Origin Live Calypso
Malcolm Steward wrote this review for Hi-Fi Choice issue 0301 late in 2007
Origin Live Calypso turntable: £1470; Origin Live Encounter tone-arm: £970
A turntable combination where scrupulous set-up delivers huge performance rewards
The Origin Live Calypso serves as a vivid reminder of just how simple life has become since we adopted digital sources: with a CD player all one needs do is take it out of the box, plug it in, slip a disc into a slot or drawer, push a button and bingo, one has music. Life with the Calypso – or any other sophisticated record player for that matter – is a different ball game.
Setting up the turntable isn’t difficult or especially laborious, although reckon on it taking longer than the 15 minutes the instructions suggest, particularly if this is your first venture into turntable-land. And, as we discovered, set-up is crucial if you want to hear this deck perform at is best. Get it right and you’ll be as happy as a pig in muck: get it wrong and you’ll need to take the porker out of the equation.
The Calypso is a skeletal design without the complexities of a sprung sub-chassis. Nonetheless, once you have it assembled, levelled, have topped up its bearing with oil, and fitted its tone-arm and dressed the arm-cable through the P clip, you’ll have to fiddle with the positioning of its separate motor pod and attaching its round-section drive belt, which can be tricky until you acquire the knack.
Once you have reached this stage all that’s left is to fine tune the adjustment of your arm and cartridge and leave the deck running for a while to allow all its mechanical bits and pieces to bed in and all its circuitry to do whatever circuitry does during the early hours of its working life. Origin Live even thoughtfully supplies a specially modified phono lead so that you can burn in your tone-arm’s wiring by feeding the output of a CD player through it. Please do as the instructions tell you and route the tone-arm cable to a line-level input before you attempt the process or we certainly won’t be held responsible for the outcome.
You might also like to check the rotational speed of the deck once you have settled on the correct motor pod position – the one that puts the drive belt at the correct tension. Although judging what the correct tension is tends to be more a matter of experience than science, start by positioning the motor pulley 230mm away from the centre spindle on the platter. The two motor speeds – 33 and 45 rpm – can be fine tuned if required by means of tiny screws reached through holes in the casing of the pod.
The Calypso was supplied with an Origin Live Encounter tone-arm (pictured left). Even to someone who has used a unipivot design for years, this might feel unnervingly delicate to begin with. The dual pivot bearing allows movement in the horizontal axle in all directions except downwards. Although this can feel disconcerting it is a function of the design and you shouldn’t worry about it.
The arm fits into a Rega style mount and a large nut around the arm pillar clamps it in place on the arm-board section of the chassis. The nut, despite looking like a suitable candidate for tightening with the largest wrench you can lay your hands on, should only be nipped up finger tight if you wish to avoid your music sounding ‘dead’ says Origin Live. We followed the company’s advice even though we found it disconcerting that the arm assembly could occasionally be persuaded to rotate while placing the arm-tube in its rest.
The arm comes with a VTA adjuster. Now, VTA (Vertical Tracking Angle) is something that only few British writers make an undue fuss about – in my opinion. Fundamentally, I believe in a set it and forget it approach: get it set up correctly on a typical LP and then get on with your life rather than spend hours fussing with it every time you play a disc that’s slightly thicker or thinner.
The cartridge I used with the Calypso was the popular, £250 Dynavector DV10X5, a high output moving coil design that has been around since 1978. This latest version benefits from an aluminium head block that allows the cartridge to be very securely attached to the tone-arm. We followed importer, Pear Audio’s recommendations to use the mounting hardware supplied with the cartridge rather than allen bolts, which can foul the body.
The first thing you notice about this turntable and arm is that it produces very little vinyl noise. Drop the cartridge into the groove and you hear next to nothing, which is always a good sign.
With the deck, tone-arm and cartridge properly set up – or so I thought – warmed-up and bedded-in, I dragged out several old faithful recordings that tell you instantly whether your time has been well spent.
First up was Joni Mitchell’s Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter from the 1977 LP of the same name, chosen to see how the Calypso would handle her voice, the guitar play, and the wonderful, percussive bass line supplied by Jaco Pastorius. This album, it transpired, would enjoy many visits to the deck as a benchmark while I investigated various tweaks to persuade the Calypso to deliver the consistently even-handed performance that we ultimately achieved with it.
On its initial outing I got an essentially reasonable but not especially inspiring portrayal: fundamental pace and timing were well conveyed and the bass was satisfactorily articulated although a little light in tone and muscle. Joni’s voice was also shallow and lacked body and depth. Similarly the guitar seemed to be all strings and no body: the attack of the strings dominated the sound with little or no warmth or character being contributed by the resonance of the wood to which they were attached.
So I adjusted the VTA and was amazed by the difference this appeared to make. Joni had added a body to her head and had lost the nasality in her voice; the guitar strings had been reattached to the instruments and seemed far better balanced in the mix; and Jaco’s fretless bass had acquired more substance along with the rich tonality of a ’62 Fender Jazz. The correction of these presentational oddities had a further benefit in that it allowed the music’s structure and flow to come through far more readily.
Buoyed by this success I addressed another potential concern: up until this point I had a washer fitted between the arm-board and the large nut on the base of the arm pillar. (The instructions have now been modified to make it clear that this washer should not be used with OL’s decks.) What effect, I wondered, would removing this have on this unusually sensitive record player? It’s fair to say that nothing could have prepared me for the dramatic – and across the board – improvement this simple act wrought.
Any criticisms of any lack of vitality and rhythmic bounce to the music – such as I’d noticed with tracks from Neneh Cherry’s usually vibrant Raw Like Sushi album were immediately negated by discarding the washer. This simple act instantly transformed her performance from pedestrian to positively perky. Similarly, removing that washer also negated my observations of over exuberance on tracks such as McCoy Tyner’s Prelude to a Kiss, where his piano sounded far too honky-tonk: music now sounded appropriately lively but the previously noted wayward tonality seemed now to be controlled and more natural.
Best of all, though, dispensing with that washer also put an end to that constant need to fiddle with the VTA. All the albums played thus far, which I’d criticised until the VTA was tweaked, now played without any adjustment.
I have to say that I have never before come across a turntable and arm combination that has been this pernickety about its set-up. As soon as it comes back from the photographic session, I have another tone-arm waiting to be fitted to see if it’s the Encounter that’s responsible for this super-sensitivity. In the meantime, the Calypso gets the thumbs-up that it thoroughly deserves for the fine performance it provided in the end.
It concerns me that the Calypso and Encounter seemed so sensitive to the way the tone-arm was attached and set up. Its performance switched from delightful to dreary with a sixteenth of a turn on a nut or the fitment of a washer. Be sure an experienced dealer sets this combination up before you take it home.