Ayre V-5x vs. McCormack DNA 225

Looking to upgrade and have narrowed choices to the 5x and 225. Anyone compared the two, what are your thoughts? Thanks.
If you want a slightly forward sounding amp with a lot of drive, the McCormack is it. It is not as refined as the Ayre nor is it as liquid sounding. The Ayre soundstage is also considerably better with more depth and a quieter background.
The McCormack amps are better in the bass than the Ayre with the latter sounding a little lightweight in comparison.
The McCormack amp is a good one. However, the Ayre is just flat out better sounding through the mids not having that very slight touch of grain the McCormack has.
I use the Ayre with Vandersteen 3A Signatures. The Ayre really works well with phase and time correct speakers. I also use a pair of 2Wq subs that render the slight lightweight bass of the Ayre a moot point.
May I also suggest you listen to the Belles 350a and 150a Reference amps. Both are better sounding than the 225 by a good margin. I also think a tube pre works best with the McCormack.
I personally don't think the Ayre provides more than a very marginally larger soundstage nor a quieter background than the 225, in my experience. I've also heard the 225 and the 350a in the exact same system and I beg to differ. In fact, I thought the 225 had much greater control. This IMHO, and all that. :-) Agree, though, that the 225 works very well with a tube pre, but a finely stepped attenuator is crucial.
I agree with 4yanx, the McCormack is the better amp. Always...IMO pick the amp that does the most things right.

This is certainly what makes this hobby so different. Nobody can agree on anything.
Sorry, but having owned all of the above mentioned amps and able to compare side by side, I'll stick with my opinions.
The Belles 350a controls the woofers of the Vandersteen 3a Sigs better than the 225. It makes subs almost a moot point.
The 150 Reference is better still and one of my all time favorite amps.
I don't know what associated equipment the above posters were/are using and the context of the comparisons but unless they are done in the same room with the same equipment, you don't really know.
I almost forgot, if you go back and read Stereophile's review back in 2000, you will see that the lack of soundstage width and depth was mentioned. It was stated that it remains between the boxes.
The Ayre amp goes way beyond the outside of the cabinets in my system and depth is unbelievable.
Here again, I'm sorry, but the 225 is not in the same league here.
The 225 is a good amp but not up to the standard's of the Ayre.
But, as noted, what ever rocks your boat is the way one should go.
Not to beat a dead horse, here, but it looks like dumboat is looking to make a purchasing decision and I feel that the characterization of the DNA-225 as lacking in soundstage is wholly unfair. And, while I can’t believe that I am addressing the merits of a Stereophile review, I feel I must as you appear to be citing said review out of context, Bigtee. I quote a more expansive segment of that review below. The fact of those initial results with those Revels does not surprise me, I really didn’t like those speakers with much of anything. I have personally heard the DNA-225 with PSB Stratus Goldi’s, Vandersten 3A Sigs, Von Schweikert 4’s, Gershman Avantegardes, B&W 802’s and Focal Electras and found the soundstage wide AND deep with each. So, I guess my experience is different – and certainly not “in another league”.

Stereophile review (Kal Rubinson; Sept. 2000)
My ears quickly adapted to the small tonal differences between the DNA-225 and the Sonic Frontiers Power 3s, but less readily to their differences in imaging and soundstaging. The DNA-225's instrumental and voice placement was quite punctate, but its sound image was confined laterally by the speaker boxes and lacked depth. Replacing the DNA-225 with the DNA-1 broadened and deepened the soundstage at the notable expense of precision and detail. Alternatively, if I toed-in the Revel Studios less or moved my listening seat much closer (both ploys made the speaker axes cross well behind me), the DNA-225 projected an excitingly immediate sound, wide and deep. Many nearfield listeners will favor this type of presentation.

On "Too Proud," the voice of Mighty Sam McClain (Blues Quest, AudioQuest AQ-CD1052) had an in-my-face presence, and the backing combo was meticulously arrayed across my room's back wall. This was sonically thrilling but almost too intense. If I put the room back to normal and switched over to the Power 3s, I gave up nothing in the power, space, and smoothness departments, but gained a more relaxed presentation, one more conducive to long-term musical enjoyment.

As I've admitted before, these subtle perceptions depend heavily on speakers, speaker placement, and room acoustics; I felt that the DNA-225 might be more compatible with speakers other than the Revels. The Studios can be quite ruthless, especially in the top end, and at times make mountains of molehills, to the chagrin of associated equipment and sources. I had a brief opportunity to run the DNA-225 with the (suitably EQ'd) Kharma Ceramique 2.0s that I reviewed in October and thought that combination sounded much better. The Kharma's disarmingly silky mid and treble performance was the perfect complement to the DNA-225's vivacity. There were no soundstage or brightness issues, but oodles of detail and palpability.

