Origin Live Sovereign & Conqueror (£4470/£2650)

The jewel in Origin Live's analogue crown sets sail with its flagship tonearm

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As with so many of the audio industry’s small, specialist companies, Origin Live is the life blood of an enthusiast who designs products based largely on empiricism. Audio hobbyists of longstanding will be familiar with the Origin Live marque and the leader of this Southampton troupe: founder and designer Mark Baker.
   Over the years Origin Live has developed turntables, tonearms, amplifiers, loudspeakers, cables, and support stands. Says Mark Baker, this wide experience gives a holistic design approach which translates into products that are designed for system synergy. The company has just 25 or so specialist UK dealers, relying largely on word-of-mouth recommendations and its reputation for customer satisfaction. Over the years the company has grown steadily and now distributes its products to more than 40 countries worldwide. Products can also be purchase by direct mail order via its informative website.

OL’s platters are a composite of metal, acrylic and other materials about which Mark Baker prefers to remain tight lipped. The Sovereign’s standard platter weighs 2.3kg, while the ‘Heavy’ version is more substantial at 3.8kg. OL is keen to point out that it’s not simply the increase in mass that causes the bigger platter to sound better, but the four decoupled layers of metal and acrylic, designed to create interference to standing waves in resonance patterns.
   Setting up the deck is best left to a dealer unless you’re a vinyl hobbyist with the appropriate proficiency. As it’s a solid design, levelling is straightforward via three adjustable feet, however the larger platter entails extra care taken in height adjustment to ensure correct running of the belt. Positioning of the separate motor housing is critical as well. Fortunately it’s a heavy unit that is not inadvertently misaligned when rotating the switch to turn it on, or change speeds. Meanwhile the Conqueror arm – one model down from OL’s £4500 flagship Enterprise – employs an innovative dual pivot bearing on the horizontal axle which governs the arm’s vertical movement. Designed for low friction and high decoupling it claims to offer the advantages of uni-pivots without the drawbacks.
   The latest incarnation of the Conqueror arm features recently introduced ‘Laminar Flow 2’ arm wiring. As before, the 1.2m arm cable is terminated with silver Bullet plugs and fixed in place at the base of the arm pillar. Upgrading the arm lead is clearly not a DIY option. This new wiring employs a combination of five dielectric insulators and high purity copper wire, chosen in preference to silver for its ‘more natural tonal balance’, claims OL in its latest customer newsletter. For existing arm owners the wiring upgrade is priced at £380.
   While our photographs show the arm fitted with an Audio Technica cartridge, all listening was with a ZYX Air 3 high-end moving coil (£2500), recommended for this deck/arm combination.

There’s a mellifluous, easy-going nature to the sound character of this combination that proved to be highly enjoyable. Clicks and pops are handled in a very kind manner, too, which immediately made me predisposed to enjoying the deck as I have become ever more intolerant of surface noise, and record imperfections in general, over the years.
   I’m easily annoyed by speed fluctuation as well, and long for the day that someone with the requisite skill and engineering resource might build a deck with a self-centring platter redolent of Nakamichi’s legendary TX-1000 and Dragon CT models of the early to mid 1980s. This would make countless ‘swingers’ – records with holes fractionally off-centre – tolerable to listen to once again. While there’s nothing this player can do about LPs’ speed inconsistencies, of course, it proved highly enjoyable to listen to over many hours. Several extended listening sessions with friends ran long into the wee small hours, with little hint of fatigue other than our drooping eye lids. It’s a smooth operator alright.
   Listening hyper-critically, what this combo lacks is a razor sharp delivery of dynamic swings and leading edges to transients. And depending on your system, it might be observed to sound a little lazy, lacking incisiveness and ‘pizzaz’.
   A case in point was demonstrated by the opening of Malcolm Arnold’s ‘A Sussex Overture’, the opening cut on Reference Recordings’ Arnold Overtures LP [Reference RR-48]. The rasp of the regal brass was a little muted and the crashing, sizzling percussion lacked some ‘zing’. While its laidback character might prove just the tonic for sharp tweeters and brittle-sounding systems, it lacked a touch of sparkle in my already balanced sounding system.

Moving to dense, multi-tracked jazz/rock recordings, the Origin Live’s relaxed and good-natured presentation of music made album after album highly listenable, despite limitations in recording quality due to over-complex mixing desks and the like. Billy Cobham’s 1973 fusion masterpiece Spectrum never sounded so enjoyable since first hearing the re-release on DVD-A, while the
densely-packed instrumental layers of Shadowfax’s eponymous album on the Wyndham Hill label proved as uplifting and tuneful as the day I first acquired the LP more than two decades ago. Album after album, the Origin Live proved nothing short of infectious.

Given appropriate time and patience in setting up the Sovereign/Conqueror combination, it rewards with a smooth-flowing, easy-on-the-ear sound. With the ZYX cartridge used here, it proved especially forgiving of surface noise and other record imperfections, if lacking a little bass ‘slam’ and image focus. Clearly, this is a record player for committed vinyl enthusiasts.


Originally reviewed in the April 2009 issue