CAT amps........Opinions please

I need some help!!! I am contemplating a move from my current amplifier (ARC VT200) to a used CAT (I can't afford new right now). Can anyone with experience with these amps offer advise as to which model might be the best to look for? Also, what are your experiences with ownership i.e. have the amps been reliable? Customer service? and most importantly, how do they sound compared to other amps you have tried? (I would love to hear any direct comparisons with ARC amps).

BTW, I listen to all kinds of music, and my room is aprox. 16x20.

ANY info is greatly appreciated.

The CAT is in another league when comparing with the ARC VT200. CAT is proven to be very relaible.
I own a JL2 and it's a fantastic device, previously i owned STAX DMA x2 monoblocks.
But CAT will be at it best with the CAT SL1 pre amplifier.
I recommend to search for a used JL2, there a 2 different versions.
The CAT JL3 provided some of the finest sound I heard at CES 2005 in the Merlin room. I own an SL1 MkIII preamp, and can say that Ken Stevens of CAT has been most helpful in assisting me with new tubes, etc. IMHO, the CAT products are world class. I agree w/Robertje in saying that they are far superior to the VT200, regardless of which CAT amp you are speaking. As to which model would be best, I'd recommend that you call Ken, tell him about your system and preferences, and see what he recommends. Cheers,

I cannot find much info on CAT amps while searching the internet. Can you elaborate on the different models of the JL2.......... is one an updated model, is one preferable to the other?

Sorry, forgot to ask........... does anyone have contact info for CAT (phone number, website address)? All I can find is an email address from a couple postings Ken Stevens has here.

Thanks again


I own a pair of JL-3 signatures and owned ARC amps for a number of years before. My favorite ARC amp was the VT130. It had a lush midrange warmth and an exceptional 3-dimensional quality. But it was a bit weak in the lowest frequencies. I did compare this to the VT100 MK I when it came out. The VT100 had a more neutral tonal balance, more extended low end but did not at all have the midrange magic of the VT130. Both were comparable in terms of resolution and noise level. There were no other significant differences than the ones I have noted. As I understand, the VT200 is a beefier version of the VT100 so I suspect a similar comparison would exist between the VT200 and the VT130. The question here would be: is the output transformer in the VT100 the same as that in the VT200? If so, I suspect the VT200 would not fair very well with demanding speaker loads any more than the lower powered ARC amps.

The VT130 ran out of steam with Magnepan 3.x speakers but it was a soft clipping. Still its 110w output rating played the Magnepans fairly well to moderate levels. When I tried a pair of Classic 150 amps, there was only a marginal increase in power drive capability, but the CL150's were just way too analytical and fatiguing. And when they clipped (150w monos) their annoying protection shutoff circuit would kick in. They were not a good fit with the Magnepans at all.

Moving fast forward through a Counterpoint NPS400 and Wolcott mono amps, both of which worked very well with the Magnepans, I now own the JL-3 Signatures. I also now use Soundlab A1 speakers, but I was able to play with the JL-3s with the Magnepan 3.5s for a week until I sold the Maggies.

The JL-3s are in a completely different league than the ARC amps. They are rated at 150w but this is far different than the CL150 150w rating. Where the CL150's pooped out at moderate volume levels, the CATs played the Maggies with no strain. I was so impressed by this after all the hassle I had with the CL150's giving out so early. The CAT designs' strengths have much to do with their massive output transformers.

Concerning sonic differences, the first thing to note is resolution. The Wolcott was ahead of the VT130 here, but the CAT takes this much much further. You hear more lower level details in the recording than ever before. We read this claim often, but here it is quite significant.

A more impressive strength of the CAT is that it has a dynamic contrast ability that my past amps did not at all have. When I compared the ARC amps with the Counterpoint, and later the Counterpoint to the Wolcotts, I never noticed such a difference here so if there was one, it was subtle. It's really incredible to hear the CAT start softer and then build up to explosive levels. This is NOT subtle at all.

Another huge difference is how the CAT handles the attack on the notes of accoustic instruments and piano. This has to be heard to be believed. I never heard this quality like this before until I first heard it in the JL-2. Simply amazing.

One thing the CATs do not have is a peak in the midrnage to give it an added warmth like so many other tube amps. For years I really liked this quaility in amps if it was not excessive, but once I heard the neutrality and dynamics of the CAT, I now have no wanting for the warmth.