Link to article:
I have 5As and compared the Ayre V5x with the DNA-500 in my system. While the V5x is an excellent amp, the DNA-500 bettered it in all areas. Soundstaging, imaging, midrange clarity, and freedom from grain are incredible on the DNA-500. I would imagine a used DNA-225 with some of Steve's (www.smcaudio.com) modifications might cost the same as a new V5x and sound very similar to the DNA-500. The DNA-500 is truly a killer amplifier with the 5As. Best thing to do is try to get both amps in your system and decide for yourself.
Thanks for the info. I have Tyler Acoustics Linbrook Speakers with a Rowland Concentra amp. I plan to use the pre-amp section of the Concentra to run the amp. I have listened to the two amps in different stores, but never together, and to get them at the house at the same time would be quite an ordeal. I have not listened to the upgrade("e" or platinum) for either amp. I can pick up a used McCormack for a pretty good price.

While the DNA-500 and DNA-225 share some of the same heritage, the dual-differential topology of the DNA-500 is SO MUCH DIFFERENT than the DNA-125 and DNA-225 that we can not extrapolate that the DNA-255 is just a lower powered version of the DNA-500. The DNA-500 is a superb amplifier in it's own right and more than a few steps above the DNA-125 amd DNA-225. At $7000 a pop, we should expect so.

I don't think that even the modded 225 will touch a stock 500.
4yanx, I didn't say the soundstage was bad in the 225, I simply said the Ayre is better which it is. I also said the 225 was a good amplifier but it is certainly not as liquid as the Ayre nor is its midrange as good. The 225 was given a "B" position by Stereophile and has pretty much been agreed by other reviewers indicating where it stands and even though I too don't put much faith in Stereophile, in this case, I think they are right on. You've got to ask yourself though why did the amp not soundstage with the Revel speakers. I find this curious since I can think of no logical reason other than the reviewer is making a subtle statement.
Steve McCormack has always made an excellent amp but the inclusion of caps in the input signal path to the amp, I feel, are its downfall. Any cap in the signal path will affect the sound in someway. The amp is powerful and at its price point, a good deal. The ouput stage is biased in class B (same as the Belles amps)and it runs very cool.
It also uses negative feedback to achieve some of its specs. The Ayre does not use negative feedback and I think this is where the Ayre's sonic purity comes from(which can be said for Theta's dreadnaught amp.) I did state early on that I thought the McCormack was better in the bass(I understand from Ayre that the "Evolution" upgrade solves this.) McCormack's upgrades I'm sure would take the amp to a higher status just as it does with a fully done DNA .5(another amp I like very much)
Lastly, I'm glad you like the amp so much and I'm sorry I can't agree with your conclusions. As long as you are personally satisfied, that's all that really matters. We will just have to agree to disagree. I would submit that the person above looking for an amp listen to a lot of different choices and not limit himself to these. If he finds the 225 suitable, then he has saved himself a chunk of money over the Ayre. It took me several months to figure out what I was hearing that made me like the Ayre and find it worth the money. Some things take time. Audio is a funny hobby. There's a reason you see so much stuff for sale on the used market.
No problem, Bigtee, I will happily agree to disagree. As long as we're speaking of reviews, below is one by Martin DeWulf that I read before buying my DNA-225 and which may be of interest to Dumboat regarding another perspective visa vis soundstaging and imaging. Sorry to post the whole thing, but I was sent a copy of this and cannot find a link:

"From Bound for Sound #137

More Power Amplifiers:
The McCormack DNA-225, $2,795
McCormack Audio Corporation of Virginia, 2733 Merrilee Dr., Fairfax, VA 22031
tel 703.573.9665; fax 703.573.9667; www.McCormackAudio.com
On loan from manufacturer.

Steve McCormack is one of the original pioneers in the modern era of the high-end. As one of the founding partners of The Mod Squad, he almost single-handedly started the accessories market with the famous “Tip Toes.” What Steve is doing presently doesn't exactly fit the term "mod" anymore as McCormack Audio is less into mods and more into from the ground up component designs of amps and preamps.

