SOTA Comet turntable Page 2

I was immediately impressed with the sound of the Comet/Special combination. When Tete Montoliu ripped into the changes on John Coltrane's "Giant Steps" on Montoliu's 1976 album Tete! (Inner City IC 2029), it was clear that the Comet could not only keep a beat, it could easily convey the emotion—all the fire and passion—in this underrated musician's performance. The recording is closed-in and up-front, putting you on stage with the musicians. That's where the Comet/Special combo put you. You could hear three musicians hard at work with all the attendant extraneous noises. On a good system, you should be able to visualize the pedal action and chair movements of the soloist, especially on his tour de force version of "Body and Soul." I did. The recording is extremely dynamic and covers a wide frequency range. The Comet held back not one iota of this music, and faithfully preserved the dimensionality and visceral impact of the performance I had heard on the WTT. In fact, if I hadn't heard this album on my reference turntable, I doubt I would've found any fault with the Comet's sound. Even though it lacked the last degree of bass punch and finesse of the WTT, the Comet captured the essence of the music.

Another LP, this one featuring some occasionally ferocious solo piano playing, awakened me to even more of the Comet's capabilities and the special synergy achieved when it's coupled with Sumiko's Blue Point Special cartridge. The album, Gypsy Dances (Antilles New Directions 90688-1), is a program of fiery Spanish dances performed impeccably by pianist Mirian Conti. This all-digital recording is as clean as a whistle, and puts the piano and soloist in your room just to the right of dead center, a few feet in front of your nose. From such an intimate listening perspective, you are privy to every nuance of the performance, and can, without too much imagination, feel the energy released in the studio. Due to the often sudden and extreme dynamic contrasts demanded by the music, this album poses a threat to any LP playback system. The Comet handled this musical tempest without a single complaint. The Blue Point Special also earned its stripes here, undaunted by even the roughest groove modulations. Remember, however, that if the turntable and tonearm weren't doing their jobs, the cartridge wouldn't have sounded as good as it did.

Depth was especially well-rendered. Lateral imaging and focus were also fine, but not quite as precise as I've heard on much more costly decks. One of my favorite albums for getting a fix on just how good a record player performs is Mark Knopfler's soundtrack to the movie Cal (Vertigo 822 769-1). The album is full of sonic twists and turns and serves as a useful aid in assessing a system's performance (footnote 7). The music is sublime, heavily laden with melancholy and conjuring images of lonely Irish glens blanketed in mist so heavy your hands make waves as you move them about. The opening cut defines the huge soundstage in which the performers are placed, the various instruments emerging. The Comet did an excellent job of conveying this soundscape.

The evenness of response across the spectrum was commendable, with an exceptionally balanced midrange. The bass was, for the most part, articulate, extended, and surprisingly robust. It only started to get what I'd call "restless" on the timpani strokes toward the end of the Cal track. I've listened to these timpani on every system I've had in my listening room. They sounded different on each one. Sometimes they sounded like amorphous "wodges" of sound coming from the rear of the soundstage. On other occasions, they were tightly focused in space and articulate, with good pitch definition. The Comet's rendering of this instrument closely approached the latter description. What it lacked in absolute control it more than made up in capturing the personality of the instrument, a quality I consider much more important than tightfisted domination of the lower bass.

The sound of Knopfler's sinuous guitar line on the album's "Irish Love" helped crystallize my impressions of this turntable. Each of the sonic characters of the various guitars Mark Knopfler used on Cal was captured with a deftness and honesty I hadn't thought possible with such modest source components. After weeks of concentrated yet pleasurable listening, I found the Comet's ability to convey the individuality, the "persona" of instruments—be they made of wood or metal, blown or bowed, struck or plucked, plugged or unplugged—rivaling turntables costing much more. This is a rare quality in any component. Those which have it I consider to possess SOUL! The Comet turntable has it. If turntables were singers, the Comet would be Solomon Burke. (The WTT would be James Carr.)

I referred to the Comet early in this review as a record player. It is indeed that. It's also a music-appreciation tool. I found myself playing more records with it than I usually do with my reference deck. I discovered gems in my collection, many of them still sealed, which might have remained that way if the Comet had not appeared in my system. I certainly appreciate the elegant sound of LPs cued-up on the Well-Tempered Turntable/Shiraz ensemble. The open-window perspective it gives on a musical performance is quite often stunning. (On spoken-word recordings, too.) There's no denying it's better than the Comet (and at close to five times the price, it'd better be!).

