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Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???

68.5.79.63

Posted on March 1, 2007 at 22:11:06

Does anyone remember these two preamps? I would like to
ask if the Line-Level of the 5.1 sounded any better than
the 3.1? I would only be using it with a CD Player..
I will probably pick up a SA3.1 to try out and wait for a
SA5.1 to come up used but I wanted to ask for info on
here because I am dieing to find out how they differ sonically!

I see SA3.1s come up used all the time but hardly ever do
I see a SA5.1 come up used. The SA5.1 must a real sweet
preamp since I never see them on audiogon. :-(

Thanks for any info you guys share with me!!

 

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Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 2, 2007 at 00:44:12
Tom Schuman
Audiophile

Posts: 2380
Location: Bremen
Joined: October 22, 2003
the 5.1 uses a tube power supply which does tend to sweeten the sound over a normal SS rectified tube power supply as in the 3.1. it also has a great phono section. i never listened to the 3.1 in comparison, but i did own a 5.1 and liked it very much. At about $4-600 (stock/used and in good condition) it is a relative bargain.
keep in mind, if you get it modified, that will be expensive.

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 2, 2007 at 03:22:52
plantsman
Audiophile

Posts: 4790
Location: Maine
Joined: April 4, 2002
I worked for a Counterpoint dealer during the period that those preamps were in production but the our frame of reference was vinyl. I don't recall ever comparing the line stages only. Through phono the 5.1 was a significantly better preamp in almost every regard although the 7.1 and 3.1 were also good at their respective price points. The 5.1 was sonically very competitive with contemporary ARC and C-J preamps. I definitely preferred it to the warmer, less resolving C-Js. As I'm sure you are aware the Achilles' heel of most Counterpoint products was reliability but units still in play at this point should have had any problems fixed.

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 2, 2007 at 06:12:53
Tom Schuman
Audiophile

Posts: 2380
Location: Bremen
Joined: October 22, 2003
reliability was a frequent problem with their older hybrid power amplifiers using mosfets but i haven't heard about any problems with their preamps.

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 2, 2007 at 10:28:56

Please school me.. How on earth can a tube power supply make the
sound warmer? It's just supplying DC to the Preamp right? Tubes
in the signal path I can understand but I can't imagine how DC makes
a difference. Now if you said it was a cleaner supply of DC with
less noise I could buy that but warmer?? How??

 

Oh yeah, the preamps suffered from reliability problems too!, posted on March 2, 2007 at 10:47:37
Raiderman
Audiophile

Posts: 1884
Location: Silicon Valley, California
Joined: March 14, 2003
Every SA 3.1 owner I knew (and there were three of us that had the identical model), eventually had problems with either or both the volume control (it would become noisy, very noisy sometimes) or the balance control (the balance would drift off, and you'd leave it cranked over to one side in order to acheive proper balance).

Sonically, they were good, (very good for the price).
However, there were built to a price point, and it showed eventually.

My two cents worth.

 

One would think, huh! But it does effect the sound dramatically, posted on March 2, 2007 at 13:49:39
risabet
Audiophile

Posts: 2901
Location: SoCal
Joined: January 10, 2005
Contributor
  Since:
January 3, 2006
I don't know why. I too worked for a dealer that sold Counterpoint and the 5.1 is way better than the 3.1. The volume controls in the 3.1 and 7.1 will get noisy but can be replaced. The modded units are supposed to be bomb diggity good. Michael Elliot, designer for Counterpoint, of does the mods and finally gets to build the units as he wanted to. Visit the link below for details.

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 3, 2007 at 04:16:10
Tom Schuman
Audiophile

Posts: 2380
Location: Bremen
Joined: October 22, 2003
by warmer i guess i mean, just less mechanical sounding. DC is not DC; any amplifier designer will tell you that the design of the power supply has a big effect on the sound of the preamp.
a designer chooses to use a tube rectification because they are in a sense more linear as voltage regulation devices; they do not 'switch on and off' in the same way as transistors do, leading to a potentially smoother sound.
i know my clarification is rough. if you want more detail do a search on tech square or something.

 

Re: Oh yeah, the preamps suffered from reliability problems too!, posted on March 3, 2007 at 10:26:04
plantsman
Audiophile

Posts: 4790
Location: Maine
Joined: April 4, 2002
We sold a ton of 3.1s and 7.1s and I would estimate the failure rate at around 50%. We sold fewer 5.1s simply because they were more expensive. The sample size is much smaller but I would estimate we had issues with around 10% - 20% of the 5.1s. Several of the amps had major issues too. Sonically excellent gear but there were substantial construction issues.

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 3, 2007 at 13:36:46
Thanks for the explanation. I buy it now.. So the 5.1 is far
and away better sounding. It also looks like it was far more
reliable than the 3.1

All those tubes in the 5.1 scare me. It must cost a mint in maintence to run a 5.1 it has what 8 tubes total compared to 3 tubes in the 3.1? Holy crap that's a lot of mulla to replace them
all. I would only be using line level so in the 3.1 I would only
have 1 tube to worry about I think.. More to think about.. I need
a black, low-profile tube preamp due to space reasons so the
counterpoint was the only thing I could think of that had the
tubes running horizontally..

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 3, 2007 at 16:34:15
plantsman
Audiophile

Posts: 4790
Location: Maine
Joined: April 4, 2002
The Lazarus preamp and the AudioTropic Moebius immediately spring to mind and I have vague recollections of seeing one or two other low profile tube preamps but the Counterpoints are definitely much more common. The 5.1 was not a tube eater as far as I can recall. You should check out the Alta Vista website and maybe give them a call. I think your best case situation might be to find a Counterpoint preamp for sale that has already had some Alta Vista upgrades done.

