Early SOTA vs New Something: Conundrum


In a nutshell: 

I have a Series I SOTA Star from prior to 1986. I've had it about 12 years. It has early AudioQuest B300 cartridge.  The Sumiko MDC-800 Arm is the best part of the unit. No modifications. No maintenance ever as far as I know.

The Arm was installed where a previous arm sat (not by me) and is not positioned correctly. 

It needs at least a new cartridge. But after a chat on the phone with SOTA, it sounds like after these years (plus the arm mis-location)  it needs a bit more than that. Upgrades, adjustments etc...

I could do a new cartridge, but it appears a waste without doing other needed work to the TT.

Cartridge, Tonearm board with other needed upgrades I'm looking at about the price of a new table. Such as a Technics 1200G or some such version of.

Time to jump ship? Or I could ignore it all and continue to run it as is. It honestly doesn't sound horrible. Not great either. But bad enough I don't play vinyl much anymore in favor of CD- digital

I do have an extensive LP collection and wouldn't mind listening to it...





@rwbadley , Then you are stuck just like me. You have a great turntable that deserves a much better arm and cartridge that it has. If you do what it deserves you will be spending a lot more than a new Technics 1200G. If you get a Kuzma 4 Point 9 tonearm, a Goldring 1042 a new tonearm board you will be spending something like $4500 and that does not include updates to the turntable. I never knew AudioQuest made a cartridge by the way. You sure?

If you go the upgrade route in proper fashion you will have a much better table than the Technics. Would you appreciate the difference? I have no idea. 

Thanks for the reply, yes a catch 22 indeed.

Yes it is an AQ B200. It may have been a rebadged something or other. It’s 20+ years old and then some.

Yes the springs have sagged. So the unit needs shipped back for that and then it just goes up from there. Should have a new motor I've been told. Maybe the new psu and what about the vacuum unit etc.... eek it gets big pretty fast.

Or maybe find a good used cartridge, toss it on and ignore the rest of it. 

Whether to spend big coin making the old table current, Maybe buy a new SOTA but then still need all the additional on top of that.

Or, is the Technics so inferior with a decent cartridge? It can’t be worse than what I have currently. The tonearm is 1cm back of where it should be. I have to run the cartridge at a 10 degree angle from straight in the headshell, which incredibly results in good balance L/R with a solid center.


BTW the TT goes to Luxman l595 MC phono then out to custom Altec 604 speakers with a several subs filling in the bottom. Pretty dynamic with decent enough soundstage and imaging. The 604 are not the last word in HF resolution...


Generally speaking upgrading/updating/refurbishing a good older piece of gear is less money than going out and buying something new. So you need to compare whatever Sota has quote you for the upgrades with what a new table would be. You may indeed need a new cartridge but that table is certainly doing your current cartridge, and arm, a disservice.

SOTA sent me a price list of updates and repair service I’m afraid I got a bit of sticker shock. That’s what got me started thinking of the Technics (for one) as it would be similar price or less all in. I just don’t know side by side if the SOTA has better potential for same money. 

The advantage of upgrading your SOTA will make it equivalent to a new table.  Getting that arm inspected and properly installed will allow whatever new cartridge you choose to shine.  I would upgrade your table and decide on a cartridge that fits your arm and phono preamp. You will rediscover your old collection!

Thanks for all the replies

I have taken a first step by ordering an AT ART9XI cartridge

The tonearm is solid even if it's not in optimal position.

This will show me what I can expect going forward with the SOTA as-is.

Or, to see what is SOrTA deficient (haha see what I did there?! ;-) and what repairs for SQ are needed.

If I end up getting a different table I will at least have a good cartridge to go on it.







I found this in a similar thread:
gyneguy225 OP

83 posts


I spoke to Donna today, and she still recommends the Origin live tonearm.

>I found out that there are a number of upgrades for my 30 year old SOTA for about $3000 total, but I'll still have a 30yo turntable. I'm stepping back a bit, and considering that it will cost me a fortune to get the analog system to sound anywhere near as good as my digital. So, I'll see how it sounds with the Kiseki cartridge, and decide whether to go forward from there or give up.<


 yes I agree, We are on the same page it appears

I own a SOTA Cosmos Eclipse and have owned a gen III Star Sapphire so am familiar with the earlier tables. 

