Why separates

February 17, 2018
 by Paul McGowan

A stew combines the same food elements as are found in a fancy restaurant’s small expensive plates: tastings that are ever so much more flavorful than their amalgam.

The same can be said for most integrateds and receivers, but not because they are in one box, but because of the shortcuts taken in their design.

Most integrated stereo products exist to lower unit cost. One obvious savings is the chassis. Separates have individual chassis, power supplies, front panels, controls, and displays. We can save money by combining all but one of these elements without sacrificing quality. The power supplies.

One of the classic errors made in attempting an integrated with uncompromised sonics is the use of a single power supply for the myriad of internal componentry. An integrated’s lack of connecting cables, mutiple displays, and physical distance signals must traverse all work against the idea of separates. Yet, their attention to detail and separated power supplies often provide a performance edge not enjoyed by integrated solutions.

When we next tackle an integrated, one of the things that interests me is to see if we can do so without compromising sound quality, while maximizing cost and real estate savings. A lofty goal, indeed, but one personally interesting as a challenge.

I hope we can pull it off.

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12 comments on “Why separates”

  1. But why not use separate power supplies within one chassis? There are even integrateds with outboard power supplies…so it shouldn’t be an impossible task. The housings for the outboarded power supplies could be much simpler and cheaper as they are mostly hidden anyway. There’d be three advantages then. Electronics (i.e. phono pre to preamp) are combined for shorter signal paths without add. cabling , power supplies are outboarded for less noise within the electronics and the expense for the simple separate power supply housings can more than be compensated by no need for add. power and XLR or RCA cabling between the components of a separate design.

    1. I agree. It seems like something that should be more commonly implemented for integrated amps.

      I have the luxury of being friends with the reputable guy who makes the gear I own. Through the years, I have worked with him to make different kinds of changes. I have owned several of his preamps/amps. For two of the preamps, I had him change them to an outboard power supply. It is always is better, partially for the reasons you mentioned. I asked him why power amplifiers rarely have outboard power supplies. The shortened answer Is that it should benefit for the same reasons, but to most likely to a lesser extent. My amp is with him right now, having a newly designed outboard power supply implemented. The added real estate provides a fun opportunity to experiment with a different configuration. The outboard power supply will be a dual mono configuration with 2 toroids, 4 chokes and 8 large power supply caps. It’s a bit expensive to have him do this stuff, but I learn a lot and it’s fun for him.

      The integrated amp with an outboard power supply is essentially the same thing, but in 2 chassis vs. the 4 Chassis situation I will have.

      1. I think you will be able to make one of the very best integrateds. Does this also mean I can save some money for a future combined phono/pre BHK with outboard power supply? Or do you only plan to use those thoughts for an integrated amp although it might have most impact in the top lineup?

        1. Problem is, customers of the top lineups not rarely have expensive cabling. The need of an add. power cord and XLR cable for a separated phono/pre can easily make a few thousand $ expense which would be better spent on a design mentioned above.

  2. Here’s part of what Marantz writes about its new PM-10 integrated amplifier:

    “A dual-mono design, it has separate power supplies for the preamplifier and each of the power amplifier channels, with one transformer dedicated to the preamp to ensure the delicate signals passing through that section of the amplifier aren’t affected by the demands of the high power output stages. There’s also a dedicated supply for the microprocessor controlling volume adjustment, input selection and so on, ensuring no noise from the control section finds its way in to the audio path.”

    Unless Marantz is lying, it appears that it’s possble to have separate power supplies in one chassis.

    1. I don’t think Marantz is lying, and neither are the many other manufacturers that put dual power supplies into a single case. My feeling is that what we are going to hear from Paul or others is that they feel that the shielding between internal power supplies and the rest of the internal components can never be satisfactory enough and that it’s best to locate the supply located elsewhere. In my mind however if there are multiple boxes (I’m calling an external power supply a box) it’s no longer an integrated. I went from separates to an all-in-one box, for convenience purposes, and was more than happy to live with any supposed compromises because of it.

    2. That sounds like a good direction. I am glad Marantz has done that. One unanswered question about their claims is the quality and size of those power supplies. Are they the same as they would have used in separates?

  3. If you read carefully, the challenge is not in building a no compromise integrated. Paul could probably take a P20 chassis and in a couple of weeks you could have a BHK design integrated. Add another week, and he could put in a DSD, certainly room for the DSD Jr.

    Here is the challenge: “without compromising sound quality, while maximizing cost and real estate savings”. WHILE MAXIMIZING COST and REAL ESTATE

    There are already no compromise integrateds, they sell for five figures. With some exceptions, it seems to me that people who want integrated amps, are considering price as one of their requirements. I find it somewhat amusing that those who are asking for integrated amps to simplify and save money, would be ok with an external power supply. Accept for switch mode, traditional power supplies need ventilation, so you can’t just stuff them in any old place. And for it to be no compromise, one fat, or two umbilical cords for dual mono?

    The final question is a BHK or Stellar based integrated, I suppose eventually both. I personally won’t care about simplifying until I need to go to an assisted living facility, and my plan then is a digital player/streamer, headphone amp, and some closed back headphones. I don’t like headphones much, but I can’t imagine the other residents being happy waking up to the Ramones or Green Day.

  4. As a very non technical music enjoying person, here’s a simple reason for ” not separates “. Marriage. After 40 years of several ” boxes” in a cabinet in our living room where we listen to music, my wife went ecstatic when she saw a Devialet with everything in one box. There are other contributing factors to our enjoyment of music. Thanks to you Paul, i did sneak in a dedicated 20 Amp circuit with fat wire. Cheers.

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