Is the McCormack DNA .5 that great?

Is the McCormack DNA .5 and its succeeding revisions as good as the hype. Some people are saying that they are the best amps money can buy. Get the best one you can in your budget. That is a pretty lofty statement. I live in a place where I do not got to audition gear, are these really as good as people say. Is there anything that can go head to head with these amps and survive the competition?

Eric Baer
There are a lot of proud owners of these amps (myself included, so caveat emptor). Here's some opinionated facts about them:
- They are very competitive with amps costing 2-3x more.
- They mate well with most preamp types, tubes, SS and passive - and so integrate will with most existing systems.
- They have enought drive to power most speakers (100W into 8 ohms, 200 W into 4 ohms).
- They operate for the first few watts in class A (A-B thereafter), which is where you do 95% of your listening, so sound very smooth and unstrained.
- They are upgradeable by Steve McCormack himself. These mods can bring the amp to new levels of performance which very few products can beat. That's the real bang for the buck.
- Steve mates the science of amp design (layout, design, etc.) with the art (parts selection and voicing) better than most.
- The service and reputation are great.
- You can get one used for about $500-600 and get it upgraded later - or buy a Rev A already done and never need another amp again, unless you need to go tubed.

I'm tying to be honest and avoid the over-hype that you've seen elsewhere. Yes, they are very good amps that can be modded to be very great amps. The best ... what does that mean anyway?

I used to own a DNA 0.5 and thought very highly of it. The only reason that I sold it was due to getting more into tube amps. Aside from that, IMO the DNA 0.5 is very hard to beat in the sub $2K price range. It had bettered every other SS amp that I had heard in the sub $2K range. I really enjoyed the one that I used to have and would highly recommend buying one, if you're looking for a goood SS amp.
I used to own a .5 and a DNA-1. I thought the .5 was a great little amp. However, I think there are better amps out there. For instance, I would recommend a Pass X-150 over the .5 or the DNA 1. Having said that, if you can get one for 500-600 on Audiogion, I think that is a good deal. I would note, however, that the .5 has some limitations. For example, you will not have a balanced connection option which for me is pretty important.

Good luck.
Not sure what kind of answer you're looking for. If you've researched prior threads, you'll probably get the same answers from this thread. (I know I've responded to my fair share in the past.)

Nevertheless, here is a summary of why I recommend this amp.

1. It works well for both novices and experienced audiophiles. Novices may be satisfied with the stock model for a good amount of time. You can find better at the stock level, but you are likely to spend quite a bit more. Experienced/demanding audiophiles will definitely appreciate the upgrades. Depending on your needs, this amp can be transformed into one with few peers.

2. Similar to 1., this amp also fits various budgets and represents exceptional value. Beer budget systems will be served well by the stock model. Cost-no-object systems will be amazed at the somewhat unparalleled performance available via mods at a still reasonable price tag. Also, as you are moving up between extremes, it's also great not to have to re-buy a whole new chassis and pay dealer mark-up at every stage.

3. The amp mates well with many speaker and preamp combos. It's nice not to have to worry about associated gear to the same extent as SET, OTL, and other more finicky amps.

4. The DNA .5 is relatively small and lightweight enough for shipping without crating. It's also easy to move around and place in a typically tight spaced setup.

5. Not only do the mods bring it up to SOTA performance and represent value, it also gives you the comfort of being future proof. I doubt Steve McCormack will stop looking for ways to improve performance as new technology comes available. Remember, Steve was modding equipment long before modding became so hip.

6. Speaking of Steve McCormack, you won't find anyone better to deal with in this hobby. If I'm going to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of audio equipment, I want to feel good about who I'm giving it to.

7. Reliability. I've had these amps in my system (at various stages of upgrade) for over 10 years and never had a problem or considered changing to another brand. I can't say that about any other piece I've owned in the 20+ years I've been in the hobby. I rarely hear about reliability issues with McCormack, and I'm sure there are quite of few of them out there.

The only negatives are that the upgraded amps are not available in showrooms. Thus, you can't audition them easily and have to rely on word of mouth. Also, no amp will satisfy everyones tastes perfectly. For example, some people like a more "colored" sound from their amps and their systems may sound better with such colorations.

Thus, I wouldn't dare annoint any product the "greatest" in this hobby. However, if you buy one and get it modded, I'm betting you will be joining the chorus of happy owners you refer to in your post.

I agree with everything stated above. I am a Very happy McCormack owner and can not wait to have Steve upgrade mine when I get enough extra dough.

I ditto the same as everyone else, I currently have the DNA-125 and have been very happy with it. One point above I will kind of disagree with is that it mates well with all gear. With preamps (tubes/active) you have to be careful of gain issues as the amp is quite sensitive. I think Steve has mentioned pre's under 10 db of gain, those with smooth volume controls (don't know the technical name) or those with many steps (100+) match the best.

Passives are great too.

I too have been looking at this amp and upgrade as great value and wondering how great it could be. I must say you got some very detailed and concise responses. Ptm and Labtec, thank you both very much for your complete and objective posts. Since I too live in a remote area, these are very helpful.
Perhaps I am one of those the original poster was thinking of when he mentioned those who hype the McCormack amps.

Keep in mind that in the case of McCormack DNA-x model amps, because of Steve McCormack's revisions to these amps, one must look at their potential performance benefits as well as their actual.

I can only say that of the 6 or so amps I've owned as well as any system I've ever listened to elsewhere, none of those even comes close to the DNA-2 Revision A amp. And that includes my previous DNA-2 LAE amp which was rated by Peter Moncrief of IAR as the best solid state amp and by a wide margin a few years ago.

Of course there are other amps that are just as good or better than the DNA-2 Rev. A, but I will speculate that it is only but a few.

The DNA-2 Revision A is simply unlike any tube or solid-state amp I've ever heard. It's actually like the very best of both.

Last summer a columnist/reviewer who also attends numerous shows in Canada and the US came to my home to evaluate my system. Since some of his comments during and immediately after the listening session might be interpreted as 'hype', I'll just quote his shortest comment: "This amp is a keeper!"

And his last email prior to his arrival stated that he would stay for a maximum of 2 hours of which I paid him for his time. However he ended up staying for 3 hours. The 3rd hour I did not pay for.

Oh, and the well-respected individual I bought this amp from here on Agon, replaced the DNA-2 Rev. A with one DNA 0.5 Rev. A Gold simply because he did not need this kind of power for his highly rated Vandersteen Model 5 speakers which have their own built-in woofer amp. And he wanted a smaller lighter amp. Also, he stated that the DNA 0.5 Rev A Gold sonics were near identical to the DNA-2 Rev A except for the power differences.

There! How's that for hype? And I could have said a lot more.