You would be forgiven for thinking the difference in sound quality between the best tonearms and others is fairly minor – after all they look fairly similar so what could possibly make any real difference?
In addition, it seems that your cartridge is at the business end of things, so the advice is “invest in a good cartridge and great sound will naturally follow”.
However intuition is not always reliable and an alternative view of things offers breakthroughs which are otherwise unachievable. This article explains why improving your tonearm will yield results out of all proportion to general expectations.
The truth is that popular tonearms seriously limit the performance of cartridges. We will examine the reasons for this in detail later. It follows that upgrading to a better tonearm will massively increase your cartridge performance and overall sound quality. Not only this but the best tonearms have the added benefits of :
- Significant financial savings in the long term
- Your record collection will last longer
Feedback from hundreds of e-mails testifies that a wise tonearm choice is an investment that really works. Later we examine the reasons why this long-held view of system hierarchy proves true.
In fact, this tonearm-table combo is one of the finest performers I’ve heard at any price…but regardless of price, this is one of the truly special products I’ve reviewed in the past 18 years.
Michael Fremmer – Stereophile Magazine
The biggest improvement I’ve made in 25 years of listening to music and lots of exchanges of Hi-Fi stuff…breathtaking, big new level. It’s like coming to Nirvana.
The most addictive product I’ve ever heard.
Audio 10 Magazine on the Conqueror tonearm
When it comes to upgrading an arm, it’s helpful to know the return on investment. One method of quantifying improvement is to look at the pricing of cartridges. Trials show that your cartridge performance can be increased to the level of one costing up to 70 times as much – the tonearm being the only difference. This claim is staggering but backed by a wealth of evidence.
For example, 25 years ago, when all serious audio systems were vinyl based, reviewers went to great lengths to establish the hierarchy of components within a system. One test took a cheap £20 AT95E cartridge, versus an expensive £500 cartridge. The only difference being the cheaper cartridge residing in a better tonearm. With utter astonishment, the £20 cartridge sounded significantly better than the £500 one! This translates to the cartridge performing at over 25 times its value!
Another example of a hierarchy is related by a German Hi-Fi shop owner hosting an evening for 40 clients. He compared a cheap £100 Denon 103 cartridge with a well respected £2500 cartridge. Again, the only difference being the cheaper cartridge in a better tonearm. Sure enough, the cheaper cartridge won by a jaw-dropping extent.
It’s worth mentioning that this wasn’t a poor arm in the ring with a good arm. Rather it was between some of the best tonearms — the highly respected Origin Live Silver arm against the Conqueror tonearm, much higher in the range. For perspective, the lesser Silver arm, was reviewed as “probably the best arm in the world”, when it first entered the market in 2002. We are looking here at an extraordinarily good arm, versus an absolutely top-flight arm. Furthermore, the “best tonearm” statement on the Silver (£600 at the time) was no wild statement made by a newbie reviewer, but a well established Hi-Fi magazine Editor with years of experience of SMEVs, Linn Ekos, Naim Aros, tri-planar, Grahams and a host of other high-end arms.
Due to their exceptional performance, even the more affordable Origin Live arms will replace much more expensive arms by other brands and still give the results mentioned above or your money back. This is not a difficult upgrade to carry out as our arms are exceptionally easy to fit and set up.
Origin Live tonearms are designed on the belief that equipment should be outstandingly enjoyable to listen to, and as close to the original sound as possible. This may sound obvious, but there are some who are so fixated on isolated facets of sound like deep bass or excessive detail that they lose sight of the big picture – customers are told they need their ears retraining if they don’t like what they hear. To us, this is nonsense, if the music produced is not enjoyable, then the design is fundamentally flawed.
Our tonearms have steadily earned a reputation for being the best at a musical performance. Musicality has a lot to do with the way our brains process and enjoy music. Music is like watching a group of dancers on stage. If they all perform in unison then the effect is brilliant. Conversely, if they are out of time with each other and not co-ordinated, the effect is spoilt! In much the same way, some equipment can produce a simple strand of music well enough but when more instruments kick in the timing of the bass may seem to lag behind and lack integration with the overall sound. Notable among many other common problems are overblown bass, insufficient bass or excessive treble which leads to listener fatigue.
It’s natural to desire an explanation for what lies behind the spectacular transformation of cartridge performance. Firstly, your cartridge stylus generates vibration which causes your tonearm to bend and vibrate at a microscopic but measurable level. This has important repercussions.
A helpful analogy is to think of a gauge used in engineering to measure 1/1000ths of an mm. These need to be rigidly mounted to measure accurately. Imagine putting one of these on the end of a thin fishing rod and waggling it. No matter how accurate the gauge (your cartridge), its accuracy would be invalidated by the movement. This may seem extreme but it illustrates precisely why tonearm behaviour makes all the difference. Your cartridge is constantly “measuring” the undulations of the record groove at levels well below 1/1000th of an mm. If the surface it’s mounted on is unstable and moving then it cannot do its job properly.
Another analogy is that using a poor tonearm is like expecting to view an object clearly through a powerful 100X optical microscope, whilst holding the microscope with a trembling hand! Your cartridge amplifies vibration not 100 times, but a colossal 8000 times. How well does it need to be held is the all-important question? The best tonearms reduce “tremble” far more than underperformers.
You cannot see tonearm vibration so nobody gets alarmed. However, this does not mean it’s not happening – big time! After all, neither can you see your stylus vibrating as it generates the audio signal for your music.
Conversely seeing the movements of your tonearm as it tracks the record leads to imagining it’s bearings must be of supreme importance. Tonearm marketing often plays to this assumption, proposing that highly specified bearings with interference fits will deliver exemplary performance. These assumptions are partially correct but shift attention away from structural vibration which is actually much more significant in terms of sound quality. A survey we conducted with over 1000 audio enthusiasts, gave the result that 82% thought bearings affected tonearm performance more than the armtube structure.
Of course, an inadequate bearing will kill performance, and yes, we research bearings very carefully, but overwhelmingly, testing shows the arm-tube to have the most influence on performance. We shall attempt to illustrate why the tube “micro-vibrates” and how this disrupts the proper working of your cartridge.
Micro-vibration is similar to electricity or sound waves. You know these things really exist because you see or hear their effects. We can also picture Micro-vibration. For example, if you hit a long tubular railing, you can hear it resonating even though you cannot see it moving. If you sit in an aeroplane, you can feel the engine causing the whole structure to vibrate but again you cannot see the movement.
These illustrations draw attention to the fact that just because you can’t see a physical movement does not mean it’s not happening. Contrasting this, you can see your tonearm physically moving up and down when playing. Just be aware that in reality, these low-frequency arm movements are of minor significance compared to the constant vibrations which intrude on the frequencies your cartridge operates at.#
Forces Impacting Our stylus
As your stylus travels down the undulations in a record groove, the accelerations and dynamic forces it experiences are calculated to reach a staggering 8 tons per square inch. The tip can move back and forth up to 30,000 times per second! To visualize the micro-vibration generated by this speed of movement, imagine a miniature man with a sledgehammer standing in front of the stylus and banging it from side to side with all his might. This energy is injected into your tonearm and as this occurs, things get very complex for engineers who understand the implications (not all do).
One powerful illustration I have witnessed on unseen vibration is the effect of explosive underwater shock on ships. When a mine explodes under a vessel, the hull structure “ripples” at very high speed. So fast that even 10mm bolts holding fittings snap under the extreme acceleration. The fittings are propelled into space at speeds of up to 400mph (600kmh). This transforms the interiors into lethal areas full of bolts and fittings, flying around like shrapnel – nothing survives, but the hull structure can remain largely intact.
Only fast frame photography at 800 frames per second, shows why these fittings fly off with lethal consequences. You would not see this ripple, as the eye can only see the equivalent of 60 frames per second, but it’s there – revealed by slow-motion replay, of the high speed bending that “flicks” off objects attached to the structure.
In the same way, your arm tube structure is subject to a continuous series of “shock waves” which you do not see. The resulting structural “ripples” affect the stability of your cartridge to a critical extent and this is what we will discuss next.
Unwanted Cartridge Motion Caused by Flexing in Micro-vibration
Even the best tonearms move, flex, ripple and resonate, in micro-vibration – In combination, these movements are extremely complex but must be reduced if high performance is to be achieved. I have heard turntable and tonearm manufacturers talking about the mechanics of analogue play as being no more than O-level physics – it’s not surprising that this lack of understanding and respect for the intricacies of vibration leads to products that seriously under-perform. Merely thinking in terms of zero play bearings, resonant frequencies, compliance and so on are similar to trying to design an aeroplane just knowing the laws of gravity whilst being ignorant of the laws of aerodynamics.
