Use your browser's "Find" function (usually under the "Edit" pulldown menu) to locate all mentions of a specific model on this page. (Note: newest testimonials are at the top of this page.) SA-5.1 versus McIntosh C2300
- "Mike, I wanted to share a recent experience I had where I thought I might replace my SA-5.1 with the Mcintosh C2300 preamp. The C2300 is a $6K preamp new and is still a current preamp in the Mcintosh lineup. I bought a used one from Audio Classics because they give you 11 days to listen to a purchase and return it if you don't like it and receive all of your money back minus shipping costs. The C2300 has all of the bells and whistles with 8 inputs (4 of them balanced) and lots of outputs. It also has a built in MC and MM stage and a remote that you can change MC loading on the fly. The C2300 uses six 12AX7 tubes. My salesman was none other than Frank Gow who is the son of Gordon Gow who was one of the founders of Mcintosh. To make a long story short, [my upgraded] SA-5.1 trounced the C2300. The C2300 sounds SS in comparison to the SA-5.1 and by that I mean it is flat sounding with no life. I called up Frank Gow to let him know I would be returning the C2300. Frank's response was that he was not surprised given that I had a SA-5.1. Frank said the 5.1 is a great sounding preamp and it would take a very expensive preamp in order to beat it. I don't know how expensive "very" expensive is, but it is obviously more than the $6K a C2300 costs new. This experience has just reinforced how great the design of the SA-5.1 is. And by the way, the MC input of the C2300 was absolutely horrible. The only way I could make my LPs sound half-way normal was to use the SA-2 into the MM input of the C2300 and even then it was no match for the SA-2/SA-5.1 combo. Although it would be cool to have a preamp with a couple of balanced inputs, I will be content to stick with what I have because I know how good it sounds and how hard it is to find something that will even come close."
- -- M. Pearson, Bloomfield, IN
SA-3.1 with Standard Line Stage upgrade, Volume and Balance control upgraded to TKD, and input selector switch upgraded to ELNA switch.
Received my upgraded SA3.1, it sounds great and I am very pleased. It exceeds all my expectations and the upgraded switches and volume / balance controls are a HUGE improvement.
I never in my wildest dreams envisioned having this unbelievable level of personalized technical support when I purchased my Counterpoint amplifiers 22 years ago! I have bought, sold, and discarded a lot of audio equipment since 1987 (and before then) but I still have and covet my SA12 (upgraded to NP100) and my (now upgraded) SA3.1. You should be proud that Counterpoint Electronic Systems, Inc. products are still relevant. Thank you!\
SA-9jr (SA-5/5.1 with upgraded phono stage and power supply, line stage disconnected).
I've just finished some listening sessions through the phono preamp SA-9jr you create.
What a marvelous sound! Extremely detailed, you won the ethernal competition in which brightness seems to go hand-in-hand with excessive highs, my premium MC version SA-9jr sounds open and revealing but absolutely natural without any listening fatigue even after some hours of vinyl. The association with my ZYX Fuji cartridge maybe also very nice.
Despite the low output cartridge, the micro and macro dynamic levels are meticulously reproduced; the sound is lively and emotional but not aggressive, and the soundstage is very very wide with great depth without compromising focus in vocals and instruments!
I made some brief comparison with other phono stages (tube and solid state, most of them not recent productions of late '80's and late '90's but also very costly) and there was no competition: the SA-9jr was in another league and fully satisfying.
Many comparison were made also with different brand of tubes, including NOS. Replacing tubes may obviously cause a substantial change of sound; a little annoyance only about the sensitivity to noises if touching upper cover and switches on front panel. Again unit unmask noisy tubes, in one word: a quiet tube is the first choice apart brand consideration.*
Now I got what I was looking for: a great sounding phono stage to forget doubts and other choices for many many years...
All my best,* What Marco is noticing here is normal tube microphonics and internal noise. Some tubes have very bad microphonics -- mechanical vibrations cause the internal parts to rattle, creating high-pitched bell sounds. Some tubes are quite noisy, too, resulting in hissing or crackling or sputtering noises. A phono stage has to deal with tiny signals, so the tubes also need to be quiet. There are no magic ways to reduce tube noise, and if anyone knows of phono cartridges with signals loud enough so that tube noises will be small in comparison, they need to issue a press release. All anyone can do is find the quietest tubes s/he can get. -- Mike Elliott
Torino - Italy
NP100 (upgraded SA-100) PLUS NP220 (upgraded SA-220) used in Vertical Bi-Amp System
"The improvement in sound is overwhelming. I'm hearing nuances that I didn't know were there from favorite albums I've played hundreds of times. My wife is not an audiophile and she picked up on it right away as well. There is something amazing going on here, the sound is infinitely more pleasing. I keep the music on more often then ever before."
Miami Beach, FL
Upgraded SA-5000 Preamp
"After some very enthusiastic first impressions, I wanted to give a long term follow-up on my two fully modded SA5000 preamps. These units have been in my main and secondary systems for a couple of years now. I have made the decision of late to consolidate all of my equipment into one system, and have decided to sell one of my beloved SA5000s. I took the unit to a listening session at a friend’s house this past weekend. I am very familiar with that system, which consists of Soundlab M1 electrostats, a Meitner CDSD/Dac 6 combination, an extremely high-end all-tube preamp, and some very well regarded solid-state mono blocks. I have been around this particular system for years, and I have been involved with and have heard numerous iterations of components.
"When I arrived, a few folks were taking the tour of the system, with the aforementioned preamp getting quite a few comments. This preamp, with its separate all tube power supply and audio chassis practically took up an entire table top! With a price tag just south of ten grand, it was generating some pretty serious expectations from everyone. My neat and clean looking SA5000 looked small in comparison when I plopped it down on the table. Looking at the pair brought on a sort of “David and Goliath” theme. We left the SA5000 sit idly by while we did some listening. This day the system was sounding truly incredible – the best I had heard it, in fact.
"After a while, we put the SA5000 in the system, let it warm up a bit, and sat down for some critical listening. To make a long story short, as good as the system sounded with the other preamp, the SA5000 was better in every aspect. Rounder, faster, more realistic, and more extended bass was immediately apparent. It also threw a deeper and more introspective soundstage that neither I nor several of the others had ever heard before. There was also a “boogie factor” that the SA5000 provided that was hard to put into words. Several of the audiophiles standing by were commenting that perhaps the first preamp had more lush and full-sounding tonality. However, the folks sitting at or near the listening position agreed that the SA5000 was much more exciting to listen to and much more accurate to the source. Listening to some electric bass was truly a revelation. The sound was so captivating that it demanded the attention of anyone within earshot. To make a fair comparison, we decided to switch back to the other preamp and listen to it once again. We immediately determined that the previously perceived “lushness” of that preamp was starting to sound more like bloated, slow bass and fuzzy imaging compared to the Counterpoint. The people in the listening seat all realized that the music was simply not commanding attention. The toe-tapping factor just wasn’t there! After hearing the Counterpoint, this preamp sounded boring and uninvolved. Amazing considering how good we thought it sounded at first!
"Needless to say, the SA5000 went back into the system and some very good listening ensued. I left the unit behind for further evaluation, as I bet it would have been pretty hard to get it out of there! I’m glad I have two identical preamps – otherwise I would never consider selling one of these beauties. I’ll be keeping the other one for the long haul! This listening session reminded me once again how good these preamps really are. I would love to hear this system with some better amplifiers. As good as those solid state mono blocks are, they are proving to be a bit unreliable. At just under seven grand for the pair, I sure hope the warranty coverage continues for these beasts. This sounds like a great opportunity for some top-flight tube hybrids!
"Thanks again for a job very well done!"
Cleveland Heights, OH
Upgraded SA-12 amplifier
"This is just a note to let you know that after living with your rebuild of my SA12 for the past year that I feel that I can't ask for anything more in the way of having a totally satisfying listening experience. I am a very picky listener and until you rebuilt my SA12 I did not think that any solid state amp could compare to my all tube OTL's or for that matter any good tube amp. I now have changed my mind. Especially in the summer when it is 100 degrees outside and I can use the SA12 and never worry about the heat generated by the amps. In comparison my OTL's generate about 600 watts of heat per monoblock !! However, I must say that I am still a tube head and that I do use your amp with a fully balanced octal tube preamp and I still feel that there is something so right about tube amps in general and I listen to my tube amps also. When I switch over to the SA12 I don't feel like I am missing anything. You have a great product and I am very happy with it !!"