My opinion is that a refurbished SOTA is going to be a far better table than the Technics. Especially if you go with the magnetic bearing, the phenolic sub chassis, and the Eclipse motor package. I also suppose you would get a lead and acrylic arm board. The Sumiko arm you have is highly regarded even today, so it is worth keeping.  Certainly not cheap but you get a table that is going to perform superbly and is smartly engineered. The SOTA suspension is one of the best out there, the magnetic bearing is going to have the lowest noise floor, and the motor controller provides a level of speed stability that is remarkable for  a belt drive, and while a direct drive might be tenths or hundredths of percentage points more accurate, it is not enough of a difference to offset every other aspect that it is less capable of than the suspended design with lower friction bearing assembly. 

My vote is get an updated SOTA. 

I wouldn't worry about that. I've 3 refurbished Garrard 401s, and they are over 50 years old. Good engineering never dates, it just gets more expensive. 

but I'll still have a 30yo turntable

An update:

The new SOTA belt came in.

I know I had replaced it once before years ago, but this one is quite different. Much narrower in width and quite a bit shorter. Whatever; it works very well. The old belt took a number of seconds to reach speed- due to slippage I am sure. The new one pops right up to speed in about two seconds or so.

The new AT ART9xi cartridge has been installed. Incredible improvement there as well.  I had installed a new stylus into the AQ B200 a few years ago, but this new AT cartridge is lightyears ahead in all respects. Considering it will improve over a number of hours still, I am quite shocked with the superior sound quality right out of the box.


All I can say is this gives a much better sound for what Analog is known for- and I had allowed to slip away all these years... 




Hi RW.  If you are going to use the Star in any capacity, you need to get an armboard cut specifically for the geometry of the Arm.  Otherwise you will never be able to align the cartridge correctly.  You can get a SOTA cut armboard and the composite armboard is worth the money or you can locate an aftermarket blank or make your own.  Regardless you will want to precisely determine where to drill the tonearm pillar hole for the correct alignment.  Have a machine shop to the drilling.  That Arm is still worthy after all these years.

I owned SOTA's, gen I-III, Stars and non-Stars going back to the early 80s and have done most of the maintenance the last 20 years.  Inspecting the bearing thrust plate, it's imbedded in the base of the spindle, and the bearing itself are the first things to do.  Cheap, easy and very important.  If the thrust plate is damaged and many are, you will need to ship the entire platter/bearing assembly to SOTA for inspection and repair.  If you are handy or have a machine shop, you can replace the synthetic sapphire with delrin rod for cheap.   The spring replacement kit is cheap, easy to do at home and important for stability, speed and tonearm performance.  This is just the start so you can either go the upgrade path, buy a new one or seek alternative turntables.  The Technics 1200 series offers good performance and excellent value.  It can also be modded.  Regardless, do the armboard in the interim. 


Here ya go!!

1982: AudioQuest Phono Cartridges AudioQuest begins selling phono cartridges and achieves almost instant success with the AQ-404 moving coil cartridge. The AQ analog tradition continues to this day!

@rwbadley just curious, I'm assuming your 30 yo SOTA uses an ac motor. Does the new current SOTA use a DC motor? Only reason for asking is that I find tables in general that use a DC motor have better PACE.

Thanks for all your replies

I don’t know if the motor is ac or dc. I suspect dc but could be wrong. 

Thanks for the tip on the arm board. I might go that route and the bearing service, but found when the new cartridge (AT art9xi) went in it mostly solved the issue with proper alignment. I think the AQ200 was not able to get far enough forward but the AT is shaped differently, so I’m happy with that. 

As for the bearing, I’ll leave it be for the moment as the platter spins smooth and I am getting no noise from playback. Plus another issue just popped up

A day after the cartridge install the new problem arose. Of the two buttons that turn the motor on one has seemingly failed as I now had to install a power strip with shutoff switch to turn the platter off. Both buttons down is 33. Both buttons up used to turn it off but now it goes to 45 rpm. So no way to turn platter off without the power strip switch. Oh well, it’s always something…

@rwbadley,  As a Sota Nova VI owner, who looked into some older tables and upgrades, and assuming you’re not up for doing the work yourself as someone suggested, I recommend sharing your total budget with Donna and prioritizing the options. Bearing/thrust plate and springs are top priority along with motor. If you can find a used arm that might help you leverage your investment made in the nice AT cartridge. Sota often has trade-in armboards of various geometries that might save you some $ too. They can cut to fit any arm of proper size(~9"-10.5", not 12")

The Eclipse package upgrade could always be added later if desired.

Vacuum hold down is fantastic, but if you don’t have many warped LPs probably a lower priority vs. the other items.

FWIW, I’ve also owned a Technics SP10mk and I think the Sota with some of the upgrades would get you closer to an SP10mkII than a 1200G. IOW, the Sota upgrades would give you arguably better performance and an upgrade path to take it even higher later if desired.

