Counterpoint SA-5000 or First Sound Presence Pre

Has anyone compared the Counterpoint to the First Sound? What did you hear?

Seems to me that First Sound sounds in the league to compete with the best out there...I mean Lamm, Joule Electra among the others. Reliability is a non issue...while Counterpoint products do seem to have some sort of issues with this. Not in the same league with those that compete with First Sound.
Bemopti123, just because you never own a SA-5000 it doesn't mean that it is not as good as the other. Same goes for other 30 different top preamps that are up there and you have not heard. As far as reliability goes, we have 5 SA-5000s among our local friends and never had any issue. I had SA-2 head amp and never had any issue. Got to be open minded.
The Counterpoint SA-5000 is a real sleeper, wish i'd paid more attention to it earlier, but I have a mint one now and won't let it go ! The First Sound is also a very nice preamp, but I can only use one at a time !
Having owned an SA-5000 in the past and having compared it to one of the earlier First Sound Presence models, I can tell you that the First Sound IS in another league altogether. The Presence had better dynamics, resolution, imaging, and sounded so much more natural; more at ease. The Presence did have NOS 6DJ8's in it, Amperex Gold pin/D getter, if memeory serves me. I can't remember which tubes I'd had at the time in my Counterpoint. I think Gold pin Amperex's.

My SA-5000 saw the shop a few times before I'd owned it and once in the brief time I'd owned it. I horse traded the Counterpoint off years back, demo'ed a Tube Research GTP-3 and bought it.

If you are limited to chose between only the SA-5000 or the First Sound, definitelly listen to the First Sound. If you are not limited to those units only, check out the Tube Research. The prices of the TRL GTP-3 and the FS Presence are pretty close to each other., based on your preference, you liked big open sound like the ARC SP-11 MKII and CATs Ultimate and SL MKIII. I wouldn't said that First Sound is in a different league but rather in different sound. Audio is so subjective that I always recommend everything you need to hear first hand before you buy anything. If a buyer don't know what he's looking to get then I would always suggest him don't buy anything at all because he'll never be satisfy. As far as your SA5000 goes, sorry to hear that you got much issue with it. I have yet to hear any preamp that's best at every play back.
I agree that system integration plays a big role in anyone's preference, however with Bigkidz listed system, I'd assume that the First Sound would be a better choice for him than the SA-5000 and that the Tube Research GTP-3 or GTP-4 would be even better.

I hope that my sharing my first hand experience with the SA-5000 didn't upset you. It's difficult somethimes to share experiences without stepping hard on someone else's toe. This was not my intent. My Counterpoint had reliability issues and it was too dark, recessed, slow, lacked dynamics (micro and macro) and lacked the detail for me in my system. This is not to say that it may not match perfectly for someone else in someone else's system, or that anyone else's Counterpoint has reliability issues. Maybe mine was built late Friday afternoon?

I'd listened to the three pre-amps you'd mentioned, S23Chang, and even considered the CAT until I heard the TRL GTP-3. In my system, there was no comparison. To me, the Tube Research IS in another league all of its own. YMMV, (Your Mileage May Vary).
May I suggest something here?
Although one tailors one's system to one's taste, there are components that provide a truer sense of what hears in real life. I am not suggesting that the First Sound is closer to that sound than any other preamp, but it seems that music has wandered away from what it sounds like (i.e., what a cello or double bass, or flute sounds like in real life) and what one prefers. They are not, to my ears, the same thing at all, unless one doesn't know what a cello sounds like live.
I hear live instruments all the time, due to my boyfriend's being an opera singer, and having a piano in his living room. His friends are similarly musical: one is a music teacher and recently had a recital with a cellist, a flutist, and a baritone. Without some sense of live music, it all becomes a matter of taste, which is of course, one's prerogative. But to say that such-and-such a component is merely a matter of taste is ignoring what High End audio was once about: a reference to live music and what live instruments sound like.
Some components reach this. The First Sound, which I've owned, among other preamps, is very true to, say, the human voice, a cello, oboes and a few other instruments. How do I know this? The boyfriend unit, who has listened to the components in my system, and comments, "yes, that's what the oboe sounded like when I played it." He has been just as quick to say, "That sucks. It doesn't sound like the real instrument at all, and the oboist is playing poorly."
It disturbs me to see remarks that seem more intent on defending a unit (usually one owned by the person posting) in contrast to suggesting that one component actually sounds more like the real thing than another. For example, ANY component that cannot reproduce most of the dynamic contrasts of live music is less "alive" than one that does reproduce the contours of dynamics. Of course, to add a disclaimer, the non-dynamic component may possess a clearer bass, midrange, etc., but I'm assuming that the (more)dynamic component is quite capable in this area as well.

