Sumiko and SOTA Founder David Fletcher R.I.P.

SOTA turntable co-founder David Fletcher recently passed away at age 81. The experimental physicist left the U.C. Berkeley Particle Lab to be his own boss. In 1972 he co-founded Sumiko. Both companies remain in business though Fletcher long ago sold his shares.

During vinyl’s heyday, Sumiko was a leading North American importer of phono cartridges and tonearms, introducing brands to America that included Grace, Supex, Fidelity Research, Koetsu, Kiseki, Lustre, Audio Note and Breuer. Today Sumiko imports and distributes Pro-Ject turntables and electronics and manufactures a line of well regarded phono cartridges, among other audio products.

Fletcher worked his way through high school as a tech in his father’s electronics repair shop, which helps explain his seemingly incongruous career shift. In the 1960’s he co-founded in Berkeley The Audio Clinic the Bay Area’s premier audio retailer and repair facility that became a watering hole for Hewlett-Packard audio enthusiasts including Siegfried Linkwitz, Russ Riley and Barney Oliver (Hewlett Packard labs founder and director).

During his time at Sumiko Fletcher designed a series of still highly regarded products including:

* 1980 MDC-800 “the Arm” tonearm
* 1982 Talisman high output MC cartridges
* 1983 Premier MMT tonearm
* 1984 Talisman Alchemist MC cartridges
* 1985 Premier FT-3 tonearm
* 1986 Talisman Virtuoso MC cartridges
* 1988 Premier FT-4 tonearm
and in collaboration with Jim Fosgate, the FF-1 MC head amp.

In 1980, Fletcher and Robert Becker founded SOTA. The company’s first endeavor was to fund designer Rod Herman’s effort to build a better Linn Sondek LP12, itself an Ariston “knock off” based on a classic Thorens suspended design, which evolved from Edgar Villchur’s original AR turntable and appropriately around and around it went!

Fletcher made use of his Berkeley lab connections in the design and development of SOTA’s turntable line that included the Star Sapphire, which offered a vacuum hold down option, variants of which were later used by other turntable brands including Micro-Seiki. In 1985 Allen Perkins joined SOTA and his ideas were incorporated into the designs. Perkins went on to found Immedia where in the 1990s he designed and manufactured the much-copied RPM turntable and arm and later the Spiral Groove line of turntables.

Fletcher and Becker in 1991 sold SOTA to Jack Shafton who not long afterwards sold it to Kirk and Donna Bodinet. They moved the company to Illinois and revived the brand as vinyl “rose from the ashes”. Kirk passed away suddenly in 2015 at age 52. Donna and new business partner Christan Griego continue Sota (now spelled in “non-yelling” lower case letters).

Fletcher was one of four co-founders of Pacific Microsonics (developers of HDCD among other innovations), playing the role of “analog guy” assisting the digital engineers. He was in charge of parts selection, circuit board layouts and quality control.

Fletcher retired when Pacific Microsonics was sold to Microsoft in 2000 though he continued thereafter to attend CES shows. He’s survived by his wife, Donna, daughters and grandchildren.

As the “analog guy” it must have given him great satisfaction knowing that both Sumiko and Sota continue in business and record players march on strongly in the 21st Century!

COMMENTS
John Atkinson's picture
I first met David Fletcher at the 1980 Summer Consumer Electronics Show, where he introduced The Arm. My report from that show was recently reprinted on the Hi-Fi News website. If you scroll down the page at www.hifinews.com/content/chicago-chicago you can find a photo I took of David showing the tonearm.

There is also a mention of David in the 1995 Stereophile interview with Pacific Microsonics' other 3 partners here. David had asked that his name not be mentioned in that interview.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Jim Tavegia's picture

We have lost some giants in the hifi and performance industries this year. RIP to all and condolences to their families.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I was very saddened to hear of Rupert's passing as well.

TerryNYC's picture

Rod Herman was not an engineer, he was an industrial designer. When his styling ideas conflicted with physics, he was severed from the firm and returned to the UK. No SOTA products as released were his. Allen Perkins had been a psychology major, did not complete his degree, and worked in hi-fi shops, where he met Dave & Robert. He persuaded them to hire him as sales manager. He had nothing to do with engineering having no background in it. Dave did cherish his extensive collection of 78s but otherwise was entirely and enthusiastically digital.

