After many years and lots of money wasted i've come to the conclusion that neither setup is better and neither is cheaper/more expensive. I know obvious but i'm a student on a budget.
I started out with a boss ds-1 when i was 12. Realised it was gonna take me forever to save 50 pounds a time for a pedal and bought a zoom 1010 (ha ha sooo funny now). I guess i was happy with that for my age and the time.
I then realised it sounded like 5 cats in a bag being kicked
and went for the rack option. Being as i only ever haad cheap solid state amps,( i had a marshall valvestate) so i thought of getting a tube pre-amp/multi-effects processor. To solve all my problems!!
And again I was happy for a while, except the tone was still thin, and although i'm comfortable with menu's patching routing and other midi related stuff...the experience didn't feel right.
So by the time I got to college I finally realised I needed a real setup. And that the money I had spent on the digitech 2120 and controller and rack, I could've bought a very nice amp and some pedals.
So i sell the digitech and valvestate and begin looking at tube amps and stomp boxes. After months of demo'ing amps, the only kind I find that actually can do everything i'm asking for is mesa boogie's. (bareing in mind i actually am playing in a dream theater cover band, and jazz combo's, as well as classic rock stuff). Then I look at the price tag of $1700 for the cheapest one that i want.
But I bit the bullet and used my student overdraft to pay for some of it. And that was heaven then, finally a sound that was real and like what i'd been hearing form all the greats. Now the pedals. I went to the US for the summer last year and picked up some boss stompers very cheaply (compared to the UK) on ebay. So I had the basic chorus and delay, shelled out a bit more on a japan made ds-1. A bit later I got a whammy reissue (WH4) and a bad horise. And i'm fairly sure (touch wood) that this is gonna be a keeper...except its just not enough.
As one dude mentioned for the dream theater stuff I do need some patching ability for certain songs, lik e set delay times and pitch harmonising in and out etc. So i'm begining to dream up an extension to my basic rig. This envolves hooking up a G-Major (is taht the cheaper one, well the cheaper one anyway), a small switcher for that.
The other problem with going the pedals route is that it gets addictive cause they sound so good. And there is something satisfying about stomping on a chunky pedal and hearing a new sound! And eventually you'll realise that you want some nice boutiue pedals. So now i'm badly after a fulltone fulldrive, ultimate octave and choralflanger, a carl martin compressor is on the list too. Ha hah ah
So as you can see, I finally found what works for me. But in fact if I had been honest and realistic about it I would have realised it a lot sooner. It doesn't matter whether you go for pedals or a rack, but there is no skimping on quality. If you dont pay the big bucks you aren't gonna here that classic quality tone, rack or pedals.
So now i'm looking at completeing my simple yet very versatile system. COmprising of around 8 actual pedals/stompers and a g-major for the patching. This way I can take it all if i want/need to, OR and this is the big factor I can tailor the pedal board to suit the gig or situation thus cutting down on space time and potential thievery!!! Sometimes I'll just need the mesa the g-major and a wah wah for the DT band, however my experimental funk/jazz/rock/whatever band needs a more expressive setup.
You get the picture. Resign yourself to spending a lot of money on high quality stuff, rack and pedals quickly. Else i'm fairly sure you'll end up spending a lot more in the long run trying to achieve a solution that appears cheaper for the short term.
man i wrote a lote for a simple Q&A