Would you put a $7,000 cartridge on a $4,500 turntable?

Origin Live makes great stuff that I would love to put my hands on, but to tell anybody to spend 71% of their budget on a turntable and phono stage and spare 29% for the preamp, power amp, speakers, and cables works only if the buyer is planning to buy Origin Live. Their Live Agile tonearm retails for $12,700 and their Voyager Turntable retails for $27,300 without the tonearm, record clamp, top platter, or the additional arm board strut. Their only cartridge, the Champion retails for $3,600. If you are planning to have this, prepare to spend $23k on the phono stage, and $27k on amplifiers, speakers, cables, and power treatment.

I must say that when I read about their design features, there seem to be more promising offers for that amount of money. Can’t prove it immediately but that’s my feeling.

I agree that the budget for speakers/amp are low, but the balance between the phono elements is what counts. OL now brand the SoundSmith cartridge that I have. Mark suggests the most money should be spent on the phono stage, which is certainly arguable.

I have an OL Illustrious Mk3 tonearm, the cheapest of the dual pivot models. Fit and forget.

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I agree that the phono elements balance make sense …although I doubt that this expense for a great phonostage is still necessary…it plays a major role yes, but 5-10k phonostages play pretty well meanwhile…and then there are even some bargains as we know…I guess the Stellar is enough for a more than 5 times its value turntable setup.

Yep. I’m 100% a Soundsmith fan. Sussuro II on an Immedia RPM-2 table/arm. I had the table since 2003 (great used deal) and the cartridge is new to me, but lightly used (another great deal).

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The expense for value perspective is often missed when we equate cost to performance. Technology continues to improve so that once expensive techniques are now more easily reproducible and attainable, thus lowering cost.

I asked my question when I was less versed in the reasons – in trying to simplify a decision down to cost with the assumption that more expensive is better. In my further readings, I’ve come to learn that opinions vary widely on where cost should be allocated, but the underlying challenges tend to be the same: minimize distortion, minimize vibration and minimize resonance.

So the perfect arm must allow the stylus to move up and down for warps and sideways to take account of the spiral BUT at all music frequencies must hold the cartridge absolutely solid as if mounted in that block of concrete.

My original question was unintentionally misleading. Perhaps we can talk about what problems each component is solving – and to the extent any of us have spent much coin on a piece – perhaps share what value that piece brought to the table in comparison to a previous component.

For me, upgrading from a Denon DP 300F to a Schiit Sol to a Technics SL-1200GAE revealed less and less interference from finger taps and foot steps to where it’s now nil though mounting the platform against the wall helped a lot, too. The sounds became more detailed, more open, more crisp, more authoritative with each upgrade. That detail is also attributable to cartridge upgrades: Denon DL-103 to Hana SL to Ortofon Cadenza Black to Soundsmith Hyperion. The change from the Ortofon to the Soundsmith is notable and obvious; with fine cymbal details drawn clearly, presence/realness of voices coming into the room and punchiness (PRaT?) of the kick drum becoming more pronounced. While not a measure of sound, the Soundsmith also deftly tracks the Ortofon Test Record’s final 100 μm test track with no distortion – something none of the other cartridges could do.

Is an upgraded TT or tonearm in the cards for me? Surely so.

I appreciate all your thoughts and feedback!


The middle cite is not from me right?..but to be honest, there would be a lot more to know about your musical and general preferences as well as surrounding equipment and future plans what you want to achive to give a meaningful recommendation.

At the moment it seems you have a well running and satisfying combo that tracks great. All this is not self evident even at higher cost. Your equipment seems to have a common level, so that upgrading at one part of it wouldn’t be the improvement worth it I’d say. You first have to think if you want to go a major level up. This would mean at least turntable and arm, probably some more components of your chain would follow soon. Do you want that now?

Just my 2 cents:
I‘ll follow Ivor Tiefenbrunn from Linn. His statement was:
a) Most important - the Running gear (I have a Kronos Pro)
b) Next - the tonearm (Black Beauty)
c) Relatively less important in comparison to a) and b) : the cartridge (Clearaudio Stradivari V2)

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I have three cartridges in use. A Koetsu Urushi on an Origin Live tonearm that is a good all-rounder, very clean and detailed. That goes through an external valve phono amp. I also have a Jelco 850 (the one with a knife edge pivot) for its exchangeable headshell, as I have two headshells, one with a SoundSmith medium output that I prefer with jazz and piano and the other headshell with an Ortofon 2M Mono. The mono requires 0.5g balance adjustment and no VTA (as mono VTA does not matter). They both run through an internal MM phono. So each cartridge brings something, as does the external valve phono amp. I’ve not tried the SoundSmith through the valve phono amp.

The valve phono amp is the new EAR Phonobox, which cost me £1,000. It updates the EAR 834P that was in production since 1969. It’s old school, dead quiet and a complete bargain at the price. Better is vastly more expensive.

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Serious stuff!

The most enjoyable part of the journey has been to experience each improvement for some period of time before taking the next step, so I’d say I’m probably at least 12 months out from a major upgrade – though perhaps 6 months out from a TT/tonearm.

That’s more than 2 cents :laughing:

Although I’m not sure how concrete I can personally give recommendations in the level of your next step up, I think everyone who helps now needs the following questions answered:

surrounding gear and cabling
placement options for speakers
goal you want to achieve
difficulty level of room
listening preferences
music preferences
gear category preferences
price level limitations
new or used preference

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Interesting discussion. Just like any other component, as you get higher up the food chain, the gains get more miniscule. I would love to hear a comparison, on a great TT, phono pre and system, of a $1,000 cartridge and a $7,000 one just to see what I am missing. There is a good difference that I can hear from a $200 and $800 cartridge. There are so many variables in audio…and mostly it comes down to one’s ears. How much gain would one hear (assuming a system that merits such a cartridge) with a $7000 cartridge playing a 1970’s RCA Dynaflex pressing? Everyone talks about the components, let’s not forget, pressings can have many big quality variations as well.

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You might contact both the TT manufacture and the cartridge’s, and see what they say. I know VPI makes recommendations for their TTs. That is why my Prime Signature has an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze.


I would be happy to listen to a $7000 cartridge on a $2000 turntable.


I would never spend that much for a cartridge. You can too easily bung the stylus. Records are not worth investing thay much money on a playback system.

The amount of money it is possible or even necessary to spend for good vinyl playback defies reason, but I love it.

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My TT + Cartridge cost about $8300, and my record cleaner about $3500, and to me, it’s a bargain. But to some, $1000 may be too much. That’s why they make TTs costing under $100 to well over $300,000. To each his/her own. Just enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.