How to Choose your Hi Fi System2021-04-28T11:31:46+01:00

How to Choose your Hi Fi System

Why you should choose components for your Hi Fi System with care?

Acquiring a seriously good Hi Fi system is a process that’s really worth getting right. Like buying a house, it's going to be with you for a long time. Those who invest in a better system, do so for good reason:

We suggest you familiarize yourself with the principles discussed on this page before rushing into any decisions. If it gets too technical then just skip down to the bottom of the page and we can advise you.

Benefits of better sound quality in your Hi Fi System

There are numerous obvious and hidden benefits in owning a well chosen Audio system:

  • A highly realistic, natural sound will transform the experience of listening to music, watching films and television, or even playing games. It’s like listening to the 1812 Overture live in a concert hall, then hearing it through a phone – there’s no comparison! A great Hi-Fi system captures the true scale and power of a performance that inferior systems simply miss. This enrichment of the listening experience adds quality to being at home in a way that nothing else can.
  • Better sound conveys reality even at a sub-conscious level. Most people don’t realise that sound quality delivers a heightened sense of reality, even more than visual high-definition or 3D mediums.
  • A good sound system adds style and reflects your taste.
  • Excellent sound quality even has therapeutic effects which help people relax and unwind in a busy lifestyle.
  • If you have friends round, they will notice how much better favourite tracks sound and will enjoy themselves more. Exposure to a great system is a special experience.
  • Some people have upgraded everything else in their lives, and their sound system now lags well behind.
  • Music and TV sound quality is not one of those areas to skimp on as it can add more than most people are aware of. The old saying “you don’t know what you don’t know” is rarely more true than in this area. It’s also one of those investments which can last up to three or more decades and therefore is not worth rushing into. We promise to vastly enhance your enjoyment of music and video.

Why Sound Quality matters

The Vienna Opera house is home to one of the best orchestras in the world and hosts world-famous performers like Placido Domingo. Seats to attend are not exactly cheap, so what makes this venue so popular? The opera house is not the biggest in the world – in fact when it was rebuilt, they made it smaller for one reason which was to improve the acoustics. The fact is that people recognise great sound quality when they hear it, whether at a conscious or sub-conscious level.

Many people take sound quality as a given when it says "high sound quality" on the advert or description. The problem is there is no standard to define sound quality. There are one inch (25mm) loudspeakers dressed up as green hairy gonks with the words "High Sound Quality" written on the box. This could be true if the makers are comparing it with the terrible sound of a railway station tannoy.

Adds enjoyment

Music has the power to change our mood, it can also bring back memories and life experiences.

Good for the brain

Music releases feel-good chemicals into the brain and increases focus and clarity. When sound quality is poor, the brain knows what it wants to hear and “fills in for reality”. The problem is that this is work for the brain and detracts from enjoyment.

Music is one of the greatest gifts in life. The truth is that most never get to hear it reproduced as it can be. Our goal is to remedy this and enable you enjoy it in a new way.

Finding a sound that allows you to really connect with the emotion of an original performance, is probably what you are looking for. This is said in various ways such as

“It was so real that you felt you were at the concert”

“I thought the singers were in the room with me”

“I was no longer listening to Hi-Fi but just became immersed in the music”

We have found that to achieve this goal means reproducing music with extraordinary accuracy. The ear can hear air movement down to one tenth of the diameter of a hydrogen atom – in other words you can’t get more sensitive. Our designs focus on reproducing the original event so that music actually sounds like real instruments and real voices.

Key elements that you must have to create realism

This level of accuracy is not easy to achieve as there are severe technical challenges which are detailed in “Auditioning”.

Many designs end up compromising the most difficult aspects and the effect is like looking through rose-tinted glasses, notes all sound slightly softened or there is a lot of detail in the music but no warmth and bass. At Origin Live we have 3 aspects that we believe make for the most enjoyable sound possible.

  • Powerful dynamics & very high transient speed – to enable music to sound exciting and invigorating to hear.
  • Transparency – this is the opposite of a “wall of sound” often created by impressive multi-driver speakers. Clarity and the ability to hear each strand of the music in it’s correct position on the sound-stage is paramount.
  • Correct tonal balance – music must not only be transparent but have warmth, body and weight

Judging by the incredibly positive feedback we receive, these values are shared by the vast majority which is a great indicator that you too will get on well with our products.