If it doesn't sound like the real thing and one likes it anyway, that's valid. But an acknowledgement that one does not necessarily care that one component approaches the sound of music more truthfully than other component should be honored as well.
Mphnkns: I think what you said is pretty much what everybody believes.--Which is the very reason we all do this hobby. Also;I can't imagine a system in which the 5000 will sound more like actual music---unless the FS is broken. I own one /just the meager delux mk2. I did own the 3000 about 12/13 years ago. 'Fit my needs at the time.
I think it is subjective at this point. Unless you have both unit on hand and same time with the right combination, it is hard to give a real good evaluation based on your believe. Also, 5000 is far more superior than 3000 so you can't really draw conclusion base on 3000 because it is a totally different product. One thing for sure, newer products suppose to be better in technology but sonic wise is subjective. I currently own 6 different preamps and 5 different amps and I do find something different and something I like about each one.

5000 is more for more seductive sound. It is known for seductive musical characteristic and not for dynamic or pace or pin point imaging sharpness. The 5000 will make all music sound nice and gentle but not to the point where it become muddy or smear. That's why they choose tube retification in the power supply. It is in the class of its own. In audio, it is either you like it or you prefer something else. There is no real answer for every question about musical preference. If you can affort it, why not own both?
run from counterpoint....unless you are sadistic and enjoy pain.

they are very, very unrelaible. despite the new company and serivce, no one in san diego(local town) will carry the line.

the companies reputation of building unrelaible gear is founded and well documented.

i would go with the first sound, the owner of the company is true gentleman and freely offers time and advice wether the units were bought new or used.

another very nice pre is the pse hl-1. dean makes a great pre and they require only 2 7308/6922 tubes. they are very rare to come by and a signature upgrade is suppose to take the unit to the $8k range class ( i'll let you know when the upgrade is done).

best regards,


I do not own a Counterpoint SA-5000 and have never heard one. Ditto with the First Sound.

However, I do own two SA-20 amplifiers. I purchased each one used for about $500.00 and they failed after about 4 years of great sound. I had one repaired and kept enjoying it. The other was recently upgraded and sounds even better.

I also own a Counterpoint 5.1 preamp which I purchased used, played for years, had repaired, and continue to enjoy.

It is fair to say that Counterpoint products have a sound that appeals to many. It is also fair to say that as originally manufactured, some had flaws, some failed, and some have not failed.

You can read about the known issues with virtually every piece of Counterpoint equipment at This site is maintained by Michael Elliot, formerly a designer at Counterpoint and current owner of Counterpoint and Alta Vista Audio. The problems with Counterpoint are thoroughly and fully set forth there under "known issues". Also, you will see the solutions to the problems.

I write to address two statements made by Mikesinger that may unfairly and adversely affect your decision making.

First, Mikesinger wrote "they are very, very unrelaible. despite the new company and serivce, no one in san diego(local town) will carry the line."

As a matter of fact, no one carries Counterpoint because it is no longer currently manufactured. No one carries Alta Vista products because Alta Vista only sells direct to the customer.

Mikesinger's implication that dealers don't carry Counterpoint and/or AltaVista products because the products are unreliable is absolutely wrong. Many well regarded producers of high end equipment sell direct to the consumer only. I have never heard, seen, touched or smelled an Alta Vista amplifiers-it is presently beyond my means, and I am happy with my upgraded SA-20. However, at least one reviewer thinks its the cat's meow. There may be more reviews, but I don't read them obsessively.

Next, Mikesinger wrote that the owner of first sound is a "true gentleman and freely offers time and advice wether the units were bought new or used."

If you infer from this statement that Mr. Elliot, the principal in Counterpoint and Alta Vista, does not possess all these attributes and more, you would be misguided.

