DS Audio’s Flagship Optical Phono System, the DS MASTER 1 (Review Part 1 of 3)





A 3-part introduction and review of Japanese audiocompany/ maverick/innovator DS Audio by Dato Danon Han. Stand by for Parts 2 & 3 for the ‘Big Bang’ surprise…


Part One



The D and S of DS Audio


The DS stands for Digital Stream of Digital Stream Corporation, Japan that specializes in Laser Optic Research and Development for some 30 years. They brought to the world the optical disc evaluation system in 1988, the sole supplier of the standard optics for CD, DVD, Blu-ray, HD DVD, and CHDVD industries. Their success continued as a co-developer with Microsoft Corporation for the Optical Mouse concept in 1999. Since then, Digital Stream Corporation expanded their research and development field into medical and robotics


In 2008, Digital Stream Corporation was recognized as one of the leading companies in advanced field of research and development, and manufacturer of state of the art laser optic devices. They were awarded by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry of Japan as one of the ‘300 Advanced Small-Medium Manufacturers in Japan. 


In addition, their contributions and recognition got them featured in a 30-minute exclusive documentary titled J-TECH at NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in April, 2017. 


Realizing the Old Optical Phono Cartridge



Before DS Audio, I admit that I have not heard of Optical Phono Cartridge and was surprised when I was told it was conceived and commercialized not by them but by more than one giant corporation in Japan; Toshiba, Sharp, Trio, Kenwood, etc, more than 40 years ago. 




These corporations gave up on Optical Phono Cartridge in the ’70s because the entertainment media have started to shift from analogue to digital (Compact Disc). In addition, technology available at that time could not solve the ‘heat’ (problem) emanated from the light source, which was a miniaturized but standard ‘light bulb’, needed at the Optical Phono Cartridge. That heat from the ‘light bulb’ could “easily warmed the damper rubber that hold the cantilever in place, softening it over time and changing the compliance characteristics”. Thus, the performance of those old Optical Phono Cartridge would shift and deteriorate over a few hours of play. 






However, Tetsuaki Aoyagi (Aki-San, the Head and CEO of DS Audio) confessed to me that after an experience with one of those old Optical Phono Cartridge and even with its inherent weaknesses, he was deeply impressed with its audible performance. Then and there, in his mind, he already conceptualized a modern Optical Phono Cartridge, without the old inherent weaknesses…with ‘LED’ light source to replace the ‘light bulb’. He returned home, in his hand that old Optical Phono Cartridge and in his mind, a proposal to his father, the head of the Digital Stream Corporation.



Both father and son were so convinced of its potential, and confidence in the corporation’s wealth of resources in optical technologies and manufacture, that they embarked on a journey to develop the modern Optical Phono Cartridge and its accompanying equalizer system. After a successful working prototype, the Digital Stream Corporation started DS Audio and appointed Tetsuaki Aoyagi as its CEO.



That story of the first and single model DS001 Optical Phono Cartridge System from a newly established DS Audio (2013) was five years ago. Nowadays, DS Audio has a catalogue of four models of Optical Phono Cartridge Systems (price range of US$2,500 to US$22,000) and other analogue audio related products. In addition, DS Audio’s business have expanded and they started DS Export to represent a number of audio ‘hidden gems’ products from Japan for worldwide distribution. 



Its Optical, NOT Digital Phono Cartridge!



The Optical Phono Cartridge is similar with any Moving Magnet (MM) or Moving Coil (MC) Phono Cartridge; all of them have a cantilever with a stylus tip to read the music grooves on a vinyl record. However, their difference is at the end of that cantilever of an MM or MC cartridge (whether magnet or a coil). As the stylus (and the cantilever) traverses the music grooves on the vinyl record, their movements generate vibrations against the electro-magnetic force of the opposing magnet inside the cartridge, generating an electrical signal for the phono amplifier or phono stage. Therefore, there is always magnetic resistance applied against the vibrations or movements by the stylus and cantilever of these MM or MC cartridge. 



Whereas the Optical Phono Cartridge, at near the end of its cantilever is affixed a miniaturized screen or ‘shielding plate’ to act as a blind or ‘block’ against the light from the LED (light source) towards the two receiving Photo Cells (a miniaturized Solar Panel which convert light to electricity/electrical signal). Here, the same movements by the stylus and cantilever, together with the ‘shielding plate’ will ‘block’ differing amount of light/brightness to be captured by the two Photo Cells (1 x left and 1 x right), thus generate the differing electricity/electrical signal for the accompanying equalizer system. There is no digital conversion involved in the Optical Phono cartridge. 



The same movements by the stylus and cantilever of the Optical Phono Cartridge will not suffer similar magnetic resistance as in MM or MC cartridge. 


In addition, the MM or MC cartridge requires to move the load of a magnet or a coil and core, whereas the Optical Phono cartridge only require to move a light shielding plate of only 100 microns in thickness and of almost insignificant weight. 


Ultimately, the agility and ease of microscopic movements and vibrations of the stylus and cantilever of the Optical Phono cartridge is far freer in comparison, due to its extreme low moving mass, than any current MM or MC cartridge of whatsoever current designs.


End of Part One.


Stay tuned for Part Two coming next Friday…