Knowing that McCormack is now a subsidiary of conrad-johnson, when the DNA-225 arrived, I was curious to see what the impact of the new ownership would be on the Steve McCormack designed components. After all, Steve had been making amps and
preamps long before being acquired by c-j, and his designs have a signature style power supply: The Distributed Node Amplifier supply. This supply is distinctive in that it does not use the large soup can type capacitors in the power supply, nor does it cluster the supply caps around the input transformer. What Steve has done, starting way back with his DNA-1 in the middle 1990's, is locate the supply caps (smaller ones) right next to the bipolar output devices. That way, when the output device needs extra energy it has a low resistance source right next to it. Another McCormack calling card is the use of big, old-fashioned iron core transformers in the power supply - no toroids here. It was nice then to open tip the hood on the 225 and see that big old fashioned laminated transformer sitting there covered in varnish - (sniff, sniff) - it even smelled good. With the power supply caps distributed next to the output devices and the big, old transformer at the front of the chassis, I knew this was still a McCormack design - and that's good.

Tale of the tape. This is an all-discrete design using FETs at the inputs and 8 bipolar output devices per channel for current. As you may have guessed, the amplifier is capable of 225 WPC into 8 Ohms, output into 4 Ohms is a rated 400 WPC. The distributed capacitance power supply has 75,200 uF of filtering, This is a non-inverting amp, meaning that a positive signal going in is positive when it comes out. AC line polarity is correct. My measurements revealed only 2.82 volts to the chassis in the standard AC polarity, and 7.87 volts with the polarity of the AC reversed. These are incredibly low numbers, and show some fine electrical design work on behalf of McCormack. It also means, however, that with numbers this low, in some systems the amp may actually sound best with the AC reversed. If in doubt, leave the AC in the manufacturer set position. The 225 draws 130 Watts from the line at idle. Input impedance is 100kOhms. It is 6.5" x 19" x 16" (HWD) and weighs 54 lbs. The rear chassis is simple in layout having a single set of 5-way speaker terminals. These terminals are all metal and lock down very nicely with the use of a Post Man. Overall construction is good, a definite notch above the Adcoms and NADs of the world, but not audio jewelry, either. Heatsinks are situated along the sides of the amp, and became moderately warm during operation, though never hot.

Set-up. For an amplifier this large and substantial, I was surprised to see how sensitive it was to the various power cords it was tried with. Cords such as the JPS, the TG Audio and the Empirical were not impressive as each left the 225 shy and light in the bass.
The Shunyata Viper was a little better, but it was the Audience Power Chord and the new AudioPrism S-2 that allowed the amp to shine its brightest. Due to the superior performance of the 225 with the AudioPrism S-2, my final audition was with that cord.

Preamps were a piece of cake with this amp. Its high-ish input impedance of 100 kOhms is an easy load for any preamp to drive, including tubes. I was surprised then at how well the amp worked with the Symfonia Opus 8, a transistor preamp with an enormous power supply that generally prefers an amp with a lower input impedance.

The 225 worked equally well with a wide variety of loudspeakers. Due to the ability of the PBN KAS loudspeaker to reveal and explain the performance of components in front of it, most of my auditioning of the 225 was done with it. They worked extremely well together. I think part of the 225's ability to work with speakers of high and low impedance must be due to the amp not being designed for extreme current delivery, while still being able to deliver sufficient power into loads of 4 - 6 Ohms. In that regard, this design is more middle of the road than it is slanted toward either impedance extreme.

Speaker cables for auditioning were the all silver TG Audio HSRs.

Sonics. The rather mundane looks of this amp disguise the sonics available with some work. The 225 tends to sound light in the bass and lower midrange if not set up just right. Even under the knowing eye of Steve himself in Las Vegas at the CES, the sound tended toward the light side. But it doesn't have to be that way. All you need is the right power cord. I ended up using the S-2 cord from AudioPrism to alleviate the lightness. But at $1,500 per cord, I realize that for many something a little less costly might be needed. For a less costly alternative, I chose the Audience Power Cord. With the Audience cord the tonal balance was right and dynamics were powerful. Some depth and dimension was missing compared to the AudioPrism, but the performance was very good none the less. The following comments are with the S-2 power cord, for that is the true potential of the amplifier.

This amp images like a mutha'. Left to right and depth wise, the 225 has it all: It can take you there. By "there", I mean a strong sensation of getting back to the original event. It starts with great space. I like it when a power amplifier takes control of the sound space, and to the extent possible, creates a new space inside the one you are listening in. Once connected to the 54 power card, that's exactly what happened with the DNA 225. The result was a layered space with almost no blurring or coloring outside the lines. With a good recording such as Red Norvo’s "The Forward Look", the sensation of hearing the entire acoustic space and transparency to the back of the hall was strong. One of the strengths of the amp has to be the transparency it displays once you listen past the instruments at the fore of the stage. Actually, in an odd turn of events, the 225 seemed to these ears to have slightly better focus at the back of the stage than it did at the front of it. Regardless, this amp's ability to capture the little aspects of the sound represented by the decays and reverbs, lends to an over all feeling that you are largely in touch with what was recorded, and not listening to some version of the performance that merely mimics the original. The transition between direct and indirect sound is clean and unmuddied.

