Seeking opinions on Clearaudio vs. SOTA tables

Looking for opinions and experiences on the SOTA Cosmos vs. Clearaudio Innovation Compact, or thereabouts in each line.

Someday it will be time to upgrade my beloved (never refurbished/upgraded) SOTA Star III. Though it reliably continues making beautiful music, the bearing/springs/etc show signs of being past their prime. The silicon lip was dried out when I acquired the table on consignment 6 years ago, so I've never experienced a working vacuum hold down (I cut the lip off so that records would lay flat).

Based on the Star III, I'd almost certainly love a Cosmos, either new or refurbished (new bearing/platter/vacuum). The question is how much improvement would be gained. Unfortunately, my friendly local dealer doesn't carry SOTA. However they do carry Clearaudio. The Innovation Compact looks rather stunning in design and build -- a work of art. On the other hand, some things about Clearaudio turn me off:
* Very high pricing
* Not a fan of some of their magnetic bearing tonearm implementations; one unit in particular would jump a groove at the *slightest* in-room vibration
* Their screw-on clamp is a huge WTF; that damn screw-cap has no business being able to fully twist off so easily (and the resultant juggling of the damn thing next to a $$$$ cartridge pisses me off like you wouldn't believe) without a stopper!
* Sometimes I feel like they're experts at over-engineering certain elements, but then other elements show neglect and complete lack of thought (see above).
* I've read recently that there may be some dispute as to the effective mass of their Universal tonearm (i.e. their spec may be wrong) -- not confidence inspiring

I got to audition an Ovation Wood (below the Compact) with an Ortofon Cadenza Bronze (I do have a decent grasp of how this cart sounds); it has some very nice attributes but ultimately I preferred my SOTA w/ Koetsu Platinum. Not a fair comparison sure, but ultimately it had me doubting whether the Ovation would provide a worthwhile upgrade. The Innovation Compact on the other hand...
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I have Sota star and cosmos IV. The difference is appreciable and not subtle. More of everything. Dynamics, low level detail, silence between grooves. I don't know about the clear audio.
Both tables are absolutely amazing.

As Clearaudio owner I can advice you about the good flutter / wow meditions and s/n ratio of these pieces of gear. In the Innovation you also have rpm adjust. I still didn't check values in Sota tables but the vacuum absorption system is much better solution against the outer Clearaudio's ring clamp...

Your decission!!! Good luck
Why not contact SOTA and trade for a refurbished table, have yours upgraded, or trade for a new one. I think SOTAs are one of the best deals in turntables today.
Thanks for the input so far. I should've mentioned in my initial post that I'm also very interested in the opinions of those who have moved up within either line.

Talked to a trusted friend and he's also leaning me towards the SOTA upgrade route, though he's looking at eventually getting a VPI Aries 3 for himself.

I'll contact SOTA to see what the options are as far as bringing my Star as close as possible to a Cosmos (I love my Star's Koa wood, and I don't think I'll be able to get that again) -- vs. just getting a refurb'd or new Cosmos.

If I go the SOTA upgrade/rebuild route, then I've also have to cobble together something listenable for a few months :)
Koa is still available. Basically, you can choose any veneer they can find, or you can supply.
Thanks again -- the more opinions, the better! I have to agree that the vacuum system makes me a lot less nervous than the ring clamp. I already tempt fate as it is just queueing the cartridge with a few drinks in me!

I should add that I plan to stick with a Koetsu cart paired to a rather heavy Dynamic Balance arm (LOVE the combo). To start with, I'd transplant my current 10" Fidelity Research FR64fx to the new table; may try to source the 10" Ikeda as the final solution (the chrome version would certainly be eye-catching on the Compact :)).

So if the Innovation Compact is chosen, it would definitely be purchased without tonearm.
Clearaudio is famous for clean, detailed, and lively sound with good pace and rhythm. I think a Koetsu cart will do well with the Innovation Compact.
I auditioned the Innovation Compact a couple days ago -- on my prior speakers & preamp, a very similar amp (M180; 1 step down from my Rogue Apollo), and a cartridge I'm familiar with (Ortofon Cadenza Red); it was very impressive. VERY. I'm also familiar with that room -- one of the benefits of having a nearby dealer. The neighboring Esoteric K07 (a gorgeous box) didn't hold up, but then I've always had difficulty in taking to digital.

The sound was exactly as you describe, Audiolui. Normally I'm wary of such descriptions because sometimes it's code for bright/analytical, but not in this case! The bass impact was not there compared to my current system, but I know that's in large part due to the speakers, cartridge, and (to a much lesser degree) preamp, vs. what I'm using at home.
I own Clearaudio tables. The one I have now is the second one. I owned the first one for almost ten years. I believe every brand has its own characters (house sound). Clearaudio is always clean, detailed, transparent, airy, fast, and lively sounding. It may not have the fullest body and deepest bass like other tables, it does have tight, taut, and solid bass with good instrument body.

