A fine amp, especially at the price i paid. Has plenty of power. It is exactly what it was intended to be. It has tube characteristics as well as a controlled solid state bottom end. When i bought it, it contained Audio Research tubes. I sent away to Counterpoint for a new set of tubes when these needed replacing.. Truthfully, the amp sounded better with the AR tubes. The amp seemed to lose some of its "tube character" afterwards. In other words, this amp is dependent on the tubes you use. All in all, if you can find it at a resonable price, you can't go wrong. It is not the "ultimate", but it does very little wrong and is very easy to listen to.
My brother once owned this amplifier, and he played it through Vandersteen 2Ci loudspeakers similar to mine. If I did not own B&K PRO-10MC/ST-202+ combo, I would probably rate this a 5, but since my setup easily competes against a Counterpoint SA-1000/SA-100 combo at about $1000 retail or more less when new, I cannot rate it but a 4. It sounded great through his Audio Alchemy/B&K headgear, but my Rotel/B&K headgear sounde very similar.
This is a review of the Counterpoint SA-100, NOT the upgraded SA-100 (called the NP100) that can be done at altavista audio by ex-counterpoint president Mike Elliott. The SA-100 is a medium sized amplifier rated at 100 watts, containing a tube input stage and MOSFET output stage. Originally costing over $1500, SA 100's can be had used for around 400 or so. I have had this for over a year and have been tremendously pleased. It plays very loud with authority when you need it, but is also very delicate, precise and accurate. It puts out a lot of current, I used it for a year with very inefficient Martin Logan speakers, but it was also excellent for sensitive speakers such as paradigm or B&W bookshelf speakers. I was most impressed at the detail and dynamic range you could hear at low volumes. This was an incredible amplifier in that you don't need to blast it to show off its capabilities. I had not heard this characteristic prior to getting this amp. You need to take the cover off when you change tubes, and when you do you will realize what a high quality component this is, with careful layout and costly parts on the inside. The fuses on the circuitborad even have transparent plastic covers on them to keep the dust out. The tubes are common and easily obtainable, I changed mine after 1.5 years for less than $75. When the SA 100 is on it will run very hot (even at no or low volume), because it is biased into class A mode for part of its output range. Perhaps this is why it sounded so good at low to middle range volumes. This amp can be serviced and/or upgraded by Mike Elliott, (www.altavistaaudio.com) who is a very nice person and happy to talk to you on the phone. Actually the "upgrade" is more of a "rebuild." For about $1000, they will completely replace the circuitboard and output devices. I have seen an upgraded unit, the NP-100, at a party so can't comment on the sound (75 people drinking and making a lot of noise) but I carefully examined it and it was running cold, cold cold, even though it was pumping out some loud tunes. I mean cold, by touching it you could barely tell it was on. This is probably desireable from certain perspectives but I like the warm sound and high bias heat from the stock unit. In short, I love this amplifier and highly recommend it. SA-100s and SA-12's (earlier 85 watt version) are commonly available for cheap used on the internet, but hold out for an SA-100 that is in good condition and that is the right color (silver and black are available).
Ever time I turn on this amp, I am reminded that Counterpoint met its demise. It's truly a loss because they simply put out great gears. However, for a fortunate few, still own them...things couldn't be sounding sweeter. Mike Elliot, the founder and chief designer keeps the Counterpoint era alive via his Alta Vista Audio company. So upgrades on his hard-as-nails, tight-as-a-drum gear are readily available. I upgraded from a SA-12 Counterpoint to the higher output SA-100 and it made all the difference in the world. The sound stage is open yet powerful providing the distinct warmth and clarity of tube with the punch and kick of solid state. If you are scratching your head now wondering what I am talking about that is because the SA-100 is both! The SA-100 represents the best, in my opinion, in both solid state technology and class A tube technology. Elliot & Associates at Counterpoint saw the true potential in taking the best of both worlds and putting them into one approachable unit. Retailing for $1600-$1700 new, this was a very affordable, approachable amp by tube industry standards and now if you can find one used in good shape for under $1000, consider yourself fortunate. I went from solid state gears to tube audio and appreached the strengths of both. Was told about Counterpoint from a friend of a friend and set out to find some used gears. The SA-100 is what I've always wanted. It matches well with my Creek Audio Preamp but I am on the hunt for a hyprid pre to match. Sonically a very sound piece of equipment and as with all Counterpoint gear, quite worth the hunt if you can find one.
