My turntable occupies a unique place in my audio life. It’s a Sota Cosmos that I acquired, barely used, in the mid-1990s, and it’s the oldest piece of gear that I own. The Cosmos and I have been through a lot over the years—witnessed and weathered some major shifts in audio, from the adoption of the CD, the subsequent collapse of analog, the home theater scare of the 90s, the surge of high-resolution digital-streaming services, crumbling CD sales, and then (surprise!) the upswing of analog and return of vinyl and LP playback. Through it all my Cosmos has been a workhorse, stalwart and untemperamental. Thanks to Sota’s faithful factory support, there have been a few upgrades along the way (the last one in 2011), but these refreshes were little more than tweaks around the performance edges. While I remained aware of today’s flourishing selection of fine turntables, nothing else offered the superb isolation and vacuum hold-down features that define the Cosmos. And as a personal aside, Cosmos and I had our rituals; I knew its quirks and had a feel for its mechanics. I could place a record on its platter, clamp it down and cue up the first track in the dark. As silly as this sounds, we’d forged a bond that I think only owners of turntables and LP playback understand.
At the same time I was also developing an awareness that, performance-wise, my Cosmos had lost a step compared to similarly priced rigs. As with an aging athlete, the years may have taken their toll. Its reflexes didn’t seem as sharp, its sound as open or articulate. For the first time, I’d actually begun to contemplate selling the Cosmos. Before making such a big decision, I consulted the Sota website and discovered the largest single upgrade that Sota has ever offered for Cosmos owners—known as the Total Eclipse Package (TEP). It’s based around a new three-phase-motor/electronics/speed-control package, and a magnetic-levitation platter assembly, both already standard on the current Cosmos. I was informed that my older model could be retrofitted. Tempted, I pondered the next step. Was it worth it?
Sota: A Very Brief Summary
The original Sota Sapphire debuted in 1981. It was designed by the (alas) late David Fletcher, and was named for Fletcher’s innovative sapphire thrustplate and inverted bearing. Widely praised in the audio press, it was at the time considered the only legitimate, U.S.-manufactured, high-end turntable on the market. Shortly thereafter, Fletcher and his associate Rodney Herman went on to develop the first fully successful vacuum-holddown platter, which was available in the upscale Star Sapphire. Sporting a four-point hanging-spring suspension, a massive subchassis, and a damped aluminum platter, its class-leading acoustic/mechanical isolation remains to this day pretty much as Fletcher designed it.
The Cosmos was introduced a few short years later and was the most advanced Sota available. It featured a 22-pound, one-inch-thick, single-piece, aircraft-grade-aluminum (with acrylic) subchassis, plus an optional, five-layer, acrylic/aluminum/lead armboard cross-drilled and weight-balanced to the user’s tonearm of choice. Early Cosmos versions like mine sported a cabinet material called Fountainhead, made by Nevamar. Mine lacked a drive-belt access cover, but this inconvenience was remedied on later models. Today’s Sota brings together an array of products and services, including three series of turntables—Statement, Heritage, and entry-level Urban, with turntable/tonearm packages like the Moonbeam IV beginning at $1250. (I urge readers interested in diving a bit deeper into Sota’s backstory to read Paul Seydor’s superb reviews of the Sota Cosmos Series III [Issue 145], and Sapphire Series V [Issue 210].)
The Upgrade Package
In various conversations with Sota co-owners Donna Bodinet and Christan Griego, I learned that development of the Total Eclipse package began with the idea of addressing its pre-millennium analog electronics, which they viewed as lagging behind the current state of the art in precision and stability. Shortly thereafter, in 2018, they secured a license with Bill Carlin of Phoenix Engineering for a new drive-control system—the microprocessor-controlled Condor PSU and the Road Runner Tachometer (see Andre Jennings review in 2016). It operates via a small magnet placed on the underside of the platter, which, as it spins, is read by a magnetic sensor placed on the plinth. The controller measures and displays the speed of the platter, and continuously adjusts the designated platter speed to within ±.005rpm. According to Sota, these methodical adjustments “fight the effects of thermal drift without creating sudden, audible changes in speed. The Roadrunner also logs the hours of time the platter has spent spinning, which is useful for stylus maintenance, among other things.”
Partnering with the controller is a new, three-phase, brushless DC motor, which utilizes bearings on the top and bottom of the motor. It replaced my early-generation and vibration-prone Cosmos stepper motor. Significantly, and in a major shift, the new motor had to be relocated from the floating subchassis and onto the cabinet. Griego explained Sota’s reasoning, “All motors produce some sort of vibration at the speeds we need. Even minimal vibration can transmit through a subchassis along with the armboard and platter. The tuned suspension keeps vibration from entering the sub-chassis. The decision to relocate the motor from the subchassis to the cabinet was entirely about removing every aspect of vibration that could possibly be there.”
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