I used to sell Counterpoint equiptment in the mid 80s. Generally speaking the amps were pretty reliable and the preamps amps were not as reliable. I owned a pre-amp and it blew up. I remember the amps and pre-amps sounding very good at the time; more transparent than CJ and more warmth and dimensionality than Threshold.
I thought that Mr. Elliot was a pioneer in the field and a very competent designer. Also, I think that the reliability issue was more a result of low/cheap quality parts. I think that hybrids in theory have a lot of potential and would favor them in amps that put out over a 100 watts.
Many years ago I heard a Counterpoint hybrid driving B&W 801's with a Wadia as the source. It was in a huge room. I have never heard B&W's sound so good before (or ever again). One of the best reproduced sounds I have ever heard. Huge soundstage, with layers and layers of depth and height. They were reproducing a large choral work, I could hear each individual voice, amazing.
Counterpoint products were excellent.
Can you fault them? Sure, but you can do that with any product. Regardless of cost.
I would say that they kept the tube flame burning during the zenith of the big, bruising solid state muscle amps. The tube input was the thing that distinguished them. While it's true that they played in the high current field, I believe they were required to. The premier speakers of that time required a lot of juice to come alive. Apogee, Carver, Duntech, Hales, Magnepan, Martin Logan, PSB, Thiel.
Let's face it, if you were a high end amp at the time, and you could not feed these speakers what they need, current, you would not be able to sell anything. Your amp, in comparison to Classe, Krell, Mark Levinson, and Rowland would sound limp, strained, harsh, and constricted. Those were the direct competitors of Counterpoint. A step or two above Adcom, AMC, B & K, and NAD. A step above Aragon.
A lower powered amp at the time fell into the classification of lower priced, lower quality(back then quality was quantity), exotic - owned by lunatic fringe, or foreign(European - also considered lunatic fringe at the time).
The amps could basically drive anything you needed to drive. Their products could drive a 2 ohm load, and if my memory serves me correctly, maybe even a 1 ohm load. The sound was rich, due to the 6DJ8 and mosfet outputs. But, I feel that there was definitely some mosfet haze, if not to the degree of Adcom, which I feel is the classic example mosfet haze. I can also say that the sound was a bit etched, electronic, and unnatural. But, so were all of the other competitor's amps. There wasn't a sense of lightness or speed of the products, but again, that was the rule of the day. Even of the time's best amps. I would say it was partly due to the "bigger is better" war that was going on regarding power supplies; transformers and capacitors. Part of it were the parts available. Part of it was that "simpler is better" was not embraced by many then.
Parts quality has come along way in the past decade. And, I am certain that had Counterpoint survived, they would have progressed in a manner similar to Jeff Rowland. A continual upward path, resulting in a refinement and smoothness improvement. None of these big amps needed more power. In fact, over the past 5 or so years, speakers have become much more efficient. Mostly necessitated by the reemergence of tubes.
Would I buy a Counterpoint amp now? Sure. If the sound was what I was looking for. The prices, always reasonable for their quality, are good. As has been mentioned, in the right combination, Counterpoint can offer heaven. As always, an audition is required to see if your tastes merge with the marque. I would also agree with the assessment that the power amps as significantly more reliable than the preamps.
I just heard about Aria(?) amps and was on their website the other day. Thought I read the designer was the original guy from Counterpoint, but I could be wrong. Was Counterpoint bought by Red Rose? Anyway, the website was www.ariaaudio.com(or something close) and I got to it through www.altavista.com(or something close) but you might be able to access it directly. The amps were hybrid types so I'm thinking it might be the same guy. Just thought I'd pass this on as I didn't see it mentioned above.
Check out this website for all your Counterpoint needs:
I have owned several peices of Counterpoint equipment over the years. Starting in 92, I had a solid 2 power amp. Bought a SA-3000 preamp a few years later. Moved to biamp by adding a SA-100 hybrid power amp. Sold that setup to a friend, who still enjoys it very much. After the company went belly up in late 98, I purchased 2 NP-400 power amps used, a very good deal considering the equipment sells for about 30-35% of original retail. I have since had them both upgraded to Michael Elliot's highest level, which replaces a lot of parts with much better ones. Michael Elliot still services and upgrades all Counterpoint equipment. You can read all about it at www.altavistaaudio.com, I also have a review of the upgrades posted on that site. I can't say enough about it, I have compared it to probably 15-20 other fairly expensive amps over the years, but haven't found anything that outdoes it for under 20K, which is far out of my affordability. I have never had any reliabilty problems at all, neither have any of my friends, several of which own counterpoint equipment. I think the reputation of unreliabilty came later from the Counterpoint EASE line, which was astronomically complex and expensive. The big preamp (Magnum Opus?) was about 37k, had 2 separate power supplies weighing over 60 lbs each, 57 tubes in all. It had outsourced custom transformers which had been improperly manufactured, bad shielding, leading to 100% failure in the field. This created a bad reputation, and financial insolvency due to the massive debt incurred to manufacture this new line. It was lights out. Since someone touched on this in the post, I believe it was Conrad Johnson, probably their closest competitor, that bought the name and all designs. I have the Claritas preamp, the CJ "Baby ART" is almost exactly the same thing, different faceplate and some different parts. The hybrid amps, SA and NP series, are the real gems in the line. I would not hesitate to recommend any of these, especially at current market prices. If it matters; I have a Claritas preamp, 2 upgraded NP-400's, a DA11.5 transport, an upgraded DA 10 DA converter, running legacy Focus speakers.
