Joule, Blue Circle, CAT SL1


I need a pre under $4000 that can match Hyperion HT-88 monos into Merlin VSM-MXE speakers.

Looking at Joule 150, Blue Circle BC3000, CAT SL1...can someone tell me the sonics of these? If there are any big differences at all? Also the cheaper the better :)

Phono would be nice and obviously a tape loop.



I am not familiar with the CAT so I will restrict my comments to the Blue Circle and Joule preamplifiers. Both should do just fine and give a warmer, not overly analytical sound. Bobby shows with Joule gear all the time and Merlin/Joule is known to be a great combination. I used Blue Circle gear (BC-2 amplifiers & BC-3000 preamp) and VSM-MX speakers and that was a very good combination too. I believe that Bobby also recommended this combination at one time. I highly recommend Gilbert... he is a good guy who supports his products and customers.
Merlin is retiring their Joule Preamp and it is currently up for sale by Rich/Signature Sound on Audiogon. Can't get much better than that.
CAT is great sounding gear. Big, warm sound and large soundstage. SL-1 signature and above . Bass gets better from MKII and then MKIII. Ultimates are alot more revealing and could sound lean in some systems.
There are many threads on Audiogon where you can get a feeling for the sound of a CAT SL-1 preamp. I have a CAT Ultimate Mk I and have commented on many threads. The sound of a CAT is full, sweet, but not overripe midrange, very dynamic, great bass, perhaps better than any other preamp that I have heard which is, at the same time, deep and powerful. Upper mids and highs are never sharp nor bright. Highs are detailed, clean, but not overly forward. Overall, the unit leans very slightly to the warm side, but has excellent overall balance. It is a unit which is very difficult to make sound bad. It does benefit from careful NOS tube rolling a lot. To summarize: smooth, sweet, lush, but not overripe, delivers the entire frequency spectrum, very dynamic, particularly in the low end.

Faults or flaws? There are preamps out there now which are more transparent, image better and which are nearly noise free. The CAT is not a laggard in any of these categories, but it is not at the top of the list on any of these qualities.

Overall: IMO, still one of the best units out there. It exceeds units that are often talked about on Audiogon. It seems that it suffers because it has been around, in one form or another for so long, so people don't really consider it. The most negative thing that I can say about it is that there are other units which do individual things better than it, but, at least with the Ultimate,
it should be evaluated in view of its overall presentation. There are few units which clearly beat it on an overall basis.
Thanks very much for the input...i am looking for a slightly warm, fast and airy presentation.

The Blue Circle and Joule are a similar price used...i might go for one of them.

Ray, which preamps do you think have eclipsed the CAT? Any for around the same price?


At under $4000 used, you should listen to the First Sound Presence Deluxe Mk II. I wouldn't say that it beats the CAT in every respect by a long shot, and it is a different sound, but it is significantly more transparent to my ears than the CAT. CAT is the king of smooth, full, rich sound. I don't agree with Sardonyxx that the Ultimate can sound lean. My guess is that if it sounded that way, he listened to one with either the "wrong" tubes in it or some other component was responsible. On the other hand, the F.S. is detailed and on some material can come close to be on the border of delivering too much information. But with the right tubes, it is excellent at imaging and allowing you to locate vocalists within the soundstage. It does this far better than CAT's, which also throw a huge, wide soundstage, but the instruments are kind of blurred within the stage,at least relative to the F.S. The F.S. may not be a good match with the Merlins, which I have listened to at several shows and have also found to sound very detailed. F.S. has very good bass, and fantastic dynamics, the dynamics even being better than CAT when the right tubes are used, and the CAT has very excellent dynamics. The bass of the CAT is unsurpassed to my ears. It is just gorgeous, deep and full. I own both the CAT and the First Sound 4.0, which is one level up from the normal unit. If you go up the line of F.S. preamps, supposedly it gets better and better. A used F.S. Presence Deluxe Mk II should be considerably less than $4000.00. I'd have to check the current price list, because I remember that a new one was about that price. I think that I bought my F.S.P.D. Mk II 4.0 for about that price, used. Other units you should listen to are Herron, Ayre and Emotive Audio. There may be many other good choices at this price point, but I'll stick to what I have heard and have liked.
Thanks Ray...i really appreciate your detailed answer.

There is also a growing amount of chatter about the Audio Horizons TP2.0 preamp. I'm still trying to work out how much is hype (i'm a decent cynic!) however one of the buyers replaced his FS Paramount SE preamp with this model.

I'm cut between wanting upmost transparency but also a slight warmth (call it distortion!) and am wondering if the TP2.0 might be too much through the Merlins..making many tracks unlistenable. I've been through THAT phase in audio and dont want to go back!

I know people have a great deal of respect for the CAT and FS preamps...all subjective at this level.

Thanks again

You can test the Audio Horizons preamp in your system under the 30 day trial policy. I use the Audio Horizons TP 2.0 preamp through Coincident Super Eclipse MK III loudspeakers, which are not warm sounding loudspeakers. The TP 2.0 delivers a tonally balanced signal across the frequency spectrum which is not edgy at all. I imagine part of that result comes from the remarkably low signal to noise figures of the preamp (better than -110 dB with the fully tricked out version.
Blue Circle is very good stuff, but if you are buying used, the possibilty you will find a unit with a remote control is pretty slim. Sonically BC is very good. Convience is not there though.
As a former LA-100 MkIII owner, get the Joule, it has what you are looking for and is remote ready. I agree with Kenreau, the LAP-150 MkI that Signature Sound has for sale is a great preamp. I had the pleasure of listening to it at RMAF last year. For about $500 or so you can have it upgraded to MkII, which will make it an even more dynamic and extended.
Joule 150 is a great preamp for the Merlin's.