6 Degrees of Movement Experienced in Vibration
To illustrate cartridge stability, imagine a ship in a storm, the movement can be broken down into 6 degrees of motion namely – 3 rotational axis to give roll, pitch, and yaw, along with 3 linear movements, heave, surge and sway. All these movements occur with a cartridge – this may seem far fetched, but we are talking about very minute movements, amplified to such an extent that it is almost impossible to get our heads around.
Ship Movements Illustrate Unwanted Cartridge Motion
Because of these movements, it’s easy to see why tonearm design has to be of the highest order. When tonearms cause cartridges to under-perform, the results are loss of clarity and almost every other vice imaginable. For example, some arms can make the sound “dull and lifeless” whilst others have a tendency to make it “harsh and uncontrolled”. Improving your arm will enable your cartridge to sing in ways that you would not believe possible. In fact, the true extent of the sublime improvements wrought after changing to an Origin Live arm always seems to come as a delightful surprise to people.
Music lovers tell us that after years of searching, they finally find the solution to many flaws that had previously bothered them or that they were not even aware existed with their old arms. These are owners of respected and expensive arms. The good news is that you do not need to spend a fortune to achieve true high-end performance. Our best tonearms are renowned for their extraordinary high performance and shocking value for money.
How Are The Best Tonearms Designed?
Build quality with underlying design flaws is a waste of money and does not deliver real results however pretty it may be looking at and admire.
For example, aside bias mechanism with a beautifully engraved spring dial may look to have better build quality than the thread and falling weight that we use – the problem is that the spring mechanism invariably “rattles” in micro-vibration and the degradation is clearly audible when amplified 8000 times. We have exercised a steady refusal to be seduced or pander to these flawed values which mitigate against true sound quality. Small details like this may seem insignificant on their own, but a multitude of similar instances soon add up and ultimately a very significant performance lead is built up.
The exact methods we use to model the best tonearm behaviour and optimize design always derives from real-world experimentation and observation. Many of our major innovations are not found through techniques like FFA (Fast Fourier Analysis – which can only ever be as good as the programming assumptions). Rather they have been discovered by pure accident because they are so counter-intuitive.
Tonearms appear quite similar, but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There are various schools of thought on how to tackle the design challenges presented. The most popular theory is that energy is best absorbed by damping, so there are manufacturers who go to great lengths to “prove” superior performance by using instruments to measure and compare resonant frequencies.
The big problem with this approach is that it’s only one aspect of a complex picture. Technical measurements have proved time and again to have their limitations. Suffice to say, there are many well-known examples in Audio history from CDs with low distortion figures, to speakers with a perfect frequency response that sound terrible.
The fact is that excessive damping is often applied to solve problems that should not exist. Heavily damped arms may measure fantastically but sound dull and lifeless. They also tend to compress and kill the delicate decay of notes – this is sometimes mistaken for “control” or an “analytical” sound.
Questions To Ask About Measurement Data
We noticed that accelerometer tests (which measure arm movement frequency) conducted on tonearms which gave “better” technical figures did not always give better results in subjective listening tests. So what is going on? To oversimplify a complex subject is always dangerous and it should be pointed out that the interpretation of accelerometer data ignores four very important aspects:
a) Actual deflection and angular rotation of the tonearm in vibration – This measurement is in our view more important than resonant frequency figures. In other words, the size of the movement is more important than the frequency it’s moving. For example, if the movement was infinitesimally small the frequency would be completely irrelevant. In an effort to increase stiffness some tonearm manufacturers have used very large diameter tubes. These may be stiff for very low frequencies but they will suffer from vibration ripple within the very thin walls of the tube.
b) The ” recovery speed” (the speed to get back to correct position) – e.g a good longbow, recovers very quickly to its original shape when firing an arrow, but a soft wood bow is slow and ineffective because it is more damped. As a rule, the higher the damping, the slower the recovery. You actually need the correct balance of both high-speed recovery and damping which is why we test exhaustively to achieve this.
c) The speed of energy transmission and the locations at which damping or energy loss occurs is not measured. These factors introduce timing issues and energy reflections.
d) The measurements given are usually on only one axis which leaves 5 other movements totally unmeasured. Unfortunately, one axis measurements do not necessarily indicate what the rest are like.
The Founder of Origin Live is a fully qualified chartered engineer with experience in complex structural analysis. It was his conclusion that current models for tonearm behaviour are oversimplified to the extent of being plain misleading. One example of this is how compliance formulas that are supposed to match cartridges to the effective mass of tonearms bear so little relation to practical outcomes. This matters because you need an accurate theoretical model to determine the best tonearm design.
Intensive Research and Innovative Thinking
The design of our tonearms is the key to their performance. Over 25 years of continuous development has gone into these arms. However, it’s the “outside the box” thinking, which make them special. Origin Live arms are extremely innovative, not only in concept but also in the choice of superior build materials. Wherever possible high-grade alloys are included. These alloys are expensive to machine and finish but the results are so worthwhile in terms of performance.
Most arms look great on the outside so it is easy to miss the massive hidden differences. With an Origin Live arm, you can be sure that it’s not just a matter of high-grade components but far more importantly, you have a design that really delivers in terms of performance.
Tonearm Overall Design Philosophy
Much of the design philosophy behind Origin Live tonearms is discussed in our web page Aspirational design which is an important introduction.
Tonearm Design Specifics
The specific design attributes of our tonearms are described in detail on the web page Tonearm design specifics.
High Strength Components
Your cartridge needs to be held with rock-like solidity if it is to accurately extract the microscopic information contained within your record grooves. In strategic components, rigidity is essential to reduce microscopic bending and “give” in the tonearm structure. The exact reasons why this is so critical go far beyond superficial explanations such as reducing movement or resonance. The truth is little understood and would require a book to explain due to technical complexities.
Soft alloy castings and carbon fibre tubes (using fishing rod technology) are commonly used in tonearms but are wholly inadequate for high-grade performance. Origin Live arms avoid these cheap alternatives and as you might expect the music benefits immensely from the improved rigidity. Gone is the soft, woolly, haziness and muddle that so many arms are responsible for producing. Instead, notes have a greater impact, dynamics, speed. This gives our arms their outstanding reputation for realism.
Ultra-low Friction Bearings
All bearings in our arms function with exceptionally low friction. This aspect is one of the reasons behind the phenomenal tracking ability of our tonearms which defy compliance formulas. Subjectively it also results in a far more transparent sound. This achievement is due to intensive research resulting in all bearings being manufactured to our own exacting specifications.
Unlike most arms, we “float” the bearings so they have minimal contact with their housing. This seems to counteract the principle of rigidity but works because isolation becomes the over-riding factor at this point. This is a prime example of where untested adherence to a single misunderstood principle is not the best answer.
The advantage of improved decoupling is a considerable reduction in noise produced by the equipment.
Dual Pivot Bearings
The Encounter arm and above, employ dual-pivot bearings. There are around 4 other high-end arms in the world that employ this technique. All came out around the same time to combine the virtues of standard gimbal bearings with the strengths of Uni-pivot designs. Read More
Internal High-grade Copper Litz Wire
Litz wire is renowned for its transparency and lack of grain. We use high-grade copper Litz wire manufactured to our own specification. This is much harder and more costly to work with than conventional wires.
Cartridge tags are copper beryllium for high conductivity. They are then plated with Gold, Silver or Rhodium depending on the grade of the arm.
Internal wires for higher grade arms are upgraded to Silver Hybrid wire. This is a proprietary design that dramatically improves performance whilst avoiding the brightness sometimes associated with Silver.
External wiring comes in a number of grades. You can find the grade for each arm on the specification pages.
Standard Cable: This is a commonly used tonearm wire which although thin and unimpressive in appearance is well designed and performs well. Some make the mistake of using conventional, expensive interconnect wire for tonearm cable. The reason this seldom improves performance is that tonearms must handle signal levels that are around 1000 times less than CD or streamers etc. This needs a different design approach.
Upgrade Cable: Called “upgrade cable” because it upgrades the cable on high-end arms. This high purity copper cable is cryogenically treated and possesses many of the attributes needed for good low-level signal conduction. Carefully researched and great value for money.
Silver Hybrid Cable: After years of research we finally came up with a huge advance on tonearm cable performance. Silver hybrid, as the name suggests is a combination of copper and silver wiring. This highly specified combination was tried against a leading £1000 tonearm cable (better than some at £3000) and found to be a long way ahead.
The sound delivered has all the transparency and purity you expect from Silver but without the slight tonal lift and edginess. You can be confident that this is a supremely capable performer.
