Counterpoint SA-3.1 and 5.1

I never see these pre-amps available. I remember them as very easy to listen to while having quite a bit of detail. Are they all dead or is it that no one wants to part with them?
they are still around. sold my 3.1 on audiogon a couple of months ago. I answered a want to buy ad
Kitch, I doubt that these are dead, most likely people hang on to them because they sound too good to sell for what they will fetch. Mike Elliott, the owner and head designer of Counterpoint has a web site. You might visit there and see if anyone has these for sale. Mike offers upgrades and repair, so a good guy to know if you are really venturing that way.
Yeah, his mods for the 3.1 can cost up to $2K. Add that to the $375.00 that you can pick one up for, and you have a nice $375.00 Counterpoint pre-amp.
You speak some truth, Sgrove. To a certain extent I agree with you. Will dumping $2k into a $375 pre-amp be worth it? I say it depends on what you are after. Do you want a nice $375 Counterpoint pre-amp that sounds like $2375? Or, do you want a $2375 pre-amp that looks, resells, and possibly sounds as good? It's a tough call because it is argued (by Mike Elliott and others here) that $2k in upgrades often makes a bigger sonic improvement than $2k extra in retail value would bring. And therein lies the rub: are you after sound primarily, or are other factors vying for premiere honors on your short list?

As the guy that designed the Counterpoint preamps and who is presently doing the upgrades, I'd like to add my two cent's worth. Being a high-end manufacturer of electronics is a real eye-opener. The pricing structure of designing for the retail high-end audio market makes it real hard for the designer to put as much into a product as he'd like. Considering that half your retail dollar goes to the retailer, and only 1/3rd of the leftover money goes into the parts that the component is built with, and of THAT, more than 1/2 of the parts budget goes into cosmetic and structural items like knobs, front panels, chassis, and feet, not to mention packing material and owner's manuals and the like, a designer can pretty much count on being able to spend about eight cents on electronic parts -- the parts that actually do the work -- for every dollar of retail pricing. So a preamp retailing for $2,375 has about $195 worth of parts in it. Take away the cost of the printed circuit board and the transformer . . . how many $100 capacitors, $4 resistors and other premium parts are you going to find in that preamp when you take off the top cover?

For a designer, that's very frustrating. As an upgrader, though, who doesn not sell through retailers, who doesn't have an expensive factory to pay for, no shows to pay for, little or no advertising to pay for, and no overseas promotional tours to pay for . . . I have a very different pricing structure, one that greatly benefits the audiophile: $2,000 spent on upgrades results in close to a thousand dollars of premium parts (labor costs, too). Now, in my opinion, a $375 preamp with over $1,000 worth of premium parts is NOT just a $375 preamp. It's a component that will handily outperform any preamp that retails for $2,375.

On the other hand, if it is the outside, or the brand name, or the relative newness of the preamp that matters, my opinion doesn't really count -- that "new car" smell is something I can't put into an upgrade. But if sound quality is paramount, I believe that money spent on upgrades is money very well-spent indeed.

Mike Elliott
So the up-grades consist of parts swapping only?
I have owned at least nine pieces of gear designed and built by Mike Elliott, and as I have posted in other topics here at Audiogon, they are among the best the industry has to offer. All audio equipment has a sonic signature. Assuming you are pleased by the basic design and sound of a piece of gear, it makes perfect sense to upgrade via the designer. As Mike says, there is a direct return in quality of parts, and an opportunity for the originator of the design to tweak any area he wishes to improve. Not only is the price of parts no longer an obstacle in this scenario, there are choices today that were not available at the time the original was assembled. It could be years before the "trickle down" technology of these newer parts find their way into regular production line gear. Considering there are several $10,000. preamps available, the $2,375. price sounds very reasonable to me. Of course everyone must decide what will make them happy.
How will the modified SA-3.1 compare to one of the $10,000.00 pre-amps?
If you are asking me to be the one to comment, I would say the $10,000. unit would be better. I don't think that would be an embarrassment for the SA-3.1 though. As in all things in high end audio, there is almost no limit in what you can spend on your system. The question is do you have the $10,000. to spend, or maybe the $2,375. will make you happy, leaving enough cash to spare for other pieces in the system. I don't think the post was about the ultimate system, rather some reasonable options for a guy that appears to be interested in Counterpoint gear.
Good enough, I was just interested in how good they were after the $2K modification. Some lower priced gear actually does sound much better than those with the high price tag.
As someone that makes a living doing modifications on electronics, it's very easy to take a basic design, alter components in terms of values, parts quality, etc.., re-align & fine tune the new stuff and end up with something completely different. Even though it still looks the same, feels the same, has the same features, chassis & power supply, you would in effect have something that was FAR superior to the original "penny pinched mass produced" model that you started off with.

