Experience with DS Audio Optical Cartridge Systems

I am considering moving over to optical cartridge system.  Wondering if any of y'all have had experiences you can share from using the system.


I've been thinking myself to buy the SoundSmith Strain gauge system. Can I ask why you are thinking of the DS system? And I've not heard either.

I listened to it after someone with an ear I trust said it’s the best analog he’s ever heard.  I intend to go back and A/B it, but before doing so, I’m hoping to hear about other experiences.  

jperry, that is possibly the shortest thread ever on Audiogon.  One response!  Which probably indicates that not many have had the experience of an optical cartridge, back in 2015 or even up to now.  Rumor (and I hasten to emphasize "rumor") had it that at least their first model was prone to failures.  The idea has survived so far, therefore some must be quite happy with it.

I agree.  That's why I am wondering about actual (and recent) experience.  The DS Audio technology has advanced, and I don't take my friend's ear lightly.

thinking of bringing in a Master and appropriate EQ to evaluate it….like the OP , several people who i trust greatly have heard it, think highly of recent progress made in sonics, yet also understand the nuances in playback chain sonics, system synergy and tradeoffs. Ditto for the Strain G.

Enjoy the journey and the music.


A few years past I attended a Hi Fi Enthusiasts Event where the reveal of the day was a DS Audio Optical Cartridge.

To give a brief description of the day, there were approx' 20 Attendees,  whom most of have a decent vinyl experience behind them, and a few are known for the Phonostage Designs in the UK and beyond.  This event when arranged prior to Covid Times, has been attended by many who are producing designs, as the appraisals received are seen as very valuable, as a result of the experience of the attendees in the room.

I know the DS Audio Optical Model in use was a very expensive Cartridge and in use with the DS Audio Bespoke Phonostage.

The system downstream of the DS Audio Cartridge was made up of devices from Tonearm to Speakers with a accumulative value of approx' £150 000.

The technology was the talking point following the lengthy demonstration of the DS Audio Cartridge, from my recollections, the Cartridge did not deliver with the impression that it had to be placed on a must have list, I do not recall any attendee expressing that they had been noticeably impressed either.

A different Cartridge, which I believed was a High Output MC, was used following the DS Optical and the attendees were seemingly given this Cartridge the nod as the preferred Cartridge for the Vinyl Session to be continued with.

Later in the day a Rebuilt Ortofon MC was used in the System, with a unknown SUT, the rebuilt Ortofon got lots of appraisal and was referred to as the best used during the day.

There was even a period when a selection of attendees were keen to learn how to achieve the same rebuild as the Ortofon had received. I would suggest this was as much a Value for Money approach as well as to do with the Cartridges Qualities.

As said this experience is quite far back, so a detailed description is not easy to recollect. 

The DS Audio cartridge, which I have heard many times is excellent. It is also a scalable system, so you can upgrade to a better cartridge or power supply in the system as they all work with each other.

If I were not already invested in a number of traditional cartridges it would be a consideration for me.

You should listen to one if you are really interested.

I have owned some very good MC and MI cartridge’s and I have heard nothing on the same level as the DS. I am lucky to have a DS dealer locally so “Dr Vinyl” came over and set up this new 003 cartridge. I ended up purchasing the Grand Master with the 003 energizer/phono pre. Ive never before heard a balanced presentation like this from vinyl and bass to die for.

@lancelock ,

I heard the new DS003 at the Captial Audio Fest and while it sounded good, it is hard to say that in a direct comparison situation to other cartridges, what that "difference" means. Different is not always better, but another "ingredient" that alters the flavor, for better or worse, or not at all. Of course, if your cartridge benchmark was outclassed by the DS Audio top tier optical cartridge which persuaded you to purchase it, congratulations!

If you are in the DMV area, I am as well, I will send you a PM. Perhaps we can do a shootout...Hyperion OCL, Air Tight OPUS 1, with SME V’s and new Transrotor TRA9 arm mated to an upgraded Transrotor Apollon TMD with three motors, 80mm platter, and Transrotor Konstant TMD reference regulated power supply.


