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Separate components vs. integrated?


wgscott
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What is the logic behind having separate components, apart from the ability to upgrade with modularity?

 

It seems like interconnects are a significant source of concern, a problem that doesn't really arise in a unit that has a DAC and a pre and an amp.

 

(For present purposes, let's consider powered/active speakers as an extreme case of integrated.)

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What is the logic behind having separate components, apart from the ability to upgrade with modularity?

 

One of the main advantages is the ability to have completely separate power supplies, which usually results, among other things, in improved channel separation. Are interconnects REALLY of such a concern as many members suggest, if they use decent interconnects of a suitable length to start with ? e.g. from Blue Jeans cables etc.

 

How a Digital Audio file sounds, or a Digital Video file looks, is governed to a large extent by the Power Supply area. All that Identical Checksums gives is the possibility of REGENERATING the file to close to that of the original file.

PROFILE UPDATED 13-11-2020

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"It seems like interconnects are a significant source of concern, a problem that doesn't really arise in a unit that has a DAC and a pre and an amp."

 

I wouldn't let cables effect what components I buy. The easiest way to handle cables, is to match your components properly. If you do that, cables are easy. The biggest reason so many people find them to be a cause of concern, is because they are expect too much.

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Well back in the Pleistocene epoch of audio, when TT's still spun about the earth, you might not want your phono stage near a big power supply like in a power amp. Too much hummability to the tune then. So a dedicated pre-amp would allow not just modular upgrading, but also isolation from the power amp's power supply. Plus it handled tape, FM, etc inputs. Of course in those days no one gave any thought to interconnects. This was before interconnects were evolved enough to sound different.

 

Why would you want that now? Beats the heck out of me. For years I have used an integrated digital unit that did everything including power. Feed it a digital signal and let it go. The amount of noise is measured way down into the low microvolt range at the speaker.

 

And actually powered speakers would be more modular as you likely will need a pre of some sort or at least a pre functionality. So according to my opinion, with powered speakers, you need a good digital DAC (is there any other kind) with a computer. A computer can serve up music files, files over the internet including what is still FM radio or pretty much anything. Powered speakers, computer, DAC in the middle and off you go.

And always keep in mind: Cognitive biases, like seeing optical illusions are a sign of a normally functioning brain. We all have them, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but it is something that affects our objective evaluation of reality. 

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There are a lot of things in audio that don't make sense. I think that the receiver of bygone days was a perfectly good product that helped introduce the masses to hi fidelity. It got away from the complexity of separates with a tuner, preamp and amp all in one box.

 

The reason, I think, that separates came back was because receivers became too big as they went from 30W to 80W to 100W etc. Integrated units are the same. As power supplies increase in size, the integrated unit is no longer feasible. Separates help to keep things reasonably contained. A huge class A amp can sit close to the speakers, while its preamp control point can be contained on a shelf or in a cabinet.

 

I like my integrated amp much better than my separates because of the convenience that it offers. I also have 1977 vintage gear from Threshold that I keep because Nelson Pass's stuff from that era was outstanding. Every two months, or so I haul out the amp and preamp and I am in class A heaven. Then I start hearing subtle hints from my wife about the "looks" of the family room, and I go back to the integrated. LOL.

 

"The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought", Sir Thomas Beecham. 

 

 

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I got an integrated amp from Nuprime. Technology is amazing. I stream wirelessly from my NAS to a Chromecast, all controlled by my tablet (except amp power on). I would say if your speakers are worth more than $5k, separates may be beneficial. Would also permit the use a couple monos for thirsty speakers and large rooms. In other words, it depends, but don't be deterred from an integrated amp just because.

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In my own case, the amp stage on my 1st gen Nova wasn't sufficient for my large room and 88 dB inefficient speakers, so I am using the DAC and pre stages with an external amp that I made. (This is one of the nice features of Peachtree's design ethos; you can use a subset of the integrated's parts.) But I do still crave the elegance and simplicity of having a single box to go with my one source (mac mini).

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I bought a component DAC to function with my CD transport as well as my PC. My integrated amp (of choice) has no tuner, so, that also requires a separate component. I like the flexibility of changing or upgrading the DAC or the tuner, etc. The integrated amp isn't going anywhere for a long, long, time. Cables don't offend me. Here is the snake pit.