Michael Fremer's picture
Regardless of Allen Perkins’ background his RPM tonearm was a brilliant engineering design and it sounded superb. You sound like a small, bitter person.
TerryNYC's picture

I'd conclude the reverse. I offered factual corrections. I made no comment on Allen Perkins' subsequent career, and how he & Fritz pushed on when SOTA was sold and the new owner moved the firm, effectively putting them out of work. The resulting products were good of their type however they have no bearing on the errors in your piece or on your immature and unfounded comment.

Michael Fremer's picture
You made no "factual corrections". There were no "errors" in my piece. I wrote that Rod Herman was a "designer". I did not call him an "engineer" nor did I write that anything he contributed ended up in a SOTA product did I? (answer: NO). You added some unnecessary and derogatory information. I did not claim Allen Perkins was a degreed engineer. However, his excellent turntable and arm designs speak for themselves. You are simply an asshole. And a lying asshole at that.
Lazer's picture

I wish there was a like button. You are better than I am at dealing with assholes, and I think I’m pretty good. Touché!

Glotz's picture

And to disparage David's name by turning this obit into a flame war is disgusting and insulting to David's memory.

RIP David.

jamesgarvin's picture

I read Mr. Fremer's article. I read your response. I read Mr. Fremer's reply, and so on, and so forth. My impression is that you've got an itch to scratch, and Mr. Fremer's piece was the back scratcher.

TommyTunes's picture

I bought a Sota Sapphire in the mid eighties, mounted a SME 309 arm on it. Great sounding table in the day but the suspension drove me mad. Almost had to tweak it weekly.

TerryNYC's picture

It was designed to be mounted on a shelf hung on a load-bearing wall. When this was done, it actually worked in earthquakes (as attested by a senior mathematician at UCLA after the quake of '87 (?) leading to an update to the marketing lit calling it te earthquake suspension. Alternately, a very sturdy & stable rack, and Rob & Dave had planned to bring out an affordable lab-quality support / enclosure before they sold the firm. Unfortunately, it seems almost no dealers ever told their clients about how to mount these. AJ Conti @ Basis Audio (also sadly gone much too soon) & Alastair Robertson-Aikman @ SME (this is getting quite sad) used exactly the same physics model but increased the mass of their turntables so that there was no reliance (or indeed chance of) wall-mounting.

TerryNYC's picture

Re-read what you wrote; re-read what I wrote. I would guess you have a reading comprehension challenge, except that you have a documented history of ill-mannered, uninformed, duplicitous behavior. This is just one more such incident.

Michael Fremer's picture
I re-read what you wrote and what I wrote. I do not have a reading comprehension problem. You do. I do not have a "documented history" of being "uninformed", or especially of "duplicitous behavior". However, I agree I can be "ill-mannered" particularly when being criticized by the likes of you.
TerryNYC's picture

In my original comment I offered facts; none of which reflected on you -- not a single word against you. However, your reply says much about you, and was unexpected as I assumed you would welcome facts. As for me, Dave was my dear friend. The biographical data you received from JA originated with me, and from my history with Dave I know he would want the facts corrected. My only reason for looking at your column was to send it to several folks who will care. I could quote another late friend, Peter Aczel, however I suggest we let our mutual antipathy divide us quietly. I've done what I set out to do -- get word out to many of his friends & former colleagues who are likely to hear this news through Stereophile. Thank you for helping with this endeavor.