@mijostyn ,

I hear you...with spiked eggnog and lots of Christmas records in play on the old trusty Denon turntable, it could be a recipe for disaster. I will just leave the cover off for extended plays.

Audioquest4life and Lancelock, I too am in the DMV area, Bethesda to be precise.  We really ought to get together for listening to each other's systems.  There is nothing like re-affirmation to get the old audio juices flowing.  Sorry, I don't own a DS cartridge system.


I agree. Did you go to CAF? We might have passed each other in record alley. Let's continue this dialog for sure. 

I do wholly agree on there being a need to listen first, and draw ones own conclusions on how a device can perform and make a impression, there will always be a variance to the information offered as an outcome of an assessment.

Out of four members reporting on their experiences with the Cartridge, two members are sure it made a impression that has been worthy of their consideration and one member has become a owner/user of the Cartridge. 

It is also good to see the Thread has encouraged a opportunity to discuss a social gathering of  few members, that is a win. 

I, too, am in the DC area (Laytonsville, MD).  I have a DS-003 and it is exceptional in my opinion.  Transient response stands out but most striking is the dynamics - the dynamic contrasts presented are unlike anything I've heard in my system before.

Wow! Many local guys. I too would enjoy a get together. I would also add that I’m a member of the DC HiFi group and we meet monthly.

My previous cartridge before the DS GM was a Ortofon Century.



About five years ago, I attended a event for HiFi Enthusiasts about 200 Miles North of my home in the UK.

I took my Custom Built 845 Power Amps along, which created a steady flow of interest and inquiries.

One inquiry came from two individuals who had attended the event for the first time, and we soon learnt we lived quite local to each other and exchanged contact details.

That meeting developed into a Local Group of which there are Ten Members and  4-6 Individuals meet regular to experience HiFi and bring new devices/ancillaries to be shared within the groups systems. 

This has been an very important part of my HiFi enjoyment over the past years, and some of the demonstrations shared in has helped me to re-right some of my thoughts I had about certain subjects within HiFi.  The Group are also keen to put on their own local HiFi Event - Post Covid Times.

I thoroughly encourage meeting with other enthusiasts, meeting with local shared interest enthusiasts, in my case, has been the cherry on the cake.  

I agree with @pindac , I enjoy meeting with my fellow enthusiasts. The sharing of ideas has caused me to spend more money, ha ha.



I attended the Capital Audiofest and noted that the cartridge was used in at least four different setups.  I was told by some exhibitors that it sounds good to their ears.  I don’t know myself because I was only hearing it in unfamiliar systems, none which I liked a lot.  I had the same sort of experience a few years ago with the SoundSmith cartridges, except the show setups using it were less common and the sounded quite bad to me.

I would like to hear it in familiar surroundings.  It is pretty decently priced if you consider that a phonostage is not needed.

IMHO the DS cartridges are complexity for the sake of it. It is all electromagnetic energy. The DS cartridge just exchanges some of the weaknesses of MC cartridges for a new set. Remember, it all moves at the speed of light. Light is not easy to contain, it can bend around corners. The shading plate has it's own set of resonances. I prefer to stick with low impedance moving coils and transimpedance phono stages. There are moving coil cartridges that track better and have much lower distortion levels. At 10 kHz the DS Grand Master almost hits 10% and it's tracking is no better than 65 um. Lyra and ortofon cartridges will stomp on it. So why do people like it, two reasons. from 7 kHz the frequency response rises until it is up 4.5 dB at 18 kHz. This is a very bright cartridge which will mesh beautifully with the hearing loss of the older people who can afford to buy it. Next is price. DS audio did everything possible to jack the price as much as possible. The Equalizer and it's power supply are wastefully overbuilt. But, if it costs more it must sound better right? 