Ways to Choose

Choosing equipment is easy at a superficial level but choosing the best system to meet your preferences in the long term is another matter altogether. There are quite a number of interactive variables.

The number of products in the marketplace is absolutely massive once you become aware of them (upwards of 300 for any item of equipment). These products vary significantly so it helps to start by identifying your particular aspirations and tastes. The main factors probably governing choice are considered below:

General factors to consider when selecting audio equipment

This section provides an initial overview for choosing a system or item of equipment. In depth discussion of more detailed aspects are covered in product pages by catagory.

The first factors affecting choice will probably be:

  • Sound Quality
  • Aesthetics, and finish
  • Size - eg small rooms need small speakers
  • Budget
  • Ease of use
  • Reliability and Build Quality
  • Technical Specifications
  • Source formats (Vinyl, TV, streaming, CD etc)
  • Sound levels you listen at - an optimized system for low listening levels will be very different to one for loud levels.
  • Surround sound or pure 2 channel stereo and maybe a subwoofer

There will be many contenders for choice so we mention a few more factors below to help narrow down your shortlist. Once you have your shortlist the next stage of the process is normaly to check out endorsements and reviews as manufacturer claims may be highly partial.

Hi Fi System Matching

Each item in a Hi Fi system tends to work best with favourable partnering equipment. For example small inefficient speakers tend to favor high power solid state amps. Conversely large high efficiency Horn speakers tend to sound at their best with low power valve amplifiers.

System Matching2017-12-12T15:37:51+00:00

In addition to room acoustics, one of the most significant influences on system performance is the choice of equipment to partner together. We have listed the main issues below

Tonal Balance

All equipment has a tonal balance — usually described as “forward” where you hear more top-end frequency, like sitting in the front row at a concert. At the other end of the spectrum you have “laid back” sound which is more like being at the rear of the concert. When you listen to unknown equipment it is simply impossible to know the character of the individual components — all you hear is the system. For example, if the speakers are bright then to get a more balanced sound the tendency will be to partner them with “laid back” amplification, etc. There are other factors that affect system synergy which would be the subject of some very long explanations. All you really need to know is that it is usually safest to evaluate a product in the context of your own system and room acoustics.

Electrical matching

Cables should be viewed as a component in their own right and play a major role in how a system performs. This statement is controversial in some quarters but once you get a high-resolution system then the audible character of cables is easy to demonstrate.

There is no such thing as a “best” cable and the search for this Holy Grail will inevitably end in frustration. There is a “best cable” for your particular system and this accounts for the huge diversity of rave cable reviews where all manner of cables are hailed as the ultimate, etc.

Our first product was a loudspeaker cable and I well remember this being received very favourably until arriving at the Naim Factory where Julian Vereker kindly allowed me to demonstrate them to him. I could not believe what I was hearing, the cables sounded below the level of their cable. This was an embarrassing experience but Julian patiently explained to me that his amplifiers were designed for a very specific cable specification and could even blow up if used with very low inductance types.

Since then there have been many experiences which have underlined that cables are incredibly system dependent. We have had innumerable occasions of people coming into our room at Hi-Fi shows with astronomically priced cables and being told they will blow away what we are using. They never have, because so much depends on the type of equipment being used.

Experience has shown that there are 2 families of cable. Those with widely spaced conductors, usually flat or dumbell shaped and those which are round with their conductors twisted. When an amplifier or speakers is designed then one of these 2 types of cable will be used in the fine tuning and listening stage of design. This will then determine the best cable for the end-user.

For example flat cables are generally preferred in systems using Linn, Naim, Exposure and others.

Twisted cables are generally preferred in systems using Sugden amplifiers and most Japanese amplifiers.

As a rule most systems prefer twisted cables and this is in our view an inherently superior design as it presents less load to the amplifier.

Hi Fi System Heirarchy and Budget

Some components have much more influence than others on sound quality so it pays to know how to apportion your budget between various components to get the most return on your investment.

System Hierarchy and Budget2022-10-31T10:13:47+00:00

When deciding upon a new system or upgrading a piece of equipment, the first step is to figure out which items of equipment deserve more of your hard-earned cash than others. The priority you give to different components is determined by your view of System hierarchy. If this is good then you will apportion funds correctly and should benefit from the best possible sound potential.

