This thread from a couple of years ago addresses your question. As might be expected, opinions are diverse.
Matching equipment to your personality is an often overlooked aspect when choosing gear wholly or partially based on the opinions of others.
Some people have a healthy does of DIY in their genes or are obsessed with the last ounce of performance so don't mind a product that needs constant attention or requires special rituals to work right. They will often speak highly of a product that needs so much attention that it would drive other users nuts.
The latter type of user might be better off with a more staid product that functions well and reliably with little or no attention.
In short, when reading product reviews, pay attention to the mindset of the writer. You just might save yourself some grief.
I have owned 2 SOTA tables: both Comets, and heard many other models by SOTA. They are definately a great TT manufacturer. My experience is thy are easy to set up, and stay that way without need for adjustment for many years. They are also very reliable and very musical. The manufacturer is very responsive and does mods and updates. I would opt for a SOTA over comparable Rega or Linn, which are both fine TTs (the Linn is prone to set up issues).
I bought my SOTA Sapphire w/SME309 tonearm new in the early 90s. I love it. It has been rock solid reliable and requires little maintenance and tweaking. It's design is very straight forward and easy to service. I have experimented with different types of grease in the bearing and with isolation of the turntable. I didn't replace the belt for many years and was surprised at the improvement a new belt made. I found a synthetic grease for the bearing that makes the table sound better. Weird.
With my Benz cartridge my analog has never sounded better.
A few months ago I found an app for my phone that plots platter speed using the 3150Hz test tone on a test record. I have my speed dialed in exact and was pleased to find my WoW and Flutter measurements good out to two decimal places. That app also surprised me to see that the platter speed doesn't stabilize out to two decimal places until the turntable has warmed up for a few minutes. Once warmed up, I can stop/start it and speed control is immediately perfect.
Sure, I 'd love to try out a Cosmos, but other priorities in my life right now keep me from upgrading and actually that has been a good thing. I've learned to appreciate what I already have.
I have owned a number of SOTAs, from the original Sapphire, through Star and now Cosmos IV. They are extremely reliable, non tweaky and just do what they are supposed to do. The vacuum platter is a great option not availabe on most other tables. It is truly plug and play the way it comes from the factory and completely upgradeable, though at some cost. I consider my Cosmos IV to be my best table, ahead of an Oracle Delphi V SE and Transrotor Fat Bob.
The Cosmos has a design feature different from the other SOTA models that give it a speed control advantage. The motor is mounted on the floating or suspended chassis with the platter. All other SOTA models with suspended chassis have the motor mounted to the base which allows relative motion between platter and motor. My speed control investigations showed me that having the motor seperate from the floating chassis was not a problem as long no external vibrations caused the floating chassis to move. Even when I made the floating chassis move on purpose, I could not hear it in the music except for when I was playing the pure test tone. Of course, having the motor seperate from the floating or suspended chassis can further increase isolation. In my situation, I do not have an issue with external vibration moving the suspended chassis while playing a record. There are other design differences among the various models too, just wanted to mention that one.
Agree with you, Tony. Keeping the motor and the platter from moving relative to one another is a huge advantage of the Cosmos vs the other SOTA models. My old Star Sapphire III was definitely "guilty" of speed irregularity probably related to belt stretching and relaxing. However, I was recently given to understand that the same upgrade can now be had with lesser and older models.
There is a good historical overview of the evolution of the SOTA tables in TAS Issue 210 (Feb. 2011), written by Paul Seydor. Concerning the speed stability issue, he has this to say:
The DC Papst motor, the one real bete noire of the early Sapphires, has long since been replaced by a superior high-grade AC synchronous motor. In older Sapphires the motor was mounted via an undamped metal plate to the plinth; in the new ones, a damped plate with rubber-encased well-nuts acts as a kind of shock absorber. Together these changes result in even greater speed constancy and retrieval of musical detail.On my early model Sapphire, purchased in 1983 and still going strong without ever having been serviced(!) or upgraded, I've certainly noticed a slight speed instability at times (mainly on piano notes), which I've presumed is mainly due to "hunting" by the servo motor that was used in the early models. I have not found it to be severe enough to be significantly bothersome, though, so I've never seriously considered sending the table in for upgrade. YMMV.
