cat jl3 signatures vs. atmashere ma2III's

Has anyone had the cahnce to hear these amps side by side? I was wondering what the sonic differences would be between them. I have heard the cat jL2 signature but have not heard the monoblocks. Do you think the atmasphere would give me the bass slam of the cats. I know both have great midrange and I know that the cat will be a little more "maintenance" but which one do you folks prefer and why? Any input would be much appreciated.
What speakers are you looking to drive?
escalante fremonts
has anyone heard these side by side?
Sorry, Optarchie, but no. I can only comment on the MA-2 MkIII, not a comparison of the two you've named.
Tell me what you think. What speakers are you using?
The Atmashere is lusher and more musical. I am a huge CAT fan but their pre-amp is way better than their amp. The CAT amp is thin and doesn't have any drive.
I never heard of a cat not having any drive. THere must have been something wrong with the set up because one thing cat is famouse for is their ability to drive almost anything
Duane: How you got so much wrong in so little space demonstrates quite a bit of skill on your part... but perhaps not the kind of skill one wants to advertise.

"The Atmashere is lusher and more musical."

No, it's not.

"their pre-amp is way better than their amp."

No, it's not.

"The CAT amp is thin and doesn't have any drive."

Exactly the opposite. It has more body and drive than most every amp on the planet.

Look on the bright side: It probably took you only a half minute to make all these mistakes so at least you didn't waste much time. Your time, anyway.

I use Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk.III amplifiers driving Avalon Eidolon speakers. The Eidolons are a nominal 4 ohm load, with a minimum impedance of about 3.6 ohms, and about 87db sensitivity. I find the Atma-Sphere to be phenomenol match to the Eidolons, fully delivering all of which the Eidolons are capable.

In my opinion, the strengths of the Atma-Sphere MA-2s are their incredible midrange transparency and neutrality, accuracy of overall harmonic overtone rendition, and ability to delineate the body and texture of individual instruments and vocalists. The great midrange strengths of the MA-2 are complemented by exceptionally agile and accurate bass response, delivering the best that solid state has to offer but with all the virtues of tubes.

If your preference is for tubes that will help make everything sound sweeter, more beautiful and consistently easy to listen to, look elsewhere. But if your priorities include needing an amplifier that is highly resolving, exceptionally neutral and transparent, with no artificial edge or highlighting, the Atma-Sphere is an amplifier I can recommend to you without qualification.

But rather than trying to write a review of the Atma-Sphere MA-2s, permit me to suggest that you read what Marc Mickelson, editor of Soundstage, has had to say in his several reviews of the MA-2 over the years. Here are links to two of his articles:

Best wishes,

With 93db / 8ohm impedance, your speakers should be an easy load to drive. I'd think either of these amps would be overkill. I would consider the CAT JL2 or Atma MA1's instead. You'll save a ton of $$$. Of course if you change later to a very power hungry speaker, that's another story.
I've heard both the JL3s and MA2mkIIIs on multiple occasions, but never side-by-side. IMHO, the Atmas do things that few amps can do as well. They are incredible at untangling complex orchestral music while maintaining natural timbre and timing. The mkIIIs do indeed "do bass" quite well, and significantly better than the mkIIs. I really think they don't defer to the CATs in this or any other regard.
Another reason I would recommend Atma-Sphere is the superior support that Ralph & his team provide. He is one the the most gracious and helpful individuals in the biz, and will make himself readily available to help with anything from troubleshooting a bad tube to helping you with DIY mod advice on your other gear.
FYI, my bias is that of a happy owner of MA1s. FWIW, I've also owned CAT components. Cheers,
They [Atma-Sphere amps] are incredible at untangling complex orchestral music while maintaining natural timbre and timing.

Bingo! And when paired with the latest version of Atma-Sphere's MP-1 preamplifier, they're even better at this !

