I have had good luck with an SME 309 on my Sota Star and Cosmos. I will soon be trying an Audiomods arm, but I can't provide info on that yet. As for a cartridge, the Ortofon 2m Black is excellent for a MM. I use a Dynavector 17d2 for a MC, but I'm not sure I would call the sound relaxed. A Koetsu might be better for you, or a Lyra Delos. If you go used, try a Sumiko Talisman or Benz Glider. Both seemed to sound sweet to me.
I have used a Souther SLA-3 for many years with my Star. The Souther fits the Turntable design well, and after the set up (a pain) is very stable and reliable. It does require cleaning occasionally, but that is quick and easy.The current cart is an AT-150mlx, and until this year I used a CJ EF-1 as phono pre. The sound is sweet and uncritical, yet very detailed in the mids, like a good British monitor.
Thanks for responding Manitunc
The SMEs are in the forefront for me. The series V is a bit too pricy, and so the 309 seems to be the logical choice.
Funny you mention the Sumiko Talisman . I once had one (the Alchemist) on a Conrad Johnson Sonograph TT, Sumiko Premier MMT tone arm. CJ pre and power and Vandersteens. I just LOVED that sound and therefore have been considering another. However, that was years ago and Im not sure how it would stack up to more current models like the Benz or Dynavector.
If you would be so kind as to respond one more time, how would you rate the Sumiko Talisman (was it the Achemist you had?) in comparison to some of the other models you mentioned?
Thanks for responding. Honestly, I am not familiar with the Souther SLA-3 but am going to research it.
How did you like your EF-1? There was one for sale on AGon about 2-3 months ago and I wish I had bought it. Currently, Im posting a wanted ad for a CJ phono-pre.
"Funny you mention the Sumiko Talisman . I once had one (the Alchemist) on a Conrad Johnson Sonograph TT, Sumiko Premier MMT tone arm. CJ pre and power and Vandersteens."
Wow, what a small world Rbschauman! I had a very similar system to yours but in place of the Sonograph a SOTA Sapphire TT and Threshold amp, all else the same. Of course that was 25 years ago! I currently have a variation of the SME 309 arm, the 345 which is designed with the Oracle tt in mind. I am using a Benz wood LO cartridge with good results, sweet, relaxed, detailed but not at all aggressive, edgy or in your face. This would be in your budget and not in the stratosphere.
The SME's have always been highly regarded with SOTA tables. Good luck in your search.
If your table doesn't come with the mid-level tonearm base (3 models), consider purchasing one. A 309 is a solid choice, you probably will not have to add weight to the suspesion using a 309, the tables are usually set up that way. If your in the States, a new SME can be aquired at a fair discount overseas. A wide variety of cartridges will work on that arm.
have a Sumiko Talisman S which I used extensively on my Oracle Delphi II until the cantilever broke. I had it repaired by Soundsmith with their ruby cantilever. It sounds just as good now, or maybe better. I find it to be just a very enjoyable cartridge with no real deficiencies. Some of the other cartridges I own might be a little more dynamic, but that may just be a matter of the Talisman being so smooth and accurate that it seems to lose something on direct comparison. However, the real test to me is how it sounds over extended playing time, whether it causes fatigue over time, which to me signifies a rise in the treble area. I find the Talisman to be an exceptional tracker, even with the Soundsmith repair. By the way, a Soundsmith cantilever on any high end cartridge is a very cost effective way of getting into the high end. You can often pick up high end cartridges with broken cantilevers very cheaply on ebay.
The Benz Glider is a very nice cartridge too. That is what is on my Oracle Delphi IV now, but I have spent enough time listening to it to make a valid comparison with the Talisman.
I am now using the Dyna 17D2 on my new Sota Cosmos and it sounds spectacular. I previously was running a Monster Alpha 2000 on my Sota Star which I liked very much also. But your email has got me thinking I will put the Talisman on the Cosmos when my Audiomods arm arrives this week.
The SME 309 is an excellent arm for all Sotas. However, I am now going to try the Audiomods arm. One advantage to the SME 309 is the removeable headshell which allows the easy change of cartridges. That was important to me. My SME/Oracle 345 is the same way.
I just got the Audiomods tonearm today and will be mounting it on my Cosmos with the Talisman S. Should have a better idea on how it sounds in the next few days.
A used SME IV or 309 is a good way to go. I have a Sota vacume Turntable with an SME IV arm and although the IV.VI and V are available, I am very happy with the IV. I am considering upgrading my AR PH3 phono stage to a PH5.
As the proud owner of a SOTA Star Nova V I will have to admit if it is vintage you are looking for I have had many happy hours with my Alphason hr100s arm (British titanium) and a Koetsu Rosewood. The Alphason is tough to come by by the fun is in the finding. Previous cartridges that I enjoyed with this arm included the Sumiko Blackbird and a long time fave; that Stanton 881S was a real rocker.
Had an SME-V when I had my Star ... good combination.
For less money if you can find one, I'd also recommend a Zeta arm. Had one on a non vacuum Sota (before I bought the Star)and that was a great sounding turntable!
The Zeta will fit on an armboard with a Linn cutout (used 6 instead of 3 bolts)which are availlable from Sota and also come up second hand from time to time.
Thanks everyone for the contributions. I've decided to go the SME route which seems to be the prevailing recommendation.
Again, thanks all for sharing!