power amp + a 5 channel 100w / ch power amp, or a high powered integrated amp + may be a 5 channel, or even single, but was not sure they even existed.

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18 minutes ago, JkSpinner said:

Wow - that is awesome.  My next email was to Parasound trying to understand the difference between the A21 and A31.  I asked Rotel a similar question.  I am also looking at the option of  2 channel high power / current power amp + a 5 channel 100w / ch power amp, or a high powered integrated amp + may be a 5 channel, or even single, but was not sure they even existed.

Ok, what type of tunes do you listen to? 

What speakers are you running? 

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Basically you can have a stereo system that can (secondarily) also do for home theatre, or you can have a home theatre system that can (secondarily) do stereo. At least until you get into much bigger money. 5 channels (or even 3) for the same price as 2 means the money is split 5 ways (or 3).

 

It depends on what your priority is. 

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2 hours ago, Irek said:

I would say the most common reason to get separates under $5k is when guys decide to get ncore or purifi base power amps and then connect to preamp. Many are using DAC/digital pre/streamer for volume control so there are not many analogue preamps left under $3k. <emphasis added>

Parasound

Musical Fidelity

Schiit

Weston Acoustics

Topping pre

Gustard 

Stereo coffee

 

I disagree. I've seen a fair few, in addition to those mentioned. (An analogue pre is the ideal companion to active speakers.) A DuckDuckGo search will find lots of options. If money is an concern then 2nd hand should always be considered.

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9 hours ago, Gambit 1870 said:

Ok, what type of tunes do you listen to? 

What speakers are you running? 

I mainly listen to rock, blues, soul, some r&b

i have a set of Paradign Tributes 30th anniversary speakers, Paradigm Cc590 centre and a mixture of other speakers for 7 channel.  Will one day move to ATMOS.  Mt 2 channel amp also powers my fronts for home theatre, hence why a pre/ power might be a good option

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