Counterpoint Natural Progression NPS-400 power amplifier Page 2

The NPS-400A was at a bit of a disadvantage with the Dunlavy SC-IVs, which, with the lean sound noted above—at least in my room—were not particularly good matches for the Counterpoint.

I compared the Counterpoint with the McCormack DNA-0.5, which did the better in the comparison. The $1295 McCormack sounded sweeter overall on the SC-IVs—though I did note an occasional brightness in the low treble which hadn't been apparent before, and of which the Counterpoint was free. Both amplifiers performed well on the Holly Cole Trio's Don't Smoke in Bed (Manhattan B21Z-81198), but the McCormack was more convincing in creating a fully three-dimensional soundstage. Its bottom end wasn't as tight as that of the Counterpoint, but it sounded more real on the Dunlavys. If less sparkling than the Counterpoint, the McCormack was smoother, and sounded subjectively cleaner.

The Krell KSA-300S beat out both the Counterpoint and the McCormack through the SC-IVs. Its bass was the best of the three amplifiers (not by a dramatic margin, however), and its top end was more open and spacious than the McCormack's, more liquid than the Counterpoint's. The McCormack was the most forgiving, but managed to sound both a bit dark and fully detailed.

The Counterpoint turned in its best overall performance with the Energy Veritas v2.8s. With small-scale material, a hint of dryness remained at the very top end, but it didn't bother me very much. Gordon Lightfoot's vocals on If You Could Read My Mind (Reprise 6392-2) were set back in a natural acoustic space, with just the right depth perspective. The King's Singers' Good Vibrations (RCA 60938-2) was clean and three-dimensional, with only a slight dryness (at least some of which is in the recording). There was nothing spectacular in any of this, just a good presentation of intimate material. As long as I listened to the Counterpoint on its own terms, I found little to complain about. I still wouldn't describe the top end as silky or liquid, but there was no stridency or artificial edginess.

Still, there was that return to the McCormack. In all respects, save for ultimate bass power and extension, I rarely found myself preferring the Counterpoint. For every recording for which the Counterpoint's somewhat more open sound lent added realism—and there were more than a few—there were several in which the McCormack's sweet naturalness left me more satisfied.

Most of the above listening was done in the Counterpoint's unbalanced configuration. The result in the balanced mode was very similar. Occasionally I thought that just perhaps the balance of the Counterpoint's top end was a bit smoother, but when I compared it with the McCormack (in its only mode, unbalanced), my relative feelings about the two amplifiers remained unchanged.

Review, part deux
And there the matter stood until we submitted the edited text of the review—which consisted largely of what you have read above—to Counterpoint for comment. Clearly, my feelings about the NPS-400A were ambiguous. The Counterpoint was far from a bad amplifier; it just had a weakness I couldn't ignore: the top end had a grain and brightness which, while small on an absolute scale, kept me at arm's length from the sound.

Counterpoint's response was unexpected, however. They had apparently increased the current slightly in the pre-driver stage after we received our review sample, but before I had commenced my review. Though they had apparently faxed us about this change, somehow we never received the notification. The change apparently affects all amplifiers after the 50th unit produced. Dealers have been notified, and can arrange for the appropriate update for customers of those first 50 units.

Counterpoint sent us a new sample of the amplifier (SN 1NPS491). With the original sample still on hand, I was able to make a direct comparison between the two. I used the balanced mode in this round of auditions, with the Energy Veritas v2.8 loudspeakers (the Mirage M-7sis and Dunlavy SC-IVs were no longer on hand).

My advice to the 50 owners of those earlier NPS-400A is to run—do not walk—to your Counterpoint dealer to have the change made. The change wrought by this apparently simple modification is the sort that the casual listener might call subtle. For me, it transformed the sound of the NPS-400A from "next amp, please," to "ohmygawd."

The changes were nearly all at the top end of the spectrum. The grain and excess brightness were gone; the top-end sparkle and air, which had always been there, could now be fully appreciated. "Gorgeous highs," I wrote in my notes. Delicate, subtle, yet detailed would also apply. The expansive soundstage—with just the right amount of bloom—remained, and the new lack of grain revealed an outstanding rendition of both width and depth. "Combines the best of tubes and solid-state," I noted. While dyed-in-the-wool tubeophiles would probably not entirely agree, there was nevertheless a rightness to the sound—certainly in this system—that I found immensely appealing.

Comparisons with the sweet little McCormack DNA-0.5 now seemed unnecessary; I jumped right to the Krell KSA-300S. Compared to the Krell, the Counterpoint was now a little more laid-back, with a softer, less punchy sound than the Krell. The KSA-300S made more of inner detailing; the Counterpoint presented a larger, deeper soundstage with an airier quality. The Krell's bass didn't extend any lower, but was tighter and better controlled. Nevertheless, the comparison had now moved to a higher plane—before there had been no contest; now my preference shifted depending on the program material (as I'm certain it would with different systems).

I also compared the balanced and unbalanced modes in the more recent sample of the Counterpoint (where before I had actually changed leads, this time I merely toggled the balanced/unbalanced switch—which in the unbalanced, labeled "normal," position effectively disconnects the negative leg of the balanced lead—and readjusted the levels appropriately). While the differences were small, I found the balanced mode to be enough of an improvement that it would be my mode of choice, given the option. I have, in the past, found the improvements in balanced operation more elusive than have other reviewers. Here they were also subtle, but not insignificant.

The change wrought in my opinion of the Counterpoint NPS-400A with the newest sample was extraordinary. With the earlier sample, I was ready to relegate this amplifier to "solid, but expensive, Class C." Suddenly, the amplifier has vaulted firmly into the solid Class B category, almost challenging Class A when used in the balanced mode. While I'm less than happy from a technical point of view with the small but measurable (and likely audible) added HF rolloff in the newest version, there are a number of other fine-sounding Class B amplifiers that exhibit a similar characteristic.

Don't ignore this amp. My "original vs new" comparison resulted in nothing short of a change from "Hey, you might just like it" to "Audition or die!"

Counterpoint Electronic Systems
Company no longer in existence (2021)

Glotz's picture

More hybrid AB amps need to come out!

Or impress us with more tube hybrid Class D... Rogue and AVA come to mind along with AR.

And thank you for the PS Audio '1200 review.