Michael Fremer's picture
I was very careful about what I wrote because that's what a responsible journalist does. I'll reiterate: I made no factual errors and you didn't correct anything I wrote. I did not write that Rod Herman was an engineer or that anything he did ended up on a SOTA product. I never claimed Allen Perkins was a degreed engineer. It was completely unnecessary and gratuitous for you to write that Allen does not have an engineering degree. Nothing I wrote about David Fletcher was incorrect. I was very careful. As for "duplicitous", that would define your late friend Peter Aczel and his Fourier loudspeaker escapades. I appreciate your thanking me for helping with "this endeavor". That would have sufficed as a comment under what I wrote. I certainly would have made corrections had I written anything factually incorrect. I suspect you were pre-conditioned to dislike me by what Aczel wrote about me, John Atkinson, Larry Archibald and others in our industry. I invite readers to read Mr. Aczel "at work". It might explain a few things: https://www.biline.ca/audio_critic/critic3.htm
TerryNYC's picture

MF, really? I'd say that anyone checking the Audio Critic will see your own words in several issues of the letters column and can make their own judgements. Peter was an entirely honorable person; unfortunately he assumed that everyone about him was also such. Peter was not the source of my opinion; your actons today were. For the rest, not to be able to accept gracefully, a differening viewpoint about this incident is telling. I will suggest again that we let mutual antipathy divide us quietly as clearly we disagree, and I suspect that it would take more than sharing a few bottles of fine cru Burgundy to turn that around. Again, thank you for helping get news about Dave out there.

Michael Fremer's picture
Nor did you offer a different perspective or add useful additional information other than the 78rpm collection, which Allen Perkins confirmed but Allen disputes much of what you wrote and may later post it here. This comments under the post “went south” and not because of anything I provoked. I did respond as I felt necessary.... on my website! If I bury the hatchet with P. Brueninger and J. Dorgay, doing so with you would be easy...
TerryNYC's picture

MF, let’s stick to the facts —

MF “I was very careful about what I wrote because that's what a responsible journalist does.”

* That's what any honorable person should do; an honorable person believes that truth matters. Indeed, what journalism school granted you a degree or are you self-professed?

* Dave was my dear friend. The biographical data you received from JA originated with me, and from my history with Dave I know he would want the facts corrected. We spoke every Monday for two years for three to four hours and then irregularly but often after. I stand by the facts.

MF “The company’s first endeavor was to fund designer Rod Herman’s effort to build a better Linn Sondek LP12, itself an Ariston “knock off” based on a classic Thorens suspended design, which evolved from Edgar Villchur’s original AR turntable and appropriately around and around it went!”

* It is true, this design was LOOSELY based on predecessors. The realization that a four-point suspension and full system-design was essential, the physics-model (copied with Dave’s blessing by SME, Basis, and likely others) really changed the playing field. The original advertisements compared a turntable designed in accord with Newton’s physics as opposed to a “rude mechanic” (Newton’s words BTW and I suggest you read them).

* Since Rod Hermann’s contributions were never used, and he was severed from the firm prior to any product release, why mention them? Rod Herman’s career seems to have been generally good. Both before and after SOTA he created some useful good designs. However, I’ve had acquaintances who could design excellent computer keyboards for household-name firms, but could not design a chair any human should sit in. Rod Herman was talented, but he was a mismatch with SOTA.

MF “In 1985 Allen Perkins joined SOTA and his ideas were incorporated into the designs. Perkins went on to found Immedia where in the 1990s he designed and manufactured the much-copied RPM turntable and arm and later the Spiral Groove line of turntables.”

* Allen Perkins was the sales-guy, end of story (good at it too, BTW). When SOTA was yanked out from under them (an incredibly stupid move by the new owner, and a complete surprise to Rob & Dave, who assumed rational behavior would occur), he and Fritz (an outstanding machinist and draftsman who had been heavily tutored in basic physics and mechanical engineering by Dave) went on to co-found Immedia, and received well-deserved acclaim for turntables and tonearms designed under conditions that at best could be described as difficult. I am not denigrating Fritz & Allen, just pointing out that their moments of gifted design occurred after SOTA and thus are a different topic.

MF “ As the “analog guy” it must have given him great satisfaction knowing that both Sumiko and Sota continue in business and record players march on strongly in the 21st Century!”

* Dave was very fond of Kirk & Donna and happy (and frankly surprised) they were able to maintain SOTA. Sumiko had changed hands several times and they let a crucial patent expire assuming analog was dead; Dave didn’t care.

