I worked at High End Store while several of these turntables were being produced. I was the turntable setup man so had an intimate knowledge of how to setup the tables and which tables were the best constructed. We sold Sota, Oracle, the New AR, Denon, and VPI. I also installed tonearms and cartridges on the Linn turntables and their clones like Aristan and Pink Triangle. I'd rank them this way.
1. Sota Star Saphire. This is the table with the break through vacuum platter. The vacuum action eliminated some record warpage problems and made a close bond between the platter and the record. The table was improved with the better power supply. It had all the great features of the Sota Saphire which I'll discuss earlier.
2. Sota Saphire. This was a breakthrough design. Setup was exact and the table was built robustly. As a setup man I always new I could get the same great results time and time again. The suspension system was incredible. One could even beat on the table while the record was playing and get no feedback or skipping. I believe the saphire bear was a huge breakthrough also. The acrylic mat and clamping system really brought the sound of the Saphire very close to the Star.
3. The Oracle at Delphi. Before the Sotas, the Oracle was the table to beat. The looks and sound were KILLER. The Delphi was a major upgrade over the original Oracle. The new sprins were superior. But the springs and towers were the problem as far as I was concerned. It was hard to get the same setup twice. It was very difficult to determine the correct springs for the arm and cartridge selected. Even though Oracle supplied guidelines for which springs to use with different arms, these were more guidelines than exact science. I believe there was some inconsistancies in the ways the springs were marked and manufactured. But one could get very good sound from this table and as I said earlier, there was something about the looks all acrylic and high tech looking that made me just want one because of the HI TECH cool factor.
4. The New AR turntable. This little gem was a giant killer. Until its debut, the Oracle Alexandria was number four. But the little AR looked as good, sounded as good or better, and was half the price at $500.00 which included a fine tonearm. This table was a snap to set up and sounding great. And one could tap on the plinth of the table and the suspension system never missed a beat simarlar to the SOTA designs. A giant killer indeed.
5. The Oracle Alexandria at about $995.00 which included an arm this table was competitive to the Sota Saphire as it was a few hundred dollars cheaper. One got the best results purchasing the table with the Oracle Arm. It came pretuned and sounded great this way. We saw little advantage to outfitting the table with the Sumiko MMT. It suffered the same problems the Oracle at Delphi, it was very difficult to tune the suspension system with a different arm and get consistent results. When the New AR debuted, that was it for this table. The new AR sounded at least as good or better for half the price.
The Linn Sondek and Clones like the Pink Triangle and Aristan.
I would rank these tables somewhere between the Oracle at Delphi and the AR. Some of them really sounded great and could be ranked higher depending on the model and upgrades performed. I always liked the Linn better than the knockoffs. (Sorry if I offended anyone.)
The Pink Triangle table was upgraded with an acrylic platter at some point which was really a step up according to one of our customers.
We did not sell these tables but I had many opportunities to install arms and cartridges on these fine tables. I always thought the Linn was surperior to the clones. I never cared for the suspension system in these tables. And Linn had to upgrade their product (which they did) to stay up with the big boys and newer technologies.
At the back of the pack were the Denons. These were workhorses with many great features that the above tables could never duplicate. But, I never set up a Denon that could rival the New AR. The belt drives were much superior sounding tables.
VPI - At this point, VPI was just starting to sell turntables. They featured a VPI base with a suspension system plus a Denon drive and platter. It did sound better than the stock Denons, but could not rival any of the top 5 mentioned above.
Hope this post helps any would be buyers interested in a turntable from this era. I worked at Audio Musicale, a high end store outside St. Louis, MO in Belleville, IL.