Although every detail makes a difference there are some things that will influence your system much more than others. Going back 30 years or so everyone believed that speakers made all the difference and nothing else mattered too much except technical specifications. Speakers do matter, but it came as a shock to many that the turntable mattered more. It was revolutionary in those days to do system comparisons by subjective listening and it was easy to prove that a better turntable with cheap speakers outperformed an a lesser turntable with very expensive speakers. This was exemplified at one of the largest international shows when a Goldmund turntable costing around £40,000 was played through a £100 pair of Wharfdale Diamond speakers – the sound was one of the best in the show – stunning!

The philosophy of “front-end” priority was characterised by the phrase “rubbish in rubbish out” . In other words the speakers can only be as good as the source material they are fed with. We live with an upcoming generation which is largely unaware of this important principle . The vast reduction in specialist Hi-Fi shops also means that few will be exposed to hearing the transformative effects that better sources bring.

There are many misconceptions that surround system hierarchy and formats. Around 80% of those who don’t read Hi-Fi magazines are under the impression that CD sounds better than vinyl records. Going deeper, when it comes to vinyl replay, many think a better cartridge is the route to better sound with the turntable not being so important. In reality a better deck and tonearm will enable a cheap cartridge to perform at the same level as an expensive cartridge costing up to 70 times as much.

Defining Questions

Before you invest in upgrading or renewing items it is helpful to ask a few questions.

  • What is your aspiration? It is better to work in stages if you have a restricted budget (e.g. acquire your chosen “best” turntable and then later order your “best” choice of arm). This is better than compromising with an “all-in-one package”
  • Which components will yield the greatest rewards in performance?
  • If saving is going to take a while, would a temporary budget component be a good solution?

Common questions on upgrade paths

  • “How much should I spend on a cartridge?”
  • “Is it worth rewiring a tonearm for a budget turntable?”
  • “Should I upgrade my current deck or change it entirely?”
  • “What level of performance does the dc drive upgrade add to my deck?”

Assessing upgrade priorities is not always easy. If you are using a vinyl front end, accepted wisdom is that you should split your total system value (in financial terms) roughly as follows.

Breakdown Examples of System components relative importance

The approximate contribution to performance of components within the source or “front-end” of a system is shown below. Contribution does not necessarily equal price. For simplicity, we have not included accessories such as Mains Conditioners, Cables and Equipment supports which all contribute a surprisingly to overall sound quality.

Estimating system contribution is extremely general and full of exceptions depending on the quality of each component.

Apportion budget: Vinyl-based replay

  • Turntable 23%
  • Tonearm 20% (the importance of the arm is explained in tonearm overview)
  • Cartridge 7%
  • Phono Stage 20% (the phono stage accounts for up to 95% of the total amplification in Vinyl based systems)
  • Amplifiers 15%
  • Speakers 15%

The only way to sensibly quantify contribution is to do comparison tests. Magazines used to highlight the importance of front-end hierarchy by setting up two identical Linn turntables – one with a £400 Ittok tonearm and £20 AT95E cartridge. The other with a £150 Basik tonearm and £500 cartridge. Which sounded better? It may be a surprise, but the £20 cartridge in the better arm outperformed the expensive £500 cartridge in the lesser arm.

Phono stage

The phono stage is much more significant than the amplifier. It contributes over 80% of the amplification of low output moving coil signal and 95% when you get to bass frequencies. For moving magnet outputs, this figure is approx. 60%. Would you trust 95% of amplification to a £1 chip in an expensive integrated amplifier? So called “Good” phono stages in integrated amps are only “good” relative to other integrated amps and rarely, if ever come close to a decent external phono stage – the reason is not just lack of advanced design. A phono stage in an integrated amp or pre-amplifier is severely degraded by sharing it’s vital power supply with other amplification stages. Having said this there are some atrocious stand alone phono stages at the £100 mark that will absolutely cripple any vinyl system – we refuse to advertise these even though they are in demand and recommended by unscrupulous or uninformed sales people.

DC motor upgrade/arm upgrade/or new turntable?

The DC power supply system will add around £700 of worth in performance terms to most turntables. This makes it a very good investment and far more cost-effective than upgrading a cartridge due to system hierarchy. The DC motor upgrade is worth putting on any deck costing more than £300, unless you plan to spend around £1000 on a new deck. If your deck is around the £300 mark and you do not plan to spend more than around £250 on an upgrade, you should go for the DC motor kit and/or a Rega arm upgrade.