If there is any problem with the mids, it may the amp's lack of a tube like bloom in the lower mids. And this is probably the area where some tube-o'philes would take issue with the overall sound. The result is a sound that is highly transparent and responsive, while lacking some of the warm and cuddly audio nest feel. Fortunately for even the tube lover, the DNA-225 has enough warmth in the lower mids that cello and male vocals still have a nice presence.

The highs on the DNA-225 are a little forward, a little etched, and a bit touchy. This amp puts demands not only on the electronics in front of it to stay clean, but on the speakers used not to worsen things by being too aggressive. For most of my listening to the DNA-225, I used the PBN KAS which, while being extremely revealing, is extremely clean and airy in the highs - it was exactly what the McCormack needed in terms of a playback speaker. Though one could get along with a speaker that was a little soft on top too as long as it wasn't hard. Cheap or mediocre tweeters have no place here.

The bass was exactly what one would expect from a bipolar output power amp with a well designed power supply....deep, tight and explosive, just the way it should be. And to these ears, the bass and the lower mids integrated very well.

Conclusion. The DNA-225 is an interesting counterpoint to the sound of the SimAudlo Moon W3. The sound of the Moon W3, though being a bipolar design, had a warmth and texturing ability that was seductive to the point of being addictive. But you know something, I think the DNA-225 would be an easier listen in the long run. Not only because the McCormack tends to be slightly more truthful, but because the 225 is more visual from the front of the stage to the very back of the stage... it's all there with this amp. The W3 is incredible at the front of the stage; few tube amps of any price are as vivid and alive up front, but in retrospect, the further you listened back into the stage, the cloudier things became, especially in the lower frequencies. The DNA-225, on the other hand, was able to preserve the "acoustic" of the original venue better than the W3, which to me was a reflection and a direct result of the greater focusing power of the McCormack amp.

In a lot of ways, the DNA-225 reminded me of the Counterpoint Solid 1 amp. No doubt, the McCormack is the better amplifier, but both amps had a nice way with a soundstage, great bass, and good visuals from front to back.

If you need power, but a measure of finesse and transparency is a high priority at a reasonable price, this is one heck of a power amplifier - but be ready to buy the right power cord."
I am not a fan of the so called "zero feedback" approach to power amplifiers. The light weight bass is a deviation from neutrality (not able to present flat frequency response). Why start out with something that needs to be corrected.
This is an interesting thread as I have wanted to try these 2 amps to drive the front channels (Talon Khorus) of my HT system. Anybody willing to throw in the BEL amps in the discussion?

As Bigtee points out, you need to the amps at your home, at the same time, and try them for yourself. Theories and reviews so often don't match our personal findings.

John, I have had both amps, those originally posted, in my system and would choose the DNA-225 everytime. Bigtee, if I can assume he has also done this, feels differently on the same basis. So, you're right, except that it is now up to dumboat to do the same and choose for himself! Ha! :-)
Now that we've gone this far into this post, what preamp and sources are you using?
Yes, I have put all the amps mentioned head to head in my system in my room with my electronics. I would never comment on a piece unless I had done so and used it for an extended period of time. I have personally owned all the above mentioned amps and a few more including the Parasound JC1's, a pair of McCormack DNA .5 Deluxe(which I actually liked better than the 225 or 125.) I have wasted enough money to set up a nice retirement plan in pursuit of a amp that does what I want it to do.
All of the above amps are excellent in their own way. A lot is personal preference. We could quote reviews or whatever and make valid points for any of them in a given system. The Ayre has been called one of the best period and has also had a bevie of sterling reviews. The Belles amps have had sterling reviews. We wouldn't need all of the stuff available if everyone liked the samething.
I will say this and it might have a bearing on why I like the Ayre. Jim Hansen uses Vandersteen 3a Sigs to help voice his amps. He has discussed this over on Audio Asylum. I also use an Aesthetix Calypso preamp and Jim White personally uses the 3a Sigs. So it may be a synergy thing.
On the other hand, in my personal conversations with Steve McCormack, he also uses 3a Sigs(and yes 4yanx, Steve makes some great amps)so---who knows!
For Rebl208, it is not frequency response that is in issue. The Ayre is perfectly flat through the bass. Frequency response is but a small part of an equation to why something sounds as it does. The zero feedback approach is about timing and phase issues. When you feedback globally, the signal is taken from the output and fed back into the input 180 degrees out of phase. This affects the timing/phase of the amp and contributes to the amp taking on a harder sound. More and more are beginning to experience this when the products are compared. Tube amps use no negative feedback and this is thought to have a profound effect on why they sound so liquid.
However, it is certainly your right to choose as you see fit.
I think no feedback may have some sonic advantage in solid state line level applications. Especially digital sources. That is what I have heard in my own home. Playing vinyl thru zero feedback power amps just doesn't cut it for several reasons. I have tried them and IMO they are not able to take the punishment, nor do they have balls. You want to play some dainty Jazz music fed from a cd player, then you can revel in the midrange purity and clarity. That's not my listening style, so they don't work for me.
To throw in my $.02 (or maybe more like $.01, or $1, depending on your point of view :-) by way of affirming that we sometimes hear things a little differently depending on our ears and gear:

