Another Hi-Fi News ‘outstanding product’ from DS Audio: the “reference grade” DS-W2 phono cartridge

Replacing the inaugural DS-W1, DS Audio’s DS-W2 optical phono cartridge features a raft of trickle-down technology from the brand’s flagship Master 1 model. Ken Kessler puts it to the test for Hi-Fi News.

“When I first heard about DS Audio’s optical cartridges, I wrote them off as ‘dreamware’ unlikely to end up chez Kessler,” writes Ken in his inimitable style. “As it turns out, I have, to my surprise and delight, managed to review just about all of them, watching the series evolve while using the Master 1 as my reference.”

DS-W2 optical phono cartridge

Fellow sceptic, the magazine’s editor Paul Miller, seems to have made a similar discovery. Writes Kessler, “I pondered with editor PM his discovery that ‘the response of the cartridge is free of the multitude of small HF resonances that afflict all MM and MC types’. Furthermore, with a DS Audio pick-up in one turntable and any others in another turntable, with the gain turned up full, A/B switching reveals that even the finest combinations of phono stages and MM or MC cartridges exhibit hum. The DSes? Nada. Silence: the blackest of backgrounds.”

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. Light from an LED shines on a photocell which generates an electric current, the output being modulated by the moving cantilever interrupting the light beam, which directly reflects the movement of the style through the vinyl groove.

DS-W2 phono stage / equalizer_front view

The DS-W2 features a number of improvements over the inaugural DS-W1, all gleaned from the subsequent flagship Master 1. “Refinements to the DS-W2’s inner workings include better optimizing the LED wavelength / photocell sensitivity, reducing suspension compliance with a tie-wire design, and reducing the moving mass by shortening the path length of the LED / cantilever / photocell mechanism.”

“Now, the brand is delivering nearly all the performance of its flagship at half the price,” notes Kessler. “This is a reference-grade cartridge, and a blessed relief for those hankering after a Master 1, at double the price.”

Read Ken Kessler’s review in full in the January 2019 issue of Hi-Fi News.

Discover more at and find your nearest dealer via UK distributor Sound Fowndations.