This is a review of the differences I found between two different turntable combos:

VPIThe first setup consisted of a VPI 19 MK. III turntable, an ET2 air bearing tonearm, and a Benz L2 Glider cart. I opted for the light weigh alloy arm wand in addition to the stock arm wand setup. I started out with the Monster Alpha Genesis 1000 cartridge. Also tried a Grado (can’t remember model), and a DynaVector (can’t remember model), before settling on the Benz Glider. The stock feet were replace with a set of Ed Soler produced threaded points. The best sound was achieved when the air pump for the tonearm was plugged into whatever power regulation device you are using as opposed to straight into the wall. The connection between table and phono stage was Purist Venustas /RCA termination. Marigo dots have been mounted on the tonearm assembly. I have owned this combo for 13 years.

The second setup consisted of a Sota Cosmos stage III, fully tricked out (see the Sota web site for all the gory details), SME V tonearm, and Shelter 501 cart. The connection between table and phono stage was Purist Venustas /DIN to RCA termination.

I like the VPI combo. When I purchased it, it seemed to offer the greatest value for the dollar. The arm & table is known to be a great combination. When mated with a good cartridge, it will deliver a good sound stage, reasonable imaging and detail, and still keep your foot tapping. In my system, the sound stage extended well past the edges of the speakers and was able to create sonic images behind me (assuming that was in the record). I thought there was a good deal of depth within the sound stage compared to what I had before (Merriel modified AR-ES1). Elements within the sound stage were separate from one another and had a degree of air around them. Tonal qualities of various instruments seemed to be true. Although a whole host of detail was dragged out of the grooves and a large part of it resolved, the presentation never seemed to be dry or analytical.
If I were to keep this setup, I would send the air pump and tonearm back to the factory for a refresh. The pump can be modified to output greater pressure which translates into a more ridged grip on the actual arm assembly. After having the air from my homes pumped through it for 13 years, I can only believe that the tonearm manifold needs cleaning! I would also invest in a surge air tank, and maybe the outboard motor speed control option (no longer sold by VPI) for the table.

Sota Cosmos stage IIIThe Sota is the turntable that was never suppose to be. I had a setup I was very happy with and had no plan to upgrade. Then Nrchy calls up and tells me about this great deal on a Sota Cosmos. Being the curious fellow that I am, I checked it out. Lo and behold! It did seem to be a great deal so for reasons unknown, I pulled the trigger on that, followed by an SME arm and the Shelter cart. All was packed off to the Sota factory for a complete update, rebuild, and tweak session. What I got back some 6 months later was basically a new Cosmos turntable with the full stage III mod package, a completely rebuilt and aligned SME tonearm with the Shelter cartridge mounted and aligned. The power supply / vacuum controller for the Cosmos had also been gone through and didn’t seem to care where it was plugged in although it did matter what power cord you used on the unit. Going from the stock cord to a Chris VH design DIY cord, and from there to a Purist Dominus cord all had positive effects. Most of that had to do with a much lower noise floor, and a somewhat tighter and well defined bass. The lower noise level also seemed to contribute to the sense of ‘air’ around the various elements within the sound stage.

Both table combos were set up on a Lead Balloon turntable stand which was mounted on a lead shot filled Delta Tower. The phono section is the reference phono stage in a Krell KRC-HR pre-amp.

One of the first things I noticed with the Cosmos combo was the depth of the sound stage. The side wall images within the sound stage were less congested as they were spread out over a seemingly larger area too. After 9 months of the Cosmos in my system, I connected the VPI. One thing I noticed right away was that the presentation seemed to be much more forward with the VPI. After further listening, I came to realize that the VPI was not so much forward as the Sota had a much greater depth to the rear of the sound stage. The elements that made up the sound stage had greater weight with the Sota too. Maybe not so much greater weight as higher density. These were not ghosts or stick figures but bodies with some mass and density. The Cosmos was also able to retrieve a much higher amount of low level detail. I think that ties in with the better sound staging – all of those small queues help and enable sound stage reproduction. The PRAT factor is fairly high too. I will not say that all my LPs sounded new with the Cosmos, but it did help return my interest in some selections of music that I thought I had mined everything from.

VPI

I know that if I had the work done on the VPI combo as detailed above, the performance would be much better. A change in the cartridge and maybe the hookup wire would also boost performance. I don’t think it would match the level of the Cosmos, but you would have a very good front end source.

Squidboy – the slayer of fish and the father of many worms.

May 2005