The Atmashere is lusher and more musical. I am a huge CAT fan but their pre-amp is way better than their amp. The CAT amp is thin and doesn't have any drive.
In all the years I have read and participated in these forums, there have been a lot of ridiculous statements but this would takes the gold metal.

Optarchie - I have heard the CAT directly to the Atma-Sphere on SoundLab speakers and have reported on my findings in these forums. Check these out or contact me further details.

Agree with Spencer.

The Escalante Fremont presents a rather benign load and can be easily driven to paint peeling levels by the MA-1.

The MA-2, in this case, offer nothing more than a higher price and electric bill.

Disclaimer: AS retailer
I will join Sbank and Audiofeil in the belief that the MA-2 is overkill for an 8ohm / 93db sensitivity speaker, provided there are no insane impedance dips. The MA-1 should drive your speakers very well.

On another note, the MkIII updates to the MA-1 and MA-2 made a significant improvement in midrange purity and even lower distortion. Those who have not hear the MkIII upgrade may be surprised by the degree of improvement.
I have never heard the CAT, so I can not offer any comparisons. I do use the Atma-Sphere MA2 MK III's with Dali Megaline speakers which have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms, and it is the best sound I have ever heard.

In addition to offering unrivaled sound, Atma-Sphere OTL amps are the most flexible and reliable vacuum tube amps I am aware of. For example, if you do not need the full power of the MA2's, you can simply remove some of the power tubes to reduce the power output. If a power tube blows, (and I haven't lost one in 9 months), you can simply remove it and replace with another. That is, since they are not matched pairs, you loose 1 tube, not 2. Uhnlike the 6550 and KT88 based amps I have owned in the past which usually tookk out a resister when a power tube blew, that is not the case with Atma-Sphere OTL amps. They are no muss no fuss power amps, which is remarkable since they use vacuum tubes.

Finally, Ralph, Adam, and Bill offer the best support in the business.

Happy listening,
thanks everyone for your input, it was very helpful. I know that the ma2 markIII is probably overkill, but I am a power junky and love amps with great dynamics, great midrange, etc. so that is why I am leaning towards to bigger amps and if down the road I switch speakers than I won't have to buy other amps
Hello Optarchie,

I just spoke with Tierry Budge's distributor, Todd Waldron, who told me that the impedance curve for the Fremont stays between 6.5 ohms and 10 ohms. That is extremely impressive and good news as far as OTL amp matching goes (I'm an Atma-Sphere dealer).

Given their benign impedance and 93 dB sensitivity, I think that not only the MA-1 but also the M-60 would work well on the Fremonts.

At last year's RMAF Ralph and I teamed up a 92 dB speaker with the little S-30. The speaker's impedance stayed between 7 and 12.5 ohms - comparable to the Fremont. In my opinion this combination worked quite well and it could play louder without distortion than I ever normally listen. So I feel confident that even the S-30 could drive the Fremonts.

Best of luck in your quest,


There is a relevant review to this group , August 2007, by Mark Michelson, Soundstage, where he compares the Atma shpere MA-2 to the CAT JL-2 Signature and an Audio Research, which is a must read to all the participants of this discussion.

He praises the mid range of the MA-2, but finds the CAT as the most dynamic, weighty, powerful and probably the most balanced amp of the three and one of the best available at any price, certainly at half the price.

I don't own either amp, have considered both and others, as I am looking for a new tube amp, with dynamics and finesse for my system.

Louis, thanks for referencing the Marc Mickelson review of the CAT JL2 amps. It was an interesting read. I suppose, as with so much else in this hobby of ours, the right answer for each of us will ultimately depend on finding the right balance and synergy of components that comprise the entire system. One thing I ponder over is the impact of Mickelson's preferred speakers in his appraisal of what he's hearing. Still, a good article and well worth reading. Thanks again for pointing to it.

