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POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 14
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sota

Comet turntable

as reviewed by Victor Chavira and Ed Morawski

 

 

 

 

VICTOR CHAVIRA'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
Marten Design Monks.

ELECTRONICS
Magnum Dynalab MD-208.

SOURCE
NAD T541 CD/DVD player. LINN Axiss turntable with the K9 cartridge.

CABLES
Nordost Quattro-Fil interconnects, Analysis Plus Oval 9 speaker cables, and El Dorado power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Audio Magic Stealth Power Purifier, Vibrapods, Townshend 3D sink, and  Echo Busters.

 

SOTA has earned the acclaim of vinyl enthusiasts since they brought their first turntable to market in 1982. The Sapphire was quickly recognized as a brilliant performer, bringing hope to analog loyalists at the dawn of the digital age. LPs are still the standard by which true musical enjoyment and fidelity are measured. Furthermore, turntable design continues to evolve as a result of new materials and manufacturing methods. These days, SOTA products are the dedicated work of Kirk and Donna Bodinet in Worth, Illinois. The Bonidets sent us the Comet turntable package, which retails for around $1500 including a tonearm, cartridge, record clamp, and dust cover.

The Comet is a self-contained, belt-driven turntable that features a thick base finished in black texture coat. Three threaded feet level the base. A 24-pole AC synchronous motor drives a hard white polymer subplatter, and a substantial black polymer platter of sandwich composition rests upon the subplatter. Although the design layout is similar to that of my Axis, the Comet's materials are in stark contrast to the Linn's machined aluminum platter and subplatter.

Another difference between the Axiss and the Comet is the bearing design. The LINN's spindle is terminated at a blunt point that makes contact with the bottom of a lubricated shaft. The SOTA's spindle bottom is flat, and makes contact with a hardened ball at the end of its shaft. The Comet was fitted with the optional S-300 tonearm, an OEM product built to SOTA's specifications by Rega. An attractive wood-bodied Grado Platinum cartridge completes the package. The $300 Platinum is the least expensive of Grado's Reference line.

I spent more time unpacking the turntable and discarding the shredded newspaper packing material than I did setting up the system. The only adjustment I performed was to recalibrate the tracking force, which was slightly off according to my Shure gauge. I attached the gray RCA interconnects to my E.A.R. 834 phono preamplifier and placed the table upon my Townshend 3D Seismic Sink.

My usual review procedure is to begin by listening to orchestral music, to determine whether or not a component can capture the life and breath of music. The Comet immediately impressed me with its deep dark background. The second movement of Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto, performed by Wilhelm Kempff on DG, sounded superb. The Comet's low noise floor meant that long notes ripened with vibrato and emotional intensity. I also noted great spaciousness and clarity in the mid to low bass. Light taps on the tympani were clearly rendered and felt. Piano notes played with the left hand sounded tactile and firmly connected to the mass of the concert grand. Music flowed with an effortlessness and ease that floated me up to a higher level of musical enlightenment. I played record after record of classical music, and each time the Comet rewarded me with palpable musical presence and minimal surface noise.

I love Latin Jazz. Dizzy Gillespie recognized that clave is the ultimate grove when he composed such classics as "Manteca" and "A Night in Tunisia" with the legendary Chano Pozo. Poncho Sanchez' rendition of "Manteca" on the Concord Picante label is a lively example. The Comet displayed pitch and timing that perfectly rendered the complex interplay of clave sticks, cowbell, conga, timbale, and bass. My Linn's low end is one of its finer assets, but the Comet reaffirmed its superior bass response. Low notes carried more heft and authority. Trumpet and flute play the melody in this music. With less competent equipment, the upper ranges of these instruments can sound glaringly aggressive, but the Comet captured both the brilliance of the metal and the warmth of the air they employ to produce sound.

Rock music was also well served by the Comet's excellent pace and timing. A recent visit to the Pasadena Record Swap here in southern California yielded a treasure of classic rock by Eric Clapton, Genesis, and Rush. This music places the guitar and drums up front. Rhythm and impact drive it along. For example, the second side of Genesis' 1983 self-titled LP is dense with Phil Collins' polyrhythmic electronic and acoustic drumming. The Comet deftly recreated the energy and action of his drums and cymbals without compressing dynamics.

I experimented with the SOTA I-Clamp, and found that maximum effectiveness could only be achieved when the record was perfectly flat and reasonably thick. Floppy RCA Dynagroove LPs tend to flex at the label, where the clamping pressure is applied. Classic Records' new 180-gram reissues clamped more evenly across their surface, which resulted in subtle improvements in dynamic responsiveness and image resolution. Since many of my favorite titles are slightly cupped or warped, I chose not to use the clamp for most of my listening.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the SOTA Comet. This is a well-designed system, and its parts and materials work in harmony to produce considerable musical enjoyment for a modest investment. The Comet sounds solid and superbly musical. Even if I upgraded to a Rega arm and Grado cartridge on my LINN Axiss, I am certain I would not achieve the same dark background and effortless rhythmic flow that I heard with the Comet. If you're looking for a richly rewarding, high-value turntable that easy to set up and maintain, hitch a ride on the Comet. Victor Chavira

 

 

 

ED MORAWSKI'S SYSTEM:

LOUDSPEAKERS
DIY 2 way monitor speakers with Scanspeak 8535 & 9700 drivers.