Dave collected a huge number of 78s in his youth when as a student, and then as an entry-stage academic researcher (AKA no damn money) he purchased many of these very cheaply as cutouts. However, he always said “banging a rock against a piece of plastic” was less than ideal and was enthusiastic about where digital was and where it would go.

* He kept his original QUAD ESLs (yes, ESL-57s) his entire life, feeling that although the newer QUADs (ESL-63 and beyond) were better, that in his system with his homemade vacuum tube amplifiers (not OTL BTW) mated to his QUADS, that he really had wonderful results and could focus on beatuiful, believable music reproduction, not gear.

MF “ You made no "factual corrections". There were no "errors" in my piece.”
* SEE ALL OF ABOVE

MF “ You sound like a small, bitter person.”

* The resulting (Immedia) products were good of their type however they have no bearing on the errors in your piece or on your immature and unfounded comment. Your denigrating comment is truly out of left field BTW.

MF “ You are simply an asshole. And a lying asshole at that.”

* What an incredibly ill-founded, imbecilic, and unnecessarily aggressive statement to make, when I am simply pointing out corrections.

MF “ I do not have a "documented history" of being "uninformed", or especially of "duplicitous behavior". However, I agree I can be "ill-mannered" particularly when being criticized by the likes of you.”

* you have a documented history of ill-mannered, uninformed, duplicitous behavior. This is just one more such incident. It is common knowledge that anyone who corrects your incorrect data receives this treatment.
* hello! your letters to the Audio Critic and multiple other sites name you for what you are.
* you are referring to someone informed by facts not fallacies.

* Again, Dave was my dear friend. The biographical data you received from JA originated with me, and from my history with Dave I know he would want the facts corrected.

* It is shameful that a person who claims to be a bonafide journalist, reacts with immature and ugly name-calling when inaccuracies are pointed out. This reflects poorly on your publisher and the industry.

Might I suggest you spend some time with Euclid, Lucretius, and Euler; clearly doing so, and spending some time with a solid rhetoric, vocabulary builder, and etiquette guide may be advantageous.

Michael Fremer's picture
You've written long but nothing here changes the facts. I made no claims in an obit about how LOOSELY or tightly the design descends from predecessors but clearly it does. Nothing new is produced in a vacuum (no pun intended).

I mention Rod Herman because he was there. Period. It was factually correct. I had heard the name for decades and felt adding it added to the story. I made zero claims for his contributions to the design. I'm not sure why this so offends you.

You claim Perkins was just the sales guy and that he convinced Dave and Robert to hire him. But Allen has always claimed otherwise and his version, which I've heard since the 1990's, differs from yours. Which is not the same as me charging you with making errors in need of correction, which is what you charge me with.

Perkins' later well-engineered turntable and tonearm designs indicate that he was way more than a "sales manager" even back then, but even if otherwise your choice to denigrate him by writing he didn't have an engineering degree was gratuitous and unnecessary. You could have simply said he was "there" but not in a design capacity. You chose otherwise and here attempt a walk back.

In your original post you could have amplified or even disputed what I wrote about Kirk and Donna's buyout but that's not what you did.

I never wrote anything about Dave's source preferences one way or the other! What does that have to do with this obit? (NOTHING).

Again, your original post did not correct anything I wrote. You could have been gracious and thank me for the obit and then added information and even disputed things with grace (ie: "Allen Perkins is a talented analog designer today with decades of well respected work but he was not hired back then as a designer) but instead you chose to attack him.

So yes, I stick by my original post responding to yours: you did there sound small and bitter. And your final bits of advice to me are gratuitous and pathetic. I suggest you just look at your original post and then have a look in the mirror.

Robert Young's picture

You need some help, as throughout your "contribution it is you who has been ill-mannered. Chill out, and have a cookie.

Robert Young's picture

Your "corrections" were nothing of the sort. You took advantage of an obit to further some irrelevant seemingly personal agenda. There was nothing "ill-mannered, uninformed," or "duplicitous" in MF's article, but there sure was some nasty bile in your response.

One wonders if you find MF's work so horrid why you are here?

davip's picture

I long ago stopped posting on Analog(ue)Planet when Fremer started letting some child review audiophile equipment that readers may spend $1000s on (as well as run his mouth about musical artists he has equally little knowledge of), but I feel obliged to do so here.