Mike Elliot answers my e mail on weekdays, weekends and at all hours of the night. He promptly repaired my amplifier and pre-amp when they failed, and I was able to enjoy music playing them in their original configuration.

When I put aside enough money for an upgrade, he took my SA-20 amplifier to a new dimension. The upgrade is more than a modification-it is an extensive rebuild that essentially only leaves the case intact.

So, please do your own primary investigation. I suggest you buy a Counterpoint- you can sell it if you don't like it or even if it breaks.

You would also be well served to search the archives and ask yourself whether any commentators in this thread have an agenda of some sort with respect to Counterpoint and Michael Elliot.

Good luck to you.

Mike, you should own a SA5000 first then you can speak of reliability. SA5000 is a full function including MM/MC stage. It also use only 2 tubes for line stage.
Thanks for setting this straight Mknowles16 and S23chang. I never had any problems with any of my SA5000 preamps. Even if I did, Michael Elliott is there to repair, no big runaway issue for me, he has a good set of ears and knows good sound.
You tell him S23Chang!
just as heads up reguarding counterpoint/ alta vista.

mike elliott went to both shops in san diego with their new amps for them to audition (fact). i would speculate ( which means "in my opinion" the reason alta vista doesnt sell to dealers is because they cant- they have pissed off alot of people. alot of established dealers that had once carried the line will not carry the line again due to previous experience. no one has to get kicked in the groin twice to find out that it hurts.

Japan and the far east has been the biggest customer for counterpoint ( you can confirm this with mike e). i dont know if this is true for alta vista.

Mike Elliott and his wife are very nice people- i handled their printing at precision litho located in vista before the company closed (its to bad they didnt pay their printing bill - i picked up that up for them. they went through a very rough time. they had a beautiful business / manufacturing facility and had lost everything) (fact)

in regards to reliabilty- i dont know how relaible the new gear is but the old gear is unreliable and has a reputation as such on all their own and not my my opinion.

ask any shop that used to carry their gear. i like their pre's- the sa-5000 is still a great pre (i was considering to pick one up for its phono stage- but opted for audible illusions instead) the gear is to unrelaible and costly to be repaired.

back in the early 90's i started the san diego music society ( we meet at stereo ulimited, bruce is a true gentleman). when Von Schweikert was demoing his Continetial speakers(division of counterpoint) with counterpoint gear- both sa-220's went up in smoke. every audiophile laughed about it, it was considered "typical for counterpoint".

the only shop that carried counterpoint was music by the sea (steve mccormack ala mod squad) till it closed. both stereo unlimited and stereo by design stopped carrying the line due to relaiblilty issues(fact).

my personal opinion is the world is waiting for a relaible hybrid amp and pre-amp that is reasonably priced.

that could combine fets and tubes to bring the best strengths of each forward.

the audio research classic series was the first to do this ( the arc ls-2b, classic 60 etc.). counterpoints gear also did it, they were ahead of their time, but the counerpoint designs were unrelaible. if you have one that works and havent had any problems with it, then i would say you are lucky.

with any high preformance equipment- wether car or audio there is maintaince involved. ask any porsche, bmw, ferrrai owner. the same applies to audio. most tube gear will require is a fact. that is the price you pay for performance ( consider a infiniti to a bmw... both are nice but the infinti will be more relaible while the bmw will offer more performance and require more maintiance - that is the "cost of ownership"

the counterpoint is high performance but requires a more repairs than the arc classic series. that is one of the reasons the arc clsssic still commands top dollar. despite its age, the stuff lasts and sounds good. even by todays standards ( i still like the arc classic 60)

i wish someone could introduce a reliable and reasonably priced hybrid to pick up where the arc classic series and counterpoint left off.

hey audio designers/endgineers.... is anyone up to it ?
or is 2 channel considered a dead market ?

my 2 cents...

best regards,

Hi Mikesinger, it is not cost effective to produce hi end gear when the market is so small. Home theather and internet are part of the new hobbies people enjoy. Spending over $3000 on a preamp is out of question for most of the audiophiles these days. Many folks believe they don't need preamp when they can do just fine by using high output CD player direct into the amp.

