SOTA vacuum or no?

I am considering a new SOTA Sapphire or Nova as a replacement for my VPI Scoutmaster. I am aware of the differences in features between the Sapphire and Nova, but the biggest difference is obviously the presence of the vacuum clamping system present on the Nova. Is it worth it? The price difference between these two SOTA's is about $1400, I think. I am curious as to the reliability of the vacuum system, sonic benefit versus using the SOTA I-clamp or Reflex clamp alone. Also, how easy is the vacuum system to live with? I'd prefer minimal tweaking, if possible. Thanks!
Definitely!Especially if you have a higher resolution set-up.
Good luck
the only performance reason to change would be to go to the vacuum model. that said, the vacuum isn't necc gonna be a revalation. a cartridge or vpi upgrade might even be an option.
I have a Superscoutmaster and even aside from the sound improvement, I think that flattening a record is extremely worthwhile. A flat record permits the arm to travel across the record effortlessly. The quieter the arm movement, the less the cartridge has to deal with riding out those warps. I certainly would always go for a clamping system.
The vacuum option is available on both the Sapphire and the Nova. The Nova has a different bearing material IIRC and some other changes in the substructure. The clamping makes a difference. There is an increase in low level resolution that is hard to give up once you recognize the difference. There was a review in Audio a few years ago that measured the differences between the vacuum on and off. The graphs showed a dramatic reduction in the amount of spurious resonances in the vinyl once the vacuum was turned on.
You may NOT like the result of this reduction but that's another story.
Dear Rockinrobin: My advise is that you try to find the AT 666 vacuum mat from Audio Technica ( second hand for around 300.00 ) and improve your VPI to Superscoutmaster.

Regards and enjoy the music.
I like the SOTA over my dads VPI for not just the Vac but also the suspension.....cheers
I have used all sorts of clamps including SOTA's own excellent mechanical clamp, but after getting my SOTA Star vacuum some years ago, I have retired all the mechanical clamps in favor of the vacuum system. Just today I played a set of records which were "dished" . The vacuum was able to flatten them, whereas a clamp would be useless unless it used a rim ring.
It is actually the superior way a vacuum seal allows an LP to maintain "total constant/consistent pressure" at all points of the platter,that makes this the best way to clamp a disc!
This way,there can be no minute seperation of lp with platter surface,which can/will be audible with the finest cartridges/phonostages/systems.Logical and audible,but the non vacuum tables can still be quite good,so think it through for your choice.

Okay, it sounds like a vacuum system is definitely preferred to using a center clamp alone. I wonder how the VPI periphery ring clamp and center weight compare to the SOTA vacuum system in terms of effectiveness in flattening non-flat records. I read somewhere about the ring clamp "killing the musicality" of vinyl playback, but that does not seem logical at all to me. A flat record would seem to be more ideal than a non-flat one, regardless of the mechanism of obtaining flatness.

I like my VPI in general, but I'm not too crazy about the JMW9 Sig tonearm, hence my interest in another table. I could maybe swap out my arm for another one, but the VPI rigs seem to be synergize best with their own brand of arms attached. I could use virtually any arm on a SOTA (SME, Origin Live, etc.). Besides, the well-engineered suspension on a SOTA, attractive wood cabinetry/fit&finish, and apparently great customer service from SOTA are drawing me to the company. Even after selling my Scoutmaster, I'd need to come up with a chunk of change for a SOTA Nova and arm, so I want to think it through and take my time. Should I take the plunge and do it?
Consider resale value here as well. Also, while having more flexibility in arm matching, it would be erroneous to think you could use virtually any arm with a SOTA.

That being said the SOTAs are great values. I had a NOVA Series V and enjoyed it very much.
FWIW, I have been very happy with the Souther arm mounted on my Star. Once the thing is set up (just follow the instructions and do not get in a hurry) it has its peculiarities, but is utterly reliable and makes for uncannily quiet groove noise. Be warned however, this arm is not for cartridge swappers, which is the main reason reviewers don't use it more.
I have a Basis Debut vacuum. The vacuum feature is easier to use than even a plain old clamp. Just put the record on the platter, put the center "clamp" (actually a seal) on the spindle and flip a switch. You don't even have to tighten the center clamp. With some warped records one does have to push down the edge of the record, but otherwise it is a no hassle feature.