Apportion budget: CD-based Replay

  • CD Player 20%
  • Amplifiers 40%
  • Speakers 40%

CD based replay

The performance of CD players does not vary nearly as much as that of turntables, so the split is quite different. For example, if you have a £200 CD player you could easily apportion up to £1,000 on the amp and £1,000 on the speakers – the complete reverse of thinking for vinyl.

The relatively low cost apportioned to a CD player does not mean vinyl is expensive by comparison. Recent turntable/arm combos at just £200 are reviewed as out-performing £400 CD players – properly set up vinyl replay is capable of going so much further than CD.

A word about Technical Specifications

We carry out numerous technical measurements but wish to introduce a word of caution about the weight you attach to measurements. Subjective listening results sometimes contradict the interpretation of technical data. When this occurs we pay attention to the subjective results to develop a better interpretation of technical measurements. Designers often short-circuit this stage as it is time-consuming and expensive to carry out extensive listening tests.

Some companies pride themselves on technical measurements and lean heavily on theoretical ideals. The big problem with this approach is that theoretical ideas often conflict and the only way forward is by conducting the countless hours of listening that we put into product development.

The seductive nature of technical prowess is that one can supposedly “prove” conclusively that a product has technical superiority and therefore must sound better.  The appeal is also that it simplifies complex issues and negates the need to admit that there may be shortcomings in the actual results delivered.

The problem (and it is a big problem) with this approach is that it inhibits real progress and blinds people to the true nature of what is going on. It is also highly misleading for the poor consumer who ends up with pages of brochures claiming various technical merits that many-a-designer would laugh at. A few examples of this are listed:

Low noise in the electronics is often cited as a sign of conclusive superiority – although low noise is important, it is relatively low down on the list of what will produce a good sound. There are at least 20 other factors that are as important (if not more so) but probably not even mentioned.

On-axis frequency response of loudspeakers is measured at the expense of off-axis and in-room response.

We suggest that you avoid making choices purely on technical measurements or the advice of those who major in this area. Technical prowess is simply not a guarantee for good listening ability or an unbiased approach. It is far better to simply go with what YOUR ears tell you – period.


A fraction of the magazines published every month by the Hi Fi Press

How to evaluate endorsements & reviews etc

You will read product reviews and comments from a wide spectrum of sources. There are highly competent, trustworthy reviewers in some magazines. At the other end of the spectrum you will find forums or websites where a few malicious trolls think nothing of putting down the best products whilst sounding like they're doing you a favour by warning you about them.  How do you sort out where the truth lies?


Those new or unfamiliar with Hi-Fi tend to trust well-known brand names such as Sony, Bose or Bang & Olufsen – popular mass-market brands which are great at what they do. But if sound quality is your priority, a different set of names figure in the minds of serious audio reviewers, ones which are more attuned to outright audio performance.  To short-circuit the selection learning process, decisions usually boil down to who you trust and personal experience. Key reference points people often rely are:

1. Reviews
2. Forums
3. Shops
4. Demonstrations
5. Personal Experience
6. Technical Specifications
7. Brand Reputation

The Hi-Fi community is generally very friendly at all levels and a pleasure to belong to. We love serving our customers and contributing to their listening pleasure. We also respect and generally get on well with shops magazines and the people involved with competitive brands.

In the context of the above we should add that it is easy to be confused at what is read when one is fresh to the world of Hi-Fi (it still is confusing!). After nearly a quarter of a century in the community, we feel it may be helpful to pass on a few observations that might help those new to the scene. This is to understand what is said in various circles and read between the lines. In common with most industries there is politics involved between magazines, manufacturers and shops. There are people who will say exactly what they think without fear or favour, but most of the time diplomacy rules. Hence opinions aired are influenced in varying degrees by factors such as profit, survival, allegiances, personal preferences, nostalgia, sentimentality, loyalty, etc.

There is no shortage of product recommendations and time is way too short to audition everything. At the end of the day all of us have to find people who know their way around the jungle – we hope the following will help to avoid some of the pitfalls and ensure you get the best results.

A trusted Friend who knows how to choose Hi-Fi

Many Hi Fi enthusiasts are extremely knowledgable and can give the most impartial advice. If you know such a person search them out and get their opinion on what you are thinking of choosing. The only caveat here is that some folk have brand loyalty that would rival a fanatical football team supporter.

Printed Magazine Reviews

These are regarded anywhere between blind trust at one end of the spectrum to extreme cynicism at the other. The truth lies somewhere in the middle depending on the reviewer and magazine concerned – it is important to realise that reviewers don’t claim to be infallible (there are a few exceptions of course!).

