I thought today I’d touch on the term Palpability for a couple of reasons: I use it to describe certain aspects of what we hear in our stereo systems and more pertinent – I have just been exposed to a greater degree of it than ever before.
I was going to title this post Eating Crow but decided against it since my conclusions about “you know what” aren’t fully formed. To some of my newer readers this may sound like a mystery so I’ll explain. I have, as of late, been reexamining the notion that preamps can only get in the way of the music and that anything one could do to remove the preamp would be a good thing. I’ll give you a little history of this notion.
In the 1970’s we made our first preamp to enable our customers who owned our phono stage to select inputs and turn the volume up and down. We made it because people demanded we do. Every effort we made at placing another gain stage in the path of the phono preamplifier inevitably sounded worse – even a lowly volume control didn’t help matters, but at least it sounded better than a gain stage. For your reference, a preamplifier has three elements to it: an input selector, a volume control and an output gain stage.
Because we couldn’t bring ourselves to produce a product we wouldn’t ourselves use, the first preamp we ever built had a front panel switch that allowed you to bypass the internal gain stage. It may have been a first, I don’t know, but that little box sounded pretty good especially when you switched out the gain stage. Why didn’t the gain stage sound better than no gain stage at all? For obvious reasons: everything you put in the path of the music has an audible impact on the sound – and mostly it isn’t good.
Move forward multiple decades to the release of the PerfectWave DAC – with its non-intrusive volume control and high current output stage – that stage the same as any well designed preamplifier. When used above a volume setting of 50 there’s no loss of resolution whatsoever, so this DAC feeding a power amplifier directly and without a preamplifier in its path seemed like a no-brainer. In fact, every test on every preamp at our disposal proved this to be correct. And this is the reason I/we have been so adamant that “there’s no preamp like no preamp”.
That is until I bought a new preamp with a tube in it.
But I digress from palpability and what it means. A sound, an image, an instrument reproduced in your listening environment that seems so real you could almost reach out and touch it – is one that I would say qualifies as “palpable”. It is almost real, with a defined space around the instrument or the voice and it occupies its own territory – lives in a unique place in the soundstage – and has the quality of a three dimensional object.
Indeed, three dimensional works very well to describe palpable – yet “three dimensional” is another much used term we’ll cover later in its own right.
Over the last few days I have heard an excellent three dimensional soundstage gain palpability – I know know other way to explain it.
This entire subject of preamps, DACS, tubes and touchy-feely audio has many ramifications and I’ve only but scratched the surface.
More to follow.