I have not been able to let go of my Pioneer SA-9100 even though I have not used it for over 15 years, it was originally purchased by my brother and handed down to me. I have heard many other systems with higher amp ratings but nothing I have ever heard puts out more clear undistorted sound at such a low amp rating. The Amp has some static problems on a few of the knobs when turning them. I also have the matching tuner in excellent condition and the matching cassette deck that I picked up at a latter date but eats tapes and I never got around to recondition it. I treasure the years I was able to listen to this system it all its glory and dread the possibility of it not being rehabilitated to its former glory.
I had read so many good things about this amp that I knew I just had to find a MINTY example. It wasn't long before my hopes were realized when mine showed up on eBay. It wasn't cheap, either as the word has gotten out how warm, crisp, and clean the sound is from these beauties. What's great about this model is it's versatility. It has two AUX inputs, so you no longer have to worry about swapping your CD and iPod; they each get their own input. Also, AUX 2 has a sensitivity adjustment. Nice! Also, Phono 2 does. The Phono also has a slider for cartridge impedance. If that wasn't enough, wouldn't it be nice to be able to adjust the output to your two sets of speakers to equalize the sound? Done. There's a knob for that. I have been searching for the "perfect" sound within my beer budget for a long time. Sometimes something would come along that was close. Funny, but the one closest was a darned Radio Shack Realistic STA-2300 receiver. Until now. I'll NEVER sell this amp. I went on a splurge and mated it with it's partner tuner the TX-9100. I'm in audio heaven now. I even sold my Pioneer PL-570 TOTL turntable to go "retro" with an older PL-50 from the same period as the SA-9100. If you've never had the opportunity to audition one of these (properly taken care of), you've got to. You'll never go back. If you're worried that the mere "60" WPC won't be enough, well trust me, mine is driving my HPM-100's and it is BIG in dB. It'll be running you out of the room if you don't attenuate it. It sounds more like 90 WPC or more.
Hello- I thought I'd write this amp up, as I've have it for about 2 years, and have done considerable work up to spec. Also, because when I was researching this amp, all I could find was cultish reviews of how great it is. The truth is, yes. Yes, it really does sound that good. However... nothing is free, so if you buy this sight unseen you're probably in for some surprises. These surprises are by no means unique to this amp, and are instead intrinsic to any amp over 20 years old. As the web will attest, electrolytic capacitors dry up, they have a certain life, and at the end of their life they are at best, not as good as they used to be, or at worst problematic, and will prevent you from using your equipment. Just like a car, certain parts wear out. If you park a 1932 Ford Roadster in a barn, and pull it out in 2008, you're going to need to replace the tires and the gas. In fact that may be the only thing you need to replace, and it will be back at 100%. So goes it with vintage amps. The one caveat is, this work, if done by someone else is EXPENSIVE. I bought my SA-9100 for around $200 shipped. It worked for about 2 days. It took it to the local electronics place and paid $89 to reflow cold solder joints. Then it worked for another day. Then I took it in again to ahve the pre-amp board recapped, for another $240. I brought home, and still have problems. I eventually went over to Audiokarma.org, did my homework, read and read, and recapped the rest of the entire amp myself. The results? Phenomenal! That said, the cult-like status of this amp, has caused the prices to become outrageous on ebay, and I suspect it's due, at least in part, to the fact that people don't know what they're getting into, and that a restoration will cost at least an additional $250 to bring it back to new. You may be lucky, out of the box and it will work for another couple decades, but even then you'll be listening to a great amp at only about 85% of it's potential. Eventually you'll fold, seeking to hear the best, and you'll have it recapped. Okay, so the value I got out of it was a little screwed, yet I wouldnt' hesitate to purchase another one IF it had been recapped in the last couple years, >OR< i could get it for less than $120 or so, and had the time to recap it myself. If you're a sharp person, go can stay organized, can work a soldering iron, have relatively good attention to detail, and about 6-8 hours, you can recap it yourself no problem, and it's a great way to get to know your amp inside out. OK, so that explains why I'm only going to give it a 3 for value.
