CAT SL-1 Ultim. Mk2 vs Manley Steel. for CAT JL-2

Hi guys. Can someone tell me which pream would be more appropriate for CAT JL-2 Mk2 power amp? Manley Steelhead or CATs own SL-1 Ultimat Mk2 w/phono? Most important for me is to have the best possible result from Kuzma Stabi Reference turntable through CAT JL-2 Mk2 to Wilson W/P 7 speakers! Cables are Transparent Audio Reference MM.
So phono stage is very important. My budget for preamp is max.$7500.
Thank you.Regards.
As you already have a CAT jl2 i would choose SL1.
Can you try them both ?
Unfortunately, I think the answer to your question might be "both." As good as the phono stage in the CAT preamp is, the performance of the Manley Steelhead is significantly better. However, I suspect you will find that the line stage preamp in the CAT is better than the line stage preamp in the Steelhead.

The progression of components in my system was from the CAT preamp, to the Lamm L2 (line stage) and LP2 (phono stage), to the EMM Labs DCC2 (line stage and DAC) and Manley Steelhead. The Lamm phono stage significantly improved on the performance of the built-in CAT phono stage, and the Manley Steelhead edged out the Lamm phono stage by a less significant margin. I have occasionally used the preamp in the Steelhead to drive my CAT amps directly, and I have found that, in my set-up, the Steelhead line stage seems to be somewhat lacking in gain and dynamics. However, your experience might vary from mine, especially given that your speakers are more efficient.

It might be possible for you to buy the Steelhead and an older generation CAT preamp used for a combined amount that is within your $7,500 budget.
The issue of "best possible" is something that we all ultimately chase but such success comes with a lot of experimentation, personal choice and compromise. And once we feel we have this, along comes another "best" component to make us no longer content with what we have.

I agree with Bob's advice here to seriously consider separate line and phono stages. A full function preamp like the CAT or the Steelhead may be a good starting point. And then you can experiment with other separate line and phono stages.

As an owner of the JL-3's, the mono version of the JL-2, the one thing that I paid dearly for with these amps was their dynamic and resolving capabilities. Careful selection of upstream products that might limit these strengths, as Bob wrote with the Steelhead directly driving his amps, would be something I would pay much attention to.

I tend to like a very large 3-dimensional presentation, volume of space portrayed, decays, image size, etc., so my attention has been here for many years. With the CAT amps, hearing their strengths and a much more neutral presentation brought me a little closer to center. But my gut feeling is that the CAT preamp would go too far toward an analytical sounding presentation for my own personal taste. The key is to find a system balance between the one side of resolution, dynamics and neutrality and the other of space and dimensionality.

I have found the Aesthetix Callisto/Io combination to be an incredible match with the JL-3's. This is over your $7500 budget but the Io can be configured with volume controls and such a used unit does fit in your budget; they simply are not for sale too often. Audiogon member Rushton has much experience with the Io Signature with volume controls. Hunt down some of his posts as I suspect this might be worthy of your consideration.

Robertje, no I can not try both!
Cincy bob, your answer is very helpful.I must said that my decision tilt a little more for Steelhead but I can get CAT preamp for $1000 less.
It is tough decission!
Thank you.
Schorly: I totally agree with Cincy_Bob and since you seem to be only concerned with playback through the Kuzma, I would lean toward the Manley Steelhead. Depending on the cartridge, I would also suggest trying a MC cart through the MM section.

Disclaimer: I am a dealer for Manley, not CAT. I do have a lot of experience with both products.
Yes, Io signature with volume pots is good solution.
But I dont see the differece between Steelhead and Aesthetix Io sig. with volume pots which is the same package?! The both are phono stages with line stage (Manley) and another without it. If Steelhaed(line stage) lacking in gain and dynamics how can then Aesthetix Io which dont have line stage inside better Steelheads dynamics and gain?
Can you tell me the web of Aesthetix and one dealer with good prices which sell it, please.
Thank you.
Schorly, just for clarification, the Aestheitx Io inserts the volume control and single high level input in front of the last gain stage. The Io was designed by Jim White to directly drive an amp to full output. So, it has an active "line stage," but not on par with the dedicated full-function line stage of the Callisto. I don't know how the Steelhead is constructed in this regard, but I would suspect it's similar.
Would you tell us which version of the JL-3s you have and how you chose between them? There is "JL-3hc" (300 wpc/$10K retail) and JL-3 Signature (200wpc,$30K retail). I'm wondering if you are familiar with the performance differences between the two units, and what could justify the much higher price of the Signature version.

