Rega Aria Phono Stage. Ex-Demo
Matrix Audio X SPDIF 2
Matrix Audio Quattro II
DEAL OF THE DAY
Linn Selekt DSM with Katalyst and Amplifier – 6 weeks old
2014 Midwest Audiofest Tent Sale & Vintage Audio Swap
Origin Live Turntable Upgrades (Kevin Fiske)
The turntables and tone arms designed and manufactured by Southampton company Origin Live are what might be called sleepers. Despite stellar reviews, for some reason they seem to get overlooked or dismissed by a lot of audiophiles. Who knows why? Designer and company owner Mark Baker, now joined in the company by his son Luke, doesn’t spend money on advertising in what remains the hi-fi press. But he’s not the first in high-end audio to step off of the scratch-my-back hamster wheel.
I think OL’s decks and arms are very worthy. And in particular the Resolution turntable and Enterprise and Conqueror tone arms, of which I have direct pay-your-money-and-own-it experience. The curious might want to spend five minutes wandering through what I wrote here on the ‘wam in July 2012. In October 2013, after being struck by the upgrade bug, I wrote this.
There’s been water under the bridge since then. The 9” Conqueror was part-exchanged for a 12” version, but other elements of my system have changed too. I was going to use the word ‘evolved’, but that implies advancement and to suggest such would be a tad dishonest. There were backward steps too until I realised my folly and retraced my steps. Throughout, and whatever else has been changed, the Resolution and (latterly 12”) Conqueror have remained constant, appreciated for what they do rather than annoying for what they do not do. No audio component can be judged perfect: everything ever made is a compromise in one way or another. For the money though, I always have thought the Resolution, and the Big C, to be very good sonic value. It has come as something of pleasant shock, therefore, to encounter a trio of just-released Origin Live upgrades.
Applicable to all Origin Live turntables apart from its flagship Voyager, the upgrades deliver, at least with the Resolution, such a profound uplift in sonic joy that they made me rock in my listening seat and laugh out loud. If you already own an Origin Live turntable, you owe it to yourself to buy them. Together the three upgrades cost £805, but in my view they are subjectively a no-brainer. I use the word subjectively only because of course we all to a lesser or greater degree balance cost against family priorities, and while Origin Live may well have scoped the market and formed a view about the comparative sonic value of the tweaks, that perspective may not be universally shared. Not all of us are happy for the children to walk to school in bare feet.
A new DC motor – Origin Live has long favoured DC motors – delivers four times the torque of the original one fitted to the Resolution and just on its own gives the turntable a huge kick up the backside that elevates dynamics and provides greater pitch stability and separation between musical elements. It is now being fitted to all Resolutions that leave the factory but for a cost of £395 can be easily retrofitted by owners of earlier turntables. Changing the motor in mine took me all of 10 minutes.
Original Live has for some years separated the AC and DC elements of its power supplies, offering standard turntables with a wall-wart feeding low voltage AC via an umbilical cord to the motor pod that also contains rectification and regulation. An optional ‘upgrade’ power supply containing a much chunkier transformer sounded considerably better than the wall wart, with more sonic heft and agility.
The revised upgrade power supply uses a balanced toroid, custom-made for Origin Live, in which the two live legs are 115V out of phase, centre-tapped to earth, in order to achieve common-mode noise rejection. It will cost you £365. Origin Live are not the first audio company to use a balanced transformer, but the results with the Resolution are really quite astonishing – a blacker background and less surface noise. Yes. You read that right. Less surface noise.
Finally, we have Origin Live’s modifications to the motor pod’s control board. These are mere tweaks compared to the other two upgrades; a few component swaps that stiffen temperature stability and make the load compensation more reactive. I put the modified pod back in my system on a warm spring day and heard no difference at all. Maybe they’ll be noticeable in the winter when the temperature in the listening room fluctuates as the heating goes on and off. New Origin Live turntables come with the revised control board. Owners of existing turntables can send their motor pods back to the factory and for the grand sum of £45 Origin Live will apply the changes.
Having applied all three upgrades to my own Resolution I am struck again by just how well designed and engineered as a platform it is. Mark Baker’s direction of travel is different to many. He doesn’t favour high mass platters or AC motors that deliver massive torque, but neither has he applied suspension like some other manufacturers do, preferring instead to use multiple materials, some decoupled from the others, in a way that mitigates the transmission of unwanted vibration. In some ways it is simpler, in others not, but there’s no denying that it works spectacularly well, combining with the upgrades to produce an addictive combination of funk, tonality and timing, making an already very good turntable package substantially better and even more desirable.
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