The magazines do a great job of informing us on the market place – they tend to be a lot more accountable for what they write than some of the stuff you can read on a forum and therefore are a very worthwhile source of information. We support the magazine industry for these reasons.

Seeing Magazine Reviews in Context

Most people like to trust reviews and make their choice based on what the “experts” say. By all means consider what is said, but weigh it in context of factors not always considered. To go by a magazine recommendation ALONE is a highly dubious course of action and we have heard enough stories first hand to bear this out.

  • If you depend heavily on magazine reviews, make sure you see a good cross-section of them. Reviewers have different room acoustics, different systems, different preferences – all of which influence results.
  • It is best not to limit your choice to the latest “flavour of the month.” Just because something is new, is no guarantee. There are older forgotten products that also have outstanding reviews which are as valid today as the day they were written.

Printed Audio magazines that write reviews in the UK alone: Hi-Fi+, Hi-Fi World, Hi-Fi Choice, What Hi-Fi, Hi-Fi Critic, Hi-Fi News, Gramaphone etc

Major USA publications include: Stereophile, The Absolute Sound

Internet Magazine Reviews

Categorised differently to printed magazines because these tend not to run so much for profit. They are relatively free of the influences that some say affect magazines that depend on advertising revenue. The writers are often audio enthusiasts who have full time jobs outside the Hi-Fi industry and write in their spare time for very little, if any, cash return. Again, try and get a consensus, as there are always wacky opinions.

Well known Internet Magazines include: Hi-Fi Pig, TNT Audio, Stereo Times, 6 Moons, Enjoy the Music, The Audiophile Man


These have the apparent advantage of being totally objective and free of any vices. The advice, experience and opinions of forum members can be very helpful or extremely misleading. They depend entirely on the quality of people involved – the trick is to discern the genuine enthusiasts with a good ear and great judgement from those with an axe to grind. Worse still are those manufacturers posing as ordinary forum members – manufacturers or one man bands who engage in this practise do so in disguise to dismiss their competitors products and promote themselves, so beware, it goes on.

Popular Forums include: Hi-Fi Wigwam, Pink Fish, Vinyl Engine


Provide access to view and audition a wide variety of brands, there are some excellent dealers and these are a good way to assess equipment first hand.

Beware of “great discounts.” We put it like this, “would you prefer to buy a £2,500 arm with a £1,000 discount, or a £675 arm with no discount that outperforms said £2,500 arm?


A good demonstration in your own home and system is ultimately the safest way of purchasing equipment.

Personal Experience

Get to know people, and manufacturers who deliver what is promised.

Brand Reputation

Good design is more about a mindset than years of experience. Companies that are outstanding in one area often expand with equal success into new ones.


Despite the amazing number of variables in assessing Hi-Fi equipment, there are products that consistently win great reviews from a large cross-section of magazines in the UK and worldwide. Room acoustics and equipment synergy will not completely wreck a good product.

Where performance between two items is close, then yes, these factors are critical. However there are certain aspects of music that transcend others. You may have 10 things you want your system to do in terms of reproduction but if you know your top 3 then you will probably end up happy and evaluating equipment suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

It’s always best to use a top quality source whether analogue or digital as information lost at source can never be retrieved - no matter how good the rest of the system is.

Beware of products that just sound good on certain kinds of music. The best products work as well for classical music as they do for rock and jazz. It should be realistic, engaging, addictive and organic like live music.

Examples of Common flaws in sound quality

When listening to different systems there can be flaws in the sound that are not immediately obvious to some. However in the long term these become apparent with the realization  that something is missing or  intrusive in the music. It may help if we list a few of the most common offenders:

Ferocious treble – usually mistaken for fantastic detail or clarity.

Lack of bass – People often think a drum strike is a bass note. In fact, it really encompasses a bundle of frequencies stretching from low to very high treble – the percussive (high frequency ) part of a drum strike is commonly called “great bass”. Real bass gives music a depth, authority and sense of real power. It is not lightweight, ear piercing, harsh, aggressive or wearing. These qualities can fool people initially as they can sound very impressive on first audition, but ultimately they are artificial and far from real music.

Timing in the music – A common example of poor timing is the way in which bass notes can lag behind the rest of the music, leading to a sense of disjointedness.

