Speech perception of four phonetic categories (voicing, place, manner, and nasality) was investigated in children with specific language impairment (SLI) (n = 20) and age-matched controls (n = 19) in quiet and various noise conditions using an AXB two-alternative forced-choice paradigm. Children with SLI exhibited robust speech perception deficits in silence, stationary noise, and amplitude-modulated noise. Comparable deficits were obtained for fast, intermediate, and slow modulation rates, and this speaks against the various temporal processing accounts of SLI. Children with SLI exhibited normal ``masking release'' effects (i.e., better performance in fluctuating noise than in stationary noise), again suggesting relatively spared spectral and temporal auditory resolution. In terms of phonetic categories, voicing was more affected than place, manner, or nasality. The specific nature of this voicing deficit is hard to explain with general processing impairments in attention or memory. Finally, speech perception in noise correlated with an oral language component but not with either a memory or IQ component, and it accounted for unique variance beyond IQ and low-level auditory perception. In sum, poor speech perception seems to be one of the primary deficits in children with SLI that might explain poor phonological development, impaired word production, and poor word comprehension. (C) 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.