The Basic Principle of the Optical Cartridge

July 16, 2021 9:45 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

Listening to music on vinyl is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s the closest thing to a live performance one can possibly listen to without actually being there—and the less interference in the process, the better the experience. It stands to reason that for the purest listening experience you need the best home audio equipment.

One of the purest ways to transfer sound from a vinyl record to your ears is through an optical cartridge. This uses the same basic principle as moving magnet (MM) or moving coil (MC) cartridges but eliminates some of the physical transfer requirements to make what you hear even clearer and more accurate to the original performance captured by the recording.

How are optical cartridges different?

Moving magnet cartridges work by transferring mechanical vibrations picked up from the record groove directly to the cartridge’s magnet via a cantilever. These vibrations are turned into electrical energy and then amplified and turned into sound through your speakers.

Moving coil cartridges are a step up from moving magnets. These use a fixed magnet and coil, rather than a moving one, which is closer to the pivot point and thus creates a higher fidelity of sound. As you may have guessed, these types of cartridges tend to be more expensive.

Both of these cartridges have a common downside: They both experience physical interference from the cantilever. An optical cartridge eliminates the possibility of this interference because, instead of magnets or coils, it uses a beam of light to read the stylus and cantilever movement from the vinyl grooves.

Optical cartridges detect the needle’s movement using an infrared LED, a light-shielding plate and two photocells. The shielding plate vibrates in front of the light, and the photocells behind it detect the change in brightness. In other words, they detect the movement of the shadow in lieu of detecting the movement of a coil or magnet.

This information is translated into electrical energy just like the other cartridges, and the sound comes out of your speakers in the same way, but because there is no friction caused by the magnets or coils, the result is a more pure and accurate reproduction of sound from the record.

Using an optical cartridge

There is currently only one company making optical cartridges, and that’s DS Audio. Their latest product, the DS002, is a more affordable version of the flagship DS Master1. Using this cartridge will also require you to use a special photo equalizer to power the LED cartridge. Optical cartridges also use a different EQ curve than MM or MC cartridges, as optical cartridges have a flat output across the frequency spectrum since they are not proportional to speed.

When you need the best home audio equipment, visit your number one high-end home audio store, Quintessence Audio LTD, today for solid advice and great selection. With over four decades in business and a team of audiophiles on staff, we can help you find the gear you need to take your vinyl listening experience to the highest level.

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