Acoustic Sounds
CAT SL1 Legend Extreme Preamp at Axpona 2023
By: Dean Cacioppo

April 18th, 2023


Hi-Fi Shows

Convergent Audio Technology at Axpona 2023

wonderful sound in a huge room

The Convergent Audio Technology (CAT) room was one of my first stops at Axpona 2022.Upon walking into this gargantuan room with at least 16 foot ceilings, it was hard not to smile as the sound was cranked up, very balanced and with a strong sense of presence. Nothing shy about this system. I could immediately tell I was going to enjoy the demo.

The Legendary SL1 Preamplifier

I was immediately drawn to the open top of the legendary CAT SL1 preamplifier laying out on a table like a supermodel laying poolside. The unit was showing two circuits (one for line and one for phono stage) of three 6922 tubes, two 12AX7s, accompanied by a volume control that consists of two separate 46 position shunts with soldered resistors.

Everyone wants to hear about "new" products at Axpona and the SL1 has been in continuous production since 1985. Though the base model number has not changed in all those years, doesn't mean this legendary pre hasn't been updated and improved. Since its release the SL1 has been divided into two models…the SL1 Legend Black Path Extreme and the SL1 Renaissance Black Path Extreme.

CAT designer Ken Stevens explained that the overall circuit design hasn't changed much but the CAT SL1 has seen upgrades over the years in circuit board materials, capacitors and internal wire. Ken’s drive for perfection has ensured this “legend” of a preamp continues to be a top tier piece for serious music lovers. Today, what some audiophiles call the “best preamp in the world” retails for $69,995.

At one point Convergent Audio Technology was even building their own capacitors (which is almost unheard of) and in the past, purchased the remaining stock of the well regarded Rubycon Black Gate capacitors. Today they still design their own caps and have them built specifically for CAT. They even use ultra hi-end caps for the tube plate, which seems a little overkill, but apparently is worth it as the system sounded wonderful.

The Sound in the Convergent Audio Technology Room

It is not easy to set up a room in short order and get the sound “right”. For that reason, I don’t hold any mediocre sound at shows against the equipment. Unlike some rooms, this system sounded glorious.

Although I only had a few minutes of listening, the system sounded stunning with the macro and micro dynamics standing out with just a touch of a lush glow around the instruments. The soundstage was deep and immersive and the overall presentation was powerful and authoritative.

The speakers were the 88 dB efficient Magico S5 Mk2 (discontinued in 2016) and driven to strong levels by their 120 WPC CAT JL5LE ($27,895) which never showed any signs of running out of power. They were spinning vinyl on a VPI HW40 ($22,000) with the VanDenHJul Crimson cartridge ($5,000) and running through the ever competent built in phono stage on the SL1 Legend Extreme ($69,995).

Other Associated Equipment

  • CD Player:  Audio Arrow Capital Classic (discontinued) 

  • Power Cords: Assorted ESP power cords and distribution box

    • ESP Renaissance ($5,000)

    • ESP Pro ES ($800)

    • ESP Reference ($2,500)

    • ESP Eloquence ($20,000)

  • Interconnect to Preamp: Black Path amorphous Gold and Silver Hot Rod 1.5M ($10,000)

  • Interconnect Turntable to Pre:  Amorphous Gold/Silver shielded phono cable ($8,000)

  • Interconnect Pre to Power:  Black Path amorphous Gold/Silver Hot Rod 3M ($16,000)

  • Isolation for amps: Ginkgo Arches

CAT also played two other amps during Axpona 2023: The Statement Extreme ($224,900/pr) and the CAT JL7LE ($59,000/pr).

This was one of the rooms in which I could have stayed and listened all day, but unfortunately I had to move on...Lots to see and hear!

(TrackingAngle welcomes our newest contributor Dean Cacioppo!)


  • 2023-04-19 11:45:53 AM

    bwb wrote:

    You mention "also 2 other amps" but I don't see the first one mentioned? You mention a phono cable but no turntable/arm/cartridge ? Interconnects but no speaker cables? No speakers? Just curious about what was producing this glorious sound

    • 2023-04-19 04:36:17 PM

      Dean Cacioppo wrote:

      Good Catch! It looks like I accidentally omitted a paragraph. The article has been updated.

  • 2023-04-19 02:34:09 PM

    doak wrote:

    "I was immediately drawn to the open top of the legendary CAT SL1 preamplifier laying out on a table like a supermodel laying poolside. The unit was showing off three 6922 tubes, two 12AX7s and ..." Count 10 tubes in the accompanying photo

    • 2023-04-19 04:38:34 PM

      Dean Cacioppo wrote:

      Looks like I omitted an important line from my enormous amount of notes -- The SL1 uses almost identical circuits for both the line stage and the phono stage, both using the same tube complement. Thanks for pointing that out! The article was updated.

      • 2023-04-21 09:36:24 AM

        doak wrote:

        Thanks for the update

  • 2023-04-25 08:44:57 PM

    Brian Walsh wrote:

    Your listening impressions match those of many who visited the room. This year Ken Stevens of CAT invited me to set up the phono cartridge, which I did and took 3 hours or so to do, optimizing tracking force, VTA, antiskating, azimuth, etc. Ken will tell you it made a profound difference, and he's very particular. Two people from van den Hul commented on the setup as well.

    Brian Walsh

    • 2023-04-27 07:50:25 PM

      Dean Cacioppo wrote:


      It was one of the best sounding rooms at the show --- and there were a lot of rooms making good music. I wish I could have witnessed the setup as I have found most people that prefer digital don't have a properly setup table. In my humble opinion, its the biggest challenge for analog today. What tools do you use?


      • 2023-05-02 04:29:21 PM

        Brian Walsh wrote:

        A variety, including the Smartractor and Analog Magik.

        • 2023-06-16 02:56:21 AM

          Dean Cacioppo wrote:

          you should make a video of your setup process