In 2013 DS Audio pioneered the world’s only optical phono cartridge, the DS-W1, attracting rave reviews from the worldwide audiophile press. A further-advanced flagship model, the Master 1, followed in 2016. Now, the company is launching a new entry level design: the DS 002, drawing on innovations from the Master 1 while offering a more affordable way in to optical cartridge technology.
Four years ago, DS Audio pioneered the world’s only optical phono cartridge, initially intended for its native Japanese market. However, the response was overwhelming in terms of both reviews and sales that the company was spurred to adopt worldwide distribution. The first of their models to launch in the UK was the DS-W1 in 2015, and its superlative sound rapidly attracted a devout following.
Two years of intense research and development later, the company expanded its range with the new flagship Master 1 featuring a number of significant advances over the original model. In addition to a new Micro-ridge stylus, sapphire cantilever and ultra duralumin chassis, the Master 1’s enhanced optical-mechanical system and wire-suspended cantilever enabled it to perform effortlessly with a much wider range of tonearms, offering a distinct advantage over the DS-W1’s need to be paired with a low-mass tonearm for peak performance.
The new DS 002 retains this same wider compatibility as the Master 1, as well as the basis of the Master 1’s technology – with its enhanced optical-mechanical system and wire-suspended cantilever, also delivering an output of 500mV and more with 25dB of separation. But to achieve its more affordable price point, the DS 002 sports an aluminium chassis, aluminium cantilever and classic Shibata stylus.
It also comes with a more compact and lightweight phono stage/equalizer, in which a newly-updated power supply features ten 33,000μF capacitors delivering effortless power for superlative sound quality. For outstanding signal-to-noise performance, the phono stage/equalizer uses a special shielding that both isolates internal ‘noise’ from the power supply while also blocking external RF and other environmental interference. The shield is 1.5mm thick and covers the entire transformer.
On the rear panel is a pair of RCA outputs with a single cut-off below 30Hz by 6dB/oct and a second RCA pair offering the same but with an additional cut off below 50Hz by 6dB/oct – along with a ground socket and a pair of inputs.
Why go optical?
Optical cartridges aren’t actually new. Many audiophiles will remember them from the 1970s, when their performance was hailed as a radical step forwards. But at the time, optical technology had several shortcomings which, combined with the dawn of the digital age, led to their disappearance from the market. Fast forward 40 years and now massive improvements in optical technology have allowed DS Audio to completely redesign the optical cartridge to deliver its full potential.
In contrast to moving-magnet (MM) and moving-coil (MC) cartridges that work on the principle of electromagnetic induction, an optical cartridge uses a beam of light to read stylus/cantilever movement. The advantage of this system is twofold: it makes the cartridge much lighter and more agile, while also completely eliminating the frictional force caused by magnets and coils and the resulting influence on stylus/cantilever movement.
A further key advantage lies in the cartridge’s output. In conventional MM and MC designs, the output signal depends on the velocity at which a tiny magnet or coil moves in an electromagnetic field. At lower frequencies the magnet or coil moves slowly so the output signal is small, while at higher frequencies it moves more quickly and so the output signal is disproportionately large – hence the need for equalization. In contrast, in an optical cartridge the output signal depends on the distance that the styles moves, so there are no disparities between high and low frequencies. Therefore no equalization is required (other than RIAA curve correction) and low frequency reproduction is much enhanced, since an optical cartridge can theoretically detect signals as low as 1Hz.
The resulting sound has delicacy, subtlety, natural warmth and a deep richness. Most important, it is stunningly real, capturing all of the miniscule yet critical details that make a musical performance come to life.