In Issue 117 I wrote a feature about turntable manufacturer SOTA Sound Inventions, focusing on their history and philosophy as well as their current company direction and product line. After the article was published I was invited to review one of their turntables. I chose their Escape, as it is one of their newest models and promised a high price-to-performance ratio. Part of SOTA’s Urban Series, the Escape starts at $1,550 for a turntable with a Rega RB220 tonearm, Condor Power Supply Unit (PSU) and a 1-inch acrylic platter. The sample I tested had several upgrades, notably the Rega RB303 tonearm, a thicker acrylic platter and the Roadrunner speed control unit, for a total of $2,050. A pre-installed Ortofon 2M Blue cartridge brought the package price to $2,289.
The turntable arrived in a medium-sized box and was very carefully packaged. Looking at the component parts, it seemed as if assembly would be complicated, but it was not. Three spiked feet screw into the phenolic resin plinth and the spikes are placed on three (included) ceramic pads to avoid damaging furniture, and to provide further isolation from vibration. The pads are concave so the points naturally find the center and stay in place. The platter slipped firmly over the bearing, which was of very high quality. The Condor PSU and Roadrunner attach to connections on the back of the turntable with heavy cables, and the Condor PSU and Roadrunner connect to each other. If you plan on buying the Roadrunner I recommend you purchase it when you order the turntable, so SOTA can install everything for you and deliver the turntable ready-to-go. Without the platter, the system is lightweight and has a small footprint, but once placed on a stand it feels solid and sturdy and proved to be quite resistant to footfalls.
For the review system I used Polk Audio Legend L100 and Ohm Walsh Tall 5000 speakers, and a Cambridge Audio Azur 851W power amplifier and Azur 851E preamplifier. The phono preamplifier was a Music Hall PA15.3, a fully-discrete phono preamplifier I have had great success with and which was price-appropriate for this turntable and cartridge combination.
I usually wait 10 or 20 hours before forming impressions about the sound of turntables and phono cartridges, given the need for break-in and fine tuning before they sound their best. However, the SOTA system impressed from the very start and needed very little in the way of adjustment once it was up and running, a testament to the fine job done by SOTA prior to shipping.
SOTA’s Escape website product page makes note of an “astonishing soundstage,” and that was one of the things that first captured my attention. Few turntables I have used delivered the huge, wide, and detailed soundstage that I heard, with such a palpable sense of space. Listening to studio-recorded material such as the Discovery album by the Electric Light Orchestra, I really got a sense of the producer’s intent as the instruments and music materialized in space, conveying the message of the music. The strings at the beginning of “The Diary of Horace Wimp” had great sheen and transparency, and the driving percussion on “Don’t Bring Me Down” had outstanding definition and depth, all from a relatively modest cartridge. Wind instruments shined as well, as I played some of my old Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass LPs, with trumpet notes showing a great deal of tonal color and fullness that made the instruments seem as if they were present in the room. The turntable had a smooth, wide tonal range that was perfectly balanced from top to bottom, and dynamics were impressively strong, resembling a direct drive turntable in that regard. The hefty platter likely played a role in this.
I collect soundtracks, and one of my favorites is from the 1960 film Spartacus, an outstanding epic of the time with a masterpiece of a soundtrack by Alex North. As I noted in my review of the London “Decca” cartridges in Issue 135, the turntable excels at providing insight into the producer’s and composer’s intentions, and does a fine job of conveying emotion as well. “Love Theme” from the Spartacus album was reproduced with both the romance and a hint of sadness suggested by the melody, with a lovely ebb and flow to the music that was never distracting. An important reason for this is due to the pitch-perfect speed control of the Eclipse Roadrunner paired with the Condor PSU.
The Roadrunner tachometer synchronizes with the Condor PSU to monitor and control the Escape’s platter speed, providing correction down to 1/1,000 of an RPM. Once the platter is rotating at speed, the Roadrunner and Condor are highly effective at keeping the speed stable, and I rarely saw it move much off of 33.33x, with only the last digit (one thousandths) showing any variation. The Eclipse Roadrunner sells for $350 on its own and if you order it with your Escape turntable, SOTA will pre-install it for you, a convenience that makes it worth ordering at the same time. The Roadrunner undoubtedly contributed to the Escape’s fine sound, with pitch-perfect tones and a driving beat that had my toes tapping to the music.
While the starter Escape package for $1,550 represents good value and an excellent platform to build on, the performance of the unit I tested was so stellar that I recommend getting the $2,289 package and being done with it. The Ortofon 2M Blue has never sounded better in my listening room, and even with the modest Music Hall phono preamp the system was competitive with my personal system of a $1,699 Technics SL-1200GR turntable, $649 LP Gear The Vessel R3SM cartridge and $1,399 Graham Slee Accession phono preamp, which together cost almost $3,800.
Despite the large difference in cost I could not choose one as being clearly better, and only by adding the $1,600 London Super Gold cartridge to the Technics did I consider the sound to be clearly superior – though this brought the system price up to almost twice that of the SOTA package, and an exotic cartridge like the London changes the equation to the point where comparisons are meaningless. The SOTA Escape clearly punches above its weight, and is sure to find a lot of friends among belt-drive turntable aficionados. SOTA’s lifetime trade-in program promises lasting value as well.
How much did I like the SOTA Escape package I reviewed? I liked it so much that I did not want to let it go, and I purchased the review sample rather than send it back. It now graces my listening room and I am continuing to enjoy the wide, expansive soundstage and toe-tapping rhythm every day.
Header image by Don Lindich.