Counterpoint SA-5000 v. CAT SL-1


Would anyone please inform me on their experiences with the above-titled preamps: The Counterpoint SA-5000 and the CAT SL-1. I currently own a Counterpoint SA-5000 and am not sure whether a move to the CAT would be more of a lateral move or downgrade as opposed to an upgrade. I listen to mostly vinyl and less so CD format. I am using Magnepan speakers and soon to be investing in Wolcott Presence Amps.

I greatly appreciate your engineering and listening perspectives on this issue. Thank you.

Somu Takkallapelli
You are probably beeter off trying different tubes in the SA-5000 versus changing the preamp. I only use mine to listen to CD but the 6922 gold pins and Amperex 6DJ8s really made the preamp sing.
If you like fast, lively and dynamic then you'll like cat.
If you like musical, sweet and romantic tone then you'll let SA-5000. The Counterpoint is definitely colored but in the good way. What's more important to you? well.. depends on your taste.
I want to thank you for your kind and sensitive input on the Counterpoint, for I was quite reluctant to give up the SA-5000, given my 15 year trek in audio systems with various Counterpoint equipment. From a sonic perspective and more significantly from an engineering perspective, the Counterpoint instruments apparently hold their merit despite the Company's saddening end.
I used to own a counterpoint sa3. Now I have a CAT SL1. The difference is really NOT subtle.My CAT runs with NOS GE tubes and is IMHO in a completly different league to the Counterpoint. I briefly heard a SA-5000 a few years ago, and while it is a step up on the SA-3 again I think the CAT is in a different league, again IMHO.
Hello Somut. I would concurr with S23chang regarding the sonic signature of these two preamps in stock form however, Bigkidz post is also very relevent here. Good quiet nos tubes can make a dramatic difference in any quality preamp, particularly in the phono stage. I have repaired and updated a few counterpoint preamps over the years and the sa-5000 is a good one. The CAT is definately in a different leaugue in comparison to the sa-3 series as mentioned by Daveyf, however, the SA-5000 is as well. That said: with some updating of the passive parts with modern signal caps and resistors in the SA-5000's line and phono stage[as well as the power supply] The 5000 is very engaging indeed,paricularly the phono stage. I believe Mike Elliot[the original designer] is now offering updates to that preamp. However....The mighty CAT really is a top shelf preamp by anyones standards [no matter what the vintage]has historically been very reliable and can be updated as well. The phono stage is an awfully good one and I would also consider the line stage of the cat the superior of the two.From your perpective: One could never consider the CAT a down grade, If the 5000 was updated and modded.... a lateral move perhaps?????
I have tried both preamps and kept the Counterpoint SA-5000 for my tastes and system. (months of listening)
Obviously, the differences are greater between the above mentioned SA-3000 and CAT. (price too, for that matter)
Between the SA-5000, no worlds apart at all, just system and taste dependency. (a fair comparison)
Thank you.
I compared the newest CAT to the Pass Labs X-1 about a year ago. The main difference was it the mid range with the CAT having a slightly more real sound. I now own the SA-5000 and S23chang have added Amperex tubes to the line stage as I don't do phono anymore. The last tube change was with 6922 gold pins and the mids really became alive. I did have a Counterpoint SA-220 amp modified by Mike and it has a lot different sonic signature then the stock unit. Much more dynamic and natural sounding.