Silver Hybrid-S Cable: This is a specially treated version of Silver Hybrid Cable with increased transparency and cohesion. The treatment method is proprietary and unique.
Connector RCA plugs
The phono plugs fitted to our cables have a surprisingly audible influence and are fitted in 3 grades
- Nickle plated brass, moulded RCA Phono Plugs
- Gold plated Brass, clamping RCA Phono Plugs: To ensure a secure joint, these RCA use a twist-action to clamp them hard onto your amplifier Sockets. This improves performance and reduces noise.
- Black Rhodium RCA Phono Plugs These single point contact RCA plugs are Rhodium plated for improved current flow and minimal eddy currents. Rhodium may not possess the highest conductivity but this is outweighed by its unsurpassed surface smoothness which enhances performance at joints. They are simply the best sounding high-end performance plug we’ve heard.
Integral VTA adjustment
Cartridge “Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) is adjusted by raising or lowering the rear end of the tonearm. This is an important adjustment to get the most from many cartridges and is included on all Origin Live arms. Our VTA adjustment is infinitely variable, calibrated and easily repeatable with precision.
Tracking Force Adjustment
The downforce on the cartridge (tracking force) is adjusted by positioning the counterweight using a secure mounting. We avoid common methods which use loose threads, magnets or springs which have the drawback of feeding resonance into the structure (which affects the cartridge).
Side Bias Adjustment
Your cartridge generates an offset friction force as it slides through the record grooves. The tendency is for the arm to force the cartridge stylus onto the inner wall of the groove ( not the outer wall as some mistakenly think). To counteract this force using what is known as “side bias force” ensures that the cartridge plays evenly within the groove and reduces wear of both record and stylus.
The method of applying side bias affects performance. These include:
a) Spring dials
b) Magnet dials or slides
c) Falling levers
d) Varying the leverage using a thread and falling weight.
Research has concluded that d) is significantly superior in terms of sound quality to the other 3 for reasons explained in a later section “What makes a better arm”. For this reason, all our tonearms use method d).
In the same way, great singers have better voices, all materials resonate differently and have a “voice” in micro-vibration. There is an argument that says the ideal material is totally dead, but this oversimplification ignores the fact that to absorb energy, the material has to vibrate. The argument also omits to consider that if a material is too soft (like a sponge to take an extreme example) then it will lack rigidity. Conversely, if a material is too hard then it reflects energy which is disastrous. Because all these factors conflict with one another it renders correct material choice much more complex than many imagine.
The nature of mechanical playback means that every material chosen plays a role in performance. Specifications and theory can only play a limited role here. If pure measurements were the answer, you could use a computer to judge the talent of singers on shows like the Voice or the X-factor. The problem is that any measurement system can only measure what it’s programmed to. Understanding the physics of what makes one voice more preferable to another would probably take more than a lifetime. For this reason, we conduct hundreds of listening tests to determine the best choices.
Origin Live pay obsessive attention to the types of material used throughout the construction of turntables. This is one reason our Platter Mat (offered as an accessory) upgrades 99% of turntables on the market. The same is true for our turntable belts and oil, both of which receive remarkable reviews from satisfied clients. These may seem trivial examples but they indicate a fanatical thoroughness in research that extends to much more important areas in our turntables.
The Priority of Low-Level Signal Purity
It is difficult to appreciate why the mechanical integrity of a tonearm should have such an enormous influence on the performance of your system. The first step is to realize that the mechanical movements and electrical signals generated by your cartridge are extremely small – beyond imagination. The electrical signals generated by mechanical movement are amplified thousands of times to produce sound through your loudspeaker.
It follows that the slightest source of unwanted vibration and resonance is magnified to exactly the same extent as movements intended to create the correct signal. Not only can unwanted vibration introduce colouration, but this vibration also affects the cantilever movement to cause distortion. It’s the elimination of this spurious vibration that results in the large differences that exist between mediocre and high end arms.
The Cause of Unwanted Vibration
As the cartridge stylus negotiates its tortuous way through your record grooves it undergoes forces measured in tons per sq. inch. This sends shock waves down the arm tube. What happens to these shock-waves normally? Some of the energy is transmitted down into the deck, but much of it meets the counterweight structure and is reflected back down the arm tube to the cartridge. This is highly detrimental for good sound quality due to the aforementioned facts. There is a secondary reason why the rear end of the arm is an extremely critical area. The counterweight represents by far the highest moving mass in the arm and affects an arm’s performance in ways that are hard to imagine. The counterweight is excited into resonance by the motion of the arm. This means that it should be decoupled and yet also remain rigid to the arm (to avoid introducing other problems). The beauty of the Origin Live designs is that the rear end of the arm acts as a shock absorber. For mechanical waves travelling down the arm from the cartridge and the rear end acts to de-couple the counterweight, whilst maintaining rigidity.
Proven Design Principles
Origin Live’s first work on tonearms involved removing the rear-end stub of Rega tonearms and upgrading them with a replacement design. Rega rear end stubs are screwed into the end of the arm – this leaves much room for improvement! Origin Live replace the old stub with a new stub. The new stub is torqued onto the arm by a thin high tensile bolt. The new stub is also designed for optimum decoupling whilst maintaining more rigidity in micro flexure than the original. This change also allows the counterweight to be rigidly clamped onto the stub using an Allen bolt. An unmodified arm should not have the counterweight rigidly coupled in this way, due to the old vibration characteristics of the standard arm/rear stub joint. This ingenious modification elevates a good arm into the same league as the super arms and at an insignificant outlay.
De-coupling The Armtube
To give an example of the way that Origin Live “break the mould” with design, you only have to observe the “floated bearing” philosophy that is employed in the tonearms. Origin Live bearings are highly specified to suit tonearms – however the bearing houses are deliberately not machined to a tight tolerance as this degrades up the sound to an intolerable degree. We have found that tightly held bearings are not beneficial but this is easily confused with “bearing play”. There are very strong technical arguments to suggest that tightly coupling the arm to the deck via tight bearings is detrimental in the light of listening tests. These confirm that once you house the bearings outside the arm tube, it is best to “float” them rather than “grip” them in a tight fitting housing. People hypothesise about bearing chatter, etc. – maybe this is the case with high resonance arm-tubes and lower quality bearings. However listening soon shows up that there is absolutely no bearing chatter in any of our arms – in fact, resonance in our arms is so minimal that it’s extremely difficult to measure in terms of amplitude or deflection.
Minimising Ripple Effects
Another factor that indicates “floating” the arm tube to be a good idea is that uni-pivots and knife-edge bearings work on this principle. Vibration transmits through the surface which supports the tonearm in various ways. Most significant is “rippling” – not just a simple 1 or 2-dimensional movement 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 side wall 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 and side walls.
In the micro-vibration that occurs in the analogue replay, ripple effects are very important. Uni-pivots are rigidly grounded in one sense but decoupled completely from ripple effects. However (and it is a big “however”) they cannot hold the cartridge well against torsion exerted by bass notes. Widely spaced conventional bearings reduce ripple effects as do floated bearings. However, they have the added benefit of holding the cartridge rigidly, resulting in more dynamic bass performance.
Low Friction Bearings
The Silver tonearm and upwards use special low friction bearings that improve in specification right up to the ceramic bearings used in the Conqueror. Long and intensive research has been invested in bearing design as it plays a very significant role in sound quality. The influence of bearing friction is surprising and can only be put down to the fact that it not only allows improved tonearm tracking but more importantly minimises environmental vibration from affecting the arm. This effect can be likened to putting the tonearm on ice. The ice can ripple but due to low friction and inertia the tonearm is affected much less in terms of vibration and motion.
The quality of cable required to transmit the extremely low level of signals generated by cartridges needs to be of the highest calibre. Origin Live has invested exhaustive research into this critical area over many years and have developed the best sounding cables possible.
Dual Pivot Design on Higher Arms In The Range
Dual pivot combines the virtues of ultra-low friction uni-pivots with the stability of conventional gimbal bearings without any of the drawbacks. The pivot points are made from a special grade of Tungsten which sits in hardened steel cups. Jewelled bearings were rejected as they are prone to shatter and proved too fragile with no real sonic advantages. The bearings controlling horizontal movement are a low friction design specified by Origin Live.
Carbon Hybrid Tube (higher range arms only)
The armtube uses a special carbon fibre construction combined with Ebony and expensive metal alloys. Carbon fibre is both strong and inert. However, even the most inert materials still have “tone”, and the only way to further reduce resonance is to combine other materials into the mix.
