DS Audio Grand Master EX Cartridge

DS Audio Grand Master EX Cartridge

hfnoutstandingHow to improve the ‘final’ optical pick-up? By becoming the Grand Master with a single-piece diamond cantilever and stylus. We take the GM Extreme for a drive…

It’s too simple to presume, simply because just one change separates a brand new mannequin from an earlier one, that assessing it is going to be a breeze. DS Audio’s £18,995 Grand Master Extreme optical cartridge differs from its stablemate solely in its cantilever/stylus meeting. Aside from a distinct physique color for simpler identification, I wrongly imagined {that a} side-by-side shoot-out with the sooner Grand Master [HFN Feb ’21] would suffice, and that a few LPs’ value of listening would reveal all. Silly me.

Actually, ‘meeting’ is the mistaken phrase as a result of the entire level of the Grand Master Extreme – pun meant – is that the ‘Micro-Ridge’ stylus and diamond cantilever are fashioned as a single piece, manufactured by Orbray (previously Namiki Seimitsu). This is a brand new development within the high-end, with Audio-Technica and others providing comparable options to the standard stylus-glued-in-place development that has been the only real methodology for many years. Its objective is to minimise even additional any spurious vibrations between the LP and the pick-up monitoring it. If this looks as if a moderately picayune element about which to concern one’s design crew, keep in mind that the exercise in an LP’s groove is at a very microscopic degree.


The strong alloy packaging and wrap-around stylus guard guarantee your valuable buy is secure till you mount it into an arm!

Living The Dream

For these not accustomed to DS Audio cartridges, they’re the realisation of a dream first manifested in Toshiba, Kenwood and different optical cartridges of a half-century in the past. The distinction is that within the 2020s we have now LEDs that free cartridge designers from the issues of warmth and weight, thus enabling the creation of a real optical cartridge with out the burden of a ‘scorching’ lamp. Those authentic bulbs generated sufficient warmth to heat the damping rubber of a cartridge, softening it over time and altering its compliance. While the makers of early optical cartridges tried varied options, the expertise was deserted earlier than suitably tiny LEDs have been available, not least as a result of digital was on the horizon. As DS Audio states, nevertheless, the optical precept is identical.

Lighting Up

How it departs from the dozen or so different kinds of cartridge – moving-magnet, moving-coil, moving-iron, moving-flux, and many others (however not counting electret, pressure gauge or different exceptions) – is in eliminating coils and magnets of their entirety. The two most widely-accepted varieties (MM and MC) generate electrical alerts through manipulation of a magnetic discipline, a present being induced when a magnet or coil strikes. By the identical token, these designs are essentially extra prone to stray electrical noise – in comparison with optical transducers, they are a swarm of bumblebees.


Micrograph reveals the laser-trimmed diamond cantilever with right-angled tip lower right into a ‘Micro-Ridge’ profile

Of course, an optical cartridge nonetheless has to hint the wiggles within the groove, however, within the phrases of DS Audio, ‘it detects music alerts by capturing shadow adjustments (brightness adjustments) utilizing LEDs and photocells’. Here the cantilever is shifting neither coils nor magnets however a ‘gentle shading plate’, a sq. of beryllium foil with a thickness of solely 100 microns, in response to the stylus’s movement.

In DS Audio’s cartridges, this foil plate vibrates in entrance of the infrared LED, modulating the sunshine degree that falls on the photocells behind and, thus, the voltage flowing throughout them. The firm’s top-flight pick-ups use separate LEDs, shading plates and photocells for the left and proper channels, enhancing each output, S/N ratio and left/proper stereo separation.

Because DS Audio’s photo-electric conversion is delicate solely to the amplitude of the motion of the stylus, in contrast to velocity-sensitive MCs/MMs whose output will increase with each groove tour and frequency, the Grand Master EX requires solely a comparatively delicate HF enhance to grasp a ‘flat’ response with all RIAA pre-equalised LPs. So whereas DS Audio’s varied optical pick-ups will be mixed-and-matched with its vary of PSU/eq packing containers, none are appropriate with conventional phono preamps (and vice-versa).

Counting The Cost

Now we arrive at what should characterize the present state-of-the-art for optical cartridges. The Grand Master Extreme will be bought in a package deal with the two-box Grand Master Equaliser for £55,075, a saving of round £5000, because the equaliser is offered individually for £42,200. The Grand Master cartridge stays within the catalogue at £12,550, and present homeowners eager to improve to the EX mannequin can profit from a 20% low cost.


Machined, bead-blasted and anodised casework hosts the over-sized Grand Master PSU [bottom] and energiser/equaliser [top]. They are chunkier than many high-end energy amps!

Here’s the place you can too lower your expenses, if it issues at this degree. It has been my expertise with six completely different DS Audio optical cartridges and 4 energisers that the latter, whereas providing audible variations, contribute much less to the efficiency than do the cartridges. I even tried the Grand Master Extreme with the entry-level DS-E1 energiser [HFN May ’19] at £1270 and you may nonetheless hear the way it bettered the Grand Master.

sqnote Ahead Of The Curve

This brings us to the one query this evaluate begs: does the Grand Master Extreme enhance on the Grand Master? So vivid have been the features, regardless of almost similar measurements and my preliminary disbelief that one thing as seemingly minor as a single-piece stylus/cantilever may up the efficiency over a glued-in stylus, that I spent disproportionately extra time assessing the Extreme than I had initially anticipated to allocate to a mere change in diamond becoming. Or the elimination thereof.

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November 17, 2023 at 12:20AM

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