Looking for a high-end source system? Paul Rigby reviews Origin Live’s Sovereign Mk.3 turntable, Enterprise C arm and Champion cartridge
Origin Live’s system arrives in its latest incarnation. Hence, the Sovereign Mk.3 features the latest transformer upgrade, the Enterprise C arm was supplied in its 12” version and the Champion cartridge is a wholly new design, made for Origin Live for Soundsmith, in the USA.
The turntable, spanning 450x380x160mm, is a massy affair, weighing in at 34kg (including the platter), “Turntables do sound better if there is mass in the design,” said Mark Baker, Origin Live boss, “to stop ground and airborne vibration having too much effect on the deck. The mass is present in the three chromed, steel pods and the slice of steel alloy situated between the two acrylic sandwich slices on the plinth.”
The platter is made from a carefully constructed acrylic with low internal stresses. When acrylic is cast, in large slabs, if it’s not cooled very carefully it will gradually build internal stresses, “The cheap acrylic platters out there tend to be made in Mexico where there’s no control whatsoever. It’s taken me the best part of 15 years to source this type of acrylic.”
Time has also been utilised to source the bespoke motor and bearing consisting of a hardened steel ball running on a tungsten carbide plate. Origin Live originally utilised a suspended system but dropped it for, “…a single point system. It’s a bit like star-earthing and it’s very efficient. If you take the platter off, you will see that it is held together with a single bolt which is the position of the pivot.”
Turntable construction was straightforward but involved. Care and attention is required which is not helped by the rambling, rather indistinct manual (the arm suffers in the same way).
Moving to the 12” version of the Enterprise C, this duel pivot design features a carbon fibre tube forming a base for four extra layers, including ebony, “The headshell is constructed from a different material, a conscious decision done to disperse vibration.”
The arm also includes steel bearings into tungsten steel cups while the low friction yoke is massy to help bass and dynamics. The arm design is essentially a simple one. For example, the simple thread and ball anti-skating mechanism, “…is superior to springs which resonate and to magnets which have a lot of damping affects and prevent freedom of movement.”
Onto the cartridge and the Champion, a six-sided, fully shielded, moving iron design based on ‘proprietary’ composite chassis, telescoping aluminium alloy cantilever and a Contact Line nude diamond stylus. Weighing in at 10.25g, it works best with a light, 1.7-1.9g, of tracking force. The mounting screws were able to pass through the headshell for a firm fitting.
So why moving iron and not moving coil? President and chief engineer for Soundsmith, Peter Ledermann, was adamant, “In a moving coil, it is difficult to reduce the coil size beyond a certain point. Moving iron, which is very difficult to build, has advantages in this area because the magnet and the coils are stationary. So, you can reduce the size of the iron that is inside the magnetic path and the damping system is much more effective. This means that the cantilever and stylus can respond and recover much more quickly.”
Ledermann also referred to the natural resonant frequencies that, after the mass reduction, are moved up in the frequency range in the Champion. This reduces cartridge ‘jitter’ and improves the contact of the stylus along the groove wall, reducing groove noise, “When you stay in better statistical contact with the groove wall and the amplitude of the jitter is reduced, you are actually going to hear what’s on the record. If the stylus is leaving the groove wall and it’s banging its way down the groove, it still generates a voltage because it’s in motion. So what you hear are artefacts from the cartridge, trying to do its best,” said Ledermann.
One of the intriguing aspects of this system review is the price ratio of the individual components. Ignoring pounds and pence, my reference basically features a £10,000 turntable, £2,000 turntable and a £1,000 cartridge. Origin’s system features a £5,000 turntable, £5,000 arm and £2,500 cartridge. Vastly different ratios for a similar total outlay, “My views on the ‘ratio’ have changed a lot over the years,” said Baker. “The fact is that you can get a lot of very good decks at fairly low prices. Our low cost decks compete with decks that would normally cost you £10,000. The argument is based on what is available, though. Fifteen years ago, there were no great arms out there. Those that where, fetched £500 – considered a real top grade arm price in those days! That has changed now. I’d say that our Onyx, at £450, out-performs most £3,000 arms. The Enterprise arm is at such a level that you don’t need a £10,000 turntable. The question is, in today’s terms, with turntable quality already so high, how much more improvement do you really get by spending £13,000 over £3,000 on a deck? Probably, not a lot. The room for improvement, the current place where great strides are being made, is in the arm sector.”
I first focused on the Sovereign/Enterprise combination, using my reference Benz Glider cartridge on both systems. Spinning Frank Sinatra’s ‘The September Of My Years’, the Origin pair exuded tremendous focus and the stereo image was rock solid while the soundstage was wide and high: a real ‘stage’ performance, in fact. The entire backing orchestra was also tight and very ‘together’ as a unit. They were perky and alert in their task.
