The power of separates

September 12, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

The central appeal of an integrated amplifier is the chance for a designer to maximize the synergy between internal systems: the preamp that best fits the amplifier.

Unfortunately, most integrateds are not designed with synergy as their guiding principle but rather squeezing as much into a single box as budget will allow.

I think of most integrateds in the same way as an all-you-can-eat restaurant. Lots there, not much is very good.

There are always exceptions.

One of the beauties of separating the integrated’s internal systems is the power of the upgrade. If you take the time to source synergistic separates you also benefit from the ability to upgrade some pieces and not others.

Integrateds make it easy and make sense if you trust the manufacturer to put their hearts and minds into the product.

For the most part, go separates.

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83 comments on “The power of separates”

  1. At home I have an integrated valve amp PP 45 watt is it an exception I hope so,anyway it’s staying on the rack,I also have a couple of pre power amps not used for a long time.
    It will soon be winter and I’ll be heating the room with KT88s.

  2. Possibly the first amplifier I owned was the NAD 3020. This is an iconic device, one of the greatest ever audio components, with versions produced over 40 years. A very high quality integrated amplifier with about 20w continuous power and 40w peak power. This was soon followed by the Naim Nait, equally inconic, about 13w continuous. Naim amplifiers have peak power up to 5 times the continuous power rating.

    The popularity of these units, and they dominated the market, was very good sound quality and the ability to drive most speaker loads at very low cost.

    I use a digital integrated amplifier where the inputs are all programmable (some as inputs or outputs), DSP can be applied to all sources, and the analogue signal path is measured in millimetres. Integrated units have other advantages: they take less space, are cheaper and reduce cables (which degrade sound).

    It really is a matter or whether you think integration is a compromise. Personally, I see integration in units where most of the processing is in the digital domain to have major advantages, and it is not about budget, for example Linn Exakt, a fully digital active system.

    I don’t agree with Paul on the upgrade point, because I’ve never bought components with a view to upgrading them.

    1. I agree with the all digital processing system argument, as I think, their general limitation is already beyond of most what you’d benefit of with separates.

      I also agree with the upgrade non-argument. My experience is, in case you see the need to upgrade one out of a pre/power amp combination, you mostly also upgrade the other shortly after. Flexibility on a similar level would maybe be the better argument.

      There were many upgrade marketing stories for various components. Especially for digital components (I remember Micromega and Accuphase with upgrading approaches), this never worked, because the basic unit was always long outdated generally already, when people may have thought of using the upgrade option.

    2. The core problem here is the „old school (non-holistic) thinking“ of Paul McGowan based on maximizing turnover and profits – at least by most expensive cables connecting near empty separate boxes. There is only one product in the AV realm, imho, where integrates are a poor design approach: TV-box. Better go for a separate screen/monitor plus a decent soundboard or multichannel audio. If it is true that an amp must perfectly match the loudspeaker’s impedance or the drivers used better go for active loudspeakers with active crossover design. Then simply send wirelessly the source signal everything controlled by a user-friendly app. The “sound quality” of my turntable-Preamp combo hugely profits from the digital EQ!

      1. I just tried to see separates as “non-holistic”…well, if integrated is understood as holistic regarding that unit, then separate units are at least physically less holistic 😉

        That Paul offers separates to maximize profit (by selling them in expensive casework as you seem to imply), may make sense theoretically (as in the chosen business model, PSA indeed makes more profit by applying their factor on expensive parts like casework)…but on the one hand Paul often made clear that’s not his strategy and if it was, I think he’d aim for more optical bling (economically producible, expensively sellable) than he does.

        I rather think he’s committed to the most meaningful application for good sound quality.

        Think of the example below:
        A MAC MA12000 or a BHK pre + 250. The latter combination is even cheaper and I bet far far better sounding.

    3. Today’s rant comes at a very interesting time for me. It was this morning at 8am that I unhooked my PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell from the PS Audio S300 and prepared the space of an integrated amp. The aforementioned two items were sold!!!!!!!
      Historically, I have always had separates. I started out with A Dynaco PAS 3X and a Dynaco 70, which I built and it lasted 50 years without any problems. During a span of 50 years I have been blessed with owning separates from Quad, McIntosh, RG, and Boulder all functioning, at the same time, in different rooms at home. I have powered speakers from Quad, Bozak, AR, Paradigm,
      Epos (my favorite Epic2s) , Magnapan , Polk, Elac (second favorite) and TAD.

