Review sample supplied by Origin Live
Retail price: 195UKP incl 20% VAT (~225 Euro)
Most record weights are simply that, weights. The major downside of all the weights that I tried is that, while they do stabilize and flatten the record, they also deaden the sound by reducing the dynamic and rhythmic expression. Yes, the sound usually appears less nervous and smoother with these weights on but as a side-effect it can appear as though the musicians have taken relaxation pills.
In any event, I have never liked any of the weights that I tried, irrespective of the turntable type (sub-chassis or direct-coupled, belt-drive or DirectDrive, etc) or platter heaviness. Even on the Michell Gyro SE turntable that I used over 10 years ago, which was designed to be used with a screw-on clamp, I preferred the sound without the center lift ring and clamp. Clamped, the sound was tighter and more articulate for sure but it was always as if all the life had been squeezed out of the performance.
Mark Baker of Origin Live is no stranger to this effect, as evidenced from the following passage on the website, which conveys a very similar sentiment to my personal experience:
“Most clamps flatten records successfully but have very mixed results on sound quality. As a generalization, most tend to enhance the bass whilst dulling down the upper mid-band. There is also a perceived slowing down of the sound and the decay of notes suffers.”
Not content with other clamps and weights that are on offer, Mark Baker set out to design his own. When Origin Live issues a Record Weight you can be sure that it will be very different from the competition. You notice this from the very moment that you unpack it. For starters, at only 70 grams, the Origin Live Record Weight is not much of an actual weight and more like a light-weight, compared to all alternatives. The instruction leaflet further notes the following interesting information:
The Weight will not flatten warped records but will improve their quality. The problem with trying to flatten records using clamps is that this technique couples the record to the spindle thus feeding bearing noise into the record. The alternative of using a very heavy weight is that it can reduce bearing life on turntables not designed to carry such loads.
The Record Weight has been designed according to what Origin Live refers to as the “Loose Leaf approach”. This is something that seems to be applied to many Origin Live products, including turntables and tonearms. It’s the method of solidly connecting parts without there being a stiff connection. With the Illustrious tonearm, for example, this is done by using loosely-coupled ball bearings that auto-center as a function of the arm’s weight and gravity. With the Calypso mk4 turntable, this is done in all the places where materials connect vertically, by using multiple springboard principles. This way, the connection is sturdy but also very slightly flexible.
The same principle is applied in every part that makes up the Record Weight. Counting at least 9 layers of various combined materials that are all interconnected in a cleverly loosely-coupled manner using nylon screws it’s obvious that this product is unlike any other Record Weight. In addition to the aforementioned loose coupling, many of the layers have been provided with slits to further reduce their rigidity while retaining their integrity. The center hole is chosen so that it fits perfectly and without any friction over all spindles, including the slightly thicker Thorens ones.
Origin Live Calypso mk4 and Thorens TD-125 mkII
The manufacturer indicates that the Record Weight works on any turntable, irrespective of its working principle. So, in order to test the Record Weight, I used three different turntables. Available are the Origin Live Calypso mk4 with Multi-Layer Platter, Illustrious arm, Silver Hybrid cable and ViRa Aidas Rainbow MC cartridge as well as a Thorens TD-125 MkII turntable and a Thorens TD-1601 turntable, both with a Denon DL-304 MC cartridge. The amplification path consists of the CH Precision P1 phono stage that connects to the Ayon Stealth preamp using Origin Live Silver Hybrid cables which connects to the CH Precision A1.5 that powers Martin Logan ESL15A electrostatic speakers via Jorma Trinity speaker cables.
The leaflet indicates that the effect of the Record Weight tends to be more noticeable on well-cut records but in all my listening I did not encounter a single record that did not reveal clear differences. I did notice, however, that the beneficial effect was largest with the Thorens players. This leads me to cautiously deduce that the Calypso’s more elaborate construction perhaps does a better job of removing or discharging unwanted resonances. But this is not to say that the Calypso is immune to the issues that the Record Weight seeks to address as. it, too, revealed large differences between Record Weighted and vanilla playback.