As I'm sure you know, there is no CAT website to refer to for product information.
What cartridge are you using? I would recommend a Placette Active Preamp & the ASR Basis phono stage. The Placette Active will outdo anything until you go above 10K. As for phono stage the ASR is on special here (demo) and is able to accomodate multiple cartridges. Otherwise there is a following on Supratek here. I haven't heard it but it seems to be a great compromise. Whatever you do I am sure the sound will be great. I have the 7s w. VTL & a custom phono stage due any day now. (6 months to make, but lets see how it sounds). I was using a Groove w. my Placette before. The Groove is excellent in most areas but just misses in a few areas & can't easily be tailored to different cartridges. Hence I sold it.
Ubglub, Jafox has the JL3 Signatures ($30k/pr) which are rated at 150 watts each. The JL3 (standard) monoblocks, also rated at 150 watts each, are $22k/pr, and the JL3HCs are basically the same thing, set up for high current capability. The JL3 Signatures are the all out version, including larger, more refined output transformers than the standard JL3s. You are correct, there is no CAT website presently.
Ubglub: I have no knowledge of the JL-3hc even though this site lists it as a CAT product model. Perhaps this is the JL-3 Non-Signature that Brian at EssentialAudio has mentioned a few times here. But at $10k, I have to believe that would be per amp for a $20k total price; this sounds mighty close to the $22k Brian talked about for the JL-3 non-sig. Or perhaps, this is a totally different or even a non-existant model. Brian and his CAT dealer friend in Chicago know much more about the CAT product line than I do. Ideally, calling Ken Stevens would make the most sense for you to get all your questions answered. He is very helpful.

Concerning power output, the JL-2 stereo amp like the JL-1 monos, uses 8 6550 tubes for each channel to get a CAT spec'd 100w output. The JL-3 Sig uses 16 6550 tubes for each channel to achieve a spec'd 150w.....not 200w. I suspect the actual power output is higher for all these models. But the 300w Class A rating for the JL-3hc model sounds a bit fishy to me unless it is actually configured in a non-triode topology.

The CAT amps are known for some serious current output and can drive some mighty difficult real-world speaker loads out there. When I had Magnepan 3.5 speakers and the Audio Research Classic 150 mono amps, which were rated at 150 Class A, these amps shut down regularly when really "asked" to deliver to these speakers; they simply could not deliver as expected. The Wolcott P220 monos at a rated 220w output had no problem driving these speakers at all. And just before I sold the Magnepans, I used the JL-3 Sigs and again there was no problem at all. Specified power rating between models is often not apples to apples - 150 watts did not equal 150 watts between the ARC and the CAT.

Incredible timing - I see that while I was typing my response, Brian replied here. Ah, the psychic powers within us. 8-)
I will be using Benz Micro Ebony LP mc cart or Koetsu Jade Platinum mc cartridge.I prefer Jade Platinum more because it is more lush and more rich in texture but have good speed,dinamics and transparency. If I can not get pure neutrality from my sistem(which I suppose never will...) then I am more for warm side instead of analitical!
I heard about Placette pre but for ASR Basis phono it would be the best to drive it via balanced input(TAS recomm.) or? And I need one Transp. Audio Reference MM interconnect more in this case!

Jtinn, yes I will use only Kuzma's turntable with his Airline tone arm,because he lives 90km from my house. It is good to have someone who build turntables so close if something happened.Have you heard Kuzma Stabi Refer. with Airline tonarm, yet? Whit which cartridge?
Schorly: I have heard the Kuzma Ref quite a few times and was always impressed. I heard it with the Dynavector XVS-1 which was a great match. I also heard it with a few other carts that I did not like as much. I have not heard it with either of the cartridges you mention, but my taste with the Kuzma would lean toward the Jade Platinum. I have never been a big fan of the Benz.
Interesting, Jtinn, I have heard Benz Micro Ebo. LP with Kuzma combo,Steelhead,Tenor 75Wi,Wilson W/P and Transparent cables and for my taste it was something I will never forgeth! Music,natural,neutral magic music.Beautiful.
I have heard Miyabi 47 MC cart with Kuzma Reference XL turntable(better than Stabi reference)Airline tonearm,Groove+ phono,CJ ART2 and CJ Premier 350 and Avalon Eidolon speakers,cables were Transparent Reference(XL)- but I was not satisfied with results. I dont know but I missed air, a lot of air like with Tenor amp, beautifull natural texture and organic feeling if you understande what I mean!
I suppose Jade Platinum would be much better.
Thank you for your opinion.
Brain and Jafox,

Thank you both for the clarifications.

Could either of you characterise the sonic differences, including any potential advantages or disadvantages, between a JL-2 and a regular JL-3? I've never seen a dealer that had both in stock for comparison! Apart from cost, would the choice between them be dictated primarily by the speaker load?

Jafox, When you purchased your amp, were you able to audition a standard JL-3 and compare it to the Signature version? If so, was there a specific performance feature that motivated you to spend the extra money?

