Discrete vs. chips

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Discrete vs. chips

For as long as I have been working in this industry there has been a debate about discrete analog builds versus chips—building amplifier channels using individually packaged transistors, resistors, and capacitors as opposed to those same components on a single piece of silicon.

Our very first product, the phono preamplifier, had a pair of chips for amplifiers: 709 op amps and they sounded great. Our next generation of that product moved from chip op amps to discrete versions and they sounded a lot better.

As in everything engineering life's a series of tradeoffs. In a single piece of silicon op amp the designers have the advantage of wicked exacting tolerances, no PCB traces, no solder joints, no packages, temperature tracking to die for, etc.  In the discrete version you lose all of that but in its place you gain the advantage of tailoring your circuit to a specific task.

That ability to tailor exactly what you want to get the sound and performance you're hoping for is traditionally why we go to all the trouble of building amplification stages with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of individual parts as opposed to a small handful of chips performing the same function (but not getting the same results).

In these short posts I don't have the space to go over all the myriad of possible variations that determine which way we go, but I thought it might be interesting to answer one of the most basic of questions.

Which is better for the audio performance we strive for? Discrete or chips?

An easy answer is this. If you could design the analog amplification circuit you wanted, using discrete components, and then transfer that exact circuit to a chip, the chip version would win every time.

Given the expense of designing, building, and producing your own analog chip—hundreds of thousands of dollars after your million dollar team has designed it—that's not a practical reality for high-end audio companies of just about any size.

So, in the end, discrete is better for what we do because it allows us to do what we need to do for best sound.

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Paul McGowan

Founder & CEO

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