Improper Tonal balance – Good tonal balance is important for pitch sensitive listeners. It’s also essential to conjure up front to back perspective of sounds (otherwise known as image depth).

Despite the amazing number of variables in assessing Hi-Fi equipment, there are products that consistently win great reviews from a large cross-section of magazines in the UK and worldwide. Room acoustics and equipment synergy will not completely wreck a good product.

Where performance between two items is close, then yes, these factors are critical. However there are certain aspects of music that transcend others. You may have 10 things you want your system to do in terms of reproduction but if you know your top 3 then you will probably end up happy and evaluating equipment suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.

First of all it is important to develop the capability to listen to the music not the system. Sit and try to imagine the performers playing in front of you:

  • Is the performance realistic?
  • Where is the singer positioned?
  • Is he or she clear or hidden behind a haze of electronic noise known as “grain”?
  • Is the music natural or edgy?

At a superficial level music is simple, however at an almost sub-conscious level it is inherently complex and subtle. At a superficial level there is a tendency to focus on particular aspects of the music rather than the whole. For example if a listener wants to hear clarity on female vocals then they will make choices accordingly. The problem with this approach is that product X may have greater clarity than product Y, yet you may have overlooked that product Y is superior in other important aspects. For many it is only with longer term listening that a correct appraisal is reached.

The ideal is to compare the reproduced sound with live sound. What are the differences?

Everyone has their own way of evaluating sound quality. It may be helpful to outline some of the criteria that we at Origin Live consider crucial when evaluating sound. We use the phrase “closest to the original sound,” because this is what our products are designed to achieve. In fact the name Origin Live is a shortening of the phrase “reproducing the original sound as played live”. Some people have thought the name something to do with preserving the environment – in a sense this is true of course, if one thinks of the musical environment.

It is said that some magazines are advising their writers not to refer to live music when reviewing. At first this seems reprehensible but there are probably reasons that are well-intentioned. Firstly much of what is called live music is actually reproduced via electronics e.g. a rock concert. This is completely different to a live orchestral brass band or an un-amplified piano and singer. So here we have the first area of ambiguity. The second area is the number of different qualities in genuine live music, which make it confusing to lump them all together in one term.

But how can you tell how close something is to the original sound? Most people agree that there is a difference between live sound and reproduced sound. Let us use an example; If you are walking down a street blind folded and a brass band is playing, the characteristics of the live sound would make it obvious that you were listening to a “live performance” and not electronics and speakers. The weighty powerful sound would have unique attack (dynamics), speed, reverberation and decay. It is these immediate characteristics that many top systems seek to emulate.

With careful analysis of ‘live’ sound behaviour, the determination of a system’s performance may be rated on its ability to match the original qualities. Ultimately this is what makes a system great and saves following false trails that seem good at the time but lead nowhere.

The challenges for reproduced music to sound the same as “live”

Transient Speed

This is the speed at which notes start and stop. In real-life, ‘live’ sound is more or less instantly perceived. However, Hi-Fi equipment often has acceleration limitations, and so only the best systems nearly deliver sound as quickly as real-life.

For notes to stop quickly the solution is to control resonances, which in poor equipment causes notes to become prolonged more than they should be.


Dynamics may be described as the quality of notes reaching the correct amplitude in the correct space of time. Reproducing mechanisms almost inevitably have some form of damping to control resonance and this usually has the effect of “slowing the transient speed down and reducing dynamics”.

Bass That You Can Feel

Deep, fast, dynamic bass is usually present in live music – however this area is by far the most difficult to control in music reproduction systems. Poorly controlled, resonant bass masks midrange and treble quality. In an effort to obtain clarity, some systems deliberately reduce bass output slightly. CD manufacturers seem to start suppressing it under around 100 Hz in some cases. Vinyl is not handled in this way which is one of the reasons it is so popular. Good bass performance is fundamental to music reproduction as it adds a sense of power, weight and authority. Without great bass a system can seem to have clarity but ultimately sounds thin, wearing and lacking.

Harmonics That Lack Harshness or Edginess

Natural harmonics are present in music – however poor systems generate additional harmonics that detract from the originals. A good system will only produce the original natural harmonics whereas inferior ones introduce “colouration” that is not pleasing to the ear.

Origin Live design their products to optimise these qualities.

