Hardware Reviews

Origin Live Calypso & Illustrious Mk4 hit the highs

Origin Live Calypso main

Origin Live Calypso Mk4 & Illustrious Mk4 turntable & tonearm

Turntable makers come and go. Some endure for a variety of reasons, others bite the dust very quickly. But Origin Live is one of a special breed, an enduring, steadily improving must-have breed that gets under the skin of its owners and provides musical satisfaction for year after year.

One such brand is Origin Live, the creation of Mark Baker who’s passionate about wringing the utmost information from those tiny wiggly grooves pressed into vinyl, but doing it with the utmost ease, refinement, transparency and integrity. And I think it’s integrity which defines Origin Live’s approach.

Every last component has been carefully thought about, thoroughly researched, auditioned and put through its paces. Not just, does it measure well (which some feel is an irrelevance, much like the bumble bee’s aerodynamics suggest it shouldn’t be able to fly), but far more importantly in my book, does it sound good. However, that’s only the beginning. After all Towering Inferno was a fantastic film when it first hit the screens. Full of special effects, amazing photography, stunning action, but after a while it actually became rather boring. There was no let-up, no contrast, no variation.


Fortunately Origin Live’s turntables are equally as adept at retrieving the huge impacts stored in an LP’s grooves as they are at capturing and presenting the microdetails – the ones where you can imagine the smile on the singer’s lips, the violinist closing their eyes as they deftly stroke the strings… Origin Live manage to reach into the very soul of performances and present that soul in our own listening spaces so well that we’re more than happy to listen and listen.


It needs to be said that the packaging is a model of how packaging should be. I suspect, in the event of a nuclear blast, the turntable and arm would still survive, it’s that well packed. Not only that but the instructions for assembly, set-up, adjustment and use are exemplary. Fully illustrated and with very helpful tips along the way, if you follow these you can be sure of a rather special listening experience. You can also be sure that the arm / turntable combination will not only reveal an LPs’ hidden delights but it will also look after it in the process. The Calypso and Illustrious arm combination does not come cheap. I partnered it with (variously) a Kondo-rebuilt Audio Note Io, a much-loved Audio Technica AT-OC7, a humble Ortofon OM40 and a very ancient and Tannoy Variluctance mono cartridge. Despite the wide variety of cartridge types, the Calypso / Illustrious combo never disappointed.

Out of the box, as a set of parts, setting up the turntable and adjusting the arm was very straightforward. As mentioned above the instructions are clear and simple. The cartridges I used are very different (especially the Tannoy), and Origin Live’s protractor and overhang guide made aligning the arm for each cartridge a very straightforward affair, as is setting the bias, and the arm pillar height.

Origin Live Calypso and Illustrious

This Origin Live turntable’s construction is essentially minimalist, the main part of the chassis is – not sure how best to describe it – ‘resiliently coupled’ to the relatively massive main-bearing-and-arm-board. This coupling means that the arm board can move ‘under pressure’ relative to the chassis, but the reality is that in use it doesn’t display any movement at all. There’s nothing like the bounce you see in suspended chassis decks, but it’s not rigid as some others are.

The Swiss DC motor and motor pod controller ensure that wow and flutter are vanishingly low as the platter has a reflective strip on its underside to measure speed consistency regardless of anything like belt wear or that age-old vagary temperature. Unlike many others, the motor pulley is a hard nylon – simply because it sounds better. Switching between 33 and 45 is a simple one click turn of the speed controlled knob, and back again for 33.

I did some listening at 45rpm and found nothing wanting in terms of speed stability or accuracy. The marks on the supplied strobe disc resolutely failed to move when the platter was rotating, even when left for a considerable period of time, testament to Origin Live’s engineering and motor control electronics. There’s a lot of fine detail in the manual – such as not setting the feet tight against the underside of the chassis, but giving them a little space between. All these seemingly minor ‘tweaks’ eventually add up to a rather superb end result – sound quality.

Origin Live Calypso and Illustrious review

The main bearing is slightly unusual in that, as with some of the higher-end Collaro decks of yesteryear, there appears to be a little wiggle-room. Many favour ultra-close tolerance bearings whereas the Origin Live works on the basis that the oil fills the gap adequately enough and under the loads imposed will form a rigid barrier. If you don’t believe me, have you ever tried water skiing, or jumped off a cliff into the sea? Yes, that ebbing flowing bubbling water looks soft enough, but hit it at speed (like falling off water skis at speed) and you suddenly realise how hard and unyielding it can be. Such is the philosophy behind this approach to bearing design.

