By Lam Seng Fatt
The two things that kept me sane during the last and mentally-exhausting lockdown were the iFi ZEN DAC V2 (reviewed here https://www.av2day.com/2021/08/ifi-zen-dac-v2-best-buy-component/) and the Shunyata Sigma USB cable, which was the top of the range until the Omega was launched recently.
When I reviewed the Shunyata Delta and the Alpha USB cables, I realised they were top-performing cables. (Read: https://www.av2day.com/2021/04/shunyata-delta-usb-cable-setting-a-new-standard/ and https://www.av2day.com/2021/04/shunyata-alpha-usb-cable-another-step-towards-sonic-heaven/. The Delta had already outperformed the Furutech USB cable that I had used as reference for a long time while the Alpha was many steps higher in performance.
What about the Sigma? At RM9,995 it is not a cheap USB cable and is almost twice the price of the Alpha. Is the performance twice as good?
The problem is when you reach these levels of performance, the rule of diminishing returns comes to the fore. There is some improvement over the Alpha, but is it worth it? That can only be answered by the audiophile himself — is he willing to pay a considerable sum of money for a bit better performance? Paying almost RM10,000 for a USB cable may seem like an act of madness for many people, especially the IT and computer geeks, but for those who want perfection, it is worthwhile to go for it.
The Shunyata USB cable has a Transverse Axial Polarizer (TAP), which according to its website “is a device that interacts with the electromagnetic field generated by the signal travelling along the signal cable”.
“TAP affects the behaviour of the electromagnetic wave that surrounds the signal cable. In effect, the TAP blocks longitudinal-oriented waves while allowing transverse-oriented waves. The effect in sonic terms is like using polarized sunglasses to reduce reflected sunlight. Correcting polarization micro-distortion reduces what some call sonic glare,” states the website.
It has many discs of an unknown material which are not fixed and are encased in a transparent plastic cylinder. When you shake it, a sound akin to that of a tambourine is produced.
Does it work? What I can say is that the Shunyata Sigma USB cable sounds more mellow and smoother than the Alpha. Compared with the Alpha, the Sigma has a bassier tonal balance and the separation of images is much improved and the images are better defined. The soundstage has impressive depth and seems cavernous.
To test the separation of images, I play Leonard Cohen’s Ten New Songs and Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand. Both are duets and I have found that very often with lower-level systems and cables, the two singers in both albums occupy the same space and only when top-end systems and cables are used do the two singers ‘demerge’ and get further apart.
With the Shunyata Sigma USB cable, the separation is excellent and on some songs in Leonard Cohen’s Ten New Songs, Sharon Robinson sounds more like she’s singing a duet instead of background vocals.
The other technologies involved in making the Shunyata Sigma USB cable are:
SR-USB — These are Shuyata’s own USB connectors featuring an easy to grip, large diameter head-shell that accepts large gauge wiring, a good strain-relief system and contacts made from high conductivity gold-plated copper assuring minimal signal junction impedance.
PMZ — Shunyata Research digital cables are produced using a Precision Matched Impedance cable geometry. This means that tolerances of the conductor surface, dielectric extrusion, and the precision of the braided shield are held to minute variances. To achieve these tight tolerances, the extrusion and braiding machines must be run at one-quarter speed during the manufacturing process. The result is better performance through a reduction of cable-induced signal jitter, Shunyata says.
Shunyata also uses ArNi wire which features Ohno (single crystal) PCOCC silver and OFE C0101 copper conductors, and fluorocarbon dielectrics which significantly reduces transient energy storage and release which affects phase noise performance.
With the Shunyata Sigma USB cable, the sound becomes ‘undigital’ and not harsh at all. Indeed, you will be pleasantly surprised by the smooth and warmish sound quality.
Shunyata products are available at all CMY Audio & Visual outlets.