McCormack Amp Upgrades

Looking for comments on McCormack amp upgrades, either done by McCormack or other modifiers. I'm getting a DNA-1 shortly (stock) and am looking for a cost effective upgrade. SMc offers silver, gold, and platinum upgrades. Would appreciate any comments regarding upgrades they got and the difference in sound. Spending as much (or more) on upgrades as the amp cost is significant, and when you look at the total investment you could move up to a more expensive/newer amp. Hope to hear a noticeable difference when spending $900 or more on upgrades. You can reach a point of diminishing returns when spending this much or more on upgrades, as you sit in your chair and try to convince yourself that you are hearing something better. What have you tried or heard? Do you think it is worth spending $900 to $2000+ in upgrades for this amp? Or should I use for a while, then move up to a stock DNA-225 or something else like a Pass Labs X150 or X250? Speakers are VS-4.5. Thanks for your comments and opinions.
enjoy it for a while, then move up to another amp. Another way of trying out an upgraded McCormack amp is to find one used. You rarely recover even 1/2 of the money spent on upgrades when you sell the amp. See if you can find a used upgraded DNA1 or DNA-225. Once in a while they would pop up. This would be the more economical and rational way to go about it.

I moved from SMc Gold + upgraded DNA-225 to Pass Labs X250.5 and glad I did. Pass Labs amp is in another league.
I've seen "my" upgraded 225 on audiogon few times already. It's fun to watch it move around.
I have 2 DNA-1 amps mono block. Bought them used but they were not up to the platinum level. They are now with the Plitron transformers. I like Nelson Pass amps and pre amps. Have owned and heard some of his products. The Platinum DNA-1s are the finest amps I have owned. My system is in dedicated room. Source is vinyl, ARC PH3-SE modded by Steve Huntley, ARC LS-12 line stage, Essence 10A speakers. The bass is incredible. pipe organ is solid and rich like a pipe organ. The back of the stage does not have fake depth where the tonality is weak. The depth is there with energy like it should be. Dynamics are great micro and macro. I am running them balanced. They are so very quiet. Give Steve or Kris a call. They are both very easy to talk with.Hope this helps.
I would just try to get your hands on a used DNA-500. It already has most of the upgrades to the lower models built in. Its a great amp and will really make your VS speakers sing.
I used to own a pair of DNA-1 monoblocks which I purchased in their stock configuration. Later, I sent them back to McCormack for the "Deluxe" upgrade (highest level available at the time.....SMC was not yet in existence).

I was never sorry for doing so. Well worth the money and time it took. Nowadays the SMC upgrades are even better than the 'Deluxe'.

I kept those amps for probably another 4 or 5 years before deciding to sell them and move on. I even paired them for awhile with a Cary SLP-98 tube preamp and found the combination to be very very good together.

If you decide to go through with it, don't let some of the others talk you out of it. The DNA amps are one of the great unsung values in high end equipment. They may not have the cachet of some of the more popular units, but when you fire yours up and sit back to'll snicker yourself silly at all the extra money some of those others paid trying to get the sound you have.


I had a pair of DNA-1 monoblocks driving Vandersteen 3A Sigs, gave those up for a pair of DNA-1 Dlx Golds (non momoblocked) that are vertically driving the Vandy's now and they are so much better than the monoblocks, I put the monoblocks back in a couple of weeks back and the bass was so over driven they didn't last the weekend (too much power). I also have a McCormack Micro Line Drive and a Micro Phono Drive that I had upgraded to Gold and they are not the same peaces of equipment they were before the upgrade, I know because I have the stock versions of both in my computer room. A great example of the improvements that I can give is on Dave Brubecks "Time Out", while Dave is playing the piano, as the hammer is striking the strings, with the stock equipment it sounds as if there is a layers of felt on the hammers and with each upgrade a layer of that felt is removed, making the notes sound more real and less like a reproduction. The funny part is without hearing this I didn't realize I was missing it. When doing a comparison I could not believe the difference. I tried the MLD in place of my TLC-1 Dlx and everything just became that much clearer, greater transparency, with more depth along with quieter, blacker back grounds, wow I was in heaven. The improvement were so great I've scheduled my TLC for the Full Monty with the Carbon wiring. Yes the bad part is you can only get back about half of your investment on the upgrades but if you have plans to sell your equipment down the road then you would be better off waiting till a modified unit comes up online and do a comparison then. By the way many Agoner's here recommend a tube preamp with the McCormack's and with the power demands that your Von Schweikert's have you just might wind up with an outstanding combination.
A great example of the improvements that I can give is on Dave Brubecks "Time Out", while Dave is playing the piano, as the hammer is striking the strings, with the stock equipment it sounds as if there is a layers of felt on the hammers and with each upgrade a layer of that felt is removed, making the notes sound more real and less like a reproduction.

That's an interesting claim.
Because the piano hammers do have a layer of felt. If the upgraded amps "removed" this layer of felt, this would make the stock amps more accurate now, wouldn't it.

