Separates versus integrated

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Gentlemen – system consists of an LP12, Ittok, Valhalla, and Cirkus bearing with an Adikt cartridge, a Marantz CD75 Mk2 CD player, an Aura 80 SE-x amplifier and Sony SS A1L speakers (they’re Sony versions of the LS3/5a, not a bad speaker, easy to listen to over long periods but lacking a bit at the frequency extremes!). They’re sat on Atacama SE stands and connected with Supra speaker cable and a Kimber PBJ interconnect from CD to amplifier.

My musical tastes take in jazz, especially jazz guitar, classical guitar, acoustic music and the odd bit of rock or R&B.

The Aura is starting to show its age now and is getting a little temperamental, so I think it’s time to think about changing it. Now I have given myself a budget of £700 but here’s the kicker – I prefer playing my guitars to listening to others so I don’t listen to my system for as long or as often as I used to. As I only need two inputs I’m somewhat put off by integrated amplifiers that have a multitude of inputs (the Aura has six; I’ve only ever used two), because if I don’t need it then why have it! 

I know the speakers and CD player are also getting on a bit but if it’s broke it’ll stay (it helps if your hearing’s going then the speakers lack of something in the frequency range matters little).

I intend to stay within the budget range and I think my choices are limited to either a Creek or Pro-ject preamp, a separate phono stage, Creek again or the Cambridge Audio, but the puzzle seems to be the power amplifier. I’ve seen plenty of possibilities in the classifieds (such as Arcam, Musical Fidelity, NAD etc) and on the internet, but my concern with the Creek (passive) route is: would a phono stage have sufficient output through such a device to be able to meet the demands of the power amplifier input? 

So I’d be obliged if you could give me your thoughts on the above. I realise the amplifier will be second-hand; that’s not a problem but I’d prefer something like the Arcam as that could be serviced by the manufacturer.

Why are you going for three different second-hand amps (phono stage, pre and power), instead of a single decent integrated? Your budget could get you a good several-year-old Sugden A21 S2, which would be about as good a sound as it's possible to get at the price. Similarly a preowned LFD Zero LE Mk3 would sound magnificent.

Both of these would give a beautifully fast and incisive sound, that's a fine partner to your Sondek. Personally I'd go straight for either of these instead of faffing around with budget pre-powers. However, the very recently released PS Audio Sprout at under £700 is sonically outstanding and even has Bluetooth connectivity and a very fine MM input too.

Meanwhile, please note that many phono stages don’t have enough gain to drive power amplifiers direct, so beware of this. You would need x1000 or 60dB for MM, for example, and most manage x100-x200 at most.

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