But, I find myself relating to the music differently when I use it. You see, as soon as I put an LP on the WTT's platter and twirl the clamp, I ease into a mind-set directed more toward analysis than recreation. If the WTT is a Nikon F4, the Comet is more like a Nikon point-and-shoot. The former may take sharper pictures and offer more control, but I bet more pictures (more spontaneous pictures, anyway) are taken with the latter. I also bet, on a stack of Elvis EPs, that there's more fun involved in the process.

It's that feeling I got when using the Comet—fun! I could shuffle a handful or two of records on and off the platter without worrying about getting the "ultimate" sound out of the system. I could just listen and have fun with the music. And a lot of it, at that. Music and fun.

When's the last time you've returned from a day of "slumming" at flea markets or garage sales with a box full of records for which you paid a quarter a piece (or less)? (footnote 8) How long did they sit in the box before you listened to them? Before you cleaned them? Do you only play LPs which you've machine-cleaned? Or feel guilty when you sneak a dirty one on the 'table? There's also the issue of appropriateness. Do you feel right in cueing up the Fugs' Golden Filth or Merle Haggard's Songs I'll Always Sing on an analog rig which could cost as much as the sound system used at the Fillmore East where the former was recorded? Really right?

I wanted to like this product as soon as I opened the box. I wasn't disappointed. You won't be, either. If you've been putting off the purchase of a record player because of the apparent costs involved, check out the Comet. Teamed up with a Sumiko Blue Point Special for a total cost (including the Reflex Clamp) of less than a grand, it'll easily outperform CD players costing five times as much. Heck, the high-end high-rollers routinely spend this amount just upgrading their decks. Some well-heeled audiophiles spend more money re-tipping their 'coils than this entire outfit costs. It is the most cost-effective way I know to increase your collection of (and therefore your knowledge and appreciation of) music. On average, you can buy three to five used LPs for what a new CD costs (or a used CD, for that matter).

SOTA has succeeded admirably in offering the music lover and fan an inexpensive way to capture 80% of the high-end dream. I never felt deprived of any musical material when playing records on the Comet. It always communicated the music's message with emotion, rhythm, and soul, and did so without fuss or noise. The Comet represents excellent value in a turntable. With a Sumiko Blue Point Special strapped to its arm, the combination far exceeded my expectations, and helps define what's meant by "a bargain." You obviously can't have everything at this price, but what amazed me was just how much you could have. It's a winner! After hearing what it'll do, all those who have spent much more on analog rigs will be thinking hard about the law of diminishing returns. Unequivocally recommended. If you're eager to find out what pleasures await you in the vinyl vaults out there, plop those newly purchased LPs on the platter of a Comet and ease that Blue Point into the grooves. I'd be surprised if you didn't like what you heard.

Footnote 7: I never thought I'd see the day when I'd be referring to music as a kind of sonic litmus test. Just goes to show you what happens when you put on the reviewer's cap. It ain't a lot of fun, but it's what I get paid to do.

Footnote 8: Need I remind you that, with a lot of the pop music of the '60s being reissued on CDs, there's lots of it on LP showing up in such places? As a result of this format shift, you can now fill holes in your rock collection (if you still want to) quite cheaply if you take the time to look.

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mmole's picture

I'm not sure why these historical reviews are included on the site. I guess it's fun to read about old gear and be shocked by the old prices but is that it? I'd appreciate some modern commentary that puts the review into some sort of historical context. If the original reviewer is still on staff, how about some updated thoughts? How does that old SOTA turntable compare to comparably priced (adjusted for inflation) models of today. Is it a classic? Would it be worthwhile to search out a used one? How has the state of the art changed since this model was introduced?

In other words, context please.

John Atkinson's picture
mmole wrote:
I'm not sure why these historical reviews are included on the site.

It's part of of our continuing project to eventually have every review from Stereophile's 55 years of publishing available on-line. From looking at the page-view data, these reviews are more popular than might be thought.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

mmole's picture

A database of 55 years of Stereophile reviews is wonderful. I support this effort 100%.

But when you do publish a review from the archives on the main page, it would be nice to see some commentary that puts the piece of gear in the context of its era and its place in audio history.

As always, your response to my initial query and your active participation with your readership is most appreciated.

mrkaic's picture

John, putting all reviews online is a splendid project. A great idea!



johnnythunder's picture

Love reading JGH's (and other great Stereophile writer's) thoughts on classic pieces of audiophile equipment. It's illuminating for a slew of reasons.

a.wayne's picture

I'm in the " vintage stuff is great " camp John , i do enjoy reading these old reviews , Bring them on ...