Hi Fi Shows

We've put Hi Fi shows in a different catagory to auditioning because hearing anything at a show is very different to a demonstration. Shows are a great way to gain exposure to a much larger range of products than you would find at a shop or dealer. You can also get a vague idea of what equipment sound like.

The Hi Fi Show Environment

One comment we hear a lot at shows is from people who say their home system sounds a whole lot better than anything at the show. There are numerous reasons for this and the bottom line is that if they transported their system to a show and then listened to the sound they would be shocked at the degradation. Why is this?

Room Acoustics

Room acoustics alone can account for 20% or more on the way equipment sounds. Some show rooms do not lend themselves to good acoustics no matter how much you treat them with acoustic damping and bass traps. We've found that something as seemingly insignificant as putting a banner behind the speakers ( a common habit at shows) destroys bass definition. Synthetic carpets have their own sound as do false ceilings and a host of other uncontrollable aspects.

Size of Room

We've found larger rooms always have a big edge over smaller ones because they allow larger and more dynamic speakers to be used and room acoustics become less of an issue. Large speakers do not function properly in small hotel rooms but a £10,000 exhibition charge for a large room is usually beyond the budget for smaller firms.

Interference of Adjacent Rooms

Very often Hi Fi show rooms are in a long corridor with a myriad of different sounds emenating from each room. When you are listening in one room, you may not hear the music playing next door over the music being played in the room you are in. Don't let this fool you into thinking it has no effect!

Even the vibration travelling through concrete floors affects the performance of the speakers as Townsend Audio can prove. Not only this, but airbourne low bass will travel through shut doors and cause continuous intermodular distortion.

Mains corruption

At a show there will be a mass of current hungry amplifiers and equipment that drain and corrupt the main supply to a level that beggars belief. Hotel electrical sytems are not designed to cater well for mega watts of current draw without serious voltage drops, impedance increase all of which leads to current starvation.

We've occasionaly resorted to running our turntables off car batteries to overcome this problem and notice how they utterly transform the sound. We don't use car batteries in our listening room because the mains is OK and they make no improvement (the opposite is true).

Dry environment and high levels of static charge

Hotels usually run air conditioning which dries out the air. Dry atmospheres create unusual amounts of static especially when synthetic carpet is being walked over by hundreds of people. High levels of static affect delicate electronics and especially cartridges playing Vinyl records.

Type of Music played

People’s moods may be unreceptive. They may not be familiar with the music or not like it. The record may be seriously worn or playing at the wrong volume. Someone may be sitting or standing in a room node and get a false impression.


Some shows are known to be much better than others in terms of overall sound quality. In spite of a difficult environment, the better products still shine through and you will generally find they sound an awfull lot better when they get them home.

Room Acoustics

Many people underestimate the effect of room acoustics on choice of equipment. However this is a fundamental influence and accounts in large measure for the differences of opinion among reviewers and manufacturers on various products. From years of visiting dealers, reviewers and Hi-Fi shows, Origin Live have observed the effect of variables and a brief distillation of this experience is set out below.

Many people underestimate the effect of room acoustics on choice of equipment. However this is a fundamental influence and accounts in large measure for the differences of opinion among reviewers and manufacturers on various products. From years of visiting dealers, reviewers and Hi-Fi shows, Origin Live have observed the effect of variables and a brief distillation of this experience is set out below.

The key variables

Size and shape of room — Larger rooms need more treble and upper mid-band output. Wide rooms are similar and tend to favour bright sounding equipment. Long rooms tend to develop better low frequency bass. Higher ceilings tend to favour slightly higher treble levels.

Listening position — If you sit close to the speakers you will prefer less treble volume.

Type of furnishings — (live verses dead rooms) The more soft furnishings, the more treble in the balance will be preferred. There will be a loss of reverberation and sense of life in dead rooms.

Temperature of the room — Some speakers sound very slow below 20°C (at lower temperatures electronics can also sound hard and edgy). Speakers need around 4 hours to warm up to normal room temperature from a starting point of 10°C – this is because of the large metal mass contained in the magnet assemblies. This in turn affects the cone and suspension mechanisms.

Length of time the equipment has been switched on — Most equipment sounds better after a “warm-up” period which varies greatly, depending on the equipment concerned.

Length of time the equipment has been “run-in” — Cartridges, motors, turntable bearings, cables, amplifiers and speakers all need in excess of 40 hours to sound at their best. Run-in improves some products massively while others are not so affected.

