Considering new amp - Mccormack

I've got the itch to upgrade my amps.

Currently I'm horizontally biamping with two modified Adcom GFA 555 II.

Rest of system as follows

B&W 803 Matrix SII - Recently refurbished
Sonic Frontiers SF1 Preamp
Music Fidelity A3 24 Dac
PS Audio P1000 power conditioner

Favorite Bands are:

Bon Iver
Fleet Foxes
Massive Attack

What I don't like about system: Raspy... especially with radiohead vocals.. The B&W combo with adcom and vocals of peter york are Harsh.

I'm considering the Mccormack amps, anything from the DNA .5's modified to mono's or DNA 2 or DNA 500?? Currently there is a DNA 2 Limited edition on Audiogon for about the same amount as the DNA 500.

My max budget is around $3k, but less would be nice, maybe I could get away with a single DNA .5 or DNA 125?

Any advice would be much appreciated.
I find most Radiohead recordings to be "hot" and aggressive sounding, so what you hear may be a product of the recording as much as it is your system.

I would recommend that you consider the preamp (in general...not just yours specifically) at least as responsible for system raspiness as the amps, if not more so.
McCormack's are nice amps. Lots of owners here to testify to that. Best bet is to pick up one that already incorporates Steve's mods. That takes them to a whole different level.

I believe the input impedance on McCormack amps is on the low side, so first you should check to see if they will work with your SF preamp. I would think you would get a more refined sound out of the McCormack amps, but no way to know if it will be the silver bullet. By the way, there was a recent post on the DNA 500 vs. the DNA 2LE, and Steve McCormack himself sounded like he was leaning toward the 500 although both are obviously excellent amps. Given the B&Ws can be a tough load I'd try to go with at least a DNA 1, and with your budget a unit with the A revisions would be well within reach and a much better amp.

One important element you didn't mention is what cables/interconnects you're using, and these could also be instrumental in achieving the sound you're ultimately looking for. In fact you might be able to fix most or all of the problem by trying some more laid back cables and interconnects (or even power cords). Cardas Golden Cross comes to mind.

Given the rest of your gear and assuming the cables aren't to blame, I would think the speakers could be a large part of the problem. I have a friend with the same speakers and they're nice, but the tweeter can be hard or glaring with the wrong equipment and/or with certain music. I agree you should upgrade your amps, but you might also consider switching speakers as well. If you are at all considering upgrading your speakers I would wait until you can upgrade both the speakers and amp together since they'll need to synergize. Buying the amp first could limit your future speaker choices considerably.

OK, with all that said and given what you're looking for you might consider looking at some of the Class A solid state amps like Pass Labs or Clayton Audio. I have no idea if they'll work with your preamp or speakers, but I think their more refined sound characteristics might provide a lot of what you're looking for. I've also seen Classe amps paired with B&W quite a bit, and they have a reputation of being more on the refined/polite side that may also suit your needs.

Hope this helps, and best of luck.
I respectfully disagree with Tvad that Radiohead is recorded "hot." I think their recordings are amazingly well conceived and engineered, in the vein of all great Brit-pop. Especially "In Rainbows." I think you need a very musical system that can reveal the intricacies found in their recordings.

System synergy is a big part of all this. I'd venture that the Adcom amps coupled with the BWs are a lot of the problem--the grain combined with the brighter BW sound is probably not the best match. You'd want a more laid back speaker or a more refined amp. McCormack, Pass, Classe as mentioned earlier are all great choices. High current would be best to get you the bass and resolution you'd want from your favorite recording artists you mention.

I agree that the preamp could also be part of the problem. So many of the early 90s preamps are aggressive/forward sounding, perhaps due to their design and due to decline of caps simply due to age.

