Why an integrated amp? And what have we been up to for the past 24 months?

Integrated amps “don’t get no respect” — or they don’t get the respect they deserve.  There are many reasons for this, beginning with the fact that HiFi is, for many, a hobby unto itself along with a way to enjoy beautiful music. The journey is part of the enjoyment, and separate components allow for experimentation, “tuning” and custom rigs.

But individual components have quite a few drawbacks as well.  Separate pre-amps and amps, first of all, are far more costly for exactly the same circuitry and performance.  Its little known that the chassis is usually the single costliest part of any component.  Add lots of extra jacks, power cords, etc. and the extra costs associated with separate amps and preamps continues to rise.  Now, let’s move on to those various wires.  Assuming that wires can only make things worse, and the best wires simply are truly transparent, an integrated amp brings two great benefits:  1) there are no interconnects, and b) you save, potentially, $100s or even $1000s by not buying them. I will stay out of the subjective mine field that is costly interconnects.

Finally, for use in real living environments, as opposed to dedicated music rooms/HiFi museums, an integrated amp is smaller, simpler, and likely much more acceptable to a non-audiophile spouse — and to this end we will concentrate on a package that is sized and styled to complement – or at least fit in well – with a traditional design aesthetic.  For the record, in my living room I’m on the side of said, theoretical wives.  A smaller, simpler component probably fits in much better, so long as it sounds absolutely spectacular.  And it can.

There are many more advantages, along with the one big disadvantage:  you cant mix and match exactly what you need, like monoblocks, or a higher powered amp to drive inefficient speakers in a large room.  On the down-side, you must make do with the single size, or maybe two power levels that a manufacturer, like Sonogy, produces.  Yet this is less of an issue than imagined. Consider that power goes up exponentially with volume level and you will realize that a doubling of volume requires not twice the power, but ten times the power; say 40W to 400W all other things held equal. Yep its true; so that 40W amp, if well designed, might do more than you imagine.  Sadly, few are really all that well designed.

Sonogy are out to change all that, and initial feedback from reviewers., bloggers, dealers, and audiophiles is very, very good. And we are subjecting modestly priced equipment to demanding environments, like $35,000 speaker systems: sink or swim little product.

Ugly yet beautiful!  Interior of prototype preamp, used to prove-in most of the integrated amp technologies in a simple form-factor to work on. Click to expand.

Another beauty of doing an integrated amp is that it had made us reconsider, from first principles in many cases, nearly every component in the HiFi chain.  . . . Or most of them anyway, since we are still in the early stages of tackling the DAC. DACs however, are not YET always part of an integrated amp, although it is becoming a great feature (again, if done well).  Along our journey Sonogy have therefore either designed from scratch or optimized all of the following:

  1. Preamp stage
  2. Power amp stage
  3. RIAA / Phono amplifier (MC and MM, switchable)
  4. Headphone Amplifier
  5. Logic and control (yes Virginia, there will be remote control….)
  6. Optimization of all the associated power supplies, which, i would argue, matter more than the circuitry itself.  Just to make a point, in this integrated amp, there will be FOUR power supplies.

We plan to cover each of these in its own blog entry.   The interesting implication is that Sonogy has completed new next-generation designs not only for an integrated amp, but for an entire series of components that can be built, in the words of Mercedes-Benz,  “to a standard not to a price”  – and yet for the performance we will deliver we expect that price to be extraordinarily attractive.

Watch this blog for more, as we have the opportunity and time to complete an overview of each development effort, possibly with pictures of pre- prototypes and design notes that the the tech geeks among us might appreciate 🙂




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