 

Re: Counterpoint Preamps: SA-3.1 vs SA-5.1 ???, posted on March 3, 2007 at 18:32:17
Modegard
Audiophile

Posts: 34
Location: Eden Prairie, MN
Joined: May 6, 2004
I would like to put a plug in for the Counterpoint SA-3.1. I have owned one since the late 1980s and only recently sold it. It has never been in for repair, and has always provided excellent service. I never had the problems you hear about Counterpoint preamps, such as bad balance controls. Maybe I have been lucky. I always wanted a 5.1, but couldn't swing it due to high cost. You certainly don't see a lot of them out there. The hifi store I frequent, that used to be a Counterpoint dealer tells me the 5.1 was not a big seller. You might have already seen this website that details some of the differences between the 3.1 and 5.1: http://www.altavistaaudio.com/SA-5.html

 

Re: Oh yeah, the preamps suffered from reliability problems too!, posted on March 3, 2007 at 18:59:54
Cougar
Audiophile

Posts: 1632
Joined: June 25, 2001
The counterpoint 3.1 has cheap balance and volume controls. I have upgraded a few and once these are upgraded they sound really really nice and will compete with anything in the $3000-$4000 range. I have never had any issues with the Counterpiont 3.1 preamps after I have upgraded them but of course I upped component voltages and wattages.

 

A tube rectifier will sweeten the sound because..., posted on March 3, 2007 at 19:08:09
Cougar
Audiophile

Posts: 1632
Joined: June 25, 2001
it has no turn off noise (ringing) like a regular bridge rectifier would that show's up as harshness or brightness, but depending on what type/grade of rectifier tube you put in it can also sound slow and dead sounding. I used Hexfreds as a bridge rectifier in the B+ and heater supplies of the Counterpoint 3.1 preamp, the sound is just wonderful and fast with exellent bass. Stick a Mullard gold pin and its just one awesome sounding preamp.

 

CD player only? Go passive., posted on March 30, 2007 at 15:38:30
If you are only going to control the volume of a CD player, then you will be better off getting a passive volume control. I recently sold my old SA.5.1 for this very reason. For quite some time, the 5.1 was only serving me for line level sources. Then one day, I compared it to a cheap Creek pasive volume control (Alps pot) and the 5.1 could not provide the same amount of detail. The bass was a bit better, but most of the delicate detail was lost in the Counterpoint. All of those tubes, big power supply, and host of features in my 5.1, and a little passive Alps pot sounded better. I was embarrased.

That experience got me into investigating other passive alternatives, and eventually I purchased a TVC (transformer volume control) to replace my 5.1.

If you are only going to control the volume of a CD player or other high output line level source, then you don't need all of that gain in the Counterpoint. Consider using a "passive" pre amp. Start searching, reading, learning about passives, and have fun.

 

Re: CD player only? Go passive., posted on April 1, 2007 at 09:30:25
tom92602
Audiophile

Posts: 141
Location: Siant Paul, MN
Joined: November 20, 2006
I tried the Creek passive years ago with a Classe CA150 and thought the creek was junk. Terrible in every sense of the word. My Sony ES Player did a better job running direct into the power amp using it's variable outputs. Yes you get detail and transparency but you sacrifice depth, dynamics, and overall warmth. I was heard many passive setups and always feel this to be true. I can't believe you sold your 5.1 for a passive preamp. For my system and what I listen for in music, that would be a huge step backwards.. But if it works for you then great..

PS: How much did you sell your Counterpoint 5.1 for?? And how long did you need to let it warm up for optimal sound?

 

Believe it., posted on April 1, 2007 at 09:56:14
Yeah, the Creek is junk, well, not really, er . . . .sort of. I used the Creek example to explain that in many situations, you really don't need additional gain from a line stage. What's the point of attenuating a signal 20 to 30 dB and then amplifying it again? This is what I learned with the Creek. Most line stages are redundant. It's a non sophistocated way to avoid impedance matching and gain staging issues.

You're right about the sound of passives, sort of. There was more detail with the Creek but the bass was weak and the sound was anemic. That's because it is very hard to get the impedance right for a passive resistor volume control. You can get it right for the source or the amp, but usually not for both. That might be why you had trouble with passives. That's usually why most people have trouble and give up. Your source has to see a high impedance, your amp has to see a low impedance. Your amp has to have enough gain too (sensitivity). It's not easy, but once you get it all sorted out it can be better than an active.

I'm not recommending the Creek. The experience with the Creek showed me just how much detail was lost in the 20 year old Counterpoint line stage. That's when I started learning about TVCs, impedance matching, gain staging, etc. I use a DIYHiFi Django TVC now. But like you say, to each their own. My way just sounds better to me with the gear that I have over here.

To answer your question. You don't have to warm the SA5.1 up at all. It is always in standby mode when it's plugged in the wall. The heaters are always on but no B+ voltage is applied. It is warm and ready to be turned "on". When you turn it on there is a 90 second delay, a relay switches it out of mute, and you're good to go. It sounds a little bit better after a few minutes, but no big change. (I'm speaking of the stock unit. If you've modified it at AltaVista then I can not comment. I think he puts Blackgates in there and Blackgates need to be on all of the time to sound their best. That's a lot of tubes to leave on all of the time.)

I got a few hundred for the pre, I was happy to get anything after almost 20 years. It was nearly 20 years old with original parts, except tubes of course, and some of the resistors that blew up when it was new. Yeah, all of my Counterpoint gear had to get repaired. My Pre amp, head amp, and power amp. Geez. What a company. That was their trademark you know. "We're just too cool and way too important to worry about quality control. Repairs are your problem. Be happy that we sold you one". No joke. That's how we were treated.

Once it was fixed by a non-Counterpoint technician, it worked forever though. Live and learn.

 

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