DS Audio DS-W1 “Nightrider” Optical Cartridge

Let There Be Light

Equipment report
Musical Surroundings DS-W1
DS Audio DS-W1 “Nightrider” Optical Cartridge

In addition to the Nightrider’s extremely low-moving mass, DS Audio claims that the cartridge offers a superior mechanical/electrical interface. Conventional moving-coil or moving-magnet cartridges are based on a “velocity-proportional” system, wherein the strength of the output signal depends on how fast the stylus moves. The Nightrider, on the other hand, uses an “amplitude-proportional” system, wherein the strength of the output signal depends on how far the stylus moves.

According to DS Audio, this is significant because velocity-proportional devices move faster at higher frequencies, thus making the voltage of those frequencies disproportionately strong. Although the RIAA circuits in phonostages are intended to compensate for this accentuation of the treble (and relative reduction of the “slower-moving” bass), and loading mc cartridges down can also reduce this treble emphasis, it is a fact that mc’s, in particular, are relatively “bright” by nature.

Thanks to its amplitude-proportional technology, the Nightrider’s electrical output is not frequency dependent. Thus, it does not “pre-emphasize” the treble (or reduce the bass), making RIAA equalization relatively simple. (The Nightrider’s EQ/phonostage box uses passive RIAA, dual-mono gain circuitry with highest-quality film capacitors, and an oversized power supply with Schottky-Barrier diodes for fast recovery times. The entire circuit is housed in a rigid, mechanically grounded chassis with spiked feet.)

So…how does all this nifty technology sound?

In a word, “good.” In several words, “much better than the ELP.” In several more words, “much better than any optical cartridge/record player I’ve yet heard.” In sum, “much better than I expected.”

Though I’d heard the Nightrider sound quite good at various trade shows, I wasn’t sure precisely what I expected from it in my own system. My guess was something along the lines of a less sterile, more dynamic ELP, which, in addition to its problem with worn or dirty grooves, had a particularly bland sound that, to my ear, seemed to greatly reduce the audibility of differences in engineering and mastering among my beloved RCAs, Mercuries, and Deccas.

But…I was wrong. The Nightrider was not at all bland or ELP-like. Indeed, it was quite rich and beautiful sounding.