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Origin Live Calypso Turntable & Encounter MK3c Tonearm
by David McCallum

It’s been a while since either a turntable or tonearm appeared in the pages of The Inner Ear. One would have to go back to Vol 17 #1, printed back in 2006, to find such a review. It was with this long absence in mind that I set out in the late winter of 2010 to discover some new vinyl electronics to audition. Given the growing prominence of vinyl over the last few years there was no shortage of companies to approach, and after a few months of research the British Hi-Fi manufacturer Origin Live rose to the top of my list.

Origin Live has been on my Hi-Fi radar for a number of years. Either in Hi-Fi stores or while in conversation with other analogue enthusiasts, the name Origin Live is frequently mentioned, often during conversations about tonearms, and in particular in conjunction with Rega products. I used to own a Rega P5 turntable and RB700 tonearm, and the common line was, “Have you considered the Origin Live re-wiring? It makes a world of difference.” From there the conversation would evolve into a chat about Origin Live tonearms and, more recently, about their turntables.

In January of this year I sent an email to Origin Live. After a few exchanges with Mark Baker, we agreed that an Origin Live Calypso turntable matched with the Encounter MK3c tonearm would be a good place to start.

Origin Live Encounter MK3c Tonearm
Origin Live is well known for their Rega tonearm modifications, which began rather modestly in the mid-90s when Les Westonholme of Avondale Audio in Derbyshire, U.K. commissioned Origin Live to perform modification work on the famous Rega RB250 tonearm. The first modification involved the replacement of the rear stub, followed by tonearm re-wiring. A short time later, with Les’ blessing, Origin Live began to offer the Rega modifications directly to customers.

After spending approximately three years performing the tonearm modifications, Origin Live ventured further, producing their first tonearm. The Illustrious was the first arm built entirely by Origin Live, without the use of any Rega parts (except the lift lower device). During this early phase of development, Origin Live invested heavily in their own machines in order to engineer all of the parts used in their arm construction in-house.

Origin Live launched the first incarnation of the Encounter tonearm around 2000. The introductory version used an aircraft alloy arm tube with special low friction bearings with a floating arrangement in the yoke. The MK2 version, released around 2004, employed a better alloy in the arm tube, and around 2007 the MK3 introduced the dual pivot bearing. The MK3c was released in 2009, the C standing for carbon hybrid tube, which is a specially constructed carbon fiber tube reinforced with ebony to reduce resonance effects.

Currently Origin Live produces eight different tonearms ranging from their new entry level Alliance, which retails for £250, up to the stunning Enterprise-C Tonearm, which sells for £4595. At a retail price of £1345 The Encounter MK3c sits in the middle of Origin Live’s tonearm line up. A full comparison chart of all current Origin Live tonearms is available on their website.

The Encounter MK3c under review is a 9” tonearm with an effective mass of 12g. The arm includes a threaded VTA adjustment and is a dual-bearing design. Dual-pivot bearings are one of the hallmarks of Origin Live’s tonearms. Origin Live indicates that their dual pivot bearing is similar to a uni-pivot arm, providing very low friction and high decoupling which leads to improvements in definition and transparency. However they also feel their design is simpler than a traditional uni-pivot arm, offering all of the advantages of uni-pivots without any of the drawbacks. With the Origin Live design, vertical movement comes from the dual pivot, while horizontal movement is controlled by the conventional bearings. A thorough explanation of Origin Live’s dual pivot design can be found here.

The Encounter MK3c handles like a conventional gimbaled arm. There is no azimuth adjustment (cartridge/head shell alignment adjustments), as the head shell already sits parallel to the arm mounting service. The Encounter MK3c comes with a very thorough manual that includes instructions on mounting the arm, an explanation of their dual-pivot design, description of the arm’s various parts, as well as instructions on counterweight adjustment, cartridge mounting, tracking force set-up, lateral tracking angle, VTA adjustment, and anti-skate – there is even a section on phono cartridges. All of the material was useful in helping to understand the arm, as well as getting it set up and functioning well.

Origin Live Calypso Turntable
Although I was more familiar with Origin Live as a tonearm maker when I contacted Mark Baker, I was pretty adamant that I wanted to work with an Origin Live turntable as well. Origin Live began building turntables back in 1991, and while they might not possess the same market penetration in the turntable world as they possess in the tonearm world, the company’s reputation in turntable design and function is very strong.

In choosing the turntable for the review, the Calypso seemed like a perfect option. It’s the second model in their full turntable line up, and while some of the higher end models such as the Sovereign MKII or the newly released Venturer have appeal, I felt strongly that I wanted to start with one of Origin Live’s more accessible turntables. Priced at £1495, the Calypso sits at a very competitive price point and appeared to be a very good match for the Encounter MK3c arm.

The Calypso is a non-suspended turntable. It employs a thick, black plinth bass, a heavy inertia disc for mounting the sub-chassis and a 2cm thick clear acrylic main platter. The motor pod is a separate unit from the plinth. It should be positioned close to the table, with a small area cut out of the plinth where the pod is to be placed. The Calypso was shipped with both the standard main power supply, along with an upgraded power transformer that was used as part of the table set up review.

Set up Details
The Calypso table arrived needing a modest amount of assembly. It took about 15 minutes to organize all the table’s parts and assemble them. Mounting the arm took a bit longer, as I spent time studying its various parts as I went. Overall it took me about an hour to have the table up and functioning properly. One thing I noted during the set up of the Calypso turntable is its mass. Weighing almost 13kg, the thing sure is heavy.

I tried three different cartridges over the course of the review: a Shelter 501 MKII, a Clearaudio Talismann and a Dynavector DV20DLx2. While all three yielded good results, I was most happy with the Dynavector DV20DLx2.

