Origin Live Resolution Mk3 Turntable and Illustrious Mk3C Tone Arm Still Captivates

U.K. based Origin Live has been building its iconoclastic line of turntables and tone arms for decades now and though its American visibility remains relatively low, it has managed to attract a small but enthusiastic and growing consumer fan base .

I reviewed for Stereophile back in 2004 the original Resolution turntable in combination with the Encounter tone arm and ended up writing “ (the Resolution/Encounter combo) is one of the finest performers I’ve ever heard at any price. It’s so good that when I mounted a low output Lyra Helikon SL on the Encounter and compared it to the Yorke/Kuzma Air Line/Lyra Titan combo sitting atop the Vibraplane, I could make a case for preferring the $4500 spread over the one costing over 20K. Why? The Origin Live arm/’table didn’t better the more expensive rig in any single parameter. Instead there was a synergy of factors that combined to create one of the most satisfying performances I’ve yet heard from a turntable.”

Was that a gross overstatement? With almost an additional decade’s worth of turntable reviewing experience to draw from, the offer to review the latest Resolution in combination with the more costly Illustrious Mk3C tone arm was one not to be turned down. Would time and dozens of turntable reviews temper my enthusiasm for Origin Live’s quirky design?

The M3 Resolution is now priced at $3300, up only $330 from its $2970 2004 cost, despite major design changes and many upgrades. At $2500, the Illustrious Mk3C is $1000 more expensive than the $1495 Encounter’s 2004 price tag. So the new arm/’table’s total cost is $5800. Not inexpensive, but also within the reach of many.

You Say You Want A Resolution?

Despite the Mk3 designation, the Resolution retains the original’s basic look and very unusual design, centered around a complex, single contact point dual chassis construction.

The upper sub-chassis, fabricated from 5/16” thick unspecified black enameled metal (which I assume is aluminum) into which are machined a variety of symmetrical cut-outs, holds the bearing assembly at one end and the tone arm mounting platform at the other. It connects to the main chassis via a single small bolt, with but a small chromed washer separating the two.

The bolt’s location puts it almost centered on the main chassis, but very close to the sub-chassis’ bearing assembly end and far away from the much heavier tone arm platform end. Thus, with most of its effective mass located well away from the attachment point, the sub-chassis is very heavily cantilevered!

Origin Live claims this results in an unsuspended design’s solid rhythmic and bass performance while avoiding what it claims is an unsuspended ‘table’s tendency towards hardness.

The tone arm mounting platform system consists of an approximately ¾” thick, large diameter crescent-shaped acrylic disk, near the outer periphery of which sits a smaller chrome-plated metal disk machined to have a larger diameter top half and a smaller diameter bottom half (machining vernacular probably exists that elegantly describes all of this but I’m unfamiliar with it). Thus the metal disk rests on the hole’s ledged inner surface. Bolts protruding through the acrylic from below tightly secure the metal disc to the acrylic ledge.

The assemblage attaches from below to the metal sub-chassis via two bolts that thread into the metal disc and third triangulating one that goes through the metal sub-chassis and into the acrylic disk with a washer in between to keep the platform both level and rigid.

A large diameter hole machined into the metal disk accepts the tone arm’s threaded mounting pipe, which is secured via a large nut. The point of going into such detail here is to make you aware of the complexity behind what appears from a cursory glance to be a slab of acrylic bolted to or even glued to the sub-chassis. The construction is anything but! Instead the designer manages a relatively high-mass assembly, but one that’s both rigidly attached to the sub-chassis (metal to metal) and effectively decoupled.

At the other end of the sub-chassis resides the bearing assembly, the bushing of which is also rigidly contained within a three point metal superstructure and decoupled from the sub-chassis. The bearing spindle consists of a hardened shaft and hardened ball riding on a hardened thrust pad. The bearing is filled to overflowing with a special low friction oil, the excess wiped away before fitting the 4.5 pound, 1 ¼” thick acrylic platter that rides on a large diameter cylindrical “sub-platter”. Origin Live tops the platter with a recently introduced “flexible composite” mat, the precise formulation of which it does not disclose

A curved black piece of what almost looks like an automobile’s disc brake pad, located adjacent to the bearing assembly, is bolted to the sub-chassis and acts, I think, as some kind of damping mechanism.

