Is there any advantage to having separates or are integrated units just as good?
Ha ha, what a question. I can give you my thoughts, they will be different from others, but they may help you sort through some of this.
Before I got into tube amps, you would have never convinced me to spend more than $500 on an amp. I grew up on my Phase Linear amp and Lascala speakers. Then I got my TFM 15cbs and CF-3 speakers. Carver amps and Klipsch speakers, what could possibly be better.
My first foray into tube amps was the Bottle Heads. To be honest with you, they looked cool as hell, but the sound was very disappointing. I hooked these up to my Hereseys and they sounded like mud. So I bought some Cain & Cain Abbeys and they sounded better. Better interconnects and voila better sound.
Notice, I have yet to break the $500 barrier on amps. I like high effinciency ( damn I can't spell this morning).
What changed my mind was when my buddy, Matt, took me to Deja Vu Audio in McLean VA. There I listened to Audio Note, Synthesis, Deja Vu and a few other amps and speaker combos. I got to listen to EL 84, 2A3 and 300b tube amps.
I really like the Ongaku amp Vu had, unfortunately I didn't have the $125,000 he wanted for that amp. lol.
The next amp I liked was the Meishu. It was a 300b tube integrated amp. It was also $ 7,000. As much as I liked the sound, I still couldn't justify spending that much on an amp. Although, I still think about getting one. The next amp I liked was the Synthesis 2A3 mono block amp, it was $5,000. I could justify that. So I started saving my money.
In the mean time I saw a Sophia Electric baby amp that was recommended to me and I bought that. It was a big improvement over the Bottleheads and it sounded great on my KG4 speakers. Finally I was hearing that sound I was looking for and liked. Plus, it gave me something to play with while I was focused on my bigger goal.
About a year later I found out a local, now new buddy Digital Pete, was building Audio Kit amps. We talked about all of the Audio Note Kit amps and it became apparent to me I wanted the Interstage Mono Blocks, with a separate preamp and phono stage. This was exactly what I wanted but it was in the $ 8 k range.
What I decided to do was to have Pete build me an Audio Note Kit 1, it's an integrated amp, with all of the signature upgrades to see if I liked the sound before I committed to a big dollar build
Here is the underside of the amp. I used AN Copper Foil caps, Black Gate caps and Tantelum resistors. Those upgrades added $600 to the price of the amps bringing the cost to just under $3K. As you can see an integrated amp doesn't mean it has to be cheap. I used it as an opportunity to see if I liked the sound before i spent more money building something I may not necessarily like. It is also very complex, you are adding all of the function of a preamp in the same chassis as an amp. I know Pete bitched about building this, but the sound was extraordinary.
Being a fan of high efficiency speakers like Klipsch, you may want to explore SET amps over push pull. I would highly encourage you to find a local source to go and listen to some set ups before you buy something.
As you can see, I did end up breaking the $500 threshold for an amp. I'm not spending money just to spend money, there is a reason. And ..uh... yes the Interstage Mono Blocks are worth the extra money, but that is another conversation for another day.
Incidently, I also look to see where my money ends up. I hate buying things where my money ends up in China. With Audio Notes, the chassis, circuit boards and transformers are manufactured in Canada. The chips and other electronics come from England and the product is assembled in the USA. Very little of this money ends up in China, which means I am supporting local jobs. I buy New Balance shoes and Texas Jeans for that same reason.