The DV20DLx2 is a modest cartridge, retailing for only $995.00 US. However, it’s a very fine performer and represents high value in the phono cartridge world. One could certainly pay a lot more money for a lesser cartridge. It is also a good match technically and sonically with the Encounter MK3c arm. It has a dynamic compliance of 12 x 10-6 cm/dyn and a mass of 9.2 grams, which pairs well with the 12g Encounter tonearm, producing a resonance point at around 9 or 10hz. This is a new cartridge from Dynavector, and the low output .3mv of level matched perfectly with the settings on my Tom Evans 20th Anniversary Groove phono amplifier.

The Dynavector cartridge was provided to me specifically for the Origin Live review, courtesy of Canadian Hi-Fi distributors Tri-Cell Enterprises after consultation with both Mark Baker and Tri-Cell. The remaining equipment used for the review consisted of a Modwright LS 36.5 pre-amplifier, a Bryston 9B SST2 power amplifier driving a pair of ATC SCM40 loudspeakers in a bi-amplified configuration. The system is wired with Kimber Select KS 1026 interconnects (excluding the tonearm wire) and 12 TC speaker cable. All vinyl record albums were cleaned on a Clearaudio Smart Matrix-Pro cleaning machine.

Performance Review
My performance review for the Calypso and Encounter MK3c combination was spread over a number of months. However, as my time with the Origin Live equipment was coming to an end, I sat down for a detailed listening day, during which I documented my thoughts on what I heard. I used a variety of albums from a cross section of musical genres, many of which are cited below.

As I move into my critical analysis I see no reason to be anything other than direct in letting you know what I think of the Origin Live Calypso in combination with the Encounter MK3c arm. I love this turntable and tonearm. In a word, the sound produced by the system is beautiful. The presentation is robust, with great drive – exhibited extremely well during the Dead Can Dance’s Into the Labyrinth’s rich percussion textures. However, there is a very high level of subtle detail. I was particular struck by the softness with which Alison Krauss’ voice came across during Ghost in this House and Forget About it, from side three of her album Live, with Union Station. Alison has a beautiful voice, but in an overly aggressive set up these songs can become shrill and her vocals can push a system into distortion. Not so here – smooth, delicate and dynamic are words I wrote down while listening.

Over the last number of months I’ve been spending a lot of time listening to Wilco, and was quick to grab their self-titled album for this review. Side two of this record, starting with Country Disappeared and Solitaire, sounded truly spectacular. I loved the sound of the acoustic and electric guitar, and the balance between the guitar’s, the percussion and Jeff Tweedy’s vocals. I’ve actually wondered if one of the reasons I’ve taken such a strong interest in Wilco of late is because of how good their albums sound on the Origin Live turntable. However the other folk or blues style albums that I listened to during the session, Neil Young’s Harvest, Muddy Water’s Folk Singer, the Montgomery Brothers Groove Yard, Leo Kottke’s 6 and 12 String Guitar and the Alison Krauss record, all revealed the same strengths: drive, detail, rich harmonics and coherence.

A bit later in the day I moved on to some more complex recordings to see how the system handled density. For this listening section I switched over to some classical records, as well as one of my all time favorite vinyl albums, Radiohead’s In Rainbows. The Radiohead songs were spatially rich, successfully revealing the complex textures in this recording. For the classical records, the turntable and tonearm consistently revealed the details within the recordings; each instrument within the orchestra was able to breath while the overall symphonies sounded coherent and dynamic. Often when listening to vinyl, I find that complex music can become muddied, collapsing into the room as the system becomes overwhelmed with musical energy. However the Origin Live table and arm combination was able to keep the music balanced, while allowing individual instruments to reveal themselves. In fact, I loved listening to Ernest Ansermet version of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero so much, I played it twice.

Final Analysis
More than any other product in Hi-Fi, a good analog system is dependent on all of its pieces, and the relationship between table, tonearm, cartridge and phono amplifier become crucial. However, there are a few variables to the Calypso and the Encounter MK3c that stood out to me as relevant to the combination’s overall performance. I would guess that the mass of the turntable plinth is significant; the entire unit is very inert. I would also assume that the dual-pivot bearings and the time spent developing the Encounter model tonearm’s MK3c model, specifically the introduction of the advanced carbon hybrid arm tube, has a strong impact on its overall performance. I would also guess that there is an inherent synergy between the Origin Live table and their own tonearm. And lastly, a good cartridge / tonearm match, running through a properly configured phono amplifier, allows the entire system to reach its heights, which this configuration certainly did. Origin Live does sell phono cartridges from various manufacturers and Dynavector is one of the cartridge manufacturers they support. One has to assume they consider the cartridges to be a good match. I certainly do.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed preparing this review is the amount of information about their products that Origin Live makes readily available via their website. They offer comparisons of their various tonearms, a summary of their tonearm design philosophy, a useful guide on their philosophy of analogue system building and upgrading, and many more useful and interesting links on both their products and company. Origin Live has put a lot of work into making information available, and it’s one of the many ways the company helps to enhance the listening experience for their customers.

With the Calypso turntable and Encounter MK3c tonearm, Origin Live has produced an outstanding analogue combination that offers exceptional vinyl playback for a very reasonable price. Both as individual products and in combination with each other, they deserve and receive my highest recommendation. Well done to you Mr. Mark Baker, and your entire team at Origin Live.

EDITOR's NOTE: We have been advised by the folks at Origin Live that their products are now available in Canada through select dealers. A list of dealers can be found on their web site at the following link:

We have also updated to include North American pricing for the models reviewed. Prices are in US dollars.
Calypso - $2,100.00 USD
Encounter MK3c - $1,750.00 USD
Origin Live, UK
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