San Ramon, CA
Upgraded SA-5000, DA-10 with premium Rapture 24-bit card with Rapture motherboard power supply upgrade, and dual mono WT350 power amps (www.ariaaudio.com)
"The Rapture card was waiting for me when I came back from holidays last Saturday ... And I believe the SA-5000 is `waking up' after the upgrade. When I was playing on other CD players it was a little hard to tell exactly what it did. But now with the Rapture in the DA-10, it's like not having any components, only music in the room. I have to honor you Michael. You really know your business! ... with the WT amps, upgraded SA 5000, and DA 10, I do not only feel, I can also hear that the set up is complete (but realize the game is a never ending story). I can guarantee that it sounds good. So I'm looking forward to enjoy the set up with nice music during the autumn and winter here in Norway."
DA-10 with premium Rapture 24-bit card and Rapture motherboard power supply upgrade.
"This is what I think about the upgrade carried out on my DA10.
I hope you will publish what's I'm saying to you and although I have not met you personally, I for sure esteem you as an engineer.
"Sound-wise there is a neat channel separation the way I like it which is very evident on the high frequencies which come out so flawless...also to make you realise how your upgrades are carried out and to give other audiophiles significant feedback about your products I can honestly state that the way your product are conceived and then designed as well the philosophy applied on all yours products is unsurpassable and these characteristic are there, lively and present and without any doubt the best digital source I've ever listened to so far.
"As I listened to the DA10 I immediately had the feeling I was about to experience something new which I've never felt before.
"I do know all of this comes out deeply from your lovely labour applied to ALL your products and more so I am stunned at the way your products sound so natural. This makes me feel at ease to say that all that you have done was to put into practice all your theories and showing us unsurpassable geniality and thus a high-lever of awareness in making and building any product which reaches the inner part of a listener's soul.
"Having said that you have definitely HIT the target. We are all endowed with things which one day or the other we take out to put them into practice and you have shown me these are really what I was longing for, for a long time.
"Having said this from a friend who shares music and who is into music like you are. Thank you for the pleasant moments that give to me!"
A very kind general comment . . .
"I was looking at my equipment and realized that the nearly $7K I've spent for your modifications is double that of all the cost of the rest of the system. I primarily buy used. You can see that taking the initial step to have the mods done was a huge one for me and very scary.
"I just want to say that you have completely and totally delivered. I didn't know that a stereo could sound like this! (I can't wait to hear what the rest of the mods can do.)
"Thanks again, Mike. Not only does your equipment sound utterly fabulous, you, personally have made this entire process a very positive one for me. I sing your praises to anyone who will listen!"
San Antonio, TX
& another very kind general comment . . .
"I’d like to express how big a fan I am of your designs. This may sound like an informal statement but I believe it speaks volumes considering the many years that have passed since Counterpoint’s demise and taking into consideration the countless number of new designs and equipment introduced since this time.
"This equipment is readily available for purchase yet I am still drawn to the ever elusive Counterpoint equipment.
"This is especially so knowing that the knowledge and experience learned over the years and the availability of higher-grade parts can now be implemented as upgrades and modifications. The results allow decade old equipment to surpass with ease many current day offerings. This is a true testament to the insight used throughout these brilliant designs."
M. B. Hahn
Mullica Hill, NJ
NP100 (upgraded SA-100) Basic GOLD (basic circuit board with upgraded transformer, wiring, rectifiers, and main capacitors)
"I received the amplifier and set it up today. What a beautiful sound! I started off with a Keith Jarrett Trio album with piano, bass, and drums, and was blown away by the clarity, power, and brightness of the sounds. You did a great job and I really was entranced by the magical presence that the sound had, very much like being present at a live performance. You could hear every part of the drum set and all the complex timbres of the bass. The lows and the highs were very clear. It was fantastic. Thank you very much for a great job!"
G. Pai, Ph.D.
NP100 (upgraded SA-100) Basic GOLD (basic circuit board with upgraded transformer, wiring, rectifiers, and main capacitors)
"UPS delivered my amp on Friday. I quickly connected my basic components and started playing some music. Right out of the box, no burn in--AMAZING! My speakers had become completely transparent, and there was a richness and detail I had never heard before.
"Then, after a couple of hours the miracle happened. My wife turned to me and said, "I can't believe how much better it sounds!" Incredible. Not only that, she has not even asked me how much the upgrade cost.
"I have an older pair of Spica's which I have always loved, but the bass has never been anything to brag about (even with a subwoofer). I can not only hear the bass now, I can feel it."
SA-5000 upgrade and NP220 (upgraded SA-220)
" The system is absolutely fabulous ! Been burning it in for a few weeks, and everything is fluid, clear, clean, translucent, revealing . . . better than I've heard in any high end store in Denver.
" Later this year I think I'm going to get the Counterpoint gear apair of Sonus Faber Cremonas for a present. I think it will be a good pairing."
SA-5.1 and Aria WT Power Amp
I received the upgraded SA 5.1 and the Aria Amp on Monday and set-up the system noting that I still had 100-200 hours of burn-in time to go.
Immediately on turning it on the difference was dramatic! Wonderful, awesome, spectacular!
I will be experimenting around with some other amp tubes and a powercord, and a new CD player, so it will only go up from here.
Thanks for the product, thanks for the service. I am pleased with the decisions made."
Walnut Creek, CA
"I've been meaning to let you know how happy I am with the work you've done on my SA-11. Many times other preamps owned by friends of mine have been brought over to compare to my modified SA-11. No contest! Custom esoterics, big buck stock units, trick passives, etc., have all been bettered by your work. And that's at mod level one!!!
"I think it worth noting that it is not just my opinion. The owners of the challenging preamps, as well as other listeners, have unanimously agreed the SA-11 sounds better in every respect worth noting. I can't imagine how much wider the gap to the competion would be if I went to mod level 2.
"So, a big thank you for a superlative product initially, and a much better one after your inspired work!"
SA-3.1 Upgraded with standard Line Stage, Level-I Power Supply, Phono and other upgrades "We received our repaired/upgraded SA-3.1 preamp two weeks ago - all I can say is, "WOW!" The sonic improvement is impressive and so much better than we ever anticipated; the 12dB attenuation switch and the upgraded main-out jacks were exactly what we wanted.
"Please extend our thanks to your crew as well. They did a great job and the workmanship is superb."
Pauline and Michael
SA-3000 Upgrades with standard Line Stage, Power Supply Level I, Jensen MC Input Transformer, Phono Stage, and Resonance Control Upgrades, by D. Griffith
"Got the SA-3000 upgrade in good shape. I am overwhelmed -- it sounds awesome. Dead quiet between notes. Wow! You are the best, thank you.
Twin NPS400's with Basic and Premium Upgrades, by M. Bender
"I finally got through my entire collection of recordings. With the twin NPS400's bi-amped, plus the Wye-Tech pre-amp and the Eminent Technology speakers, the system just sings!
"An agile, yet muscular bass response supports all the way through the mid and high range with exceptional clarity combined with a subtle smooth rolloff. Superb imaging makes listening a real pleasure, time after time.
"Thank you for your high quality workmanship. The old adage again holds true: that you do indeed get what you pay for."
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
SA-3000 with Standard Line Upgrade, Level I Power Supply Upgrade, and Resonance Control, by Wm. Stein, III, M.D.
"I have to admit to a certain amount of scepticism. I did not really believe that my SA 3000 made that much a difference to the sound of my system. In fact, I had always looked at it as just a switching system and something to get in the way of the direct signal feed from the DA converter to the amps.
Like WHOA!! I didn't know how wrong I was.
I cannot believe how great my system sounds now that I have the upgraded SA3000 back. I had actually thought about buying a new preamp befroe I sent the SA 3000 back for overhaul. I was told by several people in the business that I would be far better served by having the SA3000 overhauled by you than by buying another preamp in the $3000 to $5000 range. They were right and I love it. Many thanks....again!"
- William Stein, III, M.D.
Metairie, LA, USA
SA-3000 Stock vs. Basic Upgrades vs. Premium Upgrades, by Joe Duray, as posted on Audiogon, October 2003
Review of the Counterpoint SA 3000 Preamplifier and the Upgrades Performed by Alta Vista Audio
The SA-3000 is a good sounding vacuum tube hybrid preamplifier manufactured by Counterpoint. While Counterpoint is out of business, and a SA-3000 is getting close to 10 years old, this is not a concern. The former head of Counterpoint, Mike Eliot, runs Alta Vista Audio. He not only services but also offers significant reengineering improvements to the SA-3000.
Not many of us can afford to immediately spend many thousands of dollars on a high-end tube preamp. However, you can reach this plateau of performance by upgrading the SA 3000 in stages. It is easier on the budget, and ultimately saves a significant amount over purchasing a new preamp.
I had a stock SA-3000, and went through the full upgrade route through two phases, and I thought it valuable to describe the listening results of the upgrades from each phase. (The detailed technical descriptions of these upgrades are fully described at Alta Vista's web site, www.altavistaaudio.com.)
