In 2013, Japan’s DS Audio pioneered the world’s only current optical phono cartridge, exclusively for the Japanese market. Now the company is set to deliver its latest model to UK audiophiles, thanks to a new agreement with Berkshire-based high-fi distributor, Sound Fowndations.
Audiophiles of a certain age may recall a brief appearance of ‘the legendary optical cartridge’ in Japan back in the 1960s. Initially developed to great acclaim and lauded for its high fidelity, sadly this early attempt at an optical cartridge disappeared as quickly as it arrived. Having emerged ‘before its time’, the requisite precision mechanisms and sophisticated optics did not exist yet, making the optical cartridge too difficult to manufacture.
Reinventing the legend
In 2013, DS Audio used the latest state-of-art laser optical technology to introduce its first optical cartridge, the DS-001, which again was released only in its native Japan. The response was overwhelming in terms of both reviews and sales, spurring the company to further develop the design into the DS-W1, which is now moving towards worldwide distribution.
Unlike previous ‘non-contact’ systems which used lasers to read record grooves, DS Audio’s design is a pure analogue contact system that uses a conventional stylus and cantilever.
However, in contrast to moving-magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) cartridges, which work on the principle of electromagnetic induction, the DS-W1 uses an optical system to convert stylus/cantilever movements into audio signals. The advantage of this system is that it completely eliminates the electromagnetic frictional force that is a ‘fact of life’ in all MM and MC designs.
Faraday’s law of induction governs the design and operation of both MM and MC cartridges. As a result, both designs are subject to Lenz’s law. In audio terms, Lenz’s law states that the movement of the coil and/or magnet will produce a frictional force that affects the movement of the cantilever and hence the stylus, such that exact stylus vibration can never be reproduced by an MM or MC cartridge system.
DS Audio’s optical system, on the other hand, has absolutely no effect on the vibration of the stylus/cantilever system.
The DS-W1, which uses a boron cantilever and Shibata stylus, is housed in a machined aluminium body and weighs just 6.5 grams.
This unique cartridge comes with its own special phono equalizer/power supply, so doesn’t require a phonostage, and can be installed on almost any tonearm.