Silver Tonearm

Stereo Times Review

Paul Szabady 
November 2001

Tonearm-Silver-MK1

Price: $735 (price will vary based on UK currency exchange rates, Shipping excluded)

Available from and manufactured by:
Origin Live, Unit 5, 362b Spring Road,Sholing, Southampton, SO19 2PB UK 
Phone: +44 (0)2380 578877 Fax +44 (0)2380 578877
http://www.originlive.com
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I consider Origin Live’s modification of the Rega RB 250 tonearm to be the premiere bargain in analog audio today. It supplants the long-reigning Rega RB 300 arm for that honor and has been intensely enjoyable in my various systems over the last year and a half. The kind of intense musical peak experience that makes it is impossible to get up after the record to cue the arm up has become routine. The OL RB250 has been so musically satisfying that I’ve felt no need to upgrade it or to consider more expensive arms. Rhythmically beguiling, musically articulate, tonally balanced, and sweetly detailed without resorting to x-ray penetration, its inexpensive price allows ownership by serious music lovers not blessed with obscenely high incomes. My hat is off to Mark Baker for combining savvy engineering with a pricing policy that brings into question the value of high-priced tonearms.

The Silver 250 is the newest addition to the Origin Live stable of tonearms. Priced at $735 US (price will vary as the US dollar varies in value with the British pound, and roughly $300 more than the OL RB250), it slots in under the entry-level, "high-end" tonearms. The "silver" refers to the new, non-Rega arm tube and headshell, which are made of aircraft alloy. The "250" harkens to its roots in the Rega RB 250, roots that are now only vestigial. Gone are the OEM Rega black arm tube, bearings and counterweight: only the tonearm pillar, base, antiskate, and cuing mechanism/platform remain to link it with the stock Rega arm. Significantly, an "Origin Live" insignia now graces the tonearm. The horizontal bearings are of a higher ABEC rating and the bearing yoke has been widened. The arm stub and counterweight are identical to Origin Live’s modification of the Rega arm, as are the tonearm wiring and phono plugs. The non-removable headshell is much thicker and more rigid than on the standard Rega arm and is de-coupled from the arm tube. An Allen bolt, precisely torqued, maintains integrity of the headshell in the arm tube. The headshell and the counterweight are both de-coupled. Mark Baker believes that there are definite advantages to decoupling at crucial points: too long a resonance path, despite it attractiveness as theory, can create problems in practice. This runs against the Rega’s design philosophy, but the Silver 250 is no longer a modified Rega; it should be considered an Origin Live tonearm.

The Silver 250 builds on the excellent sonic and musical strengths of the Origin Live RB250; a fair understanding would be to see it as a higher-resolution OL 250. Detail is improved across the bandwidth, while maintaining the OL 250’s excellent conveyance of rhythmic drive, balanced tonality, punctuation and articulation of phrasing, and bass weight and punch. The increased detail is of musical interest; this isn’t the kind of detail that is extraneous to musical communication. It offers a finer insight into the subtleties of instrumental timbre, musical performance, and recording quality. Dynamic contrasts are larger and thus the sound is more vivid than the OL 250. Instrumental and soundstage focus is sharper and clearer. Control of transients is also improved: the overall impression of the Silver 250 is of finer precision and control, with greater finesse, subtlety and nuance. As such, it allows a more cerebral understanding of both sonic and performance detail than the OL RB 250, but by no means enforces such a view. I could not call it analytical, in that word’s pejorative sense, because the arm is not cold or etched sounding, and while details are differentiated, they are also synthesized into a musical whole. I consider this to be the ideal goal of increased resolution: more detail in the service of the music.

The Silver 250 demands conscientious set-up: slight errors in Vertical Tracking Angle and in cartridge alignment are obvious. Get the VTA wrong and you’ll know it; get it really right and the music takes wing. The Silver 250’s increased detail reveals the limitations of indifferent recordings, cartridges, and pressings, but does not highlight them. As such it benefits from being matched to the finest ancillary components and recordings. It is somewhat of a thoroughbred in its need for fastidiousness. The OL 250, though less focused overall, is less persnickety and more forgiving: it tells you what’s good about the music without focusing on the recording’s flaws.

From a musical standpoint the 2 tonearms are somewhat akin to hearing the same performance in two excellent but different halls: the detail and clarity of a slightly dry contemporary hall versus a warmer, more romantic-sounding older hall. The musical quality of the performance isn’t necessary changed, but each hall (arm) offers a different perspective.

I auditioned the Silver 250 in 4 turntables: the Origin Live Standard Kit, a Linn Sondek LP12 Nirvana, an AR with Merrill’s acrylic subchassis and bearing, and an Origin Live DC-motored Linn LP12 (formerly a Valhalla). The simpatico mating of the OL arms with the Linn LP 12 continues with the Silver 250 I’m happy to report. Not surprisingly, the audibility of the improvement of the Silver 250 over the OL RB 250 was greatest in the DC-motored Linn, followed closely by the OL Standard Kit. As Linn has long espoused, the hierarchy of contribution to overall sound proceeds first from the turntable, then the arm, and finally, the cartridge.

I installed a gamut of cartridges in the arm that fairly encompass the range of cartridge sound and generation/output types: Grado TLZ-V Conqueror and Shure V-15 V xMR (high output moving iron and moving magnet, respectively), Audio Technica AT- OC9ML, Goldring Eroica LX, and Koetsu Rosewood Conqueror (low-output moving coil) and Denon DL 160 (high-output moving coil.) The sonic Conquerors and capabilities of each cartridge emerged clearly and at no time did I feel that the Silver 250 was being taxed or losing control. Quite the contrary, it sailed through my usual acid test LPs with ease, finesse and great satisfaction.

Do owners of the Origin Live RB 250 need to immediately upgrade? Not necessarily: the cheaper arm is still a stunning and completely viable musical product. It still produces intense musical pleasure and its slightly forgiving nature can be sonically flattering. I could live happily with the OL RB250 arm for the rest of my life. Is the Silver 250 worth the $300 additional cost over the OL RB 250? Yes. The gains in resolution, subtlety, finesse and detail enhance musical understanding and pleasure without negative trade-offs. The quality of one’s turntable should be considered however in opting for the Silver 250, as lesser table might not allow its full potential to flower. The Silver 250 is another superb product from Origin Live that challenges the $2000+ mega-buck arms to justify their existence. Origin Live continues its run of excellent new products and its tradition of reasonable prices. A terrific arm, a terrific bargain, and, obviously, the highest of recommendations.

Address

Origin Live Ltd. Unit 5, 362B Spring Road Sholing, Southampton SO19 2PB, UK