All this talk of pre's and powers, monoblocks, integrateds, active speakers. If the amplifier is the heart of the system, what's the general concensus on the best way to go?
I doubt you'll find a general consensus. Each option has its pros and cons. I've listed a few pros below. The cons of one choice are really just the opposite of the pros of another (so one of the pre/power's pros is that it is easy to cool and one of the active speaker's cons is that it can be hard to get the heat from amps out).
The features in the pre and the power amp can be chosen independently. The elements can also be upgraded separately which may be financially easier than upgrading the whole setup at once. The power supplies will often be separate so the noise which may be present on high power amps' power lines can be isolated from the sensitive pre-amp. If you want (although most people no longer do) you can put the pre on display and hide the power amps away in a cabinet or behind the speakers. The power amps can also be positioned close to the speakers to minimise the resistive losses in the speaker cables. Better fault tolerance - if the pre goes wrong at least the powers still work, and vice versa. Cooling is easier with components well-separated and out in the open air.
Guaranteed electronic compatibility between the pre and the power since both were designed and manufactured by the same team. Should be cheaper than equivalent separates.
Smaller footprint than pre/power.
Active speakers (multi-driver/multi-amp)
No power loss or distortion or performance compromise in high-power crossover components. Power amplifiers' performance can be optimised for each individual driver giving, in principle at least, the very best technical performance. Intermodulation distortion can be reduced since each power amp only handles part of the frequency spectrum. The active speaker arrangement can have the smallest footprint overall, although the speakers can't be tiny. There are a couple of specific cons however. Unless you're into DIY the choice of active speakers is relatively small. And you will need to source a suitable small-signal cross-over system and the choice of those is relatively small too.
I'm sure others can think of more pros and cons. And some may well point out generalisations or maybe just downright errors (I hope not too many) in my list.
Last edited by Valvebloke; 21-05-2012 at 08:21 AM.
For me personally, active 'speakers and a separate pre-amp as the control centre.
With passive 'speakers, I don't see that it matters, the choice is more a practical one. High power integrated amplifiers are generally big and heavy, so pre-power separates or even monoblock power amps are more practical. Mono-blocks can also be positioned closer to the loudspeakers, which can be a tidier solution.
As far as technical performance goes, all are capable of excellent performance, there's no specific technical reason to choose one over the other.
Thanks Valvebloke and Serge you've filled in a few blanks and given me a useful overview
It's worth noting that with digital sources a pre-amplifier with gain is probably not necessary so a passive option, or a digital source with a built-in volume control will suffice.
From my perspective, I found buying a power amp, and having it fed from the pre-out of my Naim Uniti made a huge difference as the amplifier in the Uniti itself just didn't quite do it for me.
I agree with Serge above. It depends on your own circumstances really