Irrespective of the subject of the dispute, any reasonable person will be with TerryNYC's initial objection to Fremer's response, i.e., "...You sound like a small, bitter person". This is as funny as it is stupid because I have lost count of the number of times MF has bitched in "his" column about people in the community who take the piss out of him for being a 5'6'' short-ass. Yet here he is using the same tactics with a reader. Worse, he goes-on to label that reader in "asshole" online. Remember the last time an audiophile reviewer used those sort of tactics and language with readers? His name was Michael Lavorgna, and the publishing company concerned got rid of his sorry ass toute-de-suite (and he now runs his own one-man blog that no-one gives a rat's-ass about).

Those who love records owe MF a debt of gratitude for his championing of the format through the digital decades, but that does not run to sanctioning this sort of hack bullshit. With any luck the publishing house concerned will look at his conduct too -- Lavorgna showed that no-one is indispensable Fremer, even if you do think that this is 'your' website...

Michael Fremer's picture
Pretty much sums up your "contribution" here. You found an excuse to attack me and did so "irrespective" of the fact that TerryNYC's claims of "correcting" what I wrote were nonsense. His need to attack Allen Perkins for no reason whatsoever does label him as a "small person". But you of course aren't interested in the merits of what produced this little tempest in a pisspot and instead launch an attack against me and of course my 15 year old gifted writer whose observations on both music and sound are remarkably reliable. You have posted here "hack bullshit", but of course that's for the readers to decide.
Glotz's picture

I love how you been trolling this website for months just to come back and pretend that you are going to sway readers into believing one ounce of the fucking tripe you spew on innocents.

Every asshole here that gets baked, burnt and shoved out of the oven by Fremer DESERVES IT.

YOU are an absolute hack with zero shit to say other than personal attacks... and you are most certainly unwelcome here.

Get real, get bent and get the fuck out.

davip's picture

And who are you, exactly? While you must be very popular down the docks with a mouth that big, I'm multiply-peer-review-published over 30 years so no "hack" whilst you are just some www-random running your mouth. Back when I gave a shit about this site I contributed regularly on aspects of turntable design whereas all you seemingly come here for is to trumpet your fondness for "innocents". Figures...

Fremer -- you went beyond the pale in insulting a reader -- there's no context where that's acceptable, and if you need the Why explaining to you then AVTech Media Ltd. would be better off without you. Try following your own stated guidance in regard to your sidekick -- "...if his comments become abusive I will remove them" (here: https://www.analogplanet.com/content/greatest-artist-resting-or-alive-kanye's-jesus-king-revisited) -- yourself.

Here's two linked examples of the output of your 'gifted' sidekick back from when I still cared:

https://www.analogplanet.com/content/vinyl-reports-old-new-good-bad

https://www.analogplanet.com/content/greatest-artist-resting-or-alive-kanye's-jesus-king-revisited

Glotz's picture

It 's hilarious trying to watch you validate yourself here.

Do you think we care one whit of what you think or write?

Find another website, twat.

Robert Young's picture

No wonder "audiophiles" (whether you call yourself one or not) are considered such jerks.

There are a few of you posting your bile who should really go listen to some nice music and eat a few cookies.

Steelhead's picture

Had a Sapphire thanks to a great audio buddy. Excellent table and out performed my Thorens 125 and 126 MK II that I owned for decades with both stock and upgraded tonearms. (A premier MMT being one on the 126)

Moved up to the Cosmos with vac hold-down. Had it brought up to IV specs by Kirk (RIP) and Donna and thought the price was fair for the work. Decided to go with the current series VI and had Chris do the mag platter, roadrunner, and condor upgrade. I am extremely happy with my last turntable.

SOTA is a great American company and makes a wonderful table capable of upgrades. It has been a wonderful investment as I continue to have untold hours of enjoyment spinning my vinyl.