The sound of the SA-3000 can be described as musical without having a dry or analytical sound. The unit responds well to tweaks like tube rolling and tube dampers. It has the warm 'tube' sound, and overall it is a good preamp with a wonderful phono section especially at today's used prices in the range of $600 to $700.
Line (premium) and Phone Stage Upgrade:
These improvements involve not only replacing, and upgrading components in the line and phono stages, but involve removing many of solid-state parts from the signal path. Looking at the circuit board was surprising in that 30% to 50% of the visual components were now gone!
This 'less is more' approach actually lowered the SA-3000's signal pickup threshold from source inputs. I immediately heard more content in the sound at normal volume levels. It was like removing a filter from the music that resulted hearing new notes and details that previously just were not there before. Imaging was significantly improved since each instrument and voice is reproduced with more detail.
This also means that the harmonics are better represented in the music. I found myself consciously listening to the 'space' between notes. Now with a good cartridge (Denon 103) and LP, these improvements result recreating the live performance experience. (Close your eyes and you are there, a magical experience!)
Power Supply Level II Upgrade with Plitron Toroidal Transformer and Circuit Board Damping:
These improvements involve replacing and upgrading components in the power supply, and the power transformer, and also included the installation of a thick pad of wool felt between the circuit board and the chassis for damping out resonances in the circuit board.
These changes made noticeable improvements in the sound in the lower mid-range and base frequencies. Separation and clarity was further improved from the first upgrade. This was sonically subtle but it musically was quite noticeable, and can be best described as a 'veil' was removed between the listener and the soundstage.
Percussion instruments now have a vastly improved the musical punch due to more accurate reproduction of transient sounds. The base response instead of being just being 'there' and slightly muted in the background is now deeper, more powerful, musical and dynamic. Drums sound like drums and I clearly heard the nuance differences if the drum was struck in the middle or on the edge of the hide.
Occasionally, I sit down in front of my system to marvel at its detail retrieval, sound staging, imaging, and depth. The SA-3000 is now at least the equal and usually superior to other preamps that I have heard. For me the test is musical enjoyment when simply in the room or the next room, and in this respect the upgraded Counterpoint SA-3000 easily wins.
So for a few thousand dollars in upgrades spread out over several years, I ended up with a preamp that produces music with unmatched transparency, smoothness without loss of frequency extension. In short, a preamplifier that is "musical" without suffering from the colorations that that term seems to imply.
SA-11 and dual-mono NP220's from D. Brooks, via e-mail
mike, i can't help it: i have to tell you again how incredible the two upgraded sa-220s and the sa-11 are as a package. bi-amped to the waveform mach 13's i'm just... i literally haven't gone to sleep before 4am since i finally got everything connected a week ago and the system hasn't stopped once: i listen to the cdp on repeat while sleeping.
every morning i jump up out of bed and put on something fresh and discover things in familiar music i never knew where there.
i brought a friend over to listen to the new sacd of 'Dark side of the moon' (the original of which we know very very well) and he had this very odd look on his face and kept giggling throughout the entire recording. finally in the middle of it i pushed pause and directly asked him, "dude, are you stoned?" he wasn't. he was just a little freaked out. he yelled at me to turn the lights back off and push play.
i can listen coltrane at a volume as if he were actually live in my room with no distortion.
i didn't think any home system could do that.
i've never felt like eating music before.
other than a final gold upgrade to the sa-11 what now? am i done? there can't be anything more in this music i'm not hearing.
This is SICK! i can't help feeling that it's somehow wrong and should be illegal.
Los Angeles, California
SA-5000 Upgrade Review by K. Ferry. Okay... I've done quite a bit of listening to the SA5000 now, and I have a few impressions, if you're interested.
When I first got the unit back (new Plitron transformer, rewired rectifier and installed AAAA tube, installed felt damping material in audio chassis), I thought that it lacked some bass impact when compared to its previous performance. I think in reality the bass was just more refined, with a better leading edge and a bit more transperancy. There may have been the slightest bit of homogenation happening in that region before, causing recordings to have the same basic signature. After listening to more and more discs, I realized that if a recording called for bass, it was there stronger than ever. I'm quite pleased with it, actually. Not sure which of the above mods account for it, but it sounds quite good.
But what really got my attention was the improved dimensionality of the soundstage. Not only did the perception of depth improve, but the roundness of each instrument in the stage improved. They are much more three dimensional now. On top of that, I can very clearly tell how high each instrument in the field is, which is almost scary. On a good acoustic recording, the vocals will appear above the guitar. The Acoustats have always had some of this quality, but these last mods to the SA5000 really seem to bring it out.
Also, the unit is dead silent now. Not only is the noise I was hearing in the left channel gone, but the silence between instruments in the field is much better. Out of curiosity, did you check for noise after the mods? Whatever I was hearing is clearly gone, and I didn't change my installation at all...
At any rate, thanks again. This thing really makes my system shine.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
SA-2000 Upgrade Review by John Kittredge My SA-2000 was upgraded by Michael Elliott about six months ago. Upgrades included the standard audio and power supply upgrades, bypassed balance control, direct out option, upgraded volume control, and RCA jacks. I sourced an NOS (new old stock) Siemens gold pin tube on my own. Cost for a used SA-2000 plus upgrades was about $1900.
I always knew that the upgrade produced a special preamp, but I didn't really appreciate how special until I recently had the opportunity to trial a highly regarded $3000 solid state preamp (name withheld to prevent embarrassment) in my system. The SA-2000 outclassed the solid state preamp in just about every way I could imagine: transparency, tonality and reproduction of harmonics, delineation of instrumental lines, frequency extension, recreation of the soundspace, and natural-ness (liquidity, if you will) of the sound.
A couple of concrete examples: Although I wouldn't call The Who's "Who's Next" an audiophile recording, it happened to be in my CD transport when I started auditioning the two components. "Behind Blue Eyes" begins with just a picked acoustic guitar in the right channel, followed by bass in mostly the left, then the singer in the center, and vocal harmonies in the left/right. With the SS preamp, the sound seemed very good, seemingly smooth, nice imaging, nice drive in the bass. Then I switched to the 2000 and was floored. While before I had simply been aware of "a guitar," now I was surprised to differentiate between the sound of the pick hitting the string, the string sounding, and then the sound radiating out from the body of the guitar. The bass picked up defintion, as did the singers within their own spaces--even though it's obviously an artificially created recording. It was as if a window had been wiped clean, and I realized how closed in and "sandy" the SS preamp sounded. Most surprisingly, the added detail and transparency was not at the expense of the music. It was not audiophile highlighting, but the reality of what was on the recording, and it made me appreciate this old war horse even more.
Example 2: The Dorian recording of "The Scottish Lute," recorded in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, is an excellent example of a single instrument recorded in a distinct acoustic space. With the SS preamp the acoustic envelope was apparent, but somewhat flattened and foreshortened. With the 2000, the walls of my room melted away. It seemed I could feel as well as hear the whole reverberant space around me, to the front, sides, and back--out of only two speakers! Who says you need five channels for surround sound?
Obviously I now appreciate my SA-2000 even more. Sure, it could be a little more flexible like a modern tricked out preamp with remote control, etc., but if the music is what matters most to you, I don't think you can do better without spending a whole lot more money--say an SA-5000 with line, power, and phono upgrades. Time to start saving....
SA-220 Upgrade Review by Tad Shimazu
When I hooked up the NP220 (premium upgrade) that I just received and put on an LP, that rare feeling came over me. ...you know, the one where you kick back in that comfortable old armchair with a feeling of contentment and say, "oh yeah, now THAT sounds GOOD." I could go on and on about how the soundstage blossomed and became huge; how details sprung out of the background; how complex passages became intriguing music instead of incoherent mush; and how effortlessly the music poured out of the speakers. But instead of heaping on the cliches about how wonderful this amp is, I will simply place my order for ANOTHER one, just like this one (premium upgrade/high sensitivity). So, enclosed please find my order and deposit. I will ship the SA220 to be upgraded to you in about 2 weeks.
SA-3000 Review (versus SP6/9, M3A) by Steve Durso
ARC SP6 or 9; Audible Illusions M3A; Counterpoint 5
I have a Counterpoint SA3000, fully modified by Mike Elliot (orig designer), and have to say it is clearly better than all the above mentioned preamps in every regard. However, it took almost $3,000.00 to make it so. It seams that a large part of the improvements, as with most preamps, lie in the quality of the individual parts list itself. Take a look at the different models between the same manufacturer. The relationship between the price and sound are relative to the price and cost of the parts. Design has to figure in the equation; however, from my experience, the quality of parts outweighs the quality of the hype. Look through the hype and you'll find the quality of parts to be the biggest factor. Therefore, my 2 cents would be to find a used Counterpoint SA5000 (good luck) and pay the extra dollars to Mike Elliot to have it transported into a world beater. No hype, just the truth.
