Any thoughts about using an integrated amp as a preamp?

I have been thinking about upgrading my system for quite sometime, but I am on a limited budget. I have moderately inefficient speakers (Rogers LS4/a, 88 dB, 8 ohms) with an Arcam Diva A65 (40 watts into 8 ohms) integrated amp. Recently Paul did a video where someone using a 35 watt amp with Dali speakers, and Paul felt upgrading the amp would be a good idea. My choices are upgrading the integrated amp, using the amp as a preamp with a separate power amp, or replacing the integrated amp with separates. The latter is obviously the best choice, but the most expensive. Using the my amp as a preamp would be the most cost effective. I like the features of my Arcam, but would I be taking a big hit sonically using the amp just as a preamp? Any thoughts about this would be appreciated.

Howdy @budgetaudiophile and welcome! Great question, and certainly not an easy one to answer. A number of customers run and have run the Parasound Halo. It’s a really nice piece of kit and can nearly do it all besides a back-flip. :smile: I bring this unit up because it is trying to do a little too much. Shoving all of these features into one box can be troublesome, and no matter what, there will be compromises through out. It’s hard to design a remarkable amp when you also have a phono pre and DAC using the same power supply. A number of customers have upgraded their amp stage from the Halo to the Stellar amps and have always been very pleased. Down the road they usually upgrade the DAC and pre stage to the Stellar Gain Cell and are very pleased.

Upgrading the amp first and using the integrated as the pre for a while will definitely be an upgrade. You’ll be able to feed the LS4s with a lot more oomph! Plenty of upgrades can be done down the road as well.

Owner’s manual doesn’t want to post, but page 5 says you can use the device as a preamp.

i’m using my Sprout100 as a phono preamp temporarily. Works fine to use the analog outs, but it’s just a stopgap until I get the phono stage I ordered. (As the main amp in this application has no phono stage.)

If it’s strictly a cost-saving measure, sure why not. But there are better solutions, as I’m sure you’ve figured out!

To follow on this, I’ve heard that I can use my Sprout100 as a preamp in conjunction with a power amp, like a M700 or Emotiva, is this correct too? I would eventually get a PSA preamp, but until then will my Sprout work?

What is your overall budget for preamplification and amplification? It is difficult to know how to respond without a monetary range. If your budget is, say, $1,000 USD, I would probably suggest buying the best $1,000 power amp – new or used – for your particular speakers and trying your Arcam integrated as a preamp, at least initially. By contrast, if your budget is more like $5,000 USD, it would probably make more sense to buy a $5,000 integrated amp or a pair of separates totaling $5000.

And yes, an integrated amp with a well-designed and implemented preamp section can work quite well in preamp-only mode. I used a Yamaha A-S2000 integrated amp as a preamp feeding my Bryston 4B3 power amp while I searched for a dedicated preamp. The Yammy integrated operating solely as a preamp beat a couple of big-name dedicated pre’s I tried before I demoed a Mark Levinson ML326S preamp, which is what I use now. (All of my preamp demoing took place before PS Audio released the BHK preamp.)

I was trying to keep my overall budget for the upgrade to my system to $2,500 but that may not be realistic. I’ve already spent over $1000 for a DAC, subwoofer, and upgrades to a computer I am using as digital source (using the JRiver software Paul recommended for Windows). Anyway, I don’t think I’d want to pay much more than $600 or so on electronics because otherwise I think the money might be better spent on new speakers. I like my speakers and they are in good condition. A more powerful amp could breath new life into these speakers, but they are about 25 years old. To meet my budget, I would probably be looking used equipment or something like the $400 Emotiva A-300 power amp. (It would be nice if PSAudio offered a power amp in this price range.)

I appreciate everyone’s advice!

If you can stretch your amp budget to $719, you could get two Outlaw Audio Model 2200 monoblocks:

The Outlaw RR2160 receiver looks good at $849, and there is a B-stock model currently for $749:

Note: I have no idea how any of the above would compare to an Emotiva A-300.

Good luck!

The speakers are probably well passed their useful life, you may be flogging a dead horse, and it does seem you’ve done things slightly the wrong way around, should do speakers first, but no matter. I would recommend the Elac Navis active system with the wireless streamer unit, sell the speakers and possibly the DAC and the next stage would be to use them with a good DAC/pre-amp like the PS Audio Gain Cell DAC. The latter really depends if you stream at 16/44 or high resolution. You should be able to stay within budget. Get a demo of the speakers first.
There’s a review and video here that explains:

If you buy an amplifier that’s any good, the speakers are going to be $2,000 or more for something really decent and you’re over budget. Small actives are a good way of saving money and the Elac Navis wireless unit is Roon Ready, Spotify Direct and Airplay.

p.s. Andrew Jones is at the very best speaker designers around. Here he is explaining this unit.