His offerings are top-shelf.Highly recommended.I wont bore you with my choices.Good luck,Bob
DNA-500 would be my choice. I have 1 that has been replaced by tubes, but I'm keeping it. Best bang for the buck at around your price range, used, that I've found. Steve McC would be the 1 to talk to and I would also check out the thread referred to above for more info. Good luck
I've had two Adcoms, the 535 and the 5500. I've also had two McCormack's, the DNA 0.5 and 1.0 monoblocks. The McCormacks are head and shoulders above the Adcoms in every way. I had severe listener fatigue problems with the Adcoms, which improved when I bought the fist McCormacks.
There is no doubt that will get you closer to where you want to be. Also, don't underestimate the 0.5's ability to drive demanding speakers. It did much bettery with my maggies (1.6QR's) than the 200 WPC Adcom did. Also, most of the unmodified amps have 100 kOhm input impedance, so any pre will drive them. I'd say go for it then see where you are.
I recall from past experience enjoying the sound that the McCormack amp made driving a pair of 801 series II. Definitely less harsh than the Adcom. The 801's are very similar to your 803's in terms of its sonic signature. The 801's are known to be very picky about which amp to use. The Adcom GFA 555 II amps are very powerful but don't have the refinement and resolution that the B&W's demand.
Brownsfan makes a good point -- it might be the modded McCormacks that have a lower impedance input.
I'm a big fan of the McCormacks. Not such a big fan of the B&W's. As good as the McCormack amps are, I can't help but think that there might be different, more compatible amp choices out there.
I once owned the Matrix 803s and drove them with the DNA .5 and it had more than enough to drive the speakers. I actually think the DNA .5 is a better sounding amp than the DNA 1 and much better than the DNA 2(standard edition). I think the treble of the DNA series is a little bright and hard. They have great dynamics and drive though. The 803s are a dry sounding speaker. I think they mate well with the old Aragon 4004 Mk2 which has a better midrange and a more liquid treble than the DNAs but not quite as much drive. The Adcom amps are inferior to both the DNAs and Aragon with cramped soundstaging and a very non-liquid presentation. They do have fine dynamics though.
I think the McCormack's would be just what you are looking for. If you happen to live within about two hours of Philadelphia I would be willing to offer up a pair of McCormack DNA-1 Monoblocks for a listening session. This will give you an idea if you like the McCormack sound. I have a pair sitting on the sidelines since I started vertically bi-amping my Vandy 3A Sig's with a pair of Gold DNA-1's. E-mail me if this offer sounds acceptable to you.
Maybe you should also consider Odyssey audio and Belles amps.
Klaus at Odyssey is a great guy to deal with;he may even have some b stock that wiil save you $$$ as well;also they have a 20 year transferable warranty to the second owner.
Belles amps are also highly regarded.
I'd say if you feel good about it, do it. Mccormack is very good stuff!

If harshness remains, look at other tweaks from there to address it
Just a clarification of some earlier confusion relating to input impedance... All of the stock DNA amplifiers except the DNA-500 have a 100KOhm input impedance. The DNA-500 is set at 10KOhm, as are any of the amps upgraded via SMc Audio with balanced inputs or as monoblocks. If they don't have balanced inputs, they are still 100K.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
SMc Audio
If the DNA .5 would drive the 803's, then I maybe I should consider making an offer on the Rev A that's currently up for $1200??? Just concenred about going down to 100wpc, then again, if I wasn't happy with power, could always pick up another and biamp or get them converted to mono.
02-27-09: Swanny76109
I respectfully disagree with Tvad that Radiohead is recorded "hot." I think their recordings are amazingly well conceived and engineered, in the vein of all great Brit-pop. Especially "In Rainbows." I think you need a very musical system that can reveal the intricacies found in their recordings.

Your post suggests that my system is not "musical" enough to reveal intricacies in the Radiohead recordings. Your supposition is dead wrong.
Evidently... From what I've heard...

There where two studios that remixed the original Radiohead albums (before in rainbows). Half the song given to one studio half to the other. Hence people thinking some songs bright.. etc.. Not sure if this is based in reality or not. I do know that they (Radiohead) are very difficult to play on a system and any problems on my system show up with Radiohead, espcielly in rainbows - nude. Problem is, I love the song and it drives me crazy. I've spent late nights changing out drivers, cross overs, etc.. had my speaker completely check out, now I'm down to the amps. BTW my signifigant other thinks I'm completely crazy. But then again, she was amazed that I could hear the differenct between MP3 and Wav, even when she tried to fool me.
The DNA-0.5 will do a fine job of driving your B&W 803s. If you were in a very large room and wanted to drive them to "live" levels, I might suggest a more powerful amp. Short of that, I think you would be very pleased with the match. And as you say, if you feel like bi-amping in the future, you can easily add another.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
SMc Audio