A-B comparisons — Dealers sometimes offer to demonstrate product A against product B with all other aspects equal i.e. nothing else changes – same room and same system etc. This would appear to yield a fair degree of certainty of a fair comparison. This method certainly can tell you a lot about some aspects of the performance but still does not answer the problems of environmental variables and unknown system synergy effects.

It is not our purpose here to promote uncertainty or endless indecision. The outline “Assessing Equipment” will go a long way to evaluating the key aspects of most equipment when it enters your own system. This article helps in virtually all circumstances and particularly if you can find a dealer who can produce a good sound in a room similar to your own listening room and carry our A-B comparison.

Asking for our advice

We are here to help. It's likely that you have questions even after initial research so please ask using the form below.

We Offer Expert Advice2018-04-27T13:19:28+01:00

When choosing a new system, item of equipment or an upgrade, we offer good advice for a number of reasons.

It’s not always easy to know exactly what system you want or aspire to. There are numerous factors to consider regarding equipment choices, formats,  styles and ease of use. You could spend a lot of time reading literally hundreds of reviews or take a leap in the dark with an unknown dealer. Either way you run a risk of ending up with something that is far from ideal without even realising it.

Putting together a system for your particular needs takes specialist knowledge, experience and good judgement. The information overload that is available from dealers, magazines and forums is astonishing so why do people choose to trust us and then stay with us? The following list may provide some of the answers:

  • Most of our business comes from long-term trust and happy clients who thank us for the recommendations we make over and above much of the shallow, inexperienced, “out to make a quick sale” sort of advice that we’ve all experienced. We take great care that the advice we give yields the best results possible and builds trust.
  • We have not found that high price always means high performance – in fact there are many examples of where a top product will outperform others at over 10 times the price.
  • With over 25 years of dealing with suppliers we have found the harsh reality is that only around 1 in 10 deliver outstanding results in terms of performance, reliability and value for money. This paints a very different picture from much of what you read in the press. Because nearly everything gets a good review, one gets the impression that there are not the vast differences that actually exist between the good, the bad and the ugly. For example we had someone phone us up who had tried 5 well reviewed phono stages, offered by a local shop and was not happy with any of them. We recommended the Whest 2, which was under half the price of some of those he had rejected, and got the feedback that this was just the solution he’d been looking for – he loved it.
  • Origin Live products must be ultra competitive, as we compete worldwide and export up to 80% of output per month.
  • We don’t offer discounts – the truth is that the best gear is not discounted and can sometimes outperform other products at more than five times the price. What appears to be a bargain is often far from it.
  • Advice is based on extensive exposure to hearing a huge range of products through many international shows in the USA, Germany, France, Italy, and more.
  • We interact with audio enthusiasts at the highest level from the press and dealers to designers and component suppliers. This has also involved the absorption of huge amounts of product information over the years.
  • Leading audio designers need to be superb judges of sound quality and possess systems capable of discerning it. This ability is critical as truly cutting edge designs are developed largely by assessing small incremental changes that all combine to yield a huge improvement. From the plethora of misguided advice and material given by so-called experts we would advise extreme caution on what you believe. At Origin Live we have been developing award-winning products for many years with painstaking time spent on literally tens of thousands of listening tests. We do not hand out sloppy advice based on ignorance, bias or higher margin of profit. If we do not know the answer to a question we will say so or find a reliable source who does.
  • There are dealers who seem to stock everything under the sun and appear like an Amazon of the Hi-Fi world. Obviously there is a place for this but would you expect to get great advice from Amazon? We take the opposite approach and are highly selective about what we offer. In fact much of what we have available is not seen on our website for much the same reasons that a doctor would not offer drugs without consultation.
  • We have a large network of trusted listeners from reviewers, fellow manufacturers, dealers and owners.
  • Good engineers tend to focus on truth more than salespeople because they have to deal with reality rather than popular beliefs or the whims of the press.
  • Reliability is something we take seriously and know from first hand experience the brands that are highly reliable from those that tend to have an erratic track record.
  • We have a history of picking winners – for example we were one of the first to stock the Shanling 2000CD player as we really believed it offered a seriously good sound – 2 years later it won CD player of the year and one of the better reviewers intimated that it was the best player he’d heard but at a fraction of the price of many high-end players on the market.

We may not always offer the cheapest solution for the simple reason that we don’t judge everything on price. There are important considerations such as performance, reliability (a really big one nowadays), ease of use, appearance, build quality and other factors.

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