If you’re a science-fiction fan at all (I am), then you’ll be wise to my Battlestar Galactica nod in the headline, because both visually, and metaphorically it’s pretty close to the mark on all fronts when describing the DS Master 1 optical cartridge because this technology will enslave traditional analog cartridge design, and manufacture.
Soon we’ll all be under the unyeilding, robotic dominance of these cyborg-cartridge devils.
I kid, I kid!
More about this optical-cartridge future shock later. This room was also kitted-out by Quintessence Audio Ltd., only instead of Audio Research amplification, they went with the equally delicious Aesthetix in their O’Hare 1 System, which is another brand that I’ve been rubbing my hands together like an evil villain to spend time with. The Quintessence crew really threw down heavy by starting the analog chain with the eye-catching, and to me, beautiful, AMG Viella V12 turntable, and a prototype version of their new 12J2 tonearm ($17,500 USD), and the aforementioned Master 1 optical cartridge ($20,000) passing along the signal to an Aesthetix Rhea Eclipse phono stage ($10,000), Aesthetix Janus Eclipse pre-amplifier ($13,000 USD), and Aesthetix Atlas Mono Eclipse amplifiers ($25,000 USD/pair), out to a deuce of Sonus Faber Lilium loudspeakers ($70,000 USD/pair).
If you’re a tube-loving fellow like myself, then the sheer number of tubes in this system will get your heart racing just a bit. I’m not going to count all of them for you, but considering that between the Rhea, and the Janus there’s 22 valves, you should get the picture. Proper ventilation with this system is probably a good idea.
The sound was staggering in its smoothness, and instruments, and voices were thrown wide open across the entire frequency range, with incredibly powerful dynamic swings in the music handled with a real ease, the word “aloof” kept coming to mind. Like the system was just toying with you, and wanted the volume turned over to around noon on the dial to show how it could get serious. A lot of boxes were being ticked-off my list with this set-up, because it was just such a powerful, deep presentation that had its way with the room almost regardless of where you sat. Sure there was an amazing sweet spot, but even way off -axis, there was some great dispersion going on, definitely not a beamy system in my books, and one that really delivered on bass, and tone; two hallmarks of great analog in my books.
There’s not a lot of information out there at the moment on the Master 1, and what is out there is very tech-centric, and more than slightly hazy in my opinion. But from what I can glean online, it is a completely analog translation of the stylus movement. This is the way I’m understanding it works: The classic mechanical movement of the stylus/cantilever reacting to the LP groove is interpreted via laser beam into patterns of light, which are then converted into the electrical signal we’re all familiar with from traditional moving magnet, or moving coil cartridge designs. This technology has been around for decades, and DS Audio is basically using their laser optical expertise to give it a refresh. What I heard, I really liked, and I’m definitely looking forward to hearing this cartridge/tonearm/turntable combination again for further critical listening. Stay tuned.