 

ImageUploadedByComputer Audiophile1452664252.172825.jpg

That I ask questions? I am more concerned about being stupid than looking like I might be.

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Part of the resisitance is the conservative approach of many audiophiles, which includes the "religious" type outlook that "only XX design approach" gives the best sound. All other approaches are then automatically excluded from consideration.

 

Separates do give one flexibility and make it less painless to upgrade. I think each component having its own power supply is a significant issue if you are looking for top notch sound.

 

Howver, the building of integrated components has come a long way. Firms like NuPrime, Devialet, Vinnie Rossi (LIO), and others, I think, have successfully dealt with the issues and give a lot of value per dollar with integrated components. Upgrading is either modular or firmware based.

 

And there are numerous models today that are essentially separates on the inside, with the different sections individually powered and isolated from one another. With these, you pay less for casework, and I think you probably do get just as good of SQ with a lower price when compared to similar separates. I do know of a few integrated components where the manufacturer even says the integrated is basically a meld of two existing separates and sounds better, because signal paths are shorter, etc. in the integrated model.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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What is the logic behind having separate components, apart from the ability to upgrade with modularity

I don't think it's a matter of logic, so much as a matter of evolution. Components can be functionally separate (modular) without being physically separate. The Chromecast is showing that a PC is no longer necessary in the playback stream. We already have pre-amps with integrated DSPs and speakers with integrated amps and amps with integrated DACs. Once the 2 terabyte SSD becomes commonplace, why wouldn't the whole kaboodle be contained within the speaker enclosure, with everything controlled by a smartphone? Upgrading would be not unlike adding memory or a video card or a new CPU to a PC.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

- Einstein

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Lyngdorf should definitely be added to the shortlist of brands seriously re-thinking audio design.

 

This week I made a drastic reduction of the number of boxes between my source and speakers.

 

Before: Audiobyte Hydra-Z USB-I2S digital converter + Wyred for Sound DAC2 DSD2SE + Wyred for Sound STP-SE Stage 2 preamp + Bryston 10B SUB electronic crossover

 

After: Lyngdorf TDAI-2170 "integrated amp" with optional USB input module

 

It incorporates Lyngdorf Room Perfect room correction + preamp + electronic crossover + PWM converter + 2x 170W (4 Ohm) power amp. The digital signal drives the speakers directly. Voltage adjustment of the power supply provides digital volume control without bit loss.

 

An onboard A/D converter processes analog sources. A superior ADC with additional inputs is available as an optional plug-in module.

 

The elimination of many feet of interconnects and any D/A conversion and the implementation of Lyngdorf's proprietary "all digital all the time technologies" delivers amazing sound at substantially reduced cost.

 

Now all I have to do is figure out what to do with those empty shelves in my rack.

Al J.

Modem/router + Keces DC-116 12V LPS - SGC Sonic Transporter + Sonore 12V LPS/Edwards Audio ISO-1 mains isolation transformer - Meicord Opal LAN cables - Aqvox Switch + Sbooster 9V LPS/Uptone LPS-1 - Etalon Isolator - Sonore Signature Rendu Special Edition + Mad Scientist Heretical USB data-only cable - Sonore Ultradigital + Uptone LPS-1 - PS Audio I2S-12 cable - HQ Player - Holo Spring Level 3 DAC -  iPeng on iPad 2 - MK Sound 300 monitors - Mad Audio Scientist Tungsten Carbide footers - Niels Larsen NLE speaker cables - Walker Audio Reference Plus HIGH Definition Links - 2 MK Sound MX350 subs - Shakti Stones - Herbie's Super Sonic Stabilizers - Herbie's Tenderfeet - Stillpoints ERS EMI/RFI sheets - Gutwire Ultimate Ground + Entreq Minimus + Silver Minimus grounding boxes - Symposium Rollerblocks - Symposium Ultra platform - Akiko Tuning Sticks

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For the same reason there's always been. So that you can upgrade only the component or section that you want without having to replace a single (and perhaps more expensive) component.

 

When a lot of people had better than decent stereo equipment it also gave you the opportunity to try someone else's component easily and without much fuss.

 

Integrated components could be less expensive overall, but made upgrading more difficult. And, for the purists, not any single manufacturer would have, for example, the tuner you wanted with that preamp or amp. Put them all together and call it a receiver, if you're happy with it you're good to go.

