Counterpoint and Mike Elliot

Hey! Does anyone have first hand knowledge of Elliot's upgrades for Counterpoint preamps? Specifically the SA-2000, SA-3000, SA-5000 and the 5.1 all tube phono/line pre. I'm wondering if the rather high cost of let's say, modding a 5.1 would bring the preamp to a performance level equal or greater than a similarly priced piece. For example, the 5.1 modified by Elliot would cost, all together, a bit more than an ARC Ref-1 preamp ($3500 approx). (Of course the ref-1 doesn't have a phono stage so the Elliot might be a tad more thrifty). ew. sorry, i dont usually write things like 'a tad more thrifty' and i wont do it again.

Anyway, I'd love to get responses from people who have owned or heard these or can send me in the right direction to find out more info.

For those of you who don't know, Counterpoint made ss, hybrid and tube amps, preamps and dacs but went out of business in '96. Mike Elliot was the chief designer and continues to upgrade Counterpoint stuff but for big $$. His site is

thanks in advance.
Hey Kubla, glad to share my reactions to your query. I will go through a brief "personal pre-amp history", which includes the Counterpoint 5.1, to hopefully put my comments in perspective.

A 5.1 replaced an Audible Illusions 4D a few years ago. The Counterpoint made the Audible, despite the latter's superior soundstage stability, sound like it was on Valium; slow and lethargic. The 5.1 also had more natural tonal colors; the AI's sounded and still sound, to my ears, too "gray" and slightly bleached out sounding; and don't boogie.

After trying and living with an AR SP14, Threshhold FET 10, Classe 6, and Quicksilver, I settled on a Melos 222C. In my opinion, the Melos is in a different class altogether. It's got the bass extension of the FET, the soundstaging of the Classe and even better dynamics than the Counterpoint; and tonally it sounds much more like the real thing. By the way, in my system, the only one of the above that I would not rate as an across the board improvement over the 5.1 was the FET 10 (too mechanical and analytical).

Having done the expensive mod thing with other products over the years, the end result for me has always been that the basic character of the product is retained with relatively subtle improvements in certain areas. Now, for all I know Elliot's mods are brilliant, but my strong gut reaction is that for $3500 you can get a pretty great pre that will be, with the possible exception of dynamics, superior to the Counterpoint.

May I also suggest that you give George Kay (of NYAL fame) a call. He modded my 5.1 for a heck of a lot less than $3500, with positive results; again, the basic character of the piece did not change. He lives locally (NYC), but I don't have his number in front of me. If you are interested, I will get it to you.

Good luck.
Thanks for the info, frogman. you're probably right, that modding gear still keeps a certain personality inherent in the design. i wish there were a way to listen to a full blown elliot mod though.
Hi Kublakhan,

As the guy that designed the Counterpoint SA-5.1 and who is presently offering the upgrades for it, I just want to add a couple of comments. The realities of manufacturing for the retail market make it really hard to offer as good a value to the customer as we'd like. Retailers get about 50% of the customer's money; and on a new product, over 2/3rds of the cost of parts goes to parts not in the signal path, like the chassis and knobs and front panel (this last must be expensive because hi-fi gear is often judged by how it looks). Shipping cartons, medical insurance for employees, really expensive shows and even more expensive magazine advertising . . . all these force a designer to spend far less on the signal path than he might like. I know that I always struggled with that at Counterpoint if Marketing were to request a $3,500 preamp (say), which I knew gave me a budget of about $240 for the electronic parts.

Which is what all other manufacturers have to deal with -- Counterpoint was not unique. (I go into this in a bit more detail at

When comparing a $3,500 new preamp against spending $3,500 on an older preamp + it's upgrades, I personally think you're spending the money more where it counts: on the electronics in the signal path. You're not buying new chassis or "cosmetics," you're not paying a retail markup, you're not paying a guy (me) who is spending beaucoup bucks on advertising and shows and trips around the world to service overseas markets. While every dollar that you spend retail nets you about seven cents of electronic parts, a dollar spent on my upgrades nets about ten times that in parts. And the parts I use are amazingly better-sounding than the parts Counterpoint (or ARC/cj/VAC, et al) could ever use simply because they are so expensive. And they sound like it -- they sound lovely.

I guess one final comment I'd like to make -- and thanks Frogman for offering your experience -- is that while Frogman is comparing a factory stock, manufactured in the 1980's preamp to other preamps, the upgraded SA-5.1 has handily trounced preamps costing upwards of $12,000 in dealer showroom and customer listening tests. It's just a really cost-effective way to get phenomenal sound IMHO.

Michael Elliott