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Review: clearaudio Sigma

July 11, 2004

My analog gear now consists of Oracle Delphi Mk II, Eminent Technology 2.5 air-bearing tonearm, and the Sigma. Being a very light cartridge, my ET 2.5 arm benefits from it, because i have the weights on the end of the counterweight assembly. This is what Bruce Thigpen emphasized is his letter (yup, letter, and hand written) to the previous owner of the arm. As i peruse the cartridge test results, there was a written note which says the tracking force must not be less than 2 and that the optimal is 2.8 grams. Further confirmation with the dealer allowed me to proceed and set it up, to which i believe is between 2.7 and 2.8 grams.

I believe that the transients are better compared to the Oracle/Benz Micro combo and there is much more sense of air. The highs are very detailed and silky smooth - there is no sign of "splatter" even if the cart is only on its first minutes of duty. I enjoyed Al di Meola's Casino and Elegant Gypsy, both on Columbia a lot more this morning. The stunning, fast guitar wizardry of Al di Meola and the accompaniments has excellent transients. The guitar plucks has this "bite" and the attack and decay can be easily followed by my ear.

The soundstaging qualities of the cartridge is also excellent in my system. In fact, i was able to tune the positioning of my speakers better while music was playing, which allowed me to achieve more body and openness, just this morning. The Kappa is just soooo, hmmp, picky with positioning.

The next bunch of records i played are also fast sounding - Bobby Enriquez Wild Piano and Live! in Tokyo on GNP Crescendo. Bass is extended and very well controlled and the upper bass seems to have a better punch and sounded snappy. The fast and furious piano playing of The Wild Man was more snappy, lively, i can headbang for the first time on this kind of music.

The sibilance on the original Sigma that I had is bordering on annoying (due to suspension problem, tracking force was way off, and the bottom of the cart is touching the record). Now, i am hearing what the "right" high frequency extension of the Sigma is - detailed, airy, very smooth and refined.

I was told that the cart needs 100 hours to "break in", but hey, what i'm hearing right now is so good already, just out of the box.

On vocals, i played Maureen McGovern's The Morning After, Charlene's I've Never Been To Me, and a bunch of Nancy Wilson. The vocals i found rich and has this live, you-are-there experience. With the variety of music that i play, ranging from 1812 to Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin), the Sigma produces beautiful music.

I also believe the accuracy of the Sigma is something to love or hate. A bad vinyl will sound bad, but a great vinyl will sound even greater.

Pros

  • Great soundstaging and imaging
  • low *and* high frequency extension
  • open sounding, full bodied
  • superb attack, sustain and decay

Cons

  • revealing