If you want to start fresh, have you asked Sota about trade-in value? They do that too. Cheers,


Hi Spencer thanks for your reply

With the new cartridge installed I am currently (other than the switch failure) very happy with the SOTA. My plan is to run it as-is for the moment. It now bests my digital front end; I'll call that a win

I did speak with Donna she was quite helpful. There is very little trade in value for her as she stated the platter was the only thing she was interested in. The rest of the TT is a 'teardown' apparently. Which brings me to the point that 3K for a complete rebuild still leaves me with a nearly 'forty year old' SOTA by the serial numbers.  It seems I would be better off to kick in a bit more for a new Star and selling off the current one for 1200$ (with the old cartridge I guess) if I went that route.

So I am here:

The springs have sagged. It still has shock absorption and the table is in a spot it has no exposure to footfall or speaker/sub vibrations. The platter is level.

The motor may not be up to current standard, but it seems to be running smooth enough I don't hear obnoxious speed fluctuation. It's true I am sure it could be improved.

The start switches don't work.

The Sumiko MDC800 was and still is highly regarded. I think the secondary market price for it is fairly strong at 800$ give or take. It works well enough. The used vintage SOTA prices are all over from 500- or less up to around 1500-1800 depending.

The new AT cartridge did allow me to get the length issue with placement sorted, so that was huge...

And finally- the bearing. The platter spins smoothly and with a quiet vinyl runout it shows an excellent low noise floor. I am sure it could be bettered... but I guess if it were an issue some apparent rumble would be evident but I truly can not hear much at this time.

A man's got to know his limitations... (Clint Eastwood in what movie?) and for now I think the new cartridge has really hit the sweet spot. Bundling up and shipping a what seems to be (mostly) working  TT to face the hazard and liability of the FedEx  monkeys (forgive me if you work for FedEx- I ship $$$K with them a year so have a subjective opinion) is more risk than it seems to benefit for the moment.

Plus I'm inherently lazy, so there's that...




1. I wouldn't install a new cartridge in an arm I knew was not positioned correctly.  That will make installation alignment difficult if not impossible.  So you will not experience the potential of the new cartridge.

2.  I've owned a couple of SOTAs and they can be very good tables.  But as others mentioned they do require maintenance (more than just bearing oil).  As I remember, the MDC-800 was a decent arm so probably doesn't need to be replaced, once installed correctly, so long as it is not damaged.

3.  I prefer the stability of speed in a decent DD table, such as the new Technics.  So my choice would be to buy that.  And there should be a buyer for the SOTA, particularly someone who can upgrade it themselves for a reasonable cost.

The new AT art9 solved issues with the tonearm placement , so that was a good thing.

The MDC-800 arm I quite like. Simple, straightforward to adjust and stays there without fiddling. Seems to work well.

I have considered trying a Technics 1200g table, but am unsure if it would be more than a sideways move, as at the moment the SOTA is functioning well (within the limits described earlier) 

I have thought to bring the Technics in and see how it pans out. Then go from there. Truth is it may not be an upgrade at all. Thoughts?

I have a 1984 model.
I put a new Garrott Bros p77i on it a year ago, and it sings pretty sweetly.

IMO - Either move it and the LPs on, or consider an upgrade.


I got a whole box of parts from Wisconsin… new tone arm, new board to put it on, etc.
It is a bit of money just in the TT, and the arm and cart add more.
If you change the phono stage then it just adds even more.

Sort of depends on the enjoyment you get from it, so either at least add a cart. Fix it up, or dispose of it.

The cart alone was, in retrospect, a great value and may be all you need to get most of the way to enjoyment. But it still needs set up.

Which arm is on there? And what is the spindle distance?
I may have an extra arm board.


@yogiboy , Thanx. I thought that line came from Dirty Harry

rsf507, motors do not have "pace" as long as they are spinning at the right speed. Variations in motor speed cause changes in pitch long before you would notice a change in "pace." We call this wow and flutter.

AC motors are more desirable in turntables as they are self-correcting. As long as the AC they are getting is accurate they will "fight" to maintain the desired speed. 

