High End 2016 • Hot Product

DS Audio’s DS-W1 Nightrider cartridge ($8500 including phono stage/equalizer) was one of the hits of last year’s High End show, a cartridge that uses optical reading rather than electromagnetic generation to track the movement of the stylus. Having had a chance to play with it at home, Roy Gregory reports that it is as exciting sonically as it is theoretically -- but with one big proviso: with a horizontal compliance of 25cu and a cartridge mass of around 6.5 grams, the undamped transducer requires a seriously low-mass tonearm to work at its (considerable) best. With a dearth of great low-mass 'arms currently available -- and 'arms seemingly getting longer and longer -- that presents quite a challenge.

This year, DS Audio has launched a new cartridge, the Master 1 ($22,000 with equalizer). That’s quite a hike in price, but it reflects a number of significant changes. The Master 1 uses a sapphire as opposed to boron cantilever and a Microridge rather than Shibata tip. More importantly it also uses a more conventional suspension, complete with tie-back which drops the compliance dramatically, bringing it into line with other cartridges and making it compatible with far more tonearms.

But best of all, that price tag is split between the cartridge ($7000) and the Master Equalizer ($15,000). With two cartridges now in the range (and a more affordable model on the way), you can mix and match cartridges and equalizers -- making it possible to use the $7000 Master 1 cartridge with the W1 equalizer at around $4000, making for a more affordable as well as upgradeable combination. With the Master 1 components on the way, Roy will soon be able to report on the whole family.

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