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Origin Live Resolution MK III and Conqueror 3c arm

I posted a review last year here on the ‘wam of the Origin Live Resolution MK II turntable teamed with the same company’s Illustrious 3C arm and Linear Flow interconnect. The rig was not loaned to me for the purposes of review. I had bought it – no discount alas – prior to typing the words. The purchase had come at the conclusion of a search for a turntable and arm combination that would better the Voyd/The Voyd and Helius Omega arm that I previously owned.

I loved the Voyd for its musicality and drive. But it was oh, some 20 years old, and surely there had to be something better out there? The Omega was admirably neutral, but after a while I had grown to lament its rather clinical presentation. It was nowhere near as grey and joyless as the so-called ‘world’s best’ arm, but in the years I’d owned the Omega I’d heard others by other manufacturers that were more satisfyingly organic.

Not up for change was my Audio Note (UK) IO II cartridge. It has been re-built twice since I bought it second hand on eBay in 2003, and it remains, in my view, one of the few cartridges able to deliver such a remarkable combination of top to bottom evenness, micro dynamics, tonal veracity and sheer musicality.

My previous review (here: http://www.hifiwigwam.com/showthread.php?72673-Origin-Live-Resolution-II-turntable-and-Illustrious-3c-arm&highlight=Origin+Live+Resolution ) charted the combinations of alternative turntables and arms that I tried. The Origin Live combo was auditioned last, almost out of devilment: the manufacturer’s ‘try it and if you don’t like it send it back for a full refund’ offer just had to be tested. Blow me if the OL turntable and arm weren’t better than everything else and, crucially, a big improvement on the Voyd/Helius. That’s how I ended up buying them.

Mark Baker of Origin Live is one of the audio industry’s thinkers and listeners. He is not afraid to go against what passes for conventional wisdom if his ears tells him that different sound better. The MK II Resolution and Illustrious arm both swam against the flow in a number of respects. I had assumed that Baker had settled on his turntable design and that the MK II Resolution was effectively his long-term statement at its price point (the MK 1 had been in production for some 10 years). Not so, however, and it was with surprise that I heard that there was now a MK III Resolution just five years after the launch of the MK II.

The revised turntable has a thicker, heavier platter, a new bearing design, a modified power supply and motor regulator, and a slightly wider plinth. From engineering and sonic perspectives, making such iterative changes might be seen as desirable. But vendors tweak products so soon after introduction at their peril. It can depress used values, and this annoys the heck out of some customers. “If the changes are that desirable why wasn’t it made like that in the first place?”: so goes the discussion in the heads of those now stuck with what has overnight become an ‘old’ product.

DSCN0191
OL Resolution MK III. Thicker platter is one element of the MK III changes.

On the other hand, because the MK II Resolution sounds as good as it does, quite a few people are going to be tempted to swallow their annoyance and allow themselves to be upsold to the latest version on the basis that if Origin Live has the confidence to ruffle feathers in this way, then the MK III must be very significantly better. Baker recognises this and offers a part exchange deal that softens some of the pain for those – including me – unable to resist the lure of a MK III.

Some of the changes embodied in the new version are obvious to the eye. The new bearing arrangement features a chunky aluminium bobbin with tapered sides that engages positively with a matching taper machined into the thicker, heavier acrylic platter. The interference fit is presumably better able to transfer energy down into the bearing shaft. Most turntable bearings are made by a drill and ream process. Origin Live does it with a specialist boring bar with spring cuts for greater accuracy, and then hones each by hand. The result is that the bearing rotates in a film of  oil with no surface-to-surface contact except the load bearing tip.

The MK III’s motor pod uses the same DC motor as the MK II, but is powered by a more sophisticated, regulated supply. Baker won’t say anything meaningful about the electronic changes, other than that ‘they make it sound better’.

I thought the MK II Resolution sounded very fine indeed compared to its rivals at a similar price. It had a weight and authority that the Voyd and Helius arms did not, and combined it with the sweetest mids and an airy delicate top end. There was a deeper underlying blackness, and more of the texture and colour of recordings. Audible pitch stability was excellent and music had a real toe-tapping momentum. I was therefore intrigued to hear how the MK III differed. My evaluation of the new turntable was complicated to some degree by the simultaneous change of arm.

