Review: Sota Comet sIII S250 arm Turntable
For the last year or so I have been thinking of getting back into vinyl after not playing a single record in about 18 years. My journey back to analog began when I bought a used VTL TL5.5 that came with the optional phono board. At first I was a little irritated that one of my line inputs was uselessly taken up by the Phono In but it started me to thinking what if...? What if instead of trying to get my digital equipment to sound more analog I just got an analog source and see for myself what all the fuss was about? So I started researching and reading all I could about starting up a vinyl payback rig.
I had three criteria that I wanted to meet for my experiment. 1) I wanted a table that was not too expensive, under $1000, so I wouldn't be out too much money if I didn't like playing records 2) The table had to be high enough quality to give my a reasonable glimpse at what a good turntable is capable of doing. 3) It had to be upgradeable, so if I saw the benefit of vinyl but wanted more performance than my table was giving me, I would be able to make a few changes. I also wanted to get a new table instead of used because of some horror stories I have read about damaged tables.
I narrowed my search down to a Rega P3 and a Sota Comet III. I was able to listen to a P3 with a Rega Elys cart at a local shop with Musical Fidelity gear and Totem Forest speakers. I liked the P3 very much, it had great rhythm and pace. Rock records were served well by the P3. It had a some what forward sound that I thought would match up well with my gear. I would have bought the P3 but I had contacted Sota by email to find the nearest dealer. Donna at Sota returned my email and told me there were no dealers in my area but I could buy from Sota direct at a substantial discount. She also told me that they have a generous trade up policy for all their tables. I was sold.
I ordered a Comet with the S250 arm and a Sumiko Blue Point No. 2 installed and a Sota I Clamp. It cost me about $100 or so more than the P3 and Elys would have cost. The table was delivered about two weeks later packed pretty well with the arm and cartridge already installed. The platter was in a smaller box in the main one and had a mat already stuck to it. A bag with the three leveling feet and the chassis ground cable was also in the large box along with the box containing the I Clamp. I could not see any damage to any of the components, the bearing on the table had no detectable play. Ditto the arm bearings. I checked the alignment of the cartridge using a Rega protractor I downloaded off of Vinyl Engine and that was good as far as I could tell. The table was easy to set up. Just thread the feet into the bottom and connect the ground and the interconnects, and put the platter in place. The feet have some sort of visco-elastic stuff on the bottom that is very sticky. It kept pulling up the MDF shelf on my rack as I was leveling the table using the included bubble level. All told it took me about 15 minutes to unpack and set up the table. I put on a new copy of Dark Side of the Moon released by EMI on 180g vinyl and dropped the needle.
I was ready to hear some noises but I could not hear anything at all until the weird sound fx that start off the album kicked in. This table is quiet. No hum or spurious noises coming off of it at all. Not at all like my last table I had, a BSR McDonald, that un?- fortunately was consumed in a fire in '87. When the music started up I knew that I would be sticking with vinyl for a while. The soundstage was impressively big, tall and wide, but was somewhat forward. The thing that struck me most was the palpability of the music, it was very real ,more so than my Rega Planet or Denon DVD2900 could ever hope to achieve. I compared the DSOTM to the SACD version and the vinyl was clearly superior in it's presence and imaging. It is just more involving. The sound was not perfect though. The highs were pretty harsh and tizzy. The low end was heavy and not very defined. I figured I would have to let the cartridge break in some so I have played it without much thought to the sound and have been enjoying the music.
I have about 60-70 hours on the table now and the highs have smoothed out considerably but are still a little hard for my taste. The bass is the same, kind of undefined. I think that I just don't like the Sumiko's highs very much and the bass will come around with a new end stub and counter weight. Even with these problems I still love playing records on this table. It is very well damped. I can jump around dancing to the music and not disturb the player at all. In fact I can rap my knuckle on shelf the player is on and not disturb the arm.
I ran a test today to check the speed accuracy. I recorded the 1000 Hz tone on the Cardas setup record through my tape out into my DAT recorder. I then loaded the recording on my computer and did a spectrum analysis. The tone was played at 1006 Hz. So if I'm doing the math right the table is playing about 0.6% fast. This might be contributing to the hard highs. While I had the tape recording but the arm in the rest I banged my knuckle on the plinth about as hard as I would if I was knocking on a door. It resulted in an audible thud on the tape but not as bad as I though it would be. The level of the 1000 Hz tone was -18 dB the knuckle rapping was -12 dB. I also screamed as loud as I could at the table and that resulted in a -36 dB level recording of my voice through the cartridge. I don't know what these last two tests prove, but I thought I'd just throw it out there.
Comparing the Comet to the P3 through my memory I have to say that the P3 has better PRAT and is more lively than the Comet. The Comet is more lush sounding and quieter and better at fending off outside influences. It was well worth the extra $100-$150 over the P3 that I paid. It would be a tougher call at the regular price but I would probably pick the Comet. One more thing. The P3 is a nice, pretty, elegant looking table, the Comet is as elegant as an anvil and is about as pretty as one.
Vienna Acoustic Beethoven Speakers
VTL TL5.5 preamp and phono stage
VTL ST150 amp
Sumiko Blue Point No. 2