On to the sound!!! The sound it great. I plugged this in, I put on a CD, and I COULD NOT BELIEVE the clarity, the punchiness, the rhythm, the soundstage, and the separation. It sounded to me that every instrument was coming from a different speaker in a different location in the room. That's pretty awesome. Up to that point, every stereo always had two channels, right and left, and then some instruments were on the right, some on the left, and some were blended together. This amp was totally different, and really made me feel that every instruments was actually in a different location in the room - I guess this is what peopleI had always heard people talking about when they used the term "soundstage". I'd heard good separation, and good clarity before in my previous amps, so that was nothing remarkable. The two other audiophile terms that I finally "got", when Iistened to this amp were "dynamics" and "rhythm". As an orchestra player, I understood dynamics to be quieter or louder, but with this amp, the detail, the clarity, and things I'd never heard before (instruments, vocals, overtones) were jsut as audible when the amp was extremely quiet, as well as extremely loud. The amp also seemed to be able to play something extremely quietly and then go to a sudden loud section, drum strike, etc much more "efffortlessly" than any other amp I had ever heard. Also as an orchestral player, I always thought of "Rhythm"
as being the count of the music, like 3/4 time, 4/4 time, or otherwise what you'd call a time signature. With this amp, I discovered that "rhythm" is more more subtle, and borders on indescribable. I could suddenly hear so many details within each guitar note that I could feel the music pulsing. So maybe it's generous to call myself an audiophile, if I'm so new to these "audiophile?" terms, but I think I have a good ear, and I can definitley hear big differences between equipment and setups. I didn't want to be a blind apologist for vintage stereo, so I gave myself a double blind test - I bought two NAD PE 2100's off of ebay, had them recapped, and ran them each as monoblocks to compare, running them off of the SA-9100 pre-stage. Yup, not even a comparison! I ran the same interconnects, same speaker wire, all that business, and there was something profoundly better about the SA-9100, and promptly disposed of the NAD's, which are, by all accounts very respectable amps.
The SA-9100 has some pretty cool features: It has a variable level for the B speakers, so that you can match levels, and do a blind comparison between different speakers to see which you like the best. It has two phono inputs, one with a fixed impedance, and then another with 3 different selectable impedances, so you can match different MM cartridges. It has A,B, and C speakers. I have it set up with some two sets of Boston CR-55 speakers on the A and B channels, and then CR-65's on the C channel. I have it hooked up to a Sansui SR-1050 turntable with a Grado Gold Cartridge, and retrofitted with some low impedance Petra Cables. As an amp, I give it 100%, as a pre-amp I give it 100%. It really is as good or better than all the hype would indicate, just be aware that you may have to renew the caps and clean the pots for the performance its capable of
I am pleased to be the first to write a review of this impressive integrated amp from 1973. I hope others will share their impressions of it as well. I suspect this amp will show up on the used market for decades to come. Like an old Ferarri, it's likely to hold its value for some time to come.
Even so, one may encounter age-related problems. The one I bought was dirty and one channel was intermittently raspy and attenuated. However, I found it easy to pop the cover and spray down the contact points on the speaker selector knob with rubbing alcohol, and voila! Perfect sound! Keep that in mind. A little 409 on the outside cleaned everything up nicely as well.
This is a beautiful amp, my goodness! It has a brushed aluminum front with a laminated wooden housing and a heavy steel chassis. It weighs in at 31 pounds, in no small part because of the knobs, which are milled from solid aluminum. Everything about the amp is over-built and intended to last. Remember that these "silver face plate" amps latter evolved into the PIoneer Elite series.
It features three sets of speaker connectors, one of which is independently variable for easy speaker matching or bi-amplifying. Rather than simple bass and treble controls, it feature dual bass and dual treble controls for more precise adjustments. Of course, you turn off the tone controls as well, for a cleaner signal path. It features pre-outs with an optional low pass filter for use when bi-amplifying. Most modern speakers that can be bi-amplified off the shelf do not require it.
I found the sound to be rich and solid. I use it to drive a pair of Boston Accoustics VR-M60 speakers, which are bright and highly detailed. I experimented with the 9100's pre-outs, using it at times by itself and at times as a pre-amp for my Adcom 545II amp. I was surprised to find that the 9100 sounded brighter and more forward than the Adcom. I finally settled on bi-amplifying my VR-M60s, using the 9100 to run the tweeters and the Adcom to run the woofs. Sonic bliss. No tone controls required.
The 9100 boasts a frequency response from 7Hz to an astonishing 80KHz! (see http://www.silverpioneer.netfirms.com/Integrated%20Amps.htm) On a certain Steve Roach recording (electronic music), it drove my M60s so high during one passage that I could not hear the sound so much as feel it inside my head. This impressed me quite a bit (both the amp and the speakers!).
At any rate, if you are in the market for a good amp and don't want to spend $800, look for one of these old 9100s, and expect to pay between $100 and $150 for a good one. Just remember that they hail from a time before the remote control, so couch potatoes need not apply.