DS Audio claims that its new Grand Master optical cartridge design “pushes the exceptional potential of optical technology for analogue sound quality even further and heralds the third generation of optical cartridges”. This is not only DS Audio’s new flagship, but a completely new design. The Grand Master (£11,995) now has independent LEDs and photo-detectors for the left and right channels. The result is a 75% increase in the cartridge’s output voltage, from 40mV to 70mV. Despite this increase in output, the signal to noise ratio that DS Audio optical cartridges are renowned for has not been compromised. It’s also claimed that this has made it possible to eliminate crosstalk, greatly improving left and right channel separation, particularly above 10kHz.
The new design also sees a smaller beryllium shading plate, allowing for a weight reduction of some 50% (from 1.56mg to 0.74mg). This is less than 1/10th of the mass of a typical core and coil system found in a traditional MC (moving coil) cartridge. In a first for DS Audio, the Grand Master features a diamond cantilever partnered with a microridge stylus. The cartridge body has been constructed from Ultra Duralumin to maximise rigidity, while the internal wiring is 1.6 times thicker than that used in previous models, to reduce impedance.
Like all DS Audio optical cartridges, the Grand Master requires its own equalizer / phono stage – which this new design takes to a different level. Now, the equalizer and power supply come as two independent units. The Grand Master equalizer (£38,000) features custom-built film capacitors and non-inductive winding resistors. It also incorporates a total of three transformers, one for each of the left and right channels and a third handling the power supply, and each with a much greater capacity than those of the previous flagship, the DS Master One.
Finally, the equalizer offers both single-ended RCA and balanced XLR outputs, along with six optional low frequency cut-off points, ensuring that the Grand Master will partner seamlessly with any high-end hi-fi system.