Origin Live Sovereign S Turntable + Agile Tonearm Review

Posted on 12th July, 2023

Origin Live Sovereign S Turntable + Agile Tonearm Review

David Price gets into the groove with the sweet sound of this premium turntable and tonearm combination…

Origin Live

Sovereign S/ Agile

Turntable/ Tonearm

£8,300/ £10,500 RRP

I still have to keep pinching myself that the vinyl LP is alive and kicking – and in the UK and many other Western markets, enjoying a slow but steady uptick in sales. It's bizarre that a music format introduced shortly after the end of World War 2 is still beguiling people seventy-five years after its launch. And it's even curiouser that most new turntable sales are either for entry-level decks, for newcomers to the format, or high-end designs for well-heeled vinyl veterans.

The esoteric Origin Live Sovereign S/Agile turntable and tonearm combination that you see here falls into the latter category; it's unlikely to be bought by teenagers to play their 'vinyls' on and highly likely to be an object of desire for fifty-somethings and over who grew up playing LP records. Approximately the cost of a home extension or a decent-sized new family car, it's the penultimate model in Origin Live's turntable range, and the Agile is penultimate in its tonearm range. If you go up one more step to the respective flagships, the combined price of the Voyager and Renown is such that you're approaching BMW M3 supercar money.

At this rarefied price level, the product needs to do two things. Firstly, it must offer an extremely high level of performance; there cannot be any sense that turntable packages at half the price approach it in terms of sound quality. Second, it has to be superbly built and finished, as befitting a true luxury product and (for many) an object of desire. The Sovereign S/Agile is both – it's an exquisite performer and a bespoke, artisan-built creation that's simply too expensive for most audiophiles to ever own.


Origin Live founder Mark Baker's approach to turntable design centres around making a deck that is both properly isolated from the outside world and that can deal with its own cartridge-generated resonances. His company first made a name for itself as a purveyor of tonearm modifications and DC motor kits for belt drive turntables. This meant that Mark took large numbers of customers' decks in to be upgraded, and while doing so, was able to comprehensively test numerous high-end turntables. “It gave us the invaluable opportunity to hear what certain designs did well and what they did not”, he tells me. “For example, decks with heavyweight platters like SMEs usually had great detail and attack on the leading edges of notes but could sound soulless and lacking in textural tonality. Meanwhile, suspended subchassis designs such as Linn's LP12 were smoother and more organic but slightly blurred, with a softening of high impact notes.”

From all this listening over the years, he developed his hypothesis that turntables don't simply have to suppress vibration from the outside world; they have to manage vibration emanating from the stylus itself. This, he says, then feeds into the record being played, in turn sullying the sound. “The effect of vibration on sound reproduction is incredibly complex”, he explains. “Origin Live decks adopt the approach that the nearer a component is to the stylus, the more influence it has on sound. This is because the vibration that needs to be controlled is not just from external sources, but much more importantly from the stylus as it weaves its way through the record groove, vibrating at up to 20,000 times a second.”

Having done decades of measurements and modelling, Mark thinks that there is no other explanation for the significant differences in sound quality between turntables than this. He tells me: “It's very difficult to measure the microscopic vibration which makes decks sound so different from one another”, so he has followed a process of logical deduction. He cites an example of putting a turntable on the floor and then listening to it on a proper turntable table; the differences tend to be similar whether or not you're listening via your loudspeakers or headphones. Although not denying the effect of acoustic feedback on a turntable's sound, he believes that it simply is not the whole story.


The Sovereign S turntable is a large and imposing device, measuring 500x190x380mm and weighing 28.4kg. It is of skeletal construction and uses a separate, offboard DC motor, driving a long belt that runs circumferentially around the platter. The bearing is said to be extremely low in friction. Mark says the use of especially heavy platters can disguise the vibration from higher friction bearings, but the best answer is not to have that friction in the first place. He argues that very heavy platters cause too much bearing load on the spindle tip, which in turn creates friction. Apparently, the Sovereign S's bearing spindle runs on a thin film of oil and makes no contact with the side wall, except on start-up.

Mark is not a fan of independently sprung subchassis turntables, arguing that decks with three or more springs can transfer vibration between their support points, creating a resonance loop. Instead, Origin Live's single-point suspension system is said to get around this; it's an “imperceptibly flexible” system that grounds mechanical energy rather than letting it ring around in the turntable's suspension system. This accords with his concern for managing resonances at the stylus tip rather than ground-borne vibrations.

Continuing the resonance control theme, the Sovereign S sports a multi-layer platter with inter-layer damping. The idea is to dissipate energy near the cartridge as fast as possible and absorb it. Mark believes that it's important to use multiple materials with different resonant frequencies rather than expecting one material to damp vibrations down on its own. Likewise, the armboard is extra thick and sports a weighty steel insert for secure tonearm attachment. It is decoupled from the turntable plinth and balanced in equilibrium with the platter and bearing housing, so equal forces are operating around the suspension.

As you would expect, this deck has an Origin Live motor. Ironless cores are used to eliminate eddy currents, and it is decoupled from its housing for the least possible vibration. It turns a special belt that's claimed to be superior to standard neoprene. Two speeds – 33.333 and 45 RPM – are selected by twisting the motor housing's knob. The S version of the deck tested here has a linear power supply, along with additional layers on the platter, for a price premium.

Surprisingly perhaps, the supplied Agile tonearm is even more expensive than the turntable. It's quite a thing to behold, being large and robust in a way that the classic Zeta was famous for. Its tube is made from special aircraft alloy that is coated to reduce vibrations and is also part carbon fibre. As per Origin Live tradition, the counterweight is decoupled to minimise energy reflection back down the tube to the headshell. The bearing assembly is quite a thing. The complex yoke design has decoupling isolation interfaces from the vertical bearings, which are ultra-hard tungsten carbide points sitting in hardened and burnished steel cups. The horizontal-acting ballbearings are ultra-low friction ceramic types. The yoke is coated in chrome nitride, using the same supplier as Rolex.