What also was obvious to the ear was the low distortion. The Origin pairing produced a quite stunning degree of clarity that allowed the Sinatra voice to be resonant and, during lower midrange sequences, deeply emotional at times. Similarly, instrumental separation was quite startling, as the treble from a simple triangle offered a warm, gentle yet quite incisive presentation. On the opposite channel there was appreciable space between sweeping violins and plucked strings.
Turning to rock and The Stranglers’ Radio 1 Session track, ‘Down In The Sewer’, running at 45rpm, the low distortion allowed the treble to become expressive with well formed cymbals being pulled from the melange while once blurry lyrics were easily distinguishable. The synth-based organ had an airy, light presentation and midrange that never neglected subtle detail. Bass guitar lacked obvious weight but, because it was highly focused, it avoided bloom and bass artefacts, being punchy and direct but revealing with impressive transients and tonal information.
Onto classical and the ‘Opening Dance’ of Sullivan & Mackerras’ ‘Pineapple Poll’ which provided a spacious soundstage. Upper mids were sparkling with strings being light and lively. Brass impressed in terms of its metallic attack without being aggressive to the ear. Even the triangle was delicate, it’s reverb tail extending splendidly.
Turning to the Champion, I used an Ortofon Cadenza Black moving coil (£1,800), as a reference to see if a moving iron could challenge this, five globe winning, MC unit.
Starting with Sinatra, while the Ortofon offered calm authority, a warm and smooth musical reproduction, the Champion supplied a more adventurous nature. There was a certain danger and excitement in its presentation. That is, the Champion fully explored every corner of the upper mids to deliver as much detail as possible. I was fortunate to be able to use an Icon PS3 phono amp with a volume control and largely self-adjusting loading which meant that I could juggle loading and gain to provide suitably balance sonics. As such, the general presentation was relatively neutral but bordering on the cool. During a violin sequence, while the Champion didn’t have that relaxed, rich sweep of the Cadenza’s strings, it did offer an impressive transient response and Sinatra’s vocal performance was incisive.
Moving to The Stranglers, the track was effusive: exuding energy and vitality. The synth organ, often a dominant force of the early part of the track, became the star of the entire song as the Champion extracted detail from its complex runs.
Hugh Cornwell’s lead vocal was aggressive and emotive while the bass guitar was balanced within the mix. Percussion was rhythmic, musical and tight but it never bloomed or leaked into the rest of the sonic spectrum.
The classical piece, ‘Pineapple Poll’, offered an open and airy soundstage with a delicate and fragile treble via the triangle plus a slightly cool brass and string presentation. Welcome lower mid, upper bass support grounded the track and gave the track an added musicality.
Finally, spinning the well-mastered Ernestine Anderson track, ‘As Long As I Live’, running at 45rpm, the low key jazz was transparent in nature with the upper mid-rich piano solo sounding sprightly and alert. The 3D soundstage held Anderson’s effective, swing-based vocal performance in place, without a problem. Meanwhile, the percussion was precise while the double bass output was tight and characterful.
Ending the sound tests on a more general, system level point, for a relatively low cost upgrade to the system as a whole, I’d also recommend the Oyadie STB-MS stabiliser (£225). On The Stranglers track, it immediately calmed the rather shouty lead guitar, a result of compression during mastering, and opened up the soundstage further reducing distortion. Bass guitar was rounded and lively while the organ synth offered a richer presentation.
Mark Baker’s assertion regarding the ratio between deck and arm might be a contentious one but, if this review is anything to go by, he’s got a point! The combination of the Sovereign and the Enterprise, in its 12” incarnation, was startling in terms of sound quality. That Origin Live has decided to focus more on anti-distortion methods to achieve this high performance level is to be praised.
The Champion provides a transparent, open performance that sometimes pushes the upper mids to the very limit of easy listening and sometimes threatens to become overly clinical but is also enjoys investigating the master to the full, providing an informative listen.
As a whole, the system is absorbing, offering a focused and perceptive listen. The cartridge would benefit from careful demonstrations with contrasting designs to meet your own aural taste but, as it stands, it’s pretty damn impressive.
ORIGIN LIVE SOVEREIGN MK.3 WITH 12” MOUNTING
ORIGIN LIVE ENTERPRISE C ARM 12”
ORIGIN LIVE CHAMPION
Tel: +44 (0)2380 578877
Avid Acutus/SME IV/Benz Glider
Icon PS3 Phono amplifier
Aesthetix Calypso pre-amp
Icon Audio MB845 Mk.II monoblocks
Quad ESL-57 speakers with One Thing upgrade
Nordost QB6 Quantum Qbase power block
Tellurium Blue power cables
Atlas Mavros speaker cables
Atlas Mavros interconnects