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The main chassis, of black acrylic appears to sit on the two front circular platforms but that’s not the case. Those two protuberances float. Their purpose appears to be to damp the chassis as they are clamped, sandwiched discs of acrylic and metal.

I’m guessing here because Origin Live’s documentation both online and in its manuals is frequently vague and haphazardly organized. While the site is long on theory it is short on specificity and in explaining exactly how theory is actually implemented.

(This is not because Origin Live is trying to hide anything! It’s more because I suspect founder Mark Baker is a not particularly well-organized “Gyro Gearloose” kind of guy. It wouldn’t take much to re-organize both the website and the manuals for the benefit of Origin Live and consumers alike).

The main chassis’ actual support points are three threaded cylindrical feet tucked well underneath, one of metal located at the approximately “2 o’clock” position and two of some kind of hard rubber or plastic placed in a line that roughly, front-to-back, bisects the platter. A cutout sculpted into the chassis’ left side would appear to accommodate the large diameter motor housing but the belt’s diameter precludes the motor’s getting anywhere near the cut out.

The DC motor, residing in a large diameter black plastic cylindrical outboard pod fitted with small cork pads, is topped with a crowned pulley machined from an unspecified plastic material that Origin Live claims is more expensive than metal and can be more accurately machined. It’s also claimed to provide better belt grip for greater speed accuracy. The belt is a relatively thick, hand made one of an unspecified rubber-like material. The outboard motor controller located in an undistinguished black box is said to be a “highly regulated supply”. Origin Live provides no other details. Both 33 1/3 and 45rpm speeds can be fine tuned via a pair of small set-screws located near the front of the motor housing.

The upgrade from Mk2 to Mk3 occurred mid-review (never a happy reviewer moment!) so I am acutely aware of the changes. The main chassis size has been slightly increased but since this was more for esthetics the review sample was not so upgraded.

More importantly, the bearing system has been upgraded to a new, lower-friction design featuring a larger hub said to better transmit energy, in association with a newly designed, taller platter of what’s claimed to be a “new type” of acrylic with “reduced internal stresses.”

The Mk2’s smaller hub and associated platter interface produced an unusual instability in that if you applied even a small amount of down force on that platter’s outer edge it would begin to tip over alarmingly. This was claimed to be a design element but trust me: you’ll be far more comfortable with a platter that cannot accidentally be tipped over!

Other improvements include an unspecified one to the power supply, a new superior sounding belt material and a quieter motor due to better pod damping.

Designer Mark Baker sent me a new Mk3 sub-chassis and bearing assembly as well as the new platter, belt and motor pod so I was easily able to perform the upgrade, which produced subtle but useful sonic, and especially with the non-tippable platter, physical improvements.

The Illustrious Mk3C Tonearm

The Mk3 version of this 9.5” arm was introduced in 2007. It added an integral VTA adjuster wheel and more significantly a dual pivot bearing system that’s key to the arm’s outstanding stability and sonic performance. The VTA adjuster wheel doesn’t permit easy ‘on-the-fly’ VTA/SRA adjustability but in my opinion that’s not important.

Set your SRA to 92 degrees and you are done, regardless of record thickness, time of day, temperature, humidity or your political affiliation. Audiophiles who tweak VTA to compensate for record thickness are wankers! Sonic differences, real or imagined, are usually because changing VTA, particularl on unipivot arms, will change azimuth and that is easily heard.

The horizontal axis (vertical movement) does not feature conventional gimbaled bearings. Instead, on either end of a massive yoke, a threaded sharp tungsten point rides in a self-centering shallow-radiused bearing cup, providing the stability of a gimbaled bearing with the low friction advantages of a unipivot.

The vertical axis bearing (horizontal movement) is a standard bearing. The bearing design is sort of like “half a Kuzma 4 Point”, though unlike the 4 Point and like the SME V you cannot adjust azimuth. Anti-skating is via a typical monofilament/weight system.