The Conqueror is the next step up from the Illustrious in Origin Live’s hierarchy and utilises a heaver bearing yoke, as well as an arm tube constructed of a different composite, all for a slightly higher effective mass of 14 grams compared to 12.5 for the Illustrious. It retains the same arrangement of twin unipivots across the axis of the arm tube for vertical movement, and conventional bearings for horizontal tracking.

 

OL Conqueror. Easy to use VTA adjustment can be seen at the arm's base. Socking great counterweight balances 18 gms iof IO II.
OL Conqueror. Easy to use VTA adjustment can be seen at the arm’s base. Socking great counterweight balances 18 gms of IO II.

Spinning up the MK III Resolution for the first time, I was struck by how it has retained the desirable sonic qualities of the MK II. There is the familiar startling speed to the rate at which transients build, and a lovely sense of lingering decay when the music calls for it; none of the foot-dragging and bloated overhang that I heard in the other contenders. It wasn’t immediately apparent that anything different was going on. But, after a while, I realised that the MK III presents an even blacker background against which a larger helping of micro dynamics – the kind of icing-on-the-cake detail that elevates music from being merely enjoyable, to becoming a truly absorbing experience – could be heard.

I never thought my MK II to be lacking in rhythmic drive or stability. The revised, regulated motor power supply circuit in the MK III has added cost and complexity, but Baker is clearly convinced the new arrangement is sonically better. I think I can detect a more assertive sense of drive in the music, although the MK II already had this in spades. The improvement is, as with the blacker background, incremental rather than startling – an extra burnish on a jewel that was already gleaming brightly, if you will.

It is for the Conqueror 3c arm that I must wheel out the hyperbole. I thought the Illustrious was head and shoulders above everything else I auditioned, and I wondered at the time if it was possible for anything seriously better still to exist. The Conqueror thrusts its hand up at the back of the class and shouts an emphatic ‘Yes’. It is a 9.5″ arm ( a 12″ version is available) and uses the standard 24/25 mm Rega mount to a turntable or plinth. Origin Live say five different materials are used to build up the arm tube. Its dual pivot bearing sounds complicated, but it actually simple, being effectively two unipivots side by side across the axis of the arm tube. Grasp the bearing yoke, and you can lift it upwards so that contact between the pivot points and cups is lost. Let it down and the yoke snuggles into position again. For folk used to captured bearings this feels alarming and somewhat counter-intuitive, but in use the Conqueror handles just like a conventional arm. Mark Baker likes dual pivots because, he says, they have the advantages of a unipivot – de-coupling of the arm from the turntable, and an unparallelled ability to resolve detail – but without fussy azimuth and lightweight bass.

Sonically, the Conqueror is the best arm that I have heard so far in my audio journey, bar none. It has the detail, air, organism and grip of the Illustrious, but more so. A lot more so. And the bottom end is simply titanic; rich, textured, detailed and so…. so incredibly powerful.

It feels to me too as if the IO II likes the slightly extra mass of the Conqueror; there’s an even greater solidity to almost every musical performance, not in a damped way, but in the sense that recorded musical events are rendered as more palpable, almost physical entities, in my listening room. Baker says the enhanced performance is partly down to the bearing yoke’s extra mass in the horizontal plane; that and the different make-up of the arm tube composite which also pumps up the level of detail and all-round musicality. However it is achieved, I have never enjoyed vinyl so much.

If I’d not been in the fortunate position of being able to afford the trade-up, and had been compelled to hand back the Resolution MK III after trying it, would I now be feeling short-changed? I have to say that I would, but not massively so. I don’t want to underplay the work Origin Live has put into the MK III. The engineering rigour is impressive and sonic gains are there right enough, and are clearly of satisfaction to Origin Live’s Mark Baker as he chases his vision of perfection at the Resolution’s price point. But the difference between MK II and MK III is not game-changing.

And so. If you have a Resolution MKII, be happy. You chose very well. It remains what it always was: a truly killer combination of musicality and rhythmic involvement. Baker’s jewel does gleam a little more brightly in MK III guise, but marginally so.

If you can afford a Resolution MK III, then good luck to you. The MK III consolidates the Resolution’s position as best in class at its price level, in my view.

 

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