I'm pretty sure every company have defective equipments. How many percent is consider normal? It depends. On the average, 5% defective rate is quite normal in the computer industry. As I said before, we have 5 units of SA5000s here among me and my friends and none of them ever gone bad. I agree that the earlier side mount tube socket counterpoint unit has weak chasis, but the SA5000 era was improved with top mount tube sockets. As far I as I known, my friend's Audible illision 3A more trouble than the SA5000. The tubes died quickly in less than 2 years. The unit always very hot with smeared sound and extremely tube sensitive. Not to mentioned the customer service is terrible (confirmed by at least 5 dealers here in NYC.) I don't know about you but I don't think Audible illusion is doing any better job than Counterpoint. I do own both Arc SP-11 MKII and SA5000 and both units were top at their times. Why are Japanese audiophiles think highly of SA5000 sound? It must have its attractive characteristic they recognize that other preamps don't offer. Especially the price you get for an used SA5000 with execellent MM/MC stage, you can probably only get a decent phono stage and you need to spend at least another $2000 for line stage.
If you have not noticed in the past 10 years, all the good audio gears has gone to far east. Please don't tell me that all these folks have no ears and can't tell the difference between good or bad.

You can be as subjective as you want but there are still many Counterpoint SA5000 fans out there that stands by it.

ps I never said First Sound is bad so I don't see why folks need to attack Counterpoint to make themselves feel better about their stuff is far more superior than everything else. Sometimes I questioned if these folks are trying to keep their equipment's resale value higher by bashing other products. This is just my speculation in general and nothing against anyone who post something against the SA5000.
I cannot comment on First Sound products,however I have had several Counterpoint amps and preamps from 1988 to present and have never had a problem and as stated above now that the maker[Mike E.]is on his own,they are a good deal on all levels.Good luck and Happy Easter all,Bob
I don't think that Mike Singer, nor anyone else here is trying to unjustly make claims about Counterpoints reliability just to increase the value of their gear. I don't see how that is possible either.

It is common knowledge that Counterpoint gear was very unreliable. The word within the industry was that Mike Elliot was losing distributors and dealers due to reliabilty problems and that units arrived to dealers broken. Unfortunately, they went out of business. Strong companies do not lose the banks support, as suggested at the new web-site. Strong companies do not leave print shops and suppliers with unpaid bills.
Wow, quite a vocal thread here! I must chime in for my support for Counterpoint and Michael Elliot. Mikesinger clearly has a lot of unfortunate history with Mr. Elliot but my experiences are much different.

I got a used NPS400 severely damaged through careless shipping by the seller and Mr. Elliot made so much effort to get this unit repaired and upgraded to the level I could afford. And he was very detailed with all the options and benefits. In just a couple weeks I had the amp back and what a pleasant surprise it was over the ARC Classic 150 amps.

As a fan of ARC products since the early 80s, and an owner of many such models, I was quite suprised at how the NPS400 embarrassed the CL150s. The NPS400 was far more tonally balanced, not fatiguing nor forward like the ARCs, and simply put, was a far more musical presentation with the Thiel 3.6, Talon Khorus and Magnepan 3.5 that I owned.

The ARC CL60 which I owned a few years back was quite a good little amp, but neither it nor the CL150s are even remotely close to the NPS400 in sheer naturalness. It just too a change to the Wolcott mono amps to truly bring on a significant refinement over the NPS400 to drive the Magnepans.

I have to disagree that what we need is a company to give us a sound that returns to the ARC hybrid days. No thank you! The SP-11, SP-15, LS2, Classic series, amps, thank you! "Yawn, where's the music?" Give me the all-tubed SP-8, SP-10, LS5, VT130/150 amps any day. Like I said, I'm a huge ARC fan here, but Counterpoint simply did a far more musical job than ARC when it came to hybrid products. And yes, reliability is an issue, but I too had some catastrophic events with tubes blowing in the VT130 amp. It was not pretty with power resistors exploding in the process! But I have been fortunate to live only a few minutes from the ARC facility.

I guess until I experience a reliability problem with the NPS400, I can only talk of the positive sides of Counterpoint and Mr. Elliot. Both the ARC staff and Mr. Elliot are first rate with customer support.