Michael Fremer's picture
I am sad to hear the news of David’s passing. He was a friend and mentor. The time I spent with him shaped my approach to problem solving in ways I’ve reflected on for over 30 years. He was quick to dismiss assumptions and fads when considering design and had the ability to reduce problems to fundamental issues and apply the most efficient solution. A solid thinker. In addition to that he was entertaining company, treated people fairly and would defend friends against any abuse. His range of thought was broad and promoted discussions of topics ranging from mechanical challenges to personal relationships and social issues. He was a unique and rare person and spending time with him was a privilege.

I am also sad to see the posting of his obituary used as a forum for misinformation. Here is some history which, to maintain context, I reluctantly post on this page . David was fond of the truth.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire with a degree in Psychology I started working full time for Paul Wakeen (now owner of Stillpoints) at his audio store in St Paul, Minnesota. It was at a January CES in Las Vegas that I first met David Fletcher, Robert Becker and Rod Herman, owners of SOTA. I discussed some changes I made to my SOTA Star Vacuum table and Rod Herman stayed in touch with me after that. In April of that year they offered me a job as Production Manager for their upcoming line of loudspeakers.

When I arrived at SOTA the Star and Star Sapphire models had been in production for several years and Rod Herman was in charge of the factory. Both Rod and David told me the back story of how Rod had been working on the design and brought it to David’s repair shop in Berkeley. David gave his insights into the suspension which evolved into the 4 spring design. Rod was responsible for the original design and he developed the cosmetics and implemented the mechanical construction. Shortly after my arrival the partners parted ways with Rod. David requested that I and Franz Rolinek take over day to day running of production. Franz was a trained machinist who had gone through a full apprenticeship in Austria. He was instrumental in keeping things running, organizing daily production and developing tools, fixtures and assembly methods. David visited us every Wednesday and we reviewed the state of things over lunch.

This was the beginning of the time spent with David Fletcher I cherish most. There was no diplomaed Engineer at SOTA. Our process was open collaboration with David having the final say. Product ideas and upgrades typically come from me. I would present and discuss them with David, who offered great insight and confirmed the validity of the concepts. Eventually Franz would make parts and I would test them, each of us playing a role in the final product. This period represented roughly three and a half to four years of my time there. My other daily work was handling technical questions from dealers, and repair and service issues with end users. I never worked in any official sales capacity for SOTA except as it related to technical support.

In the spring of 1990, at the Chicago CES, I met Stig Bjorge and Jonathan Carr where we decided to form a partnership that became what is now LYRA, the cartridge manufacturer in Tokyo. After a few months the logistics of that business felt daunting to me and we parted ways amicably. I started IMMEDIA as a distribution company and was the sole owner of that company. Franz also decided to leave SOTA around that time and we decided to build turntables with new ideas of mine under the name RPM. We were never officially business partners and ran our businesses independently.

Sometime after this SOTA was sold and subsequently moved to Chicago, but I was not a part of that history or first hand witness to those changes.

With those events explained I am going to do what is right and lift a drink to toast a man I fondly remember and a life well lived. And since David never drank or approved of alcohol consumption I hope he can forgive me this one.

—Allen Perkins

volvic's picture

How sad that in a space where we should be honoring these great men who contributed so much to analog sound improvement, we still seek to find time to denigrate and needlessly nitpick over trivial matters.
Mr. Fremer, who is in a position of authority on these matters, takes the time to share with us on the passing of a legend, and all we do is try to denigrate people's accomplishments.
A bit of wise, old advice from an old hand., if you're about to write something unpleasant or not favorable, take a few minutes to think about what, if any, value it adds to the conversation before pressing SAVE.
David Fletcher and those around him moved the proverbial analog ball, and for that, I am grateful. I am also sad to hear of his passing.
RIP David Fletcher! Thank you for your contribution and for making our world a better place. You shall not be forgotten.
Nick
NYC.

Glotz's picture

This is about David Fletcher and his work.

God bless him.

volvic's picture

There is no need for any of this critique on these pages.

Robert Becker's picture

Thanks, Michael, as I hadn't heard. David and I were less in touch in the last years, but I never had a closer friendship (except with my wife), well beyond our business partnerships (and we had three). Your obit is accurate in the main, and much more so than much else on this thread.

