Best option for Amp upgrade...


I have a McCormack DNA 500 that I like.  I'm considering spending about $4k to have it modded by Steve McCormack (SMC).  Alternatively, I could sell the DNA 500 for about $3k and have $7k to spend on a used (or new) solid state amp.  I'm inviting opinions on which would give me the best bang for the buck.  I'm hoping to achieve greater resolution and detail.  Bass control is not an issue!  Here is the rest of my system:

Pre-amp - CJ ET3-SE
Speakers - Rockport Mira II with REL G2 sub
Source - Aurender A10
Cabling - Transparent Ultra MM2 speaker, Gen 5 Super interconnects, Reference power cords (mostly) 

If you suggest a new amp, I'd be interested in your recommendations.  Thanks!


shoff
Modding is like asking wife to put on make up. Changing equipment is like getting another girl friend. The latter is always preferred ;)
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If you could find a pair of Parasound JC1’s at at your price point, I would think that would give you better sound and more power (current). Not to mention it is designed by a legend in the field. BTW I have the A21 stereo amp and liked it better than the McCormack DNA 125 it replaced.
Pass X250.8,  Parasound JC1,  modded McCormack - all great amps, just a matter of personal preference...a friend has a SMC modded DNA 225 that is awesome...
Wow!  If you have the money for the full SMc Audio modification to your present amp, GO FOR IT!  I have an SMc modded DNA-1.  The Revision A+ mod was done about a decade or so ago.  It sounds fantastic and I'm sure if I had it upgraded to the Signature mod offered now it would be even better.  Steve McCormack is a great guy to talk to and work with and is every bit the designer as John Curl is at Parasound.

In talking with Steve he expressed strongly held opinions on the parts that he selects for his mods down to the quality of the fuses he uses.

I'm sure there are many fine amps you could buy with your generous budget.  If you're in the mood for a new shiny beast that's cool, but if you let Steve do the full monty on your DNA 500 you will be a very satisfied listener.  The DNA concept design of mating each output transistor with its own generous capacitor does, as Steve intended, yield a "quick" sound with clean impactful initial note impacts.  PRAT!

All the best!
shoff,

I suggest you sell your McCormack DNA-500, especially if you think you can get $3k for it. It’s likely got a few years on it and certain internal components don’t last indefinitely, especially power supply capacitors.

Your Rockport Mira II speakers are very good spkrs that are not very efficient that usually sound their best with a powerful amp or amps driving them.
I think a pair of D-Sonic M3-1500-M class D monoblocks would be a very good match for your speakers and CJ preamp. Plenty of clean, undistorted power to drive your somewhat inefficient speakers with enough in reserve for increased dynamic range. Here’s a 6Moons review:

www.6moons.com/audioreviews/dsonic/1.html

Because these amps are so neutral in nature and add little sound of their own, the sound characteristics of your tubed CJ preamp will be the main factor in the flavor of your system’s sound. Good news if you like the sound of your preamp.
These amps are based on newer Pascal class D power modules that combine the power module with a switch mode power supply (smps) on a single board. You’ll notice the review lists the amps as D-Sonic M2-1500-M models. D-Sonic’s owner, Dennis Deacon, decided to change the model name to M3-1500-M right after this review to signify the change in the internal power modules being used and their increase in performance.
There’s little risk in buying tese and trying them in your system since D-Sonic offers a 30-day in-home trial period with a "no questions asked" return policy. I doubt he has many refund requests.

Tim


The DNA500 is already a pretty hi-rez and detailed amp even in stock form.  I think what you may be hearing, despite its many other considerable strengths, are some limitations of your preamp -- at least that's what reading reviews of your pre lead me to believe.  Have you considered tube rolling?  I'm not familiar with your interconnects, but that's another area maybe worth exploring to tweak the sound of your system a bit.  Just throwing some other thoughts out there FWIW.  Best of luck. 

Sell it, and move on. 

Hmmm, thoughts. What about Class D? NuForce and Bel Canto, among others, get excellent reviews. 

Tubes, used CJ Premier 11 or 8. 

Ayre is also something you should consider. 
Unless you have an emotional attachment to the amp,move on.At some point you will want a change and those mods will be worth about 10 cents on the dollar.If solid state is your preference you may want to consider a Bryston 4B3 a clearly more evolved design than earlier models with a higher than average resale.Addiction,the gift that keeps on giving.
With amplifiers, new is not always better, particularly when comparing to Class D.  I would be curious about how many of the folks saying "sell" have owned McCormack gear, and particularly how many have owned his amplifiers with full SMc upgrades. 

