sota...performance..and resale(just in case)...sme for the same reasons.....that said, in the neighborhood are the threns 160 and sme as well (personal 'new' favorite) even though it 'looks' plain.
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I've owned three Sota's over the years and if you're gonna do it, get a Star. The vacuum hold down is definitely worth the extra few bucks.
I've also owned the SME V and SME IV.Vi, one each mounted on different Sota Stars and one on a Nottingham Mentor. Sonically, I liked the IV.Vi better than the V but if you're spending enough money for either of the SME's, go with a Tri-Planar instead.
With both SME's, I was always bothered by tracing error; Graham's too. They're a bit plump from the lower midrange on down though certainly warm and forgiving. They lack overall transparency and don't resolve recordings nearly as well as the Tri-Planar.
SME's leave much to be desired when it comes to set-up and adjustments, especially considering their retail price. VTA is a pain in the ass, not precisely repeatable and not to be done on the fly. Azimuth, forget it, not available.
Tri-Planar on the other hand is sonically much more transparent and resolving and I no longer hear tracing distortion. VTA can be done on the fly, VTF is so much more precise and easier to set and dialing in azimuth is a piece of cake.
Plenty has been written on SME vs Tri-Planar and most of what I've read confirms what I'm saying. Of course there are those who will recommend a Graham Phantom but you'll spend quite a bit more, even used, and not get better than the Tri-Planar(different maybe). Then there's the Basis Vector, a good arm sonically but we're back to a pain in the ass to set up and tweek. I know, one of my good bud's has one and he can keep it.
Rockinrobin - As you're the only one who's mentioned OL, what do you think of their build quality? Also, the tonearms have a ball hanging from a thread for anti-skating. Is this annoying? I keep thinking that everytime I move the arm, the ball will be swinging around and I'll have to wait for it to come to rest before lowering the arm onto the record. Maybe it's a non-issue but I'd appreciate your thoughts.
I have no issues with the OL build quality. It is nicely made, but without any "bling" factor. It is clearly built for function over form, but I like the rather spartan, yet functional appearance. The owner's manual is very well written and thoroughly covers all setup steps. Yes, there is a ball on a string for antiskate. The antiskate is easily adjustable with a setscrew. The "swinging ball" is not an issue at all. Yes, it swings when the arm is moved, but it stops quickly. There is no need to "wait" before lowering the arm onto a record. The antiskating system is "primitive" by some standards, but I like the inherent simplicity. It works, and there's not much to break or worry about. Azimuth is not easily adjusted (although it can be done), but my tonearm appears spot-on from the factory. VTA is very easy to adjust with a threaded ring. Once dialed in, a set screw is used to firmly secure the tonearm to the mounting block. I've read some stories about potential build quality issues with OL, but my experience has been very positive. Some folks have complained about "looseness" in the bearings. Be aware that the OL tonearms are designed to have this! The play is not loose machining tolerances at all. It is inherent in the unique bearing design and is explained thoroughly on the OL web site and in the owner's manual. Hope this helps...
Thanks, Rockinrobin. Your comments are very helpful. Anything to say about the SOTA vacuum? Virtually everything I've ever read has been positive, but I'm still apprehensive about having a vacuum motor running a few feet away. And it's something else mechanical to have fail. One of my concerns about the OL table is that it uses a DC motor, which are noisier than AC motors.
I agree with Stringreen. With the SOTA, the vacuum system works so quietly, I have to put my ear about an inch away from the vacuum box to even tell that it's 'on'. The motor controller and power supply circuitry also reside in the same black box as the vacuum pump. A single power umbilical and a clear vacuum tube must run from the black box (which I have on the floor behind my audio rack) to the turntable. The 'black box' is about the size of a shoe box and has a red LED to indicate that it is powered up. The vacuum system works reliably and unobtrusively. No worries.
Since all of these are high price points, best to take the time and expense, to visit a dealer. That way, if you buy, you will get support. It will also let you 'hear' the pump. About the vacuum system. I suggest you invest in a free standing flatten divice first as you may need that even if you go with a vacuum device.