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.


@ghdprentice Is it possible that his existing phono stage may benefit from a better performing table setup? I ask because your suggestion would indicate that you believe his current preamp is “maxed” out and is incapable of sounding better if fed a cleaner signal. (Ignoring that he likes his phononstage and prefers to save that upgrade for down the road.)


Sure. I assume you mean setting up the VTA… etc. We are all guessing to some extent. Hoping to identify the weakest link that will bring the greatest improvement for the investment. 

I guess one of the best things is that even if you identify the wrong thing and upgrade something that is not the weakest link, it’s still going to sound better. Provided you don’t get something that is just plain not to your taste or is incompatible, you win. Next upgrade you’ll probably pick that one and get a really big gain.

Sounds like you received some great advice.

If you love vinyl and really want to get the most enjoyment from your system, become a “student” of the hobby and read, discuss with others about proper set up and room acoustics.

1. Learn how to use (or get a friend to help you with) a Smartractor. Getting proper cartridge alignment will solve many issues.

2. Watch Michael Fremer’s YouTube video on setting VTA with a mini microscope. It gets you close to 92 degrees then you can finish by ear.

3. After about 50 hours on your new cartridge, adjust the VTF.

4. I’m still not good at this, but read about best practices for setting Azimuth.

5. Watch Art Noxon (Asc, Acoustical Sciences) videos about proper room set up and acoustics.


Hope this helps! Enjoy!!