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Integrated better than separates? I think so...

Discussion in 'General Audio Discussion' started by ODS123, Mar 10, 2018.

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  1. ODS123

    ODS123 Well-Known Member

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    Looking at Stereophiles latest "500 Recommended Components" I was struck by how few of the recommended Integrated Amplifiers have tone controls and next to none of them have a mono mode. ..And some don't even have a balance control. WTH?

    I much prefer integrated amps these days. ..Fewer cables means fewer connections; fewer connections means fewer opportunities for grounding and hum/buzz issues. There may have been a time that separates made sense but I think that day has passed. My most recent separates were a Bryston 3BSST amp and BP25 pre, and its noise floor and signal bleed (hearing one input on another) was higher than every integrated I've ever had. Plus, most music is imperfectly recorded so I like having simple tone controls (bass/treble), mono switch and a balance control.

    The argument against these controls has been that they deteriorate the signal, but I believe this to be a myth. ..Usually, they're left at zero doing no harm, but when listening to an overly dull or bright album, or if my dishes are rattling in the cupboards, I find a slight tweaking of one or both to be enough to make the song more enjoyable. And Mono?? Absolutely indispensable when listening to old music that dates back to when Stereo mixing was misunderstood - like old Beatles music where the music comes out of one speaker and voices from the other. ..Listening to mono is way better than poorly mixed stereo.

    I think gear mfgs. want us to believe that eschewing these basic features keeps the signal "purer" but I think this is nonensense (ever see a mixing board used to make our some of our "audiophile approved" music? ..Literally hundreds of signal breaks). IMHO, fewer controls/ switches just means less engineering/ mfg. expense. ..Am I alone in thinking this?
     

     

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  2. JoeESP9

    JoeESP9 ESL's & tubes since 83

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    So buy a preamp that has tone controls!:eek:
     
  3. stish

    stish AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I prefer separates as they provide more flexibility for upgrades. I also think having a power supply dedicated to a specific purpose is a plus. I haven't had tone controls in 20+ years and haven't missed them. My current preamp (Linn Kairn) has balance and mono but I've never used them. I certainly think everyone should seek out components with any and all features they deem important.
     
  4. Chris Brown

    Chris Brown Super Member

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    I don't think you can make blanket statments simply using the terms "integrated" and "seperates". That is like saying "cars are better than trucks" or something silly like that. For one, context matters. Which models are being compared also matters.

    Having your preamp circuity literally right next to the amp circuity, because that is all the space available inside the single integrated amp case, also presents some opportunities for distortion...
     
  5. nj pheonix

    nj pheonix AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I agree you can't make any blanket statements.
    There were and are some very fine integrateds which can prove quite satisfying .
    Also if space is an issue you aren't giving anything up . Lastly i can't argue that set up is easier (though just one cable).
    While there are exceptions both ways. The best sound is generally obtained through TOTL separates .
     
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  6. ODS123

    ODS123 Well-Known Member

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    What kind of distortion? THD? Signal/Noise? While that may have been true in the past, my last two Integrateds (McIntosh MA6600, NAD 375BEE) were quieter than my previous two Separates (Bryston 3bsst/ Bryston BP25, and B&K 202/B&K Pro-10MC). Both integrateds had less hum, hiss and less cross/talk b/w channels. Having two more interconnects and another power cable often create more problems than they solve. Today, the THD and S/N ratios on integrateds are indistinguishable by human ears from separates.

    One of the arguments for NO tone/ Bal or Mono control is the idea that it shortens the signal path and reduces the number of breaks. But this seems silly. Check out this pic of the mixing board Donald Fagen used in mixing "The Nightly" - an album roundly praised for its sound quality. If literally hundreds of sliders, switches, and pots didn't ruin the signal in the studio then having tone/ balance/ mono controls on our integrated amps (or pre-amps) won't do an iota of damage in our home systems.

    Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 12.08.11 PM.png
     
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  7. Chris Brown

    Chris Brown Super Member

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    So you are using a few specific examples to create blanket statements?

    Properly designed gear shouldn't have issues in either regard. Are you under the impression that distortion caused by cables and connectors when using separates is common? It's not. It's also worth mentioning that even with an integrated amp you aren't going to get away from using interconnects. You still need a source.

    Many preamps still have tone controls, but simply include a "Tone Bypass" option for those who prefer this.
     
  8. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Luxman still makes full-featured integrated amps. The L-505u was included in Stereophile's class A list a few years ago, and I believe they have improved the phono stage and volume control since. But, generalizing from specific examples is, as usual, perilous. If you were familiar with any 'direct-to-disc' records you would not be so sanguine about mixers and multi-tracking.
     
  9. ODS123

    ODS123 Well-Known Member

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    Re: Blanket statements. I suppose this is true. But I do think the notion of having power and pre-amplification in separate boxes, then joining with an interconnect is now an anachronism. I would encourage anyone coming to this forum to learn about the hobby to be wary of the claim that separating these functions improves sound. Yes, it may allow one to increase power at a later date while keeping the same pre, etc.. But do separates sound better b/c they're separate. I don't think so and nor would most electrical engineers, i suppose. This was done in the past to reduce noise and cross-talk. ..But these are pretty much inaudible these days in well-engineered integrateds.

    Tone Bypass: Yes, this exists but people still claim that the bypass switch itself causes incremental damage to the signal, thereby the sound. It's this idea that I'm calling ridiculous.
     
  10. E-Stat

    E-Stat AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    The value of tone controls has been discussed here many times. Use the search tool to find past threads.

    Market demand determines their availability.

