ADVICE: How to Build a Hi-Fi System - Separates Vs. All-in-One

Discussion in 'Hi-Fi Stereo Systems & Separates' started by Phil Hinton, May 13, 2018.


    1. Ed Selley

      Ed Selley
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    2. Pecker

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      Great, thought-provoking article.

      The 'front end first' argument was always extremely suspect.

      For a kick off, even in Ye Olde Dayes it presumed that 'pound per unit of quality improvement' (if such a thing were measurable) was equal across all 3 links in the chain. Translated to the modern age, you can get excellent quality digital to analogue conversion relatively cheaply, whilst speakers are still stubbornly tied to large price hikes for better quality.

      It also masqueraded under a degree of false logic, the whole argument was always a non sequitur.

      It was often explained like this - your LP (or whatever) is like a bucket of water, let's say 10 litres. If your turntable lost 5 litres of quality through a 'leak', then you could never get it back. So far, so good. But that completely ignores the fact that larger leaks in the amp & speakers buckets could lose more than the 5 litres lost at the start. The only valid measurement is to ask how much was lost across the whole system. Whether more or less is lost at any particular point is a complete red herring.

      How did this concept ever take hold? Well, just because you love music, doesn't make you a capable logician. Most people in most areas of life are easily suckered in by dodgy thinking if it's presented with a degree of superficial credibility.
       
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    3. DT79

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      Nice article, and it makes a lot of sense. As a logical extension to this, I wonder if AVF might be able to review some ‘all in one’ active speaker systems than take the ‘all in one’ concept to their ultimate conclusion, such as KEF LS50 Wireless, AVI DM12 or Dynaudio Focus XD series?
       
    4. dannnielll

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      Very well constructed and logical arguement. There has always been a market for all in ones.. the stereo radiogram cabinet anyone??
      It was always the case that the transducers were the weakest link, be they loudspeakers or pickups. With digital systems the input transducer ie the turntable , cartridge are redundant, and the speaker or headphones remains the only transducer. So it makes more sense to concentrate on it.
      The next level surely is to eliminate the discrete amplifier, and to mount the DAC and the amplifier and the active crossovers within the the speaker cabinet. The hi fi unit then consists of a streaming and storage unit , perhaps with optical disc playback, with preamp facilities .tone controls, room equalisation , radio?? Communicating with the active speakers. The home cinema combined blu ray players is not far away from that concept. Any of the big boys in the business, Sony , Phillips, Samsung, Apple and their in house prestige brand names have the capability to do this, but it will surely squeeze out the bespoke artisan brands.
      It is salutary to note that Samsung has moved from a company making earth moving mechanical diggers to what is acknowledged to be the best , or at least second best mobile phone on the planet. The new Apple speaker is a case in point , and they have the money and the engineering design experience to make a mark 2 and mark 3 etc ? What would the response be to an Apple planar electrostatic or magnetic speaker???
       
      Last edited: May 13, 2018
    5. Khazul

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      On one hand, I do agree that past a certain price point of all in ones they seem to be very good and do probably represent a saving over an equivalent quality separates signal chain.

      This is right up until the moment that fast paced digital tech moves on an you want to take advantage of it (MQA for sake of argument). Then instead of a few hundred quid on a new source you have to dump the entire all in one that cost you 4K or whatever with a miserable second hand value instead.

      This is the reason that I have an amp that doesnt even have a DAC in it because I know that is a component I will upgrade to take advantage of tech improvements. Like wise streamers who built in services availability may change to become unavailable on one hand or be significantly upgraded (higher data rates, better stream formats and thus sound quality) on the other.

      So yes - first time you buy such a system it might be a saving. But after the first upgrade to chase moving tech, you may easily end up massively out of pocket. I think the number of people on the AVR forum who 'upgrade' from a top tier but now old AVR to a recent mid-tier or even low tier because they cant afford/justify the expense a second time around speaks for itself.

      I do however completely agree with the other point of the article that there is little point in immediately spending load on a high end digital source. For under 200 quid you can get really excellent DACs these days for a computer or iPhone and a little bit more for a really great DAC with SPDIF etc. But for an amp and speakers then that is now where you should focus your money.

      For me personally if I only had to consider stereo HiFi, then yes, I could easily spend twice as much on speakers as on the amp (ie 3k+ on speakers), but because I also need to obtain matching AV speakers for a surround system as well, then it for eg means MA silver system price point instead of the MA gold price-point I would have otherwise have considered. That said, this has a lot to do with the excessive market segmentation of speaker manufacturers that mean you struggle to get an acceptable timbre match between a higher tier hifi speaker and a mid/lower tier center and other AV speakers because the tweeter and mid range are often drastically different.
       
      Last edited: May 13, 2018
    6. pressure

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      Good piece.

      Never mind source first, what about room first.

      Always the most bang for buck is getting your room improved.
       