Duane were you being serious? Just curious. I totally agree with the "overkill" comments, in my view less power is almost always better than more if it is sufficient for the speaker load and sensitivity and a loudness level you seek. Duke, do you think the S-30 would drive the Merlin VSM-MXe (89db, very linear 8 ohm load)as effectivley as the higher powered Atmas?
Interesting he finds stronger attributes in the JL2 amps in his August review but then in his new October review of Atma's MP-1 preamp, he has this comment.

"Regardless of technology, pairing the MP-1 Mk III preamp to my Atma-Sphere MA-1 Mk III power amps increased the sonic realism of my system. But the effect was subtractive -- this dynamic duo simply put less between the music and my ears. Together they yielded a distortion floor lower than any combination of gear I’ve used thus far."
The S-30 loves 12 ohm and ideally higher impedance loads. It will drive your Merlins but the M-60 is a better match IMO.

Disclaimer: AS retailer
I get the sense we are talking about two great companies and the choice of one over the other is personal to the listener and the answer on how to choose must be based on audition - we all hear a bit different and have our own priorities on the type of sound we prefer. I suspect the CAT will perform with a wider selection of speakers, able to handle more difficult loads than the Atma, but others might pipe in and say that is not really the case. If one is already considering Atma OTLs, it might also make sense to add the Joule amp to the audition list.
Emailists: "Interesting he finds stronger attributes in the JL2 amps in his August review but then in his new October review of Atma's MP-1 preamp, he has this comment..."

Two different reviewers.
Thanks for pointing that out to me Kevin.

Having heard the M60s, MA-1 mkIIIs, and MA-2 mkIIs, I think its fair to say there is not much sonic difference between the Atma-Sphere amps, assuming a reasonable load. I suspect the choice depends more on speakers, room size, the 'scale' of reproduction one prefers, and one's priorities regarding authority and weight in the very lowest frequencies.

The MA-2s coupled with Wilson Maxx 2s (in a setup v. similar to what Marc has) are *very* impressive. Not quite the very last word in lowest-end heft and punch as one might get from say, the ARC Ref 210s or the CAT, but little else is lacking. The MA-1s and MA-2s certainly offer top-notch low-end tonal definition and articulation. And while there may be equals, I've yet to hear any amp that is quicker than an Atma.

In terms of tonality, the Atmas compete with the best. Until I learn better, I cash out the issues of 'lean' or 'full' as a question of relative higher order harmonic distortion. The issue of tonal 'weight' is one I gauge as a matter of personal preference.

And, fwiw, choice of driver tubes definitely make a difference here. Most all Soundstage reviews stick with stock tubes - and rightly so. The Chinese 6SN7s that Ralph provides are some of the best current manufacture in terms of low noise, construction consistency, and reliability. But put in a few Ken-Rads or RCA 6SN7s, and then tell me what you think about harmonic weight.

While lowest-end authority may (very) slightly tip in favor of beefy transformers, on the flip side, I've heard nothing that competes with the exquisitely filigreed top end from Atmas. It just keeps going and going and going.

In the end, at this level of quality, their is no 'best' other than what works best in your system to yield the level of sonics and satisfaction that work best for you.

Lastly, I can't say enough good things about the new MP-1 mk.III w/ phono in conjunction with Atma-Sphere amplification. (Thanks to those who read my review.) Certainly at its price point. I'd enjoy reading comments of comparison about other preamps folks find work well with Atma-Sphere amps.

The only problem with the Marc Mickelson review of the CAT JL2 amps is that he says "I put the JL2 Signature Mk 2 with the Wilson Audio Alexandria X-2 and MAXX 2 speakers in a group of the finest audio components"

I'm not a Wislon basher, i like them...but wilson the FINEST speaker : cough cough...

The wilson have not the naturalness and the subtility of Avalon, maybe is why he doesn't heard the strong point of atma on CAT (?).