The “C” version, which stands for the carbon fiber arm tube upgrade, was introduced in 2009. You will have to visit the Origin Live site to read the update ‘table and arm chronicles, but the Mk3 version was a major update to this somewhat unusual and unique design. The “C” upgrade also included an ultra-rigid bonded counterweight stub and a new “Linear Flow 2” shielded arm cable.

Set-Up and Use

Despite its somewhat unorthodox design the Resolution Mk3 is relatively easy to set up, the most difficult part being injecting sufficient oil into the bearing. You have to add enough for the well to slightly overflow, after which you wipe away the excess.

Other than that, it’s fairly straightforward with the usual plinth-leveling and belt-tensioning typical of more conventional outboard motor equipped. The tone arm sets up easily as well with two caveats: accurately setting VTF (vertical tracking force) without the optional fine-adjust weight is difficult if not impossible. The counterweight slides very loosely on the stub until you lock it. I found small weight shifts impossible to achieve. I definitely recommend the fine-adjust weight even though Mark Baker thinks it negatively impacts the sound. So does an inability to precisely set VTF! Small changes in VTF yield large sonic shifts.

Using the Resolution Mk3 is straightforward. At the outset you should check and adjust both speeds and after the platter his spun for a day or so, re-check and possibly adjust again. I’m not a fan of felt or other dust collecting mats, which includes the one Origin Live supplies, but that’s up to you, especially if you like the sound. I did like the sound but not the dust that appeared on the side contacting the mat. I ended up using the thinner Boston Audio graphite mats.

The Illustrious arm had very pleasing “hand-feel.” It felt rock-solid, handled predictably, was easy to cue and stably entered the grooves.

Still Stellar Sound

Over the past decade the review system’s frequency extension, resolution and overall sound quality (not to mention the cost) has improved dramatically. The Resolution turntable has done likewise but incrementally and yes, the Illustrious arm is a step up from the Encounter and has also been improved. What remains unchanged is the Resolution’s attractive sonic balance, one that combines well-controlled reasonably well-extended and tuneful bass with realistic not “cardboardy” attack, generous sustain and very effective decay into black, well-textured and rich midrange and smooth and clean high frequency response with clean but not overly sharp transient performance.

Low level detail resolution remains very good, though not up to what far more expensive turntables manage and macro-dynamics while good are not as explosive as can be had, perhaps even at this price point. This is one reason I’m still not a fan of acrylic platters other than on budget turntables: dynamics just don’t “pop” as well as they do on metal and/or composite platters.

But other than what’s missing and not likely to be missed on modestly priced system anyway, the Resolution Mk3 and Illustrious tonearm produce the kind of sonics that make you want to keep listening record after record. After learning of the passing of J.J. Cale I pulled out my original Shelter pressing of Naturally (SHE 712) and a reissue done by Vivante, mastered at UMG’s Berliner mastering facility. I was running at the time the Audio-Technica AT150ANV used in the recently posted cartridge survey files driving a new $1500 Rega Aria MM/MC phono preamp .

Recorded at Nashville’s Bradley’s Barn, the sound is rich, creamy, yet ear-poppingly transparent. Deep voluptuous, rolling bass foundation, an isolated left channel kick drum, a catchy center channel panned piano riff (probably Leon), an eerily present guitar solo and what sounds like a closely-miked cunga that jumps from the speakers. An acoustic rhythm guitar strums way in the background almost undetected and of course Cale’s closely miked mischievous vocal floats over it all.

I know it well! Through this combo the bass was slightly softer than what’s possible but rhythmically well-controlled and extended. The kick drum and cunga pop were present and accounted for, the piano had both fine transient articulation and harmonic structure and Cale’s vocals floated well in front of the musical backdrop.

Just for the hell of it I swapped out the Aria for a $21,000 THRAX phono preamp also under review and it considerably improved every performance parameter, though the basic picture remained as before, particularly the somewhat warm and soft bass line compared to what’s possible with a far more expensive front end including the cartridge.