      Nevertheless, I decided to “de-wire” and select an integrated amplifier for some of the reasons mentioned in your note. At this point in time, it is very
      difficult to select a unit since for one there are no “HIFI Salons” in my area in the colonies. This means that I am subject to the mail order horror with the “try and see” process; I am not fond of ordering, connecting, listening and then run the chance of not liking what I just ordered. If it does not meet my liking, the units have to be packed and sent back. Not fun!

      I am considering a NAD or Creek or Musical Fidelity or Yamaha integrated amplifier. Some of these units are Class D and some are Class AB. Again, I have no way of making an intelligent decision as to which to choose-The reviews posted are, of course totally subjective and why should I trust these evaluators, when, I am sure that very few of them understand even the dB scale. Considering my quasi-scientific mind, this is, at best, uncomfortable.

      The most sane solution to the aforementioned dilemma is to move across the pond and settle in London.

      What a Hobby!


      1. Don’t move to London! Nothing personal, but the cost of audio pales in relation to the cost of real estate. I live in a pleasant suburb, nothing special, a house has just gone on the market a few doors down the street that has not had anything done to it for 40 years. By the time the buyer has largely rebuilt it, and they will have to, it will have cost them approaching $1,300 per square foot.

        $1,300 happens to be the retail price of the Cambridge Audio CXA81. I have one and the performance is extraordinary, way better value than the NAD3020 of the 1970s. Very little hifi is designed or made in London, although the CXA81 was, as was the equally brilliant Cambridge Audio EVO150 and the Naim Uniti Atom. The cheaper CXA81 is Class A/B and measured at 93w (see the Stereophile review), the EVO150 uses Class D nCore and is rated at 150w. Both companies built separates as well, and Naim is the largest selling high-end brand in the UK.

        PS Audio cannot compete with these products on price or quality because PSA is made in the USA using low volume methods for high volume products. Cambridge Audio set up in China 40 years ago and have refined high quality, low cost manufacturing and global distribution over those decades. There s far more than designing a good product.

        Cambridge Audio and Naim really have put their “hearts and minds” into great compact systems. Naim is proof positive. 10 years ago they were the leading UK manufacturer of separates, starting in 1973, the same year as PS Audio. Their sales in 2010 were £13 million. They then developed some great integrated streaming pre-amps (notably the NAC272, which I almost bought) and then the integrated Uniti range. in 2020, even with the pandemic, their sales were £33 million, an increase of 3 times, and their profits increased by 5 times from £0.7m to about £3.4 million.

        Making more price competitive products does reduce gross margin, which for Naim was 49% gross profit when still making just high-end separates, to 38% now. As integrated products are clearly so popular, they are now massively more profitable.

        I think nCore has a lot to do with it, but if Naim is any measure, the market seems to be swinging heavily to integrated because the products available are so damned good.

        1. Thanks for the info-
          At $1300/sq ft is not uncommon to where I am. Most “apartments” double or triple that number here! I guess that’s the price for no snow.

          However, the Cambridge integrated amp is what I have been considering as first choice. They have a 61 and an 81, the difference being output wattage. I’m considering the 61 since my current and only listening room is 12’x14′ and I do not listen at high levels. Also, I do have a Cambridge CXN v2 streamer which I love; it works beautifully, is very well made and programmable via the internet. The best is that I have called Cambridge for assistance several times and their support staff is terrific. Other companies that I have reached out to have been terrible in many ways.
          Have a great day.

          1. larryro2,
            I don’t know much about either amp you mentioned but in light of what’s been said here recently why not go for the higher powered one for the extra headroom and more effortless performance, but I guess your ears would be the final arbiter of that.
            Encouraging to hear you’re getting a good response from Cambridge customer service. I’m in the U.K. and have emailed a few U.S. companies recently and have always been impressed by the speed and quality of response I received. Different to the Danish company I contacted and never heard anything back. Disappointing, so that didn’t go any further.

            1. FR… i concur. my previous gear was centered around a Musical Fidelity M6i.
              dual mono 200 w/pc. it was delicious. an important step in my musical journey.
              p.s. do you have an unanswered email?

