The Origin Live ULTRA Turntable Kit
|The Origin Live ULTRA Turntable Kit|
6 May 2002
Complete Kit Turntable:
2 speed, DC motor belt-drive turntable. Solid wood plinth w/ cherry wood finish. 3-spring, suspended, damped steel subchassis. 24mm thick, acrylic platter with subplatter. Oil-bath bearing. DC transformer and regulator board. Dust cover. Complete instructions.
PRICE: $664.32 (Subject to change based on exchange rate of $US to GB Pound. Shipping and Customs duty not included)
Advanced DC Regulation Board Price: $185
Upgraded Power Supply Transformer Price: $216
Sliding VTA Adjustor $59
Threaded VTA Adjustor $30.85
The Origin Live Ultra Kit turntable is the more expensive companion to their excellent Standard Kit table ($660 versus $428.) I reviewed the Standard Kit and found it an exceptionally musical device and an equally exceptional bargain. Those willing to expend the effort to assemble these kits are rewarded with 2 of the biggest bargains in analogue playback. The Ultra Kit is designed to optimize the performance of the DC motor upon which both tables are based, and differs from the Standard in incorporating a sprung and damped metal subchassis. Unlike most sprung subchassis designs of the past, Origin Live does not use the springs to isolate motor vibrations from the platter. The goal was to maximize the drive of the DC motor by isolating the belt from outside interference. The extremely low-vibration DC motor allows direct attachment to the subchassis, allowing the complete playback system - motor, belt, platter and arm - to be mounted on the subchassis and thus isolated by the springs from the external environment. Gone is the pull of chassis-mounted motors on the springs and the sprung mass of the platter and arm. Gone too is the compromised isolation that the motor being attached to the outside world causes.
Physically the Ultra is a traditional looking turntable, its cherrywood base evoking the wood plinth look of the Linn Sondek LP 12, Thorens, and especially the ES series of AR tables. The wooden top plate of the chassis, stained black, hangs the damped steel subchassis on three threaded rods. Three springs, each with a different tension, are compressed by the weight of the subchassis and are optimized in their position to balance at the line of contact of the arm and record. I found Origin Live's subchassis design well-sorted and successful: the effect of placing the Ultra on various tables, racks, and on various isolation devices was notably free from the kind of neuroses with which many sprung tables are saddled. I found no significant difference in sonics and musicality. Well done.
In addition to the subchassis design, the Ultra uses a heavier and taller acrylic platter than the Standard. The DC motor and its optional regulation board and transformer upgrades are the same, as are belt, bearing, power switch and subplatter.
The Ultra is designed for use with Rega arms, or any other arm that follows the same geometry and mounting. I used Origin Live's Silver 250 tonearm and their fully modified Rega RB 250. Arms mount to the subchassis' removable arm top plate; arm height adjusts by using either of OL's 2 VTA/SRA adjustors, or by shimming the arm with washers. The standard adjustor, a threaded nut (similar in concept to the Michell and Incognito Easy Riser) threads on the arm pillar on top of the arm plate, and allows varying the arm height. It works well for those not interested in frequent swapping of cartridges or altering VTA/SRA for different thickness of records. Because it requires slackening or tightening the arm pillar locknut underneath the turntable base (use the right tool or borrow a set of long thin fingers,) OL's premium VTA adjustor is much easier to use. A collar/sleeve arrangement, the premium adjustor allows varying arm height from the top of the turntable with a single Allen-head bolt.
There are 2 upgrade options to extract the ultra performance from the DC motor: a more sophisticated regulator board which offers greater stability in varying ambient temperatures and more consistent speed over the length of the record, and the Upgraded power transformer (this requires the upgraded regulator board) which offers deeper, more powerful bass and dynamics. My partially heated basement listening room (59 to 64 degrees F in the winter) caused problems with the stock regulator board on both the Ultra and my older Standard when temperatures were 60 degrees F. Sometimes, especially after moving the table to swap arms, speed control would be lost and resetting it was necessary. Upgrading to the premium board completely solved the same problem on the Standard. A local source of heat near the table also solved the problem (a halogen lamp worked in my case), offering the additional benefit of warming the record and cartridge to more optimum operational temperatures. Once listening room temperature hit 64 degrees F or higher, there were no problems.
The heavier and taller acrylic platter is supplied without a mat and OL recommends not using any. I listened to it 'neat', with a Ringmat, and with the complete Ringmat Record Support System (which allows changing VTA by a series of record shims).
I auditioned a range of representative types and prices of cartridges through the turntable - from the $180 Denon DL 160, Audio Technica AT OC9 ML, Shure V-15 V xMR, Goldring Eroica LX, Grado Signature TLZ-V, Platinum and Reference, on up to the $3000 Micro Benz Ruby 2 and $2500 van den Hul Frog. 5 different phono stages and three different sets of interconnects were used in the auditioning regimen.
