When I say that this past—and last—Summer CES in Chicago was dead daddy dead, I'm not talking about fewer high-end exhibits and attendees than ever before. I'm talking I walked in the front door of the Chicago Hilton and almost puked from that smell of dead, mealy meat that hits you in the face and kicks-in the gag reflex. The smell of death you can taste even if you're breathing with your mouth. In most religions, it's a sin to let something that dead just sit there without at least spreading some lye on it to kill the stink. I once cut a man for misadjusting the VTA on my cartridge, and that man lying on my listening-room floor with an Allen wrench still clenched in his hand wasn't as dead as this last SCES.
The $1200 Counterpoint SA-100 amplifier came up to bat fourth in my listening sessions, behind (in order of appearance) the Adcom GFA-555 II (not reviewed here, but sent along by JA for comparison purposes), the VTL Tiny Triode monoblocks, and the Muse Model One Hundred. Thus, my progression went from bipolar solid-state to tube to MOSFET, with a wide spread of sonic characteristics between them: stygian bass from the Adcom; uncanny spatial presentation and vocal reproduction from the VTLs; and an overall superior sound from the Muse. I was therefore eager to see where the tube/MOSFET hybrid Counterpoint would fall in this group of very different-sounding amplifiers.
What's in a name? Quite a bit, when you stop and think about it. Would you rather have prostate surgery by Dr. Steadyhand or Dr. Whoops? Names imply a lot, even if we don't consciously make the connection; that's why your Polo shirt was made by Ralph Lauren instead of Ralph Lipshitz.
"I've know I've seen this amp before," I thought to myself when I lifted the $1200 Muse Model One Hundred out of the box, and I wasn't thinking of Robert Harley's review of the identical-looking Muse Model One Hundred Fifty reviewed in January 1990, either. No, I'd seen this amp before, somewhere else, in some other magazine, but with a different manufacturer's name.
During the time of the Native-American Comanches, a young brave had to undergo many trials by fire before he earned the respect of the tribe's adults. He was violently beaten by the men, humiliated by the women, and forced to endure physical torture such as the slow flaying of the foreskin with smoldering pine saplings drawn from the fire. Alienated from the tribe, exiled until he proved his manhood, he had to survive on wriggling cream-colored larvae and infrequent rainwater. Legend speaks of these Indian youths, dehydrated and disoriented, crawling around on their hands and knees and baying like wolves at the moon.
Epiphanies only come when you stop looking for them, and mine came in a room full of preschoolers watching cartoons at a Pizza Hut. I was taking my little nieces Alix (4) and Casey (1) out for dinner, and the last thing on my mind was audio; we wanted to PARTY! So my girlfriend Dara and I bundled them up in their car-seats and we high-tailed it over to the Hut, with visions of continuous-loop Tom'n'Jerry and cheap buffet pizza dancing in our heads.
I have a theory about "showing off" systems. I call it Zen and the Art of Keeping Your Yap Shut. Think about it: what's the first thing that pops into your head when someone tells you how great their system sounds? "Yeah, right!"