Review: Counterpoint SA-100 Tube amp

Category: Amplifiers

This is a review of the NP 100, an upgraded version of the SA 100 including a new circuit board and two 6922 input tubes. The upgrade I had done was the basic upgrade which was doen by Michael Elliott, the designer of the original SA 100 who still repairs/upgrades Counterpoint gear. The basic upgrade now is $950 (see

I had had my SA-100 for three years and was very happy with it. Then I blew an output stage and was forced to decide whether to get it fixed or to buy a new amp altogether. I decided not only to stick with the Counterpoint, but also to get it upgraded by Michael Elliott to the NP100 (basic upgrade). A gamble? Yeah, to some extent since I knew I was spending a good bit of money on an amplifier I'd never heard. But then again, I really liked my SA 100 and was fairly confident that the upgrade would sound similar and at least as good (after all, it's the same designer).

I shipped the amp to Michael Elliott and received the upgraded NP100 after a little more than two weeks (considering that it had to go from the East coast to the West coast and back, that's prompt service!!). I set it up, turned it on, and sat down for my first listening session. Good news right out of the box-it still sounded like a Counterpoint! Although a bit harsh at first, it impressed me with greater clarity and a wider soundstage than I was used from the SA-100.

I've had the amp in my system now for over two years and I am still very pleased with it. The initial harshness faded, the soundstage grew even wider, the bass tighter, and the highs are grain-free and clear. What an improvement!! The NP 100 is an ideal amplifier for those out there who like to listen to a wide range of music and are on a limited budget. The NP 100 works well with all kinds of music. There are plenty of amps out there that will better it in any given category, but it would be very difficutl to find another amplifier for this price that will sound as good across the board.

In my system, the NP 100 is at its best when recreating vocals, blues, and jazz. It is a well-balanced amplifier that has good control in the low end, a very musical and open midrange, and airy. life-like highs. Not as tight in the bass as the McCormack or a Krell (or even the pure class A Clayton S 40) when asked to reproduce rock music. Not as lush and sweet as a classic tube design in the mids (e.g., Cary or Conrad Johnson) and not as detailed at the top as a Audio Research. But the little NP 100 betters all of them in the aspects they don't emphasize (i.e., controlled bass for the CJ, sweet mids for Audio Research, or the airy detail in the Cary). If you listen to only a few kinds of music you may want to look for an amp that excells at that type (I personally like OTL amplifiers for classical music, jazz and female vocals, but the bottom end is usually a bit bloomy and rolled off for me). But if you are in the market for a reasonably priced amplifier that will provide you with listening enjoyment across the spectrum, the NP 100 may just be your ticket.

After two years with this amp, I would definitely decide on the upgrade again-one would be hard pressed to find better performance at this price. Any amp I've listened to over the past year or so that sounds as detailed, harmonically rich, and controlled as the NP100 retails for at least 2-3 times as much (see the list of amps I most recently auditioned).

In addition to great sound, build quality is superb. I inadvertently shorted the speaker cables but didn't realize it until a few days later, when I noticed the distorted soundstage. I checked and all that happened to the amp was two blown rail fuses. Testimony of a well-built component!!

A word about service: Outstanding! I have called Michael several times with questions. He has always answered every call himself (!) and has so far provided exceptional advice over the phone. I feel very confident in the product, its warranty, and Michael's ability to answer questions and provide technical assistance. Overall, the NP 100 does everything I want my amp to do and does it very well. Sure you can find amps with more slam or a lusher sound, but you'd be hard pressed to find an amp (especially for the price) that sounds as neutral and refined and is able to drive virtually any load. The worst part about my decision to upgrade to the NP100 is that the amp sounds so good that I am now looking to upgrading my speakers. For those of you who are into "tweaking," I found the NP100 to sound best if accompanied by a tubed preamp (I use a Joule Electra LA 100 Mk-III). I have also placed the amp atop of four vibrapods which tightens the bass and increases the soundstage.

I might be looking for a new amplifier soon (the upgrade bug has bitten me) and it may be an OTL (a Joule to match my preamp, if I can find one at a reasonable price) but I may keep the Counterpoint as a backup amp or to use to listen to that type of music that my new amp may not play as well. Regardless of what I decide, I will have to dig deep into my pocket to get an amp that will be a noticeable improvement. What better recommendation!

Associated gear
Joule Electra LA 100 MK-III
Merlin VSM + Bam
Audiomeca Keops
Audio Logic 34/2400 dac
JPS Cables + Power Cords

Similar products
Clayton S 40
McCormack DNA 1
Audio Research D-100
Cary 572
Atma-Sphere S 30
I had my SA100 upgraded to the NP100 (Premium Gold version with two 6SN7 tubes) a little over a year ago and I couldn't be happier. Compared to Drv's Basic upgrade, the Premium Gold upgrade is basically a complete rebuild of the amplifier. All of the insides are replaced (new circuit boards, the best caps in each position, custom Plitron transformer, Van Den Hul wiring, new Cardas RCA jacks, balanced inputs, Cardas binding posts, etc) and the only remaining part of the original SA100 is the chasis. I am also using mine with Merlin VSM-M speakers. My Counterpoint SA5000 preamp has also been upgraded with Mike's Premium Gold upgrade. Everything DRV said about the upgrades and Mike's service is true. I've rambled enough about my amp on this site before, but I'm exctremely happy with both pieces. The amp's circuitry is rather neutral, so it does take on the characteristics of the chosen tubes...a feature that offers quite a bit of flexibility as far as tube rolling goes. I've been using NOS Sylvania's from the 40s and the sound is excellent...very detailed, strong deep bass, realistic delicate highs, a gorgeous midrange, great dynamics, excellent resolution, and extremely transparent. And a general sense...the amp retained some of the character of the old SA100 (its overall balance and musicality, perhaps??), but at the same time it sounds nothing like my old SA100. The improvements were very substantial and instantly noticeable. Highly recommended.

Mike is even going one step further with his new amplifiers from Aria Audio (his top model, that is). He is willing to travel to your house and set your new amp up in your system...matched to your preferences. This guarantees that the amp will be set up correctly, and it also allows him to make any changes in the voicing of the amplifier...whatever it takes to make it a perfect match for your tastes and your system. This service is included in the price of his top amp, and it's still priced much lower than most of the prized hi-end amplifiers. I've never heard of anyone offering that service before. It will be interesting to see how many people take advantage of it. I can't afford it, but I think it would be money well spent. Having the amplifier's designer set-up and, if necessary, re-voice the amplifier to match our system and sounds like the ideal situation to me. If you're curious about the details you check them out at:

I've never heard the Aria amps, but Mike said that my NP100 is a similar design. The Aria technology is originally based on the NP100 design, but the Aria amps have been updated and have design advantages due to their custom case...things that couldn't fit into the small-ish SA100 body. My NP100 is pretty amazing, so I think the even better Aria amps should be a safe bet.

My stuff:
Prem Gold NP100 amp (Alta Vista rebuilt Counterpoint SA100)
Premium Gold SA5000 preamp (modded Counterpoint SA5000)
Merlin VSM-M w/ battery bam
EVS MIllenium DAC 2 w/ Studer A727 as transport
Cardas/ZCable interconnects, Cardas wire, JPS Power cords

other amps used:
Counterpoint SA100(stock)
Pass Aleph 3
Bel Canto SETi40
47Labs Gaincard
Revox B250-S
Luxman M2000
NAD 916