Integrated amps have been around for many decades. However, many still prefer separate preamp and power amp combinations to integrated amps.
And the argument of which is better between integrated amps and preamp/power amp separates has been going on for many years now. But what are the facts? And which is the better option?
In general, audio setups made up of separate preamp and power amp usually sound better than those with integrated amps. This is because separates receive greater amounts of power than integrated amps do. Also, separates tend to have higher build quality than integrated amp models.
One thing you should note is that the answer I have given to this question is not as straightforward as it may seem. This is because the specifications and quality of separates and integrated amps vary from one manufacturer to the other.
Thus, high-quality integrated amps may perform better than cheap and inferior separates. Therefore, it depends on the build quality and how well constructed and engineered this audio equipment is.
However, overall, separates tend to be better than integrated amps. Before I give you reasons why this is so, let’s compare the two.
What Are Integrated Amps?
An integrated amp is an audio device with more than one audio component in its chassis or enclosure. Most integrated amps come with a built-in preamp and power amp.
Depending on the manufacturer, an integrated amp may even come with additional audio components aside from the two I have mentioned above. Integrated amps have multiple inputs where you can connect devices like DVD players, speakers, etc.
Most preamps and power amps in integrated amps draw power from the same supply source.
What Are Separates?
The term “separates” refers to individual audio components that come with their own separate chassis. Separates in the context of this article refer to preamp and power amp separates.
In the case of an integrated amp, you may have a single audio unit that comes with a built-in power amp and a built-in preamp as well. Having a separate in relation to these would mean that you own a standalone power amp and a standalone preamp.
Similarities Between Integrated Amps and Separates
Technically, integrated amps and power amp/preamp separates do the same job. However, an integrated amp does the job of the power amp and the preamp.
A separate or standalone preamp is responsible for converting weak electrical signals into stronger signals before transmitting them to the power amp for further amplification.
Separate power amps are responsible for amplifying these audio signals of low power received from preamps to a level that can be used to drive loudspeakers.
An integrated amp comes with a preamp and a power amp inside it. Thus, it performs the same role as preamp and power amp separates.
Differences Between Integrated Amps and Separates
Although integrated amps and separates basically perform the same role, certain things set them apart. Let’s look at these differences.
Ease of Setting Up
It is easier to set up and use an integrated amp than it is to set up separate amps. This is because integrated amps have both preamp and power amp present in the same unit. Thus, you do not need to get any extra interconnecting cables to hook it up.
Integrated amps can be set up by anyone, regardless of their level of audio tech knowledge.
The same cannot be said for preamp/power amp separates. It is relatively difficult to set up separates as compared to integrated amps. If you do not have a little technical knowledge about audio system setups, you might not be able to set it up in the first place.
Generally, integrated amps are more affordable than separates. When you compare the combined cost involved in getting a standalone preamp and a standalone amplifier, you will realize that an integrated amp option is cheaper.
Thus, integrated amps are a cost-efficient means of powering your speakers.
Another difference between integrated amps and separates is the amount of space they occupy. An integrated amp is a one-piece unit. Thus, it does not take up a lot of space.
On the other hand, separates are basically components taken out of your integrated unit to form individual units. Hence they occupy more space than integrated amp does.
Also, since separates have to be connected using interconnecting cables, it can create lots of mess and clusters in your room or working space.
Therefore, if you do not have extra space or room, a separate might end up inconveniencing you.
Why Separates Are Better Than Integrated Amps
Generally, an audio system of separates will sound better than an integrated one.
This is because separates receive greater amounts of power than integrated amps. When a manufacturer combines one or more audio components into one unit, manufacturers will definitely make some compromises.
Instead of having their own power supply, a preamp and power amp that have been combined now share the same power that enters the system.
This will introduce some amount of interference and noise into your sound. It can cause you to lose audio fidelity as well.
In an effort to make integrated amps more accessible and affordable, many manufacturers use low-quality electrical and electronic components in making them. And from a business standpoint, it makes a lot of sense.
But this leads to a lot of compromises, as I’ve already mentioned. And you may end up with a low-performance integrated amp.
Overall, separates are usually of higher quality than integrated models. Thus, separate systems tend to drive higher performance. Hence, they can be used for dedicated audio and media applications.
You can liken this to the popular quote, “jack of all trades being a master of none.”
Having a device that can fill in all the gaps in your audio setup will definitely not be better than individual audio devices that have been built specifically to perform those roles.
Benefits of Integrated Amps Over Separates
The main benefit an integrated amp has over separates is its simplicity. With an integrated amp, you have one box that fulfills all your musical needs. Thus, it is straightforward to set up an integrated amp for use.
You don’t need a lot of cables and connections when you use integrated amps. This makes it easier and simpler to set up integrated amps. Unlike integrated amps, setting up separates can be very hard to do, especially for people with little to no knowledge about audio connectors and setups.
Also, an integrated amp has all your audio components available in one unit. Thus, it does not take up too much space in your studio or home. This makes integrated amps more suited for use when you have limited space to work with.
On the other hand, using separates can create a lot of clutter and take too much space. Thus, if you do not have extra space or you have a small amount of room to work with, an integrated amp will serve you best.
Finally, integrated amp units are cheaper than the combined cost of separates. This means even if you have a small amount of budget to work with, you can easily afford an integrated amp.
Benefits of Separates Over Integrated Amps
One of the main benefits of separates over integrated amps is that separates allow you to have more control and influence on the components of your audio setup. They give you room for flexibility.
With separates, you are able to fine-tune the amp and preamp to meet your exact needs.
Also, using separates gives you more room to use any speaker of your choice. This is because you are not restricted by the type of amplifier you use.
On the other hand, using an integrated amp means you can use only speakers whose connectors are compatible with it.
Using separates opens up the potential to upgrade your system’s individual components whenever you desire. This enables you to adapt to any new technology that may arise.
What this means is that using separates makes it easier for future upgrades and does not restrict your upgrade choices. This ultimately leads to better performance output from your audio system.
Theoretically, if a component of your separates fails or breaks, the rest of your system will still be intact. The same cannot be said about integrated amps. That is why, if you are going in for an integrated amp, the specifications and components need to be well thought out before acquiring it.
Finally, separates can work at full capacity without overheating. That’s because they do not share the same unit, power, and cooling system.
An integrated amp has the components you need in the same unit. They have both preamps and power amps built into the same housing. Functionally, integrated amps and separates perform the same role.
However, separates take extra space and tend to perform slightly better than integrated amps.
Therefore, if you have the extra space and do not mind spending extra money on every individual audio component, you can go in for separates instead of integrated amps.