The vast majority of amps sold in the separates audio market are integrated designs. This means that all the functions that the amp performs are contained in a single box; this includes the connection of source equipment and selection of a particular input, volume control and the actual amplification of the input signal into something that can drive your speakers. This isn’t a bad thing as it’s compact, only needing one mains input and is flexible to use. So why would you want to split this neat little package up into separate pre and power amplifiers in the first place?
The first reason comes down to sound quality. Although we are used to seeing the functions of an amplifier in one box, the functions an integrated amp is asked to do can actually contradict each other. Half of the box has to be devoted to the preamp section. Collating and controlling the inputs the amp receives is done via delicate and generally rather low voltage circuitry. This contrasts with the much higher voltages and current requirements of the actual amplifier section. To make this even more complicated, the preamp is a combination of activity at the back of the amp and then at the front with this circuitry having to work around the power amplifier section.
With a power amplifier, the internals can be laid out in the best way possible for one task alone, taking a single input and amplifying it for your speakers. The power supply can be specified for this one task, there is no need to try and lay the amplifier out to help the preamp work effectively and this means that signal paths can be as short as possible and components placed where they need to be. In the shape of our power amps, the 651W and our flagship 851W, we have made two compromise free amplifiers that deliver fantastic performance.
The other reason why we have created these two amplifiers is because our current range of products is more flexible than ever before when it comes to making use of them. We do of course offer the time honoured means of connecting them. The 851E preamp is as compromise free as the 851W makes for a partnership that we feel is the finest combination we have ever built, but did you know you can actually connect the 851W directly to every other member of the 8 Series family? As well as the 851A which has pre-outs for this task, both the 851C CD Player and 851D DAC are fully functioning preamps that can be connected to the 851W for a very high quality system. With their selection of digital inputs, they are able to support multiple sources and provide the best quality signal possible directly to the 851W. In the same way, the 651W can be connected to a 651A or one of our AV receivers but you can also connect it straight to our network streamer- the Stream Magic 6, or our upsampling DAC- the DacMagic Plus. Both of these combinations will offer precision and power together.
So when is a power amplifier something you might want to consider instead of an integrated and what should you be looking for? The most beneficial point is if you are considering building a new system. If you can only see yourself making use of a single source like a Stream Magic 6 or DacMagic Plus, you can cut a preamp out of your system and go straight for the purity and efficiency of a power amp. Alternatively, if you have an existing amp with a pre-out, you can add a power amplifier for a considerable performance boost. Both our power amplifiers offer substantial power outputs but if you have really demanding speakers, you might want to consider two 851W’s as they can be run in bridged mono mode meaning one amp powers the left channel and the other powers the right. This results in 500 watts per channel which should handle most tasks!
The shape of our systems is changing to adapt to the requirements of modern hi-fi enthusiasts but this doesn’t mean that these changes and the convenience they bring need to come at the expense of sound quality. We can now make use of the optimum sound quality that power amplifiers offer without necessarily increasing the number of boxes or the complexity of your setup. Making things simpler and better at the same time is something we always strive to do.