SOTA Cosmos turntable Page 4

Set-up of the Cosmos was simple; most of the required effort was expended in freeing it from its substantial packing. If you use SOTA's own armboard, as I did, mounting the arm is merely a job of attaching the armboard to the subchassis with the furnished screws, then bolting the arm into place in the precut hole. (I appreciated the tapped mounting holes and matching bolts provided for mounting the SME, which made it unnecessary to fiddle with tiny nuts under the armboard.) If you are not using a SOTA armboard, you'll need to balance the subchassis with lead shot as per SOTA's straightforward directions. Aside from leveling the platter with the three adjustable, spiked feet provided (footnote 5) (and of course aligning the arm), the only remaining task was connecting up the power and vacuum lines between the pump/power supply and the turntable.

More than half of SOTA's operating instructions for the Cosmos involve a description of the belt-replacement procedure, which they recommend doing every two years. It appears to be quite complex (and it may be no coincidence that the warranty runs for the same length of time). If you are a virtuoso with a screwdriver and pliers, you might feel confident in trying it. Otherwise, I'd recommend letting the factory do it, or a dealer you'd trust with your firstborn.

SOTA also arranged for us to borrow a Sound Anchor turntable stand for use with the Cosmos review, and it was used for all of the auditions. It is a steel stand, preloaded with damping compound; you don't have to load it with lead or sand, but as it's ready to go, its shipping weight is high. In contrast to the stand for the TNT, it is taller (the top of the Cosmos's platter is at 48" on the Sound Anchors stand, the TNT's platter is at 38") and narrower. There is a vestigial "shelf" for other equipment amidships, but it is of limited usefulness as standard, 19" wide equipment would not fit in its 18" clearance. The Sound Anchor is also a bit less dead than the (loaded) VPI stand; the latter exhibited no ringing whatsoever when one of its posts was struck directly, whereas the Sound Anchor had just a trace of it.

I understand that the cosmetics of the Sound Anchor have been changed slightly subsequent to our sample. Just as well. The flat black paint of the version we received (which put out an unpleasant odor for a good six weeks after arrival(footnote 6) will have the interior decorator in the household begging for the "glamor" of the TNT stand. The Sound Anchor stand is sturdy, of a convenient height, and, at $875, priced similarly to the TNT stand sans dust cover. To be frank, I consider the Merrill Stable Table (reviewed by Guy Lemcoe in the October 1989 issue), at $899, to be better thought-out and more potentially useful than either of the stands used here.

Speed stability
As I had done with the TNT, I measured the speed of the Cosmos using a test record and frequency counter. In principle, at least, 1000Hz on the record should be reproduced as a precise, stable 1000Hz tone. Using two different test records, the speed of the Cosmos varied about ±0.3%, a factor that includes about a 1Hz instability in the frequency counter (verified using a test CD) and any pitch instability recorded into the test record (footnote 7). I also noted that the Cosmos's speed would drift downward anywhere from 0.3% to 0.9% from cold turn-on until about 15 to 20 minutes of play, then stabilize. I was a bit surprised to see this in such an expensive turntable.

Both Cosmos review samples exhibited about the same degree of speed variation, but the speed drift-down was discovered purely by accident in the second sample. The first was no longer on hand for a recheck. As a practical matter, none of this resulted in any audible pitch instability, but although I believe I have a good sense of pitch, I do not claim it to be perfect. I recommend setting the speed using the furnished strobe disc following about 20 minutes of operation, after which you can ignore the speed fine-tuning control.

By the time you read this review, SOTA will be using a new motor for the Cosmos—necessitated by a change of supplier and not motivated by any specific sonic or performance upgrade. We hope to get a later sample, when available, for an update.

Sound of the Cosmos
When I moved in the middle of last year I had, of necessity, a break of about four months during which my audio system was in storage. During this period the Cosmos arrived for review. At last the time came for the system to be set up in a new environment, and the Cosmos, accompanied by the SME V tonearm, was pressed into use immediately. Probably a mistake. Not because the system sounded bad, but because it sounded better than it ever had. But was the credit due to the Cosmos? After all, many things had changed in the system, not the least of which was the room.

As it turns out, the Cosmos can't claim to be wholly responsible for this happy outcome (a move to a new listening room can be a dicey proposition at best), but it certainly wasn't a negative. If I had to describe the "sound" of the Cosmos briefly, I would have to call it revealing. Revealing of the program material, revealing of the associated equipment, but offering little of itself. Not entirely self-effacing—what component is? But as neutral in going about its business as we seem likely to see in an analog turntable. That is not to say that everyone will necessarily like the sound of the Cosmos. It is not generically "warm" sounding. Not comfortable, like an old sweater or old pair of shoes. It definitely tends to an explicit presentation. Images are tightly focused and precisely sized. There is a full measure of air, and transparency; the sound is open and unrestricted.

Some will consider the sound of the Cosmos lean. But this will depend to a degree on the cartridge (assuming, again, that it is mated with an SME V). I only need refer the reader to my reviews of the Benz-Micro MC-3 and Clearaudio Veritas-S and Gamma—three very different cartridges. Recall that the Benz (reviewed in the March 1990 issue) was found to be a Class A pickup, with plenty of detail but no sense of artificiality or etching. It had a slight but natural and appealing warmth, with a good LF response, though one less hair-trigger tight than that of the Krell KC-100. I found the Veritas-S too lean and bright. Both of these cartridges were reviewed using the Cosmos and SME V.

Footnote 5: One of these feet, on my second sample, froze up or perhaps stripped. But I managed with the two remaining feet. Fortunately, the inoperative foot froze in a position which still allowed free movement of the subchassis.

Footnote 6: The same has been true of the black finish on other Sound Anchor stands I have used. The smell does eventually dissipate, however, about the time you're wondering if it ever will.

Footnote 7: It is not an absolute measure, therefore, but gives an indication of best-case stability using real recordings. The measured speed stability off of a test CD, in comparison, is an order of magnitude (10 times) better—including the error in the frequency counter (probably the source of most of the measured speed error from the CD).

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