“So different – and so special”: Roy Gregory reviews DS Audio’s DS-W1 optical cartridge for Hi-Fi Plus

While electro-magnetic pick-up technology continues to dominate the vinyl scene, there have always been alternatives or variations on the theme, suggests Roy Gregory, writing in the June 2016 issue of Hi-Fi Plus.

“It’s not too hard to understand why,” he surmises, “gives the all too audible flaws inherent in, and challenges presented by, both moving-magnet and moving-coil designs. Throw in the essential mechanical crudity of the process and it’s hardly surprising that designers and end-users alike crave a more sophisticated and elegant solution.”

The solution under review is Japanese DS Audio’s DS-W1 optical cartridge.

“This cartridge is definitely swimming against the analogue stream,” says Gregory. He means it in a good way, and is quick to point out that it could be easy to misjudge aspects of its performance, since the DS-W1 is “seriously picky” when it comes to tonearms and “super-sensitive” to tracking force and arm height.

DS Audio DS-W1 optical phono cartridge
DS Audio DS-W1 optical phono cartridge

But don’t be deterred, he urges. “Despite being one of the most exacting audio devices I’ve ever set up, the DS-W1 is truly worth the effort.”

Once up and running, Gregory notes that it’s tempting to try and equate the DS-W1’s performance to other cartridges, but concludes that would be a mistake. “To understand just how good the DS-W1 really is you need to also appreciate that it’s fundamentally different, both in operation and in presentation.”

Unlike previous optical systems that used lasers to read record grooves, DS Audio’s design is a pure analogue contact system that uses a conventional Shibata stylus and cantilever. However, in contrast to moving-magnet and moving-coil 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 key advantage of this system is that it completely eliminates the electromagnetic frictional force that is a ‘fact of life’ in all moving-magnet and moving-coil designs.

“Never have I heard a cartridge that can capture instrumental textures or vocal nuance, the skin of a drum and the air inside it, or the rasp of a bow on strings as naturally and effortlessly as this. This isn’t the spot-lit presentation and bouncy bass of a typical high-end moving-coil; it is something altogether more delicate, more subtle and more real,” concludes Gregory.

Find out more about the DS-W1 at www.ds-audio-w.biz

For details of local dealers contact DS Audio’s UK distributor, Sound Fowndations