I own a DNA-125, and have no experience with the 225 or the particular Ayre in question. Based on what I hear in my system, I've been surprised that some reviews have described the 125/225 (which are more similar to each other than either is to the 500; some folks seem to feel the 125 even sounds a little better than the 225 in certain ways, lower power notwithstanding) as being a bit forward and bright. I actually find it to be slightly mellow and laid-back if anything.

(That's through Thiel 2.2's via Au24 SC, powered with a Shunyata Sidewinder PC from an ExactPower EP15, and fed from a Levinson 380S via van den Hul The Second. Experimentation has shown that the 125 can in some ways prefer a bit warmer-sounding SC and PC in this setup, but I normally don't bother to switch everything around when I insert it, and it still sounds fine.)

I would not mistake the 125 for a top-flight amp - it has good authority and ease for its price/size, just not world-class - but it really does very little wrong: a touch of boxiness, generally not quite as airy, open, fast, or extended (or transparent) as better amps. IMPORTANT: Auditioners must be cautioned that this amp will sound unrealistically on the flat, hard, cold and grainy side if not given adequate warm-up, and should ideally be heard with at least 2 days of continuous power-on beforehand (in my system the 125 serves as the back-up to tubed monoblocks, but when I do use it I don't turn it off). If that's not possible, then give it at least 2 hours playing music before doing critical listening.

The strengths of this amp, to me, include remarkably pure and natural harmonic structure for what is after all a budget amp in audiophile terms (and a class A/B SS one at that). Bass weight/drive and overall loudness capability are also surprisingly good - I don't feel like I would ever need the 225 in my 14 x 23 x 8 room and with my speakers, even for playing high-energy rock so the neighbors can hear. Imaging is notably 3D and rock-solid (though not the largest, if that's what one desires), with good - not exagerated - focus, and as mentioned the soundstage is deep, if not quite as tall and wide as can be had.

Tonal balance is commendably full and neutral, except for some lack of ultimate extension at the top which subtracts a tad from sparkle and air, and only a hint of a slightly pinched or nasal quality in the lower treble that's never obtrusive, but simply keeps things like saxophone or ride cymbal just a tad on the closed-in side (or from fully blooming if you subscribe to that word). This is really quite minor though, and far from the worst thing you could hear out of such an amp, especially considering that the harmonic structure remains so benign.

Textures are smooth and clear and free from artifacts either niggling or gross. Coherence and timing are unified and consistent throughout the spectrum - I don't hear any phasiness, articulation is fine, and spatial deliniation is well-defined and -integrated. Driver control seems very good at the least - images don't cling to the speakers and show perfectly adequate if not outstanding separation - and again I find depth of field to be one of the amp's stronger attributes. Abundant clarity and cleanliness is always in evidence, no spitting or splashing.

The 125 falls behind my reference amps (VTL 185's) in terms of overall liveliness, micro-dynamic expressiveness, and macro-dynamic impact, and it's not as deeply resolving or quite as detailed in portraying timbral color. Transparency is a bit curtailed, details such as cymbal decays or mouth technique not as extensively excavated. Its feet aren't made of clay or anything, but better amps can be a touch quicker and more finely shaded of transient nuance, though the 125 is excellent in terms of lack of overhang. I don't hear the hardness, glare, excessive edginess or chestiness, congestion, flat aspect, mistiness, darkness, dodgy imaging, detached sense of reverberent ambience, or anything else that I might have expected in a SS amp at this price. Just a very residual degree of 'mechanicalness' - a little less organic/present/alive/fully-developed when compared to a better amp - which engenders a small sense of remove or relative diminishment of physical 'action', but not nearly so much as to be uninvolving. I will dance and play air-drums to this amp, and can feel the emotiveness of singers clearly conveyed. It has never made me wince or wander off, and often draws me in. But it can't quite envelop, sweep away, caress, or hard-wire to the brain the way the tube mono's can. Big duh.