 

I suppose the best answer is separate equipment as opposed to integrated provides flexibility and the option to change, repair or replace as desired. On the plus side, with intergrated equipment you didn't have to worry about whether the components were properly matched to each other.

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What is the logic behind having separate components, apart from the ability to upgrade with modularity?

Others have touched on some of the issues, but I think the whole concept has to be viewed in historical perspective to be understood. The "advantages" of separates date to the good old days of multiple sources, tube rectifiers, and other similar anachronisms. At the peak of my system's complexity, I had 2 TTs (one set up for 78s), a cassette deck, an open reel tape deck, and an FM tuner. Almost no integrated amp had that kind of input and switching capability and flexibility - even my wonderful McIntosh MX110 tuner/preamp only had one tape circuit (plus one input equalized for tape head, but that was virtually useless).

 

Separate power supplies for each stage were definitely better for SQ with tube rectifiers, whose output voltage "sagged" when hit by heavy transient demand. A separate PS for the preamp could be more delicate, quieter and better isolated from voltage fluctuation while the power stage got a robust set of transformers & caps to optimize and stabilize plate voltage on the output tubes. The heat generated by massive output stages and their PSs could be isolated from the input stages and more effectively dissipated. And the massive cases required for big components like caps could be kept out of sight, with only their smaller and less offensive-looking front ends sitting out among the furniture and the guests.

 

External interconnects are noise magnets, especially when run parallel with power cables and/or not isolated from common sources of electrical interference. Wiring quality in the "good old days" was generally terrible - the metal in most of the RCA connectors used before the '70s was cheap and flimsy. Mechanical interfaces between jacks and plugs became RC circuits when disrupted by oxidation and even simple loosening, so they degraded frequency response. But internal wiring in most integrated amps was little better, so external signal paths offered more flexibility than sonic degradation with most high quality separates.

 

Another good reason to favor separates was the fairly high failure and age degradation rates of hot tube equipment with heat-sensitive components and discrete wiring covered by heat-sensitive materials. Many of us kept a few "spare" pieces around so we could keep listening to the rest of the system when one component needed repair or maintenance.

 

Upgrading was also a bigger deal then, largely because there were so many major advances (e.g. solid state rectification). It's true that an integrated amp (or, worse, a receiver) could only be replaced whole. And virtually all of the great tweaks, mods and upgrades for stock equipment were for separates - I don't recall a single hot rod integrated mod set.

 

Very little of the above applies today. I have no more need for multiple switchable inputs, outputs, and signal loops. I haven't used a tape deck or tuner in years - my computers do it all, from live recording to internet radio streaming. Power supplies are generally more robust, better stabilized and isolated, and often even external. Heat is much less a factor, and most equipment that survives infancy will continue to work for a long time with no interventions at all (e.g. rebiasing, changing tubes, replacing caps or resistors that go bad, etc). Wires and connectors are much higher quality now than ever before. Separates are simply no longer necessary to achieve great sound.

 

BTW, automatic transmission is now the gold standard for high level pro racing, from F1 to NHRA. It's the 21st century, people - enjoy it!

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Devialet might be a model for the change from separates to a very compact, integrated high end system.

"Relax, it's only hi-fi. There's never been a hi-fi emergency." - Roy Hall

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - William Bruce Cameron

 

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Cables don't offend me. Here is the snake pit.

 

Thanks for the photo. I find it very validating.

 

--David

Listening Room: Mac mini (Roon Core) > iMac (HQP) > exaSound PlayPoint (as NAA) > exaSound e32 > W4S STP-SE > Benchmark AHB2 > Wilson Sophia Series 2 (Details)

Office: Mac Pro >  AudioQuest DragonFly Red > JBL LSR305

Mobile: iPhone 6S > AudioQuest DragonFly Black > JH Audio JH5

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"BTW, automatic transmission is now the gold standard for high level pro racing, from F1 to NHRA. It's the 21st century, people - enjoy it!"