    I prefer separates for their flexibility in terms of upgrades and placement. I do, however, use a small integrated in the office system tucked away in a cabinet.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
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  11. ODS123

    ODS123 Well-Known Member

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    Yes, Luxman, Accuphase, Anthem and McIntosh still include tone controls and mono/stereo switch on their integrated amps, but I don't know of any others. And that's my complaint. ..These are great brands but prohibitively expensive for most people. ..There's no reason for these features to not be offered on less expensive gear.

    As for direct-to-disc, I have a few DtoD records and they sound great but they're not of such memorable performances. ..Would love to see a band like Steely Dan try to record an album d-to-d. ..Not feasible.

    I guess I miss the golden days of audio. My dad had this integrated amp

    Screen Shot 2018-03-10 at 10.45.21 AM.png
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018

     

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  12. botrytis

    botrytis Trying not to be a Small Speaker Hoarder Subscriber

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    It is? It is a 19-20 bit digital master that is mediocre at best, so say many engineers if you read CA forums.

    There is a difference between a mixing board and tone controls on a pre-amp, as the mixing board is BEFORE THE MASTER TAPE. Many of those sliders are for one instrument or overdub, not for raising or lowering the bass, midrange, treble at one frequency. If you want tone controls, do a DSP system as that is infinitely more accurate as you can take into account your room acoustics (more like a scalpel), not hitting the output with a hammer (which is what tone controls are to me).
     
  13. twiiii

    twiiii Addicted Member

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    Seen any integrated units with 110 db signal to noise for line inputs to speaker? How many integrateds other than Mcintosh have Graphic tone controls and adjustable phono inputs. . If I were starting over I would have a Large Mac Integrated 200 to 300 watt unit. If I were bi-amping I would add a 302 or 152 . What else would I need? They have modular DACS built in that can be upgraded and one model you can add a tuner module if you must. Need Room Perfect, that can be added, too. Now I like manual controls, too. Thats why I have an older Mac pre-amp for the Stereo part of the HT system. If I win the lottery I am going to buy new speakers and separate the two systems, placing the stereo system in my front office. Making the HT system totally separate in its own room. The question would be whether I keep my Left and Right speaker for the Stereo system and go old school, tubes, or go for the latest thing, all SS with all the bells and whistles. I would need a production system then, too, to continue dubbing in the analog format, dubbing in the digital, etc etc. Maybe some day I will be able to live with a KISS system, but not today.
     
  14. spark1

    spark1 Super Member

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    I have a number of good integrated amps (including Sansui AU919, Musical Fidelity A3.2, British Fidelity A100, Optonica 4545 and 4646, Kenwood KA7002, and Marantz 1060), and like the form factor very much, especially those with dual power supplies They can certainly deliver very high quality sound. But I see no basis for concluding that an integrated amp is inherently better than separates. And, it is my view that separates have the potential to be better than an integrated amp.

    EDIT: I have been eyeing the Parasound Halo 2.1 integrated amp since it was launched a couple of years ago. For a single box solution, it seems to be near the top of the heap. And yes, it has tone controls (which can be bypassed) and balance control. I wish someone would buy me one so I could see how it compares to my other power and integrated amps.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
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  15. darkblue94

    darkblue94 It wasn't me. Subscriber

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    Comparing a mixing console used in the recording process to home equipment used for playback is a non-starter, they have two completely different objectives.
    The mixing console is a tool used to alter the recorded information into a final product (master) and the playback equipment is used (ideally) to playback the master with as little altering as possible. Different things entirely.
     
  16. Grenadeslio

    Grenadeslio Super Member

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    Integrateds? Separates? Forgetaboutit. I like all my crap in one box. TV, phonograph, 8 track, the whole schlemeil, no intraconnects you know what I mean? Eh, oh, no cables for to give you no distortion you know what I mean? Ba da bing.
     

     

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  17. Poinzy

    Poinzy Super Member

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    'Stereophile' are primarily a marketing vehicle, so I wouldn't take their recommendations too seriously. Their motto is "Kneel and think ad revenue." Integrated audio gear takes up a lot less space than than the stuff I use, so integrated gear makes perfect sense for livingroom setups where space might be a serious consideration. I don't have space problems, and because my dedicated components are linked by balanced connections, I don't have noise problems either.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
  18. ODS123

    ODS123 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not saying tone controls do the same thing as the sliders, etc.. on a mixing board. What I'm saying is if the signal can pass through all that stuff on the board and not be destroyed, then having tone controls is not going to ruin the signal. There are some who say their presence EVEN when zeroed is damaging the signal. I'm calling BS on this. The same is said about Stereo/Mono switch - that it's presence damages the purity of the signal.

    And I wouldn't use tone controls to correct for room acoustics. I use them when I play a poorly recorded song that is too bright to be enjoyable OR when there is so much bass that my cupboards rattle. Yes, they aren't perfect solutions but they are better than NO solution.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
  19. darkblue94

    darkblue94 It wasn't me. Subscriber

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    Life is too short to bother with poorly recorded material. There's enough of the good stuff available to afford us the option to ignore the crap.
     
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  20. ODS123

    ODS123 Well-Known Member

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    I'm not saying integrateds sound better per se, I'm saying that there is no engineering based reason to believe they sound worse. Putting everything in two boxes is no better than putting everything in one. And putting everything in one reduces the chances for hum and grounding issues.

    The distortion levels, noise levels, etc.. of well designed integrateds exceed our hearing threshold. So I suggest to those getting into hifi they forgo separates and go right for an integrated amp, or a receiver if they still want FM. I make the add'l recommendation that they select one w/ basic controls - balance, tone, and stereo/mono.

    Yes, the Parasound looks very nice. I've seen it - it has a great tactile feel to it. ..Very nicely built.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
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