Perhaps the McCormack upgrades largely address the shortcomings, but they are not bothersome when the amp is considered on its own. It may not be SOTA, but it doesn't ring a false note, and is easily enjoyable all around. It's also entirely comfortable driving 4 ohms and playing loud (and runs cool doing so). Maybe the 225 would ameliorate some of the slight sense of restraint (NOT strain) in the 125, I don't know (though it seems reasonable to assume), but I wouldn't dismiss the less-expensive 125 out of hand if your speakers are at least of average sensitivity and your room, speaker cabinets, and woofer diameters are mid-sized or less. Most importantly, this amp sounds real and honest, neither adding to nor taking away from the sonic presentation in ways that could compromise the relaxed musicality that's essential to believability from gear and trust from the listener.

IMO it's a highly competent bargain at its price, but I don't have wide enough exposure to rank it among its competitors. All I can do is tell you what I hear. End of off-topic review :-)
Zaikesman, nice honest review. The McCormack amps have always offered a lot for the money. You know, when you deal with competently designed amps, differences are going to be minor anyway. The preamp and source will begin to dictate sound quality along with synergy of the system. I agree with you on the 125 sounding a little better even if it doesn't have quite the power. I thought the same thing in the comparison of the .5 to the DNA 1. For some reason, the DNA 1 sounded a little harsher and somewhat restricted. I thought the .5 was a little more open and smoother.
Reb1208, to each his own and I get the picture as I'm sure everyone else will.
Bigtee: Just to reiterate, I don't personally have a take on the 125 vs. 225 question, because I haven't heard the 225. I was just alluding to things some others have opined - including, it seems, yourself. All I can say is that the 125 sounds quite powerful on its own terms, giving my (untreated) room and speakers (which are themselves by no means strongest in the areas of high-level dynamics or bass power) all that they and my ears can handle, with ease. When I bought this amp (from a fellow 'Gonner), I wasn't really planning to keep it, I just needed a temporary spare at the right price and this was local and therefore easy, but now I intend to keep it around for the foreseeable future.

I should also point out that one of the natural upgrade paths available would be to run two 125's wired for monoblock operation. In my system, the (nearly-3X the price at retail) VTL mono's are rated for roughly similar output power into 4 ohms as the single stereo 125, but enjoy at least double the power supply heft. Bridging a pair of 125's wouldn't exceed the cost of the VTL 185's (although it would with full McCormack mods), but would about double the rated max power and bring the power supply comparison into line. I don't personally know what the amp sounds like differentially-bridged (posted user comments I've seen are positive) or with the other McCormack upgrades (ditto), but it wouldn't stun me at all if a mono pair of fully-modded 125's would give just about anything around their price range a run for the money, tubed or SS (including, I'd venture to assume, the 500, which reviewers seem to be unanimously freaking over with almost embarrassing gushiness). Believe me, I have mused over the thought of selling the VTL's and taking a flyer on this route myself, and might be inclined to do so if it weren't for the cost and depreciation, which would take many tubeset purchases to equal.
Zaikesman, I actually used a pair of .5 Deluxe amps in a bi-wire, biamp configuration with my Vandersteen's. It did make excellent sound. I had a single 125 and 225. I thought both amps sounded somewhat identical except for a touch of roughness in the 225. The 125 seemed a bit more liquid.
I'm sure the VTL's would be hard to beat. I would have tube amps except I don't like the maintenance.
I bought the Ayre because it seemed to bridge the sound somewhat between solid state and tubes. The Ayre amp doesn't jump out at you at all. It is extremely neutral which makes it seem like it's not doing anything. I like the amp because for the first time, the Vandersteen's vanish.
You get this huge soundstage that almost makes you believe you have surround speakers(in fact, I have been accused once or twice by friends over for a listen.)
Vandersteen's are funny speakers. They almost have a love/hate reputation but they will let you know what is going on in front of them. When I used them with an old Adcom GFP750 preamp, the system sounded marginal at best through the Ayre. I then inserted my Audible Illusions L-2. Things begin to open up but I felt dynamics were a bit restricted. Then came the Aesthetix Calypso. With it in the system, I saw why reviewers thought the Ayre was "One of the best amps, period." It just opened up with wonderful depth and liquidity.
I went through the Parasound JC1's which sounds much like the McCormack DNA 500. However, these amps never opened the soundstage depth up to a believable degree.
I also went through the Belles 350a that Doug Blackburn raved about with his personal reference Vandersteen 3a Sigs.
It is an excellent amp by all measures. It was very, very close to a keeper. Blackburn also used the newer 150a Reference Belles amps which he reported were better than the 350a and even better if a pair is used in mono.
I have been in negotiations on buying a pair to test the water here and it may or may not happen. After reading his review, I really would like to test drive them one time. If they don't work out, I can use them in my home theater or resale them.
There have been others.
So you see, I didn't arrive at my conclusions on a whim. It has been an ongoing process over the years refining my ears, the system and what I wanted to achieve.
I am a older audiophile who has been at this for over 35 years. I'm not a head banger nor do I play amps at the end of their capabilities. I enjoy all types of music and have wanted a system that is accurate, musical and non-fatiguing.
It has been a long, long process with a lot of doubts and I've spent way too much money experimenting.
But, I have gotten real close to a real world system at a real world price that does the trick. I guess when I die, I'll just tell my wife to drop all this stuff in the casket! Anyway, that's my story for what it's worth.

thanks for the input.
Can you share with us what source you use?