    7. Apollo83

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      By 'all-in-one' here do they just mean an integrated DAC, Pre and power amp? (maybe with a built in streamer)
      If so, how is this any different to the pre-digital integrated amp discussion of 40 years ago?
      Keep them separate and incremental upgrade is possible and single component failure is less expensive.
      I notice some of the concern about the incremental upgrade is allayed by pre-out and digital-in on things like the Naim Uniti atom.
      The only other argument i have heard is designing one box to do many things leads to compromise versus separates. This is sometimes countered by designing one box to do many things means they are designed to work well together whereas combining separates relies on the skill of the purchaser.

      None of this reduces my number of components much for my vinyl and CD playing habit :)
       
    8. gibbsy

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      Interesting article. Being one of the resident old farts, I'm a little retisent to giving them a thumbs up. I well remember and did own a couple of all in one solutions in the 1970s, first came the turntable, radio and amp closely followed by the turntable, radio, cassette and amp. All worked well until one or other component failed and fail they did on a regular basis in the 70s.

      As for the modern one box solutions I suppose the same problem of failure exists and if repeated failures persist it makes changes pretty expensive. At least with the good old seperates the cost can be spread between units and you can still mix and match to suit individual tastes.
       
    9. dannnielll

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      I am of the opinion that the assumption that an all in one will be inferior to a collection of equipment is out of date thinking. There is no special magic sauce , and the big corporations can afford to buy in any level of expertise. It would have had validity in the old days of people designing stuff in garages and the eccentric inventor , not does not survive into the modern era.. teams of designers working together are the way of the present and future... The most complex machines in our world are the large passenger and military aircraft and these are no longer the work of individuals, in fact, the level of complexity is such that consortia of companies co operate in their development.

      There is an interesting collory, an all in one will be more reliable than a system made of many parts from different vendors , but as suggested, repair or replacement when or if it becomes obsolete will be more expensive.
       
      Last edited: May 13, 2018
    10. boabis

      boabis
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      Back in my retail days I sold shedloads of Denon DM micro systems, as the performance vs entry-level separates was arguably better, and then the money could be put towards some decent speakers.

      If you’re careful with which all-in-one you go for, with the right ins and outs, upgrade paths are still open to you.

      Of course you’ll also need to set aside a fair chunk of your budget for interconnects and speaker cable, as that’s the REAL way to unlock performance of course :D
       
    11. Derek S-H

      Derek S-H
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      Good call on the Denon DM mini systems.

      I upgraded a pair of PMC TB2's to TB2i's for my Home Cinema system and gave the TB2's to a friend to go with her Denon system. And at low to mid volumes it sounded very good, not a mismatch at all considering the Denon cost her around £180 and the PMC's were £700 in their day.

      I currently have a mini system in my kitchen - an Arcam Solo Mini - partnered with a pair of PMC DB1i's. Again, a big difference in price but no drop in quality at all and it's so much more convenient to listen to a CD on this compared to firing up the main Hi-Fi system.
       
      Last edited: May 13, 2018
    12. MikeTheBike2010

      MikeTheBike2010
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      Anyone else remember the “all in one” Amstrad systems built very cheaply to look like separates? Sounded terrible but I think it was Alan Sugars idea to provide a solution (carried over to his PC’s) where you only needed one power plug. Of course along came cd so you had to have a separate box. My two penneth on things is that currently a one box solution may be a little like a “smart” tv. It’s all fine as long as the built in apps - Spotify/Tidal etc are in vogue and supported but in my humble these things start to fall off the developers and manufacturers radar after only 18 months or so? As a previous poster has mentioned what do you do if you simply have to have MQA as it becomes de rigeur in future. Interesting times.......
       
    13. dannnielll

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      I'm one of those people who have counciled against getting smarter TVs as the pace of development means that they fallfoff the piste too quickly .. full hd to 4 k to 3d to HDR to ... What ever in a decade
      However the pace of movement in stereo is really much slower.. people are still getting equal enjoyment from 20 to 60 year old technology, .. the CD dates from 1980, the vinyl LP from 1950 , . We still have the same ears and a 100 w amplifier is still as loud as it ever was. The only new things under the sun are high resolution ADC DAC ,and even they are now well established, and high resolution streaming and active speaker technologies..

      MQA , irrespective of its commercial imperatives, is not a technical imperative, as any transmission network is well capable of transmission of audio at any resolution . If 1 GB fibre to the home , capable of transmitting a 2 hour film in 5 seconds is here then that horse has long ago bolted. Storage of the highest resolution and quality audio is for a pittance.
       
    14. MikeTheBike2010

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      Oh I absolutely agree that, technology wise we are at a point where everything we own has the capacity to entertain in “hi def”.

      However, politics and need to drive new sales will continue to result in planned obsolescence for that 5 year old laptop or iPad as software outpaces it, often without justification. Heck my Freesat box is perfectly capable of recieving channel 4 in HD with 5.1 and catch up but it now doesn’t as that channel decided to no longer offer it?
       
    15. boabis

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      CF8D2A84-11B1-4D66-90F1-81C645B59B4A.jpeg
      Absolutely right, a “one-box” system these days could just be a decent amp & speakers. Then add Mojo/Chromecast/whatever as a dongle.

      A real all-in-one needs a slide-out turntable drawer like my parents had in the 80s
       
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