This principle is best illustrated by the legendary “Stradivarius” violin. Stradivarius found that particular types of wood in special combinations made all the difference in the world to the sound produced. The same principles of endless testing with pitch-perfect hearing has been conducted over many years to refine Origin Live arm designs – the only difference being that resonance is being eliminated rather than created.
All arms include built in VTA adjustment – arms from Encounter and upwards have the advantage that this adjustment can be carried out from on top of the armboard. Lower arms in the range require accessing the underside of the armboard to tighten the clamping nut
Correct azimuth is set at the factory using highly accurate jigs. However, cartridges are not always manufactured to super fine tolerances and therefore some people like the ability to adjust azimuth themselves. We provide this facility on all our upper arms from Encounter and above.
Tonearm Effective Mass and Cartridge Matching
To minimise vibration it is often recommended to match the tonearm effective mass to the stylus compliance. However, in practice, matching the arm effective mass is nowhere near as important as very low resonance and structural integrity within the arm itself. Yes, compliance matching can help in badly behaved arms but with a well-designed arm, it’s of such low significance that it can be ignored.
If you wish to see details such as size measurements, weights and a breakdown of features please use links below.
Origin Live 9.5″ (239mm) Standard Tonearm Specifications (same as Rega Geometry) >
Origin Live 9″ (229mm) Linn Geometry Tonearm Specifications >
Origin Live 10″ (254mm) Tonearm Specifications >
Origin Live 12″(309mm) Tonearm Specifications >
Print Tonearm Specifications
For information on fitting an Origin Live tonearm, See Tonearm fitting >
KEY PARAMETERS FOR ALL ARMS
- Effective Length 239mm (9 inch Version), 254mm (10 inch Version), 309mm (12 Inch Version)
- Effective Mass: Varies according to model – See specifications (links above).
- Arm mount adaptors are available to fit many decks – See fitting guidance.
- Tracking Force set by Counterweight position – no springs.
- Side Bias set by falling weight on the thread for ultra-low friction.
- VTA adjuster enables infinitely variable height adjustment in easily repeatable increments.
To order an Origin Live arm and see the various options and extras available, simply press the “Add to Cart” button. This takes you to the order page which shows a number of options and extras. Below is a summary of the more important options available.
Effective Length and Fitting Options
Our Standard arms are 9.5 inches (240mm) effective in length. These fit the following decks:
- All Origin Live decks
- All Rega decks and any deck with a Rega arm mount
- All turntables with an SME mount – you can order our SME adaptor plate to enable this (see options on the order page).
- All Technics 1200 or 1210 series decks – you can order our Technics armboard to enable this (see options on the order page).
We recommend using our standard 9.5 or 12-inch length arms whenever possible even if it means asking your turntable manufacturer for a Rega arm mount. You may also be able to adapt your current armboard to fit the 9.5-inch arms. See Fitting guidance. The reason for this recommendation is that if you should ever wish to upgrade your deck to an Origin Live turntable then the arm will fit perfectly. Secondly, the arm has a wider demand and usually maintains a higher value.
There are instances where it is difficult to fit the 9.5-inch arms so by popular demand we also offer different arm lengths and geometry to enable fitting to a large variety of other brand turntables. These are listed on the ordering page for every arm.
- 9-inch length (229mm) with Linn effective arm length and geometry with base mount to fit your existing Linn armboard. This arm version will install directly on your Linn as a drop-in replacement for all Linn Arms > Read More
- 10-inch arm length option (will not fit Origin Live decks)
- 12-inch arm length option (fits Origin Live decks)
You will see these various options below offered on the ordering page for each arm – You need to click the “Add To Cart” button of a tonearm page to view these, as options vary slightly between arms.
Internal and external wiring with RCA phono plugs are included in all our tonearms. The comparison chart above will tell you the grade used in each arm.
We offer additional internal and external cable upgrade options. These come in various grades which you will see on the tonearm ordering page. A full description of some of these upgrades is given on the link tonearm cable upgrades.
If you have a Linn LP12 or similar turntable we highly recommend ordering your arm with the right angle 5 Din Pin option. This is useful because there is often not a lot of room to bend the cable to clear the baseboard.
Of all the cable options the Silver Hybrid cable makes by far the most difference, as it possesses extremely high performance against cables costing over 6 times as much.
You can fit Origin Live arms to most decks without too much problem. We outline the various scenarios below.
Fitting to a Rega Arm Mount
This is the simplest case so we put it first. Rega arms and their modified versions (i.e Michell, NAD etc) are easy to replace with an Origin Live arm. All standard length (239mm) Origin Live arms will fit directly into all standard Rega armboard mounts. No additional holes are needed, no modifications, no extra fittings, no VTA adjusters. This easy swap is down to the geometry of Origin Live arms being identical to all Rega arms.
It makes no difference if the Rega mount you have is the later 3 point mounting or earlier single hole mounting. Neither does the model number or vintage of a Rega arm make any difference.
The only question some people raise after fitting their Origin Live arm is that 3 mounting holes remain visible if the mount is the 3 point type of Rega mount. The solution to tidy up the looks is either to fill the 3 holes with dummy round head M3 Allen bolts or you can order a 1mm thick Formica black disc from us to cover the holes > see link Disc to cover 3 Rega mounting holes. Other solutions include simply cutting a cover disc from a black card or thin plastic.
Armboards & Mounting Position
Hole Diameter: You can fit Origin Live arms to any deck but sometimes your armboard may need modification or changing to a new one – (contact a dealer or the turntable manufacturer for the second option). The tonearms require a single hole in the armboard or plinth – from 23mm to 25mm in diameter (23mm is ideal for accurate fit). If the hole in your armboard is say 1mm or more oversize then all you need to do is centralize the arm in the hole. For best performance, you do not want a tight fit and so all you need to do is put a rubber band or wrap a shallow strip of card around the arm base – anything that will act as a spacer – it does not need to be machined sleeve.
Armboard Thickness: Once the arm is inserted through this hole, you secure it with a large nut under the armboard which clamps it in position. The armboard can be any thickness up to 25mm for this to work.
* You need not worry about VTA for Encounter arms and above as they have integral VTA adjustment.
* Arms below Encounter use VTA adjustment on the arm mounting thread itself so arm boards need to be around 20mm or less to allow adjustment.
The distance from the centre of the armhole to the centre of the platter spindle needs to be 222mm plus or minus 1mm. The arms can rotate to be clamped at any angle. The effective length of the arm from its mounting hole centre to the cartridge end of the arm is 240mm. The arm protrusion from the pivot point to the rear is 50mm to the end of the counterweight stub.
For Encounter Arms and Above – If the top of the armboard is around 24mm below the top of the platter then the arm will be at its lowest position for tracking a normal cartridge (17mm body height) and can be raised by a further 14mm
For 12-inch Arms Only – Centre of 23mm – 25mm diameter hole for arm mount to centre of platter spindle is 295.6mm plus or minus 1mm. The length of the arm from its mounting hole centre to the cartridge end of the arm is 309mm. The overhang from the pivot point at the rear end is 50mm to the end of the counterweight stub.
Note: Cartridge alignment is at best only ever a compromise. A cartridge is only aligned at 2 points on the record – For the remainder of positions on the record it’s out of alignment – We say this to save fretting over the last 0.5mm accuracy and give a bit of perspective. Alignment makes an audible difference but on the scale of other parameters, it’s really not a lot.
Fitting to the Linn LP12
If you have a Linn LP12 turntable with a Linn arm then the armhole on your current armboard will be in the wrong position (Linn arms mount at a distance of 211mm from the platter spindle). We can supply you with a Pre-drilled armboard for the Origin Live and Rega arms at £27 – this board is identical to the Linn armboard but is missing the Linn Logo. Alternatively, you can get a blank arm-board from Linn and get it drilled. This is simple to fit.
On newer Linns the wooden corner brace has been increased in size which creates a slight foul with Standard size Origin Live and Rega arms. This is easy to rectify by removing a small semi-circle of the brace. Probably the quickest way to achieve this is to drill a series of 4mm holes as close as possible to one another in the shape of the cut out you need. Then finish off the job with a chisel.
After fitting a new arm you can find printable instructions for setting up your Linn at Linn Sondek LP12 turntable instructions
Alternatively, you can order all Origin Live arms with “Linn geometry” – see arm options in the ordering process. This means the arm effective length is manufactured as identical to Linn geometry. We also provide a sleeve/base which allows you to fit Origin Live arms directly to your existing Linn arm board. This overcomes the problem with some later Linn decks where the armboard is integral with the sub-chassis and thus non-detachable.
