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So... I'm not sure if this counts as Spring cleaning 6 months late, or, as the evenings get longer, the leaves start to change, and folks head indoors, maybe it's actually right on time. In any case, I'm going to be listing a bunch of things, including some of the big guns like this Counterpoint. I'll apologize in advance for the very long length here, but speaking for myself, I want to know exactly what I'm buying, especially at this level, and I expect you do too. The SA9/SA11 is a genuinely staggering, world-class preamp, but there just aren't many in captivity and over the years I've noticed a fair bit of inaccurate and incomplete information out there. If nothing else, hopefully what follows will at least sort some of that out. Having said all that, a few important points upfront:
* first-off, no I'm obviously not asking for 123,456. But so few of these have changed hands (personally I don't recall ever seeing a sale of an SA9/SA11 together. Certainly not in this condition) there's just not much data to go on. So, rather than come up with some pie-in-the-sky number and waste your time and mine going back and forth, I'll put it out here for a ~week and let you guys decide what it sells for (or whether it sells). If you're interested in buying it, please make an offer. If it doesn't find any takers here then I'll try it on Ebay and likely end up seeing it regretfully leave the country. Trying to clean OUT the closet and generally not super interested in trades. However there are a handful of things I'm always on the lookout for (Avalon Ascent mkII, Ayre V1xe, Counterpoint NPS400A/Natural Progression Mono, B&W Nautilus 805, Revel F30/Studio, VPI rim-drive table). If you have a really great one, we can talk about partial trades.
* speaking of leaving the country... though split into 3 chassis, the Counterpoint is still nonetheless big, heavy (~120lbs combined) and fragile. I'd prefer not to ship it at all and am willing to meet someone halfway, within a reasonable radius of Columbus, OH to deliver. That said, I do have all the original factory boxes and packing and can ship within the continental U.S. ONLY, at the buyer's expense. At this point, will NOT ship outside the U.S. That's part of the reason for listing here first.
* also, NOT interested in separating them. Hell, they may be worth more individually... I don't know. But that misses the point. You guys are just going to have to trust me on this. The sum is even greater than the already considerable parts. Really, it is. They are BRILLIANT together, and besides..., I spent way too much time and effort chasing ghosts over the years to bring a pair together in this condition, to turn around and split them up again. Sorry, not gonna do it!
Finally, before we get into the details of what they do and how they do it, I'm going to attempt to scare a bunch of you away from even considering this. The SA9/SA11 are not for the faint of heart. Between the two, including the SA9 external power supply, it's a total of 36 tubes. As I noted on a couple of the other items I'm listing, this Counterpoint unapologetically belongs to an era where the high-end was, how shall we say, more of a contact sport : ) It absolutely DEMANDS an active relationship with the owner. You have to pay very careful attention to grounding. You must, must, MUST keep them well ventilated (despite the pretty picture in the ad, don't even think about stacking them). With 36 tubes, you have to stay ahead of wear, etc. As just one example, on the SA11 there are several small trim pots accessible through the top panel that adjust operating voltages at key points in the circuit. Counterpoint's intent was for the output to be connected to a distortion analyzer and then adjusting to achieve the lowest measured residual noise. Once adjusted, it's pretty much set-and-forget until you change tubes again. Still...., you need to know what you're doing (the owner's manual provides step by step instruction in testing and adjusting) or have a good tech who does. On the flip side of not trying to scare folks, it's actually a super inexpensive preamp to retube. With really only the exception of the 6SN7s and 6DJ8s, which can be but don't have to be expensive, all the rest of the power supply tubes are commodity types where it's mostly just about matching them, more than brand or vintage, etc.
OK... a bit on what makes these tick and why you might care.