Review of SA-3000 and NP-220 Upgrades by Jim Stephen
OK, let me get this straight. I am going to buy 2 components, each with blown channels, sight unseen. They are from a company that went out of business (Counterpoint). I have them sent to the former Chief of Counterpoint, and he will see if they can be salvaged, and release my check to the sellers.
Now wait a minute. They use TUBES? And that is supposed to make them sound better. And, say what? The tubes from the 1940s and 50s sound better than the ones made later. OK, how do I find these tubes? Huh? ebay, or private TUBE sellers?
Well I am sure glad one of my kids didn't come up with this plan, because it sounded pretty lame.
I had an SA-3000 preamp upgraded to Premium Gold status, with a Plitron Transformer.
The SA-3000 seems to lift a veil of haze that was over the music. There was information in my music CDs that I didn't realize was there. I can't really understand when audiophiles use adjectives like "sweet," "mellow," "rich," etc. to describe what they hear. All I can say is that it seems that backing vocals, and instrument tracks that I never heard are there now. The music is detailed and accurate, but not fatiguing. I don't have to have it loud to sound nice.
My NP-220 upgrade was to Premium Gold level with the Plitron choke. The improvements are very accurate highs, with clearer instrument and vocal tracks. Very often I will listen to a CD I thought I knew, and realize, "Hey I never heard THAT before!" The bass is definitive but not muddy. The sudden rush of a loud passage or "slam" was much more pronounced that with my old gear. Female vocals and piano tracks are stunning.
Imaging is excellent, and even eerie at times, with an occasional instrument sounding like it emanates from across the room. My power hungry Ohm Walsh 5 Mark 2 speakers can easily be driven to sound levels that I cannot stand.
How does all this look on paper? Don't care. How does it sound? As we say in New England: WICKED AWESOME!
Dislikes: My neighbors think I'm a bit wacky when I try to explain why I have gear that uses tubes. I refer them to:
Where Tubes Rule in Scientific American: The Solid State Century Special Issue Vol 8, No. 1, 1997, pp44-45
Or, better yet, have them listen.
NP220 Premium GOLD by Stewart Wiegand
What a superb amplifier you have created. Our friends are first astonished . . . and then speechless.
Gold Canyon, AZ
Dual NP220 Mono Premium GOLDs by Dr. E. Geller, Israel Dear Michael,
I have now been running the new converted SA-220s with the Premium GOLD upgrades (and other custom bits you did for me) for more than 100 hrs. I love them. Part of my impressions are related to my running them with a new preamp, the Hovland HP-100, say the last 75 hrs, but the preamp is supposed not be heard at all???
I also have been running it only on CDs as the burning in is not too easy to do changing LPs all the time. With CDs I can put it on repeat and let it run for hours if I'm not listening at the particular time.
My impressions are:
- Total, dead silence, in the silent periods.
- A very fast response, no smearing, although the sound isn't aggressive.
- Wonderful timbre for orchestra, piano, guitars and human voice
- A bad recording sounds bad - I don't like electronics that "fix" bad sound by averaging.
- Sound stage - very open and deep.
- Separation - outstanding! they opened up the music in a way you can hear a single tone on strings in the back corner of the orchestra or band.
- My Dahlquist DQ-10s - wonderful open, phased array speakers - came to life. They are inefficient and hard to drive but with the new NP220's they had a great revival.
-- Dr. E. Geller
SA-5000 Upgrades by Jim Germann from his 5-star review at Audioreview.com
The 5000, though an older product, is a very fine unit. I've owned mine for 7 years, so I should know. It has served me faithfully through the years. It just sounds like music, or so I thought.
I got it back 2 weeks ago. It has been completely re-built by Mike Elliott, the original designer. He can be reached at Alta Vista Audio on the web. If you own one of these beauties, have Mike re-do it! I went with ALL the mods, what I hear is unbelieveable! The bass-midrange-treble improved! The imaging is breathtaking, it's like having the singers & players in the room with me. Dynamics are scary! You adjust the volume so it is comfortable to listen to, and all of a sudden, something comes out of nowhere & knocks your socks off. It is a LOT quieter. Those little silences between the notes are incredible. You can hear notes decay much better. You can follow individual players & singers much easier, everyone is in their own, individual spaces. Not that they are of the super-etched type, it is just so natural, like the real thing! And the above refers to CD listening.
LP's have to be heard to believed. After hearing my beloved LP's on this modified unit, CD's have a LONG way to go to catch up. Everything that I said above is so much better with LP's. As I said, you have to hear it to believe it. If you want to hear someting really spooky, try this unit at night, with all the lights out. This way, you have no visual clues as to where the speakers are. In daylight, you know the speakers are there, but the soundstage is completely "divorced" from the speakers. It's like they're there, but not needed. This may not make any sense to anyone reading this, I'm having a very hard time explaining this ! At night, there is this "wall" of sound coming at you. INCREDIBLE!!
Give Mike Elliott a call. You'll never know how good this unit is, until you hear what he does to it! It cost me almost $4000, but find me something that has all the features and sounds better. I doubt that this will happen!
-- Jim Germann
(Review posted at Audioreview.com)
Later, Mr. Germann wrote to me and added, "I recently compared my upgraded SA-5000 to my friend's Krell KRC-3 pre-amp. The only thing I can say positively about it is that it is slightly quieter. In every other way, your pre-amp bested it by a wide margin. Imaging, dynamics and frequency balance was better with the SA-5000. The Krell sounded bland to me! Imaging was like 2-dimensional cutouts, not the 3-dimensional imaging I've gotten used to. And this vertical imaging thing still astounds me! Listening to someone playing guitar and singing, or playing piano and singing. I can hear the distinct differences in height."
SA-9 Basic Upgrade by Tom Maxim
I have been an audiophile since 1982 which suggests I would have a reasonably large record collection which I do (about 1000). I owned an old audio research sp3a, Rega Planar 2 with a formula 4 arm, Kenwood LO7Ms and tympani 1-Ds. Upgrades over the years included a Grant -Lumley amp and several Counterpoint preamps including a 7.1 to a 5.1. One day a local dealer ordered in an SA-9 and SA-11 combo. Being a young teacher these components were way out of my price range. The SA-9 and 11 were $4000 and $7000 respectively. I went ahead and took home the SA-9 to see how the wealthy listen. Big mistake!! I couldn't live without this phono stage. It was far better than anything I ever heard before and I used it to directly drive the amps I had at the time which were Quicksilver 8417 monos driving Quad ESL -63s. At least I could trade in the SA-5.1. I was a little scared of this 19 tube monster fearing it would break all the time. I was uneasy for no reason because 12 years later a part finally failed (not a tube!). I knew Counterpoint closed but found out to great relief that Mike Elliott was taking care of all of his customers. I gave him a call and he informed me about upgrading and greatly improving the unit. In this day of really bad-sounding equipment it is hard to listen to any pitch, however Mike did design and manufacture this gift of mankind so while I was a little nervous, I nevertheless agreed to the Level 1 upgrade and repair which he took care of.
I now worry that I should have gone to level 2.
I received the unit about three weeks later and plugged
it in . . . the sound at first was okay, but two hours later the sound field opened up and words cannot describe the resolution. I would like to describe the sound it gave about a week later as the new parts broke in. I have compared this unit to the two latest Audio Researchs, Pass aleph ono, The BATs, and Sonic Frontiers. The unit sounds much more natural than before. There is less "fake detail" and more real resolution. This phono stage reproduces the greatest sense of space I have ever heard. ALL other units are slow and hazy sounding. Many little sounds and ambient cues in the sound field are heard now. With the help of the great SA-9, my system (below) brings much enjoyment due to the relaxed, immediate and high resolution sound. The combination of the SA-9 and the big single ended 845 triodes makes the music real. To sum up, take advantage of the upgrade and never, ever sell your SA-9!!!!
-- Tom Maxam
Associated Equipment: I now listen using the huge Cary 845 SEI with Hovland coupling caps driving Pro Ac 2.5s through Nordost SPM cable.
SA-12 (NP100) Upgrade by Bruce Bunch
I am very impressed with the reduction in harshness, additional detail, sweeter mids and highs, firmer low end, and improved soundstage. It is a major improvement...and I was relatively pleased with it before the mods. Thanks for offering a solid service and quality continuity for keeping Counterpoint products repaired and state of the art.