It is fully adjustable and adds the luxury of a calibrated VTA dial compared to lesser tonearms in the Origin Live range. The hanging weight bias compensation looks cheap and nasty, like something you see on a Pro-Ject Debut. But Mark is adamant that it is the least worst sounding system and has been chosen for this precise reason. He says it has lower friction and resonance than the posh spring types used by the likes of SME or Linn. Internal wiring is Origin Live's own ultra-low loss Silver Hybrid-S, with silver-plated headshell clips; the same goes for the one metre of tonearm cable. Rhodium-plated high-grade single-point RCA plugs are fitted.

For this review, my high-end Sony TA-E86/TA-E86 solid-state pre/power and World Audio K5881 valve power amplifier delivered the watts, driving both Kerr Acoustic K200 and Yamaha NS-1000M loudspeakers at different times. A specially modified ANT Audio Kora 3T phono stage was used. A Marantz TT-1000/SME Series V turntable was used as a reference, with a Chord Hugo TT2/M-Scaler digital front end also to hand.


There is something seriously special about an LP record played on a true top-tier turntable and tonearm combination such as this. Sadly most people won't know what I'm talking about, including many contemporary hi-fi reviewers, by the way. But suffice to say that it takes music reproduction out of the realm of mundane considerations of bass grip, midband detail, treble extension, rhythm and dynamics, etc., and up to an exalted new level. A superlative vinyl front end has the ability to 'magic' the original recording direct to your loudspeakers, in turn completely removing itself from the equation. Imperfect as they are, analogue records are nevertheless very simple in the way that they work – so when done properly can yield stellar sound.

Ironically then, the object of the best turntables in the world is to never let you know you're listening to one. The Sovereign S/Agile does precisely this, and it's quite a thing to hear – even for those used to running the finest digital sources that money can buy. Fitted with a Lyra Atlas Lambda moving coil – costing almost as much as the Agile tonearm and, to my ears, one of the best pickup cartridges ever made – this turntable makes music transplendent. Acoustic instruments positively drip with harmonics, displaying an uncanny authenticity and realism. Digital synthesisers shine bright, with a vivid lustre that resounds all around the room. Human voices are incredibly natural, with eerie realism and exceptional timbre. Electric guitars grate and graunch like you've never heard from any digital front end. And all of this is done so effortlessly and in perfect time.

In one respect then, it's almost impossible to review this vinyl spinner, as any mistakes that it makes are pretty much imperceptible. Your entire record collection will sound fresh and new all over again, displaying an amazing level of granular detail that almost all vinyl front ends simply gloss over. And yet it's the sheer emotion that the Sovereign S/Agile unlocks from the tiny record groove that's so special. Cueing up my aging copy of Marillion's Fugazi, I got completely carried away with the exuberance of Punch and Judy. This slice of mid-eighties post-prog rock absolutely blasted itself out of my loudspeakers; I had the volume turned up high, yet the noise floor was uncannily low, and the music came over in an incredibly smooth yet gripping way.

That's not to say that the Sovereign S/Agile is some old sophisticate that can't rock out with the best of them; quite the reverse, in fact. It had a spooky ability to take LPs that I had previously considered mediocre recordings and pressings, and magically re-animate them. For example, Siouxsie and the Banshees' Swimming Horses can be a dirge, yet this turntable made it sing. As soon as I cued the Lyra up, I was transported into the middle of some sort of gothic drama, with the vocalist sounding something between desperate and defiant. The music was incredibly powerful, teeming with emotion that alternated between screaming chorus crescendos and brooding verses. With its jagged rhythms, underpinned by powerful piano and bass guitar, this is a hard track to make sense of – but the Origin Live nailed it.

Any type of music that I played sounded great on this deck. I found myself running the gamut of my 5,000-strong LP collection with such enthusiasm that my first evening with it ended with a trail of records discarded (in their sleeves, of course) on the floor. From the pomp of Saxon's 747 (Strangers in the Night) – a classic heavy metal track perhaps never intended to be played in a deck such as this – to the delicate ambience of The KLF's Chill Out, the Origin Live was agnostic about which music it was asked to play. My breath was repeatedly taken away by Origin Live's ability to impart the music's emotion in what felt like a totally unmediated and organic way.

Surprisingly perhaps, the most sublime moment was playing my well-worn forty-year-old pressing of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic). This is where the Sovereign S/Agile pulled furthest ahead from my digital front end when doing direct comparisons. On good classical LPs, analogue really romped forward – the breathtaking sound of a great orchestra at full tilt was spectacular. Fascinatingly though, it was the timing that was most special, as music just seemed to ebb and flow along in an utterly unforced way that rather defies description. Had this not entranced me, I'd have been contemplating the cavernous soundstage, vast depth perspective, pin-point stereo imaging, firecracker dynamics and so on. Yet all of this seemed but a trivial detail compared to the profound emotional impact of hearing music in this way.


How can so much money be justified on something that plays music via – and let's be honest here – a tiny lump of carbon dragged through a petroleum-based pancake with an undulating inset groove? Well, the best answer is simply to go and hear one and then decide for yourself. Origin Live's Sovereign S/Agile is one of the best vinyl front ends that money can buy. It is so much better than normal 'affordable' turntables in the way it makes music that conventional considerations of 'value for money' fall by the wayside.

Visit Origin Live for more information


      David Price's avatar

      David Price

      David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.

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