Turntables

Origin Live’s Calypso Turntable and Encounter Tonearm

Believe it or not, I’m someone who always reads the instruction manual before digging into a new piece of technology. And for good reason(s). First, who knows more about said product than the folks that make it and second, you just never know when the way you are used to doing things might just not work on the piece of gear in front of you.

So, I was profoundly impressed and grateful for the note enclosed with the Calypso turntable that said, “Dear reviewer, please read the instruction manual fully before set-up, there are a few things that are counterintuitive with our turntable.” Even if you’ve never read the instructions in the past, thinking you are too clever for that, do it this time. I didn’t find the Calypso terribly counterintuitive, but they do want the bits assembled in a particular order and you’ll save yourself some frustration by doing it their way. You’ve been warned.

Most likely, many of you know British manufacturer Origin Live for their tonearms, and turntable upgrades (They make a particularly good set for the Linn LP-12), but they build some great turntables as well. The Calypso we have here will only set you back $2,400, and it has multiple options. There is an additional balanced power supply available ($450) and the option to use two tonearms ($400), or a single 12-inch arm is also available. ($350) Considering the level of performance and versatility offered, this is a very reasonable sum indeed.

Of course, you can get the Calypso configured for practically any arm, and a quick perusal of the web reveals these tables are used with a wide range indeed, I like the synergy offered by using the manufacturer’s arm with their table. I must believe that it was all designed that way in the first place, and I’m not one who likes to fiddle all that much – I like to listen to records. That being said, if you already have an arm in search of a table, don’t remove the Calypso from your short list. Being an unsuspended design, it’s not like an Oracle or LP-12 where fine-tuning the suspension to a specific arm might just make you mad.

I suggest blocking out an hour or two of time where you can hold the phone and achieve a certain level of clarity to assemble the Calypso. Leave the phone off the hook, lock the door and don’t even think of posting pictures of the table during assembly to Facebook. Focus, and get the job done, you will be rewarded. Once you’re playing records, then you can take a selfie with your Calypso.

A perfect mate

Origin Live’s US Importer, Jay Kaufman sent the Calypso by with Origin Live’s Encounter tonearm ($1,500) and the updated power supply for our trial. After the setup period a few cartridges were experimented with: the new Kiseki Purple Heart (review here) the Ortofon Cadenza Black, and the new Grado Statement 2 (review here), as well as a few budget cartridges in the sub – $500 category. I’m not sure if Mr. Kaufman will agree with me on this, but I’m a big fan of buying the best arm and table combination you can afford and get a better cartridge later if you must make a choice. Otherwise, you are throwing valuable resolution from a premium cartridge away, if you don’t have a stable base from which it can extract information from your record’s precious grooves.

The Encounter proves easy to mount and set up having built in VTA and even azimuth adjustment. It’s unique dual pivot design for vertical plane with gimble in horizontal plane gives it a steady feel, no unipivot wobble. Origin CNC’s everything in house and the arm comes with high quality internal/external wiring including choice of attached cable terminated with RCAs or DIN plug at the base of  the arm.

The sound

Dropping the first record on the infused cork mat, the Origin Live combo makes for an exciting encounter indeed, one repeated numerous times in the months to come. Having used quite a few turntables in the $2,500 – $10,000 range, they all seem to have different strengths and weaknesses and a “sound” of their own. My own set of criteria are as follows: easy to set up/tough to set up, highly resolving/forgiving, immune to environmental vibration/needs additional suspension or isolation to give its all.

I’ll put up with an extremely fussy table like an LP-12 or an Oracle because I like the end result. But the OL combo is only mid-scale regarding set up prowess required, so that’s a bonus. After careful listening with a wide range of cartridges (and using the Pass XS Phono as a source), I’ll call the sound a lovely combination of resolving, with a touch of forgiving thrown in. To try and put this in perspective, it’s not as “forgiving” as a mid-level LP-12, not quite as “just the facts” as a Rega RP-10, yet not quite as heavy handed as the VPI Classic Two that gets a lot of play around here. Make sense?

British tables are known for their sense of pace, and this is where the OL combo excels. It grabs the essence of the music, especially when listening to your favorite piece of complex or dense music. One of my favorite older test tracks is Brand X’s Livestock. With many layers of percussion, drums, bass, guitar and a handful of time changes thrown in, this will challenge any vinyl playback setup. You could easily substitute Frank Zappa, Rush or Tool, depending on your musical taste. The bottom line is that the OL deck not only creates an expansive sound field, but it also keeps everything in the mix distinct, instead of just blending the music together to the point where you can’t always distinguish clearly what’s going on. For me, this is a big part of the high-end magic and is essential.

Next up, low-level detail retrieval – another area the OL delivers the goods. Whether listening to classical music, solo vocals, or sparsely populated records, these subtle spatial and soft notes are what separates the top performers from the mediocre. Regardless of cartridge used, tracking through Bowie’s Aladdin Sane is a sublime experience, and the asymmetrical piano work on the title track is tough for any tonearm to handle, but again, this comes through masterfully.

Finally, the sheer dynamic range offered by the OL table and arm is near the best I’ve heard at this price point. Much of this can be attributed to the fine assembly of the tonearm, arm/table synergy and the choice of motor, along with its coupling to the table. If it all doesn’t work together as a system, musical detail and sheer slam are compromised. Simplistic as it sounds, the OL paints a large musical picture, offering plenty of might, yet does not sacrifice fine detail in the process. Adding the external power supply will magnify this a bit, and is well worth considering to add to your purchase. However, it is nice to know that you can add it later with ease. I like the inherent modularity of the Origin Live products. It’s a very green approach. (Remember, I live in the Pacific Northwest, I’m kind of a tree-hugger.)

Bass response is closely tied to this ability as well. When auditioning some of my favorite EDM and prog tracks, this deck never feels thin. Bass is solid and well controlled without any lack of detail. In my main system with two REL 212 subwoofers, the OL table and arm worked best on top of the Grand Prix Audio rack, or wall mounted. As part of the system in room two, with a pair of Quad 2812s, this was not an issue at all. This is no knock at the OL, any of the unsuspended tables I use (VPI, Technics, Soulines, and Rega) all need the benefit of this rack or wall mount in room one.

Balance is the key

After living with the Origin Live Calypso and Encounter for some time now, I can recommend it wholeheartedly. It offers a high level of performance for the price asked, but more importantly (at least to me) it offers a tremendous level of balance. One aspect of analog performance is not given a high priority at the sacrifice of others.

Good as this all is, there is a high level of “upgradability” as well, so this is a table that you can live with for a long time, perhaps forever. The ability to add a second arm is a huge bonus, whether you have two arms in mind now, or decide that as your record collection diversifies, it can be easily added.

Great sound, great price, great deck. The Origin Live Calypso/Encounter is highly deserving of an Exceptional Value Award for 2017. Highly recommended!

The Origin Live Calypso turntable and Encounter tonearm

$2,400 and $1,500 respectively.

www.originlive.com (factory)

www.audiorevelation.com (US Importer)

Peripherals

Phonostage                              Pass Labs XS Phono

Cartridges                                Ortofon Cadenza Black, Kiseki Purple Heart, Grado Statement 2

Preamplifier                             Pass Labs XS Pre

Power Amplifier                     Pass Labs XS 300 monos

Speakers                                  Focal Sopra no.3 w/(2) REL 212SE subwoofers

Cable                                       Cardas Clear

Power                                      IsoTek

Isolation                                  Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular Rack

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