-- Bruce Bunch
SA-2000 Upgrade by Jim Treanor
"The stock mid-1990's-vintage Counterpoint SA-2000 is a tubed (6DJ8) line stage preamp with a solid-state video output buffer. After Counterpoint went out of business, owner and designer Michael Elliott formed Alta Vista Audio L.L.C., a company devoted to the repair and modification of Counterpoint equipment. Elliott's modifications to amplification hardware utilize premium components and come in several "flavors" (Basic, Premium, and, in some cases, Premium Gold) and may be applied to either the audio stage or power supply or both. Additional options include the upgrading of, where applicable, input and output connectors, volume and balance controls, and power transformer. Details are available at Elliott's Web site, www.altavistaaudio.com.
Having acquired two mint used SA-2000's (one for my audio system, the other for my modest video system), I sent one to Elliott for modification, requesting the "premium" upgrade to both the audio stage (substituting a Sovtek 6922 for the original 6DJ8) and power supply, along with an upgraded volume control, bypassing of the balance control, "direct output" (a circuit modification that does away with the solid-state video buffer), and upgraded RCA jacks for the Main output and CD and External Phono inputs. This upgrade cost approximately $1900.
While the to-be-modded SA-2000 was away at Alta Vista Audio, the other one took its place in my audio system. Thus, when the modified unit returned, I did not have to rely on long-term auditory memory for comparisons. This review summarizes my impressions after a 300-hour burn-in. The CD’s used for this evaluation are listed below.
The stock SA-2000 had been a significant improvement over its system predecessor, an Adcom GFP-565, in the areas of tonal and timbral rightness, imaging, soundstage breadth and depth, and warmth, whether feeding Adcom GFA-565 monoblocks, a stock Counterpoint SA-100, or an Elliott-modified SA-100 (known as the NP100).
The modified SA-2000 trumps the stock unit in all these areas by a wide margin. Take strings, for example … they’re considerably more delicate, and the woodiness of the instruments more evident. Cymbal brush work evokes a filigreed shimmer previously perceived as near-hash. Instruments and voices-whether playing solo or massed--exhibit significantly greater body, nuanced timbre, and, on well-recorded material, a spooky three-dimensional reality. Bass is tauter, more detailed, perceptively deeper, but even more important from my perspective, corporeal in its presentation. The difference in dynamics-both micro and macro-is night-and-day, and heretofore-congested tuttis now exhale with gusto. Listening room side walls on the verge of disappearing with the stock 2000 have melted away on appropriately-recorded CD's.
In terms of depth, the perceived absolute distance from front to rear appears the same as before (it already extended beyond the wall behind the speakers), but what fills it in is now far airier, more layered and palpable…and that’s true, where the recording permits, beyond the side walls.
What has kept me awake far too long into the night lately is neither insomnia nor a less-than-well-digested dinner. I'm involved in what I'm hearing, pulled in and glued to my chair for hours on end, and I’m listening not just to demo tracks but to entire works, appreciating even more the subtleties embedded in the art of composers and performers.
The bottom line? As soon as I can scrape up the cash, my other SA-2000 goes to Michael Elliott for an upgrade."
-- Jim Treanor
Computing Administrator, Intercollegiate Athletics
Oregon State University
(Review written August 19, 2000 for Audio Asylum, www.audioasylum.com)
CD’s used for this review: - Malcolm Arnold, "Arnold Overtures," Malcolm Arnold, LPO, Reference RR-48CD (non-HDCD) - Alexander Borodin, "Prince Igor," Emil Tchakarov, Sofia Festival Orchestra/Sofia National Opera Chorus, Sony S3K44878 - Modern Jazz Quartet, "The MJQ at Music Inn, Vol. 2," MoFi UDCD 632 - Stephen Sondheim, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," Original Broadway Cast, Bay Cities BCD 3002 (now available as an EMI remaster) - Stan Getz/Joao Gilberto, "Getz/Gilberto," Verve Master Edition, 314 521 414-2 - Howard Hanson, "Symphony No. 4/Merry Mount Suite," Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony, Delos DE-3105 - Clifford Jordan Quartet, "Live at Ethell’s," Mapleshade MS 56292 - James Horner, "Sneakers," Original Soundtrack, Columbia CK53146 - Ottorino Respighi, "Transcriptions for Orchestra," Jesus Lopez-Cobos, Cincinnati Symphony, Telarc CD-80396
Associated Equipment for this Review: Amplifier: Counterpoint NP100 (modified SA-100) Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Counterpoint SA-2000 (modified) Sources (CDP/Turntable): Audio Alchemy DDSII/Anodyne ATAS Speakers: Symdex Epsilon Cables/Interconnects: John Garland and Belden IC's, Plenum digital IC, Tara Space & Time speaker cable bi-wired Music Used (Genre/Selections): Classical, Opera, Jazz, Film Room Size (LxWxH): 26' x 14'3" x 7'9" Room Comments/Treatments: ASC Tube Traps & Flat Traps, DIY room lenses Time Period/Length of Audition: One week after 300-hour burn-in Other (Power Conditioner etc.): PS Audio P300 - 90Hz setting Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Jim Treanor
"`NP100' is the designation given to late 1980's-mid-1990's-vintage Counterpoint SA-100 stereo power amplifiers that have undergone fundamental-rebuild upgrades by former Counterpoint owner-designer Michael Elliott, who performs Counterpoint repairs and modifications under a new name, AltaVista Audio L.L.C..
The original SA-100 was a hybrid utilizing a three-tube (6DJ8) input stage and MOSFET output stage and was rated at 100 watts per channel. The NP-100 modification replaces the original circuit board, reduces the input stage to one tube (a Sovtek 6922), replaces the MOSFET output stage with a bipolar transistor stage, uses higher-grade parts than found in the stock SA-100, and uses Sound Connection cabling throughout. The power rating remains 100 watts, but the damping factor is increased from 8.9 to about 90.
The NP100 upgrade comes in three standard flavors (Basic, Premium, and Premium Gold) ranging in cost from $649 to $1649. . . . with the "Premium" upgrades offering even better parts, including a new toroidal transformer and Van Den Hul wiring.
I opted for the Basic $649 upgrade utilizing the 6922, plus the replacement of the stock power transformer with a Plitron toroid and upgrading of the power supply capacitors and rectifiers, for a total upgrade cost of $1205. Since I acquired a used mint SA-100 for $500, my total outlay for the NP-100 was $1705, plus shipping to and from Alta Vista Audio.
Based on both Elliott's advice and my experience, I didn't commence critical listening to the NP100 until the unit had burned in for at least 300 hours. I'd lived with the unmodified SA-100 for four months before sending it in for the upgrade. It was a considerably more musical and dimensional amp than the Adcom GFA-565 300-watt monoblocks that preceded it, and, surprisingly, given the power difference, had almost as much bass slam when driving the Symdexes. For reference, I listen primarily to symphonic, acoustic jazz, movie scores (the whole-cloth scores, not the exploitation pop compilations scrabbled together for after-market CD sales), some choral and opera, and a fair amount of vocal standards.
The burned-in NP100 is, in a word, magical. There are "romantic" amps that sound warm and fuzzy, but emit sonic haze at the extremes. And there are razor-sharp-definition amps that reveal every nit, but leave one cold. The NP100 combines the virtues, but exhibits none of the vices, of both. Images are rock-stable and precise, surrounded by appropriate "air." The soundstage extends beyond side and rear walls and, on those recordings where it's appropriate (e.g., the Turtle Creek Chorale's "Testament" CD [Reference Recordings]), forward of the speaker plane. Instruments and voice exhibit harmonic and timbral rightness to a degree I've not heard in far costlier amplifiers. And the vertical imaging made me bolt upright...the height of vocalists, for example, is rendered with startling precision. Bass from a 100-watt amp driving Symdexes in a 26'x14'x8' room? The NP100 eats the Adcoms' lunch-and their breakfast and dinner as well-going at least at deep at comparable volume levels...and extracting subtle detail not detectable with the larger amps. Moreover, the NP100 is incredibly quick in rendering subtle as well as in-your-face transients.
Well, that's a somewhat clinical analysis. As I listen, I'm compelled to shed my analytical self as I get pulled into the performance...whether it's Michael Tilson Thomas wringing every last emotion out of the Mahler Seventh or Clifford Jordan singing (!) Lush Life. The "debate" between "musical" and "accurate" loses all meaning here, because with the NP100 they're indistinguishable from each other. And that's with 10-year-old interconnects and closeout budget speaker cable.
On a scale of 5, I'd rate the NP100 a 6 on performance (if I could) and a 7 on value. This is a no-brainer steal, folks. "
-- Jim Treanor
Computing Administrator, Intercollegiate Athletics
Oregon State University
(Associated components: Audio Alchemy DDSII CD transport, Anodyne ATAS (all-tube -analog-stage) DAC, SOTA Sapphire turntable with Profile arm and Grado Gold cartridge, Rotel phono preamp, Counterpoint SA-2000 line stage preamp (unmodified), Cardas Hexlink and Garland interconnects, Tara Space & Time speaker cable (two pair for biwiring), Symdex Epsilon speakers. All components except speakers mounted on sand-filled MDF or Bright Star Big Rock platforms.)
NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Neill Grimes
"Mike, thanks for a great NP100 Premium upgrade. I never knew how much music was being obscured by the original amp. I'm not much on audiophile lingo, but the new amp is much more transparent to the recorded musical event. And thanks for allowing me to reinvest in something that I already own, instead of having to buy a new piece of equipment. I never enjoyed the trade-in/sell upgrade game. "
-- Neill Grimes
NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Branwell McClory
"I thought I would drop you a note to express my thoughts on my upgraded SA-100 (NP100 Basic Upgrade with custom FRED rectifier upgrade [$249]). While I could start with a long-winded spiel, a list of adjectives to try to describe the amp, I feel it would be much more accurate to simply say, `This amp has an uncanny ability to make music sound like real music.'
My comments need to be taken in the context of some one that used to sell Hi-End audio gear in London. Several brand including Krell, Audio Research, Deltec, Croft ( very nice stuff ), etc. I was totally obsessed with High End stuff at one point so I gained a lot of experience with different gear. I have heard so many very expensive audiophile amps that have so much detail, imaging, control, whatever, but in the context of making music, their designers missed, creating technical beauties that can't make music.
In my experience, there are two types of amps: First, the 3D amps. These are amps that measure wonderfully and are wonderfully dynamic. They present a great sound stage but fall flat in the ability to get you involved with the music. Its like they present the music but whether you get involved with it is up to you. Amps that fall into this category are Krell and Krell types. Then there are the Musical amps: These are amps that have a wonderful ability to suck you into the emotional content of the music. The problem with most of these is that their sound stage ability is really not very good. The images tend to wander and aren't very well defined. Amps that fall into this category are Naim and Naim types like Linn. Your amp on the other hand seems to have gotten most of the best of both worlds and given that its still only 10 days old, I expect it to get better in the coming weeks.
The NP100 images exceptionally well. It seems to do very well placing an instrument in the sound stage, holding it there, letting its rhythm flow and maintaining it even when there are many other instruments playing around it. During an orchestral crescendo for insistence. It is remarkably easy to follow the rhythm of each individual instrument and at the same time, follow the music as a whole. This ability to pull the rhythm of the disk not only makes music that much more real, but it has also allowed me to play and enjoy CD's I have not been able to listen to in years because on most hi end systems, they simply sound bad. With this amp, they still sound bad but some how, the musical spirit of the artist seems to get through.
While I am sure there are several amps that are better than this at making music, none of the standard run-of-the-mill Krells, ARCs, etc., that I have had under $5K even come close. Thank you for persevering in your quest."
-- Branwell McClory
NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Volker Franke
"I had my SA-100 for three years and was very happy with it. Then I blew an output stage and was forced to decide whether to get it fixed or to buy a new amp altogether. I decided not only to stick with the Counterpoint, but also to get it upgraded by Michael Elliott to the NP100 (basic upgrade). A gamble? Yeah, to some extent since I knew I was spending a good bit of money on an amplifier I'd never heard. But then again, I really liked my SA 100 and was fairly confident that the upgrade would sound similar and at least as good (after all, it's the same designer).
I shipped the amp to Michael Elliott and received the upgraded NP100 after a little more than two weeks (considering that it had to go from the East coast to the West coast and back, that's prompt service!!). I set it up, turned it on, and sat down for my first listening session. Good news right out of the box-it still sounded like a Counterpoint! Although a bit harsh at first, it impressed me with greater clarity and a wider soundstage than I was used from the SA-100.
I've had the amp in my system now for about a month: the initial harshness is gone, the soundstage is even wider, the bass tighter, and the highs are grain-free and clear. What an improvement!! I would definitely decide on the upgrade again-one would be hard pressed to find better performance at this price. Any amp I've listened to over the past year or so that sounds as detailed, harmonically rich, and controlled as the NP100 retails for at least 2-3 times as much.
In addition to great sound, build quality is superb. I inadvertently shorted the speaker cables but didn't realize it until a few days later, when I noticed the distorted soundstage. I checked and all that happened to the amp was two blown rail fuses. Testimony of a well-built component!!
A word about service: Outstanding! I have called Michael several times with questions. He has always answered every call himself (!) and has so far provided exceptional advice over the phone. I feel very confident in the product, its warranty, and Michael's ability to answer questions and provide technical assistance. Overall, the NP 100 does everything I want my amp to do and does it very well. Sure you can find amps with more slam or a lusher sound, but you'd be hard pressed to find an amp (especially for the price) that sounds as neutral and refined and is able to drive virtually any load. The worst part about my decision to upgrade to the NP100 is that the amp sounds so good that I am now looking to upgrading my speakers. For those of you who are into "tweaking," I found the NP100 to sound best if accompanied by a tubed preamp (I use a Joule Electra LA 100 Mk-III). I have also placed the amp atop of four vibrapods which tightens the bass and increases the soundstage.
-- Volker Franke
Assistant Professor of Political Science
Director, Maxwell/SAIS National Security Studies
Case Studies Program
Department of Political Science
Western Maryland College
NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Taka Shiota
"I am very pleased at your new NP-100. The unit has been very steady and safe since I received it. The sound is as clear and warm as I hoped (even with the Basic upgrade). I must say that I didn't expect this excellent quality at this price. And you refunded the tax to me with the amp. I appreciate your honesty/fairness as well as excellent ability as an audio expert. Vocals, piano, violin, and orchestra are all realistic but not harsh at all. I am hoping to buy another one if I can afford it -- maybe an old SA-220 for your (no problem) upgrade. Thanks again. "
-- Taka Shiota
Shaker Heights, OH
NP220 (Upgraded SA-20/SA-220) by Scott Bennett "Michael,
I know most people grace you with calls and e-mail while they are ordering and waiting for their gear, but never report back on how they liked it, leaving you with their expectations but not rewarding you when they are
surpassed. I wasn't going to do that. I was going to rave on contact with my long awaited NP220.
This is that rave.
But it hasn't come 'til now because I was immediately knocked out by only most of the features of the sound. From note one, impact was undeniable. It can't even really be described as power, in the traditional sense of volume or headroom, except as the power of each instrument to speak individually, separately from each other. Impact, of each component sound and of the total sound. No problem with size at all, and imaging, locating the placement of each instrument, was not a task for golden ears--each held fast in the sonic firmament. I listened as the tubes broke in, readjusted my turntable set up, played favorite and not so favorite records . . . and watched for air, smoothness, acousticity of acoustic instruments to keep pace with the awesome force of the presentation.
Found some RCA Black Base 5692 tubes in town [to upgrade the stock Sovtek 6SN7 tubes] for $10 each, and am listening to them now.
Amazing . . . the air, sweetness, naturalness I was missing, and even more impact. Playing Strength In Numbers as I write . . . one of my favorites, and never before as fulfilling. I'm there. I'm drinking the kool aid. I'm convinced. This is what I was hoping for from this amp. The Plitron transformer we waited for looks like a prop from "Cocoon" . . . specialty item, to be sure. But breaking in these tubes in this amp is a millennial experience.
In an uneven world, Michael, just so you know, somebody gets what you've done.
-- Scott Bennett
NP220 (Upgraded SA-20/SA-220) by Barry McHale
"I'm not someone who makes quick judgements about any audio components before they break in. I know better. I think this NP220 amp is a very, very nice amp having used it now for a couple of months on both the top, and midbass of my system (down to 60Hz). My standard of reference is the old SA-20 and a many times more expensive pair of Pass Labs Aleph 2s.
Compared with the SA-20 (an amp I still love) the NP220 is much more transparent. It's not quite as warm sounding but that warmth was a bit too artifical and "murky". The bass is significantly better than the SA-20 which was that amp's biggest weakness in my opinion. The sense of unlimited power is still there. Dynamics are excellent. The spacial presentation is still about the same or a little more natural which is fine. It's not too forward. It's dead quiet with no signal and the preamp gain up all the way (I hate noisy electronics).
I think this amp rivals the Alephs in many respects which is no mean feat. The NP220 highs are just about perfect and have a certain presence I think. The mid range is very neutral with just a touch of added warmth to sound very realistic. I must say the VTVs made a major difference for the better. I would not sell the amp upgrades without them. I also tube rolled a bit ending up with a JAN Phillips 6188 after also trying a JAN Phillips 6SL7WGT (never used yours so I can't comment). At this point I wished I had added the Black Gates and will probably do so myself in the future.
I kinda miss the space heater effects. This amp runs cold! I'm using my frying pan and stove at breakfast again and the cat's stopped sleeping on the amp (he's too smart to pee on the audio equipment unlike some of felines belonging to other Counterpoint owners).