  3. Very few integrated amplifiers captured my attention over the years, the one standout was the Musical Fidelity KW-500 manufactured in England. I have always used separates at home and had the luxury of bringing the demo unit home to listen because i was a Musical Fidelity dealer.

    The KW-500 is a dual mono hybrid integrated with a separate outboard power supply. The preamplifier stage featured the 6112 mu-vista tubes and delivered effortless musical resolution, exceptional timbral accuracy and transparency to the source.

    It wasn’t the 500 watts per channel that impressed, more in that it changed my thinking regarding the potential of integrated amplifiers. But then again, the KW-500 really isn’t an “all-in-one” integrated amplifier.

      1. Antony Michaelson designed the KW-500 back in 2003, his Nu-Vista & Tri-Vista designs remain classics today due to their exceptional musicality at valued price points.

        Antony was a rare breed of designers because of his background in music theory and as a performing musician. He possessed the ability to be objective as it applies to voicing electronics. He retired and sold Musical Fidelity in 2018 to Heinz Lichtenegger of Project turntable notoriety.

        My fundamental issue with the majority of ‘modern’ integrated amplifiers today is the amount of compromise that exists within their chassis. This Swiss Army knife approach of combining a preamplifier, analog to digital & digital to analog converters, phono circuits, blue tooth and wi-fi streaming etc. is a complete and total compromise.

        Then, to make it all fit and be reasonably cost effective, a class D amp module and switching power supply are often implemented for cost reasons. The problem is all these varying circuits talk to each other and it’s impossible to isolate and eliminate noise from power supply and stage to stage. Further, no circuit receives the full current potential they deserve from a dedicated power supply.

        Every top high-end music system feature separate electronics for performance reasons. A preamplifier has a specific function, a digital to analog converter has a specific function, a phono stage has a specific function, a power amplifier has a specific function, why compromise that!

        I’m not saying that many folks don’t enjoy listening to music through integrated units, they do and they do it for a simple reason, budgetary considerations.

        1. dr g,
          One of the reasons, apart from the sound, that Ilike about the MF – ‘M6si500’
          is that it doesn’t have all of those devices crammed into the one box.
          There are 2 separate power amps (dual mono) with their separate toroidals & a simple, straightforward, small pre-amp section…no phono, no DAC, no streamer, nothing else.

          1. Back in 2003, the KW-500 was slightly euphonic in a positive way and had so much booty that a subwoofer was never in question.

            18 years later, properly engineered separate electronics are much more linear and musically transparent due to advances in individual components and knowledge of power delivery and noise isolation.

            Today, there are few radical circuit innovations, just methods to make cheaper stuff more efficiently.

  4. I think the marketing of every integrated is aimed to build up that trust, and people who buy it, decided to have this trust. So I see no new insight in how to differentiate in trust between manufacturers and their marketing for integrateds.

    All one can say is probably, that a good integrated can be better than a non-synergistic combination of separates. Or in case the separates simply don’t take enough advantage out of the concept. But that doesn’t help really much, too.

    It needs listening and comparing, as always. And under a certain price level there’s no choice of a meaningful separates combination, while over a certain price level there’s rarely a meaningful reason for designing an integrated.

    1. Hi jazznut,
      I completely agree with your last paragraph; it’s absolutely cost/price sensitive.
      Only some extended listening sessions would confirm whether a pre/power
      combo of the same price as my very recently acquired integrated would
      sound better, worse or roughly the same.
      At a guess I’ll go with roughly the same.

    1. Just like any other I’d say.

      What I can say is, I’d at least never buy an integrated at this price level new, but choose a good separates combination on the used market.

      On the other side at lower price levels it can make sense to buy integrateds new, as there’s not even a meaningful separates combination available used.

      If one has a problem with occupying space, he knows what he makes compromises for and it might be ok so.

  5. Hey everyone check out ‘Jay’s Audio Lab’ Sept 11 YT presentation titled,
    ‘Meet my NEW tube monoblocks!’ around the 3:15 mark.
    It’s well worth checking out…Bling! Bling! 😮
    Try as I might I can’t get the link to work…at all…”Video Unavailable” on all 4 variations.

