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Review: clearaudio Basic Symmetry

February 14, 2005

My journey in looking for an upgrade from the Musical Fidelity X-LP phono stage finally ended. I've decided to go for the "no compromise" route and get a phono stage that is specifically designed for MC cartridges.

The Clearaudio Symmetry boasts of the following specifications: 60dB gain at 1kHz, ±0.1dB RIAA accuracy, >80dB signal-to-noise ratio, >95dB channel separation, 0.004% distortion.

The problem is, I’ve never tested it in my system. However, the more expensive MC-only relative, the older Symphono was part of my previous audition and is on top of the list together with the Opera Audio Cyber 30. Some notes on the Symphono: It was since then replaced and became an MM/MC phono stage, and a new MC-only model, the Balance, was added to the product line. I’m not sure where the Symmetry circuit was based on – the older Symphono or the newer Balance, but the specifications say the Symmetry is closer to the Balance.

To cut the crap short, I took the plunge.

I gave the unit two hours warm-up time before I played the first cut – and immediately, the sonic improvement from the X-LP is audible. Now that it has logged around thirty hours of break-in, I am ready to share my impressions. Your mileage may vary and the usual disclaimers apply.

On Charlie Byrd’s “A Stroke of Genius” the Symmetry was able to show off its excellent imaging and soundstaging capabilities. The imaging is more pin-point and the soundstage is larger than the X-LP.

The Symmetry is very open and dynamic, and it shows in all tracks that I played. On the Diana Ross and Freddie Aguilar tracks, the nuance is so clear which gives that ambiance in the reproduction of the music. The vocals were clear and are transparent which goes well with my own prejudice. I have enjoyed Frank Sinatra now better than with the X-LP. Female vocals are captivating and that’s how the tracks from Nancy Wilson and Charlene records suggest. Not only that, the sibilance on the “I’ve Never Been To Me” record was not nasty compared the X-LP.

I was hoping that I will get the same emotional qualities on the Symmetry as with the Symphono and Opera Audio, and I was not denied. The emotions of the recording on side 2 of the Bestseller Classic No. 1 were convincingly conveyed again.

I wanted rock to sound clean, powerful and weighty and that’s exactly what I got when I played Cinderalla’s “Night Songs” record. Clean, powerful rock! Yeah!

Is there fun in this phono stage? Yes, you bet. I really enjoyed listening to Debbie Gibson’s “Out of the Blue” record, brings me back to my earlier years in a disco, less the girls and mirror ball  Very enjoyable! Excellent PRaT to boot. The bottom end is weighty, and articulate. When I was playing Vanessa Mae’s “I Feel Love” Pablo remix, the piece of paper I was holding in my hand was actually vibrating! But I believe it’s more of my Altec speakers than the Symmetry.

Hardware:

  • Clearaudio Champion Basic turntable + Clearaudio Tangent linear tracking tonearm + Clearaudio Sigma MC cartridge > Sonic Art hybrid interconnect > Clearaudio Symmetry phono stage > Eichmann Express 4 interconnect > DIY Foreplay pre-amp > DIY Teflon insulated 4 meter copper interconnect > DIY JE Labs 6SL7-2A3 amplifier > IXOS speaker cables > Altec 406-8Y 10” driver on Altec 614 cabinet + Oxford mid-horns + Altec 2459A as tweeters!

Software:

  • Vanessa Mae "I Feel Love Remix" double LP
  • Debbie Gibson "Out of the Blue"
  • Charlie Byrd "A Stroke of Genius"
  • Charlene "I've Never Been To Me"
  • George Shearing/Nancy Wilson "The Swingin's Mutual"
  • Bestseller Classic No. 1
  • Diana Ross and The Supremes "20 Golden Greats"
  • The Best of Frank Sinatra
  • Cinderella "Night Songs"
  • Freddie Aguilar "Magdalena"