In summary, you've got a honey of an upgrade here. I wish you the best of success with it. Thanks again."
West Chester, PA
SA-3000 Upgrade by Michael Grove "Whoa! What a difference. I've had my SA-3000 (Line Stage, Power Supply Level II, Phono Stage upgrades) back in my system now for about a month and I'm more impressed with it every time I sit down to listen. Everything is right there in spades! The image, the detail, the harmonics, all of it. I'm also very impressed with the way it sounds at low volume levels. I'd grown used to details in the music fading away as the volume was turned down. Now I find that I don't have to listen at as high a volume level as before to get the same level of enjoyment. The phono stage upgrade is nothing short of miraculous. Smooth, detailed, warm ... just what the doctor ordered. Thanks for all your advice and your fine work. I'll be sending my SA12/100 in for upgrades as soon as I can manage it."
SA-3000 and NPS100 Upgrades by Tom Schuman
"I thought Id let you know, in a little more detail, how your Counterpoint amps are sounding these days. You modified the line stage of an SA-3000 preamp and the results were quite amazing. Together, the `line stage passives' and `purity' modifications, along with the bypass of the solid stage buffer in the output, have resulted in a grain-free, unrestrained sound. Goodbye to the slight reticence that tended to characterize the preamp. The soundstage now seems to emanate from beyond and behind my speakers, not just between them as before. The unit sounds sweet and extended at once. I only regret that I didnt have you replace the volume control (now, a do-it-yourself project!).
Then I sent you my NPS100 for the `ultimate' upgrade, with some hesitation: this is an expensive proposition!
In combination with the modded SA-3000, the result was a delight. First of all there is no background noise. The amp is silent as all get-out. The top end is sweet yet extended, which means that I can turn it up without ear-bleed, at levels that had my Bryston 60-watter sounding harsh. The overload characteristics are something special. The bass now sounds like it just happens, instead of being pushed out of speaker drivers (the transmission line speakers help). The bass feels limitless and natural, without the artificial lock-step feel of typical high current solid state. Voices and acoustic instruments are wonderful. Strings decay in a continuous stream. There is more `there' there, more dimensionality.
If I could afford a modded NPS-400, Id really be in heaven. These amps have to be one of the great secrets in audio these days. I think this amplifier is a terrific match for a good transmission line speaker. (In fact if I remember correctly, you voice them with Meadowlarks.) I think they would be special as well with Magnepans. Also, neutral cables and very detailed source components will allow this amp to show what it can do. Ive heard BAT VK-60s with the best cables and Revel speakers. These Counterpoints are at least as good. Also, these mods are a bargain. I dont see how anyone could improve on this sound without spending $10,000 retail, or more, on amplification. These pieces are staying right where they are! I should also mention that it has been a pleasure to deal with Alta Vista. Your patience in troubleshooting a hum in my system and responsiveness was heartening. Also youre fun to talk to! "
SA-5000 Upgrade by Steve Sweetnich
"I have had my upgraded SA-5000 back now for about two weeks. Simply said, I couldn't be happier. The piece is exquisite, almost indistinguishable from brand new. I am not sure what condition it was in as you received it, but I am most impressed with the quality of the work performed, the solder joints, and pristine condition of the whole unit.
Regarding the sound, well, in a word, its beautiful: detailed but not hard, full but not overripe, solid bass but not overblown, great imaging, etc., (at the risk of sounding like a reviewer). Better yet, I have $30k of solid state Krell upstairs, and I prefer the SA-5000 with my Counterpoint OTL's. I am very pleased and will recommend your services and product to anyone who asks.
- Thanks for delivering what you promised."
- -- Steve Sweetnich
NP220 (Upgraded SA-20/SA-220) by Dr. William Stein III "I received my NP220 amp today. It is absolutely incredible. I can not begin to tell you how pleased I am. Until now I never really understood "imaging" before except as a concept. I just can't get over it!! It is so clear. You can hear everything. It really sounds as though the performer is right here in the room with me. Mere words can not express my delight!
I am completely pleased not only with the wonderful equipment that you designed, constructed, and sold but also with the OUTSTANDING aftersale support! I'm referring to your updates for changing technology, your fantastic customer support, your fast helpful e-mail, the unbelievable turnaround time in your shop (13 days including shipping time!!!), and sound that is absolutely incredible even to a novice who does not know all of the "lingo" but has listened to many different high end systems. I have never dealt with any company that offers anywhere near the support you offer to your customers. I can not believe that you are not manufacturing new equipment. It is a loss to the audio world. Keep up the good work. It has been a privilege to do business with you.
- William Stein, III, M.D.
- Metairie, LA, USA
NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Bill Sloan "Thanks very much for your wonderful NP100 upgrade, which arrived on December 22nd. This is less an upgrade than it is an entirely new instrument! The difference your new design has made amazed me even when I played my first CD, after the amp had warmed up for only an hour. Listening for many hours since then has more than confirmed my first impressions.
Completely gone is the low-frequency hum. The sound stage has broadened and acquired a greatly increased sense of presence; every voice is clearly distinct and life-like. Between your new design and the 7308 tube option, I expected the wonderful clarity and effortlessness of reproduction in the high frequencies. However, the unexpected and dramatic improvement in the low end is nothing less than spectacular! I can't believe the deep, clear, dynamic bass I can now hear with my upgraded amplifier.
- Every one of my CD's is now a surprise to listen to, revealing details, nuances and dynamics I couldn't hear before. The gap between my good and not-so-good recordings has widened, as every flaw or perfection is more clearly revealed. This is truly an impressive new amplifier, and a real bargain for the price of the upgrade. Every SA-100 owner should rush to take advantage of the amazing transformation accomplished by your NP100 upgrade!"
- Boston, MA, USA
- SA-5.1 Upgrade by Steve Schiendelman
- "I wanted to upgrade my system, but couldn't decide where to start. Upgrading my speakers would cost thousands . . . maybe I should upgrade my components? Realizing that I already own relatively expensive equipment, I considered a third option: modifying my existing equipment. I focused on my somewhat vintage Counterpoint SA 5.1 pre-amp. I contacted Michael Elliott (formally Counterpoint's designer) and discussed the modifications with him. He proposed modifications that replaced parts that were high-end when the unit was manufactured, but were, by today's standards, definitely not state-of-the-art. Michael told me that I would be picking up detail and clarity with the upgraded components. I would have to classify that statement as being substantially understated. The system was transformed, I hardly recognized my speakers.
The detail, soundstaging, clarity were so improved that I was utterly amazed. For a fraction of what a new "high end" pre-amp would have cost me, I now have a unit that I think rivals some of the best pre-amps on the market. I can only say, anyone that has somewhat older equipment or, is looking to upgrade newer equipment, Michael does outstanding work. It's worth every dollar."
-- Steve Schiendelman
Fan for Life
Egg Harbor Township, NJ
- SA-1000 Upgrade and NP100 (Upgraded SA-12/SA-100) by Michael Carey
- "The NP100 and SA-1000 upgrades sounds great! It's like a $4,000 system upgrade for a lot less. I'm very happy with the results. Keep me on your mailing list for future upgrades."
-- Michael Carey
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
SA-5000 Upgrade by Ed Freedman
- "My SA-5000 upgrade is better than ever. Never dreamt the changes would be so dramatic. My turntable is incredible; the CD is better (but a long way off from vinyl). Even my tuner sounds great. If the amp upgrade does what you say, well, I'll have a better-sounding system than I ever dreamed -- and at a reasonable cost."
-- Ed Freedman
SA-3000 Upgrade by John Serocki "I've been listening to my upgraded SA-3000A preamp as often as possible over the past three weeks. I've found that trying to hear differences among audio gear (except, perhaps, for loudspeakers) is usually difficult. However, in this case the changes rendered were not subtle. I'm glad you convinced me to go with the upgrades - I now have a "new" and vastly superior preamp to what I thought was already a good unit and sound. Yes, you were right - there was an edginess and hardness in the reproduction previously. A glare or steeliness, too. All that's gone and the sound now is coherent, fluid and much, much natural.
The imaging was also dramatically enhanced in terms of placement, layering, width and depth; it's so much more believable now. What really makes me realize how much of an improvement the upgrade made is that I find myself (finally) forgetting about equipment and becoming fully involved with the music and the performance. The system is so now so transparent and natural sounding that it literally "disappears" as I capture musical subtleties and colors I didn't hear before.
I've especially noticed this increased naturalness to the sound with piano, guitar and voice reproduction. There seems to be a perfect synergism among the preamp, the McCormack DNA-1 S/E and my Martin Logan SL3s. Again, the sound is so natural and lifelike - I can't wait to listen to my entire collection of recordings. So, thanks sincerely for opening a new window on my musical enjoyment. Thanks, too, for the prompt attention, advise and service. Any chance of Counterpoint coming back or you creating your own line of electronics? Best of luck and happy holidays."