Fitting to an SME mount
If your arm has an SME mount there is an adaptor plate available on this website which bolts to your existing mount and provides the correct hole and position for mounting Origin Live arms – see Accessories > Vinyl > Adaptors
Modifying Your Current Arm Board
If you modify your current armboard you will need to cut a hole in the board to locate the arm at the dimensions given above. This will leave you with the old hole looking unsightly. To hide this, make up a large circular plate washer of black card, aluminium or other material and glue this to the armboard – the spacing washers we supply with a new arm have an outside diameter of 48mm and will normally fulfil this function for most situations (the thickness of the washer is 1.5mm or 4mm). The advantage of glueing the washer to the armboard is that it also locates the arm in the correct position.
For Enterprise to Renown
Min | Max height between the top of armboard and underside of headshell is 40mm to 55mm (i.e 15mm upward adjustment)
For Encounter to Conqueror arms
Min | Max height between the top of armboard and underside of headshell is 39mm to 54mm (i.e 15mm upward adjustment)
For Alliance to Zephyr
When fitted to a 4mm thick armboard – The height between the top of the armboard and the underside of the headshell is 43mm(i.e 30mm upward adjustment). For every 1mm extra thickness of the armboard deduct 1mm from upward adjustment (30mm).
Cartridge heights normally vary from 15mm to 18mm with 17mm being the average
Last month Origin Live won the “Turntable of the Year Award” in Hi-Fi+ magazine. One reason we continue to win awards is that we pay enormous attention to details a few others consider worthy of investigation. For example, there is not much written about the design of side bias devices and even less about how they compare in sound quality.
If you care about sound quality, the type of Side Bias design is surprisingly influential. Not just for its function in keeping the cartridge central in the groove but for the degradation it causes to performance.
We’ve thoroughly investigated this area and listened to the effect of the various methods used to apply side bias.
The results verify that producing a good side bias device deserves a great deal of attention. Certainly more than some who dismiss devices such as a falling weight on a thread as “cheap”, whilst praising inferior magnetic or spring-loaded devices with nicely engraved dials.
Brilliantly engineered precision dials that control side bias within a second to a fraction of a gram, impress you with their sophistication and ease of use. They look great and breathe precision engineering. There is only a couple of unanswered tick boxes – are they really accurate and what’s the effect on sound quality? Many discover too late that great engineering is never a guarantee of sound design.
Without proper respect for the inconceivable effects of micro-vibration, it’s easy to dismiss this type of research as obsessive and insignificant. However, it’s not difficult to prove the clearly audible artefacts that whimsical side bias designs impose on sound quality. More on this later.
So before the allure of attractive dials and the illusion of precision tempts us, let’s just step back and examine first principles in more depth.
Principles of side bias
It’s commonly expected that as a tonearm tracks through the grooves it experiences an outwards force. Centrifugal force or differential friction acting on the inner and outer sides of the stylus are intuitive reasons for this misconception.
In reality, a frictional force acts tangentially to the groove. This “pull” on the arm is not in line with the arm pivot but offset and thus produces an inwards (not outwards) side force – see diagram below.
Things are far from simple but without going into detail it’s safe to summarise that the inward drag induced force is fairly consistent across the record increasing by about 18% towards the inner tracks (this is controversial as it depends on the cut of a record).
Side force is detrimental for the following reasons:
· The unequal force on the inner walls of the record groove affects the soundstage image slightly.
· It causes uneven record wear.
· The cartridge suspension is skewed out of alignment from its central sweet spot in the motor mechanism. This affects performance to a degree dependent on cartridge suspension – softer suspensions suffer badly.
A good side bias neutralises these effects by counteracting the induced inwards force with an equal and opposite outwards force. In so doing, the stylus tracks the groove centrally to produce a notably more solid and focused soundstage.
It is easy to be carried away with the marvels and speed of the advance of digital mediums. It, therefore, surprises some that highly respected audio experts will say a top-flight record player far surpasses the sound quality of all digital sources. They passionately own vinyl as their first choice in sound quality and will tell you this will remain so into the foreseeable future. They see it as the pinnacle of sound quality because it’s more natural, smoother, more coherent, and a more musical presentation than digital. In comparison, digital can often sound harsh, disjointed and a musical mess that the ear finds unattractive.
In spite of this digital has advantages and the discussion regarding format superiority has many aspects which make it a controversial area. For example at the very budget end of the market, the price for price, digital has better sound quality, convenience and availability than vinyl. However, once you get beyond £500 for a good record player, this state of affairs is reversed in terms of sound quality.
At the extreme high end, Germany’s largest Hi-Fi magazine (Audio) declared that a top turntable outperformed their reference Digital player comprehensively on EVERY aspect of music.
Technically, both Digital and Viny face challenges and neither can claim superiority on this basis. For this reason, judgements should be based on observation rather than dogma. It’s interesting that in photography, digital has still not claimed supremacy in the high end. The highest resolution cameras for producing Imax cinema film are analogue, not digital (although they use digital for lower quality productions).
Limits of This Article
Time will not permit this discussion to look at all aspects of Digital vs Analogue so we will confine ourselves to the single aspect of sound quality. This leaves out the more well known and conflicting aspects of cost, convenience, speed of access, mobility, wear, longevity, tangibility, nostalgia, retro, availability of older recordings in digital etc. There are important advantages and disadvantages in both formats and your preference will vary from others. If sound quality is important to you then the following discussion should be relevant.
Reasons For The Perception of Digital Sound Superiority
CDs first started the transition away from vinyl LPs back in 1985 promising “pure, perfect sound forever” – “no more crackles pops and hiss”. Vanishingly low distortion was quoted at 0.001% at 1kHz. What wasn’t there to love?
The proof of digital sound superiority was simple – Compare it to an average record player. Of course, most people found the CD sounded better.
The world domination of digital vs analogue became overwhelming – pockets of analogue resistance held out. Strangely those who loved the analogue sound were viewed to have a mild form of benign insanity. This was eventually to prove an infectious disorder. So much so, that there was a steady growth of those reverting to the medium and this continues to this day.
The disorder gets so bad that we regularly receive letters like “your turntable has rendered my CD player unlistenable”.
To hear that vinyl is not just subjectively preferable but also technically superior still comes as a shock to the vast majority of people whose main exposure to formats is moulded by a huge industry marketing machine.
The purpose of this article is to shed fresh light on why so many top reviewers and music lovers still prefer vinyl and will continue to do so.
Mistakes of The Past
To save repeating the mistakes of the past it’s worth understanding why many turntables hugely under-perform to the extent that many never hear what analogue is capable of. The main culprit was probably the low-quality electronics used for turntable amplification. These were often inadequate to resolve and properly amplify the very low signal levels of a turntable (over 200 times lower than CD output). As if this was not enough, the design and build of an average non-specialist turntable was not capable of high sound quality.
Why Analogue For Best Sound?
This is a complex and controversial area where not much is what it seems at face value. For example the low distortion figures of CD are fantastic at 1kHz but far from fantastic at lower frequencies where vinyl does far better. To save getting bogged down in technical aspects where even the experts disagree, we will look at observations, principles and leading arguments.
Firstly analogue has an infinite resolution (theoretically) which digital is always attempting to reproduce using limited and finite resolution. The Universe functions on the infinite analogue resolution as seen in light waves, sound waves, water waves, atomic vibration and on it goes. The ear loves infinite resolution. Of course, it is realized that resolution is not quite infinite because of finite aspects and there are limitations such as the size of atoms ultimately.
The Ear Identifies Digital As Fake Analogue
The ear is incredibly discriminating at a sub-conscious level and prefers pure analogue without the artefacts introduced by digital conversion.
The Complexity of Converting Digital Back to Analogue
To play music, all digital sources must convert a digital signal back into an analogue one. The conversion process is fraught with issues beyond the comprehension of even the experts in this area. In fact, it took years before it was acknowledged by some that CD players sounded different from one another. It took many more years before anyone was able to prove the reasons why. Then people started noticing that digital cables sounded different. This is still incomprehensible and denied by many digital experts. However, there are a few brave souls who talk about phase problems causing this phenomenon.
Some digital to analogue converters (DACs) are much better than others but all depend on complex mathematical algorithms which are flawed in one respect or another. We highly respect and applaud those who manage to achieve acceptable results in this area as it’s incredibly challenging.
Compression Losses In Recording and Transmission
The results of recording a high-quality record player onto a digital recorder using a good digital convertor are surprising. The results can be very close to the original sound heard on the record player. The only standout area is the bass where digital never seems to quite get it (figures show 30% more distortion in the bass of CD players than turntables).
This seems contradictory at first so why is it an exception. Or to put it another way, why is the normal experience of digital not this good?
Firstly many CDs and digital sources are compressed to the extent that over 60% of the original information is lost. This enables faster production and download speeds but wrecks sound quality whatever the claims to the contrary. The compression process is inevitably flawed as is the decompression and conversion back to analogue.