ELECTRONICS
Plinius SA-102 amplifier and an E.A.R. 864 preamplifier.

SOURCE
Musical Fidelity Nu Vista 3D CD player, Aries turntable w/JWM 10 arm and a Dynavector 20X cartridge.

CABLES
Analysis Plus Oval 9 Speaker cables, Cardas XLR, Kimber Camble XLR, and Holophonic-PC interconnects, power cords.

ACCESSORIES
Dedicated balanced power with Brick Wall Surge Supression.

 

Last year I was seduced by the dark side. After hearing for years how much more musical and high-resolution vinyl was, I succumbed and bought a turntable. Although I wanted a VPI Scout, I ended up with an even better VPI Aries. It was musical, it was higher resolution, and it was fun—for a while. Used records were cheap, but it was difficult to find ones that sounded good. Some records (mostly new ones) sounded great, but others sounded really, really bad. Every time I ran into a bad one, I spent hours cleaning it and readjusting the turntable, trying to get that great sound.

I found myself spending more time getting ready to play music than actually listening to it! Also, I was never happy with the dynamics or frequency range. I went through many cartridges, up to and including a Clearaudio Sigma Wood, which was dynamic but very finicky. Let's face it—there is not much dynamic range on LPs because they aren't very quiet. I finally sold the whole package and invested money in a top-of-the-line CD player that I could enjoy for hours while reading a book. No muss, no fuss, just music!

Then, Frank from Positive Feedback asked if I would do a quick review the SOTA Comet. How could I say no?  I owed him lots of favors for driving miles to drop off and pick up review equipment, so I reluctantly agreed. Within a few days, he dropped off a large box and there was the SOTA, assembled and ready to play. So I gave it a shot, and was I pleasantly surprised!

Instead of using Aluminum for the platter which SOTA feels can cause problems, they has taken an entirely different approach to the Comet's platter. The platter and sub-platter are made of special high-density polymers due to its high energy-dissipative property. The two platters incorporate this dampening material sandwiched between two layers of precision-machined 3/8" Plexiglas to create the two thick, massive platters. A mat is added to assist in the record-to-platter interface.

The bearing cup is manufactured from a material called Turcite—a Teflon-impregnated, self-lubricating polymer designed for ultra-precise bearing applications.

The drive system of the Comet consists of a 24-pole AC synchronous motor originally designed for ultra-precise computer use. The motor drives a precision-ground, low-tension belt which providing a vibration-free drive system for the rotating assembly of the turntable. The Comet can spin LPs at either 33 or 45 RPM.

The chassis and cabinet Comet continue this design theme of isolation from noise and spurious vibrations by means of a monolithic, massive internally dampened cabinet, which effectively isolates the turntable system from noise and spurious vibrations. Additionally, special energy-absorbing leveling feet are utilized and incorporate a proprietary visco-elastic polymer pad.

The basic Comet turntable includes the S-250 tonearm. This is a one-piece, tapered arm—tube design, which SOTA suggests, "Yields exceptional performance by offering maximum rigidity, optimal coupling of cartridge to arm, and cancellation of inner arm resonance." The S-300 tonearm (as reviewed) adds precision-balanced bearings and improved resonance controlled tapered arm-tube is available for an additional $100. Either tonearm offers adjustable anti-skating, damped cueing, and can accommodate a wide range of cartridges.

I had Madonna's debut album, Madonna, brand new and unopened, so that's what went onto the SOTA's composite platter first. I enjoyed the ease of dropping the arm onto the record (unlike VPI's extraordinarily delicate unipivot arm), and lo and behold, the Comet was quiet! I could hear no rumble, no vibration, no hum or static. The table was equipped with a Grado Platinum cartridge, a mid-priced offering, but it, too, was quiet and hum free.

I played with the Comet for two weeks, and really enjoyed it. This is a turntable for people who want to listen to music and not fiddle around. I don't know about you, but when I get home from work, I want to relax and listen to music. The Comet is perfect for the casual listener. The quietness of the Comet package never ceased to amaze me. I attribute this to the composite platter. After hearing metal, glass, and all kinds of sandwiched platter construction, this design seems to have a lot of merit.

Am I now a vinyl convert? Well, the dynamics are still not there for me. Perhaps a different cartridge would help. I also wish the manufacturer would fix a couple of minor problems. The cheap lamp cord for power should go for sure—an IEC socket would fit the bill! And the captive RCA phone cables are really cheap. How about detachable ones, guys? I could use any phono cables I wanted. But at this price, well one can not expect everything, and SOTA spent the money in the right place—musicality and fun!

I highly recommend the SOTA Comet for anyone who wants to get into vinyl and not have to be an engineer to get the most out of the experience! Ed Morawski

Comet turntable
Retail: $824 w/S-250 arm (base unit)

SOTA
web address: www.sotaturntables.com

 

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