    1. Good morning FR!
      I know the CEO of the VAC AMPS company!
      I have spoken to Kevin Haze over the phone about his amps.
      The Statement 450IQ is in deed a bute!
      But sense I have it in both my heart and mind to build a recording studio somewhere here in this house, there is another amp that I’m looking at.
      It’s called the Signeture 200IQ.
      But to give you an idea of how you can use either amp, they both work like this.
      The Statement 450IQ, is really a 225watt per channel amp.
      Kevin will tell you, that you should bridge the amp to get the 450 watts.
      But you’ll need two of them for a stereo set up.
      The Signiture 200IQ, is really a 100watt per channel amp.
      It’s as above about the Statement 450IQ.
      But what I like about both of them, are two things about them.
      No having to rebias the power tubes.
      The amps do that for you.
      And they’ll let you know when you have a tube or some tubes going bad on you.
      They protect themselves from damage by automadicly shutting down.
      Isn’t this cool?

        1. Good morning John!
          Truthfully, those amps reminds me of amps made both by Sunfire and Conrad Johnson.
          Also really nice looking and sounding cool tube amps!

    2. Hi FR.
      I had the email but the post is not listed so do I like tubes yes I do after watching the video no central heating is required with those amps.
      I have been thinking (always dangerous) maybe I should try my other amps with the new speakers and the SA-KI Ruby as l have not done so.
      The MF nu-vista pre power will be to much hassle and has not been used for a long time,so that means it will have to be the Chapter Audio pre power.
      If I do I’ll let you know what I think.

      1. I was eyeing off the MF – ‘M8xi’ but it is nearly double the price of the M6si500.
        And the Nu Vista – ‘800’ was right out of my budget.
        Feedback from you would be great!

  6. I don’t think much of the argument in today’s post. ‘Lots There, not much is very good’.
    I assume the ‘exceptions’ are the Sprout and the Strata, since we know hearts and minds were put into them. ( always leave a way out 🙂 )

    Integrated / separates serve two different markets and philosophies. If you’re a proponent of one philosophy over the other, you are going to point out all the advantages of your philosophy and the disadvantage of the other. Not only that, but you’re going to choose within the two categories of what best fits you.

    1. Good morning Mike!
      Perhaps you can answer this question for me.
      Over the past 17 years, I’ve been looking at integrated tube amps made by mostly high end companies.
      They all have one thing in common with each other.
      But before I get to that, perhaps I should tell you this first.
      Me being from the really old school, my idea of an integrated amp, goes something like this.
      Power amp, and preamp plus the phono stage, all in one box.
      But here is what a lot of high end companies do, especially with their integrated tube amps.
      Ok, you have the vacuum tube power amp right there.
      But how can they call that an integrated amp, when they skipped the preamp stage?
      Looking back on how things were made about 60 years ago, Sherwood Mcintosh Fisher and also Ico just to name a few, got this right the first time.
      If you opened any of those amps up, you saw a lot of preamp tubes as well as maybe a quod of power tubes in there, as well.
      Most of them today, may have a quod of power tubes, but maybe two or three preamp tubes in them.
      Not my idea of an integrated amp.

      1. Good Morning John,

        Like you when I think integrated I think all in one. Source, Preamp controls (volume as a minimum), and amp.
        But then again integrated is just a word implying something else is contained in a single unit.
        One could say a high end preamp is integrated if it’s power supply is not truly separated.
        By the same token most stand alone amps could be called integrated because their power supplies are seldom separated.
        In the end, by today’s standards it seems to be a game of semantics.
        We Can’t use the term “All in one”, as I just did, since that conjures up memories of brands such as Capehart (spelling?)

  7. I was integrated for 15 years (married). But now, I’m all about separates (divorced). Pros and cons to each! But I must say the upgrade option is MUCH easier with separates. In fact, I’m auditioning a separate upgrade from Colombia as we speak. She’s a beauty (cue The Tubes) 😉

      1. Hello there FR. In this context of audio analogies, my ex wife was my buffer, filter, and surge protection. All valuable circuitry that I do miss. But for now, I’m enjoying this hot valve amp with her tubes tied!

        Wish I could visit you for a listen to your new gear!