"In 1980, Fletcher and Robert Becker founded SOTA. The company’s first endeavor was to fund designer Rod Herman’s effort to build a better Linn Sondek LP12."

This is misleading. Actually, for many months, we first produced a head amp (the Piglet, round metal tube, John Curl's design, how we met Rod), Rod was hired (in fact, offered a 20% partnership interest) to execute David's comprehensive turntable designs (the full extension of Newtonian physics, as we quipped in early sales lit). By my reckoning, DF was responsible for every major design idea, thus Rod was brought on to do the product packaging, then oversee manufacturing (to DF's strict mandates) as factory manager. Though without technical training, Rod's ideas were important as together we figured out how to build what David wanted -- and would work in the entire world as we anticipated (and achieved) considerable overseas success.

I have no memory of Rod bringing David an early turntable design, and none that bore any similarity to SOTA efforts. We agreed to call Rod co-designer for expedience as we wanted him (and me, as sales/copy writer/marketer/funder/business CEO) to have a public presence at shows and dealer meetings (which Rod did well, British accent and all). Early on, David wanted to protect his public role as head of Sumiko, thus allowing Rod and me to represent SOTA (and way before all caps meant shouting, for us simply an acronym for State of the Art).

Thus Allen Perkins was misinformed by Rod, who came with no critical engineering ideas, but did contribute a great deal for years (as did Allen Perkins, though per David only became a "turntable designer" after he left SOTA). Fletcher understood the entire problem of real-world tables that had to accommodate both the record and the room and consistency of set-up. That was key to his significance historically: he addressed and solved the entire challenge -- and not with high tech, expensive solutions. He often joked anyone could make a great $5K turntable, but what about $995 (our opening gambit, a "Grand Turntable for less than a Grand").

Further, we never positioned the first SOTA as a "better Linn Sondek" (though we certainly claimed it to be far more transparent and thus more "musical," Linn's rather facile PR claim). For David, aside from its excellent bearing, motor and machining, the Linn was less than half of the total quest -- without a serious, predictable, easy-to-set up-suspension, without compensation for different tone arm masses, without protection from footfalls, and of high importance without a vinyl-like record interface to suck micro-energy reflection/distortion away from the stylus contact and the resonant LP.

Our mission was simple but quite different from Linn's concept and assumptions: finish all that a turntable should do. We matched the Linn bearing (almost) and went well beyond what Linn even tried to do. Linn's table in it terms was fine, but for us simply the top high end competition we sought to surpass with Yankee/Newtonian pragmatism. We benefited from Ivor Teifenbrun's and Linn's marketing prowess, proving that turntables mattered, plus his sparkling personality. And memorably, we all had a great time making fun of each other (and the dodgy Harry Pearson) during the glorious "Turntable Wars" -- which immodestly I say we started.

For the record, Perkins was hired to assist Rod as factory manager but also to do sales and marketing (for which he had talents). I was the only other sales person so we needed help in both areas. Perkins was a quick study and learned from David and perhaps at times from Rod (and the wonderful Fritz) how to turn ideas into reliable, manufacture-able products. The quality of Allen's later designs speak to his learning curve, but in my opinion was less critically responsible than Rod for the basic SOTA products, as long as he was with us.

Regarding the sale of the company in 1992: I started talking with my friend Jack Shafton, who taught me what making speakers were all about (heavy marketing, much more capital, and not worth another decade of my leadership). Jack (and investor) bought the company, we shipped everything to Illinois, and he survived for some years before over-reaching, having his own investor issues. Thus did Kirk and Donna end up running the company and drawing on the inventory. I am delighted that Donna and Kirk (who continued to use David as consultant) and now the new partner honorably are sustaining the legacy of one of the most significant turntable designs ever.

Finally, David and I (and capital from my father) funded Pacific Microsonics, including Michael Ritter in the capital structure as he brought us both the HDCD concept and the two brilliant designers (paid via salary like Michael and designer royalties). Without David's knowledge, assurance and oversight on a rather technical and elaborate product ramp-up, I (and my father) would not have made the move (and I was on the board of directors for a decade). David was singular in understanding the design complexity of both analogue and digital music makers. We eventually captured something over $12,000,000 in Silicon Valley venture capital, with good partners, we finished the technical challenges, but then got trapped the post-2000 high-tech stock market woes (thus removing many appealing would-be buyers). The final (and ultimately unfortunate) sale to Microsoft did not make any of the founders rich. No one wants to sell anything to MS when they are the only buyer.