Although good review (and he takes position i like that), with so wonderful amplifiers it's too bad he hasn't tested them on two different speakers.
Sounds like two SOTA, outstanding products, that only a personal audition in your system can solve. There are many people who love and swear by both. No bad choice here, unless you have a really tricky speaker for the OTLs, the Escalantes obviously are not.
Samuel33, You must have miss read Marc's comment, " a group of the finest audio components." He didn't say the CAT or Wilson's were THE finest but in a "group of the finest." I think that's a broad statement and fair enough.
Another thing, in soundstage he tested these amplifiers with the Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP 's intern preamp (!) i'm not sure that it was a good moove...

Samuel33, I'm not sure what your concern is. In his review of the CAT JL2 Sig mk.2, Marc also used a CAT preamp and the ARC Ref 3 preamp. For the record, he wrote:
"I used the JL2 Signature Mk 2 with CAT SL1 Ultimate Mk 2 and Audio Research Reference 3 preamps, and the Aurum Acoustics Integris CDP CD player/preamp. Sources included an Audio Research Reference CD7 CD player, an Ayre Acoustics C-5xe universal player, and Zanden Audio's Model 5000 Signature DAC and 2000 Premium transport. Speakers were Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 8s and MAXX 2s, and Verity Audio Lohengrin IIs. I had an abundance of amps on hand for comparison, including Lamm ML2.1 SET and M1.2 Reference hybrid monoblocks, Atma-Sphere MA-2 Mk III OTL monoblocks, an Audio Research Reference 110 stereo tube amp, and a Conrad-Johnson Premier 350 stereo solid-state amp."
@ Jtimothya : no concern, i was about to purchase an atma-sphere MA2 or a CAT jl2 Mk2, so i was trying to see the limit of each products.

The review of the CAT seemed to be to good to be true.
After some research it seems to be a great product, so i 've decided to purchase one.

My previous post seemed to *bash* CAT, in fact i was very intrested by it, but i put me on mode/state "scpetical"

I will listen to it in few days so I will keep you in touch whith the CAT
Yes follow up is appreciated - I'd very much like to learn your impressions of the CAT amp.
Samuel33, there is no question the CAT is one of the great amps, which does not mean you will love it more than any other, personal taste does come into this -- but it stands on its own as one of the great designs IMHO.
@Pubul57 : Dday -4 i will try it on avalon indra, avalon Isis, and wilson wp8.
I think you're in for a real treat. I think Ken thinks very highly of both those brands - I know he owns (owned) Wilson.
By the way which cables are you using with the CAT ?
I'm using Cardas Golden Reference as recommended by Bobby who makes my Merlins. That recommendation may be specific to my speakers and might not be universal. I've heard Ken say he does not favor silver in ICs and speaker cable for his amps.
For those who have been following the comments on this thread, Marc Mickelson has posted a follow-up and summation to his reviews of the CAT JL2 and Atma-Sphere MA-2 amplifiers. His comments in part:
But even with all of the praise I hefted on the JL2 Signature Mk 2, if I had to pick a single amplifier as my favorite, even among the many truly great amps that I've heard, it would be the latest version of Ralph Karsten's OTL powerhouse, the MA-2 Mk III monoblock ($32,800 per pair). The transparency of its midrange was dramatic and involving to my ears in a way that the sound of no other amp is, and its lightning-quick attack never came at the price of hardness or etch. "Unforced resolution" is how I summed things up, "the earmark of the highest performance high-end audio has to offer."
If I ever have a spare $33,000, I will be sending it to Ralph Karsten for a pair of his MA-2 Mk IIIs. In the meantime, the CAT JL2 Signature Mk 2 is more within a dreamer's reach and an amplifier that I will bet can drive even the most uncooperative speakers. With either amp, you get a lot of memorable music for your dwindling dollars.
Two outstanding examples of the skills of two excellent designers. (N.B.: I own Atma-Sphere MA-2 amps and love what they do with Avalon Acoustic Eidolon speakers.)
Ditto on your conclusion.
Samuel 33. So now that you own the CAT on your avalons, what is your sense about the synergy? Does it take them to the next level?