Speaking of McCormack DNA-225 and Vandersteen, my DNA-225 just went in yesterday for Steve's Platinum Upgrades and I will be driving it through Vandersteen 5's when it gets back. Will let you know how THAT sounds! ;-)
Thanks for the 'story' Bigtee. Look forward to your future report 4yanx (and Bigtee too if the Belles deal works out).
4yanx, I bet that will be a heck of a combination. Steve's upgrades really sound good in the few upgraded amps I have actually heard. I'll be sending my Ayre in for the "Evolution" upgrade later this year.
I use two sources, both SACD and CD, a modified Sony xa777es(I learned of this mod through Richard Hardesty's Audio Perfectionist Journal that transformed his 9000es player)and a Wadia 861se. I had it upgraded from an 861.
I think my next speaker move will be the Vandersteen 5A's. Since they have the subs built in, they would actually work better in my room. I heard them at a friends home last year. They are truly a wonderful speaker. So if you see my 3a Sigs and subs for sale, you'll know what's going on!
Thanks for an interesting thread, guys. Even those of us with modest NAD amps, and systems assembled from older used components, enjoy hearing about McCormacks, Ayres, and other comparable equipment from Audiogon members whose experience is broader.
02Pete: Hey, you talk as if a McCormack was a high ticket exotic or something :-) Think of it as a Toyota among amps - more than a taste of Lexus quality for not much more dough than a Chevy. As a former NAD owner myself (where I started with separates in '87), I think you have something to look forward to when you let Audiogon help make your next step affordable.
I don't know if anyone in this thread is interested, but Steve McCormack has a DNA-500 Rev. A for sale, which is mentioned on his site (www.smcaudio.com). I haven't called for details, but the timing of the ad on his website is consistent with the failure of the same model amp here on a'gon. I think the a'gon ad disappeared at 35 days or so. Asking price on a'gon was $4200 obo. Maybe it's cheaper now through Steve.

If I had the money I'd buy it myself, but my RLD-1 is getting platinum upgrades next month and I have to focus on a nice CDP after that. :(
Actually, I think that is a DNA-2 DeLuxe Rev A that is for sale. Still, though, I very nice piece.
Excuse me for not letting a sleeping thread lie, but I reread my "review" of the DNA-125 with a smirk just now, because I recently got a DNA-500. Wake up!

First off, back then I was perplexed by the review descriptions of the 225 as having a "lean and lively" type of sound, when I thought my 125 was, if anything, a touch toward the thick and dark side. Well, I still haven't heard a 225, but the 500 seems to have just that "l'n'l" type of balance (not that it lacks for bass) -- really not a lot like the 125 in head to head comparos. Since a 500 is supposed to be essentially a pair of bridged 225's internally, maybe this makes sense (though Bigtee thought the two smaller amps sounded pretty much alike). On the other hand, neither the 125 or 225 is a bridged, balanced-differential design like the 500, and both use CJ film-capacitors for input coupling, as opposed to the 500's Jensen transformer phase-splitters -- all factors which, combined with the differences in power, could be expected to greatly alter the resulting presentation.

Whatever, the 500 is certainly orders of magnitude more transparent, resolving, spacious, pure, wideband, and dynamic than the 125. It eliminates all the flaws I noted above about the 125 and then some. The only reservation I have in the early going here is that its midrange tonality may actually be *too* delicate, in the sense that, for instance, saxes sound more like sopranos and less like tenors than with other amps I've used. But the transient articulation, image separation, preservation of fine detail, harmonic eludication, micro-dynamic expressivity, macro-dynamic contrast, spatial contextuality, LF control, airy openness, and general lack of spurious textural artifacts is plain impressive. It makes my stock 125, which I liked, sound in comparison a good bit smaller and slower, less clean and smooth, and more compressed, colored, and homogenized, even though its midrange tonal balance is richer.