With all three turntables, the most obvious improvement is in the audibility of low-level detail and the clarity of definition. All the individual sounds appear crisper and more clearly chiseled. Upper harmonics of bass notes suddenly receive a boost in clarity and, especially with the Thorens players, the harmonical structure and textures become more complex. This is not a matter of simply increasing the output at certain frequencies as the frequency curve remains absolutely linear and the output every bit as even-handed as without the Record Weight. Further, the overall separation between all the different sounds increases to not only offer better resolution but also reveal subtle decays more clearly. When switching back to the non-weighted playback it is quite shocking to note how much blurrier the sound becomes, even with the Origin Live turntable. While you can still make out all the aforementioned details (now that they have been previously presented more clearly) they are much more buried in the mix.
The pacing is also fully retained and there is absolutely no slowing down and no shortening of decays, quite the contrary, actually. With the Weight in place, decays are now clearer and go on for longer. The Record Weight even seems to reinvigorate very soft sounds that were previously accepted to be buried in the mastering equipment noise floor, now almost as if the record was remastered and those softer tracks have been re-balanced to be in-line with the rest of the mix.
Here you can see that only the Record Weight’s center portion rests on the record
One of the fears of using a Record Weight is that it emphasizes the bass (which can be nice especially with ‘tables that sound a little lightweight) at the cost of treble clarity and air. Well, that is most certainly not the case here. First, the bass does not become thicker or heavier in any way. Second, the treble is absolutely not dulled or otherwise robbed of its energy. What I do notice is that it is even clearer and purer, as if the stylus tracking has further improved. This is something I definitely did not expect but is absolutely repeatable. This effect is one of the effects that are most audible with the Thorens players.
The other fear that I had of using a Record Weight is that it would negatively affect the dynamics and impact. Here, too, the Origin Live product impresses as it retains the vibrancy and dynamics of the record and in many cases, it even adds vitality. However, there’s one area that keeps me on the fence. It’s that I feel that the music sounds more spontaneous and flows more freely without the Record Weight. With the Weight applied, everything snaps into focus in terms of clarity and while that is great for unveiling subtleties, that sense of focus also applies to the dynamics which seem to be more steadily loud and less variably so than records played au naturel. To me, this has the effect of reducing the lyrical aspect of the music (the Gushing and Singing) in favor of revealing more of the recorded information.
I mentioned how the Record Weight can dig up sounds that previously seemed hidden in the noise floor. Maybe this is what can create the illusion of lessening the dynamic variance compared to records that mask some noises only to suddenly reveal them when they break the noise barrier? Or maybe I actually like certain resonances? I’m only reaching here. Truth is, I can’t be sure of the precise mechanism at work. But what my senses are telling me is that in some ways, the sound of Weighted records is akin to a perfect modern audiophile, slightly technical recording and records au naturel are more akin to rawer and less perfect but in some ways more emotionally involving bootleg tapes.
Although the Origin Live Record Weight works perfectly on all three of my turntables, as with many if not all accessories and tweaks, whether or not to apply it is a personal matter. Personally, I am absolutely fascinated by how much more information the Record Weight unveils but I tend to assess its use on a record by record basis. Contrary to what the leaflet mentions, I find that, especially when a record sounds dull or is lacking clarity, the Record Weight can absolutely reinvigorate it.
The Record Weight does its work even better on the Thorens TD1601
Mark Baker has done it again: he created a Record Weight that is unlike any other Record Weight. This is the absolutely most even-handed Record Weight specimen that I have heard so far. Refreshingly, the unit does precisely as the maker claims and chances are that you will be amazed at how much more clarity and definition really is in those grooves. Considering the results and how much effort must have gone into its design its price is also absolutely reasonable.
Christiaan – thank you for a nice review. I wonder if the weight is more sensitive to different systems rather than turntables. One gets this sometimes when sources become highly resolving – it throws up issues elsewhere in the system. This seems particularly true in high-resolution systems.
Kindest Regards Mark Baker
Manufacturer: Origin Live