Stereo Times Review on Origin Live Belt and Oil
Minnesota, where I currently reside, just went through a horrendously long and gruesome winter, capped by a mid-April blizzard/snowfall of 20+ inches. Even indigenous Nordic types defied their Stoic cultural training by openly whining and complaining.
One of the characteristics of The Great Frozen North (and all areas that have definite seasons) is what to do when Spring finally arrives. After one emerges from the weather-induced cocoon and rejoices in being able to go outside again without risking one’s life, most people feel inspired to clean the dregs of Winter away.
Over the last year, with my decision to return to audio reviewing after a long sabbatical, I’ve been involved in reviving all the gear that had sat dormant in my basement listening room. Since my audio career dates back to 1972, I was somewhat shocked to see just how much gear had accumulated: some of it consciously and purposively acquired, others just spontaneously ‘happened.’
Central to this potpourri were 8 turntables of varying vintage and resolution, all in need of rejuvenation and attention to allow me to use them again for formal reviewing purposes. So I decided to use the Spring Cleaning impetus to refresh all my tables.
The tables included 2 Linn Sondek LP12s, a Merrill-modified AR XA, an antique Connoisseur BD2a, and 4 Origin Live models. All of them needed drive-belt replacements (though none had yet shown signs of slippage,) as the length of time since I last replaced them warranted attention. Bearing oil replacement also loomed necessary since some of the tables had their original bearing oil from my initial set-ups.
I must admit that the bulk of my inspiration for this task was due to Origin Live’s development of replacement belts made from a proprietary new belt material and a new bearing oil (both of which come stock with their current turntable line-up.) Since all my tables had preceded in time the development of these 2 upgrades, I was curious to hear their effect.
Mark Baker, the head of UK-based Origin Live, is at the vanguard of contemporary analogue design, and has been on a relentless rush of inspired development for at least the last decade and a half. Once known primarily for their superb Rega tonearm modifications and DC-motor replacement kits for belt drive AC-motored turntables, Origin Live has long been a manufacturer of a complete and extensive line of turntables, tonearms, cables, accessories, and even a radical loudspeaker. Central to all of their products is Baker’s ability to think outside of the box, challenge dogmatic assumptions, and to apply his considerable engineering nous to creating brilliant solutions to the demands of accurate analogue LP playback.
Even more important to my criterion for judging audio designers, he has an informed and brilliant musical ear for the results of his products. Although he sometimes challenges the assumptions that we all unconsciously make, I’ve found that he is unusually accurate in his critiques and believable and honest in his advice.
I’ve made a systematic attempt to review many of Origin Live’s products in the past because I have been so impressed with their musical performance. I now own more than ten of them. The most exalted musical listening experiences of my life have been with Origin Live as my front end. These aesthetic experiences have been so transcendently profound that I can easily accept Baker’s tendency to make rapid and sudden changes in his product line, and the relentless, though fertile, continual improvement of his products. He is an engineer and designer who never rests on his laurels, a refreshing breath of fresh air in an analogue industry that too often makes very little actual innovation and soldiers on with antiquated designs that seem more concerned with nostalgia than the job of playing music.
Bearing oil is bearing oil, right? NOPE! Baker investigated the variations in bearing oils and additives for the last 20 years before coming up with OL’s current proprietary Platter Glide bearing oil. That research has provided exceptional dividends as I found when I changed the oil in my Linn Sondek LP12. Now, Linn has long been known for the quality, quietness, and long-term reliability of their platter bearing and have concocted their own bespoke bearing oil. So I was unprepared for the improvement the Origin Live oil produced.
The results were reminiscent of the famous Muhammad Ali/George Foreman fight where Ali lay back against the ropes and let Foreman pummel him for round after round, until, finally, sensing that Foreman had punched himself out and that Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ tactic’ had worked, Ali suddenly came alive, sprang up on his toes, bounced Foreman off the ropes, and knocked him out with just two punches. The Linn, which before had seemed back on its heels and lethargic, suddenly sprang to life and got up on its toes, rejuvenated. I was so impressed that I changed to the new oil on my other, even older, LP12. Same result. Then it was on to the Merrill/AR XA, and finally my 4 Origin Live tables. The results were the same: more smoothness, better speed stability, more effortless depiction of transients (both leading and decay) and an increased liveliness and rhythmic brio.
All of which stands to reason. We all know that a plain bearing allows a massive automobile crankshaft shaft to spin on nothing but a thin film of oil and that the better that oil isolates that shaft, the quieter and smoother the bearing will work. A turntable platter bearing works on a similar principle though its specific conditions are different. The better the bearing operates, the better the platter spins, and the less mechanical noise transmitted into the platter the less extraneous noise distortion the stylus faces. Win, win, win.
Origin Live has developed a new belt material that has been incorporated into all its turntables’ drive belts. Formed from a proprietary material it is also available as an upgrade for many other decks that use a flat belt. Contact Origin Live for further information and applications.
Mightily impressed by the Platter Glide bearing oil’s improvement on my 2 LP 12’s, changing their belts was the logical next step. The sonic and musical improvement was immediate and profound. To return to my Ali/Frazier analogy, all Ali had to do after bouncing the punched-out Frazier off the ropes was blow in his face, cartoon-like, to render him unconscious. My ageing Linns had been moving further and further down in my esteem, but the oil change and Upgrade belt brought all their “Linn-ness” back to life and added even better timing, rhythm, musical phrasing, and punctuation. They had never sounded this good before.
My two Origin Live Aurora tables are of MK2 iteration (current tables are MK4 versions with across the board improvements.) Using the Upgrade belt required changing the DC motors’ drive pulleys to accommodate a flat belt (they used a round-belt in their original design) and a new set of feet to raise the motor pod high enough to allow precise purchase of the flat belt to the platter rim.
While this upgrade didn’t bring the MK2 to full contemporary MK4 status, it made an ultra precise and musically coherent turntable (the best in its price range in my experience) even more precise and coherent. There is an added sense of ease, power, and grace, rendering fine low-level detail even more naturally. Complementing these improvements was a gain in power, stability, and authority.
Perhaps the biggest improvement though came from my Aurora Gold reference table and war horse test-mule. Long-time review duty had almost brought the table to its knees. The Gold long ago evolved into OL’s Calypso model, which evolved even further to its current form. Years of wear and tear had made the glorious listening experiences I’d had with it seem confined to the past. To be honest I’d considered relegating it out to pasture, but the Platter Guide bearing oil and Upgrade belt (along with a complete strip-down and re-setup) brought it back to life with a vigor and mastery of musical communication superior to even its considerable prowess during its heyday.
In short, I cannot give anything but the highest recommendation for these 2 Origin Live products. Inexpensive enough to be considered part of a normal ‘tune-up,’ regimen, Origin Live also offers a money-back guarantee on their performance. Never have the results of Spring Cleaning proved so music-enhancing. Though Spring is just barely here, I already long for the long nights of Winter again when listening to music seems the ideal activity.