Tag Archives: Integrated amp

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

I’ve used nothing but separate audio components for many years, but now have two different integrated amps, one from Luxman and one from T+A and both are exceptional sounding. The T+A Integrated amp, the PA3100HV, is truly phenomenal sounding.

However, neither have a built in digital section and that’s probably why they sound so good.

High-end audio is more separates than completes. You don’t see many all-in-one receivers connected to high-end speakers.

It’s not that it’s technically impossible to build a great sounding receiver. Plenty of companies from PS Audio to McIntosh to Devialet have.

Yet always a collection of their separate counterparts outperforms the all-in-one. Why?

One could easily argue the shared power supplies don’t help, nor the shared AC cord. Still others might argue the close proximity of noisy circuits within the same chassis, or the need to bring the piece in at a reasonable price.

Yet, speculation aside, I would venture to suggest it is probably not possible to put a digital source next to an analog output without significant compromise. That it is proximity and the inverse-square law that stands between success and failure.

Sometimes we just have to separate things in order to maximize their potential.

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

When to upgrade

When is it time to upgrade? Add another component like a Power Plant, a new cable, a better DAC?

I get asked this question a lot. Just recently the question put to me was a tough one to answer. If the system is limited by the setup possibilities: loudspeakers shoved up against the wall, a lower end integrated driving them, and not much room for change, is it worth upgrading components?

Of course we understand an upgraded component will typically outperform its replacement but by how much? Is it worth adding a high-end power cable to an off-the-shelf integrated amp when it’s already difficult to hear small changes in music resolution?

These are the tough questions one must ask before dropping coin. My general advice on this question starts with asking what the person hopes to achieve. It’s a great question we should all be asking ourselves. If we’re hoping to make the speakers disappear, bring the sound of live musicians into the room, then simply upgrading components isn’t going to get us where we want to go—not if we’re unable to accommodate the space necessary for the speakers and proper setup.

If the basics are there then it makes sense to begin the upgrade process. But without the ability or willingness to dedicate a decent amount of living room space or take the time to set up properly, it’s probably not worth your time to start down the upgrade path.

Here’s the dilemma

We are right in the middle of designing products for 2013 and among those products is a pet one of mine: an integrated. I believe today’s Audiophile wants fewer boxes without sacrificing performance and I intend to provide that to them. In that integrated I want basically everything I need to run a system – a Swiss army knife if you will – and I want it affordable so more people can enjoy it and I am not willing to sacrifice an ounce of performance in the bargain.

There’s no reason for me, the consumer, to purchase this integrated if as a whole it doesn’t perform as well or better than my collection of separates. That’s quite a dilemma for a manufacturer as the expectation of any consumer is to pay less for a single package than they would for multiple boxes.

Fair enough, but how does the manufacturer create something as good or better without duplicating what’s in the separates? Our design team can’t put everything you find in a PerfectWave DAC into one box that also contains a power amplifier, preamplifier and phono preamplifier – there’s simply not enough room.

But here’s where this gets fun for us manufacturers. Much of what’s in the PWD has to do with supporting the outside requirements of interconnection to other equipment, user interface, separate chassis, power supply etc. – most of which is not necessary on the integrated. The standalone PWD has to play nice with every other box you connect it to and be compared to every other standalone DAC – the integrated does not – and herein lies the secret to our puzzle.

Remember the car manufacturers from yesterday that make better sounding cars because they are designed to work together? The same can (and should) apply here. We can tailor the DAC to match the preamp/power amp connection, gain structure and connection scheme – because those elements are fixed and known in a one-box-solution. When we voice the final product, we make tweaks to the whole, changing the individual systems to work together. It is to this last piece of the puzzle where you will see major benefits.

Tuning a piece of equipment to the whole means we can tailor the amplifier inside to match the DAC or the phono stage. After all, what’s needed is only for these disparate elements to work together as a whole – not try and fit into some unknown chain people are likely to use.

So in a sense it’s like picking separates that fit together. As a designer I get to pick the power amp that best matches the DAC we’ll use inside, the preamp will be matched to the phono stage and so on – just like you do. You connect up the best match for what you have, including cables, speakers, etc.

So now you can see how integrating a group of separates together can have huge benefits when used as a whole. Tomorrow we finish the series on separates.

Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.