thanks. Louis
Well, I've traded my CAT JL2s for Atma-sphere M-60s. Both are fantastic amps, but on my Merlins, which are OTL friendly, the OTLs are pure magic, I clearly prefer them in almost every way, though the nod has to go to the CAT on bass IMHO - not that the M-60s are not perfectly satisfactory, but those huge transformers on the CAT are there for a reason. I suspect with other speakers the CATs would have the advantage - they can drive most anything, but if your speakers are OTL friendly I suspect nothing will sound better than an Atma-sphere amp, and proabably the Joule OTLs as well.
HI Pubul57,

Was your CAT JL2 or JL2 Signature?
non-Signature. Both brands are fantastic. But, I think if you can eliminate transformers and still drive your speakers, it is hard to beat OYLs for transparency, clarity, speed, and presence. Given that, the CAT is very, very good in those areas, with incredible bass and drive and can obviously perform well with a wider array of speaker choice (almost all). We are talking cream of crop with both brands IMHO. I'm also fortunate in that 60 watts (M-60s) is way more than enough power to drive my Merlins.
There is a huge difference in transparency between JL2 and JL2 Signature MKII. It has the purity of SET and OTL and beats them in every other area you mentioned: bass, drive, dynamics. As you probably know, nobody uses top of the line Black Gate caps except Kondo, Audio Note UK, and CAT. As far as the Teflon circuit boards, they are exclusive to CAT Signature amps and the Legend preamp.
Kyomi, when posting the professional thing to do is disclose that you are a dealer with a vested interest. While it may seem to reduce the influence of your remarks, it actually lends credibility by virtue of being open about one's affiliations. People in the industry are allowed to have opinions, so no problem with that.
My Jl2 had some teflon boards, but not to the extent of Signature. I suspect the Signature improves on the JL2, but if you are not happy with the JL2 than you may never be happy, it is an incredible amp even before the "upgrade". I still think that with the right speakers, the OTLs will give the CATs a run for their money, and might be preferred by some. Again two world-class designers and amps.
but if you are not happy with the JL2 than you may never be happy, it is an incredible amp even before the "upgrade".
I can see [hear] why many people would not like the sound of a CAT amp.....especially if the rest of the system is on the ultra-resolving side of the fence and lacking midrange fullness and bloom. However, if the final evaluation is being done with the stock tubes, and this is true for so much gear out there, you ain't heard nothing yet.

No matter what set of tubes are in the CAT, it has outstanding dynamic contrasts. But for $300-400 to replace the 6 small-signal tubes, much of what the reviewer talks about with the Atma amps vs the JL2 Sig II could be a moot issue and in fact might turn the tables. The cost of such a tube change is a lot less $$ than spending $15k more for an amp change. And if such a change occurred, I'd go back to the Atma amps and try some NOS 6SN7's to squeeze out the next level of performance from them.

Making any kind of conclusion on tube gear with stock (Sovtek, EH, JJ, etc.) tubes says nothing about that component's true potential. This was very evident with the Einstein preamp and more recently the Aria WV preamp. But amps are just as responsive to tube rolling.

Essentialaudio, thanks for the suggestion. However, anyone can look me up and see that I am a dealer, just like you probably did. In fact, since you did not disclose your affiliations either, I just clicked on your ID and found out that you are dealer as well, so, no problem with that. My affiliations are open, besides, I mostly stated the facts, not the opinions.
Everyone knows that CAT amps have bass, drive and dynamics which are hard to beat even for the best solid state designs.
It is a fact, not the opinion.

As far as the Black Gates and Teflon Boards, these are the facts too, unless you prove me wrong and give me an example of any other manufacturer besides Audio Note using these. In that case I will gladly apologize for my mistake.
"Essentialaudio, thanks for the suggestion. However, anyone can look me up and see that I am a dealer, just like you probably did."

Correct of course, but speaking for myself and perhaps others, I regard the suggested disclosure as a form of politeness or courtesy and always appreciate it as such.