SOTA Cosmos turntable Page 5

If any common thread was noted in the sound of the Cosmos with various cartridges, it was one of a clearly defined soundstage combined with a lively sense of reality. It refused to gloss over the warts in a recording, but neither did it appear to emphasize them. It may not appeal to those who prefer to enter the digital age with a turntable whose sonic signature boldly distinguishes it from CD's decidedly cool precision. In that, they may find that the Cosmos does not meet their requirements. I do not mean to suggest that the Cosmos provides a "CD" sound. But it tends closer to the spectral balance of CDs than to a consistent "vinyl warmth."

Most of my auditioning of the Cosmos was done without SOTA's new Groove Damper. The latter is an extremely thin, compressible cloth mat with a tacky backing which is designed to adhere to the Cosmos's platter. It is supposed to perform three functions: improve the platter-to-record contact by filling the small remaining spaces which the vacuum cannot flatten completely; provide antistatic protection; and eliminate the chances of dust trapped between the platter and disc being pressed into the latter under vacuum. I have no problem with the last two functions. A significant amount of static appears to accumulate between the record and platter when using a Discwasher or other such cleaning device. And with any vacuum system combined with a bare platter you should add the platter and the reverse side of the record to your pre-play cleaning chores—which is, believe me, a pain in the neck.

But I preferred to suffer through it; I did not care for what the Groove Damper Mat did to the sound. The effect was small, but I sensed a loss of openness, a slightly more closed-in sound that tempered that feeling of an unrestricted top end which is one of the Cosmos's principal strengths. This one comparison you can easily make for yourself if you invest in a Cosmos; the Groove Damper is included with both the Cosmos and the Star and may be purchased separately ($40) for use with other turntables. Just be forewarned that when you peel the Groove Damper off the platter (it can be easily restuck later using a soft brush to smooth the wrinkles) it leaves a residue on the platter which must be thoroughly cleaned off with alcohol before playing any discs. Otherwise, the goo will stick to the reverse side of the record, dramatically increasing its noise level. I know from experience.

How does the Cosmos compare to its far less expensive stablemate, the Star Sapphire? Knowing that any review of the Cosmos would be incomplete without such a comparison, I delayed completion of this review until SOTA was able to provide a new Star for a face-off. The comparison was made by transferring the SME V, mounted on SOTA's laminated armboard, from the Cosmos to the Star and back. Each turntable was also placed on the Sound Anchor turntable stand during audition. Adjustments were made to insure the same VTA and arm alignment (the height from the top of the platter to the armboard was different for each turntable, and there was, more surprisingly, a small difference between the 'tables in the distance from the arm-pivot to the spindle). The Star also exhibited a warm-up speed drift similar to that which I had measured in the Cosmos, indicating perhaps an expected similarity in the design of their drive systems. Again, though I noted no audible degradation due to this, I still took some pains to make certain both turntables were set as close to the same speed as possible—using the test record/frequency counter method.

Although the Star could be instantly recognized as belonging to the same sonic family as the Cosmos, the latter is definitely the superior turntable. It excelled at relaying the subtleties of a recording—the sense of space in a recording acoustic and added feeling of "life" which separates the near-real from the vaguely mechanical. The Star still deserves its good reputation; had I not had the Cosmos on hand I could have gotten along with it quite nicely. But its sound was just a bit "blurred" next to the more expensive 'table. An apt analogy might be found right on the page at which you're now looking. Chances are that the letters are crisp and sharp—assuming our printer has done his usual quality job. But suppose that the presses malfunctioned and used a bit too much ink; some of the o's and p's would be filled in. You can still read all of the words, and hopefully the meaning still comes across, but there is a loss of clarity. What you are reading is somehow a bit less interesting because you are distracted by the lack of technical precision.

This analogy breaks down in one respect, however. Whereas too much ink on the press will give an increase in contrast on the printed page, the Cosmos actually exceeds the Star in the contrast between light and darkness; or, if you will, sound and silence. Others have dubbed this "intertransient silence," which describes the phenomenon perfectly. It initially sounds like an enhanced high-frequency extension; closer auditioning reveals it to be more a result of lack of obscuration of the subtle cues—including any natural ambience present in the recording—that add so much to the realism of the reproduction.

The low end of the Cosmos also slightly betters the Star in detail and clarity, but the differences here were less significant. I would not choose one turntable over another solely because of its low-end performance, but there is room for improvement. In an earlier comparison I made between the first sample of the Cosmos with a standard Sapphire in my own listening room, using the same comparison techniques, I was surprised to find the Sapphire having a noticeably tighter low end. But in all other important respects the Cosmos was clearly superior.

The Cosmos is, in this reviewer's judgment, and with suitable associated equipment, unlikely to be bettered in overall performance for anything like the price, now or in the future—considering the likely future of turntable development. No, I haven't heard Stereophile's Class A-rated turntables, the Versa Dynamics 2.0 or the Goldmund Reference, in my own or even in a particularly familiar system, and am willing to grant that they may well provide something which the Cosmos does not. And I haven't yet heard Dick Olsher's recent fave, the Aura—a gap in my experience I plan to rectify as soon as possible. I would not be surprised if it sounded different from the Cosmos, much as does the VPI TNT. But better? We shall have to wait and see.