The Rise of the Uber-High End Integrated Amp

KeithR

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One of the biggest industry shifts over the past 20 years has been to more sophisticated (and expensive) integrateds. People clearly like having a single box that provides great sound with less cable and power cord expense. My first exposure to the segment was the vaunted JRDG Concentra II amp back in 2001. I think almost every hifi electronics company now makes an even higher end integrated amplifier ~$10k that is designed to emulate separates at a lower cost. Some of these include(d):

Ayre AX-5 Twenty
Vac Sigma 170i
McIntosh MA-8000
Pass Labs INT-60
Gryphon Diablo
Luxman 590ax

Then came the rise of the "super" integrated - companies like DarTZeel CTH-8550, Vitus SIA-25, and Constellation Argo produced a ~$25k integrated that took things to the next level. Dart, to Herve's credit, includes a phono stage that makes the value argument nice if you like analog. Others might include a dac. I owned the DarTZeel for several years and loved its sound and flexibility.

Now, $25k is old school and we are moving to the $50k uber integrated:

CH Precision I1- starts at $38k but easily up to $50k
Soulution 530- $49k
Audionet Humboldt- $55k
D'agostino Momentum- $49k
Vitus SIA-30- $46k plus options
Pilium Leonidas- $40k

At what point do we give up on the integrated and require separates? Are these uber integrateds still compromised by not having separate power supplies and output stages. I'm hard pressed to find a difference in the recent doubling of price for performance reasons. I would also expect resale to be low for them as a result. Thoughts?
 

Bobvin

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I think the idea of an integrated is very attractive for a “lifestyle” system. Certainly an integrated reduces lots of audiophile clutter, cables interconnects power cords racks footers and a lot of other paraphernalia. A nice integrated, setting aside a nice turntable, and some speakers. This fits nicely and would have a much higher wife acceptance factor. There will always be the geeks Amongst us who strive and tweak for every last bit of audio goodness, but an integrated allows you to put some of that aside and buy more vinyl. :cool:
 

Gregadd

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Or skip the turntable and add a dac. Even better put the dac inside the amp.
 
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benito

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You can add in the first list the vitus RI-101 mk2. The Ypsilon Phaeton is worth a listen and with the Absolare integrated cost around the same price than the SIA025.

Another aspect to select an integrate is that in the recent amp, the best match is often obtained with a pre of the same brand. So why have two box if one is enough?
.
 
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bryans

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I went integrated with a T+A PA3100HV. The reason why I went integrated was because it sounded better than most of the separates that I was considering. In addition the cost savings with cables, rack space, etc. was a no brainer. Will I ever go back to seperates, maybe if I find something that I feel is worth it.
 

TooCool4

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If they work and work well, I don’t see why not. Some people want simplicity without all the boxes.
 
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bryans

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At what point do we give up on the integrated and require separates? Are these uber integrateds still compromised by not having separate power supplies and output stages.
I personally believe it depends on the designer. I have heard integrateds that sound way better than some separates. Now I have heard some separates that are way better also.
 

bryans

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I would also expect resale to be low for them as a result.
Not sure why the resale on an integrated would be lower.

If had a CH Precision I1 maxed out at 50K and say I sell it for 25K (50% off retail). Now if I have separates (Preamp, Amp, Dac, Phono) and together they cost 100K. Well I sell them for only 30% off retail. That is still 30K I have lost. Is it better taking a 25K or 30K hit? Of course not to mention all of the interconnects, power cables, rack space, etc. Of course that is if you can sell it for 30% off retail. I tend to buy in the 50% range.

I think in the end of the day it comes down to personal choice.
 

Cellcbern

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High quality integrateds are not new. The best I've heard - Pathos TT, Kondo Ongaku, Melody AN300B and AN211, Audiomat Opera, Vinnie Rossi L2i-SE, and several others have sounded as good to me as any separates I've heard at any price, including the megabuck separates. If I had a much bigger listening room I might want separates. But since I've always had a small room and limited power requirements I've only owned integrated amps. Don't see that changing particularly given how "crazy good" my extensively modified Pathos TT RR is.
 
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Rhapsody

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andromedaaudio

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I personally like the simple integrated idea .
I assume it depends on sound quality in the end , if its good ( enough ) why not .

I d love to give the VITUS SIA 30 a shot , lol :)
 
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DasguteOhr

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defride

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I think the idea of an integrated is very attractive for a “lifestyle” system
No way! You need to spend some time with some of the amps listed.

There are pros and cons for going integrated or separates at a given price. Sure, at the cost no object end of the market there's more of a case for separates but I for one haven't heard a pre/pwr/mono's that get remotely close to the Analog Domain integrated at similar money (lower end price of those mentioned). I've also heard of several owners who on the basis of sound alone sold vastly more expensive well regarded separate amps and added one.

Can't speak for any of the other amps mentioned but don't doubt that some occupy a similar space, would love to hear a Humboldt.
 

KeithR

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I think the idea of an integrated is very attractive for a “lifestyle” system. Certainly an integrated reduces lots of audiophile clutter, cables interconnects power cords racks footers and a lot of other paraphernalia. A nice integrated, setting aside a nice turntable, and some speakers. This fits nicely and would have a much higher wife acceptance factor. There will always be the geeks Amongst us who strive and tweak for every last bit of audio goodness, but an integrated allows you to put some of that aside and buy more vinyl. :cool:
$50k for a lifestyle system? isn't that what Bose goes after?
 
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KeithR

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Not sure why the resale on an integrated would be lower.

If had a CH Precision I1 maxed out at 50K and say I sell it for 25K (50% off retail). Now if I have separates (Preamp, Amp, Dac, Phono) and together they cost 100K. Well I sell them for only 30% off retail. That is still 30K I have lost. Is it better taking a 25K or 30K hit? Of course not to mention all of the interconnects, power cables, rack space, etc. Of course that is if you can sell it for 30% off retail. I tend to buy in the 50% range.

I think in the end of the day it comes down to personal choice.
Because the market for them is very small? I've heard selling stereo amps above $25k is difficult as is.

One thing I've thought about is why not just get a TVC/AVC and your favorite stereo amp. Isn't a CH A1.5 with a Music First or Bespoke likely better than an I1?
 

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