Converting your Analogue to Digital
It’s possible to create genuinely high-quality digital recordings from Vinyl records that will far surpass the CD versions of the same records. Of course, it’s a complete disaster to expect a low-cost record player and phono stage to carry out this task as it’s simply “rubbish in, rubbish out”. This is where it’s essential to invest in a very high-grade turntable and phono stage plus a decent analogue to digital convertor.
The major advantage of doing this is that it will save your records from wearing when you only want to listen to your collection as background music. An added benefit is that you can listen to much higher quality music if you take it with you on the move.
What “high resolution & lossless” can really be
In an honest world, the words high resolution and lossless would be good news. The problem is that the whole truth is often not being told which is why these formats still sound terrible. You can take a low-resolution recording in a format such as MP3 and upsample it into a high-resolution format then call it high resolution. Problem solved? Far from it! This is like taking a blurred photograph and putting it through sharpening filters. The result will never come close to an authentic high-quality image taken in focus.
Why Analogue Recordings From Digital Sources Sound Better Than The Original Digital?
It’s a source of amazement to some, that many analogue vinyl records are made from digital recordings. How can they possibly sound better? The answer to this is almost certain that the process of converting digital onto a vinyl record is mechanical. This has the effect of “upsampling” the original digital signal from limited resolution into infinite resolution. The ear finds this more acceptable as it’s free of the digital artefacts which plague algorithm-driven conversion.
Michael Fremmer made an interesting remark that quite a number of turntable designers come from Silicon Valley and worked on designing chips for DACS (which convert digital to analogue). These individuals are fully aware of the flaws in chip designs and prefer turntables.
Published Magazine Article On Digital vs Analogue
Back in February 2004, Hi-Fi World asked me along with a number of others to contribute answers to a series of questions. I have republished my answers below as they have as much relevance now as they did then:
 THEORETICALLY, WHICH IS BETTER – DIGITAL OR ANALOGUE?
Theoretically, each format could claim superiority if the technology behaved perfectly. However, the discussion ultimately boils down to the fact that both mediums have technical issues to overcome. Which is better depends on the limitations of existing technology and knowledge. When CD was first launched, people sited the technical superiority of the medium over vinyl – better dynamic range, lower distortion etc. The same old rhetoric is being repeated for the new digital formats – In the effort to claim technical superiority and the advance of technology, the issue of subjective sound quality appears to have become merely incidental.
In spite of the claims for the new formats, it is plain that much is still not understood about the exact nature of digital. Things that look perfect on paper turn out to be far from perfect in practice. CD’s were eventually discovered to have up to 30% distortion in the bass which is nowhere near as good as vinyl. This is just one example but there is also a raft of other misconceptions – were the designers not aware of these problems?
The Unknown Difficulties
At face value it may seem straightforward to translate a digital code into analogue, so where does it go wrong? is it sampling rates? Even with the new high sampling rate formats, the translation from digital to analogue is bound to degrade the signal significantly. This is due to the limitations of the devices that read the information on the discs – not all the information is read perfectly and disc reading errors occur continuously. The electronics required to compensate for the ensuing mess has a host of side effects that are most unpleasant. Severe and complex problems lie in the multitude of activities that the electronics must perform. The outcome is that the new digital formats are severely flawed as far as the human ear is concerned.
According to a number of expert opinions outside the digital marketing departments, there are specific technical problems with the new formats which mean that they will never outclass vinyl in terms of sound quality. One easily understood issue is the “watermark” that is put on an increasing number of digital discs to prevent copying. This alone is known to cause significant sound degradation with no solution on the horizon. Yet another issue is the need to rectify disc reading errors – can a DTA converter really take an educated guess to fill in missing information with accuracy – it doesn’t appear so. A crude analogy of the problem is that of cutting up a prime fillet steak into tiny chunks – no matter how finely you cut it and try to put it back together, you still end up with a hamburger not fillet steak.
Vinyl analogue replay on the other hand has the following advantages
a) No sampling rate unless you call infinity a sampling rate.
b) The conversion of an analogue mechanical signal into the final analogue electrical signal is much simpler than a digital to analogue conversion.
c) The minimal errors of a cartridge do not need “correction”. Although distortion may be higher it does not have the “nasty” nature of digital distortion that is thoroughly offensive to the ear.
 WHICH SYSTEM DO YOU PERSONALLY PREFER – AND WHY?
Not surprisingly I prefer Analogue! It has a fluid sound quality as opposed to digital which can be distinctly edgy at times. There are numerous other subjective differences particularly in the bass region which is where analogue scores so heavily over digital. Analogue portrays an effortless and authoritative bass which forms the foundation of music. Digital sources seldom have this quality – partly because the digital recording itself has been rolled off early and no player can play the music that has simply been removed. However, in addition to this, the players seem unable to convey the warmth and subtleties present in the bass areas of the music. As for midrange, treble, and musicality, you only have to listen, and the superiority of vinyl is obvious to most people. There will be people who prefer digital but it may depend to some extent on the way they process music in their brain – some people prefer an electronic keyboard over a real piano.
WHAT ARE THE RELATIVE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF ANALOGUE?
1) Analogue is now perceived as “the new high-end format” by those who have listened to modern turntables and phono stages. For out and out sound quality there is nothing to touch it and this state of affairs will continue due to the inherent problems of digital formats.
2) Many of the recordings on vinyl have not been wrecked by digital remastering and this alone is often highly significant. The phrase “digitally remastered” fills most analogue lovers with horror because they have heard the results – How some of the marketing men involved with the digital format get away with the total nonsense they deliver to an unsuspecting public is beyond me. It is also partly responsible in my view for the long term decline in cd sales. By this, I mean that although short term sales may seem to increase due to people believing false claims about superior sound quality, in the long run, many people wonder why they are finding their new “digitally remastered” recordings are not really touching them at an emotional level.
The disadvantages of analogue are the availability of records although this situation is steadily changing for the better as more and more recordings are repressed and made available through specialist internet mail order companies.
The cost of hardware for analogue is much less than digital (outside the budget end of the market) – in other words, a £1000 record deck will outperform a £12,000 CD player.
Turntables are wonderful looking pieces of kit – some of them resemble a work of art. This lends a certain romance to them that CD players don’t possess.
Turntables are upgradable with better tonearms, cartridges and power supplies. The upgrade path far surpasses digital as an investment because the performance ceiling is so much higher.
There are vast quantities of cheap 2nd hand vinyl around.
a) Digital is a very convenient medium and easy to record. It is a good successor to audio tape as it has better sound quality and does not suffer degradation with age unless badly treated.
b) CD’s can be played on portable ghetto blasters and car audio.
c) Convenience and flexibility – CD’s are small and portable, people can skip tracks using a remote control and the players are more fuss-free than record players.
Sound quality is hard, edgy, lacks timing, bass warmth and subtlety compared to analogue.
The lasers of CD players have a limited life. After 3 years your laser may easily breakdown and it is impossible to find a replacement due to the short lifespan of most players.
 WHY DO YOU THINK THE MUSIC AND AUDIO INDUSTRY MOVED TO DIGITAL IN THE
The Industry moved to digital because of the following opportunities.
a) The incredibly poor quality of most record players of the day meant that CD would be perceived as a leap forward in sound quality. Hence there would be a big market for CD’s and the required hardware to play them. The claim of perfect sound quality on an indestructible disc would be highly attractive and perceived as true by the vast mass of people.
b) On a commercial basis, CD’s were cheaper to produce than vinyl records.
c) Digital had a wider market as CD’s were playable on portable ghetto blasters and car audio.
 WHY DO YOU THINK THERE WAS A VINYL REVIVAL IN THE NINETIES?
The revival was partly due to discerning listeners with decent record players – these individuals recognized that CD was actually a backward step in terms of a high-quality format The problem with vinyl had not really been a format issue but the low quality of most turntables. These individuals realized that pursuing better and better CD players was never going to make up for the fact that the medium itself was fatally flawed. By way of contrast, Vinyl players were making huge advances. We have now reached the current state of affairs in which the new Goldring turntable at £140 will outperform most CD players.
The DJ Influence On The Analogue vs Digital Debate
The other factor was that DJ’s still used vinyl. This partly explains why it is cool for youngsters to have a turntable in their room. DJ’s have an amazing following and are influential in their own right. The great bass quality of analogue is of course a key aspect for dance floors and apart from scratching this is another reason why it is the favoured medium of DJ’s. Night clubs are becoming more aware of the potential of analogue and have started fitting our arms to their technics decks with astounding results. Currently, one of the clubs in New York which use our arms has been shortlisted in the top 5 best sounding clubs in the world.
