The Grand Master optical cartridge is not only DS Audio’s new flagship, but its completely new design also sees in the company’s ‘third generation’ of what is proving to be a peerless approach to phono cartridge engineering. Ken Kessler finds his music delivered “with such conviction that I was getting too emotional to be critical.”
When you pioneer something truly ground-breaking, you might be forgiven for sitting back and enjoying the resulting accolades and sales for a while. Especially if, some 7 years later, you’re still unique in the marketplace and no other company has yet been able to match you. But that’s not the way of Japanese DS Audio, who seem tireless in their quest to keep pushing their own technologies above and beyond.
In 2013 the company unveiled the world’s only optical phono cartridge, which it has since followed with a small but impressive collection of further advanced models. Now, the new Grand Master design pushes the exceptional potential of optical technology for analogue sound quality even further. Its re-designed optical system has independent LEDs and photo-detectors for the left and right channels resulting in a 75% increase in output voltage, from 40mV to 70mV. Despite this dramatic increase, the excellent signal to noise ratio that DS Audio optical cartridges are renowned for has not been compromised. In fact, it has been further upgraded in comparison with earlier models, resulting in an even lower noise floor and greater musical clarity.
“DS Audio’s cartridges are so ghostly quiet compared to MCs that there could be culture shock when first hearing one,” writes Kessler in the February issue of Hi-Fi News. The first impression of the Grand Master is of an “extended, unconfined bass. There’s a whole layer of schmutz removed from the bottom. Clean bass? Is it even a thing, compared to clean treble? Whatever standard one applies to the lowest octaves, this cartridge delivers weight to support all that comes above, which is a glorious, open, fast sound.”
“’Open’ is the crucial adjective, because this cartridge is so clean, so transparent that listening into the music is as easily accomplished as with ½-track reel-to-reel tapes from the 1950s.”
“The Grand Master is so truly supreme in resolution, transparency, spatial recreation, neutrality and any other parameter I can name that it’s impossible for me not to say what I usually try to avoid: ‘This may be the best cartridge I’ve ever heard’.”