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Origin Live Calypso review

Scrupulous set-up delivers huge performance rewards

Our Verdict

If you're a patient and methodical sort, happy with turntable tinkering, the Calypso will reward. Whilst perhaps not an ideal deck for a first-time buyer, when correctly set up, the deck will delight with its looks, musicality and perky performance

For

  • When properly set-up, the Calypso offers a delightful musical performance

    Rather attractive if you're a fan of post-modernist looks

Against

  • The Calypso-Encounter partnership seems unduly fussy about its set-up, which is perhaps fine for enthusiasts but might be off-putting for turntable 'civilians'.

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 to do is take the thing 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 altogether.

Setting up the turntable isn't difficult or especially laborious, although we reckon it'll probably take you longer than the 15 minutes suggested by the instructions, particularly if this is your first venture into turntable set-up.

And, as we discovered, set-up is crucial if you want to hear this deck perform at its 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. That said, once you've assembled it, levelled it, topped up its bearing with oil, fitted its tonearm and dressed the arm cable through the P-clip, you'll have to fiddle with the positioning of its separate motor pod and attach the round-section drive belt, which can be tricky till you acquire the knack.

Once you've 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 its circuitry to do whatever circuitry does during the early hours of its working life.

Origin Live thoughtfully supplies a specially modified phono lead so that you can burn in your tonearm's wiring by feeding the output of a CD player through it. You need to do exactly what the instructions tell you and route the tonearm cable to a line-level input before you attempt the process - we certainly won't be held responsible for the outcome if you don't.

You might also like to check the rotational speed of the deck once you've 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 Calypso's two motor speeds - 33rpm and 45rpm - can be fine-tuned if required by means of tiny screws reached through holes in the casing of the pod.

Our particular review sample came supplied with an Origin Live Encounter tonearm, though plenty of other options are available. Even to someone who has used a unipivot design for years, the Encounter 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's 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, according to Origin Live, only be nipped up finger-tight if you wish to avoid your music sounding 'dead'. 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 Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) adjuster. Now, depending on your point of view, VTA is either vitally important or really not worth the bother. Many believe in a 'set it and forget it' approach, whereby the tonearm is set up correctly on a typical LP and promptly forgotten about, while others are happy to spend hours tinkering with it to compensate for discs that are slightly thicker or thinner.

For the purposes of this review we used the popular, £250 Dynavector DV10X5 cartridge - a high-output moving-coil design that's been around since 1978.

The latest version benefits from an aluminum head block that securely attaches the cartridge to the tonearm. We followed importer Pear Audio's recommendation to use the mounting hardware supplied with the cartridge rather than Allen bolts, which can foul the body.

The first thing that's noticeable about this turntable/arm combination is that it produces very little vinyl noise. Drop the cartridge into the groove and you'll hear next to nothing, which is always a good sign.

With the deck, tonearm and cartridge properly set up, warmed up and bedded in, we decided to pull out some 'old faithful' recordings that could tell us in an instant whether our tinker-time had been well spent.

First up was Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, from the 1977 LP of the same name, which was 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 we investigated various tweaks to persuade the Calypso to deliver the consistently even-handed performance we ultimately achieved with it.

On its initial outing we 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 we adjusted the VTA, and were amazed by the difference this appeared to make. Joni had added a body to her head and 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 gained more substance, along with the rich tonality associated with the 1962 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, we decided to address another potential concern: up until this point we 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 this washer should not be used with Origin Live's decks).

What effect would removing this washer have on this unusually sensitive record player? It's fair to say that nothing could have prepared us for the dramatic - and across-the-board - improvement this simple act wrought.

Any criticisms regarding a lack of vitality and rhythmic bounce to the music - such as we'd noticed with tracks from Neneh Cherry's usually vibrant Raw Like Sushi album - were immediately nullified by discarding the washer.

This simple act instantly transformed her performance from pedestrian to positively perky. Similarly, removing the washer also negated our observations of over-exuberance on tracks such as McCoy Tyner's Prelude to a Kiss, where his piano sounded far too honky-tonk, but now sounded appropriately lively, with the previously noted wayward tonality now seeming to be controlled and more natural.

Best of all, though, dispensing with the washer also put an end to the constant need to fiddle with the VTA. All the albums played up to that point, which we'd criticised till the VTA was tweaked, now sounded fine without any adjustment.

We have to say we've never before come across a turntable-and-arm combination that's been this pernickety about its set-up. At some point we'd be keen to put the Calypso through its paces with another tonearm to see if it's the Encounter that's responsible for this super-sensitivity. In the meantime, this turntable gets the thumbs up it thoroughly deserves for the fine performance it provided in the end.