 DO THE NEW HIGH RES DIGITAL FORMATS (SACD, DVD-A) HAVE A FUTURE?
The average person does care about sound quality – if they didn’t, CD’s would never have caught on in the first place. People want to have the best but are easily misled. The accountants and PR people obviously realize this – everything is touted as having “high sound quality”. Many people are starting to get disillusioned with format change and the uncertainty of format wars. The new formats are still fatally flawed according to most experts who give an honest opinion in the magazines. Dilution of the market place will lead to less profitability and higher prices – the music industry is doing itself damage through this pursuit. The hope is that the new formats will revive sales because everyone is going to rush out and want the best sound quality available. However, there are problems with this perception:
a) The improvements are not great and will never surpass vinyl replay.
b) The formats can be pirated – if some form of encryption is put on the format then sound quality is severely degraded and the purpose of the change is lost.
c) The hardware necessary to play all the different formats will mean either several players or a universal player. More players gets expensive and space-consuming. Universal players mean degradation in sound quality and additional expense.
My honest opinion is that the new formats may have limited success but are unlikely to last for any significant length of time due to the rate of change in the technology of digital storage. Soon there will be further advances in sampling rates and increased storage capacity. However, in spite of a number of possibilities, the fundamental technical problems associated with digital to analogue conversion are likely to remain unsolved.
The Case For Promoting Analogue
If the accountants and PR people made a smart analysis, there is a great argument for promoting Vinyl records as the “new high-end format”. The reasons are obvious.
a) Vinyl outperforms the new mediums even on inexpensive modern turntables like the Pro-Ject Debut II. Higher Grade turntables simply run rings round all digital players which is one reason why our turntable was voted by the pubic as “best sound at the show” recently in Vienna.
b) Vinyl cannot be pirated without the loss of sound quality associated with CDs etc. People cannot produce another vinyl record whereas a digital recording can be perfectly copied.
c) In the long term vinyl will give far more musical satisfaction than digital formats which will mean increased sales of music.
 WHAT, IN YOUR OPINION, ARE THEIR RESPECTIVE ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
The new formats are not quite as edgy as CD and have a better bass with no disadvantages in comparison.
 (HOW) CAN WE IMPROVE:
[a] ANALOGUE VINYL?
Besides improving turntables, one of the most neglected areas of vinyl replay is the phono stage. Listening to the GSP gram amp 2 SE at a mere £179 was a revelation to me a few years ago. This moving magnet phono stage caused me to realize how many people have never appreciated the quality of vinyl simply because of the dire quality of integrated amplifier phono inputs. Phono stage design has advanced tremendously over the latter years and inexpensive but excellent phono stages like the Gram amp 1 at £85 could be much better promoted.
[b] DIGITAL AUDIO?
The transports and mechanisms to read the discs need such massive improvement that I suspect an entirely new technology of reading information is required. At present, the need for DTA converters to carry out oversampling and then take educated guesses to fill in the information missed by the laser is a cause of untold sound degradation. At the end of the day, the information needs to be read perfectly and fully without the need for electronics to fill in the gaps and make up its own version of the music. Sound quality must not yet again become victim to technical arrogance and false claims to superiority.
 WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE:[a] ANALOGUE PRODUCT (i.e. turntable, tape deck) The Origin Live Sovereign turntable with Conqueror tonearm
[b] DIGITAL PRODUCT (i.e. CD, DVD-A player) The Shanling CD player
I like the Origin Live Sovereign turntable with Conqueror tonearm because it’s the closest thing I’ve heard to live music. It also looks eye-catching with an engineering quality that begs to be listened to.
The Shanling CD player looks absolutely superb and is overall one of the best sounding in my opinion although it is rather on the euphonic side and does not have the best bass quality.
All our arms are offered in 12-inch versions: this option can be specified using the 12-inch option button that appears in the ordering process for any arm.
People often ask about 9.5-inch arms vs 12-inch arms. The answer is first that the reduced tracking distortion manifests itself in a more effortless and coherent presentation, bass weight also increases surprisingly and the presentation is generally smoother all round. On the downside, there is a slight loss of speed and transient attack but overall the timing is more coherent and we prefer the 12 inch sound. Having said this, it is not a vast difference and the overall character of an arm shines through predominantly on both versions of the same arm. For example, a 12 inch Silver would not outperform a 9.5 inch Zephyr which is one step up in the range and therefore has significantly better performance.
A longer armtube means that inner and outer tracks sound more similar due to lowered tracking distortion, however, shorter arms can sound faster and so the choice boils down to a matter of preference – some people just don’t seem to miss the speed of transients.
12-inch versions look fantastic and have certain advantages that appeal to those who prefer their alternative presentation.
Overcoming Technical Barriers
There is an argument that the extra tube length of a 12-inch arm creates an additional resonance that does more harm than good. This logic no doubt holds true for some arms but it all depends on whether better resonance control can mean that the advantage of lowered tracking distortion outweighs the resonance effects.
Once the real secrets of armtube construction are realised, it is possible for 12-inch designs to render superlative performance without suffering effects commonly associated with a longer arm tube. As the first review of the 12-inch Encounter shows, you can gain significant benefits from the Origin Live 12 inch arm.
If ever there was a case of swings and roundabouts within a hardware comparison then the tonal differences between the 9.5-inch and 12-inch versions of the Encounter 3c were it. The 9.5in had a lighter step. It had finesse and style with fine detailing. The 12in provided more bass extension that in no way swamped the soundstage but just pushed the arm’s awareness into a new, lower frequency range, opening the door into a grown-up arena that sounded both adult and rounded. Both arms produced superb quality sound yet I feel that the 12-inch arm, on this system, provided a better balance. It relaxed more into the mix, making sound production effortless and more natural. It was a close-run choice, though.
Due to carrying out a great deal of listening to vinyl replay, we have had the luxury of listening to a vast array of equipment. The following information is intended to offer some help and advice on the many options and choices available with regard to upgrading priorities and allocating your hard-earned budget.
We are constantly asked questions about upgrade paths along the lines of:
– “How much should I spend on my cartridge?”
– “Is it worth having my arm rewired for a budget turntable?”
– “Should I upgrade to the advanced DC motor kit or upgrade the tonearm or turntable?”
– “What level of performance does the DC motor kit add to my deck?”
Assessing priorities to upgrade your system is not always easy and so we are providing some guidance from the experience that we have acquired over the years. Much depends on the level of performance you aspire to, coupled with your future plans (if any) and budget. For this reason, the following guidelines are a matter of opinion and judgement.
Depending on the deck, the DC motor kit will add approximately £700 worth of performance to most turntables relative to the cost and performance of turntables. This makes it a very worthwhile investment, especially as increasing the performance of a turntable is vastly more effective than cartridge upgrades.
The motor upgrade is usually as effective as upgrading to a Silver tonearm but this depends on the quality of your current turntable motor drive.
The upgrades below are scored in terms of performance relative to one another.
In theory not having an offset of the Yoke yields slight azimuth errors on warped records – whether this is ever audible is doubtful. Theory tends to sometimes focus on measuring and calculating what the ear cannot hear and not what it can.
The reason we prefer a non-offset yoke is that it reduces bearing friction by reducing side force on gimbal bearings and dual pivots.
We don’t take the shortcut of guessing what is best as so many do, but rather we test, test, and test again. Our findings are that additional friction is far more important than azimuth errors. Theoretical dogma often blocks real progress and there are some who will no doubt take issue with this – the only answer is to listen to the results.
To prove the force argument is much more complex than appears at first sight and incorrect assumptions are often made about the forces in operation when side bias is also taken into account.
It’s worth adding that even the conventional offset of the yoke on most decks is still only theoretically correct at one point on the record and is compromised the rest of the time, in a similar manner to angular tracking distortion.
Michael Fremmer, who is probably one of the most respected analogue reviewers on the planet and knows the theory of arms inside out, gave our Illustrious arm a superb review and never even mentioned the yoke offset. For over 10 years reviewers have never questioned the offset issue for the simple reason that the sound quality speaks for itself.
If people are absolutely paranoid about azimuth change on warped records then use a record clamp – you solve the VTA issues as well by doing this. Origin Live only recommend the use of a record clamp for really bad records as clamps tend to degrade sound quality.
Don’t be misled by specifications – we’ve tried PTFE, silver plate, solid silver, etc. Getting silver wire cable to sound right is not easy and there are many silver wires that may sound transparent but also tend to be overly bright and incapable of producing low bass.
