Origin Live’s Calypso is an updated version of the Aurora Gold - a turntable I’ve been using for a couple of years now. It’s broadly similar in concept, but has a new motor housing, different belt and platter, better main bearing, and an improved chassis. In other words, much the same but completely different!
I like the Aurora Gold very much, and have few complaints about its performance. The new turntable has a similar ‘skeletal’ type chassis, but the Calypso has been beefed up at a couple of points and has better decoupling. The motor – a DC type – remains the same, but the housing is much bigger and more solid. The platter is made from a different material. Like the Aurora Gold, it’s Acrylic but apparently what’s called a ‘loaded Acryclic’. Origin Live are being a bit secretive about the exact material but it has a smoother, shinier surface than normal acrylic, and looks a little like imitation marble. Designer Mark Baker tells me that it isn’t the main reason for the Calypso’s improved sound anyway. That’s down to a combination of factors, of which the platter is just one. For example, the way the belt drives the platter is very important. The Aurora Gold featured a main platter that sat on a smaller a sub-platter, driven by a flat belt. The Calypso has a round belt, and the platter is driven from its outside edge. The motor now runs at a higher rotational speed, and Mark reckons having the belt around the outside gives extra drive and ‘leverage’.
The usual 33/45rpm speeds are offered, with fine speed adjustment. Because the motor is housed in a separate outboard assembly, there’s a degree of choice regarding the placement of the motor in relation to the platter. While Origin Live claims that performance is not broadly affected, there are some differences. Moving the motor further away increases belt tension and (depending on how tight the belt is stretched) reduces platter speed slightly. Origin Live recommend having the motor about 214mm to 221mm from the centre bearing, but say a little deviation from this is not critical for sound quality. The belt is a made from another material Mark would rather not specify. It’s quite a bit stiffer and less stretchy than Nitrile and is spliced, as it is impossible to get a one-piece belt made in this material.
The new turntable has a thicker main spindle, and this works very well with the special lubricating oil used, creating a low friction, exceptionally low-noise bearing. Apparently the effect is as though the bearing walls were floating in an oil bath, yet properly ‘grounded’ on the point of rotation. The bearing takes a few seconds to bed-down as the oil is pushed out of the way. The tolerance here is claimed to be 0.00001”, and it takes about ten minutes for the bearing to settle down and run in.
When fully run in and full of oil, the bearing is near-silent. This perhaps explains the ‘quietness’ of the Calypso; its low noise floor and clean definition during quiet passages. Surface noise and vinyl roar are very low, and this (added to the increased dynamics) seems to create a stronger, cleaner, more noisefree end-result.
The sub-chassis is pre-adjusted at the factory, and it’s not recommended that you change the various settings. For example, some bolts are deliberately left slightly loose to create a bit of decoupling. The whole design is carefully tuned, and performance is degraded if you thoughtlessly tighten everything up.
Mark Baker is the sort of designer who tries lots of alternatives; shapes, sizes, materials - he listens carefully to them all. His designs are based on scientific principles, but the ear is always the final arbiter. He’s been making turntables for over twentyfive years now, and his products are highly refined. All of which sounds very promising. But, what might the Calypso offer in terms of improvements over the Aurora Gold? I was supplied with the turntable on its own, the idea being to use the Origin Live arm and Transfiguration cartridge I have on my existing Aurora Gold with the new one. Later on, I tried Lyra’s Argo cartridge. The deck is very easy to set up, and once set up it should not need tweaking. Once you’ve levelled the chassis, set the arm height, and dressed the arm cable, you’re 75% of the way there.
But, first things first. Before starting on the new turntable, I sat down and listened carefully to the old one, choosing a 1960s DG recording of Mozart’s Piano concerto No 15 with Geza Anda as soloist/conductor. It’s a good ‘average’ sort of recording – smooth, well balanced, and clean, but hardly a ‘reference’ disc in terms of sonics. I only intended to sample five or ten minutes, but ended up listening to the whole work. I didn’t want the music to stop. The sound was beautifully warm and nicely ‘distanced’, exuding a smooth almost sensuous quality. There was plenty of detail to catch the ear, but what struck me most was the effortless ease of the sound.