CES 2013: Baby CAT

Convergent Audio Technology (aka, “CAT” by just about everyone) sells the biggest, baddest, and most insane tube-based stereo amps … well, okay, maybe not, but if you add “that I’ve ever been tempted by”, that’d fly. And yes, I’ve been eying CAT for a long time.

Several years ago, Paul Ronsenthal (aka, pubul57 on most of the audio boards), introduced me to Merlin, Ars Sonum, and CAT all as part of my investigation process when I was first looking into purchasing some Merlin loudspeakers. I remember the Big CAT amp he had — it took up the entire table it was sitting on. Let me clarify, it took up an entire dinner table. The damn thing was huge. Almost 200lbs, the JL2 put out a healthy 100wpc — all in Class A and all in triode. The sound, into Paul’s Merlin VSM-MXe loudspeakers, was otherworldly — and at the time of that session, which I think was 2007-ish, was the best I’d heard. The bass, something CAT is particularly known for, was the best I’ve ever heard out of a Merlin loudspeaker (until I heard them wired up to a Plinius SA-Reference). I just couldn’t get over the sheer size (and cost) of the massive amp, so I shelved the experience and moved on — but I did eventually buy that pair of VSM-MMe that I’d had my eye on, speakers which I subsequently upgraded a couple of years later to VSM-MXR.

Anyway, here at CES, I found CAT again.

Shown was an engineering prototype of the forthcoming JL5, which promises to be their smallest amplifier to date. The casework simply wasn’t ready in time for the show, so, they built out the design inside a JL2 case, and just used half the real estate. In fact, that’s pretty much what we should expect with the new amp — it should be about half the size of the older amp: preliminary specs have the new case as 12″ wide and 20″ deep. Weight is also halved, down to 90lbs, but the output will remain 100wpc into 8 or 4 ohms. The 6922 tube will be used as the input and four of the new KT-120 tubes per channel (in triode mode!) will handle output. Noise levels are spec’d at 100dB below full power, an improvement from 90dB in the JL2. The JL2 ($20k) is still offered; the new JL5 will come in at $10,000 for the base model. Another $2,000 gets an upgraded “polyamid amorphous core” output transformers, which according to the ringing praise I got to hear at the show, seems like a worthwhile investment.  Shipments should be starting in March 2013.

A CAT SL-1 Renaissance preamp and Audio Aero CD player rounded out the system as used. Stealth Cables were used throughout. Wilson Audio Sasha loudspeakers brought all the pretty bits together with authority and significant power down low. Tonality across the band was exceptional. Made in the USA ….


  1. I own cat gear and love it. I already made an order for the JL5. It sounded awesome at the 2013 ces show.

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