I remember back in 1984 I was finally earning a living and I wanted a sports car. The new Corvette was getting rave reviews so I got one. It was pure junk. The manual transmission did not belong in a tractor. The top of the dash was styrofoam covered in black plastic. I sold it in two months and got a 300 ZX turbo. 

@jperry, I will only look at cartridges that can track 80 um or better. My high frequency hearing is not near as bad as most people my age. I have no trouble hearing 16 kHz. The Grand Master would hurt to listen to on my system. I don't have to hear it to know that. It's frequency response curve tells it all. If you don't think so it is because you do not have enough experience measuring and correcting amplitude. My system can correct for the aberrant frequency response but it can do nothing about the tracking performance. Miss tracking is very obnoxious.  What people say it sounds like is of absolutely no use to me. It only matters what it sounds like on my system and with measured performance like that I have less than ZERO interest in spending $60 large to find out. 

I have an idea. Why don't you buy one and tell us what you think.


I have heard a few different models of the DS Audio cartridge system many times and commented on my thoughts in a posting below.

I too love the DS cartridge. It is not bright and the bass is the best I’ve ever heard from vinyl. This cart just sounds natural to me. I can say this because I own the Grand Master.

@mijostyn , There many good and bad cartridge’s out there but I can’t really Judge them since I haven’t owned or heard them. I do agree that the 84 Vette was a piece of crap though.

While true, the 84 vette and all the “ plastic pigs “ of that era were junk, an IROC Z would run circles around it. The overweight 300 zx is on few coveted lists today. I passed a lot of them in the 944 delivery van we used at the HiFi shop…. Mijo, how is The Voice working out ?…..

I am a 944 Robot in a lipstick Nissan world…


@lancelock , My point was not that the DS is "crap" It is not. Novel approaches should always be taken seriously. My point is that you can not trust the press. They have too many conflicting motives.

@tomic601 , The 300 ZX wandered like a lost dog. You could never let go of the steering wheel. My first Porsche was a Guards Red 944 Turbo. I traded the Nissan in on it. Long story but I was offered a deal I could not refuse. I never looked back and since then I have owed 8 911s including a 1996 BiTurbo. The one car I wish I never sold. Talking about a barrel full of monkeys. 

@jperry , You are entitled to your own opinion on how the DS sounds. Here is the gushing review in Hi Fi news that published the lab report I was referring to. You can find reviews where MC cartridges significantly outperform the DS in very basic ways. A wonderful sounding cartridge is not much good if it can't track the record. Most people have no way of correcting the DS's frequency response problem. Those of us with DSP can deal with it. Brighter always sounds better at first listen just like louder sounds better. I think this is why people gravitate to it after a short listening session. By 65 at least 25% of us are already deaf up there above 12 kHz. However, those of us who can still hear up there usually prefer a trailing response above 8 kHz. Boosted 4 dB would be annoying, tizzy. 

I am also concerned about the build quality. The bracket the Cantilever is anchored to is flimsy to say the least.  

Well, we have that in common, i lament not keeping the 993.. instead trading tge lithe switchblade in for an X-50 996 running 1.3 bar…as you say some monkeys at work at mischievous duty…..the smart money was on the tire sales…

Never the less, in all seriousness…how is The Voice ?

I am a flashed ECU on an SU carburetor robot


Thanks for your comment. You have to decide whether you are not entitled to an opinion on the how the DS Audio system sounds as you haven’t heard it. As we have discussed before I only comment on equipment I have heard, while your approach on comments is different.

You might note the title of the OP, and reflect on whether you have any:

"Experience with DS Audio Optical Cartridge Systems"

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@saburo bravo ! i didn’t know EMM builds the box. thanks for taking time to post.


jperry - I too generally refrain from offering an opinion unless I’ve heard the equipment being discussed. In the case of the DS Audio system I do have experience with it and definitely stand by my opinion of the quality of its sound. I have 7 turntables set up at the moment in 3 different systems, two with DS-003 cartridges. In terms of the life-like quality of the sound, I’ve simply not heard anything better. 