The motor in the older tables is an AC motor. The Eclipse motor is a three phase AC motor driven by a computer controlled phase converter. It is just as accurate as any DD turntable and it's method of correction is quite different. It corrects the speed slowly as this is much less audible than the usual immediate correction. It also shows you the exact platter (not motor) speed down to one thousandth of an RPM. Along with a more massive platter, the high torque of the motor and vacuum clamping, the pitch stability of the Sota is state of the art. Due to the magnetic thrust bearing and isolating suspension rumble is also at the state of the art. Some people will argue that certain DD tables are quieter. This is false as you are not just interested in the rumble generated by the turntable itself but also the rumble generated by the environment. Only a suspension tuned to a very low frequency can protect you from environmental rumble. If you want to see what environmental rumble looks like just put your stylus down on a stationary record, turn the volume all the way up and keep an eye on your woofers. Have your wife turn the dryer on. Try tripping the furnace. Walk around. Jump up and down in front of the table. All that dancing you see your woofers doing is environmental rumble. It is doppler distorting everything else the woofer is doing. Make sure your rumble filter is off! You can jump around all day long in front of a Sota and the woofers will remain dead still.

@sbank , I need to point out a slight correction on your comment. Not all 9" and 10" arms will fit on a Sota without modifying the plinth cover. As the Sota's arm board is recessed, some arms like the Tri Planar will not fit without cutting away part of the plinth at at the back and right hand side of the tonearm board well. Arms with VTA towers will generally not fit. It is also critical to not that you can not just throw any compatible arm on any Sota tonearm board. In order for the suspension to function correctly at the tuned frequency it has to see a specific mass at that corner of the turntable. The tonearm board mass is varied to accommodate the mass of the tonearm. Some of the older models fine tuned this with lead shot in a well under the tonearm board. The "sweet spot" is however, pretty wide as we are talking about 1-3 Hz.  

I suppose you’ve made an in depth analysis of servo circuits in DD turntables and found the “problems” and that they’re all alike. And very different from the Eclipse system, because you own it. Bollocks.

@mijostyn thanks for correction re: Triplanar. Know of any others with same issue?

BTW, my Audiomods has VTA tower and fits just fine, even with dust cover. Let's not start the whole dustcover debate again, please ;-) 

Also, pretty sure my new Nova VI also has adjustable lead shot well for balancing like you mentioned older models do. Sota set mine up and I haven't had to take the arm out yet, so I can't confirm. 


@rwbadley sounds like you found the right balance (pun) between reasonable improvements and your situation. Kudos! Cheers,


Reed is built like a Triplanar. A 9-inch Reed won’t easily fit my Technics SP10 Mk3, but the 10.5-inch version of the Reed works easily. Likewise Triplanar is now available in12-inch length, which would be no problem. You might be able to source a 10.5-inch TP, too. Just ask.

@lewm , Where you talking to me, the Bullocks part? I said the Eclipse motor is just as accurate as any direct drive. There are numerous ways to control a DD motor but I am not familiar enough with any of them to comment. I am just going by the spec sheets. The overall accuracy of a belt drive table depends almost entirely on the quality of the belt, machining of the pully and platter along with the cleanliness of the whole. I got that RPM speed and wow and flutter app on my phone and discovered that the wow and flutter of my old Sapphire had risen to almost 0.3%. With a clean up and new belt it dropped right back down to .05%. A modern state of the art table might run 0.03%. Belts wear out. So don't DD motors, it just takes them longer. The thrust bearing gets noisy and wow and flutter specs also deteriorate. Belts are easy to replace.

I own the SOTA because I honestly think it is the best turntable you can buy for the money not to mention that it is very close to the absolute best. I can easily spend five times as much on a turntable but I see nothing I care for until you get to the Dohmann Helix. I am waiting for Dohmann to complete his vacuum platter and dust cover. Until then I will stay with the Sota. Bollocks to you too. 

@sbank , The Cosmos does not have the lead shot well. The tonearm boards are sized to match the tonearm weight. You have to get a new arm board for each tonearm anyway so it makes sense. Sota use to use a standardized arm board so the shot well was critical. How old is your Nova? 

@mijostyn It's about 3.5yrs old, a few months after the first Nova VI started shipping.

Mijostyn, I apologize for the vitriol, but you really should not be commenting on areas of the hobby with which you are not familiar, and here you’ve done it again. Different companies have taken very different approaches to DD turntable design with regard to “tightness” of servo control, platter mass, bearing design, motor type, etc. And none of your generalizations hold water.  Now where do you get the notion that the thrust bearing gets noisy, as compared to the thrust bearing in any other type of turntable? Please cite specific examples or sources. Because “bollocks” is a not inappropriate response.