So my question now is, how would a pair of SMc Platinum 125's -- which the monoblock mod converts to bridged, balanced-differential operation with the transformer-coupled inputs -- compare to the one stereo 500? That might not be a fair fight, since the 500 has 12 output transistors per channel whereas a bridged 125 would have only 8. A pair of Platinum 225 mono's would equalize that count, and ought to exceed a single 500 I suppose, since the stock 500 doesn't have the same level of boutique massaging gone into it. And with either the 125 or 225, a pair of SMc mono's would feature separate power transformers per channel (toroid) instead of the 500's shared one (iron-cored).

But what I'm really wondering is, between the Platinum 125 or 225 mono's and the stock 500, would the 125 mono still maintain more of that richer tonality it shows in stock form compared with my 500 (and what has been reported about the stock 225), or would the transformation result in a "l'n'l" balance more similar to its bigger brothers? And what about possible SMc mods to the 500 itself? Guess I'll do two things: Hook up my stock 125 for bridged-mono operation and compare it to the 500 again driving one speaker, and call SMc...Oh, and also get a 20a-to-15a IEC adaptor so I play with power cords on the 500 to see how that affects tonal balance.
I have a DNA-500 that I've had for about a year now, and I love it. The midrange tonality, called "delicate" above is anything but. If it still sounds that way after a while, I would suggest trying a different power cord. I'm using an Elrod Statement on the amp with tremendous results. Also using a tube pre (VAC Phi 2.0), Legacy Whisper speakers and Virtual Dynamics Revelation cabling.

The sound is truly spectacular at times in my system. I am considering Kevin Hayes' newest tubed "statement" amp, the Phi 300, but can't quite convince myself yet that the sound I have FINALLY achieved can get much better, or that an as-yet-to-be-determined incremental increase is really worth the big bucks to acquire this amp. In other words, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!" The fact that I have not already acquired the VAC Phi 300(which I'm sure is undoubtedly a great piece)is probably the best endorsement of the DNA-500 I could ever give, since I am an admitted "instant gratification" person (a VERY, VERY, costly trait in this hobby!). (Incidentally, Steve is apparently also working on mods for the 500).

I have not heard the 225, but from talking to Steve a while ago, it is not in the same league as the 500. I also don't know that a modded 125 or 225 would touch a stock 500. If so, I'd be very surprised. Therefore, my suggestion would be to try to find a used 500 and be done with the Ayre vs 225 discussion and just enjoy the music!! Of course, your own ears are the best judge in your system....
Fplanner2000: I have seen your posts on the DNA-500 in the archives, and you certainly haven't been shy about praising it wherever you can. My observation about the tonal balance isn't necessarily a knock -- or not until I can satisfy myself which presentation is the more correct, the 500's or the kind I'm more accustomed to (the 500's overall competence and superior transparency give it some benefit of the doubt for now) -- but it *is* a fact so far, at least in my system. But as I said, I don't know if its character may evolve some as I continue to use it (I didn't buy it new, but I don't think it had been used a whole lot either), and I know from owning the 125 that it may well be responsive to power cord upgrading.

But all amps have a "sound", this one included. All I'm noting is that, in terms of tonal balance alone, the sound of my 500 seems to agree with the published review descriptions of the stock 225, which has been called "lean and lively, not dark and rich" or words to that effect by more than one reviewer. That I don't find the stock 125 to fit that description may be intentional on McCormack's part, since it was probably voiced to fit with less premium systems which could stand to benefit from an amp that gives good-for-the-money sources and speakers more of a place to hide.

FWIW, a conversation I had with Steve McCormack last year indicated that he did think a Platinum-modded monoblock pair of 125's would exceed a stock 500, so we can assume the same must hold true for Platinum mono 225's as well. Of course, he would feel that way -- but if it's the case that a pair of Platinum mono's could maintain or extend the 500's virtues while also giving a bit fuller midband presentation, then that would probably be the only compelling reason for me to want to go to that expense when I already own a 500. I'd appreciate hearing from anyone who's done this comparison.
Zaikesman: I'm not shy about praising the amp because I've been extremely pleased with it and I wouldn't have even known about it but for this site. If I can turn someone on to his amps that might not have even considered them before, I think that is a good thing and in part what these forums are all about. I also feel its in my, yours and all other McCormack product owners' best interests that we keep Steve busy so he will be able to continue to develop new cutting-edge products and mods for our gear.

Along that line, you might ask Steve about the mods for the DNA-500 that he is working on. Seems like modding your 500 would be a lot more cost-effective than modding 2 225's. I was lined up to do this last month, but decided to wait a while.
I have a Platinum DNA-225. About the only other amp I would consider is two of them in mono block configuration.
I don't want to hijack this thread but I was wondering
if anyone has sent their DNA 500 to Steve McCormack for
the latest upgrades?
I should probably start a new thread ;^)