- -- John Serocki
NP220 (Upgraded SA-20/SA-220) by Dr. Charles Sepos "I've lived with my NP220 (originally an SA-20, later modified to an SA-220) amp now for two weeks. It has broken in very gradually over that time, and it has been worth it - never have I witnessed such bloom in a component during break-in. Gone is that tube-y throatiness that I thought I loved in the SA-20/220. In its place is detail, detail, neutral detail. The sound stage is greater in every dimension. The subtlety of detail in every register is at least an order of magnitude better. (I can now hear not only fingernails on keys, but the rustle of performers clothes!).
The huge power reserve is still there (though I have to set my attenuators higher), but both dynamic range and micro-dynamics are way better - soooo musical, soooo expressive. Its a whole new amp! (You told me it would be, Michael.) Bigger in every way - dynamics, detail, sound stage. In fact, the NP220 makes my system sound HUGE! And real. Whats more, the 4 green LEDs on each side circuit boards are really cool! They complement the warm orange glow of the tubes.
And I really like the new cobalt power-on indicator. It makes my round, one-room house feel all the more like a flying saucer at night when the lights are low. My only disappointment with my new NP220 is that I can't fry my breakfast eggs on it like I could my SA-220. Cool! Cooler!! Way Cool!!! Worth every penny!"
-- Charles Sepos, Doctor of Musical Arts
Composer, Educator, Writer
Host of Curtain Call on NPR Affiliate KRCB FM
SA-5000 Upgrade by Dave Kakenmaster "When I got my upgraded SA-5000A back I was sure I'd have to expend much mental energy to hear any improvement over its past fine performance. Wow! Boy, was I wrong! From the get-go I heard improvements across the board. Vocals which had sounded fine before now had a fuller and more authoritative presentation, rendering the old SA-5000A a little thin and flat sounding. Bass took on a life of its own, too. Bass lines which were hard to follow before because of poor recording quality were now easier to hear and follow. It was as if a few layers of grunge had been removed -- and I didn't even feel they were there before I had the upgrades done!
Soundstaging seemed to extend ever so slightly further to the left and right and went way back further. Sounds didn't seem to come more forward unless they were recorded that way. I'd say that if you could visualize a good soundstage as being spherical, then the sphere got bigger! The preamp's resolution of detail is better now, too. I can clearly hear more going on in the background of recordings because of it. I guess that's the result of a 'blacker' background, but the fun comes with 'live' recordings. I feel much closer to the performance than before, partly because (oddly enough) the audience and ambiance sounds more real.
I called Michael to relay all this, and he was pleased that I was happy. But I should have waited a week or two longer to call, because as the unit broke in all the improvements I just described magnified greatly. This upgraded SA-5000A is a superb preamp, and one which may well be in that elusive 'top tier' of sound quality in the world. The original SA-5000 was highly regarded, and this new version is a stunning improvement. Yes, the work and parts are expensive, but it was still much less expensive than purchasing an all-new preamp -- and one that may not have the care and dedication of the designer that this one has. And the results are, in my mind, resoundingly worthwhile.
I have no connection to Mr. Elliott or Alta Vista Audio. I'm just a very satisfied consumer, and just wanted to spread the word about the quality of his work. It's people like this that keep hi-fi fun!"
-- Dave Kakenmaster
DA-10 Motherboard Upgrade and Rapture 24-bit DACCard by Jim Treanor
"While I’ve made the jump to digital hyperspace and embraced SACD, I have a collection of approximately 900 Red Book CD’s, as well as a few Classic 24/96 DAD’s, and expect to continue purchasing Red Books for specific performances and works not available in the newer format. I also wanted to give myself the ability to explore other hi-resolution digital formats that might become available.
To meet these needs, I selected the no-longer-made Counterpoint DA-10A as my digital processor for the following reasons: (1) It provides multiple digital inputs, facilitating connection of my Sony SCD-777ES and Dan-Wright-modified Pioneer DV-525 transports; (2) the DA-10A was designed as an upgradable motherboard-based, slot-card DAC; (3) a never-used, new-in-box DA-10A became available dirt cheap; (4) Counterpoint designer Michael Elliott (now doing business as Alta Vista Audio) offers both an upgrade to the motherboard power supply and a “Rapture” 24/96 DAC card based on the Crystal Semiconductors CS4396 chip; and (5) Elliott’s previous upgrades to my SA-100 amp and SA-2000 line stage have proven more than cost-effective in enhancing my enjoyment of reproduced music (the majority of my listening is to classical, with substantial amounts of time devoted to jazz, movie soundtracks, and vocal standards).
The Rapture 24/96 DAC card does not provide upsampling, but may be upgraded in the future to 24/192 capability. It is user-installable and may be wired directly to the DA-10A’s analog output. I opted to have Elliott do the installation, since I desired the motherboard power supply upgrade as well. Total upgrade cost was approximately $1450.
The stock DA-10A (with Analog Devices chip and HDCD decoding) bettered my venerable Anodyne ATAS (6922-based analog output stage) DAC in the areas of bass authority and image focus, equaled it in soundstage presentation and timbral rightness, and gave up only a little in liquidity.
I commenced critical listening to the modified DA-10A after approximately 400 hours of burn-in. My immediate overall reaction was that Red Book CD suddenly sounded a lot more musical. The “shaving off” of glare and other digital artifacts, the retrieval of previously-masked low-level information, and the seemingly effortless recreation of acoustic space rendered tone and timbre considerably more natural, imaging and sense of instrumental “body”(reediness, bow rosin, etc.) more palpable and focused, and attack and decay more discernible. Bass grabbed with its authority and definition. Treble was airy and delicate, not hard-edged. The midrange created the illusion of a corporeal presence even more liquid than that obtained with the Anodyne. This was true with large orchestral, operatic, and/or choral ensembles as well as with chamber or jazz groups or individual vocalists.
Note that these observations apply to good recordings, a few of which are HDCD’s. Although the upgrade does not incorporate HDCD decoding, recent Reference Recording releases sounded considerably more alive than with either the non-HDCD Anodyne or the HDCD-equipped stock DA-10A.
I have some early ‘80’s CD’s (largely, though not exclusively, movie soundtracks that aren’t otherwise available) that range anywhere from marginal to downright bad (e.g., the Winds of War TV score, the Star Trek III movie), what I consider poster boys of early digital. With the modified DA-10A, they, too, sounded better, but not sanitized -- not sow’s ears that had transformed magically into silk purses. Their warts still showed, and that’s as it should be with an accurate DAC.
The Classics 24/96 DAD of Ravel’s orchestral works played on the Wright-modified DV-525 and through the Elliott-modified DA-10A proved an absolute delight in its airiness and musicality.
In comparing the modified DA-10A with the 777’s internal 24-bit variable-coefficient DAC, I concluded that the latter, while an exceptional value in an SACD-capable player with a street price of $1500 to $1600, placed a subtle veil over the sonic presentation all the way from bottom to top, including dynamics. There just wasn’t quite the “there” there that I found with the modified DA-10A. And that was true at any of the Sony’s filter settings.
While I’m not able to determine how much of the upgraded DA-10A’s performance is attributable to the motherboard power supply upgrade and how much to the Rapture 24/96 DAC, it’s clear that the combination has enhanced my Red Book CD listening by several orders of magnitude."Product Weakness: DA-10A no longer in production, must be purchased used to obtain upgrade.
Product Strengths: Liquidity, dynamics, focus, definition, bass authority
Associated Equipment for this Review: Amplifier: Counterpoint/AVA NP100 (modified SA-100) Preamplifier (or None if Integrated): Counterpoint/AVA SA-2000 (modified line stage) Sources (CDP/Turntable): Sony SCD-777ES, Dan Wright-modified Pioneer DV-525 Speakers: Symdex Epsilon Cables/Interconnects: Kimber Silver Streak IC, Plenum Digital IC, Tara Space & Time speaker cable (bi-wired) Music Used (Genre/Selections): Classical, Jazz, Soundtracks, Opera, Vocals Room Size (LxWxH): 26.5' x 14.25' x 7.8' Room Comments/Treatments: ASC Tube Traps and Flat Traps, bookcases Time Period/Length of Audition: Two weeks after 500-hour burn-in Other (Power Conditioner etc.): PS Audio Power Plant P300 w/ Multiwave (SS1 setting) Type of Audition/Review: Product Owner
-- Jim Treanor
Computing Administrator, Intercollegiate Athletics
Oregon State University
(Review written December 19, 2000 for Audio Asylum, www.audioasylum.com)
Alta Vista Audio L.L.C. warrants the materials used and workmanship provided for upgrades to be free of defects for a period of three years (five years in some cases) from the date of sale.