Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 preamplifier Jonathan Scull 1994 part 2

Harmonixing CATs is de rigueur with all the CATnappers I know. Pop the hood and press a single Harmonix RF-57 onto the back of the volume control, and onto five or six points on the perimeter of the circuit board—with one roughly in the center. There's no trick regarding placement; the precious little available real estate on the main circuit board will determine where you can put them. Just be careful not to set the metal tuning device directly upon a circuit trace or solder joint, or you might get roast CAT. ZOTTTTTT! FWOOOOOOOOSH! "Hello, ah, Ken...?"

Rounding out the tweaks were three Kable Jackets (as they're now known) on the Marigo Gen.2 power cord, one Jacket on the umbilical, and others scattered throughout the rest of the system. Jerry Gladstein, ex-honcho of now-defunct G&A Rare Records and an enthusiastic CATman, gave me a number of sensible "safe sex for CATs" rubberized red nipples to slip over the selector switches for static-prone winter months, but they make the SL-1 look somewhat tawdry. This might be a good tip if you live with one of these felines in steam-heated Minnesota.

The best of le sees-tem
Digits centered around the Jadis JS 1 Symmetrical Converter (review in progress), in conjunction with the Forsell Air Bearing CD transport and pants presser. The demure, unique, and cute C.E.C. TL0 CD transport arrived at one point—a no-holds-barred kilobuck top-of-the-line assault on CD Transport perfection from the makers of the well-regarded TL1. It's got sex appeal.

Did I say "centered around" and "digits" in the same phrase? Forgive me. Vinyl centerstaged on the Forsell Air Force One, also on a four-shelves-for-added-stiffness ClampRack. The Forsell doesn't budge on top of this assemblage, and thus maintains a tightly disciplined matrix between Flywheel and 'table. Steady speed all day, every day.

Speakers are my trusty and heavily optimized Avalon Ascents. Cables used were Siltech LS4-240, and interconnect their 4-80 between the JS 1 (or the Timbre Technology DAC) and the Preamp Of The Moment. A long run of Siltech FTM4 Si to the Jadis JA 200s finished things up.

L'heure de verite
In a conversation I had the other day, a colleague kept abusing the phrase "bottom line." He's a bottom-line kinda guy. But it would be legit here to beg the question, so here goes.

Both the Jadis and the CAT are stunning, top-rank designs. Let's not lose sight of the fact that the CAT retails at $4950, while the JP-80MC is a mere $13,990. Despite this large price differential, both seek and achieve their wonderful senses of musicality through different means. Because of its awesome ability to focus and finely "draw" a soundstage, the CAT is unmatched in its re-creation of the musical event. The image outlines are incredibly sharp, but not flat, as if caught in a camera flash. The CAT fosters an illusion of true depth from which extremely palpable images, which take up space and are surrounded by cushions of air, are presented in a realistic and corporeal manner left to right, and stunningly layered front to back. It takes my breath away. This sense that I can walk right between "the singers and the dancers" is just heaven for me.

The CAT's soundstage is set back somewhat and does not [echo on] billow forth [echo off] like the JP-80MC. It can also sound a touch narrower than the JP-80MC on some material. But the air, the uncanny silence between the performers, the finely rendered, three-dimensional—almost sculptural—manner in which the CAT images, coupled with its fantastic neutrality, are its true claims to fame. It seems more dimensional, ergo more "intellectual"—and therefore, for me, very involving. I need that.

The CAT tracks the audio signal like an athlete, yet this speed is achieved without etch, grain, or brightness. This contributes to the CAT's remarkably transparent, precise imaging, and to its great sense of pace. The detail retrieval is phenomenal; it resolves. Ken loves to point to the ease with which you can hear Fritz Reiner's breathing in the opening minutes of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (Chesky RC4). It is, in fact, easier to hear this on the CAT than on the JP-80MC. But this in itself means nothing. The overall gestalt of the two preamps is what makes them live and breathe. And they both breathe magnificently!

The Jadis's bass is not as tight, as tuneful, or as deep as the CAT's, and therefore carries the pace less effectively. The CAT sounds more controlled and taut than the Jadis, but it's not lean in any sense; there's just less harmonic bloom in comparison to the Jadis. For instance, I can't help but fix on the Jadis's gorgeous midrange and upper registers, but I'm not drawn in the same way to any particular sonic range of the CAT (although that imaging really grabs me).

What does it all mean? It comes back again to the importance each unit places on different areas of the sonic landscape. I'm attracted to this new JP-80MC because of its lush, emotional, full presentation of harmonic shadings, its microdynamics, and its newfound ability to remain neutral. And its phono stage is truly a work of art.

I love the CAT for its knockout sculptural imaging and transparency, its total neutrality, its ruthlessly revealing nature, and its sense of pace, drama, and macrodynamics. What can I say? I want to own both. Lock me up.

I'll miss the JP-80MC when it's wrenched from my grasp, but every time I switch back to the CAT, I'm once again startled by and involved with its potency of presentation.

As your musical tastes evolve, different elements of sound reproduction may become more or less important to you. That's been true for me in My Life As An Audiophile, Part Deux. I've learned much about myself as my listening tastes have changed. Right now, animal-lovers rejoice: in my system, it's Le CAT that does it for me.—Jonathan Scull

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