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We've all heard those sorts of claims before. Most of the time, they are more marketing fluff than reality. What kind of 'advancements' could accomplish those braggadocio claims? Origin Live attributes them to two primary factors, decoupling the armtube and minimizing ripple effects. De-coupling is the same principle Terry Cain -- known for his gorgeous hand-made double horn speakers -- used in making the plinth for my beloved vintage Garrard 301. The turntable base is rigidly decoupled from both the motor assembly and the tonearm and it sounds superb. The light wood is solid maple, the dark wood walnut. The arm board is combination of walnut and maple, with a hand-hammered brass covering the top plate. The brass leveling devices are onion-shaped like the domes on Russian churches and rest in little indentations you see in the inverted brass discs. The plinth has some interesting features. The base of the plinth is leveled to level the arm board, which then is decoupled from the Garrard motor assembly. The solid maple upper plate with the motor assembly is leveled separately and rigidly decoupled from the armboard and lower base.

It's the same principle also used in the Pete Riggle Audio VTAF to decouple the tonearm from the arm board. Given the quality of sonics and music making ability I've heard from Terry's 301 plinth and Pete's VTAF design, there's something to the decoupling theory. It might be counterintuitive when you hear it in words, but you know it's right-on when you hear the music playing.

Mohammad Ali: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.'
Origin Live uses this principle in their floating bearing philosophy where a high quality bearing is placed into bearing housings deliberately machined to a tolerance that allows the bearing to float and decouple the armtube. Origin Live found that when you clamp the bearings down too tightly, it significantly degrades tonearm performance. But they don't want you to confuse a floating bearing with bearing play that causes chatter - their tonearms have absolutely zero bearing chatter. Origin Live claims there are "very strong technical arguments to suggest that tightly coupling the arm to the deck via tight bearings is detrimental' but that the true test is to use your ears: floating bearings sound better.

The other reported Origin Live breakthrough is their attention to minimizing ripple effects. I wondered what the heck ripple effects might be. The only kind I'm aware of are those afflicting street corner winos. Origin Live says that "vibration transmits through the surface which supports the tonearm in various ways. Most significant is 'rippling' - not just a simple 1 or 2 dimensional movements as some imagine. Ripple exerts twist or angular force into the structure. The mechanism of ripple is seen dramatically with very fast frame photography taken inside ships undergoing underwater explosive shock. When a mine explodes under a ship, the inside becomes a death trap of flying fittings that have become detached due to the underwater shock wave. Anything attached to a sidewall or part of the ship structure detaches at speeds of up to 600Km/hour. The reason this happens is due to the shock waves setting up ripple in the ship structure.' Well okay, but a tonearm isn't exactly a battleship - or is it?

Analogue works because the vibrations of music are recorded onto tape, transferred to master disk, then pressed into vinyl for your cartridge to pick up and turn back into music. In the micro world of analog signal decoding, Origin Live says minimizing ripple effects is very important because they blur bass notes by making your cartridge an unpredictable flexi-flier due to those non-signal shock waves sneaking into the armtube from under the deck. Being that Rega tonearms are probably the most popular tonearms in existence, it was quite shrewd of Origin Live to use the same base geometry in their own arms. If you have a Rega arm, the Origin Live arm is a drop-in replacement.

Origin Live Silver Tonearm
The Silver tonearm uses a large diameter slotted arm tube in an effort to minimize ringing effects while at the same time providing high torsional strength. It also uses the afore-mentioned low friction floating bearings widely spaced outside the arm tube to improve tonearm tracking while minimizing the amount of vibration transmitted to the armtube from the armboard and plinth. Origin Live claims this gives a more articulated bass response and an “increased focus, stability and resolution throughout the frequency range.”

The associated cabling uses gold-plated copper beryllium cartridge tags, silver-plated and PTFE insulated cartridge wires, Litz internal wiring, and external wiring terminated with Australian Bullet plugs reputedly 4 times more conductive than the usual brass phono connectors. There is a separate ground lead from the head shell to attach to the phono stage. The headshell is milled from a solid block of low-mass alloy but high in rigidity to give an optimum environment for the cartridge. The cartridge is further decoupled from the head shell.

Listening Impressions Round 1 - Straight Out of the Box
The review system used for round 1 consisted of my usual Tom Evans Audio Design Vibe preamplifier, Fi 2A3 single-ended triode monoblocks, Avantgarde Duo 2.0 loudspeakers, all strung with Nirvana strings (Nirvana S-X & S-L interconnects, S-L speaker cables, and a custom Nirvana wiring harness to connect the Duos midrange and tweeter horns and woofer module). In addition to my usual gear, Stephaen Harrell loaned me his Monolithic Sound phono stage -- I don’t have a phono stage of my own yet -- and Pete brought over his George Wright vacuum-tube phono stage. The turntable is the aforementioned cream oil-bearing Garrard 301 in a Cain & Cain plinth Terry whipped up for me one night in a flurry of inspiration. The arm rests in Pete Riggle's Vertical Tracking Angle on the Fly (VTAF) adjuster installed into the hand-hammered brass covering on the walnut and maple armboard of the Cain & Cain plinth.

