DS Audio Master1 Optical Cartridge and Master1 Equalizer

A New Benchmark

Equipment report
DS Audio Master1 Optical Cartridge and Master1 Equalizer

Another singular instance of the Master1’s resolving power is audible on Witches’ Brew—the uncanny way it describes acoustic space, mic setups, and mixing decisions. It is a fact that the recordings in Kingsway Hall weren’t made on the auditorium’s relatively shallow stage but on the orchestra-level floor, with instrumentalists either facing towards or with their backs to the stage. Through the Master1, I swear that, for the first and only time, I could detect (via echo and delay) the shallowness of Kingsway’s resounding stage behind the orchestra and the space between it and the instrumentalists. These are little things, I grant you, but for an RCA hound like me they are special.

To the same point, on the ORG reissue of Jon Hendricks’ Fast Livin’ Blues [ORG 121]—a typical Columbia mess of multiple mics, gain-riding, and artificial reverb—I could not only tell, instantly, that Pony Poindexter was playing a soprano sax, but I could also hear exactly when the engineers drastically reduced the gain of his sax’s mic, making it sound as if he’d suddenly turned his back to the combo and started playing toward the rear wall. 

Although it may appear as if the Master1 is a monster of low-level resolution, it is not—or not exactly. Yes, it catches everything engraved in a groove almost as well as the nonpareil Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement does, but it never etches sibilants or razor-sharpens transients or turns timbre hot and specular the way so many peakier coils do. Thanks to its mechanical silence and tonal neutrality, everything is reproduced evenly—spoken in the same soft, clear, very slightly reedy, remarkably expressive voice.

The Master1 cartridge and Master1 EQ are simply outstanding products, setting new benchmarks for vinyl playback in several areas (mechanical silence, neutral midband voicing, and midrange-to-low-bass realism). Even where they aren’t setting standards, they are now competitive with the finest coils and magnets. Perhaps the best part of all is DS Audio products still have room to grow: in trackability, in soundstaging, in upper midrange and treble flatness, in overall warmth. Remember, the optical cartridge with internal LED and photo sensors is a relatively new thing. That the folks at DS Audio are taking the perfection of this idea seriously is shown by the remarkable sonic progress they’ve made from the W1 Night Rider to the DS-002 to the Master1. I know this much: If I were in the market for a new phono cartridge and I had the money, the Master1 system would be at the very top of my short list of must-hears. Go listen for yourself, and discover not just a new cartridge but a new phonographic paradigm.

Specs & Pricing

Master1 Optical Cartridge
Signal output: Photo-electric conversion
Channel separation: >25db (1kHz)
Output signal level: >50mV
Cantilever: Sapphire
Body material: Ultra duralumin
Tracking force: 1.6–1.8 grams (1.7 grams recommended)
Stylus: Microridge
Weight: 8.1g
Price: $7500

Master1 Equalizer
Output voltage: 500mV (1kHz)
Output impedance: RCA 120 ohms; XLR 600 ohms
Preamp input impedance: >10k ohms
Input: 1x RCA
Outputs: 3x RCA, 3x XLR
Dimensions: 43.6cm x 16.1cm x 39.5cm
Weight: 24.0 kg
Price: $15,000

4-50-40 Kamitsuruma-Honcho
Minamiku, Sagamihara, Kanagawa
252-0318 Japan

(510) 547-5006

JV’s Reference System
Loudspeakers: MBL 101 X-treme, Bǿrresen 05, Magico M3, Voxativ 9.87, Avantgarde Zero 1, MartinLogan CLX, Magnepan 1.7 and 30.7
Subwoofers: JL Audio Gotham (pair), Magico QSub 15 (pair)
Linestage preamps: MBL 6010 D, Soulution 725, Constellation Audio Altair II, Siltech SAGA System C1, Air Tight ATE-2001 Reference
Phonostage preamps: Soulution 755, Clearaudio Absolute Phono, Walker Proscenium V, Constellation Audio Perseus
Power amplifiers: MBL 9008 A, Soulution 711, Constellation Audio Hercules II Stereo, Air Tight 3211, Air Tight ATM-2001, Zanden Audio Systems Model 9600, Siltech SAGA System V1/P1, Odyssey Audio Stratos, Voxativ Integrated 805 
Analog source: Clearaudio Master Innovation, Acoustic Signature Invictus Jr./T-9000, Walker Audio Proscenium Black Diamond Mk V, TW Acustic Black Knight/TW Raven 10.5, AMG Viella 12
Tape deck: United Home Audio Ultimate 4 OPS 
Phono cartridges: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement, Air Tight Opus 1, Ortofon MC Anna, Ortofon MC A90
Digital source: MSB Reference DAC, Berkeley Alpha DAC 2, 
Cable and interconnect: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power cords: Crystal Cable Ultimate Dream, Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Ansuz Acoustics Diamond
Power conditioner: AudioQuest Niagara 5000 (two), Synergistic Research Galileo UEF, Technical Brain
Support systems: Critical Mass Systems MAXXUM and QXK equipment racks and amp stands
Room treatments: Stein Music H2 Harmonizer system, Synergistic Research UEF Acoustic Panels/Atmosphere XL4/UEF Acoustic Dot system, Synergistic Research ART system, Shakti Hallographs (6), Zanden Acoustic panels, A/V Room Services Metu acoustic panels and traps, ASC Tube Traps
Accessories: Symposium Isis and Ultra equipment platforms, Symposium Rollerblocks and Fat Padz, Walker Prologue Reference equipment and amp stands, Walker Valid Points and Resonance Control discs, Clearaudio Double Matrix Professional Sonic record cleaner, Synergistic Research RED Quantum fuses, HiFi-Tuning silver/gold fuses