Townshend Rock, or Sota... Classical music

Hello everyone,

I'm new on this forum, but I've been reading lots of extremely informative and interesting things here since a long time.

I'd like to ask a little advice... Since I'm maybe buying my first "serious" turntable. My priorities are clean and accurate reproduction, pitch stability, good detial retrieval (I listen almost only to classical music, and quite a lot of piano recordings).

I have following options:
- Townshend Rock Mk3 with Rega RB300 (maybe not in perfect condition, the clamp and the acryl platter are not perfectly even and there is always some up and down movement of cartridge and tonearm) - around 700 $
- Sota Star (with Papst DC motor) with Sumiko FT-3 tonearm, completely revised by a very experienced guy, vacuum and everything - around 1400 $
- Townshend Rock Reference with Excalibur tonearm, perfect - around 3000 $

The Rock Reference is a bit out of budget, but I may stretch to that. At the same time I'm really interested in the Sota with vacuum, since most of my records are bought second hand and... Well, I see that even the clamp of the Reference doesn't manage to make then really flat on the platter.

Or shall I go for a cheaper Japanese direct drive, like a Kenwood KD-990 or so?

Now I'm listening with a Beogram 8000 (Soundmith cart), a Technics SL-7, a Dual 721 - none of them really satisfying, expecially with piano or big, complex orchestral music. String quartets sound nice on the Beogram...

I know that everything depends also on cartridge and rest of the system - I'm keeping aroung 1000 $ for a new cart, and the rest of the system will come later, but quite soon.

Thanks for your advice!

Classical is by far the largest part of my listening .
I would buy the SOTA for the vacuum, Pabst motor AND the Sumiko FT-3, as least as good as the Rega and you can have two or more head shells with different cartridges for chamber , symphonic and choral.

I operated that way for decades, bought a better TT than I had ever had with one-piece arm and wish I hadn't .
I am a huge Rock fan. The issues with the Rock 3 would concern me.

But damn, a Rock Reference. Wow. This is supposed to be a mighty fine table.

I have not heard SOTA. But I don't see the kind of raves for their tables that the Rock gets. I am not sure that the vacuum is necessarily going to deliver the types of benefits that the trough gives you on the Rock. The Townshend 7 clamp does a great job on my mildly warped records. But if warped records are an issue, I'd suggest just getting a Vinyl Flat to take care of that, and focus on other, more important aspects of turntable design than flattening LPs.
Whoops, I see the FT-3 is one piece , I must have confused it with the Sumiko MMT .
I'd still take the SOTA as it does have the "black background" that classical needs.Whether a reference is worth $1600 bucks more is up to you.
Thanks for the input!

Actually, one of the reason why I'm still considering the Rock Reference is... That probably I won't have another chance of getting one. But it will take years before I manage to bring the rest of my system to a similar level. The engineering on the Rock makes sense, and that of the SOTA too - they are different. I can imagine that the vacuum would bring even better contact between record and platter compared to the clamping system of the Rock, and provide even better stability of certain parameters, but of course it won't dampen tonearm and cartridge resonance as the through does on the Rock - that's a different thing. I've heard the Referece for a while, in the lower register it's quite incredible.

So I'm still thinking... Maybe some more comments will also point out some other aspects of these turntables. Thanks a lot!
I have never heard a Rock Reference, But I have a Rock 3 and lucky enough to have a Rock V. Properly set up, these are some of the best sounding TTs ever made. The tone arm dampening system may turn people off, but is very easy to use. The Rock Reference is reported to be an outstanding TT. If I were you I would get the Rock Reference. It is an incredible TT and very rare. You may not be able find another one. The Sota may be more available at a later date. When I got the Rock V, I put everything I had to get it. I, then slowly brought up the rest of my system, much like you are thinking. I have never, regretted this. Best of luck with your decision.
Rock Reference. In a few years' time, you won't notice the extra expendature and you'll have a great turntable. It will even make a cheaper cartridge sound good so you can save there until you are ready. I heard one with ATC speakers and EICO HF60 amps and it was incredible. We played DSOTM by Pink Floyd and the blackness and bass articulation were outstanding.
Thanks for the extra comment on the Rock Reference.
Somehow a few people (not only here) pointed me to the Sota "for classical music". I wonder if there may be any aspect in the performance of the Rock Reference which may make it more appropriate for other kinds of music than for classical - I've listened to it with symphonic repertoire and it was really good, but I don't know what the Sota would do different...
FWIW, I've run my Sota Sapphire non-vacuum table since I bought it new back when. It has the external power supply. After listening to a number of other tables over the years, I haven't heard anything that would make me "upgrade" from it. My Graham arm was a revelation as was the DV XXII Mk 2. The rig performs flawlessly on jazz, rock and classical. Dead silent background. Quiet enough that even though I had an opportunity to buy a Star, the very idea of any ambient noise introduced by the vacuum pump stopped me in my tracks.

It's always best if you can do an audition and so come to your own conclusions, but that's my two cents. Good luck & happy listening either way!
Thanks again to everyone. One more question: I didn't notice before that the Townshend Excalibur tonearm in the first version allows only one position of the cartridge in the headshell - no possibility of twisting it or moving it forward or backwards (just two simple holes...). How do you align different cartridges on such a headshell? You move the armboard all together? Or you just stick to those carts, that work with that fixed geometry?
It's kind of strange...
I would imagine it is aligned by design while mounted in the Rock. It is a little odd for sure.
Since a few weeks I wanted to come back here and thank again everyone for the advice in August. After auditioning the Sota, after thinking a lot, I went for the Rock Reference. The Sota didn't have the same solidity and effortlessness in complex musical passages (of course, this may be depending on cartridges and tonearms too) and it was tonally less coherent. The Rock Reference makes a cheap Technics MM cartridge (with Jico SAS stylus) sound totally different and incredibly much better than other turntables. But of course the next step will be a new cart... Maybe even a not so expensive AT-OC9 could be a good idea, since I feel that the Reference is probably never going to sound harsh and to suffer from resonances in the higher end of the frequency range.

I'll see. In the meantime, thanks for the advice and a nice Christmas time to everyone!
Congratulations. You made a legendary purchase. A very rare and great table. You will find it will also make some noise on some records much more tolerable.
mscili---If you at some point in the future decide to sell the Rock Ref, contact me!