  8. Today there are quite a few integrateds that will give separates a run for their money. I have owned numerous combinations of separates over the last 3 decades and before that I had two integrateds during the span of the late 70’s up to early 90’s. Now since the last 5 years I went back to an integrated when I moved to a smaller listening room and went from floorstanders to standmounts. I can say after having owned ML & Krell gear (separates) that I do not regret the choice I made (Modwright KWI 200) and do not feel, or hear rather, that I lost on sound quality. Now I’m about to upgrade to their new KWH 225i hybrid integrated. Can’t wait to listen to that one.

  9. integrateds vs separates… both have their pro’s and cons.
    Over the years I have bought separates because…well, that’s what my generation of audiophiles did and some still do.
    However, if I’d start all over again, from scratch so to speak, I would not do that anymore but instead buy integrated devices, e.g. an int. amp, cd-player (no transport/dac combo).
    Nowadays there are a lot of terriffic (sounding) integrated amps. Think CH Precision, Levinson, Hegel, Gryphon, D’agostinho, Nagra, Soulution, Trafomatic, Musical Fidelity, to name only a few. The list is virtually endless.
    So, separates is the only/best way,..? No way !
    And the upgrade possibility an advantage ? IMO mainly for the manufacturer.
    For a lot of audiophiles more like an expensive addiction.
    Buying Integrateds also saves a lot of money on expensive cables (interlinks, power cables) and furthermore choosing the “right” interlinks (e.g. between pre/power amp) is not one of your problems.
    Wanna avoid the biggest synergy problem…? go for active speakers. I’ve heard some very good ones from ATC and Grimm.
    Reading today’s post I think PSA is gonna launch top integrated devices when hell freezes over.
    It is, indeed, old school thinking.

    1. Good morning JB4!
      I understand what you said about active speakers.
      But however, this is the problem I have with active speakers, including the best ones of them all.
      #1. I’m a tube knut.
      No company makes an active speaker that uses a tube amp.
      Sure it’s doable, but it seems that, nobody wants to do it.
      #2. You have to have a pare of extra outlets to supply power to them.
      Using power strips is not really an option for me.
      #3. If the power and inter connects are too close to each other, then you’re gonna end up getting unwanted hum from those speakers.
      In less, someone knows a way to get around that to keep that from happening.
      There is a church that I yoost to go to.
      The passter had a pare of active speakers hooked up to her mixer.
      It didn’t mattter where I sat in that church.
      Whenever it got quiet, I heard the humming noize coming from those speakers.I checked it out for her, and I told her, the power and inter connect cables shouldn’t be close to each other like that.
      This is why you’re getting unwanted humming noizes from those speakers.
      But she had no way of rectifying that problem.

      1. Good morning John Price,
        I cannot help you with your tube proiblem. You’re on your own here.
        Withdrawal from tubes may be difficult, but you should definitely give it a try.
        Extra outlets (for active speakers) a problem? Come on, everyone has more than enough outlets in the room. And in case you really have to use one, what is wrong with power strips?
        There are some excellent ones on the market.
        “power cables and interconnects are too close to each other, then you’re gonna end up getting unwanted hum from those speakers…”
        A lot of (most) audiophiles have passive speakers with a power amp. And there you have excactly the same “problem”. The least you can say is that active speakers don’t introduce a new problem.
        FYI : I have passive speakers with a really big power amp and the cables (interlinks and powercables) behind my audio rack show some resemblance to a plate of spaghetti. No hum whatsoever from my speakers. Not even if my ears are glued to the speaker units.
        Is something wrong with my ears? 🙁

        1. Good afternoon JB4!
          I will answer your last question first.
          No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your ears.
          In my living room, I have the same thing going on, that you have going on.
          What you said about extra outlets, ya, that’s true for just about any living room.
          But not so true about most bed rooms in less you live in a really large house, which I don’t.
          But as for active speakers in genirol, everyone that I’ve heard, had that same problem.
          And it didn’t matter if I heard them at a store, and or a church.
          Either way, they all had that problem with humming noises coming out of them.
          But what I said about active speakers with built in tube amps, I guess it’s time for me to step up to the plate.
          As the old saying goes, “if you build it, they will come.”
          So there for, I have to build it.
          And then after that, they will come.
          If I could get my hands on a few of Paul’s P-20’s, then I wouldn’t swet power strips so much.
          But If you don’t have a P-20, you could end up overloading your brakers.
          That will burn down your house if you aren’t careful with that kind of a thing.

