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Discrete

Today’s WFTD is a special request, as many are. I include the actual request today because I thought it was funny. “Would you please define the term “discrete” as it refers to amplifiers (not extramarital activities)?”

In electronics and specifically pro audio equipment the term discrete is used to express that individual components are used as opposed to integrated circuit chips. The advent of the integrated circuit has provided increasingly inexpensive and efficient ways to build common circuits. Rather than having to lay out multiple “discrete” components on a board it is possible to build all of that functionality in to one chip, which is less expensive, runs cooler, and uses less power (see any modern electronic device). In audio, however, composite components like this are often considered to be sonically inferior to their discrete counterparts. Whether this is really true is debatable, but it is certain that when using an off-the-shelf component as the basis for a mic preamp or a power amp 90% of the design work is already done and the builder is locked in to whatever that is. In a discrete design, however, the designer can choose each component carefully and create a personalized design of interactions that may produce a superior sound to a generic integrated amp circuit. As such, discrete designs are considered “better” and that word is thrown around in marketing as one way to differentiate a device from others that may use integrated designs.

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