After getting the Silver arm set up, Bill Van Winkle the sightless master piano re-crafter and tuner, TASmanian devil Stephaen, Pete Riggle, Terry & Leslie da Cains and I sat down for a little preliminary listening. Since Pete had fitted the VTAF bushing to the mighty Garrard, it was really simple to swap tonearms back and forth - as easy as unplugging and lifting the Origin Live Silver arm out of the VTAF bushing, dropping Pete's Origin Live modded Rega RB250 into the VTAF bushing, plugging it in. We spun Count Basie's Farmers Market Barbeque, the Soulful Moods of Gene Ammons, Bill Evans' Waltz for Debbie, Chet Baker's Chat, Doc and Merle Watson's Pickin' the Blues, Miles Davis' Cookin', the Tony Bennett and Bill Evans album, You Get More Bounce with Curtis Counce and Bob Dillon's Oh Mercy, most of them Chad Kassem's excellent test pressings.

Stephaen noticed immediately how incredibly quiet Bob Dillon's Oh Mercy album was. 'Where'd the noise go? Pete, what did you do to that record? It was noisy on your table," said Stephaen. Pete replied, "Not a thing. I haven't washed it or brushed it or anything." While pondering that little mystery, we decided to drop in Pete's OL modded Rega into the VTAF. Pete's Origin Live # 4 RB250 tonearm has the Origin Live structural modification (counterweight and stub), internal rewiring and external rewiring. Back when he bought it from Galen Carol Audio, he paid $575. My review Origin Live Silver arm is one up in the line from Pete's modded RB 250 and adds to the Rega base assembly a custom arm tube & head shell machined from high-strength aircraft aluminum. The bearings are also upgraded to a higher specification and positioned outside the arm tube to give "greater torsional stability and lower resonance".

After swapping arms, we noticed immediately that the modded Rega RB250 had Dillon's voice position further back in the recording and there was more air around it. Stephaen said, "With the Rega, the music flows better and is less mechanical. The vocal shadings of Dillon's voice come through better on the OL modded Rega than on the OL Silver." Stephaen also thought the pace, rhythm and timing elements sounded artificially enhanced. 'Sounds like techno-artificial bass. If you're a fan of silicone boobies, you'll like this arm," said he. "I think the Origin Live modded Rega is more musical-sounding than the Origin Live Silver arm."

Terry Cain concurred. "The Silver arm sounds overly sibilant and lacks depth. I can't get past those sibilant high frequencies. It also takes the tonal 'color' out of the bass notes and there's less nuance." Pete piped up and said, "The bass sounds like a rhythm machine on the Silver arm and the modded Rega RB250 gives a more holographic sounds stage, with more front-to-rear dimensionality. I hate that flat arm lift on the Silver arm. It slips off your finger too easy. The curved lift on the Rega is easier to use."

"Yikes, what I am going to tell the Origin Live guys?" I thought. That wasn't exactly a glowing recommendation from my audio pals. The boys thought the less expensive modded Rega stomped the twice-as-expensive Silver arm. I didn't have quite as negative a reaction to the Silver arm as they expressed but it was pretty clear that the modded Rega was the more musical of the two.

Listening Impressions Round 2 – Using a CD Player Output to Burn In the Tonearm Cable
Origin Live says "Origin Live arms take a very long time to burn in their cables and do not sound anything like the final performance when first used. To speed up this process we offer the 'burn in cable' which speeds up the process enormously." Origin Live recommends that you burn in the tonearm cable using the output of your CD player and the supplied burn-in cable for a minimum of 24 hours. Essentially you turn the tonearm cable into a high-level interconnect with voltage passing through it from the CD players output that is thousands of times greater than it will ever see from any phono cartridge.

To prepare my system, I first plugged the RCA connectors of the burn-in cable into the outputs of my Audio Logic vacuum tube DAC, then connected the pin connectors on the other end of the burn-in cable to the headshell cartridge clips and finally plugged the RCA outs from the tonearm into my Tom Evans Design Vibe preamplifier. I used the fabulous new Ning An piano recording of Haydn, Mendelssohn, Berg, and Rachmaninoff [New Art Inc JCD070012] for listening while burning in the tonearm cable to see if I could hear changes taking place as the tonearm cable cooked.