There are compelling reasons why investing in a dedicated high-grade phono stage is one of the most effective system upgrades you can ever make.
Phono cartridge signals can be up to 10,000 times less than the “line level” signal from your CD player, Streamer etc. Line level is nominally 1Volt which your amplifier then boosts by approx 8 times by the time it gets to your speakers.
To amplify your cartridge signal up to line level, you have what is known as a “phono stage”. This is often included in integrated amps or it can be an external add on feeding into a spare line level input on your amp. The phono stage amplifies the cartridge signal – not 8 times but up to 10,000 times which is why it is far more important in a Vinyl system than your amplifier.
It is staggering that when you play vinyl up to 99.9% of the total voltage amplification takes place in the phono stage. Of course, this makes the phono stage supremely important in the electronics of the audio chain. However, the phono stages included in many integrated amplifiers and preamplifiers lean more towards being merely functional than capable of truly high-grade performance. This is hardly surprising as many owners will never play vinyl so why invest more than a small fraction of the manufacturing budget. This situation is so dire that some amplifiers use a Chip costing less than £2 for the phono stage.
The 2nd major handicap for an integrated amplifier or preamplifier is that it nearly always shares its internal power supplies with a number of analogue, digital and other control systems. It is not hard to see therefore how the incredibly delicate signal from a low output moving coil cartridge can be seriously corrupted.
Put simply you can put a poor amplifier on the end of a great phono stage and get a fantastic sound but you cannot get great sound from a wonderful amplifier using a poor phono stage (internal or external to the amp).
The Origin Live Discovery 1 phono stage is designed to vastly improve on integrated preamplifier limitations by virtue of innovative circuit design, the use of high-grade audio components and a significantly over-specified external power supply. It amplifies the output from moving magnet (mm) and moving coil cartridges (mc) and couples exceptionally well with coil impedances as low as 4 ohms.
Unlike many other phono stages, the Discovery 1 connects the cartridge directly to the amplification circuitry. There is no initial DC blocking or filtering in the electrical path to degrade the audio signal before it undergoes enormous amplification close to 100dB at 20Hz.
Origin Live took care to ensure that the Discovery 2 at £1800 was not just another mediocre product. Before launch, it underwent comparison tests with leading brands. The results were excellent, coming out favourably against much more costly rivals. This may help in appreciating just how much of a bargain the Discovery 1 is at nearly half the price but the same performance (without balanced output which not many use).
The improvements that Discovery 1 brings to a system are spectacular. An immediate observation is vastly improved speed and timing. This is an important aspect that brings listeners much closer to the original performance. Other factors are increased transparency, greater dynamics and improved levels of detail.
A highly neutral tonal balance also means there is excellent imaging capability which leads to the presentation of a 3-dimensional sound stage – so appreciated by those who understand what makes music come alive.
The Discovery 1 is a high-performance stand-alone phono preamplifier, meticulously designed and packed with innovative thinking. It exhibits unrivalled sonic qualities with low noise amplification. The Discovery 1 does not have subsonic filtering as it is uneccessary on the vast majority of systems.
The phono stage is designed by independent audio design engineer Simon Clark. Origin Live have enjoyed a long-established collaboration with Simon along with years of auditions and listening tests. It is built around a zero feedback passive equalisation RIAA filter and ultra-high-quality amplifier sections.
Each channel is treated separately and the use of high-quality components allows the performance of the circuit to shine through. For faithful reproduction of the original recording, the RIAA curve is followed as closely as possible making it flat to the RIAA standard by less than +/- 0.5dB.
Many external high-grade phono stages, even well-known ones, use a single-ended DC power supply for simplicity and cost savings. These designs, almost without exception, need to block DC from the cartridge or else it would be destroyed. This fundamental design choice requires a capacitor to be placed in line with the cartridge and then right away, before any amplification takes place, the tiny analogue signal is degraded significantly. This degradation once amplified by up to 4000 times cannot be extracted from the original audio source.
This is why a direct path from the coil to the amplifier circuit is so important and explains in part the highly transparent sound quality of Discovery 1.