By Lam Seng Fatt
The 32-year-old CEO of DS Audio Tetsuaki Aoyagi – like everyone in his generation – grew up as an iPod and MP3 kid. Seven years ago, he saw the light.
That eureka moment came when he visited an audiophile friend who was in his sixties and he played the Michael Jackson Thriller LP on a turntable. What Tetsuaki (called Aki by his friends) heard that day changed his life and after being introduced to the magic of analogue sound, he delved deeper into LPs, turntables, tonearms and cartridges.
Along the way he came across literature and reviews on optical cartridges. Back in 1971-72, four Japanese companies led by Toshiba had manufactured optical cartridges. The other companies were Sharp, Trio and Kenwood. However, the technology of that time meant that the manufacturers had to use incandescent light bulbs as the light source which created problems that they found hard to solve and eventually led to the demise of the technology. Incandescent light bulbs were heavy and added mass to the cartridge, and they were hot and made the rubber grommet damping the cantilever heat up and soften, changing the compliance of the cantilever.
Aki picked up some old optical cartridges and took them apart to find out how the engineers at that time tried to solve the problems. Ne soon realised that with modern components he could solve the issues faced by the engineers more than 40 years ago.
Aki stressed that he did not invent the optical cartridge, but merely improved it with modern technology and built on the work accomplished by the engineers in Toshiba.
Since his father Tetsuji Aoyagi had founded Digital Stream Corp in 1989 as an R&D Company in the advanced laser optics field and was involved in developing the optical mouse with Microsoft and also the design of the joy-stick for video games, Aki had the resources at his disposal to improve the optical cartridge technology from 1971-72.
What he did was to use an infra-red LED instead of an incandescent bulb and an infra-red photo sensor. As for the cantilever, he used modern materials like boron and sapphire and the diamonds had newer profiles like Shibata and Micro Ridge.
He said that during a hi-fi show in Japan, an old man who said he was a former Toshiba engineer involved in the designing of the original optical cartridge cried while thanking him for renewing interest in the optical technology which the old inventor felt could change the way we listen to our LPs.
Aki was at the Centre Circle Audio Visual showroom yesterday to launch DS Audio’s range of optical cartridges and matching equalisers/phono preamps.
A few dozen audiophiles and vinyl diehards were there to listen to him explaining the differences between moving-coil and optical cartridges and also the history of the optical technology. He also played several LPs with the two systems featuring VPI turntables with the DS Audio DS W2 and the DS 002 cartridges. He also announced that an entry-level cartridge and equaliser will be launched early next year which will cost US$2,500.
To hear the sonic benefits of a cartridge without any magnetic resistance and with a light moving mass, call up Centre Circle to fix the time for an audition.