Periphery rings are a big pain in the ass. Also, they are a disaster waiting to happen (accidentally bumping the stylus with the ring). That said, I know of a number of people who insist that the rings improve the sound even when one is using vacuum clamping (I never personally tried this).
As Larry said,the Basis IS a superb table.Not too cheap though,and worth the dough,if one has it.Yet,I'd bet the "newest" Cosmos IV is on the same playing field,meaning both tables will give one LP bliss!
As to the "ring clamp" issue.My friend uses one,and he had a "split second" disaster(actually almost on two seperate occassions)where he destroyed his Titan-i cartridge from a missed cue of his tone-arm.
Once again,like Larry stated..."an accident waiting to happen"!

Here's a friendly hint for using the VPI periphery clamp - if you do it, you will never take out a cartridge. When taking the periphery clamp off of the record, simply put it over your head and wear it as a necklace until the record is turned over, or a new record is in place. The natural action is to lift the ring clamp straight up, instead of sideways which could interfere with the space that the cartridge is in. Wearing the ring clamp is comfortable if and only if you put it under a color or otherwise touching your shirt. It is a bit sharp on bare skin. Try it a couple of times and it is second nature.
Stingreen,that is exactly how my pal uses the ring clamp.Yet,unfortunately he droppd the stylus a bit to close to the gap,and "kerplop" went the cantilever!
It does sound very good however,and anything can happen in vinyl replay anyway.
Go vacuum. Once you go Vac, you'll never go back. :-)

I have a couple of Stars and it's just hypnotizing to watch how steady the cartridge/headshell stays while tracking.

I've had a lot of records that looked flat when I put them on, but I could see the cartridge going up and down on my non-vacuum table. Everytime the needle starts up a ramp, the tracking force gets increased and then when it's on the downside, it gets decreased. The more a stylus is sensitive to changes in tracking force, the more you will appreciate what a vacuum can do.
One of the things I notice with a Sota is that the arm appears motionless while playing. (this is also true with a ring clamp) On my best albums warp isnt an issue but on many of the records its nice to have something to flatten them to the platter.
I have been a Sota owner for 23 years. Star, Nova and now Cosmos IV. I could never live without vacuum hold down. I just received a few vinyls from Cisco and Naim and they look like a salad bowl. Badly warped. Without vacuum hold down those would have to be returned. On the Cosmos, they are sucked flat onto the platter. The power supply housing the pump inside is DEAD QUIET. No hassle at all. Go for it buddy....go for it without hesitation. Call Sota 608-538-3500 and speak with Donna or Kirk.
All the best....
The Sota vacuum system is really special. You can't go wrong with it. Seriously stable images. Tomb quiet. Great product. They're also very reasonable in the used market. If you're not sure you want to make the plunge pick one up used and play it for a while to see if you like the general sonic qualities. If you don't you'd get all or most of your money back re-selling it. Everyone I've ever spoken to who has one loves them though.
I have been using the VPI outer ring on my rig for 4 years now and it is easy as apple pie to use as it locks onto the platter and will not move unless you lift it off the table. It is easier if you have room next to your table to place the outer ring onto while you are changing record's or a chair or something next to the table. having it around your next IMO is not a great idea.
You would have to be an idiot or plain dum ass lazy to crash the cantilever into the outer ring. It is no more dangerous that no outer ring

That said, there is a certain amount of life,flow or air that not using the outer ring gives to the music. Not sure if that "air" is also missing when you use a vacuum hold??

"You would have to be an idiot or plain dum ass lazy to crash the cantilever into the outer ring. It is no more dangerous that no outer ring"
I guess theres a lot of lazy dumb asses on the forums I visit as it has come up several times and I have come close myself. Of course if it sounds better without youd have to be a dumb ass to use it.
I have never read anywhere where a VPI user has ruined his cantilever by using the outer ring. The point I was trying to make, using the outer ring is as easy and as safe as not using the outer ring on any table.
Rccc, do you own a VPI outer ring??