          1. John Price,
            “No, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your ears”
            Thanks dr. Price. I’m not ‘so sure, but if you say so… 🙂
            And if you have the expertise, then build your own tubed active speakers ! Why not.
            As for the P20…(“If I could get my hands on a few of Paul’s P-20’s)
            I have a P10. Just last week a malfunction of the apparatus occured.
            All of a sudden all devices connected to this P10 lost power.
            As explained in the manual, I pushed the circuit breaker on the back panel and…voila.
            Power restored….for about 30 minutes. Then same problem, only now my power amplifier was destroyed on-the-fly.
            The device that is there to protect my audio chain (amp,pre amp, dac etc.) now killed my amp.
            Isn’t it ironic.
            I brought my amp to the dealer who will take care of the transport to the distrbutor.
            And of course the P10 has to be fixed.
            So be careful what you wish for !

            1. Good afternoon JB4!
              I’m sorry that the P-10 fried your power amp.
              Just one question.
              Does Paul know about the P-10 becoming defective?

              Aside from that, I knew about the P-15 and the P-20 power plants.
              But I didn’t know that there was a such thing as a P-10.
              I do know that the P-20 power plants can handle up to 2500 watts of power draws.
              The P-15 power plants, about 1500 watts of power draws.
              But I will take heed to your warning.
              Thanks for giving me the heads up!

  10. I don’t understand you Paul. All you need nowadays is to transfer digits into power. There is impressive technology available that does that and by the year better and better. And you all still talking about transport, pre-amp, DAQ, interlinks this and that. Nice for the audio museum…

    1. …just that I think…the more limited the basic concept, the smaller the differences of accompanying circumstances (like integrateds vs. separates). As with everything.

      But Class D equipment could probably be offered in smaller, cheaper, somehow mid-sized housings than currently done if customers would accept it.

  11. A superbly designed integrated amp, with all of the “pre” features I needed/wanted for a 2.1 music system (active adj. HP-LP filters-no tone controls-digital source offerings) would have been attractive, but couldn’t find such component all-in-one flexibility within my past budget. The current synergistic separates I have offer me that flexibility and control, but would still consider a correct-fit integrated selection in the future!

  12. There has to be a compelling advantage as to why top tier amplifiers are offered as monoblocs and preamps have separate power supply chassis. It all depends on how discriminating your sonic requirements and your pocketbook.
    I once tried closely stacking all my separate components on one rack and quickly abandoned that bad idea. Now these are all physically separated with the power conditioner off in a corner. I compromised with a dual -mono amplifier which saved a lot of ancillary costs and turned out very well.

  13. Maybe Paul can “integrate” this into his business model?

    Cutting your own records. You have the recording label. The equipment would be an investment these days, you have the studio, and you have the artists.
    And you have vinyl enthusiasts as a market.

    Make it two tier – limited pressings, and less limited.

    I’m ready.

  14. I started with integrated amps due mostly to budget limitations. Twenty years ago I got my first separates ( and tubes as well ) and have never looked back. I am also a strong believer in a front end / back end approach to system layout. The front end is the sources and preamps while the back end is the speakers and power amp(s). There is usually one long interconnect run from the preamp to the power amp(s).

  15. I agree with everything in Paul’s Post today, particularly “There are always exceptions.”

    If it hasn’t been said already, one advantage of separates is they can be smaller and lighter, easier to move around without straining your back. Imagine the size and weight of a combined PS Audio high end Transport, DAC and Preamp. Yes, with integrated the cumulative weight would be less because you would have only one case, but the single piece would be quite heavy, and more difficult to ship back to the manufacturer for a repair or upgrade.

    The extra interconnects and power cables for separates add expense and contribute to noise and distortion; even so, with separates I can decide whether I need or want a particular component (such as a preamp) in the chain.