Your taste is the most critical in choosing the tables. Of course, the rest of your system also plays a very important role. You don't want to use a thin sounding speaker system with the Clearaudio. One thing I do know is that Clearaudio's craftmanship and reliablity is very good.
Thanks again, Audiolui. My current speakers have good detail, superb PRaT, a warm tone, and ample bass impact, so it should be a good pairing.

Any ideas on what is gained in moving from the Innovation Compact to the full Innovation Wood? The latter is more than I want to spend, but it's a big investment either way, so I want to get it right.
Also, I'm curious as to how much that Innovation Compact sound (which I liked very much) came from the Magnify tonearm. I do like its action & feel; a humongous improvement over their lower-line magnetic bearing arms.

What might happen if I forgo the Clearaudio tonearm and mount my Fidelity Research arm? How difficult and expensive is it to get a custom arm board from Clearaudio? I need to keep at least 1 arm that works well with heavy, low compliance options (like Koetsu).
Good question. I really don't know the improvement of the full Innovation Wood over the Compact. You may need to talk to a dealer or Musical Surroundings (MS). MS people are easy to deal with. I do know that you can upgrade from the full Innovation Wood to the Master Innovation when your budget allows in the future. Ask the dealer or MS if the Compact can be upgraded to the Wood. If so, you have a very nice upgrade path.

It is hard to say which (table or arm) contributes the most to the sound. You may want to buy the table only and try the Fidelity Research first. If you don't like the sound, then get the Clearaudio arm. However, if they give you a very good deal buying both the table and arm together, then you may want to highly consider that offer.

I know it is easy to get from Clearaudio an armboard for the Graham Phantom series arms. Not sure about Fidelity Research. I suggest you talk to MS. Most dealers still need to call MS to find out the answers for you anyway.

I used to own SOTA Sapphire with vacuum many years ago. SOTA is also very good table. I don't know about COSMO. My past experience tells me that SOTA is a bit warmer and fuller sounding. Clearaudio is more detailed and open sounding. Again, it is your taste that dictates what to get.
A friend and I listened more to the Innovation Compact. I'm totally smitten by its sound, even with JUST that $1200 Cadenza Red. When I started this thread, I really didn't know my dealer would be bringing in that Compact; perhaps he reads these boards :p

I'm now fairly set on going whole-hog for the full Innovation Wood. BUT I'm also considering adding the ring clamp and either a Universal 9" w/ VTA or Graham Phantom Supreme 9"/10". WAY more than I'd planned on spending, and yeah it's going to be a stretch, but it's time to modernize my source and finally make it the system's strong point again.

I'm surprised there's relatively little online discussion of the The Innovation Wood/Compact tables, since they're such stunning pieces of machinery. But then, I guess that's somewhat in line with the lack of attention for my beloved Tannoy speakers.

Props to the SOTA Star III w/ Fidelity Research arm -- it's given me tons of problem-free pleasure over the past 6 years; not bad for a "starter" table, and still a fine rig after all these years!
I believe that the farther up the line you get in any manufacturers product line, the closer the turntables sound to other manufacturers, which only makes sense if they are chasing absolute perfection. The lower line products have their issues as they are designed to a price point, with various tradeoffs that affect the sound. so you get a brighter, detailed sound, or warmer, more musical sound or whatever. As they improve, and address the lower products shortcomings, they tend to converge on a point that is similar in nature.
The Sota Cosmos IV that I have is more detailed than my Sota Star, cleaner sounding, better speed regulation, deeper bass and crisp highs. The midrange jumps out from a blacker background. It is the best table I have heard.

If you are thinking about an arm in the Graham range, you might want to give a Moerch arm a try. Just upgraded to a DP-8 from a DP-6 and have loved both. Mehran at Sorasound sells both so he can run down a comparison for you. Love the Moerch's interchangeable armwands.
I ran a Phantom II on my Innovation Wood, alongside a Universal arm, and preferred the Graham by quite a bit. If you go with the outer ring, I'd recommend the 10-inch wand. With the 9-inch, the ring comes very close to the cuing platform on the Graham. You can use the 9-in. but you have to be very careful.
I have been using the Graham Phantom II Supreme on my old Clearaudio Maximum Solution and the result is excellent. I love the Phantom's user-friendliness. I am now adjusting VTA on the fly for different records. The VTA adjustment really makes a big difference. The Phantom' set up is painless.

Yes, with the 9 inch Supreme, I have to be careful putting the ring clamp on. I get used to it though. No problem at all. 10 inch would be a bit easier.

I am also considering the Innovation Wood, but at the same time distracted by the Master Innovation. I need to check my checkbook now.
Manitunc said "Koa is still available. Basically, you can choose any veneer they can find, or you can supply".

I thought the plinth on a SOTA was solid wood such as Ebony, African Rosewood and American Cherry. I the finish a veneer?
Solid wood might warp, crack or twist, so most tables use veneer. Why pay for what you can't see.