* first a word on "Isolinear" - the name of the preamp derives from the fact that not only are both the linestage and phonostage dual mono all the way back to having separate L/R transformers (you can see that in the picture of the SA9 external power supply), but also that each individual audio stage has its own L/R regulated high voltage supply... a total of 10 of 'em in fact! (6 in the linestage and 4 in the phonostage, in addition to several low voltage utility supplies). But wait... don't buy yet. There's more! Those aren't just any regulated supplies. They're tightly, DOUBLE TUBE REGULATED, from a raw 800V down to a rock solid 430V(!) in the SA11 (1 x 6080WA low mu dual power triode pre-regulator with 2 x 6GC5 beam power pentodes operated in triode as B+ regulators, 2 x 6JC6A sharp cut-off pentodes as B+ error amplifier, and 4 x 5651 neon B+ voltage reference tubes), and 250V in the SA9 (1 x 6080WA, 4 x 6GC5, 4 x 6JC6A and 6 x 5651). This accomplishes a few important things. 1) affords m-a-s-s-i-v-e headroom 2) eliminates any potential for one audio stage to modulate another through the power supply, and 3) maybe more importantly, totally dispenses with the capacitively decoupled passive RC low-pass filtering that traditionally happens between stages sharing a common supply. These types of filters rely on large value electrolytic capacitors, where all audio frequencies see ground through that capacitor (which is supposed to look like a direct short to ground). Any deviation in the capacitor's performance though will prevent the power supply from clearly seeing ground, resulting in the audio stages in those designs drawing audibly grungy current from a polluted reservoir. In the SA9/SA11 there are no electrolytic capacitors between the high voltage supplies and audio stages. The B+ regulators are connected directly.
* all low voltage (filament heaters, etc.) power supplies remain on as long as the SA9/SA11 is connected to power. The high voltage B+ supplies are turned on when changing the system status from standby to ready.
* as well as being fully tube regulated, the SA11 is also tube rectified via four 5R4GBs operated in a voltage doubler configuration (vs. straight full wave rectification), to improve reliability of the transformer and extend rectifier tube life.
* the SA11 first audio stage uses 6SN7GTB medium mu twin triodes chosen for high linearity (typically 1/10th the distortion of a 12AX7) and high power dissipation, in a cathode coupled topology that provides a high degree of isolation between input and output circuits and no voltage amplification. The output from the cathode of the first stage drives the the input cathode of a 6SN7GTB grounded-grid amplifier and the amplified output is taken from the plate of the 2nd stage and capacitively coupled to the "Direct Outputs". Both the cathode follower input stage and grounded-grid second stage are connected to a common zener stabilized MOSFET constant current source to minimize distortion and common-mode effects, and maximize gain. In the high gain setting, feedback = 1dB, just sufficient to match the gain of the two channels and provide 15dB gain for line level sources. Note: Direct output impedance = 5500 ohms. Not recommended for amplifiers with < 47000 ohm input impedance or cable/amplifier capacitance >600pF.
* In addition to the above Direct active gain mode, the SA11 also features a completely passive mode where the signal only goes through the jacks, short wiring path, selector relays, and the discrete resistor volume/balance attenuators with silver contacts. As with all such passive linestages, you just have to be super careful on impedance matching. Finally, an active "buffered" mode is also offered which includes an additional Class A MOSFET line driver stage in the audio path to lower output impedance. The buffered mode also permits use of a switchable 6dB high-pass/low-pass biamp output using polypropylene capacitors and metallized film resistors, as well as an active polarity inversion capability. Just be advised, if you use the buffered mode I'm going to take your audiophile club membership card away from you : )
* volume and balance controls are mounted to the audio board at the rear and connected to the front panel controls with long shafts using miniature double universal joints, resulting in the shortest possible signal paths. Power transformers at the front are encased in a steel box to trap magnetic flux fields.
* balance and volume attenuators built by Tokyo Ko-on in Japan. High precision passive potentiometers using discrete 0.1% metal film resistors and large coin silver contacts with dual wipers. They are mounted in a non magnetic brass case with an integral brass electrostatic shield between the channels. The balance control is built so that when in the center position it has no resistance between its input and output, which essentially makes it a piece of wire.