 

In all fairness, the gold standard automatic transmissions in race cars are absolutely nothing like the ones that go into production cars. Even very expensive ones. Those transmissions are, after all, self destructing. A transmission in an NHRA car only last for 1 or 2 races. Its usable life is less than 1 mile. F1 cars do a little better. They last (hopefully) for a whole race of a few hundred miles. Compare production car automatics to manuals, and auto still sucks. Yes, they are a little better, but not much. Kind of like integrateds vs separates.

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The Chromecast is showing that a PC is no longer necessary in the playback stream.
Didn't the Apple TV already show that?

I thought the Apple TV required the controlling device (iPad, iPhone, Mac) to be a part of the playback stream.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

- Einstein

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Compare production car automatics to manuals, and auto still sucks.

It may be hard to avoid going OT here, but the parallels with audio are strong and clear - many enthusiasts of both cars and audio prefer to live in the past. I know the past very well, and I had a blast living it while it was still the present. I've been an SCCA racer for 4+ decades (Formula Vee for 20 years, C Sedan before that). And I've been an active audiophile building my own equipment for 5+ decades. I bought my first automatic transmission a few years ago, about the same time I sold my Crown tape deck, my film cameras, my 1948 South Bend lathe, and my darkroom equipment. Let me make this perfectly clear: I LOVE living in the 21st century!

 

Almost all production automatic transmissions today outperform manuals for speed and for economy in the same cars. Almost all integrated audio reproduction devices outperform analog separates at the same price points. Modern audio amplification devices encompass much more than the simple voltage and current amplification in analog systems, just as modern automatic transmissions bear little resemblance to the slushboxes-with-torque-convertors they've replaced.

 

I might as well annoy even more of my demographic with simple truths they don't want to hear:

 

  • A computer can make many (if not most) medical decisions with a higher probability of a good outcome than I or my colleagues can (I'm a surgeon).
  • Some of the best pianos and guitars I've ever played were made in Japan or China. Today's Gibson guitars are grossly over-rated and even further overpriced.
  • Screw top wine bottles are better than corks at protecting and maintaining the wine they contain.

I love performance and fine machinery, not rowing my car through rush hour traffic. I love listening to music, not piles of expensive, hot and heavy equipment. I prefer great medical care to providers who think they're better than it's possible to be. I love wine more than corks. Etc etc etc.

 

Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it.

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"I love performance and fine machinery, not rowing my car through rush hour traffic."

 

That's because you're driving an automatic. I blast through rush hour traffic so fast you'll never see me on one of those police chase shows.

 

"Screw top wine bottles are better than corks at protecting and maintaining the wine they contain."

 

Now who's living in the past? All the best wine is boxed.

 

"A computer can make many (if not most) medical decisions with a higher probability of a good outcome than I or my colleagues can (I'm a surgeon)."

 

That's OK. Just keep practicing any you'll get better. (Just not on me)

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I thought the Apple TV required the controlling device (iPad, iPhone, Mac) to be a part of the playback stream.

It does. I wasn't counting phones or tablets as a "computer," but I suppose they are.

 

Does the Chromecast stream without any computer at all? I assume you still need a computer for ripped files?

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"I love performance and fine machinery, not rowing my car through rush hour traffic."

 

That's because you're driving an automatic. I blast through rush hour traffic so fast you'll never see me on one of those police chase shows.

 

"Screw top wine bottles are better than corks at protecting and maintaining the wine they contain."

 

Now who's living in the past? All the best wine is boxed.

 

"A computer can make many (if not most) medical decisions with a higher probability of a good outcome than I or my colleagues can (I'm a surgeon)."

 

That's OK. Just keep practicing any you'll get better. (Just not on me)

Like, wow Dobie!

 

60481107?size=720x405

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It does. I wasn't counting phones or tablets as a "computer," but I suppose they are.

 

Does the Chromecast stream without any computer at all? I assume you still need a computer for ripped files?

Well a NAS is a kind of computer, but that's all you need with a Chromecast for ripped files. The point is it's only a file server. All the audio processing is done by the Chromecast if you use it's internal DAC. I'm not so much singing the praises of the Chromecast as pointing out that that's probably the way of the future.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

- Einstein

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I think the history of it is correct in Bluesman's first post, but I find separates just as applicable to me today as ever, even with only one source. When it all is distilled, even a receiver is as separates inside: a source, a selector, a buffered volume and an amp. It still uses wires and often connectors and has most all of the issues that separates have, it is just that you cannot do much about it.

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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