Btw, the JL-2 is one heck of an impressive amp, and what a great value. This amp will probably drive all but a handful of difficult speakers that would be better served by the JL-3s. The qualities I described above are common to both a JL-2 I heard in December and my JL-3 signatures.

There is one issue with CAT amps. If you do not have a dedicated circuit for your amp now, you will need one for the CAT JL-2. When these things are powered on, they take quite a huge surge in power. With the JL-3s, I had each amp on its dedicated 12 gauge 20A circuit. The breaker would trip the first 1-2 times when I powered on an amp. This was a pain so I contacted Ken Stevens who wrote back that same day to tell me one 30A ciruit would work for the 2 amps provided I turned on the second amp about 5 seconds after the first but not a lot later as the first amp would be running with a lot of steady state current....and thus the powering of the 2nd amp would trip the breaker. Since I already had two new 20 circuits, the wire was changed to 10 gauge, the 20A breakers switched to 30A breakers and now all problems are gone. I made sure these two 30A circuits AND the circuit to drive the rest of the audio system were put on the same phase. Ken wrote that this was important.

I'm not convinced that you need a CAT preamp to get the best out of their amp. I have heard the CAT preamps over the years vs. what I have owned and they were impressive indeed. But I would not rate them as being in an exclusive club of a few. I can tell you that the CAT amps are indeed at the top. Perhaps the new Legend preamp will be a perfect match for the amps. But the JL-3s sing quite nicely driven by my BAT 31SE and Aesthetix Io components.

Hope this all helps.


From the JL2 are 2 versions, when i have i right the latest version change was about mid 2004 (you can't see it on the outside). Best you can talk with Ken Stevens about it.
From the SL1 Ultimate, there a 2 versions,
latest is the MK2. You can see it on the external power supply. Btw CAT has no website, search on audiogon, there is a lot to read about CAT pre/amps.

Hope this helps!

Everything Jfox wrote about the CAT amps is true -- they are probably in a league of their own as far as powerful tube amplifiers go -- very special.

While all of the CAT amps are top of the class and you can't go wrong, my best hi-fi friend owns the JL-1 Limited Edition monoblocks and is familiar with the various models -- I'll alert him to this thread for his comments.
I am the friend Raquel mentioned with the CAT JL-1 Limited Edition amps. I bought the CAT amps a little over a year ago to replace my Sonic Frontiers Power 3 monoblocks. The CAT amps are in a completely different league than the SF Power 3s. I don't have personal experience with your ARC amp, but I doubt it can compete with the CATs.

Jafox did an excellent job of describing the strengths of the CAT amps. His observations about the differences between the JL-3s and the ARC amps are identical to my experience in moving from the SF Power 3s to the CAT JL-1 LEs. The dynamic capabilities of the CAT amps are explosive - unrivaled in my experience. They enable the convincing reproduction of large scale orchestral and choral music in a way I had never before heard in a high end audio system. Nonetheless, the CAT amps also have a very special triode intimacy in delicate pianissimo passages that belies the V-12 powerhouse "under the hood." They are truly remarkable amplifiers.

Cmo, you also asked about reliability and customer service. The CAT amps are built like tanks. However, you should be aware that the amps use resistors as protection mechanisms for malfunctioning output tubes. You might be aware that some sort of protection mechanism (fuses, resistors) is necessary to protect the output transformer from damage that can be caused by excessive current draw that can occur when an output tube malfunctions. The CAT amps and certain other tube amps use hardwired resistors instead of the more user friendly fuses due to perceived sonic benefits.

If your output tubes reach the end of their lives and begin to malfunction before you replace them with new tubes, you will likely experience failed resistors. Soldering skills are required to replace a failed resistor and restore the amp to operating condition. The good news is that the resistors in the CAT amps are very effective in protecting the transformer from damage, and Ken Stevens is very accessible and capable of diagnosing the failed resistor via telephone. Further, the resistors used in the CAT amps are readily available and very inexpensive. So none of this poses more than a temporary inconvenience as long as you or someone nearby can do the soldering work to replace the occasional blown resistor. You might be able to avoid any hassle with failed resistors if you log your hours on your output tubes and replace the tubes before they begin to fail.