* all input/output jacks are gold plated brass with teflon dielectrics
* all unused inputs are shorted to ground through 10 ohm resistors to reduce bleed through of unselected signal sources
* the SA11 delivers 42V peak to peak output before clipping (10% THD) and weighs 55lbs.
* the SA9 is comprised of two 6DJ8 based gain stages per channel, passive RIAA deemphasis, and unity gain video amplifier buffers for each stage. The first stage is configured as a JFET/triode cascode in MC mode and as a common cathode voltage amp in MM mode. The second stage topology is similar, yielding 75dB/55dB overall high/low gain for MC input and 720 ohm output impedance.
* the SA9 power supply is in its own outboard chassis to keep vibration and radiated noise away from sensitive low level phono signals.
* MC input impedance is selectable @ 47k, 1k, 300, and 100 ohms, plus provision for selection of two user installed loading values.
* SA9 audio chassis = 16lbs; power supply chassis = 48lbs
Whew... that's a lot of writing (and reading). But here's the only real point of it all. There's a reason I used the word heroic in the ad title. There is absolutely nothing ordinary or average about this preamp, even by the most modern standards. And at a time back in the day when the $6000, 2 chassis ARC SP11/SP11mkII reigned supreme as the darling "it" full function preamp of the period, this was Counterpoint's answer as an all out cost-no-object assault on the state of the art. There are some who will probably contend that it can't compete with today's best because of the better passive parts available now. I'd argue that superior topology and execution trump designer parts. Ask yourself how many preamps there are, at any price, that are tightly tube regulated, tube rectified, AND totally tube based audio paths with up to 75dB of MC gain? It's not a long list. And, if you're prepared to live on the Counterpoint's terms, the dividends in sound are genuinely special and unique in my experience. The most elusive quality I hear in the very best systems and components is that completely relaxed effortless ease where the music just "breathes". This Counterpoint does that so matter of factly that it stops being something you consciously pay attention to any longer. It's just there, on every disc, all the time. I own or have close familiarity with several world-class modern preamps. The SA9/SA11 is as compelling and musically rewarding as any of them. If it's not quite as neutral or micro detailed or whatever, its deviations are no less fun and engaging on their own merits. And just a note from me to you, what this thing does with dynamics just has to be experienced. Special, special stuff...
"Wow! So this is what musical heaven is like! The Counterpoint SA11 is not only the most beautiful sounding line section extant, but is also the most accurate and the most musically truthful" - Peter Moncrieff, International Audio Review
"As with two other preamplifiers in this, the concluding installment of our year-long preamplifier survey, we found the Counterpoint (SA9/SA11) had a characteristic so distinctive as to lift it above the already high level of High End design in contemporary preamplification" - Harry Pearson, The Absolute Sound
"This (SA9) is potentially the finest phono stage ever made. It also has unusual versatility. It can be an entire preamp in a dedicated phono system since it even has an output attenuator that can be used as a volume control" - Arthur Salvatore, High-endaudio.com
Both the linestage and phono stage are in truly exceptional cosmetic and working condition. Considering the vintage and the absolute acres of aluminum and powder coated steel, I think the big majority of you would rate them 9/10 with a bullet. There are a handful and a half of small little flaws across the 3 chassis that I'll be happy to discuss with serious buyers. Suffice to say though, if you can find a pair in better condition you should buy them. About the only real criticism that could be leveled is the SA11 doesn't come with the remote control. That's a whole topic unto itself that we can talk about. In any case though, absolutely no disappointments here in any of the things that really matter and I've done my level best to provide well lit high resolution images to show that. If theres anything else you need to see though, just let me know and I'll try to accommodate.
Note: dark area in the picture of the SA11 top cover is the shadow of the camera.
This ad was originally posted on US Audio Mart.