John, in case you have not noticed, most of hi-fi shops are slowly going out of business. It has to do with lack of interest and customer rather than just on reliability factor. I also heard rumors that Audio Research is filing for chapter eleven. The small shops are the ones that can really survive. Since there are almost no overhead for small shops, they don't need to borrow much money from the bank.
I would like to suggest that it is your view and not common knowledge that all the Counterpoint gears are unreliable. I think the marketing has more to do than reliability. I believe that Counterpoint lost the market share has a lot to do with product choice. They did quite well before they moved to SS equipment.
i didnt expect the tread to go this way. maybe because i live in san diego and know the background with counterpoint and the owners.

dont get me wrong, the 5000 is a nice preamp. HOWEVER, counterpoints relaiblity as a whole isnt that great. if you have a working one that hasnt gone south, then you are very fortunate.

i have no hard feelings toward mike and his wife. they are very nice people and what happened to them is very, very unfortunate. i would not want to wish that on my worst enemy.

btw, what happened with them is they had alot of $$$$ manufacturing gear that wasnt being used( they tried to be like arc and do everything in house- from metal to silkscreening).

i was looking at a First sound presence last year that had a damaged face plate. i contacted the company ( emanualle) and he offered to replace the face plate (for free!!!) and update the volume pot and check the tubes for a minimal was impressed.

though i didnt win the pre, the owner was very personable and cared about his product wether new or used..that stuck with me. if first sound came out with a remote pre....i would be interested. btw, mike e. is the same way - very cordial and personable (though his repairs are a little more).

as for myself i use a pse hl-1 hybrid pre. the owner is true gentleman (dean k.) and always willing to discuss his products and upgradeabililty of them ( very reliable gear and upgrades are reasonabley priced).

btw, i use a audible illusions IID for a phono stage. it sounds pretty good and is reliable. if i didnt have the hl-1 then i would go with the ai m3 ( needs a remote imo)

i have alot of respect for AI, they have been around a long time and have built world class product for close to 25 plus years. that says alot in my book.

best regards,


When you allege in a public forum that a person has a decade old unpaid bill, you exhibit extremely poor judgment to say the least! And you claim to be a friend.

Further, your statement to this effect confirms my suspicion that you have a hidden agenda which fuels your continuous, speculative criticism of Counterpoint products.

Please ask yourself whether your participation in these exchanges is helpful to people who write to seek assistance with audio related questions.
All I have to add is that my brother had a Counterpoint amp back then that almost burned our parents house down. Admittedly, it sounded tremendous. One of the best amps I've ever heard day we had it on and the next thing we knew, flames were literally leaping out of it. Thank god we were there to put them out. Ever since it has made me nervous about leaving "high end" amps on unattended, though I've never had a problem like this with my Audio Research D-125. Again, it was a great sounding amp. I think is was a S-20. Anyway, the manufacurer did back up the product repairing it and upgrading it to a SA 220. I'm not dumping on Counterpoint because I think they sound exceptional. But that experience with that amp certainly made me nervous about the overall safety of their products. Anyone else have an experience like this?
Mknowles16... whatever..

you can discard my information regarding the reliablity of would have to blind to ignore it.

it is on the current alta vista site and all over audiogon and asylum.

dont get me wrong it is great sounding gear when it works, but there is a major relaiblity issue and that is obvious.

if you cant recognize that, then you need to question your intellectul honesty or lack thereof

regarding the print bill. why dont you ask mike e. about the situation ? he got off, i had other jobs in the shop that paid for it. precsion litho is the second largest printer in san diego, things like this do happen.

the owner of precison litho ( dennis rampee wrote it off).when a business goes bankrupt (chapter 7), there is nothing that can be done. the print shop bill was small compared to the other far mike e. as a friend, that may be streching it a bit thin. a business acquintance would be better.

i was a business acquaintance with mark baker and albert von schkvert when he was with counterpoint. how they handled albert and replaced him with pat mcguinney ( meadowlark) is a whole different story and none of my business.

rather than attack the person why dont you attack the discussion ?

if you stand on your soap box and say counterpoint is know for reliable gear... then are not wearing any clothes and the only person that doesent see it, is you.


