Turntable upgrade - worth the effort?

I currently have an NAD 533 with a Shure M97xE cartridge and am looking to upgrade. A friend has offered to let me borrow long term (and possibly keep) an older SOTA Saphire. It has a Souther linear tracking arm (I believe an SLA-3, which he claims had some tracking problems)and a Sumiko Blue Point Special. When I went to borrow it, I noticed that the turntable has been unused for many years and the needle was gone from the cartridge. I assume that I need to replace the entire cartridge (not just the needle) - and the turntable may need to be serviced since it has been unused for many years. He also has an RB 300 arm that is unattached (presumably used before the Souther).

Since I am not particularly adept mechanically, if I borrow this turntable, will I be asking for all kinds of headaches - both with regard to set up and financial (new cartridge). I really just want to upgrade my analog with as little headache as possible.

Any suggestions?


Related Equipment
Preamp - BAT 3ki
Amp - Hafler DH 220
Speakers - Spendor FL9
Assuming the SOTA has been properly stored for that period and was not torture tested by its owner, installing the REGA RB 300 and getting a replacement cartridge should ensure you better sound than what you presently have. SOTA is back in business and you could send it their way for basic cleaning, adjusting and maybe installation of the RB 300. I would forget a used linear tracking arm that, from what you say, was already problematic any way. A conventional arm like the RB 300, is way more simple and the RB 300 is quite sturdy so that I can't see, again short of torture testing, what could be wrong with it. I would not recommend a used cartridge, since you can never really tell were it's been. Unfortunately, most (if not all these days) moving coil cartridges do not have user replaceable styli, you have little choice but buying a replacement. Find a new cartridge at a decent price and you should be in business. Before you send the tt out for check and tune-up though, if and when you get it, cleaning every nook and cranny, checking and cleaning the belt, or replacing it if need be, and oiling the bearing should give you some idea of what you may expect. You do not mention if you have a mounting board for the Rega arm. If not, you will have to order one. I hope they have them pre-drilled for the Rega, since you have to be properly equipped and know what you aere doing to get that job done right. The RB 300 would work well with a moving coil, since it is pretty sturdy and of medium mass. The Shure V15-V xMR with the stabilizer down also works well in that arm. Check for motor noise. Find a local audiophile who is more handy than you to help out, if you can. Good day.
I have not ever had to set up a sota from the ground up, but I have heard them next to other turntables I am familiar with, I have adjusted arms on some, and they are truly good tables. They have very good build quality and they sound good, real good. But their reputation speaks louder than me. That particular turntable was considered to be a cut above the vpi hw19 jr. and mk III. It sure wouldn't hurt you to try it.
Being as it is not yours I can understand you want to be careful. There is a procedure for moving/transporting it, and perhaps your freind knows and could tell you. I have seen them moved from the shop many times without any preparation.
Depending on where you live and the resources available to you, and whether or not you set up your own cartridges, In my opioion it would be worth it to try your cartridge on it. If you don't want to set up the cartridge and arm yourself you could take it to a place locally. Sota will mail you an armboard, if you don't already have one. That may be a lot cheaper and easier than sending the whole thing to sota. You could clean it yourself, and partake in it's beauty.
Where I am going with this is that the sooner you try it, the sooner you will like it. You don't nessasarily have to go all the way with it at first, it would be much more cabable of getting more out of better cartridges and benifit from better tuning, but you could get a substantial taste. And you get to try a much better turntable. Your freind gets it cleaned. Appreciation and generousity is spread. Sounds like a great use of time to me. Beats raking leaves.

SOTA is indeed back in business. They are here in the Chicago area (formerly in Lemont, IL but now in Worth, IL). You could call them to see about having the table "tuned up," but it is going to cost you a pretty penny dealing directly with them, esp. as they will strongly recommend upgrades. I would go to www.sotaturntables.com and go to the "Dealers and Distributors" link to find someone closer to home.

If your cartridge is a MM, then you probably can find a replacement stylus and install it yourself. If it is a MC (which is most likely), then I would either get it re-tipped if economical (for many it's not!) or get a used one with limited hours from a seller on this site. I bought a low-hour Goldring Excel VX for a great price here!
Defintely grab the Sota. They make great gear. Dump the linear arm and mount the Rega. The Blue Point is toast. I personally like the BPS and have heard of having them retipped but for the price of new one why bother. The Shure 97 in a Rega arm on a Sota would be a waste of a good TT. Clean the TT yourself, invest the savings in some basic alignment tools and buy a decent cartridge. Should be able to turn it into a gem for around $300- $400 and basic setup and aligment is not as difficult as it sounds. A local dealer might tune it for you but your efforts would give you the chance to hear 99%.
Talk about a "freak thing". I logged into "my threads" today and this thread was there. As you can see, i had not posted to the thread prior to this, so i guess that it was calling me : )

As far as dealing with Sota directly, Donna and Kirk are very nice to work with. Donna basically handles all of the business end of things while Kirk does the labor, etc... Given the retail price of these tables and what is involved in doing a complete inspection via dis-assembly ( $65, which is fully credited should you choose to have them do work on the table ), their prices are pretty reasonable. Any of you that have ever tried taking one of these apart will understand where i'm coming from.

The biggest pain with this or any other TT is proper packing, etc... Out of all of the audio gear that gets shipped, TT's receive the most damage. This is especially true of high end models that use fancy suspensions and people forget to secure the bearings. Sota's have very specific packing instructions and custom made cartons with wooden support structures, so contact Donna if you need help in this area. Their shipping containers run about $60 - $65 apiece if i remember correctly.

Should you choose to go things on your own, Kirk is a VERY nice guy and will do whatever he can to help you along in terms of "hints" with setting things up.

As far as the Souther goes, put that old piece of junk in a box and then drop me an email. Rather than clutter the landfills with more garbage, i'll cover the costs of shipping and store it here in my "audio museum" at no charge to you : ) Sean