Consistent throughout all my auditions were the Ultra's excellent rhythmic drive and ability to articulate tempo, pulse and meter. Unraveling complex polyrhythms and tracking dynamic gradations of each instrument simultaneously within ensemble playing was also superb. The fastest and most complex rhythmic patterns were portrayed with ease. Add articulate phrasing and clear portrayal of the shape -- attack, sustain and decay -- of each note and the basics of deeply involving music making are guaranteed. These abilities have been the traditional hallmark signature of UK tables. They are for me the sine qua non for any turntable, as mediocre performance in these music basics compromises and distorts the musical value of any recording.
Tonally, the Ultra was a chameleon, sounding like the cartridge and arm being used. The Silver 250 arm, used for 90% of my auditioning, offers little editorial comment on the cartridge's abilities, reproducing its strengths as well as its limitations. The less fussy OL RB 250 was more forgiving and a bit more flattering while contributing slightly more swaggering bass lines that suited rock and jazz very well. I found no obvious turntable-sourced colorations of tonality throughout the musical range. The slightly wooden signature on bass transients at a few frequencies of the MDF base of the Standard turntable (and other MDF plinth tables) was gone. Presentation was without metallic colorations, edge or glare and was neither upfront nor laid back. Ultimately, sound was a bit sweet and rounded in tone rather than acidic and sharp.
Contrary to my presuppositions, placing the records directly on the acrylic platter as recommended worked well. Using the Ringmat and the complete Ringmat Record Support System to fine-tune the more persnickety stylus-shape cartridges offered no diminution in performance. Indeed with some cartridges the Ringmat offered additional clarity and dynamic contrasts with a greatly enlarged sonic image. Played neat, records with elevated mid-range EQ were not generally offensive, while the use of the Ringmat could make these records more obviously false. One can easily season to taste here and if inclined to do so, the easier change in arm height that the premium VTA adjustor offers is a necessity.
Sound staging, image placement and stereoscopy were aptly a function of the recording, cartridge and associated phono stage and cables. This is as it should be. Upgrading to the more sophisticated regulator board considerably improved focus in imaging and the Upgrade transformer further refines stereo placement and portrayal of the acoustic venue. The gains in transparency and in articulation of the basics of music making are significant with these upgrades.
Speed control with the stock regulator board, and hence power, authority, articulation and flow, exceeded the Standard Kit table with the upgraded regulator board, the Ultra's heavier platter offering greater flywheel effect and the effective isolation of the subchassis being key contributing factors. Comparing the Ultra with the stock board to my old Linn LP 12 Nirvana came out decidedly in the Ultra's favor. An OL DC motored Linn LP12, with both Upgraded transformer and regulator board, considerably bettered the Ultra (with the stock regulator board) offering more brio and vivace, with more powerful and dynamic bass. Since these improvements are the design goals and effect of the Upgraded transformer, the ultimate Ultra (Ne Plus Ultra?) would include the Upgrade transformer.
Opting for the Upgraded power transformer (and its required regulator board) raises the price of the table to the $1000 level, but so equipped, the Ultra will see off turntables 2 to 5 times its price in rhythmic and musical aplomb. Backers of David in David/Goliath conflicts will be well pleased.
The instruction manual mentions 1-2 hours building time. Hampered by an incapacitating knee injury and general Three Stooges levels of mechanical foresight and aptitude, it took me a bit longer. Instructions for assembly were straightforward. Origin Live pre-cuts exit holes in the base for arm cables and motor power supply connection, but does not pre-drill p-clip attachment holes for the tonearm cable and motor/regulator board/power switch wires. The latter could be fixed in place with tape or Blu-tak, but using a screwed in p-clip for dressing the arm cable would be wise. The only path into the isolation system of the suspended chassis is through the arm cable and grounding it mechanically to the chassis is optimum. The power supply regulation board is not pre-drilled for attachment to the chassis. The only soldering required is attachment of 2 leads to the motor.
Attaching, setting up and balancing the subchassis, an arcane ritual on some tables, went smoothly on the Ultra and I got it right first try. Setting correct speed is aided by the inclusion of a strobe disc, though not completely attaching the regulator board to the subchassis's underside makes it even simpler, allowing easier access to the 2 speed-setting variable resistors on the regulator board.
I've always loved products that allow music lovers of all income levels access to high performance playback. Turntables need to be very precise mechanical devices to do their job correctly, and precision mechanical performance generally costs money. Remember when spring-wound watches needed to be hugely expensive just to keep reasonably accurate time? Simple, clever and competent design is necessary to achieve success at lower price levels and Mark Baker of Origin Live is a proven master. Although there is some "kit"-ishness in the Ultra Kit and a lack of surface flash, I'll gladly accept some cosmetic hand-rolled aspects in favor of the higher performance the Ultra Kit delivers.
I can think of no better bargains in LP playback than the Ultra and Standard Kits. Since the Ultra does not require additional isolation to enhance its performance, it is even a bigger bargain than the Standard (tripod-mount "planar" tables obtain most of their isolation through the abilities of their feet, and tend to gain the most from air and bearing type isolation devices). Opt for the Upgraded transformer and regulator board and you can forget about lusting after high-priced "better" tables. Congratulations to Origin Live for another superbly musical and affordable product. Highly recommended.
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