I had also run a Lyra Helikon SL on the Illustrious and that proved an ideal match. I’d go for a neutral to lean sounding cartridge with this arm/’table combo and steer clear of the warm, soft ones. The Resolution Mk3 doesn’t need warming or softening of any kind to produce rich, well-textured, harmonically complete sound.

Among the competition would be VPI’s new $4000 Classic Companion complete with arm and Grado cartridge and packages from Avid, Rega, Clearaudio and others. That said, the Origin Live Resolution Mk3 is a unique design that has some sonically attractive attributes especially when combined with Illustrious Mk3C. I didn’t have the opportunity to try the arm on another ‘table but at $2500 given how it performed on the Resolution, it is certainly an attractive alternative to other arms at that price point and above.

Perhaps the combo’s strongest suit was its overall even-keeled tonal balance and generously textured, velvety midband. Those are sonically desirable attributes not produced by some turntables costing far more.

Conclusion

I’ll close with what I wrote back in 2004 because I drew the same conclusion in 2013:

This ‘table and arm combo was designed by an individual (Mark Baker) who listened carefully and fastidiously. He tuned and tinkered and came up with a truly original design, and though some of it is unorthodox, it works brilliantly, is well built and the price is right. I hope you get my drift: this is one of the truly special products I’ve reviewed over the past 18 (now 27) years, regardless of price.

COMMENTS
Ajcrock's picture

So a decked out SOTA Sapphire will cost in the $4000 range with a SME arm, Linn perhaps a bit more, and Oracle even more.  So right in the price range and looks great.  Perhaps the table with a SME would give the adjustability at the same price.  At any rate very cool looking.

Paul Boudreau's picture

"Over the past decade the review system’s frequency extension, resolution and overall sound quality (not to mention the cost) has improved dramatically."

Are there LPs that have continued to reveal more information as your system has improved over the last decade?

Michael Fremer's picture

of course. All of them...even the poorly recorded ones....

Paul Boudreau's picture

I thought so.  That leads to the next obvious question:  Where's the limit to information that can be coaxed out of the grooves?  There must be one.

Michael Fremer's picture

There must be. Every time I think we're there, something moves the goalposts! Particularly cartridge design.

Paul Boudreau's picture

That's a pretty amazing statement from someone with a six-figure system utilizing a technology that's over a century old, if you think about it!  I imagine that you'd also agree that the advances tend to "trickle down," which is great stuff.

volvic's picture

Boudreau is right, there are new turntables coming out made with better materials, tighter tolerances, better technology that has trickled down to turntables costing $1500-$2500 making long established brands blush.  Now I wonder how my SME IV would sound on that Origin Live Res Mk 3.  

john.tracy's picture

As an owner of a OL Illustrious 3C I feel your pain with having to make fine VTF adjustments. My solution (suggested by a poster on Audiogon) is to use rubber O-rings of different thickness. I have a thick and a thin one that will slip over the end of the arm stub behind the weight. By trial and error I set the VTF to the high end of the range I want and use the O-rings singlely or in combination to fine tune the VTF. Yields 0.02g or so increments.

Audio Revelation's picture

I'd like to clarify that all the upper model Origin Live Tonearms from Encounter ($1750) to Illustrious ($2400) to Conqueror ($3500) and top of line Enterprise ($5900) come with fine adjustor when ordered through Audio Revelation. We've always included the fine adjustor, at no extra charge, since it came out about 2 years ago.

Keep in mind that by far and away the most popular turntable line in USA, VPI, also uses a heavy counterweight and they do not have a fine adjustor and it's considerably harder to set as any slight turn changes azimuth, yet thousands of users seem to manage.

Speaking of Azimuth, all the Origin arms listed above do in fact have azimuth adjustment by simply raising or lowering one side of the dual pivot. You won't likely need this but it's easy to do and 100% effective.

Aothman31's picture

I didn't get which cartridges was used with the review ?? Or which one u recommend to use??? Thx

JE WARD's picture

Thanks for all the good advice, to implement better performance of Origin Live products.
I have never seen in their publications some revision, separately or individually, for an upper arm Origin Live, such as "Conqueror" for example.
I would also appreciate knowing if you find some synergy with a range of MC cartridges more particularly suitable.