Back in the days of console stereos, everything meshed. The phono cartridge and preamplifier matched while the speakers and amps were mated to perfection. It all worked as a system.
It wasn’t until the rise of separates that we began recognizing the problems of synergistic matches between components: speakers unable to pair with amplifier power, phono cartridges requiring external transformers or step-up amps, and the systems themselves requiring an external shelf to keep the brood off the floor. And that doesn’t cover the more subtle details of synergy: cables, vibration controls, and source selection.
At times I have bemoaned the loss of integrated console systems. They were assembled to work together like a fine automobile. Today’s separates often remind me of buying a car kit: an engine from one company, a frame from another, tires from a third. Yes, you might have better components than the prebuilt model, but often times it’s the synergy of the system that outweighs the benefits of better components.
Of course, a few companies like Devialet, with their original integrated/DAC, and even Sprout100 from PS Audio are good examples of integrated systems. But, they are not consoles. (The Devialet Phantom’s can be claimed as a console attempt but you won’t convince this writer they are worthy of being associated with high-performance audio).
I’ve put together a few thoughts on the subject in this video, which you might enjoy watching.
I am certainly not against separates—I love them. Heck, we had a hand in bringing the industry into the separates era. It’s just that sometimes we need to focus more on how parts go together rather than focusing on the specific performance of the individuals.
It takes skill to assemble a world-class system, even if you’re starting with an integrated amplifier and simply adding speakers.