Turntable Advice?


My SOTA Star Sapphire motor has gone bonkers, so I'm planning its replacement.  Hoping to get some thoughts on my options - I think some of you enjoy a challenge like this.  Major components are Aerial 10T's, Classe 6 Mk II pre-amp, Classe DR-150 amp.  Primary listening is well-recorded jazz, blues and solo guitar.

I could either re-use or sell my SME V arm.  I'm hoping I won't have to shell out more than another $1,500 either way.  Here's what I'm thinking:

1)  Get a new table and cart for the SME, have it all set up by a local pro
2)  Buy an old SOTA and cannibalize the motor
3)  Sell the SME V and go with:
  • New Music Hall mmf-9.3 with Goldring Eroica LX (no head amp needed - Classe has a MC input)
  • New Music Hall mmf-9.3 with upgraded cartridge (suggestions?)
  • Rega RP6 with Exact 2 cartridge
  • Clearaudio Concept or Emotion w/ dedicated arm and cartridge
  • Used table/arm (as long as it's durable)
This is admittedly a very wide-ranging list of options, but I'm all ears.  What would you do?  Thanks in advance!
keegiam
Get a new motor from SOTA. Keep the SME V arm. How's your cartridge doing? I just saw the ad in Stereophile for the new line of AT OC9 mc cartridges - quite reasonably priced!
roberjerman

+1 on the new motor from SOTA.

OP, none of the turntables mentioned have a tonearm as good as your SME
Turntables are very basic and easy to fix.  SOTA has excellent customer service and sells parts for their legacy tables.
Yeah, call SOTA and discuss options. They do a lifetime trade-in and full service on older tables.
Might talk to Sota if they make a conversion kit with the new Phoenix motor controller/motor.  They are ones selling it.

Enjoy the ride
Tom
Have to agree with all the above, your SOTA table and arm combo are much better than anything on your list. Just checked SOTAs  web site and they offer the Eclipse package for less than $1,100.00 which includes the Eclipse motor, Condor power supply and the Roadrunner speed controller and these should be quite the upgrade in your vinyl set up as it exists now. Enjoy the music and good luck.
What tomwh said.  Repair your turntable and add the Phoenix controller system.  It will be a huge upgrade, in my opinion, because, in my opinion, a major issue with the old Sota Sapphire was speed stability.  I owned one for 10 years before figuring that out.  Also, you say the motor has "gone bonkers".  Can you explain further?  If the motor still operates but speed is very inaccurate (I mean beyond the slight wavering of pitch), then the problem may lie in the electronics that control the motor, not in the motor per se.  That would be a win/win for you, if you send it to Sota.  They could repair the problem by installing the Phoenix designed controller in place of the original electronics.  Also, by all means keep the SME V vs any of the tonearms that come with the mediocre turntables you listed.  And finally, get a new cartridge if that would please you, or don't. That part is icing on the cake.
Wow. So much great advice! Am I on the right website? Or maybe its just that the analog guys actually know their you-know-what?

Anything around this level you're usually a lot better off fixing/improving than selling/trading. The only thing that concerns me is the bit about having it all set up by a local pro. None of this is anything you can't do yourself. Its just not that hard. If I can build a whole turntable from scratch then I am pretty sure you can swap out a motor and install a cartridge.

But don't just swap it out. Listen to lewm and upgrade. It'll be a little more work but improvements like this in turntables are awesome. You know immediately what contributed to what. As opposed to buying a new table which leaves you totally in the dark in terms of why it sounds different/better, this way you actually learn something. No more wondering, you KNOW something for a change. Plus the jolt of confidence you feel knowing YOU did it, that my friend you cannot even begin to put a price on.

Just to be clear, although I did use the words “repair your turntable”, I was not implying that the OP should actually do the work himself. I went on to suggest he send it to SOTA for the Phoenix upgrades and a new motor, if a new motor is even needed. SOTA can advise on the condition of the motor itself. They may even have upgraded the motor in connection with their adoption of the Phoenix electronics, since the latter is designed to drive a 3-phase AC synchronous type.
Thank you all.  Never have I seen such unanimity on a discussion topic!  I will get in touch with SOTA today.
I had read extensively on the web that the Pabst motors were no longer available and that SOTA was not properly supporting its customers.  Should have checked with them directly.
lewm, the table's speed fluctuates wildly - not slight pitch change.  Maybe you've figured it out, because the motor does still turn.

miller, this is why I usually have pros do everything.  I'm kind of hapless and lack confidence that I'll get it right.  I'll see what SOTA suggests and give it a try myself first.
The original electronics used a feedback system to check platter speed.  Sounds like something with the feedback or servo is broken.  Probably your motor is OK, but if SOTA recommends a new motor to go with the Phoenix electronics, I cannot over-state the benefits to be derived from letting them do it. You'll be amazed.

Funny story: about 25-30 years ago, when SOTA first came upon the scene, they offered a turntable as a kit.  A friend of mine who was a very capable engineer decided to build the kit.  When he got the turntable completed, I was invited for its maiden voyage.  The object was just to see if it worked. We sat across from each other at a table upon which the SOTA was supported.  He pressed the start button, and at first we were both pleased to see the platter start to rotate and quickly reach what was apparently the correct 33 rpm.  However, it didn't stop there; it continued to accelerate, faster and faster until I thought it was starting to rise up on the spindle, and I feared it would literally take off and hit one of us. I thought seriously about ducking under the table for protection. Fortunately, at that point he cut the power, and we both started laughing.  He had miswired that servo feedback loop.
@keegiam, your worn-out motor provides you with the perfect excuse to spring for the new SOTA 3-phase DC motor, along with the Phoenix Engineering-designed motor controller made expressly for it, and the Roadrunner tach.
Send your table back, get the total eclipse package which is a new DC motor, drive and regulator. Also get the new platter and bearing. The new bearing has no thrust plate. The platter sits on opposing magnetic fields like the better clear audio tables. 
Keep the SME V. The only arm I would consider in that table otherwise would be the Kuzma 4 point 9 for lower compliance cartridges. These two arms are superior to any of the arms you mention. 