I’m a Sota fanboy.  Full disclosure.  I heard my first Sota turntable in 1989 and bought my first Sota- a Sapphire III  in 1992.  I traded in my Star this past winter for the Nova Vi with vacuum, mag bearing, eclipse motor with the road runner and a gorgeous cherry plinth.  It is super quiet and stable speed.  I love it.  Best turntable deal in hifi, I think.  
I listened to the Brinkmann turntables last year with my records on similar speakers and a similar preamp.  These turntables look hifi.  They look cool.  The vacuum tube power supply option is about the price of a Nova Vi base model.  These tables have no isolation so they require some sort of isolation platform- more cost. They sounded ok.  I could not hear any noticeable improvement over my Sota.  At least my ears couldn’t. 
‘The Sota turntables have a lot going for them in terms of engineering and great sound.  I can attest to their longevity and reliability.  Sure, the suspension needs refurbishing after several years.  It degrades over time and you may not notice it until you hear a new table.  My experience is that the springs weaken and allow the sub chassis to rotate left and right- torsional movement.  These are very small movements but it affects the pace and the sound of the highs.  They way I found out on my sapphire III after a decade + of use was to chock the sub chassis against the plinth with rubber blocks.  The pace and the highs sounded natural again.  
‘And yes, the Nova still has the well for lead shot to balance the sub chassis. 

@lewm , Lew, I think you need to read my posts a little more carefully. I said that I am not familiar with the drives of DD turntables. I pay no attention to them because they were so bad, initially at least, that my meager brain can not get up the courage to try a new one. It still thinks they all s-ck. As for bearings, THEY ALL WEAR OUT except the air or magnetic ones. If this generalization is wrong please show me a mechanical bearing that does not wear out. 

The thought of a large oscillating magnetic field anywhere near a phonograph cartridge makes me cringe.  

Actually, a well designed bearing for the application with adequate lubrication will never wear out. Dirt, heat, overloading and neglect are the demise of any bearing. The trick is for the bearing to never have metal to metal contact. The lubrication is the sacrificial material.

Back in the 1980s I changed the oil in my wife’s 1983 Honda Accord every 3000 miles. When I took it in at 50,000 miles for the valve clearance adjustment the mechanic called me out and showed me my engine. It was clean inside and the machining marks were still visible on the cam lobes. He remarked that it was obvious I kept the engine well maintained.

Same thing with my Sota turntables over the years.  I remove the platter, clean and relube the bearing every few years.


Mijo, On 9-26, you wrote, "So don't DD motors, it just takes them longer. The thrust bearing gets noisy and wow and flutter specs also deteriorate."  To the casual reader this sentence implies that there is a special problem with the thrust bearing on a DD turntable that does not apply to a belt drive turntable. I subsequently lodged an objection.

On 9-30, in response to my complaint about the above statement, you wrote, "As for bearings, THEY ALL WEAR OUT except the air or magnetic ones."  I agree, except air and magnetic bearings can also wear out, albeit in different modes and after longer time intervals.  Case closed.

As to your fear of "large oscillating magnetic fields", I can only wonder whether you were frightened by a vacuum cleaner as a child, because you mention it so often.

Hey man, some vacuums are really loud and frightening.  And smelly.

I seriously enjoy the @lewm ​​​​@mijostyn sparring. 

Spar: To engage in argument, typically of a kind that is prolonged or repeated but not violent.

@karl_desch , It is mutual enlightenment.

@lewm , I only state the obvious Lew. ALL thrust bearings wear in time depending on utilization and load. The very best thrust bearing is no thrust bearing like many Clearaudio tables, Sotas, Airforce tables and the big Kuzma. IMHO the Magnetic thrust bearings are best as there is no compressor to break down and make noise. I have never seen one used in a DD turntable. As the thrust bearing wears wow and flutter specs will deteriorate along with increased rumble. A standard bearing arrangement in a belt drive will do exactly the same thing. My overreaching point is that DD turntables wear out also and it is easier and less expensive to replace a belt. The shaft of a turntable bearing sees virtually no load and with the right tenacious oil very little friction. It will last indefinitely. Those turntables with magnetic thrust bearings will last indefinitely.  

The phonograph cartridge with just a few exceptions is a magnetic device, a very sensitive magnetic device. As a magnetic field decreases with the square of the distance it behooves one to keep other magnetic devices as far away from the cartridge as possible. If you think two to four inches is far enough then direct drive turntables are fine. I prefer the eight inches you get in a belt drive. I might be stuck in the past but I was involved in the HiFi business back in the heyday of direct drive turntables  and they universally sounded inferior. All of us felt that way, it was not just me. One theory to explain this was the proximity of the motor. Whatever. At this point in time direct drive turntables have no advantage over the best belt drives. Most DD's do not have either suspensions or vacuum clamping which in my world puts them at a distinct disadvantage. 


I just wish I could get my cd/sacd front end to sound as good as the SOTA  ATart9xi does right now