Spending some time with these radical loudspeakers, Chris Ward finds they sound as revolutionary as they look
Every once in a while someone does something remarkable that seems bizarre and contradictory to the received wisdom, yet sometimes they stick to their guns, resist ridicule and peer pressure and eventually turn out to be right. When Dick Fosbury jumped backwards over a high jump bar at the 1968 Olympics, many in the crowd thought he was mad. But this madness won him a gold medal as well as setting a new Olympic record.
Origin Live may be better known for its highly engineered tonearms and turntables, but with the launch of its Astute speakers it’s bending over backwards to declare that there may be alternative ways to reproduce high fidelity music. In the new Astute loudspeaker Origin Live has created a relatively dead barrel from a multi-laminated tube capped with solid bamboo ply front and back. Nothing wants to resonate, and asymmetrically offset dual concentric drivers set within the front baffle ensure that standing waves have little chance of forming.
Okay, there are curved speakers, but how many are designed to hover in space? It’s claimed that Origin Live conducted a blind listening test for speaker stands and the unsighted listeners signalled delight each time a roadie lifted the speakers between the competing stand designs. These speakers are hanging from elegant Heron stands (£770), but Origin Live offers a number of engineered wall and ceiling fixings if you want to lift your speakers aesthetically or above prying hands, starting at £350.
Designed to be used with a quality active subwoofer, the Astutes cover the frequency range from 85Hz to 20kHz with a pronounced roll off from 100Hz. Deeper bass duties are then picked up by your subwoofer of choice. Origin Live believes that many traditional speakers with bass drivers a few metres apart are compromised as the wavelength of twin bass frequencies must surely be interfering with each other, disrupting that bass message and smearing vital midband and treble detail above. By adding a single quality subwoofer, it suggests there is no interference.
The Astute’s custom-made drivers are shrouded in some secrecy, but Origin Live claims their ultra high efficiency promises an extremely fast and dynamic sound that should project well in to any sized listening room. Taking any one of these departures from the well-beaten audio path would be challenging enough, but taking them all at once is radical and a statement of self-confidence that the end will justify the means. I for one applaud this level of disruptive innovation, but how do they perform?
Setting up the Astutes is easier than they may appear. I place the Heron stands roughly in place and lift the speakers into position. The near invisible ‘Dyneema’ suspension cord is said to be 15 times stronger than steel and will support up to 480kg, so no need for concern. The single set of screw binding posts are cleverly engineered, creating an extremely effective connection between cable and speaker. Carefully programming the MJ Acoustic Reference 400 Mk1 subwoofer I’m using here, I can seamlessly join the bass register with the Astute’s frequency range. Furthermore, I can perfectly balance the bass energy in my listening room, saturating the space, but stopping well short of overdriving the room.
I am then able to twist the stands for a slight toe-in that seems to maximise the width of the soundstage. I also gently angle the Astutes up until the balance of treble energy seems right for my listening position. If you chose wall or ceiling hanging fixings you will be able to angle the Astute speakers downwards.
Spinning More Money from Barry Reynolds’ I Scare Myself LP on vinyl, my immediate impression of the Astute’s is somewhat startling. Treble, mid and bass energy just seem more dynamic. It’s as though I’m hearing my favourite music, source and amplification with a secret veil lifted. Frequency response, however, feels extremely even and without over emphasis, but it’s the cleanliness of the sound and the sheer dynamism of the frequencies arriving at your ears that is so very refreshing to me. It’s hard to put sound dynamics into words, but the quality and timbre created by the Astutes delivers an energy that is very potent, yet unfatiguing and convincingly accurate. And rather than merely reproducing laboratory standards of frequency and amplitude, the speakers dive straight into communicating your music. Given Origin Live has clearly paid so much attention to engineering and physics I was ready for a slightly clinical or constructed presentation of music, but the opposite is true. Drums really kick, fretted basslines start and stop with different finger pressures and I’m able to appreciate a rapport between backing singers and musicians that I hadn’t felt before.
Turning to James Taylor’s Machine Gun Kelly on vinyl and the informal, live acoustic soundstage floods the room. Suspending these quality drivers projects a compelling holographic image that is tall, wide and utterly stable. I believe hanging these highly dynamic drivers also unlocks an extra presence and realism to voices, releasing them from other midband detail and deepening the stereo image front to back.
Playing Donna Summer’s I Feel Love on CD, I start to wind the volume up. This is a classic side effect of high quality and an intuitive response to a lack of distortion. These speakers are happy to reproduce convincing dynamics at very low volume levels or party hard, and the disco anthem is soon projected into every corner of my room… and then my ground floor! The powerful dynamics within Giorgio Moroder’s mesmerising synth lines loop around Donna’s sultry vocals, tempting others in the house to come and enjoy the music with me. It is at this moment that I realise that the Astutes are probably tapping into some tried and trusted ‘public address’ philosophies where highly dynamic hanging speakers regularly bring live stage concerts to life.
The Astutes are a beguiling combination of engineering decisions and unique technical features that add up to a highly coherent and very musical whole. The separation of single-minded bass duties from highly dynamic mid/treble energy allows each driver to excel and floating the speakers at any height you wish gives sonic rewards and protection from prying hands in equal measure. They look stunning to my eye and if I were a music lover with great ears, interior design flair, disposable income and discerning friends, I’m not sure I’d need to look elsewhere. They are remarkably unphased being positioned near rear walls, but appreciate a little air around them. I’ve driven them with both solid state and valve amplifiers, and their combination of efficiency and easy load yields equally good results.
A fiver short of £5,000 is a considerable sum, especially when you need to budget extra for the dedicated stands and a subwoofer, but you are investing in precision engineering, handcrafted assembly and a design without apparent compromise. Every visitor to your home is likely to marvel at the Astutes when they are silent, and even more so when they make dynamic music
LIKE: Impressive dynamics; innovative design; elegant styling; high build quality
DISLIKE: Styling may not appeal to all
WE SAY: Eye-catching speakers with design flair that manage to convey musicality at any volume
PRODUCT Origin Live Astute
TYPE Two-way suspended loudspeaker
DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 340 x 340 x 350mm
• Dual concentric drivers
• 1x 1in compression tweeter
• 1x 8in paper midrange driver
• Quoted sensitivity: 91dB
• Quoted impedance: 8ohms
DISTRIBUTOR Origin Live
TELEPHONE 02380 578877
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