I believe intellectual has at least one "a" in it.
There is no need to attack people for taking different sides of an issue. I am sure that there are many owners of Counterpoint products that have nothing but satisfying relationships with the gear, and also there might be many who think otherwise, due to first hand evidence of their unreliability or other problems. The point is that it is pointless to attack one another over a now defunct company that went under due to regretable and maybe other more interesting circumstances that most of the audio public will never know about.
There are very venerable companies that produced some milestone pieces in the audio horizon and their going under had nothing to do with the quality and reliability of their gear.


There are companies that were innovative, but also controversial, as is Counterpoint, even 10 or more years after their closing its doors.

There is no need to get "personal" about gear, after all, it is one's opinion and we are not ELECTING or VOTING companies out of OFFICE. that the best you can come up with ?

you should read Bemopti123 post...and i would suggest putting some clothes on before you catch cold.

Just for the record I had one of the defective sa-5000 preamps the wiring inside was to short to survive the use of its transport screws broken wires shorted to something inside sent amp into fits welded speaker cones solid they said they would fix problem in future production goodriddens counterpoint

I'm terribly sorry if sharing my experience has offended you, it wasn't meant to. I've had 3 pieces of Counterpoint gear, all taken in on horse-trades, all 3 ran for less than a month before requiring service. In my experience, Counterpoint had reliability issues. I had to pay the price of repairing all 3 units, then sold them at a loss.

In my opinion it was product failure, a reliability problem, that led to Counterpoints demise. Don't believe it? Do a search on any audiophile BBS for "Counterpoint + reliability". I'll bet that there are less satisfied customers than you realize.

Or, better yet, how about we start a new thread both here and at Audio Asylum asking folks to share their "Counterpoint Experience" with us? I may be wrong. Maybe a new thread would settle this?

You own a SA-5000 that hasn't failed you yet. Consider yourself lucky. Many (like myself) weren't so lucky ...
It didn't offend me. I'm pretty sure that it was not just me got lucky. I personally own 3 piece of counterpoint product and never had issues. I also have 4 other friends who owns counterpoint SA5000 and never had any issue. Usually the folks who are unhappy speak the loudest. So I still believe the defective rate is not that high.
I had a brand new Bryston amp for 6 month and one channel busted on me so I sent it back for repair. Bryston's services is excellent and the amp works great afterward. I wouldn't say the Bryston is unreliable because of this incident.
I sold the Bryston and switched to tube gear because of preference and not based on failure issue.

I think I had enough of this reliability discussion that we should call it quit. Each of you can say anything you wish but you can only experience the equipment's capability or reliability by owning one.
S23chang i think you are lucky to not have repairs required.

however you may want to reconsider what you said.... "you can only experience the equipment's capability or reliability by owning one "

i am of the belief that learning by other peoples mistakes and experiences ( as well as people learn by mine) is a very valuable tool.

to learn only by your own experinece and not others is very short sighted and offers a narrow learing experince ( i dont need to go through chemotherapy to know how painful the treatment is)

my opinion of relaiblity is based upon what i have seen with my eyes ( amps going up in smoke with a really easy load)

hear from relaible sources- dealers that i have known 20 plus years and shoot straight and are very much tube gear experts ( 30 plus years )who wont carry their gear


other audiophiles who have owned the gear and attest to the unrelaiblity... ( this is before audiogon and the web).

what really surprises me is when one goes to the alta vista audiowebsite and the designer admits about design flaws with some of the pieces and offer repairs for it......

on the flip side,i have heard alot of counterpoint gear in the 90's ( steve mccormack shop had it) and it did sound very,very, good (imo, the 5000 is a awesome pre, even by todays standards)

but the relability / quality control is a real issue with the gear. i would go as far to say that you are in the minority with your experience with counterpoint.

good listening,

easy there Mikesinger... I'm a minority : )
so am i :)))) oi vay....
Good work men,sometimes it takes awhile....Bob
Bigkidz, please let us know the results of your decision. I listen to a Counterpoint SA-5.1, extensively modified by AVA. I really enjoy the sound. The First Sound was on my short list of preamps when I upgraded last year, and costs similar to my modified SA-5. Ultimately, I wanted a unit with an internal phono stage, for signal purity, size and expense considerations, and decided on the Counterpoint for these reasons. But I still wonder about a First Sound with an outboard phono stage...