Anyone do a direct comparison between the DS cartridges and the SoundSmith Strain Gauge?

I mentioned how much I like the DS GM cartridge. My previous carts that it bested was an Ortofon Century and before that was a Top Wing Blue Dragon. As @saburo  commented the DS is a “major disrupter” and on the level of Tesla to the automotive industry.

Ken Kessler reviewed the DS optical cartridge( Grand Master?) and the Soundsmith Strain Gauge in Hi Fi News magazine, this year. Basically he said they are both on a level and both game changers. 

Ken Kessler reviewed the DS optical cartridge( Grand Master?) and the Soundsmith Strain Gauge in Hi Fi News magazine, this year. Basically he said they are both on a level and both game changers.

Sure they are game changers - 52000EU for the cartridge and equaliser - they are going to destroy the market for sure, sell a million units before the. years out.

No, the only reason they could be called game changers is the definition of conspicuous consumption - I’m waiting for the first $100k cartridge. $50k cartridges have been around for some time now - its a bit meh.



A DS Audio system need not be super expensive. The least expensive system is less than $3000 for both the cartridge and the energizer - everything needed.


There are no free lunches in audio - the $3k units is not even remotely close to any of the other version from 6-19k up.

If you have a decent phono already you are better off to spend the budget on a decent cartridge in my view.

I think you would have to hear them for yourself. I have 2 DS-003’s, one with the DS-003 energizer, the other with the least expensive energizer (DS-E1). Both sound very good and the system with the less expensive energizer does, indeed, sound better than the other phono systems in that setup (Parasound JC-3, Hana ML, PS Audio Stellar, Soundsmith Zephyr MIMC Star).

Dear @theophile : It’s not easy to trust 100% on reviewers as KK or almost any other reviewer.


Example, next statements are a little part of what we can read in the SS SG cartridge and are false/un-true and the reviewer does not puts an " alert " about. Of course that the seller/manufactured has the rigth to do it taking advantage of we audiophiles with a very low knowledge levels:


"" The Strain Gauge cartridge does not use or require an RIAA playback filter because it inherently plays the RIAA recording EQ curve used on the record correctly. ""

"" Since normal magnetic cartridges are velocity sensitive devices (whose output is sensitive or proportional to velocity), they need the RIAA inverse filter to result in a flat playback response of a groove cut with an RIAA recording curve. However, since the Strain Gauge is a DISPLACEMENT sensitive device, it automatically produces a basically flat response from a RIAA encoded groove, ""


Yes the SG sounds different but certainly not better than a normal LOMC cartridge and there are facts/reasons why not better why is not truer to the recording.

I listened several times in system I know and different models.


I whish to listen the DS Audio cartridge that as the SG are a " new " vintage refined kind of cartridge design..Obviously that as the SG sounds different to any other cartridge and as the SG its distortion levels could be lower than in a normal MC one but even that the DS and SG can’t pick up the 100% of thwe recorded signal in the LP grooves and are not better trackers than the magnetic cartridges. DS/SG are in the medium compliance range. There are a lot of magnetic cartridges that can pick-up more groove information than the DS/SG ones because are better trackers.

Now, the main characteristic that reviewers speak is not only the DS clarity/transparency but the extremely accurated bass range tha’s the sound foundation. They said that never heard something like the DS level in that regards. In the review we can read that exist not only a +4dbs in the bass but that the equalizer/energizer set up can mates according the speaker designs.

In its site DS said that the eq. in its unit is more easy than in our normal phono stages but : why is more easy?, I don’t know for sure.

As a fact the designer not disclosed yet what " is " inside the preamp that between other things comes with over 2.2 Faraday of capacity ? ? ! !

I know that the RIAA eq. is extremely easy to achieve in the digital domain and with an accuracy level down to a +,- 0db frequency deviation and with today 32/768 DAC technology it’s really transparent. Could be a DAC inside the DS unit? I don’t know no ones know but I will look for an opportunity to listen the DS cartridge because if there is that very high " noise " on it then must be very good reasons for that.

