The Turntable Game-Changer: DS Audio’s Optical Cartridge

Close-up on DS Audio optical phono cartridge

A True ‘Paradigm Shift’ for the World of Analog Music 

In our last blog post, we wrote about how moving magnet and moving coil turntable cartridges work. While these have been the standard since the dawn of vinyl records and turntables, they’ve never been a perfect system. 

Any audiophile knows that both moving magnet (MM) and moving coil (MC) cartridges offer their own trade-offs. Generally, MM cartridges are heavier, so they pick up less details. Meanwhile, MC cartridges feature lower electrical output, requiring heavy lifting from the phono preamp and leading to excess noise.  

But those have always been the only options—until DS Audio released the game-changing, first-ever optical phono cartridge in 2015. Now in its third generation, the optical phono cartridge is by far the most significant advancement we’ve seen in the turntable industry in decades. 

So how does DS Audio’s optical cartridge work—and what makes it so much better? Let’s dive in. 

SEE ALSO: DS Audio: Creating the Future of Analog Music 

What Is an Optical Phono Cartridge? 

Instead of using coils and magnets to detect vinyl grooves and generate electricity, DS Audio’s optical phono cartridges utilize a beam of light to read vibrations and create electrical output. As the stylus moves through a record’s grooves, vibrations are transferred to a wand that creates shadow movements on an optical detector screen. These shadows are then converted into electrical signals, which are directed to the equalizer. This small, lightweight optical system is able to move with more precision than MM and MC cartridges while reducing friction.

Why Is It Better? 

The ideal phono cartridge would be lightweight with a high electrical output. And the optical cartridge offers just that. 

The internal shading plate is made of beryllium, weighing just ten percent of the smallest magnet and coil systems. And the output level is an impressive 70 millivolts. Moving coil cartridges? They only produce 0.5 millivolts! This means your phono preamp doesn’t need to add as much gain and, therefore, will feature less noise that distorts audio quality. 

What Does It Sound Like? 

With an optical phono cartridge in your turntable system, you’ll hear much more bass than you’ve ever heard before. The optical cartridge lowers the noise floor, allowing you to hear more detail. 

Our Atlanta and Marietta, GA, customers have said that listening to an optical cartridge sounds like listening to a master tape. You’ll hear detailed passages and dynamics you’ve never noticed in familiar songs—it may even startle you! A DS Audio optical cartridge and preamp is the best upgrade you can make for your system. In fact, a cheaper setup with these features will most likely sound better than a more expensive one without them! 

Does This Make My Turntable ‘Digital’? 

Because the optical cartridge uses an LED light, many die-hard analog fans are skeptical that this makes your turntable system ‘digital.’ In reality, this is still an old-school system, just with a new technology that improved the cartridge. In fact, the first concept of the optical cartridge was invented in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But now that we have LED lighting technologies, the design has been perfected and is now available to any audio enthusiast. 

Hear the DS Audio Optical Cartridge for Yourself! 

Visit us at HiFi Buys in Atlanta to try out and hear the DS Audio phono cartridge in person. Try out your favorite records, compare models, and hear the magic with your own ears. Have any questions? Contact us here! 

One Firefly

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