    There are various reasons many of us started out with integrated and progressed to separate components, and it is not just because of manufacturer marketing. Going separate was a “sound decision” 🙂

    1. Even one of the best regarded integrated units, the Hegel 590, hugely powerful, weighs 22kg. A BHK250 alone weighs 38kg. My Devialet integrated unit, contains everything, weighs 9.7 kg. I can pick it up with one hand. That includes a 4mm solid copper case. The CX81, that only costs 10% of the Devialet, weighs 8.7 kg. It is almost as heavy as it uses fairly standard electronics (large transformer. heatsinks etc.). Devialet, Linn and some other relatively high-end products are engineered to be small and light. It’s different engineering and it’s not that cheap. It is a lot cheaper than a whole stack of boxes and cables.

      1. The biggest and inherent audiophile problem of the Devialet pizza-box is that you cannot mount the Anaconda-like power cords with monster-plugs without removing the rear lid. 😉 And if you mount these thick and heavy cords you have to put a heavy iron or better lead block on the box in order to fix it in the rack.

        1. That is a problem – for others. The Shuyata Delta EF fit with the cover on, which I use. Also the Audioquest cable supplied and all other Audioquest. Compact system users don’t find cables the size of your fist particularly attractive!

        1. Being an open-minded chap, having component and compact systems, Class A/B, Class D and hybrid amps, digital and vinyl, electrostatic and bass reflex speakers, even gave tubes a try, one reason for going for the CXA81 was because I am using it with Raidho speakers that have a quasi-ribbon tweeter and an aluminium oxide mid-bass driver. I thought Class D might be a bit bright with these speakers, hence the preference for the CXA81 Class A/B. Turns out a very good combination.

          I was using a Class D Bluesound Powernode 2i, which I sold, but briefly hooked it to the Raidho. The CXA81 is much better.

          1. Sorry. I didn’t mean Class A/B amplifiers. I meant an A-B sound comparison of a stack of hi-end separate components (such as the PSA line) with a high-end integrated unit, just to see if the integrated can beat the stack for less dollars.

              1. I doubt you will find a dealer who tells you his best integrated sounds as good as his best separates. If he does, his separates are probably not matched properly.

                1. My dealer doesn’t tell me what he thinks. He sets up systems and lets me listen. Mostly it is manufacturer days when you get to hear equipment purely for the sake of it.

    2. “one advantage of separates is that they can be smaller & lighter, easier to move around without straining your back”
      Most remain with the standard 440mm width & unless the power amp(s) is(are) ‘D’ class it’s(they are) not going to be that much lighter.
      Inside my M6si500 is maybe 1kg of pre-amp & 29kgs of power amps (dual monos)
      Most serious ‘A’ class or ‘A/B’ class power amps are 35kgs plus.

      1. It’s hard for me to imagine that you can cram all the innards of high quality separates into a single box and it be easy to lift and carry around. For that to happen there would likely be some compromise in quality.

        1. Heavy and hard to carry around; yes. Cram all the innards of high quality separates into one box; no problemo. The amplifier already has 90% of what you need to add the preamp function. Just add several analog input connectors, an input selector switch and a PASSIVE volume control (gain no longer required for modern sources). Easy peasy minimal additional cost above the cost of the amp.


          1. That’s true if all you need or want is a passive preamp. If you need or want a preamp like the BHK Signature, then that adds another power supply, tubes, additional circuitry leading to a bigger box and more weight. If you want to integrate a DAC, that leads to an even bigger, heavier box. It depends on what you want to integrate, or not.

  16. I had an Advent 300 receiver (15 Wpc) doing tuner/pre-amp duties into a kit built Hafler DH-200 amp (100 Wpc). Nice combination back in the day for a recent undergraduate beginning his professional career (i.e. not rich). The Advent 300 had the still well regarded Holman phono circuit, but it was definitely build to a price point with cheap pots for the volume/balance/bass/treble rotaries. When I went to replace it at my favorite brick-and-mortar dealer (support your locals) they did not have any separates in my still limited price range, but I liked the still British built Arcam A65+ integrated amp (40 Wpc) which had a pre-amp out on RCAs, plus a phono input although I was listening exclusively CDs and SACDs at the time. I when I started setting it up, for grins I connected the speakers terminals to my fairly efficient (92dB @ 1m with 2.8 volts pink noise, 6 ohms nominal, as per the manufacturer’s specs) ADS L520s. Hey, even fresh out of box, this sounds really good. I’m done here. The rest, as they say, is history.

