“Optical Cartridge” Acknowledged by Audiophiles Around the WorldDigital Stream Corporation
Flagship model “DS MASTER 1”
- This article covers the story of an optical technology manufacturer, which has gained a solid reputation among major companies at home and abroad, striving to find opportunity in the audio market.
World-class optical technology acknowledged by Microsoft
Digital Stream Corporation, founded in 1988, is a development company specializing in optical technology. The pickup for disc testing of DVDs and CDs developed by the company determines whether discs pressed at factories properly meet specifications, and it is being used around the world as a standard product in the industry. By leveraging the optical technology that serves as the core of the pickup, the company has also carried out development work entrusted to them by major companies. It participated in the joint development of optical mouse and joystick for gaming upon the request of Microsoft’s US headquarters, and it has also participated in the launch of CBHD, which is referred to as the Chinese version of the Blu-ray standard, enjoying a strong evaluation at home and abroad for its high technological capabilities.
However, entrusted development work has ups and downs by nature, and once a development project is completed, the work also ends there. In addition, the products in which it is involved are not sold under the name of Digital Stream. Eventually, there was a growing wish inside the company to develop the company's own product.
Optical cartridge from 40 years ago revived in the present age with the latest technology
Tetsuji Aoyagi of Digital Stream was one of the people seeking for an initiative to develop the company’s own product. One day, he was greatly shocked by his first experience of listening to a record at the house of a friend who was an audiophile. “The analog sound listened through a high-end speaker with the needle descending onto the disk was a completely new experience for someone like me who only knew the sound of a CD and iPhone,” states Mr. Aoyagi.
Furthermore, Mr. Aoyagi learned that an optical cartridge is used in his friend’s audio system, and this spurred his interest. An optical cartridge captures the movement of the phonograph needle using light, and it can reproduce the sound with higher sound quality than general MM and MC cartridges. Optical cartridges were sold by several Japanese manufacturers around 40 years ago, and although they were well-received, they were hard to manufacture, so eventually their sales were discontinued. Mr. Aoyagi researched the principles and technologies behind an optical cartridge once again and started its development, thinking that it would surely be possible to revive the technology in the present age using Digital Stream’s latest optical technology.
Mr. Aoyagi brought in a prototype that was completed after trial and error to an audio-related exhibition. Although he was worried that no one would take him seriously, many visitors who were fans of the optical cartridge unexpectedly showed interest in its revival, and he was able to successfully gain a positive evaluation in terms of the sound quality, too.
Advancing into the future with technological capabilities acknowledged even by audiophiles overseas
Mr. Aoyagi launched an audio brand called DS Audio and scrambled to create sales channels of the optical cartridges. Although he was virtually an amateur in the industry, he gained information by visiting specialty audio stores and specialized magazine companies, and he also actively exhibited at trade shows. The optical cartridge that had been revived after 40 years grew in popularity little by little, and Mr. Aoyagi was able to sign a contract with a distributor. DS Audio also expanded overseas, and it received high praise in a review on a specialized audio magazine in Germany, obtaining the highest rating in history. This reputation reached Japan in the form of a reverse import, leading to increased inquiries.
Although Mr. Aoyagi is working to expand the product lineup while closely watching the reactions on the market, he says that he has no intention to end DS Audio just as a manufacturer of optical cartridges. The high-end audio market is a niche market, but it has strongly rooted fans all over the world. There is also an increasing number of younger customers who have rediscovered the charm of analog sound, not satisfied with the digital sound that has evolved through the pursuit of convenience.
Mr. Aoyagi shares, “The strategy of DS Audio is to create unique products that other companies do not attempt to make targeting those [customer segments]. I’m sure that with Digital Stream’s optical technology we can create the world’s best products. I hope that we will grow by 5 or 10 years later to the extent that people will say, ‘I heard DS Audio used to make optical cartridges in the past.’”
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