I believe we’re talking about 3 phase AC, not DC. The Phoenix design is for driving 3 phase AC. I think the old SOTA motor might be DC type.
No response from SOTA yet.  Mijostyn, is the new platter intended for the Star Sapphire (vaccuum hold-down)?

Any cartridge recommendations?  My pre-amp (Classe 6) has a MC switch that adds 22db (57db total).  I hope to have $1k left in my targeted outlay after the SOTA upgrades.

Thanks again everyone.

@lewm, nope, the new Eclipse package is described on the SOTA website as "a low-vibration 3-phase brushless DC motor paired with a state of the art motor controller developed by Phoenix Engineering, known as the Condor." The Eclipse package retails for $725, I believe.

The original Phoenix Engineering motor controller WAS for an AC motor, and found favor with owners of VPI tables. By the way, SOTA is letting VPI owners know the Eclipse DC motor will fit in the motor pod of the TNT, Aries, etc. tables.

Post removed 
Keep the SME V.  It would be expensive to find a replacement as good.  

A very good table for that arm was a VPI TNT.  Either an original TNT or the second generation.  The TNT has a removable armboard that can be easily cut for a SME type mount.  

TNTs are not plentiful because they are still very good performers.  If you keep your eyes open, you could find one in decent condition.  Be ready for a local pick-up since most owners are reluctant to box the parts for shipping.   

Getting a SOTA motor is a good solution, but in my opinion, the performance level of a SOTA Star Sapphire is not up to an early TNT, especially one with the second generation rubber/stainless/lead platter.


motor broke.... get a motor....
Turntables are MUCH better now than a few years ago - get a Clearaudio Concept!
Just went through the same exercise, almost, with the arm. Everyone recommended keeping the arm. They are correct.  No doubt, keep it. Mine was from the late 1980’s so it went back to SME and now it’s new to spec. I changed the phono cables to Steven Huang’s Audiosensibilty  silver series, chose an Audio Technica ART 9 cart and I can’t believe what I have.  With the fixed head shell mount and different overhang for that cartridge than would be standard from SME, I sought the service of Yip Wai Hon of Best Tractor Mint ([email protected]) for the proper alignment protractor. Invaluable. Amazing results. I am in awe of my vinyl collection now. 
Thank you all so much.  I'm weighing my options with Donna at SOTA.
Bigwave, your post in particular is quite inspiring.  There were reasons I fell in love with the SOTA and SME V almost 30 years ago - this has been an excellent wake up call.
I have had a Clearaudio Concept for 6 months now. 
I chose to fit it with the Virtuoso cartridge. I have never achieved such a good sound. The turntable itself is superb, in my opinion.
I am unable to find a website for Phoenix Engineering.  Does anyone know if they are still in business.  
@lubachi, Phoenix Engineering closed down when the Falcon and Eagle PSU and Roadrunner were discontinued (those were the company's only three products). PE design engineer/owner Bill Carlin posted a lot of info on the design of his products on the VPI Forum, which are still available for reading.
Apparently my post of an hour or two ago never made it. What I said then was that the term “three phase DC synchronous motor” is an oxymoron, because DC has no phases by definition.  DC motors that do operate off AC convert AC to DC within the body of the motor. What is probably going on is that the phoenix derived controller operates on the AC side, thereby controlling the DC motor. Also, a stock TNT may well be superior to an original Star Sapphire but all bets are off if the SOTA has the Eclipse mod, in my opinion of course. I wouldn’t arm wrestle over it.

@lewm, and then there is the matter of a TNT (or Aries, or any other VPI as far as I know) with the Eclipse package installed in place of the stock Hurst AC motor. Bill Carlin was talking on the VPI Forum a few years back about the need for a better motor in the otherwise nice VPI tables (he's a fan of DC motors), and proposed he and Harry Weisfeld collaborate on a package similar to the Eclipse for the VPI tables. Unfortunately, a clash of personalities developed between the two, and it never came to pass

VPI owners now have a way to improve the sound of their tables at reasonable cost, thanks to SOTA! SOTA is also producing the Roadrunner tachometer, which is identical to the Phoenix Engineering version.

The motor is NOT AC.  The terminology 3 phase DC means that it is a brushless DC motor where the windings are excited by a switching DC power supply which turns the power on & off to the correct winding at a very fast pace such that the fixed magnet in the motor tries to "keep up" with it, hence the rotation:

Check this out, especially page 8:
https://www.monolithicpower.com/pub/media/document/Brushless_DC_Motor_Fundamentals.pdf

These motors last a long time coz there is no grinding brush to wear off but the driving electronics has to be spot on and are very complicated.

Another +1 vote for keeping your Sota. 
Good work cakyol. It seems that many people do not have a lot of experience with appropriately designed suspended turntables. Once you own a SOTA , SME or Basis it is highly unlikely you will return to an unsuspended table. They are that much better. It is nice to see SOTA moving the project forward with meaningful advances to the motor and bearing. The only thing I would like to see is a version of the Cosmos that can take a heavy or long tonearm.