Silver is an important aspect but only one of many other aspects. On its own, silver wire is no guarantee of quality. For example, silver is only 5% more conductive than copper whereas the Harmony plugs we offer are 4 times as conductive as commonly used brass but nobody asks “what are the phono plugs made of?”. The fact is that there are critical elements of cable design that are not talked about and which have 10 times the influence on the sound than say PTFE insulation.
Without meaning to be vague, the information on the makeup of our cables is largely confidential and not particularly meaningful as it’s almost impossible to pick out a high-performance wire on such things as silver, PTFE, coaxial, balanced, etc. People can guess at the things that really make a wire tick but we don’t advertise them as it would give away too much to our competitors and not mean a great deal to the average person. At the end of the day, one has to make a choice based on reputation and results rather than specifications which even the experts don’t fully understand.
In summary, our view is that a well-designed copper wire will outperform a poor silver one but a well-specified silver wire will outperform a good copper one. Lastly, it’s important to realise that although almost all silver in Hi-Fi is 99.99% pure, there is a vast difference in the way the silver has been processed. This alone affects the measured resistance but is of minor significance compared to the differences in sound quality. Well processed silver is expensive as it takes real know-how, much longer production times and the right equipment.
If a continuous wire is used for a tonearm from the headshell tags to the phono stage or amp, it needs to be very thin to avoid restricting the freedom of movement of the tonearm. This means it is automatically a non-optimal solution as wire characteristics are more influential on signal quality than solder joints.
There is a common misconception that all wire joints are bad. In practice, there is a vast difference between a mechanical joint and a soldered joint. Mechanical joints such as 5-pin DIN plugs are audibly detrimental as they put brass in the signal path and a mechanical joint is not good news either. Origin Live avoid mechanical joints unless specifically requested. Instead, we use copper to copper wire joints using the highest grade solder containing silver and gold. This is a virtually inaudible joint and not to be confused or put in the same class as mechanical joints.
Internal wires must be very thin to avoid arm friction but this has the disadvantage of high resistance and non-optimal design for low-level signal transmission (Approx 1000 times less than CD player). We want low resistance and other desirable properties, so the design of the much longer external cable is not thin wire, but wire designed for optimum performance.
These benefits have been tested and proven to far outweigh the benefits of avoiding a hard-wired joint. It should also be added that the external wiring is 4 times as long as the internal and thus is more influential.
According to our rigorous listening tests, the no joint theory is true up to a point but on balance, there are better solutions.
Whatever external wire is used, it is always best to hardwire it to the internal wiring as Rega do. 5-pin plugs not only introduce a joint into the signal path but more importantly, they are made of brass which is only 70% copper. Brass has a poor grain structure for conduction and degrades the signal quality. At the very low signal levels involved at the phono stage, the aforementioned problems should be avoided as they are more serious than most people imagine.
Our external cable may not the most flexible on the market but there are advantages to having a slightly stiffer cable on suspended decks as it improves sound quality by reducing rotational movement of the sub-chassis.
A common idea that should be questioned is whether a tonearm counterweight should be positioned as close as possible to the yoke for best performance. This minimises inertia and thus reduces see-saw effects over record warps. A variation of this theme is that low slinging the weight drops the centre of gravity and thus stabilises the arm, reducing bearing chatter and vibrational rocking. We will address these two concepts in turn as the principles involved are entirely different.
Frequently you find that observations on the performance of particular arms make folk jump to conclusions that miss the real causes of the performance changes perceived. Although the theory of decreasing the inertia of the counterweight seems very plausible, there is another more proven explanation. When the counterweight is positioned at the end of the stub on an Origin Live arm, you are NOT losing performance.
The notion that counterweight position affects performance has much more to do with vibration and lack of structural rigidity than inertia effects – in other words, on some arms it pays to keep the counterweight close to the yoke as it decreases resonance effects from counterweight waggle. On these arms, the counterweight causes an increasing vibrational whiplash effect as it gets further from the pivot. Origin Live have gone over and over this with their arms and established conclusively that the counterweight position hardly affects performance at all on a properly designed arm. The idea that inertia is an enemy is also based on pure ideology – the fact is that without inertia the stylus could not read the record groove at all. Some systems add weight at the headshell to increase inertia as it is proven to be beneficial up to a point.
Calculations show that an 8g increase in cartridge weight will increase inertia four times more than having your counterweight position at the rear end of your arm stub.
Counterweight Low Centre of Gravity
Another case of observations drawing questionable conclusions is the case of low slung counterweights. Low centre of gravity IS important for unipivot arms but dual pivots and gimbal arms do not “sway about” and listening tests prove, all other things being equal, that it makes no audible difference to sling the weight low. As previously outlined, any beneficial observations are usually down to a heavier weight or different method of attachment reducing resonance effects on certain arms but not Origin Live arms. This is something we have tried and tested repeatedly.
Many low slung weights use varying methods of clamping themselves to the rear stub. This alone is very influential on the sound but the mistaken assumption is made that the difference is due to low slinging
We have probably experimented with counterweight materials and attachment more than anyone. Avondale Audio was the first company to modify Rega counterweights and they sub-contracted us to produce them, since then this has become a bandwagon of inferior copycat ideas.
Calculation of Inertia
The following calculations are given to try and give a sense of proportion to a rather intuitive but incorrect notion. Inertia differences are relatively insignificant. To get the weight closer to the pivot, the counterweight has to be heavier and this adds inertia – all in all a difference of 20mm or so is not a big deal.
To illustrate this using law of physics – the moment of inertia is m x r squared where m is the mass and r is the distance to its centre of rotation. Say that a 130gram counterweight is 45mm away from the pivot – a moment of inertia is 0.13 x 0.045 squared = 0.26 x10 to the minus 3.
Equivalent downforce can be achieved with a 235g weight at 25mm from a pivot so—a moment of inertia is:
0.235 x 0.025 squared = 0.146 x 10 to the minus 3. This is a difference of 0.000114.
Now compare this with the much higher increase in moment of inertia caused by a 16g cartridge in comparison to the average 8g cartridge.
Inertia is 0.016 x 0.220 squared = 0.774 x 10 to the minus 3 (0.220 is pivot to cartridge distance in m) 8 gram cartridge is 0.008 x 0.220 squared = 0.387 x 10 to the minus 3. This is a difference of 0.000387–nearly 4 times higher than the inertia saving of moving the counterweight in.
Why a Dual Pivot Bearing?
The Encounter, Illustrious and Conqueror tonearms are performance leaders, partly by virtue of their innovative dual-pivot bearing. These bearings are attached to the horizontal axle (which governs vertical arm movement). This design is similar in many respects to uni-pivot designs-low friction and high decoupling which give excellent definition and transparency. However, uni-pivots can be difficult to set up. Dual pivots have all the advantages of uni-pivots but none of the drawbacks. Vertical movement of the arm is handled by the dual-pivot and horizontal movement by highly specified conventional bearings.
Understanding Dual Pivot
The pivot bearings are designed to reduce friction to an absolute minimum. In doing this there is a fine balance between achieving both a long-lasting, robust design and realising the potential of extremely low friction. In practice, this means that the arm must have a tiny degree of movement due to a rounded tungsten point in a radiused sapphire Jewell bearing cup. The pivot points will “self-centre” by sliding into the bottom of the low friction cup.
Understanding the Clarity and Definition Delivered by Dual Pivot Bearings
Dual pivot bearings are one of the many innovations which make Origin Live arms performance leaders. The design is similar in many respects to uni-pivots – low friction and high decoupling yield excellent definition and transparency. However, uni-pivots can be fiddly to set up and exhibit only mediocre bass performance because of their relative instability. Dual pivots have all the advantages of uni-pivots but none of the drawbacks. Vertical movement of the arm is handled by the dual-pivot and horizontal movement by highly specified conventional bearings.
Handles Like a Conventional Gimballed Arm
The arm functions and handles in exactly the same way as a conventional gimballed arm. In other words, you do not need to worry about setting up an azimuth. The azimuth is set at the factory (for those unfamiliar with the term, azimuth is the measure of headshell “twist” relative to the record surface).
How Dual-pivot Works
The above illustration of the dual-pivot bearing shows the needle pivots resting in their cups and allowing the arm to pivot and thus allow vertical movement. The pivots are designed to reduce friction to an absolute minimum. In doing this there is a fine balance to achieve both a robust design whilst maintaining extremely low friction. In practice, the arm must have a slight degree of movement due to a sharp tungsten point in a shallow radius bearing cup. The alternative to this is a very sharp point in a deep v-shaped cup (this would certainly restrain the movement of the point but would also increase friction and potential fracture of the tips).
The pivot points will “self-centre” by sliding into the bottom of the pivot cups.