To add to Albert's comments about starting off with a product that you liked to begin with and then expanding upon it from there, it might not even matter. Through changing components and circuitry, you could take something that you hated and turn it into something that you absolutely love ( or vice-versa ). Just because it is the same basic "box" does not mean it will remain similar in electrical characteristics or sonics. Sean
The prices of Mike Elliot's upgrades are ridiculous & are probably the highest in the industry. His breakdown of profits, etc., are not in line with industry reality. In my opinion, this expenditure would be the worst investment you could make, & if you bought a used tube preamp on Audiogon for $2375, you could choose some great sounding pieces that you could later resell for much more.
Hey Kevziek...I know what you're saying, but many of us buy our components because we like to listen to music through them. We're not all buying them as future investments. Why buy something if you assume you're going to be selling it in the future? Isn't that some indication that you may be buying the wrong piece?

As far as Mike Elliot's upgrades go...he is pricier than someone like Stan Warren, but he also has a very different business. He's not tweaking other people's inexpensive products to make make them perform better...he's tweaking and rebuilding his own medium priced / expensive products to improve on his own original designs. He has a ratio of 50% parts to 50% labor charge, and he doesn't keep that a secret. His $2,000 upgrade has $1000 worth of parts. A $10,000 preamp may also have a $1000 worth of parts, and may not sound any better. I bet that they'd sound much closer than you think.

Let's assume you're right, and there really is absolutely no resale value for modified equipment. You spend $375 on a preamp, and spend $2000 upgrading it...only to sell it for $375 two years later. If you purchase a somewhat used $10,000 preamp for $6,000, and sell it for $4000 two years later you're still losing $2000 in two years time. The only difference is that with the more expensive amp your putting out $6000 instead of $2375. Buy the used Counterpoint...spend $2000 on upgrades...invest the extra $3625 into mutual funds, and after two years time you will have $761.25 more than you would if you purchased the more expensive preamp (figuring an annual return of 10%). Although the more expensive preamp will have much nicer knobs and look a lot more like a UFO, for what that's worth. The only bad thing about the Counterpoint rebuilds is that you can't go out and listen to them ahead of time, but everyone that enjoyed the sound of Mike's original designs really enjoys his rebuilds.

And to answer preamp upgrades do involve a lot of parts swapping, bypassing some extra circuitry, improving the output path, improving the volume control, upgrading connectors, etc. His amplifier rebuilds are partial to complete rebuilds (depending on the cost) that are based on Mike's new designs. I am currently having my SA100 amplifier rebuilt, and the only original part that will be kept will be the chassis. He gives all of the details at: His Counterpoint rebuilds are actually similar to his new line of Aria amps. They're not out yet, but they look very nice (you can link to them thru his site). He's even offering lifetime warranties. That's pretty decent, if you axe me.
Man I love these sites. Albert.
05-23-10: Bigshot
Man I love these sites. Albert.

Wish is was my site :^). I get to cover shows for Audiogon but no closer connection than that.

Reading my comments from nearly a decade ago is fun. I must say that based on that time, the advice I gave still stands today.

Mike Elliott is someone I never get to speak to these days but engineers and designers like he, Steve McCormack and Richard Vandersteen made deep ridges in my audio experience pool and will forever effect the way I view the business.

Some things remain basic audio truth, it can only get so good and some of these guys have been working at the craft for a very long time.
Ever try working on a Counterpoint SA-5000 or a SA-220 and doing some of the modifications yourself that Mike offers? The parts are not cheap and it will take you soem time to do the modifications. I always thought that Mike was expensive until I tried to do tem myself, very time consuming. Plus Mike offers a warranty.
I love the SA-5.1 and actually own 3 of them. The first one I bought for about $1100. Later I got two more for a lot less. To my ear, these are the prettiest pre-amps, very "liquid" and transparent.

But there is a problem. Mike Elliot's equipment, made during the Counterpoint years, is not stable. It is constantly breaking down. I have had two repaired by Mike and another repaired by Harry Colby, and now a power supply is down. Its frustrating to have equipment that is not reliable, no matter how good it sounds. Because of these problems I got fed up and I tried to switch to solid state, but couldn't find anything I like as well.

By the way, way back when I considered buying a pair of Counterpoint amps but Dave Wasserman owner of Audio Exchange in NYC told me not to because they were so unstable, they would not work for long. I do think this is why Counterpoint went out of business and Mike started a new company.

Mike .... I love your stuff. How about doing mods to make it more stable and giving your upgraded gear a 20 year warranty like Bryston does?
Hi Elia0224,

Do you have stability problems with a stock unit, or an upgraded unit? In fact I expect that 20 year old unit without any touch can have problems, especially a tube unit. but if it is an upgraded unit at Mike Eliott, than it is another topic.
Does anyone have the full tube complement for the SA 5.1? I'm thinking of pulling it out of storage and hooking it back up. Since Altavista shut there doors, I cannot find any info on these preamps! Thanks
all info is from the Jan 2014 site is Here:
SA-5.1 Uses two 6DJ8 types in the phono stage, two 6DJ8 type in the line stage, one 6CA4 type, one 5651, one 6JC6A and one 6GC5.
Thanks Barrysandy! Couldn't find this info anywhere. Cheers. Travis