Back in April of 2016, I reviewed the DS Audio DS-W1 Optical Phono Cartridge and its matching preamp/equalizer. The preamp/equalizer I reviewed was the first to have the RIAA equalization. This cartridge and preamp, when used from the RIAA output, has been my reference ever sense. There were a couple of things that had concerned a few audiophiles about the DS-W1. The first was the bass. This was fixed by changing the sub-bass output on the preamp/equalizer to an RIAA output. I was lucky enough to be the first reviewer to get one of these, and I can promise you this fixed the bass problem. The second complaint by a few was that it did not have as big a soundstage as the very best moving coils or for that matter the strain gauge I was using. As I talked about in my review of the DS-W1, I was able to get a most satisfying soundstage with a little tweaking of the ART Tuning Cones in my room. Still, one of the major design goals of the Master 1 was to increase the channel separation and to get a more room feeling soundstage.
After many months of waiting, I finally have the DS Audio Master 1 Optical Cartridge in to listen too. While the price of the whole system is out of my price range at this time, I have high hopes that just maybe the new cartridge with my DS-W1 preamp/equalizer would be magical. It took a while for one to be available for review but now I have the entire Master-1 system.
Starting in 2017, DS Audio has three optical cartridges and three preamp/equalizers that all work with each other. This makes it possible to move up in the line in steps or to find the combination that is right for your ears and pocketbook. The DS Master1is the flagship of the DS Audio line.
The DS Master 1 Optical Phono Cartridge has some significant improvements over the DS-W1. They have positioned the newly designed micro-optic sensor unit closer to the stylus, resulting in a much shorter optical path length. It also has a new wire-suspended cantilever. These improvements were made to allow the DS Master1 in order to create a significant improvement in channel separation.
The have also changed the shape of the stylus and the material of the cantilever. The DS Master 1 uses a micro-ridge stylus that has a minimum-curvature radius and is mounted to a sapphire cantilever. The body of the cartridge is made of what they call “Ultra” duralumin to ensure the highest rigidity possible. I should mention that the change from a Shibata stylus on the DS-W1 to a micro-ridge stylus means that getting the geometry and VTA right becomes even more critical. It took me a little while to get the VTA just right, but it was well worth the time.
I have had the Master 1 Cartridge in my system for four days now, and I can tell you if there goal was to create an incredible soundstage they have succeeded and I can say that just listening to the Master 1 Cartridge with my DS-W1 preamp/equalizer. Stay tuned for a review of the differ combinations of these four components.