I have no regrets and especially enjoyed the robust interactions with Linn and other turntable makers -- most of whom, like VPI and Oracle, were our friends and noble competitors. We all showed how different designs could solve universal problems (once all the issues were visible). I did my part, kept it going for a dozen years, and met many of the most intriguing characters ever in my life. Among whom David Fletcher was the closest, perhaps most brilliant, certainly an inspirational partner for me for over 20 years.

Robert Becker, founder, SOTA and Pacific Microsonics

Robert Becker's picture

I am delighted with what Donna (and Kirk), who continued to use David as consultant) and now the new partner have done to sustain the legacy of one of the most significant turntable designs ever.

Robert Becker's picture

Make that Franz, not Fritz. Apologies.

mobileholmes's picture

I need to pull out and get running my Star Sapphire with ET arm. That "Audio" review (the magazine), by Anthony Cordesman?, along with the review of the Versa Dynamics in Stereophile, are what inspired my love-hate relationship with tweaky turntables. I pretty much gave up on the Versa. It's rotting in the garage. But the Star Sapphire is a great turntable that can be had for stupid-cheap money on the used market.

Robert Becker's picture

Yes, Cordesman wrote a strong review.

dcbingaman's picture

I remember the Piglet preamp and all the great SOTA ads. Being a Linn owner, the SOTA seemed like blasphemy - until I bought one. The Linn went on sale. I still have a SOTA with the greatest tonearm ever made, the MDC-800. Right next to it is its VPI counterpart, the HW-19 Mk. IV with a FR-64fx. The MDC-800 holds a Miyajima these days, while the FR holds its 4th Koetsu - a Urushi. Newer turntables catch younger buyers like newer fishing lures catch new fisherman - but not more fish. The SOTA and the VPI Mk. IV are eternal and have never really been improved upon, despite the milling of a lot of shining metal. This is a tribute of course to David Fletcher and his cohorts, who applied physics to the problem of vinyl reproduction for the first time in the glory days of the early 1980's. God Bless all as they pass into hi-fi history.

Robert Becker's picture

Thanks for the compliments on the ads, my doing. I agree David's The Arm (on my turntable today) is first class. "Eternal" is a stretch and I agree on the quality of the VPI -- good people, too. Neither was all that shiny and we went for the modern, wood furniture look -- offered lots of wood choices until we went black with the Cosmos, more high tech look. And you can still get any table we sold updated (IMPROVED, with new speed control circuit board) by Donna at SotaTurnables (google it). Not bad after 41 years!

dcbingaman's picture

Hi, Robert. I bought my current SOTA Sapphire (Black)
from Donna. I found an MDC-800 on the Web and she had a new armboard made for it. What an arm. The only thing close was the Mission Mechanic - if its bearings survived. My FR-64fx (the aluminum one) is pretty good too - it works very well with the Ortofon SPU's and old classical vinyl. I still use both tables often, but my Bluesound Node2i is getting a lot of play these days too. I am sorry you lost your friend, but I know he is in a better place. Safe travels !

hifitommy's picture

i agree that honoring David and all things SOTA is what MF's intent is here.  like Michael, i can't let it rest when i am right.  there is something inborn in those of us from NY State that gives us that tenacity.  having the last word is part of that.  

i WILL grudgingly admit when i am wrong, as rare as that may be.  i am in full agreement that the SOTA is a great design but also must say that i loved my HW19III as well.  i don't have "the Arm" but the MMT is a good one as well and i do so love having the ability to rapidly swap cartridges and truly respect the Jelco headshells of which the Sumiko was one.  

i admire the concept of the counter wound springs which let the inner suspension hang from rather than set on them.  and i never once had a problem with my Sapphire being tweaky.  

it was amusing to me for those who gave MF all that tsuris and have him stand his ground.  thanks for the entertainment.  

...tr

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