And he still doesn't add remote control. I have an SA-9 BTW that had a few upgrades by Michael.
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I have a fully Alta Vista Audio modified SA5000 (well... two actually). I can't say what a bargain is in this hobby, but I can say that the first SA5000 that I had modified by Mike was a revelation in my system. I had previously owned, auditioned, or listened to many preamps that were in the same price range as the modifications I had done. None of them were able to make my system sound inviting, exciting, and alive like the modded SA5000 did. I had purchased a second all-stock SA5000 for use in my second system. After spending some time with the modified unit, I become so taken by it's sound that I sent my other one to Mike for mods. Expensive, yes, but after I heard what the first one could do, I just had to add that same quality to my other system.
The best service that Mike provides, in my opinion, is the ability to customize to the customer's needs. Within reason, you can have anything you can imagine done. I ended up doing some non-standard stuff to my phono stages and power supplies that I feel payed huge dividends in the sound of my vinyl.
I recently took one of these to a friends house who has an amazing system and a couple of very capable high-end preamps. The sound of the Counterpoint's phono section simply couldn't be compared to the other units. An A/B comparison was absolutely pointless. As soon as the needle hit the vinyl the Counterpoint stayed on for the rest of the day. In fact, I ended up leaving it there while I had some work done on my second system. Needless to say, the Counterpoint is still the preferred preamp in that system. The owner later told me that he and several visitors clearly preferred the sound of the Counterpoint's line stage to his long term reference preamp.
Remember when you get a component modified that your money is all going towards components and not towards the chassis, knobs, etc. When you look at the total cost of a new product, it makes sense that a good chunk of that cost has to go into the sheet metal.
Good luck with your decision. if you'd like, email me for details. I am always happy to talk audio!
In deed the Counterpoint phono section is nice. However, spending a huge amount of money with lack of resale value is questionable. The question to yourself would be "Is this the last pice of gear I'll ever use?" Most of us would say "No!" but it is still your choice and preference.
Once the upgrade is done, is the sound what you're looking for? I don't think no one really know the answer until you listen to it for yourself.
I too owned SA-5000 and loved it.
I too modified it and loved it.
I too sold it and move on to something else.
I too modified my preamp replacement and loved it.
So, what's next?
If someone already has a 5000, then putting another $1k here could very well be a good sonic product. But forget about recouping your money anytime soon. Finding really good full-function preamps these days is tough in the under $5k range so the 5000 is a keeper.
The SA11 and SA9 are in many ways collectors items as nothing else in their time was even close to their performance. But it makes no sense today to put $10k into these considering Michael Elliot has the upcoming WV preamp that supposedly will surpass the SA11/SA9 pair. For what the unmodified SA11/SA9 pair is going for here when they are available, the upcoming Aria WV is not that much more.
Check out Aria for further details on the preamp.
I do have another comment about resale value. I had an SA5000 that I bought here on Audiogon which already had the Alta Vista Audio mods done to the linestage and power supply. I decided to sell it so I could get the mods done my way on a different SA5000. The unit I had, which had a total of about $2700 in modifications done to it, ended up selling for $3600 here on Audiogon. When you consider that stock SA5000s go used for $1600 on average, I ended up getting back $2000 of the $2700 mods in resale value. That really isn't bad resale value in the used audio world. In fact it is quite good!