I have owned many many Counterpoint products u until about 6 months ago. I have owned the Sa1000, sa2000, sa11, sa2, sa100, sa220, sa4s, pac5s, pac15s, and did a long home audition of the sa3000. the only failure I had was with the sa220 (i touched the speaker leads and blew up the amp) and the Pac5s.
About 8 months ago I found a sa220 and a sa20 with blown MOSFETS (the most common problem) selling for bargin prices, so I purchased them. Mike E still does repairs on these amps and the cost is minimal. ($175)....after repairs both amps failed a 2nd time and in the process took out my beloved Acoustic Energy Ae2s......however, Mike E does supply excellent service on damaged gear....my point of this post is.....if you are looking for a sa100 or 220s for one of Mikes upgrades, I would back that 100%, but would have some reservations on using the 220,20s.100s, 12 stock especially due to their age and inherent volitility
Btw: when the repaired 220 and 20 came back they sounded superb, one of the few amps that I have ever used that made the AE 2s sound reference class. Others have pointed out, wide soundstage, musical, liquid mids, the ability to pick out individual instruments, and voices.
Some of you hit the nail on the head -- 10 year old equipment has parts that are not of the resolution and finess of present day stuff. And, of course, there is the other problem of aging capacitors that have a life expectancy of 15 years (although many swear their 70's receivers are still kicking).
I'm sure the upgrades make the stuff sound pretty good; however, I think upgrades, esp. from altavista, are highly overpriced, and you lose most of your money when you sell. As opposed to buying something current, at a good price, you will probably lose very little when you sell.
There seems to be no agreement on reliability. Trejla & Ultrakaz say the preamps were the problem, Alruhl says he & his friend had no problems, but Justlisten had amps blowing right and left.
If, as Trejla believes, the amps are somewhat "dated" sounding, with some zing and electronic-sounding, I don't know if a stock unit is a good buy. I'm actually looking for a moderate size amp for a second system, and to use in my main system when I'm between amps, or maybe just to save on my Audio Research & Cary tube life.
I can't speak on the pre amps and amps Counterpoint once made but I do have the DA-11 transport. This machine is well built and was a demo unit at the time I brought it. The only thing that has been replaced is the belt and the display is out. Some internal fuse should fix that. Now if I can just find an original remote.
I have owned a few Counterpoint products over the years and none were unreliable at all. Originally, I used them to feed Apogee speakers with Theta source material. I actually still have a couple stored (an SA100 and an SA220). Compared to SS of the time, I found them quite musical and reasonably priced. With good synergy, you could get pretty enjoyable sound.
I recently hooked each of my remaining two Counterpoint amps (in succession) up to a pair of Avalon Opus Speakers and a pair of Kharma Ceramique 2 speakers with Levinson digital source and was disappointed with the performance. Both were still musical, but compared to a number of amps I either own or have recently auditioned, there were a number of problems. My complaints were with what I must guess is an excessive "mosfet mist" - worse in the 220 than in the 100. The soundstage was wide and deep, but definition of individual instruments was not as precise as in many current amps, and air around voices and instruments was lacking.
The hybrid approach can be found in a number of current production amps - some wonderful (Lamm), some disappointing IMHO (AR), and others I have heard great things about but haven't auditioned (Llano).
If you have tough to drive speakers but love tubes, a hybrid may be a good choice - or a tube pre with a ss amp. I am considering the latter now or a really big tube amp.
Hope that helps...
I've had an SA-220 (upgraded Sa-20) for almost 10 years. I still haven't even changed the input stage tubes - normally an indicator of a very well thought of circuit design. I would recommend either the SA-100 or the SA-220, the earlier versions, the SA-12 and SA-20 did have a rep for terminating rather easily.
I am currently auditioning a used SA-220 amp until January 11 in my home and then have to decide if I want to purchase it. One thing my son and I noticed is that the amp has to be on for about an hour and then the sound 'blooms' and is most impressive. Has anyone else noticed that? Sound stage is wide and could use a little more front to back depth. One thing I am pleased with is the lack of ear fatigue after listening to them for compared to my previous Hafler. How does this amp sound compared to Brystons?
The main thing I am concerned about is repairs if it goes down as the store will give me only a 90 day warranty. The do say that they can fix it unless the power transformer blows. If Mike Elliot repairs this amp how do I go about contacting him?
I see I am a bit late posting about a Counterpoint SA-220 and what is now a NP-220. I have been busy listening and not reading audio blogs. It has been a rock solid amp providing organic, emotional content through the loudspeakers. I could never overdrive the amp and it has provided 22+ years of service.
When it changed from mosfet to bi-polar outputs (my fault) the bass tightened up and the overall sound sobered up some, but as has been spoken before, it always sounded best when it was well warmed up.
To sum up, my wife (a non performance audio type) plays her music with friends in the room louder then polite company would approve because the music is so involving and all the women appreciate that. That spells it out for me.
As Ultrakaz stated....I had a SA3000 pre-amp. PIECE OF JUNK. It picked up RF interference in the photo section in the form of an AM Religious radio station. I contacted Counterpoint tech support and was told to move because their POS pre-amp was not compatible with my residence. LOL. Eventually resolved the issue with ferrite beads. Anyone interested in Counterpoint Products, BUYER BEWARE
If you think the SA-3000 is a piece of junk then send it to me. I just tonight finished rebuilding two Counterpoint amps which are actually no longer Counterpoint designs. All point-to-point wired and Class A output boards with V-Caps. The sound is now amazing. Same goes for the preamps. Upgrades are easy and take these products to a completely higher level. If you need assistance, send me a message though Agon.