The Calypso platter has been changed to the company’s multi-layer type for its Mk4 incarnation. Mark Baker is tight lipped about exactly what the layers consist of and as far as can be told the thicker one is acrylic, but the black layer that’s fixed to this is apparently the secret sauce in this rotating mix of materials.

How this Origin Live turntable and arm sounds

Initial listening took place with the standard arm cable and impressions were immediately of a finely detailed very well-balanced seamless presentation. A recent release, BR Klassik’s 9th Symphony by Shostakovitch (900204) ,was the first to receive a stylus. The Illustrious lowered it gently into the groove, and the resulting silence was – amazing. Rarely have I experienced such silence in run-in grooves on a record. While there was a modicum of noise it must have been the quietest lead-in groove on the planet, and it was such a surprise when the first few notes of music emerged from the speakers; after listening ‘intently’ to the silence they seemed to burst into the air.

Origin Live Calypso and Illustrious review

On a more serious note though, my usual test of a turntable is how quiet it is when the system volume is raised, and nothing is playing (but the platter is spinning). I am happy to report that there was an astonishing absence of noise until the volume was turned a long way up – well past any sensible listening level – Origin Live have chosen grounding and shielding components very well to keep things this quiet. The upside of course is that with less unwanted hash in the system there’s more music coming through, nothing getting in the way.

The BR Klassik’s recording is (sonically) particularly fine, and the orchestral ensemble is well spaced between and behind the speakers. I mentioned in an earlier piece about getting the volume right so that the aural image comes into focus. On this turntable it was very easy to achieve this, and with your eyes closed and the LP playing at an appropriate level, the soundscape was simply magical. You could easily hear the orchestra laid out in its recording space, and every subtle nuance, every change in timbre was so well extracted and portrayed – even for Shostakovitch (which can be difficult listening from time to time) it was a real joy.

I have a treasured recording from 1961 – Joan Baez Vol 2 on Vanguard Stereo (VSD2097). This is quite an early recording and I appreciate that she’s a bit marmite – you either love her or can’t stand her. However, on this LP her inimitable style comes through and even at that young age (around 20) is beginning to form into the strong passionate style which informed all her future output. What is quite interesting is the shift in perspective; the majority of the LP is solo voice with just a guitar. However, in Pal of Mine and Banks of the Ohio she’s accompanied by bluegrass group the Greenbriar Boys. You can immediately tell that the recording acoustic is different. You’re aware of them before they even start, such is the resolving power of this Origin Live combination. If you don’t believe me, if you stand in an echoey room, shut your eyes and clap you can hear the echoes. If there are a couple more people in the same room, and you do the same thing the echoes are different – their presence affects the reverb. For a turntable to be able to differentiate this is quite a feat, but again, adds more to the listening experience. As ever, Baez’s voice is unmistakeable, her guitar playing unique in its way, and much of the record’s content quite earthy. Despite being quite a raw recording it was one of those where, as I mentioned earlier, you really could hear whether Baez was curling her lip, or smiling or singing with her eyes closed.

Origin Live Calypso and Illustrious

Steely Dan’s Do It Again contains a broad range of instruments but is also pretty well recorded. There’s an articulate bass line – not uber deep, but needs enough warmth to keep things rolling – a busy percussion contribution and some vocals. What sets the Origin Live combo apart is in its ability to not only differentiate between all the disparate elements of this recording, but still allow them to combine as a whole entity. In my book that’s some achievement. However you regard any ensemble, it is a group of individuals playing as one. This gives the opportunity for dialogue between two or more parts, consonance, dissonance, cross rhythms and so on. As long as the sense of oneness is never lost, then the recording and its playback are doing a good job. I could go on about things like the Beethoven quartets and so on, but in this case Do It Again is just as good an example.

Horowitz’s concert in Moscow (DG 419 499-1) covers some potentially ‘difficult’ music, but is included firstly as it’s a stupendous recording, and secondly, it’s piano. Allegedly the piano is the most difficult instrument to reproduce and a veritable test of a turntable’s speed stability. Well, the Origin Live Calypso and Illustrious wowed in a good way. I could not discern the slightest variation in pitch, even as the last notes of some of the repertoire died away in the auditorium. OK, so the audience was enthusiastic about the pianist and the programme, but the reality was that the piano could have been in my listening room. It was that real, and when I got up to make a coffee, listening in the hall it sounded even more real. Few turntables have got so close to that level of realism for me. Top marks.