The outer ring has advantages sonically on some LP's, and the same without. There are no absolutes in this hobby.

I believe some like the "Soundfountain" outer ring is a little more dangerous to use as it just sits on top of the record.
Yo Downunder,some "older" folks don't have as steady hands as some other folks.I have seen the problem,with ring clamp " between groove and clamp-valley of death" cantilever damage!
This does not mean the Ring clamp is to be "absolutely" avoided,but be VERY careful!!It takes a half second to be very unhappy!
Btw,those with the hands of a vascular surgeon,can disregard this -:)
Yo Speedy

As they say. You are only as old as the girl you are "feeling"

me, my hands are not that steady, so I use that thing called the arm cue. goes and up and down and guess what - safe to use as well. outer ring or no outer ring
Downunder,actually I have "no unsteady hand issues" myself,and would be confident with an outer ring(except for the "knock" it got from the folks at Grand Prix Audio,regarding "exactitude" in "fit" as it pertains to wear on bushings,during play...but that's thier spin...not mine).Hmm!
Yet,my friend is no "idiot" or "dumb ass",but is a little long in the toothe(God bless him),so must be really careful with the "ring clamp of death, to Canti" -:)
Hey,in truth if it works,it works!(just joking,actually)

Understand,as of here and now,I'd be happy with "any" functioning set-up! issue I hope to have solved in the next few weeks,or God forbid...,months(I've decided to make my pre/phono problem into a major upgrade)!
Still atively collecting LP's though...NO Wolfmother discs yet -:)

Now you know why I'm a bit ancy!...You guys from Rod Laver country are still a great posters anyway!
I am a big fan of vacuum clamping, but, a few words of caution are in order here.

I run the vacuum pressure as LOW as possible -- just enough to pull the record flat to the platter -- in order to minimize the possibility of damage. I know of claims that the vacuum damages records, either by pulling plasticizers out of the record or by grinding in dirt that is on the record or the hard platter surface. When I first got my table, I ran the pressure higher than I do now. For some records, I notice more clicks and pops on the side that was less frequently played. Some of the extra noise was ameliorated by a good cleaning, but, I cannot be sure I was able to cure all of it. I now run the vacuum pressure on the low side, and I keep the platter surface very clean. When not in use, the platter is covered by a sacrificial record used as a dust cover (a Charlie Rich record someone gave to me). I also use a microfiber cloth to clean the surface once in a while. I have since had no issue with noise.

Most of the comment here as been about the vacuum curing warps. It will certainly do that (provided you jack the pressure up for those particular records), but the real benefit is that the intimate contact between the record and a platter dampens vibrations imparted in the vinyl by the needle tracking the groove. ALL records, not just warped ones can benefit from such dampening.
Kudos to Larry!!

As to vacuum seal of warps.I find some warps need a flattener,based on how warped the disc is.I've made a DIY flattener for thirteen bucks,but it does not "do" every Lp perfectly.I'm still experimenting.

As to pressure level,my Sota Cosmos has an automatic sensor which adjusts the vacuum seal to minimum level,once the seal has been made.It seems like a very good idea,but if a warp is bad you are not going to flatten it out.
What I do then,is pinch the air hose to fool the pump into thinking it has made a seal.The pump automatically goes to minimum vacuum level,and the Lp does not go dead flat.I seldom need this.
As to noise issues....I have had SOTA vacuum tables for over twenty years,with "absolutely" NO noise issues!...EVER!!

I do NOT use an intermat on my platter,because it takes away inner detail,and dynamics....BUT...I am very careful about keeping the platter surface very clean!

