Need advice for upgrading my analog setup


I got into records 2 years ago and have been using ProJect Carbon Debut Evo with a Sumiko Rainier cartridge. It has served me great as my first table and a way to see if I would enjoy playing records. Well I do enjoy records. And my dad gave me all of his records too (he's a CD guy but never abandoned his collection when vinyl fell out of vogue).

Anyway, I'm planning to upgrade my entire analog setup and I'm very much a buy once , cry once kind of person. I'm looking at a SOTA Sapphire, Origin Live Zephyr tonearm, and a Soundsmith Zephyr Mk.III cartridge. Is this a good combination? Are there any other combinations of gear in the $6k range I should consider? I try to buy American as much as I can. I've looked at VPI but I like the look of SOTA much more.

Oh and I'm using a Darlington Labs MP-7 phono preamp that I'm happy with and don't plan on replacing.

Thanks for reading and helping me out.


As others have mentioned I'd strongly consider upgrading your phone stage as well. You can get a new Musical Surroundings Nova III for 1500, used even less. Dead quiet and linear. Great piece. There are others in that price range that will be a huge upgrade as well. I'd almost suggest you upgrade the phono stage first as you'll likely be surprised how much better things sound and then when you do your big upgrade you'll get the most out of it. That's a great table/arm/cartridge combo. I'd also suggest you look at clearaudio's performance DC table maybe with their tracer tonearm and a hana cartridge like the ml. The symmetry in that setup when I had it was trwndous. 

I've had a SOTA  star sapphire cocobolo since 1992. Works perfectly, never had any problems just twist the feet to level the turntable and enjoy.

No disrespect to others, but kindly disregard the advice of those who suggest that the amount you spend on a component (phononstage) should serve as the reason to replace a phononstage you already enjoy. Having been playing with these toys for 40 years, I’ve certainly learned that MSRP has no bearing on system sound quality in your room. 

You’ve identified an outstanding front end. Select a good phono cable (quite happy with my Morrow cable) and enjoy your system. But please disregard those who contend that you’ve not spent enough on your preamp. 

Concur and amplify the focus on the phono preamp then preamp first. My personal philosophy is that average turntables with good isolation is all that’s needed (It’s simply a level rotating plane - that’s all) - focus on the cartridge. Think Rega RP8 not 10.  Pro-ject higher model  from the Evo would do. 

I’ll diverge on constant upgrading of the phono stage though. Get a quality adjustable one with two inputs and call it good. I might upgrade one day long in the future - gold note ph-10 is absolutely amazing with XLR outs and the equalization (RIAA, Decca, Columbia) options are simply now table stakes for me. Applying the proper output equalization has such a meaningful impact it would take an article to elaborate. 

I can't speak to the arm and cart but the SOTA is a great TT, I've had mine for over 20 years. I did upgrade it to the magnetic bearing and new control board recently and it's better than ever .