Thanks to both of you for sharing your experiences with amps that are hard to research.
Oops. Brian of EssentialAudio, in my previous post, please excuse the entirely accidental misspelling of your name as "Brain". HA!
Ubglub: I have not heard two different CAT amp models in an A/B comparison. With all the praise of these amps over the years, I finally had to hear what they were all about. Upon first hearing the JL-2 in Brian's system, I knew they were indeed special.

The JL-2 did not have the rich and lush sound that I had been chasing before. What it did have was a see-through and dynamic quality that I was quite unprepared for. In Brian's system, the JL-2 and the Atmasphere MA1's were both incredibly impressive driving the U1s that easily left my 6 year-old Wolcotts far behind. What I really wanted was the sheer emotion of the MA1's AND the attack of the JL-2. Even at this level, there's no "best" as it still comes down to personal preference.

I ultimately went with the CAT because I felt I could more easily get the rich and spatial attributes through other carefully selected components in my system than to ever get what the CAT did like no amp I had heard ... and ... I tried many amps with the Magnepan 3.3/3.5 speakers.

So why the JL-3? ..... and why the Signature model? First of all, I have to tell you that in my current system setup, and the forseeable future, the JL-2 would get me very very close to what I have with the JL-3 sigs. But I was ultimately too stubborn to get anything but mono amps for a number of reasons: amps near the speakers, shorter speaker cables (I already use long ICs around the room to the amps), more channel separation, more headroom, etc. I needed to "just do it" and get an amp that would work with virtually any speaker and not have any afterthoughts as to doing it "right" the first time. Had I not been so hard headed for this, I would have just gone with the JL-2 right then and there. But the $22k for the JL-3 non-sig that Brian had told me about was always in the back of my mind.

I knew I could afford the mono amps but ultimately I would take a hit on upgrading my Magnepans to the A1s or Avalons that I was also eager to hear. None of this gear was available for audition here in Minneapolis. And the Von Schweikert dealer had also gone out of business so I knew I'd have to travel around the midwest to hear these again as well. No other speakers sold at local dealers captured my attention.

Just as I was preparing to drive out of state to hear the Avalons, a pair of the JL-3 Signatures became available. With much correspondence back and forth on these, the temptation was too great to pass it up. It meant the end of moving up to any number of speakers I had my eyes on. Ultimately I did get an older pair of A1s from someone who wanted to scale down to smaller speakers. And in fact he was interested in my Magnepans but I sold those in 1 day to a local buyer. Shipping Magnepans in their flimsy boxes was just too risky to try again.

When the time comes, a purchase of new A1's or one of the others will happen. And with the more efficient newer SL speakers, the JL-2 would even be more suitable. But with the JL-3 Signature amps, I have no concern that I will need to change amps because of a speaker (like the Avalons or MBL) I might prefer over the SLs. These amps can drive virtually anything out there. And that was the whole point of me going with the JL-3's.

I will answer your other question and then I will stop rambling - the disadvantages of the JL-3 monos amps vs. the JL-2 stereo amp. Both models use a triplet (12AU7/12AX7/6922) of small signal tubes but for output, the JL-3 has double the output tubes. And this latter difference not only brings on a maintenance factor but also much more heat. The JL-3's raise my basement room by 4-5 degrees in the first hour and then about 1 degree each hour. So after 3-4 hours, what was 70 degrees is nearly 80! I have to believe 16 6550 tubes in a JL-2 would be much less heat than the 32 tubes in the JL-3's!

And then there is the need for 30A circuits. I remember at Brian's home, powering the JL-2 caused the lights in the room to briefly dim. Powering down/up all other amps we tried that day had no affect on the lights at all. And this issue came home to me the instant I powered up the first JL-3. The 20A breaker tripped the first couple times I turned on an amp. Then all was fine....until I powered on the second amp! Ken Stevens wrote to tell me I needed one 30A circuit and that I had to wait 5 seconds, but not more than 10, before I powered up the 2nd amp. I ultimately put in two 30A circuits - one for each amp, both on the same phase as the 20A circuit driving the sources and phono/line stages.

So did I scare you with the efforts of owning the JL-3s?

Schorly: Sorry for taking over this thread.

Very good explanation, John! I am glad you mentioned your story and differences between CAT JL-2 and JL-3 sig. !
John, come back in two or three months :-)
John, Thanks hugely. That was a very helpful explanation. I'm saving it to my hard drive!

In fairness to the original poster of this thread, I am continuing the discussion of the relative merits of different CAT amps in a new thread. Please check it out.
Ubglub & Schorly: Glad to hear my ramblings were of some value to you both.

Brian: Yes, I would like this much. With the tight schedule at work through the end of Nov, it looks like Dec is the earliest I can get down your way. And a stop to visit my ill friend in SW Wisc makes it all the more special. So I will make every effort to get back your way before the end of the year....and with the JL-3's and dead Versa.