  17. Totally off topic. After finishing watching an American football game on CBS (ex-pat Kansas City Kid says, “Go Chiefs!”, but never mind that), the slightly game delayed program “60 Minutes” is devoting this show to the New York City Fire Department and their actions on 9/11. This is important, regardless of ones opinion of the so called “evil liberal media.” We will not forget.

  18. No wonder all really good systems are always separates never integrated. Separates is the only way to get the sound one wants. Down side is that such setups are naturally expensive. So if one can afford it going the separates route is the only way. Regards.

  19. Didn’t read the above posts so I apologize in advance if I’m being redundant. I’m a long time fan and purchaser of PS Audio products but this daily post is nothing more than a self serving POS post. Be much more credible, or even credible at all, if PS Audio had a high end integrated but they do not.

    Pass, BAT, Rotel, Boulder, McIntosh, T&A, Marantz, Musical Fidelity and on and on produce integrated amplifiers that would match up as well (possibly better??) then a BHK pairing of preamp and amplifier at 60% of the cost. Get real Paul.


      1. Sorry Paul; not angry but frustrated by such a misleading post. You know very well that the top of the line integrated amps from the companies I identified are every bit as good as a BHK pairing. But you give a less knowledgeable potential purchaser the wrong impression.

        Or are you saying the Strata is just as good as a BHK pairing? Of course not. So let’s see an BHK integrated. Or better yet, redesign the DirectStream DAC with a (more) robust volume control with two or three analog inputs. Who needs a preamp anymore? Practically no one.


        1. Russ, I am so glad to find out that I am practically no one. I have no problem with your opinions on what you think about integrated amps and volume controls on a DAC. My opinions are the exact opposite of yours. I do not need the volume control on the DS DAC. I just set mine at 92 which Ted says is optimal and leave it there. I love the sound of my tube preamp and big ass SS power amp. And the flexibility in system layout that it gives me. But just because your opinions are the opposite mine does mean that you are practically no one.

  20. Hey Paul, I admire your patience in response to posts such as that above. Seems like there are a number of angry humans and the last year or so has had that anger surface significantly. I come to this site as a refuge from that craziness . I used to frequent another older audio site where the participants behave like inmates in an….asylum. The hatred spewed there is overwhelming. The only culling of posts seem to be those of the biased moderators and so real free speech (politically speaking) is non existent. It’s really sad how things have become in the last year or so. Thank you for sifting out the inappropriate posts and maintaining this site to reflect a more gentle demeanor.

    1. Thanks, Al. I try to keep the hairs on the back of my neck at bay. It’s tough sometimes but worth the effort.

      We’re all struggling and we all want to be heard. We thought CoViD was gone and now we realize it never really left and is more frightening than before. I think we’re all just a bit crazy right now. I know I am.

      I keep wanting everything to go back…and then I remember what that looked like and…well, let’s be thankful for what it is we have.

  21. And part of being an audiophile is to do the research and distinguish what integrated amplifiers or any component performs best. If you just plunge into any component and purchase it without any knowledge of the product I don’t consider those people audiophiles.

  22. A swing and a miss Tony. First I have nothing against separates; I currently have separates. If you enjoy your separates that’s great . I’m just pointing out that preamplifiers in my opinion have gone the way of the dodo bird.

    All modern sources put out enough signal to drive your “big ass amp” directly bypassing the need for a preamp. If someone is willing to pay $6,599 for a BHK preamp (or other expensive preamp) that’s fine.

    The AMP function of a preamp is no longer necessary. A (passive) attenuator is all that is required. Adding the same to an amplifier (or a DAC) is trivial and is very significantly less expensive than a complete preamp.

    Additionally, as Ted indicates setting your output to 93 (max signal 4 volts) is optimal but setting your preamp to (probably) seven o’clock totally negates that optimization.

    Anyway we’re getting off topic. Paul said integrateds (with some exceptions) are inferior to separates. That’s simply not true, a boatload of integrateds are just as good as the best separates.


    1. Russ, I guess that’s where we differ in our opinions. I have never heard any integrated come even close to a BHK separates system. Granted I haven’t heard everything so I suppose there’s no definitive statement to be made.

  23. Going along with Paul’s opening statement to this topic. I have trusted the synergy of my separates to the well respected John Curl with the fine help of the folks at my local brick and mortar audio shop.

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