I have a DNA-2 LAE  with SMc Signature upgrades and it sounds great.  I chose to keep that amplifier over a pair of Ncore, NC1200 monos.  I also own a pair of high-powered conventional Class A monoblocks that are in my main system.  I like the Class A amps better than the McCormack/SMc amp but both sound good. I believe there is a picture of the DNA-2 on my system page and the work quality is exceptional.   You would be hard-pressed to find that quality in an amplifier today under for $10K or even much more.  BTW, more than most other manufacturers, Steve has a history on his gear and he is very aware of which parts are at risk of degrading or wearing out and he will address any of those issues during the upgrade.  If you like the sound of the amp now, the upgrades will improve on that.  The sound will still be similar (i.e., it will not be a totally different sounding amp) but it will be more refined,  with improvements in tone, treble smoothness, and maybe dimensionality, among others.  BTW, I have also owned the DNA-500 and it is a very nice amplifier.
while I agree that usually degraded older caps/parts and modded products not holding value are often important issues, I don't think these apply to SMc upgraded products...
     I do not doubt having the full SMc mod performed on your McCormack DNA 500 amp would likely improve its performance and that key vulnerable internal parts could be replaced at the same time.  But it is expensive and while the amp design may still be very good it is also now about 15 years old.

      I've never tried the DNA 500 in my system, but I am aware of this amp's excellent reputation of  being powerful and stable enough to drive virtually any speakers while also possessing a very detailed, refined and musical mid-range and treble.  A revolutionary design/amp that probably will continue to sound very good until it  is unable to continue due to some unexpected cause.

     The main reason I thought of the D-Sonic M3-1500 class D monos as a good solution for your situation is because I think their performance and strengths are very similar to the DNA 500's performance and strengths: extremely powerful, very high damping factors for solid bass control, high reserves of power for live-like dynamics along with a very detailed, refined mid-range and treble response that is never excessively bright or brittle.  

     However, the D-Sonic monos are based on very recent advances within a newer technology, class D amplification, which may scare off some overly risk averse or unadventurous individuals.  I just think you'll be pleasantly surprised how reasonably priced, reasonably sized, electrically efficient, cool running and great sounding these mono-blocks are.  
     I definitely would urge you to give them a 30-day audition in your system before spending considerably more on any alternate option.

Best wishes,
   Tim

      
shoff-
how do you like the combo sound of the CJ ET-3SE and DNA 500?
Happy Listening!
Those who mentioned the resale value of an upgraded amp being less than a similarly priced new amp are correct.  Therefore, you need to decide if you plan to keep and listen to the amp because you like how it sounds, or if you are more likely to get on the buy/sell merry-go-round.  If you like the amp, and just want to make it even better, then the SMc upgrades are a great value.  If your goal is a better resale margin, then the upgrades are not for you. 

I wouldn't worry about the age of that amp....it is a very good design and built like a rock.  It will be dead nuts quiet and totally reliable when Steve is done with it.  As I recall from owning the DNA-500, and using it with a wide variety of tubed preamps and mostly with a Tom Evans Vibe/Pulse SS preamp, the amp displayed very good clarity, dynamic, hard-hitting bass, and good dimensionality.  The weak point was a small bit of wispiness in the treble, which Steve says is corrected as part of the upgrades.  I do not remember resolution and detail being issues with that amp.  Maybe you need to try a SS preamp like the Tom Evans or better yet, Steve's own TLC-1 with Signature upgrades, which is the best preamp I have owned out of about 20, including several that were north of $10K.  
Thanks to all who have responded.  I appreciate those of you who warned me of about recouping the cost of the modification if I were to sell.  I am very aware of this and almost mentioned it preemptively in my original post.  In retrospect I think I should have.  10 cents on the dollar sounds about right!  I should also mention that I'm in my mid 70's and which ever route I go, this will definitely be my last amplifier adventure.  So, if a dubious financial investment yields the best sound, I'm OK with that!


To address a few comments and questions raised so far:

(1) The DNA 500 is more "powerful" than the JC 1's.  (500-900 wpc vs. 400-800)  Not sure how this translates to actual "current".
(2) All of my cabling is Transparent.  The interconnects are the latest Gen 5 Super models, and the tube in my CJ is an NOS 1960 Amperex.
(3) I do like the pairing of the CJ ET3-SE with the McCormack.  I tried a Manley Jumbo Shrimp and VAC before settling on the CJ.
(4) I will checkout the new Bryston.  Thanks for that and the other recommendations.
(5) I'm impressed with all the positive comments regarding the SMC modifications.  Sounds like a very good guy!





You have a very nice system- shoff
big fan of Transparent cabling as well. The Super and Ultra are sweet spots in that catalog of cables to be sure.
Happy Listening!
I like Rogue Audio gear for great price / performance. 
It doesn’t look like you have any power conditioning. Since you like your amp, I would call the cable company and check some from the library. It made a significant difference in my system.  With the money your looking to spend a ps audio power regenerator May be good. Or audioquest niagra 700. 
I don't know how you could do better, or as good, as wells audio. The innamorata is in your price range. I have one myself. 150w per channel of sweetness. Read the reviews
While I haven't heard it, the first thing that went through my head was a CJ Premier 350 which could be had for a few bucks less but which might be a great match-up to your CJ pre. I'm sure others will know whether that combo would work.
If you like what you have I'd stick with the DNA 500. I personally have two of Steve's amps a 1 and .5, both with the full meal deal. For the dollar I feel they're hard to compete with. You have two guys building your amp paying special detail to you, quality work and quality customer service. I also use tube preamps with my amps and enjoy the sound the combos give. You may have a hard time finding an AMP you like as much, and will it mate well with your PRE? As mentioned above the amp after mods will be dead quiet, with a lot more smooth music coming through.