This is precisely the reason I sold the modded SMc amp. It was not natural sounding, was colored, inacurate and caused listener fatigue. The big improvement over the stock amp was the improved soundstage size. Tonality was not as accurate as it was with the stock amplifier.
Thank you everyone for your responses. I hooked up the DNA-1 for the first time (just got it yesterday) and am floored by the amount of power, clarity and finesse. I think I could live with it as is and not be disappointed. I'm waiting to hear back from SMC to see what they recommend as a "cost effective" upgrade for this amp. In the meantime, I'll be enjoying it just the way it is. I'm using the Cary AES AE-3 DJH tube preamp. I agree that a tube preamp is a great match to this solid state amp. I may or may not go for an upgrade. It all boils down to degrees of improvement. Since I can't borrow an upgraded amp from anywhere I just have to go with people's experiences with upgraded DNA-1's. I also will ask SMC if the upgraded DNA-1 is better than the stock DNA-225. If not, then maybe it's best to use this one for a while, sell it and buy a DNA-225. Anyone have a chance to directly compare an upgraded DNA-1 to the DNA-225?
Thank you, I've learned something new today, I did not know that about the hammers on a piano, I guess I and will have to go back and see what it is that my system is presenting to me then. I'm new to the high end of audio and still learning the terminology, so this is whats meant by Tonality? I can see your point about the upgrades possibly causing listener fatigue especially if the speakers your hooking them to are very revealing to start with. A very revealing amplifier with a very revealing speaker might be very very revealing. I guess this is what they call system synergy that comes with system matching? Still so much to learn. But like I said the upgrades make "the notes sound more real and less like a reproduction" in my system. So with that said.

If you live within about 3 hours of Philadelphia and are willing, I would be more than willing to bring my pair of McCormack Dlx Golds to you place so that you can experience the upgrades and determine for yourself if they will be a good match in your system. And maybe learn something more about this system matching stuff for myself.
Tube540, if you are planning on doing a full-blown upgrade to the DNA-1, then it will probably total you to about the cost of a used DNA-500, in which case I suggest you opt for the 500. If you want to do the minimalist revision, it's up to you. But spending over $2000 + shipping back and forth on this amplifier makes very little sense to me.
Again, it is completely up to you to decide. but if I were you, I'd jump on the used modded amp if it comes up here(they do, just keep your eyes open), or a used DNA-500. To me this is a much smarter purchase.

But, who can tell you how to spend your money?
I currently own a DNA-1 with Revision A mods. It replaced my DNA-125, the rest of my system remained constant during the transition, UDP-1 Deluxe, MAP-1 and Harbeth M30s. So I can provide some perspective on the two units (although I wish I had compared to the DNA-225).

The DNA-125 is an excellent power amp at a given price point. A unit can be picked up for $950-1100 used on A-gon. My only slight criticism, it was a little on the "cool" side in terms of the music presentation. The DNA-1 Rev. is considerably different. Firstly, a lot warmer, bigger sound stage and better lower end & definition. The warmer sound was a good mate with my neutral & revealing Harbeths. Also, I was very much surprised (in a pleasant sense) when comparing the two power amps. I was also wrong, expecting the two units of different generations and design executions to sound a lot closer. A DNA-1 Rev A occasionally appears on A-gon, in the similar price range to a DNA-225 ($1600-1800).

Audphile1 suggested a Pass lab X250.5 - in this price range ($3500 - 3800used ), you may consider a head-to-head comparison with the DNA-500. Both are similarly priced (retail or used) and I think a more valid comparison. Once again, Steve McCormack may be in a better position to describe the sonic virtues of a fully modded DNA-225 v. the DNA-500 (I can't).

anyway, that was my experience. I hope it helps somewhat.

Good luck in your decision.
I'm in the process of getting my DNA-1 deluxe upgraded to Silver. I'll let you know how it goes.
I know there are other contenders, but in my experience, Pass amps are the finest SS available, and if not the "best" close enought to be the end game for many. If I had McCormack (very fine amps) and was considering an upgrade, I would wait till I could make the move to Pass gear, and the XA series perferablly if you can afford it - a better strategy than sinking more money into the McCormack IMHO. I have heard very good things about the Ayre and Symphonic Line gear as well, but I don't have personal experience.

Plz post your results of discussions with Steve. I run a stock DNA-1 and have had similar thoughts / questions.

(I'm very happy with the DNA1 at this point...everything in front of it is tubed..pre..CDP..DAC).
Tube540, just a suggestion....McCormack amplifiers sound best when they're left "on" 24/7. Or at least warmed up for a day before listening. I noticed this with all the McCormack amps I had(DNA-0.5Deluxe, DNA-125, DNA-225).
I agree with Audphile1 the McCormack's need to be left on to bring out their very best.

Audphile1 my Apologies for coming off so harsh on the last posts, didn't realize how bad it sounded till I went back and read them again. I also sat down to listen and see what it was I was hearing with these upgrades and could see where these upgrades might be to much in some systems. With my Vandy's the improvement's are in the subtle details as well as the sound stage size. I probably wouldn't run these with the NHT's I had before.

Tube540 like you I'm wondering where to spend my money on improvements. Was considering having both the DNA-1's upgraded to Platinum but with the new price increase I'm thinking just one and then upgrade to the Quatro's. Anyway keep us posted on what you find out.
Ig316b, it's alright. I cought some sarcasm in your post but nothing that had ruined my weekend.