I bought a cheap make-up brush(the kind women use to put on stuff,on face)and brush off platter surface(AND SEAM BETWEEN PLATTER AND RUBBER LIP)after each listening session.I keep the platter/table covered with a cloth,when not in use.....CLEAN,CLEAN,CLEAN!..."Wolfmother" would sound great -:)
Dear Downunder: +++++ " That said, there is a certain amount of life,flow or air that not using the outer ring gives to the music. Not sure if that "air" is also missing when you use a vacuum hold?? " +++++

That was one of my first impresions when ( many years ago ) I try for the very first time the Vacuum hold down record but I learn that that " air " was not a real sound in the recording but most a distortion part with out Vacuum.

The truest to the music is something that no other system I know can give you in the same natural way that do the Vacuum.
The quality sound reproduction with and with out Vacuum is not only an improvement but almost an order of magnitude against no Vacuum.

You have to try it to understand all its benefits.

Regards and enjoy the music.
Well,while on the vacuum subject,when I mentioned no noise issues,I was referring to no noisey LP's,though my pump runs dead quiet too!I'm talking CD player quiet.

I do have non vacuum using friends,and cannot go to the level that Raul has,in stating the difference is an "order of magnitude better".But I like a vacuum seal,if given the choice.

It IS technically "better",but I have to be a realist as well!I've heard superb set-ups with no vacuum feature,but it is one consideration,out of many.

Yes,I think SOTA makes a superb vacuum table(original thread subject),at really fair pricing,and they work for a LONG time,trouble free.The company is "now" making the best products they have ever put together.Really close tolerances,and gorgeous to the eye,especially the no longer standard issue Black Gloss Fountainhead plinth and vacuum pump housing,that I have.....Also,when Sota products are reviewed(particularly the "newest" Cosmos,which is in series IV already)it amazes me how incomplete the review usually is!!
This usually indicates the amount of time a reviewer has spent with LP replay,in their lives(or just how little space is allowed for in depth reviews these days),and it "means something"!...If you are new to LP spinning,you certainly will not cover all the bases,on a superlative table,if you review it.

I personally want to know about much of the design,and how it got there.Why certain material choices were made.Why a suspension,or not.Why a specific motor unit,or why a nested platter,or arm/pillar mount etc,etc!

Good Example: The review in HiFi Plus(which was the opposite of Stereophile,in how the reviewer liked the product)of the Grand Prix Monaco was a GREAT piece of descriptive writing/information!!I should know,because I read it(alot)during a day of jury duty,just sitting around!

This was a "thorough review",and because it was SO good,I "got it"(the point,not the table),and came to appreciate the product,for what it is(a great table)!!

It even got me so inclined as to seek out the "white paper" on the table,which was quite educational,and extremely revealing as to why "some" well thought of designs,"kinda stink",if one accepts the design criteria of the Monaco.

SO,when I view the "latest" work coming from the old/established/often overlooked SOTA,I have to laugh,as "these guys" have NOT been asleep at the wheel!!

They STILL make the use of Bob Fletcher's abilities,and he was a "real" scientist/designer.The new(actually ownership for over a decade)mfgr is a skilled machinest,to the highest degree!!Hand made,to the max!!
The latest stuff is in line with many virtues(though employeed differently)mentioned in the Monaco White paper(which I enjoyed reading)....Different philosophy,but just as valid in design execution,and performance!

Yet, one of the finest set-ups I have ever heard(just basic inner clamp over the spindle)was using the Big Basis Debut,to be completely honest!!...No vacuum,but OH,BOY did those big Infinity speakers come to life(using my own LP's).And I had heard the Infinity speakers many times before.

Just my two cents.
HI Raul

"That was one of my first impresions when ( many years ago ) I try for the very first time the Vacuum hold down record but I learn that that " air " was not a real sound in the recording but most a distortion part with out Vacuum"

How do you know what is part of the recording and what is not?? I hear "air" all the time if i listen to a live band.
There is no vacuum hold down of vinyl when masters are being pressed.

I am not here to argue vacuum or no vacuum hold down.

I would suggest each turntable designer has maximised his design to suit his table. eg no doubt a Basis or SOTA would sound better with vacuum hold than without - otherwise why offer it.
Other designs with no vacuum hold have equally impressive sound.