In the mean time I think that with our normal LOMC cartridges we can improve its quality levels in our room/system. I pull the triger and this week I bougth an analog equalizer ( if I want to improve the analog experience I want to do it inside the analog domain not through digital domain. ) by Klark Tektin model DN-370.

I now very well KK for many years now so its quality is out of question, we will see what I can achieve: I have no idea yet.


Other step that mainly the whealthy analog gentlemans could do to improve the LOMC cartridge quality level sound comes by FM Acoustics Harminic Linearizers that looks to much/good to believe it but coming and knowing FMA I trust that it happens what they states.








@rauliruegas the FM Acoustics look interesting….certainly the company reputation is deservedly high…

Other " issue " with both DS/SG cartridges is that we " married " with its  preamp/energizer/eq. where we can't listen to a magnetic cartridge. So we are married with the same kind of sound for our coming audio life.


Yes @tomic601  very interesting.



I re-read DS information where they explain how it works and even gave some asdvise if we want to build our equalizer/energizer but in reality does not disclose " nothing " at all that could tell us about those 2.2 Faradays and the like.


My mistake did not read more carefully the info.



Dear friends: Thinking in " high voice " I can say that it does not matters the kind of cartridge design ( magnetic, straing gauge or optical. ) the missed and added recorded and not recorded signal information is almost the same for those 3 designs due that all are catilevered/stylus tip designs.


Main differences are thde kind of distortions on each one and the higher or lower level of those distortions and obviously the design quality levels of the optical preamp/energiser.


In this thread  @saburo  has the " last word " due to his magnetic cartridge experiences and electronics that I know very well by first hand experiences too and he said that the DS is :

""  i can unequivocally endorse this technology as a major disruptor which is on its way to advancing vinyl playback beyond what most are used to. ""


That is a serious statement that we all have to take " care " about. Even that the FMA processor is something that could change our each one concept of a magnetic cartridge.


I always said: put at minimum every kind of room/system distorions to stay truer to the recording and as consequence of that near the live MUSIC experience. So the DS cartridge is a very good option about but the FMA processor it's too and I have to experience it in the future before pull the triger in a DS audio and not because I did not trust in @saburo  statement but because I don't like to be married with the DS preamp. The magnetic cartridge alternative along the FMX could give me " thousands " of very good kind of sound alternatives with any cartridge in the audio market but the DS one.



Sorry I didn't see this thread earlier.  I don't post much anymore.  I have been fortunate enough to hear multiple models of the DS Audio for the past two years.  I have a decent vinyl over the years though nothing in comparison to some.  

I moved from an Ortofon MA 90 and Tom Evans Groove SRX + to the DS Audio Grand Master and the EMM Labs.  I will say that it is not night and day, but what the DS Audio does is frankly remarkable.  I really hate when people say this, but its like you had the music live in your room.  Records I have listened to for over 40 years are astounding, as are new recordings.  I had actually thought about moving out of vinyl before I started using the DS Audio.  I can't say its not just because I bought some new toy, but I doubt it.

The models do vary widely in terms of cost but I have been enormously impressed with even the very base models.  They all have a certain basic quality which is simply amazing. I do really believe, having discussed it with an audio designer, that it really is a radically different technology which improves in some many areas over moving coil but I am no engineer.



It does have its downsides, it tends to have a lot of detail so I think if you had a very harsh or bright system it might lack warmth but its just my 2 cents worth.  Enjoy what you own, but don't dismiss it. 

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Heard @lancelock’s optical cart setup the other day and yes it was quite stellar. When both analog and digital playback are done extremely well the sounds tend to converge. It was one of the best phonos I have heard. Piano dynamics on an especially good recording was most realistic sounding. Color me impressed! Technology taken to the next level!

Hi, I was wondering of the kind of tone arm that would be well matched to DS-003 ? TIA.