On another note, one thing that never fails to amaze me about the table is that I can pound my fist on the plinth while a record is playing, with moderate force (I've never tried heavy force), without the slightest audible consequences. Try that with a Linn, or pretty much any other table that is in a similar price range! Actually, don't try that with a Linn :-)
I bought my SOTA Sapphire 6 months out of college in 1986 and a year later upgraded it to the vacuum version, then called the Star. It served me flawlessly for 25 years. End of last year I sent it to SOTA and traded it in for a new Cosmos IV. These tables are pretty much bullet-proof. And, SOTA is run by nice folks who truly try to serve their customers over the long-haul. My room setup required a classy-looking TT, and the military look of some competitors' TTs simply would not do. My Cosmos looks like a piece of fine furniture and sounds like a dream. The sum total of the above creates customer loyalty with me. Go get yourself one.
Whilst I agree that it is far better to have a rigid coupling between the motor and platter, on my old Sota Star Sapphire ( pre Cosmos ) I cured most of the speed stability by hacking into and regulating the DC PAPST motor, suggesting most of the early speed issues were caused by motor cogging. Nothing to stop you bolting up the subchassis to eliminate the springs as well on an older model.
I have been a Sota owners for 25 years (Star, Nova, Cosmos IV) and would never own anything else except, perhaps, a Basis. Why a Basis? Vacuum hold down.
Once you have experienced vacuum hold down with warped/dished record you will never go back to anythings else.
So, in response to the OP, ABSOLUTELY. Go with a Sota and a Cosmos if you can afford it.
My 2 cents anyway.
Al, Do you agree that the classic Papst tt motor is DC? If so, I have been laboring under the delusion that they were AC. But since I have never owned a tt with a Papst motor, the consequences to me of my ignorance are nil.
My oldest and dearest audio buddy built one of the original SOTA "kits" with that servo-controlled motor. He invited me over to his house for the first audition, for him as well as me. He fired it up, and together we watched as the platter got up to speed, and then just kept on going faster and faster until it seemed for sure that it would lift off the spindle and go flying across the room. We looked at each other and laughed out loud, as he reached for the wall plug. He had incorrectly hooked up one of the feedback circuits.
I found the piano reproduction unsatisfactory, with my 1990 vintage SS3, but I did not know any better; I thought that was just something normal for vinyl reproduction or that the distortion was "on the recording". Then in the early 2000s I bought a Notts Hyperspace - much better on piano. Then I added a Walker Audio Motor Controller - much much better yet. Then I discovered what a good idler- or direct-drive can do in terms of speed stability. But the Cosmos sounds very much better, also, compared to my now vintage SS3.
I'm fairly certain that the Pabst motor used in the early Sapphire's was 24VDC. I believe some of the Oracle models also used that motor, btw.
Thanks for recounting those experiences. I believe that the platter weighs about 14 pounds; I wouldn't have wanted to be nearby if the miswire had turned it into a frisbee :-)
Yes, the Papst motor fitted to the early SOTA tt's was a dc servo motor. Papst also made others such as the external rotor ac (3 phase?) motor fitted to the Empire tt's(amongst others) as well as direct drive motors for Revox (B790). I think Papst also had something to do with the Dual EDS dd motors.
I have always been interested in SOTA vacuum hold down technology. When I was first exposed to their product back in the 80's, I think that was their claim to fame, so to speak.
Now I notice they have a line of non-vacuum versions that use traditional record clamps.
Can anyone comment on the effectiveness of the vacuum hold down system vs a clamping system? Is the mechanical clamp down system as good as vacuum and is this a case of diminishing returns?
As far as flattening warped records nothing works like vacuum.
I had a Star for many years and ended up using the platter/bearing and vacuum system from it in a diy turntable... the vacuum hold always worked flawlessly (except for really dished records where you need to find a way to push the edge of the record down till the vacuum grabs).
Recently I"ve made a diy direct drive tt which uses a normal clamp arrangement and while very good I really miss the vacuum of my other tt.
I have used a Sota Cosmos IV vacuum table and a Transrotor Fat Bob with center clamp and edge ring weight. The Sota vacuum is much more convenient and works just about every time except on very dished records. Also, the pressure is uniform across the record. With the center weight and edge ring, you can really flatten badly warped records, but I dont think you get as uniform a coupling between platter and record.
As to sound, I can't really say one is better than the other as there are too many other variables. Both sound excellent, but the Sota is truly plug and play, and you absolutely cannot hear the vacuum while playing.
By the way, the Sota center clamp is excellent.
I too am riggin up a diy table with the Sota vacuum platter