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When I switched to the CAT's own phono stage, listening became pure pleasure. I couldn't compare it head to head against the Steelhead but since I listen to the latter every now and then in different systems, I know the differences between it and my Sensor Prelude very well. Extrapolating, I can make a bold statement – the CAT is one of the best of the best phono stages I know and clearly the best integrated (rather than stand-alone) unit. Its sound was lustrous, luxuriant but also very precise. In my system the CAT offered better bass control and a more vibrant treble than my external phono preamp. I didn't have as much time listening to records as I had for CDs since I’d left this part of the review for last. I could now only regret that decision.

The sound was extremely emotional. Perhaps it wasn't as precise as with the CD player or hi-rez files (using C.E.C.’s DA1N DAC) but it had that something which made listening to records more pleasing than digital pressings. Bravo! Additional advantages are that you don't need extra interconnects and power cables. It’s all in one box and the final result is absolutely outstanding, better than anything I've heard before. The line stage offers incredible precision and the phono stage merely enriched the sound to become fuller and overcome the one possible weakness of the line stage itself. The final effect was absolutely wonderful, amazing and one of a kind!

Description: The model SL1 Legend is the top-line preamplifier from the American Convergent Audio Technology company. There are certain significant differences to their Renaissance model. Here we have two separate 46-position shunts with lots of soldered resistors to create ladder-type volume controls. There are two pots, one for the left and right channel rather than a joint stereo control plus balance as in the Renaissance. For the Legend Ken Stevens uses very expensive Rubycon Black Gate capacitors (x 22 more expensive than other high-quality options) which feature extremely solid housings to also make them far heavier than most the competition. The circuit board material was G200 before, now it is Teflon.

The SL1 Legend is both line and phono stage. The main unit sports the amplifying elements and the smaller enclosure the power supply. The front panel is a thick aluminum panel with two cut-out slots for three toggles each. The left ones are input selectors, those on the right for play/record, standby and mute. The two small knobs in the middle are the monaural volume controls. There is no remote control and the volume knobs aren’t clutch-coupled as some Tascam and Studer tape recorders did it. But obviously CAT's owners get used to the twin controls as I haven't heard any of them complaining.

The back panel holds nicely spaced RCA i/o ports and a captive umbilical. Starting from the right, the first input is for phono. There are also optional RCA jacks with resistors for different cartridge loadings. Standard loading is 47kΩ (no additional jack required). Exactly the same solution was adopted by Ayon's Polaris II and to be honest, I think that Gerhard from Ayon Audio looked to the SL1 when designing his machine.

Next there is another phono stage input as the SL1 is compatible with both MM and MC cartridges. The following three are line inputs including a tape loop; direct—the preout—; and an output marked AV as another loop for home cinema. If the preamp is powered down, the Line 1 input passes through to the AV output. I couldn't find much about it in the manual but I think it can also be used for a headphone amp. (Unfortunately there is only one such input but that’s better than none as in my Polaris which lacks this feature).

The insides are filled up from bottom to top. It is clear that there are two very similar parts, a line stage and a phono stage. Both are based on tubes – two 6922 inputs, two 12AX7 and a single 6922 in the output. The 6922 tubes are Electro-Harmonix and the 12AX7 Yugoslavian NOS EI issue.

The Legend's phono stage input sports a special low-gain step-up transformer with CAT's MCM-1 logo that in conjunction with an MM stage delivers 58dB of gain. The transformer can be set to an additional 6dB of gain but this is recommended only for cartridges whose internal impedance is below 10 ohms as my Air Tight PC-1 Supreme. Because of its low gain, the transformer's response is much flatter than others, deviating less than 0.02dB from 20Hz to 20kHz. The whole circuit board is filled with polypropylene capacitors marked with CAT's logo.

The line stage looks similar but of course lacks the RIAA circuit and input transformer. At 26dB, its gain is lower too. This is adjustable with an internal switch to 15dB. I used 15dB during my review. The input selector is based on toggle switches. The entire interior is lined with damping material.

The power supply enclosure is built up of steel plates. It's not too big and connects to the head unit with a very stiff umbilical. Therefore moving and installing the device isn't easy. Inside the PSU we see a huge EI transformer and Black Gate capacitors. Here also is the on/off switch. The customer gets a proprietary power cable called MusicCordPro. Ken states it clearly in the manual that he highly recommends not to replace this power cord for any other because it could compromise the sonics. My own Polaris was fitted with an Acrolink 7N-PC9300 for the comparisons however.

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