Lastly a bit of fun. Dudley Moore, a sad loss to comedy and the world of music was a renowned jazz (and classical) pianist. He wrote numerous film and TV scores and was very fond of writing pastiches of serious things, one such being an operatic nonsense with Dud playing the piano and singing (if it can be called that) both the messy soprano and the basso profundo parts in a ridiculous dialogue. Anyway, The Music Of… on Cube TOOFA14 is a compilation of some of his jazz and TV scores. Mostly rooted in 1960s film-types, the music has a wide variety of styles ranging from an almost bluesy (or is it boozy) Sooz Blooz through to the theme music for Bedazzled and the disarmingly charming Waltz for Suzy. Most of the material is the archetypical piano, bass and drums (with occasional additions of flute and violin.


Now, the sound and recording quality on this double-LP is not as good as some but what the Origin Live Calypso managed to do with the Illustrious arm is convey the unadulterated sense of enjoyment which pervades Dud’s musical output. Yes there are sad songs in there, there’s a blues and several other styles. But the overriding feeling you get from listening to this emotional roller-coaster of an album is that Dud enjoyed what he was doing. And somehow him doing what he loved doing rubbed off on the other musicians. So even though you can’t quite see Dud’s smile, you can sure as heck see everyone else smiling as they play.

I also tried the Silver Hybrid arm cable, then swapped back, then tried it again. It’s actually very difficult to put into words what the difference was. It is quite a difference, but I think comes down more to an ability to connect emotionally with the material being played rather than in absolute sound quality terms per se. Somehow the listening was easier, and the presentation seemed more relaxed but nevertheless didn’t lack bite or detail or immediacy. I suspect you need a system with a high level of transparency and resolving power to get the benefit, but it’s definitely there to be had. Going back to the standard cable I felt a little short changed, not that there was anything missing but just a niggle that now I wasn’t getting quite everything.

The Illustrious arm coped rather better than I had dared hope with the various cartridges mentioned above, especially with the Tannoy which puts quite a lot of energy back into the arm. I don’t think I’ve ever heard those cartridges sound as good as they did. In terms of being a totally supporting platform allowing the cartridges to perform at their best, this is right up there.


Origin Live Calypso and Illustrious conclusion

There are many competent turntable and arm packages out there albeit not so many at around this price point. But exceptional ones are rare, and this combo is indeed a rare bird. In terms of allowing me to connect emotionally with the material being played (and there was a whole lot more than just the few noted here) it does so in a way which is really beguiling and where you are aching for each record to last longer.

Even on those ancient or less-well-cared for ones where there’s surface noise, the occasional (or frequent) pop and click, none of those aberrations seemed to upset this record player, and in some senses, like the people coughing in a live performance, didn’t mar the listening experience. If I’m to be blunt, this was probably as close to hearing real world music in a real world environment that I’ve come across in a long time. It has the ability to transport you into the recording, into the performance, and in some cases almost alongside the performer. What more could you ask.


Calypso MkIV
Type: Belt-drive turntable with mass loaded plinth
Speeds: 33 1/3 RPM, 45 RPM.
Supplied tonearm: Illustrious Mk4
Drive mechanism: DC200 motor with nylon belt drive
Speed control: electronic
Platter type: multi-layer 12-inch
Platter weight: not specified
Main bearing:  stainless steel in phosphor bronze
Plinth material: 20mm acrylic with optional finishes
Dimensions (HxWxD): 170 x 490 x 360mm
Weight: 11.5kg
Warranty: 2 years

Illustrious Mk4
Type: dual pivot tonearm.
Tonearm effective length: 239mm
Arm tube: aluminium and steel
Effective mass: 12.7g
Offset angle: 22 degrees
Arm cable: low resistance copper litz internal, high grade copper external
Weight: 850g
Warranty: 2 years

Price when tested:
Calypso Mk4 turntable with multi-layer platter £3,170
Illustrious Mk4 tonearm £2,130
Calypso Mk4 (with multi-layer platter) & Illustrious Mk4 £5,300
Manufacturer Details:

Origin Live
T +44 (0) 23 80578877


turntable & arm


Chris Beeching

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