“DS Audio enjoyed instant impact since its birth five years ago for having the sheer guts to release a new (or forgotten) cartridge technology in the post-vinyl era,” writes Ken Kessler in the June issue of Hi-Fi News. Having been charmed by the company’s original DS-W1 model, what will Kessler make of the new entry-level ‘baby’ DS 002?
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.
“The parent company – Digital Stream Corporation – is a big player in other fields, such as optical mice, so we are not dealing with a tweaky one-man band,” notes Kessler.
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.
So impressed was the audio world by the technology and, more important, the resulting sound quality, that DS Audio’s range has grown quickly to three models. Following the original DS-W1 (a Hi-Fi Plus Product of the Year in 2016) was the further advanced flagship Master 1, which is now joined by the new entry-level DS 002. Interestingly, the latter features more trickle-down technology from the Master 1 than from the DS-W1.
Listening to Johnny Winter’s ‘The Progressive Blues Experiment’, “the DS 002’s sonic cleanliness meant that nothing unsavoury was being added to the playback. It is pristine… but without sounding sterile. The ringing and jangling elements [of the bottleneck guitar] enjoy a clarity and twang that adds to the presence while diminishing the artifice of it being a recording, not reality.”
With the 45rpm double LP of Bob Dylan’s ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ in mono, “Every vocal tick and musical lick was as natural as I’ve ever heard it.”
Moving on to Mobile Fidelity’s ‘One-Step Process’ edition of Santana’s ‘Abraxas’, “we witness the panoply of the DS 002’s talents, and the results are spectacular… Dazzling details, the faultless interplay of the Latin rhythms that define Santana’s oeuvre, powerful percussion – all exist on this LP and the DS 002 revealed the lot.”
Having previously been “charmed” by the original DS-W1, Kessler is “staggered to find its ‘budget’ sibling is even more enchanting.” “This is clean, yet sweet, precise in imaging and grand in scale. It’s another triumph, for sure.”
Read Ken Kessler’s full review in the June 2017 issue of Hi-Fi News.
Find your nearest DS Audio dealer via UK distributor Sound Fowndations.