VAC Sigma 160i MM phono stage question

I recently purchased a Sigma 160i (not yet delivered) with the MM phono stage and am interested in hearing opinions on its performance. I have an MC cartridge and I'm planning to use it with an external Hashimoto H7 based SUT.

I'm currently using a Manley Chinook so I'll definitely be doing some A/B listening but was hoping someone could give me some feedback on their experience with the quality of the Sigma's integrated phono stage.

Haven't had the 160i in my own system, but have heard the SE version in other systems sounding EXTREMELY nice! I expect its MM stage should be very close to the Renaissance Mk. III's MM phono, which I owned for a couple years. The MM stage was my favorite thing about that preamp; really fantastic stage. You were right to not get VAC's MC option, as inexpensive Lundahls are used which can easily be bettered for the same $1K towards a SUT box (e.g. Bob's Device's 1131 was a very nice upgrade) -- the MM part is the deal.

The Ren. III MM stage was good enough that I'd take it over the Hagerman Trumpet and Rogue Ares which I had after (and also before, in the case of the Ares). And this was with all Rogue downstream gear (I preferred the Rogue Hera line stage to the Ren. III; another reason to go with VAC's integrated vs. separates at this level). I *might* slightly prefer my Partsconnexion-modded Sonic Frontiers Phono 1 SE+ (also uses JFET for MC gain like the Chinook), but it would be very close and I'm going off memory here. The VAC MM was definitely better than the stock Phono 1, which I also owned. So I'd think the VAC MM should do very very well against any standalone stage in the $2K+ range.
Thanks for the response. This was very informative. I'm hoping I'll like the integrated MM enough to sell my Chinook and further simplify my system. The Hashimoto SUTs are really excellent so I'm expecting it will perform quite well with the VAC MM.
I agree with much of what Mulveling has to say. I own a 160i (non-SE) with MM phono stage, and it is quite good. Yes, I have heard better, but not for under $3K list prices.

The only concern I have about Mulveling's comments is that he says he's heard the 160iSE phono and it sounded EXTREMELY nice, then went on to say that the MC upgrade is not a good value. According to Kevin, and the VAC website, the 160iSE comes standard with the MC upgrade. So, it would appear that he either did not listen to a 160i and NOT a 160iSE, or he did listen to a MC phono stage and did not realize it.

John, good catch -- I was incorrectly extrapolating from the Renaissance III. Back when I purchased the III there was the option for no phono, MM only, or MM+MC (I opted for the latter). In my dealer's showroom I didn't look into the 160i close enough to see that MC was the only listed option (just looked again the other day, and sure enough that's it). So definitely I was in error there.

But my experience with the III still stands -- the Lundahl SUTs for the MC upgrade option sound good, but the CineMag 1131 SUT sounds better (even with an extra interconnect).
Thanks again for the feedback. I should be receiving the unit later today so I should know for myself pretty soon.
What MC cartridge are you using?
I'm running a Sumiko Blackbird MC directly into the MM phono stage, as it does not require a SUT with it's high 2.5 mV output.
I'm using a Lyra Kleos at 0.5mV as well as a ZYX 4D at 0.24mV. Don't think either would work well without a SUT or MC phono stage.

Anyway, I did some listening this evening and can confidently say that I prefer the sound of the SUT straight into the Sigma MM as opposed to going through the Chinook. The Chinook, while great, seemed to take away some warmth away and sounded a bit analytical when compared to the Sigma MM. Maybe just a question of personal preference but I'm loving the sound of the Sigma phono paired with my Hashimoto based SUT.
Yes, neither of those cartridges would work without a SUT in the VAC. That ZYX 4D is a great cartridge, I owned one a while back.

I'm not surprised at all to hear that the on-board phono in the VAC beat the Chinook. As I said earlier, it is a very nice phono stage. Now you need one less box, cables and power cord!!! Enjoy the music!
Thanks John and yes, the ZYX 4D is awesome. My room is looking pretty sparse which is fine by me.

I know I should just sit back and relax but I have to ask, is the SE upgrade worth the money and effort? Hard to imagine things getting much better but I always say that. Nature of the obsession... uh I mean hobby.
No doubt there is a lot of OCD in this hobby, which the industry feeds off of.

Whether the upgrade is worth it or not will vary depending on who you talk to. Those that can afford the 160iSE is will say that it is worth every penny. While those who are already stretched to buy the base 160i will say that the funds would be better off spent elsewhere.

I have the 160i, and I can't envision upgrading to the SE version anytime in the foreseeable future. I'm looking at upgrades at speakers and sources, but the 160i is it for me as far as electronics goes for a while.

Now maybe in 2016 I'll have a different view, but at this moment I'm saying it's not worth it to me. As always, YMMV.