Associated components: Audio Alchemy DDSII CD transport, Anodyne ATAS (all-tube –analog-stage) DAC, SOTA Sapphire turntable with Profile arm and Grado Gold cartridge, Rotel phono preamp, Counterpoint SA-2000 line stage preamp (unmodified), Cardas Hexlink and Garland interconnects, Tara Space & Time speaker cable (two pair for biwiring), Symdex Epsilon speakers. All components except speakers mounted on sand-filled MDF or Bright Star Big Rock platforms.
“NP100” is the designation given to late 1980’s-mid-1990’s-vintage Counterpoint SA-100 stereo power amplifiers that have undergone fundamental-rebuild upgrades by former Counterpoint owner-designer Michael Elliott, who performs Counterpoint repairs and modifications under a new name, AltaVista Audio LLC (details at www.altavistaaudio.com).
The original SA-100 was a hybrid utilizing a three-tube (DJ8) input stage and MOSFET output stage and was rated at 100 watts per channel. The NP-100 modification replaces the original circuit board, reduces the input stage to one tube (a Sovtek 6922), replaces the MOSFET output stage with a bipolar transistor stage, uses higher-grade parts than found in the stock SA-100, and uses Sound Connection cabling throughout. The power rating remains 100 watts, but the damping factor is increased from 8.9 to about 90.
The NP100 upgrade comes in three standard flavors (Basic, Premium, and Premium Gold) ranging in cost from $649 to $1649. . . . with the “Premium” upgrades offering even better parts, including a new toroidal transformer and Van Den Hul wiring.
I opted for the Basic $649 upgrade utilizing the 6922, plus the replacement of the stock power transformer with a Plitron toroid and upgrading of the power supply capacitors and rectifiers, for a total upgrade cost of $1205. Since I acquired a used mint SA-100 for $500, my total outlay for the NP-100 was $1705, plus shipping to and from Alta Vista Audio.
Based on both Elliott’s advice and my experience, I didn’t commence critical listening to the NP100 until the unit had burned in for at least 300 hours.
I’d lived with the unmodified SA-100 for four months before sending it in for the upgrade. It was a considerably more musical and dimensional amp than the Adcom GFA-565 300-watt monoblocks that preceded it, and, surprisingly, given the power difference, had almost as much bass slam when driving the Symdexes. For reference, I listen primarily to symphonic, acoustic jazz, movie scores (the whole-cloth scores, not the exploitation pop compilations scrabbled together for after-market CD sales), some choral and opera, and a fair amount of vocal standards.
The burned-in NP100 is, in a word, magical. There are “romantic” amps that sound warm and fuzzy, but emit sonic haze at the extremes. And there are razor-sharp-definition amps that reveal every nit, but leave one cold. The NP100 combines the virtues, but exhibits none of the vices, of both. Images are rock-stable and precise, surrounded by appropriate “air.” The soundstage extends beyond side and rear walls and, on those recordings where it’s appropriate (e.g., the Turtle Creek Chorale’s “Testament” CD [Reference Recordings]), forward of the speaker plane. Instruments and voice exhibit harmonic and timbral rightness to a degree I’ve not heard in far costlier amplifiers. And the vertical imaging made me bolt upright…the height of vocalists, for example, is rendered with startling precision. Bass from a 100-watt amp driving Symdexes in a 26’x14’x8’ room? The NP100 eats the Adcoms’ lunch—and their breakfast and dinner as well—going at least at deep at comparable volume levels…and extracting subtle detail not detectable with the larger amps. Moreover, the NP100 is incredibly quick in rendering subtle as well as in-your-face transients.
Well, that’s a somewhat clinical analysis. As I listen, I’m compelled to shed my analytical self as I get pulled into the performance…whether it’s Michael Tilson Thomas wringing every last emotion out of the Mahler Seventh or Clifford Jordan singing (!) Lush Life. The “debate” between “musical” and “accurate” loses all meaning here, because with the NP100 they’re indistinguishable from each other. And that’s with 10-year-old interconnects and closeout budget speaker cable.
On a scale of 5, I’d rate the NP100 a 6 on performance (if I could) and a 7 on value. This is a no-brainer steal, folks.