I have heard good things about Outlaw Audio.

Emotiva is a brand Paul McGowan has praised a number of times.

Thanks for the recommendation!

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Thanks for your comments.

The DAC I have is a Schiit Modi Uber, and I think it is pretty good especially considering the price.

I have been thinking about speakers, but it’s hard to know what would be significant upgrade. In the up to $1500 range, there’s everything from the KEF LS50 (though even the much cheaper KEF Q350 may be an upgrade to what I have), the Elac UniFi series, the forthcoming Elac Carina bookshelf and the PS Audio Sprout speakers, the B&W 607, etc. For a number of reason, I’d like to stick with passive speakers.

Yes, I agree it’s usually best to buy speakers first.

Here’s my $0.02.
Get your dream power amp first, keep your Árcam for now, then get this puppy to control those balanced mono blocks.

Nobsound Mini Fully-Balanced/Single-Ended Passive Preamp; Hi-Fi Pre-Amplifier; XLR/RCA Volume Controller for Active Monitor Speakers (Silver)

When you’re money ready for the preamp of your choice, ditch the Arcam.

I’m the heretic that says to leave the speakers last. Too much work in the front end.


If you get speakers that need power and you don’t have power, you’ll be unhappy. You’ll have no idea how they really sound.

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That’s exactly why I left the speakers for last. I had to know the foundation was strong.

Emotiva makes a very good budget amp. You could also buy an integrated amp or an AVR. If you don’t mind moving back a couple of model in the latest AVR codecs, there are some sources where you can buy a high quality AVR at a great price. This is one.

The Carina looks interesting with a ribbon tweeter. The KEF LS50 should be on everyone’s list at this budget, active or passive.

It is a basic rule that only a few will deny - SPEAKERS FIRST. Even Paul, an amp designer, will not deny it. He has said so in his posts. It’s like buying a car. Who goes to a dealership and says “what have you got with a 2.5 litre engine?” Exactly. You chose a car and then make the engine choice to suit your lifestyle. The engine drives the car and the amp drives the speakers, and its just a matter of how fast you want to go and your budget.
Your audio experience will change far more by changing the speakers than from changing anything else, actives will save you money and the Elac actives also have some useful DSP to allow the response to be tuned to the speaker positioning and your taste. Also, wireless saves on cables, money, and can often sound better. Elac uses their own protocol, like Sonos and others, giving a reliable link.
Separate pre amps really are very old fashioned and not many people make them anymore. With a purely digital music source, you should be controlling everything from an app, including volume. Digital volume control has moved on light years and is now very good. You should also be considering streaming DACs with volume control from Bluesound. Superb performance and value for money.
Whatever you do, look at speakers and amplification as a single unit and consider that the more boxes you have, the more expensive, more cables and the chances are less compatibility.

When I first got my speakers, I also got an Onkyo stereo receiver (from a different dealer), but the speakers didn’t sound like they did in the store that sold me the speakers. I returned the Onkyo and bought an Arcam (which I ultimately replaced with an updated Arcam when the first one died) and the sound was much better. So yes, I agree with you and Paul that buying speakers first is generally best.

In this case, I already have speakers. Buying new speakers will definitely have the most impact on the sound, but better amplification would likely improve the sound of my existing speakers. I am planning on upgrading the speakers at some point but I am not sure when.

(Regarding active versus passive, I would want a phono input and ideally three or more analog inputs. I don’t need a DAC or wireless capabilities.)

Anyway, I have a lot to think about and I appreciate everyone’s advice.

Originally I was going to suggest the Rega Elex-R. It’s a fabulous integrated amp with loads of inputs including phono. I just didn’t think the speakers merited it and it’s quite a lot more expensive in the USA than in the UK and would blow the budget for a speaker upgrade.

Spend sometime thinking about what system you want to end up with, even several years down the road. Doing so helps make decisions about your long term upgrade path as your cash flow permits.

For example, if your long term plan is separates, absolutely use your current integrated as a preamp and purchase a power amp now. In a a year or so when more cash is available, make the next upgrade - a dedicated preamp, better speakers or source. Whatever makes sense as the next step in your upgrade path.

Personally, I think it is better to work toward what you really want one step at a time. Eventually, you get exactly what you want and it’s a lot of fun to strive for that along the way. I’ve made many mistakes trying to purchase a complete system all at one time. When my budget was limited, I ended up with a bunch of components that I really didn’t love, lost interest and sold it all at a loss.

Take the measured approach and you’ll be happier in the long run.