Lots of good advice here but I don't think either blows the other away. I recently compared the SA-5000 to the Quicksilver, CJ 14, Rogue 99M and the AL 3A. The Counterpoint was the best sounding of the bunch and everyone there agreed. The 5000 had the better tubes so that may have helped but the 20 year old design held its own.
Audition it yourself and find out what you like is still the most important step. One blows the other away is extremely subjective. The true test is to have it your way in your setup with the best possible tube. Opinions can only give you the sonic signature which might help you matching rest of your system. I've played, auditioned, tried, built and trashed (took apart) enough equipments that I know enough about my taste and what I hear.
Bigkidz, glad you liked the preamp and tubes.
I have to agree with some of the above posted opinions that CAT is far ahead of 5000. Counterpoint "musical, sweet, romantic"? May be earlier all-tube units but not this hybrid. My hearing is possibly skewed, and I'm too sensitive to upper mid/lower treble area, so my personal taste dictates something warm and dark like VTL Ultimate, BAT VK-3i or, my personal fave (of which I have two) MFA Luminescence. It is difficult to produce something resolving and transparent and not bright at the same time. I had an early CAT at some point and thought it was nice. Later CATS sounded to me very bright. Again, that's my hearing, and I thought the same of Joule, and a hord of others. But SA 5000 makes all of those and most solid states (definitely my Metaxas) sound positively mild and warm in comparison. Mr. Elliot has produced a unit with a lot of unnecessary stuff in signal path, which he removes now in his "updates". It is very pretty though with all those tiny green and red LEDs lighting up like Christmas tree. I agree that it will sound better with all that stuff out of the way, but the prices he commands... You can buy a used CAT AND keep 5000 for the price of update. Again, CAT is not to my taste, but it is properly engineered and sounds correct, unlike 5000 which has severe hardness and nastiness in upper mid/lower treble. And phono - you can not be serious: CAT has all-tube phono, arguably one of the best in the business, but stock 5000 uses FETs for MC input! Mr. Elliot in his update removes all FETs nad other buffers, and puts a pair of Jensen transformers to handle MC. Jensen trannies are not the best but whatever. Add to this legendary unreliabilty and you got the picture. I bought 5000 just to try it out and am very happy now that I got rid of it (thankfully without blowing up).
Markshvarts, The SA5000 is the exact opposite of what you described. The CATS on the other hand is always brighter. Not sure which SA5000 "special" you got, 10 of 10 SA5000 among ours never have any trace of brightness.
All tube phono doesn't mean it will be less bright. It really depends on how the circuit was designed.
None of us ever had any failure. It might be that your system is too bright and you were looking for something to tone it down. That's a different story. If that's what you are looking then the Arc SP-3, SP-6, Sp-8, Mac C-20 and C-22, Scott LC-21, and MFA Reference might be your ticket. For a neutral system, SA5000 is definitely on the warm side but not dark. Again, if mismatched, it is not the component issue. FYI, I have tested the phono section with my VDH Black Beauty/Graham/VPI combo and it sounded just wonderfully sweet like its line section. On the other hand, the CATS phono I've heard is a lighter tone and slightly noisy. Definitely colored and more seductive than CATS and ARC phono. As said, you should try with whatever interest you.

Markshvarts, FYI, I replaced all caps in SA5000 with oil caps. It is more liquid sounding to my ears. Mike's mod will make things sound more 3-D but you loose some of the sweetness.
We will agree to disagree as usual! That's what makes this hobby fun. My 5000 was a pristine "virgin" stock with Wondercaps and WIMAs. But never have I heard a warm sounding thousand series Counterpoint. 3, 3.1, 5 or 5.1 may be. In any case, oil caps will make anything sound warmer. Good luck in your searches.
The only thing I agree with you is the upgrade price from Mike. $$$$$. While you get what you pay for but it is definitely not for everyone.
Once again, thank you kindly for your gracious input and your patience discussing the various issues inherent in these two pieces of fine equipment. After culling your individual experiences and wisdom, together with examining the circuit toplogies between the SA-5000 and the CAT Signature, I feel quite comfortable in a lifetime investment with the Counterpoint. I once heard a successful business person express that bankruptcy does not have to be a Consequence but rather more critically, "Corporate Surgery." In a similarly symphonic line, one audio reviewer states, "It is nice to see someone[Mr. Michael Elliot] pick himself up and start afresh" with world prominent engineering instruments.(Discussing Aria Ltd.) Thank you all and Happy Holidays to you.
You have a nice preamp, try updating tubes since the strongest part of your preamp is precisely the phono stage.

The cost to really make the SA5000 is very, very high from Mike Elliot. A used later model CAT preamp I think would be a better long term value esp if you have to sell it at some point. Old preamps with several thousands of mods will not recover as much of the cost put into the unit as a reference stock unit will recover esp the CAT.