All in one
In 1899 British painter, Francis Barraud, created a masterpiece: the most famous trademark advertising image in the world. The painting depicted a Jack Russell terrier with his head cocked, recognizing the sound of His Master's Voice on what arguably was the first integrated playback system in the world. Integrateds have played big roles in sound systems ever since and they have many advantages. If designed by caring engineers an all in one playback system can integrate synergistic components together that truly honor the meaning of the word: adding two or more components together to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects. In fact, one could suggest there's likely no better argument in favor of an integrated approach than the ability to mix, match, and optimize. There is a darker side to integrateds, of course. The opportunity to squeeze more in a box for less–sacrificing quality to save money. When we built our first integrated in the mid 1970s our goals were simple: achieve better sound by eliminating the need for an extra chassis, connector set, and wires. And it worked. The Elite Integrated was a wonderful sounding product still treasured by many owners to this day. We had taken a great deal of time and effort designing our first power amplifier, the Model One. 70 watts per channel, the amp was a very musical design. Of course, a power amp hasn't any controls. It's a simple box with inputs and outputs, nothing more. During its design my partner in PS Audio, Stan, didn't want to introduce unknown sonic problems by using a preamp. He reasoned that if we voiced the amp using a preamp, we might be tailoring its sound to that combination only. Put another preamp in the mix and you get a different sound–maybe better, maybe worse. (It was bad enough we only had a couple of different speakers to voice the amp on as well). That approach seemed wrong headed to us both and we wanted to eliminate as many variables as practical, so we slapped a pot in front of the amp to control its volume. Once the amp design had been finished it never sounded as musical when we removed the pot and inserted a preamp. Even our treasured Audio Research SP3 didn't sound as good as the simple pot glued onto the amp's input. And that's when Stan said, "you know, if we just added an input selector, a couple more connectors, and raised the gain of the amp, we'd have an integrated." And thus, the Elite was born–to this day a better sounding alternative to the separates of that day. I replayed that story to make a point. Any integrated system, if properly designed with honest intent, has the potential to outdo separates. But it isn't all peaches and cream as we shall see tomorrow.
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