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Palmer DREI – Test Report by fuzz.se

FUZZ is testing the hand-made tube amplifier Palmer Drei – a very reasonably priced, clever little guitar top with innovative tube technology.

It’s already been twenty years since Palmer began its dominance as a market leader in speaker simulation, but in recent years it is the investment in affordable guitar amplifiers and custom made speaker boxes that has led consumers and the media to pay special attention to the German manufacturer. Drei is a fun little guitar top with a fifties look and German labeling.

Take another look at the image; Drei means “three” in German, and the attentive viewer will note that the three large knobs at the front of the speaker are called “Endstufen”. For the benefit of all Germanophobes, this translates as the “end tube” of an amplifier.

Now what does this mean? Well, after years of playing on various tube amplifiers, Palmer’s lead designer, Markus Torvinen, has discovered a unique and revolutionary technical solution – Drei can play with one, two or three different end tubes simultaneously with the same output transformer! The output is therefore five plus five plus five watts. As for me, I do not possess sufficient technical knowledge to figure out how Torvinen did it, and when I asked qualified electricians, they too looked at me suspiciously and dismissed my question as nonsense. However, Palmer Drei is no fantasy, it really exists, and for a week now the amplifier has played sweet music in my living room.

Palmer Drei is an amplifier that is easy to understand despite all the controls having German names, such as the input jack or “Eingang”, the guitar signal is amplified using the knobs, “Normal” and “Höher” – meaning a lower and higher tone register. The tone control is the “Klang”, the three master volumes are called “Endstufen” and then there’s the standby control or “Bereit” and the “Strom” or on/off button.

The rear side is just as simple, three speaker outputs for four, eight and sixteen ohms, and a smart service hatch with hinges that make it easy to access the three power amplifiers.

I can connect the Palmer Drei to a 2 x 12″ speaker box with old Celestion Blue AlNiCo, and I’m using four different guitars with different types of microphone. This particular amplifier is equipped with 6V6, EL84 and 6L6, and I start off by testing the three amplifier tubes separately in order to hear how traditional a sound it can produce.

EL84, whose character I am most familiar with, produces five very loud watts and the tone is very close to that of a classic Vox. 6V6 produces a different sound character, much closer to the fifties’ Tweed Deluxe or Gibson’s GA-series, and 6L6 has a stable base, like the classic Bassman.

After just a few minutes, I can see that Drei meets all of my requirements. The preamplifier is of the highest quality, and I quickly discover that I may easily and rapidly switch different guitars between Normal and Höher in order to find the guitar’s tonality. More Normal tone is required for single coil and an increase in Höher to play a top register if you have humbuckers, or you are using extremely overcoiled microphones with your guitar.

I want a stable base tone with soft but well defined oversteering, and I start off with the EL84 tube turned up to three quarters. When Normal and Höher are well balanced it sounds like my old Vox, but with a modern and fresh element. Turn up the 6V6 tube and a different tone creeps into an already good sound and in addition, something I haven’t heard before: more harmonics. It sounds terrific. Turn up the last tube, 6L6, and now a strong base creeps into the sound image together with a third type of harmonic. The result is brilliant. The thirds, quarters, fifths and octaves, ring out. I actually can’t recall having heard anything like it before, except when I have been playing on three different and very good amplifiers.

I connect a twelve string guitar and, within less than thirty seconds, I produce a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on any Tom Petty record. Strings and harmonics are ringing out, all tones are crystal clear and I am able to sneak in preamp distortion, or turn up the volume of the output stage to produce the clean, compressed distortion, and choose which tube should dominate. I often choose a 6V6 or 6L6 as a dominant tube and it is somewhat surprising for me but that may be due to the novelty factor – I have after all played almost exclusively on Vox with EL84 and EL34 in the output stage for the last 25 years.

I have tried Stratocaster and Les Paul and it sounds just as good. It is equally quick and easy to find the desired sound. Drei is definitely a studio amplifier, 110 percent to my taste, and the output of five plus five plus five watts goes a long way on stage, since you are not allowed to play louder than 100 decibels. Harder guitar music? You bet – No problem! I connect a couple of different distortion boxes and I am quickly able to produce examples of all the cool guitar sounds from 1968 to the present. The broad dynamic range may possibly be a hard nut to crack when dubbing guitars in several layers, but on the other hand it is possible to change the harmonics with a simple adjustment in order to produce different kinds of ringing harmonies on each side.

FINAL ASSESSMENT

Palmer Drei sounds good, better, the best – no, it’s actually pretty fantastic and at least worth three times more than the 9,995 SEK cost of the amplifier. I am trying my hardest to find something less positive, but it’s difficult! The tubes are easily changed, since the amplifier has self-bias; it is small, neat and easily transported. The output impedance suits all kinds of speaker boxes. Nothing could persuade me to give Drei anything but the highest marks! Studio owners and audio junkie guitarists have to check out Palmer Drei – go to your local music dealer and demand that they order you one for testing!

FACTS
Palmer Drei
• Tube amplifiers of five + five + five watts with three separate amplifier end tubes
• end tube options: 6V6, EL84, EL34, 6L6, KT77, KT90.
• Outputs for 4 ohm, 8 ohm and 16 ohm.
• Price: 1100 €

All information about the product can be found at:
http://www.palmer-germany.com/mi/en/DREI-Triple-Single-Ended-Amplifier-PDREI.htm

Source: http://fuzz.se, Sweden, 2012

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