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






The final part of a 3-part introduction and review of Japanese audio company/ maverick/innovator DS Audio by Dato Danon Han.



Part Three


Why Not Just Called It Honesty?!


So far the DS Master1 has proven to be an ‘unabashedly’ transparent (revealing or honest?) analogue source. I do appreciate and needed that attribute, especially for a complicated and congested, recording. 


One of my favourite tracks to illustrate this point is ‘Brazil’ (A. Barroso) from T. Misago and his Tokyo Cuban Boys’ ‘Excitin’ Latin!’ (Toshiba Records PRO-USE Series/Direct to Disc LF-95013), where it starts with a very loud whistle before the band comes into ‘heavy party play’. It could easily have turned into a mess of loud and irritating sounds if given a lesser analogue source


The DS Master1 was able to present the whistle blow with its intended gradual and continuing increase in intensity, loudness and the accompanying layering and differentiation of textures, energy and dynamism. I found most lesser analogue source combinations would present that whistle blow as compartmentalized, and in different stages of intensity, loudness, textures, energy and dynamism. In other words, they lack the ability to retrieve or present the connecting details between the stages of the whistle blow. 


That track also involved some serious energetic trumpeting and the DS Master1 presented them with clear,differing and layered ‘highs’ (frequencies) that soared with equal differing dynamism and energy. I would add that the presentation of the trumpeting also allowed me to experience the stamina and breath of the trumpeters. 



This recording could easily have turned into a mess of sounds. Yet the DS Master1 was able to retrieve and present the details of differentiation, distinction, intimacy and surreality of musical instrumentation and musicianship.


To illustrate further, I did a comparison between the first pressing of Albert Wolff conducted The Paris Conservatoire Orchestra at the ‘Overtures in Hi-Fi’ (Decca Stereophonic SXL 2008) with its later pressings and reissues. Here, the first and early pressings captured the distinctiveness and differentiation of musicians and their respective musical instruments, and their whereabouts at different sections of the orchestra. That was one of the main reasons for its higher audio fidelity and higher prices on the used market, comparatively. 


Therefore, it was imperative that a much more revealing, transparent and neutral (accumulatively, honest) analogue source be used to track and convert those grooves into music. 



The DS Master1 managed those grooves very well to present the above mentioned distinctiveness, differentiation, and separation. 


I would add that the soundstage was ‘rock stable’ and ‘rock solidly’ founded, with musicians checked and locked into their respective positions in the orchestra, as was supposed to be (which we took for granted from great digital sources). Most lesser analogue sources failed to maintain the above, thus resulting in the experience of a ‘moving soundstage and, with the musicians moving about their positions’. Some audiophiles believe that that experience to be part of the recording or condition of the vinyl or what analogue is supposed to be.



Humanly Honest or Recording-ly Honest?!


I realized that the DS Master1 brought me to some interesting and uncharted territories of transparency due to its ‘unheard of silence’. Some may refer to that phenomenon as ‘artificial’. 


It was my belief as an audiophile that the human voice was most easily recognizable for any ‘unnaturalness’. Whenever available, I would almost always compare the digital with the analogue version of the same album. Even though that same album was digitally recorded, I found myself almost always prefering the analogue version. Maybe I prefer the colour of the analogue, the details of a well bodied mid range of the analogue, the dimensional low frequencies, the naturalness of the higher frequencies, the dimensional detailing, etc (not my exhaustive list), which ultimately spell higher resolution.



I may have spun too often, Rob Wasserman ‘Duets’ (MCA-42131) for Jennifer Warnes’ “Ballad of The Runaway Horse”. However, the familiarity would give me clear appreciation of the subject matter.


I have to agree that the DS Master1 did bring out more details to Ms. Warnes’ voice. The breathing in her singing, the pause in between the words, the sibilances, etc became more discernible. 



In terms of tonality, the DS Master1 did not and would not add smoothness, refinement, sweetness and bloom to Ms. Warnes’ recorded voice. To experience an honest and transparent presentation of the recorded voice and artistry of Ms. Warnes was already a revelation. Here, I found the lesser coloration allowed me to appreciate the clean artistry of the vocalist, such as her breathing techniques (among others). On that point, I would play another favourite album of mine, a Singaporean diva, (Ms.) Kit Chan (New Century Workshop NCKCLP 001). Here, I found the DS Master1’s honest presentation of her voice and recording was like a reintroduction to (Ms.) Kit Chan without her make up and listening to her native voice (without the sweeteners). In other words, I got to know better her voice and her artistry in that recording.


To me, colorations, fun and enjoyable maybe, should not be in the ultra end of audio designs. The fact remains that coloration could not be totally eliminated. Higher resolution and transparency should be the ultimate goal of any ultra end audio design. 



The Future of Analogue Music?!


After spending some months with the DS Master1, I realized that I have written plenty of notes about its presentation and performance. Reading those notes, I also realized that it sounded different compared to the other phono stages at hand. 


In short, I found myself hearing some more resolution and music from my highly spun vinyl records but at an ‘honest’ tonality that required some (not a lot) adjustment. The adjustment was the loss of certain musical bloom, presence, weight and ‘life’ compared to my current reference, the Kronos Complete Analogue Solution. 


Finally, in my notes I have written down that DS Audio has adopted an innovative approach to the Ultimate Analogue Music and an executor of Future of Analogue Music.


The DS MASTER1 is ‘unabashedly’ awarded Analogue Fellowship’s “ULTIMATE ANALOGUE SOURCE of 2019″.