Convergent Audio Technology SL-1 preamplifier Jack English 1992 part 5

Depending upon the recording, performers were: in the room with me (eg, Johann Froberger's Works for Harpsichord on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 7923-2-RC); just back behind the speakers (eg, Orpheus); or well behind the rear wall of my listening room (eg, Dire Straits' San Antonio '85 double-CD import LLRCD 097/098). The preamp itself imposed no particular perspective or hall seat on the music through either the line or phono stage. Performers were not thrust into my lap, nor was I relegated to the top of the balcony (or stadium) on any consistent basis. The Signature wasn't laid-back, nor did it always have a sense of immediacy. It gave me different tickets for different performances.

The final component of the Signature's overall soundstaging capability was magic. To complete the aural sculpture, the Signature magically allowed my speakers to simply disappear. The music was there, but my speakers were not. With excellently recorded sources such as the Chesky classical reissues or the Athena Rachmaninoff, the far end of my listening room just became a re-creation of the original hall. The speakers themselves were no more a part of what was going on than a coffee table. The soundstage developed around and behind the cabinets in its own dimensional space. The effect was captivating.

The last characteristic I must mention about the Signature concerns what it didn't do. It didn't sound hard, bright, confused, congested, grainy, harsh, strident, offensive, subtractive, additive, peaky, sucked-out, uneven, rolled-off, exaggerated, syrupy, colored, whitish, tan, dark, aggressive, warm, slow, fast, analytical, ruthless, surgical, glary, veiled, soft, flat, or any number of other things we reviewers often describe. It always and simply sounded like music. I expected no less; Stevens's goal for his preamp has always been for it to be "the best preamp in the world." As I see it, he has succeeded.

The CAT SL-1 Signature is the finest preamplifier available today. It offers a sensationally satisfying glimpse of the live musical event. In particular, its timbral realism, tonal neutrality, dynamic capability, low noise floor, and soundstaging splendor define the state of the art for modern tube designs. Having been designed and built by mere humans, it still has a few minor faults relating to its functional utility, deepest bass extension, and ultimate dynamic capability (footnote 3). While not yet perfect, the Signature is as close to live music as I've heard. I'm in love. I wonder if I should send the roses to Mr. Stevens, or put them on top of the CAT?—Jack English

Footnote 3: Logistical problems—for some reason, we just couldn't wrest the Signature away from Jack—meant that we were unable to perform a set of measurements to accompany this review. They will follow presently.—John Atkinson

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