Mccormack DNA125 or Belles 150A Hot Rod

I'm in the market for a new amp and trying to decide which one would give me the best sound and value. I'm unable to audition either. My pre is a VTL 2.5 and speakers are Infinity Kappa 8.1 (89db).
Thanks for any input.
You're just going to have to take a chance if you can't audition. Speaker/amp synergy is difficult to forecast. I read all the great buzz about the Belles Hot Rod, took the bait and bought one. Turned out to be an unreliable, mediocre sounding amp. For Me. Others extol it as fabulous sounding, reliable, and a great bargain. I'm sure that's true for them. If the impedance of your Infinty speakers are at least 8 ohms, that's good vis a vis the Belles. I & others found it not at its' best operating into 4 ohm loads. I'd suggest buying used and then you can sell it at a minimal loss if it doesn't work out.
Both are excellent. The Belles is something special. That's the one I would choose.

McCormack is a great amp and offers an upgrade path via mods by Steve himself. I have not heard the Belles, though I do use his 21A pre w/Auricap upgrade. Excellent pre.

Good Luck,
I don't know what your speakers or room sound like, or how your musical tastes run, and I can't tell you anything about the Belles. My experience owning a DNA-125 has been very positive, though it's primarily been a back-up amp for me (driving Thiel 2.2 speakers in a mid-sized room, playing mostly rock and jazz). Not a 'giant-killer', if there is such a thing, the 125 won't fool you into thinking you've spent three times what it cost, but neither will it make you wish you had. (After you read what follows and before you conclude that I'm damning it with faint praise, please keep in mind that I'm just describing it more honestly than you'll almost ever see in a magazine review, that I do *like* this amp and that no amps are perfect.)

Pluses are that it's well-made, cool-running, not anemic with the power (as some moderately-priced solid-state amps in the 100w range can be) -- this is a notably composed amp at volume -- and that its sonic shortcomings are mostly subtractive and musically consonant, indicating I think quality engineering for a product in this catagory. Unlike the DNA-500 I also own (and probably the 225 from the reviews I've read), the 125 actually tilts slightly toward the dark and full rather than the bright or lean in terms of tonal balance.

Strengths include: a deep soundstage and solid, stable rendering of images with good dimensionality; a clean and edge-free way with transients; good bass power and control, not overblown or disconnected from the rest of the spectrum; and perhaps most importantly, an almost entirely benign harmonic structure (again unlike some others in the catagory) and an essentially coherent overall presentation.

Areas not as strong (none egregious flaws) include: somewhat limited ultimate extension, in the bottom-octave bass but more noticeably in the treble top-octave (at least with my speakers, which don't plumb the bottom octave either), where it tends to 'burnish' cymbals a bit; microdynamic articulation not as fast or deep as with better amps, leading to a slight 'liquid' effect that can subtly obscure precise expression on demanding passages; soundstage height and airiness as well as image size and separation are a little curtailed compared to the best; macrodynamic punch and scale are naturally somewhat compressed compared with more powerful amps; resolution of very fine detail not as explicit as with better amps; not completely free from a slight 'mechanicalness' and 'boxiness' common to SS amps not priced in the premium range; very minor 'electronic' or 'wirey' textural deviation just noticeable on acoustic instruments; equally minor 'rubbery' deficit in bass definition; and a slight 'thickening' in the mids -- at least compared to my other amps -- combined with an equally slighty rolled treble beginning in the presence range, that for the most part doesn't really rise to the level of an overtly noticable coloration when listening and is often pleasant if not downright welcome with a lot of material, but can take on a slightly 'hooded' cast with other material.

But more importantly than its relatively minor lacks in terms of ultimate transparency and neutrality, the 125 is basically free from the kinds of glare, grunge, coldness, hardness, glassiness, boominess, thinness, opaqueness, forwardness, vagueness, flatness, tiziness, enharmonic signature, or other sins that can make listening to a 'budget' amp seem like too much of a compromise. The compromises in this amp seem well-chosen, being an essentially smooth and relaxed performer, and I think a sufficiently reliable window on the music for the money to recommend easily if you think this might complement your speakers and the rest of your system.

Oddly enough, given my description of its sound, in my system the 125 seems to respond best to power cords that emphasize smoothness and noise reduction (not that it's noisy) over speed, attack, and extension, gaining a bit of authority and increased textural naturalness. And don't forget that, as mentioned above, Steve McCormack's SMc Audio mod upgrade path by all reports can probably improve or transform all the characteristics I've noted, and my time with his amps has made me seriously consider going that route myself as an alternative to my 3X more expensive and 2X as powerful tube monoblocks, which themselves do not beat the stock 125 in every area. (In fact, you can hear hints of some of these improvements simply by running the stock 125 with one speaker disconnected, as a monoblock, but I haven't tried bridging mine.)
Both amps are (of course) good (great to some) and always brought to the head of the class when someone asks "what amp should I buy" (?). Butttttt. There are others. Many others. If all we had was Belles and McCormack, they could change the name of this website to the Belles and Mac hour.
OK... I'll bite. If I'm so smart, then list some. OK. They are ALL listed under AMPS (SS and Tube), right here on Audiogon. I have a MUSE 160mkII (currently). That amp (btw) is is the same price and power range (and a better amp..imho). Thats just one. I've went through a couple of McCormacks (have a couple of McCormack pieces now) and have had a few Belles amps (one of which was the venerable "450"... the Apogee thumper). But the point... is, not how many of the two I've owned, but how many OTHER amps are out there to concider. Pardon the pun, but Belles and McCormack are starting to sound like a broken record.

Time for a breath of fresh Ayre from those two.

Before I bought my DNA-225 some time back I auditioned a DNA-125 and the Belles. In short, very short, I'd pick the McCormack. Zaikes description of the 125 is pretty much the same as mine, absent the slightly rolled-off treble which I did not notice (but then it was auditioning for me and not long term listening).

I ultimately bought the DNA-225 and subsequently had Steve and Co. do their Platinum Upgrade Magic. The results were nothing short of astounding (see my review for details of my experience). I have heard many, many amps in my day (and it's getting to be a rather long day these days!) and the only other amp I'd even really consider at present is another DNA-225 so that I might have Steve McCormack turn it and mine into a pair of monoblocks.
I Just bought an Audio Refinement Multi-2 ($795 Spearit & Sound) as a back up and its a sweet performer with musical finesse. Now its got me thinking about their Passion 400 amp.

Good Luck!*>)
Sorry! Forget my post I misread your inquiry as looking for budget amps and did not realize you have already narrowed down our choices.

Good Luck!*>)
I agree with 4yanx. I have 2 DNA-1s that SMC converted to mono block and upgraded them to the platinum level including the plitron transformers. I could not be happier. I would reccommend a McCormack amp and as your system improves you can improve the amp with SMCs upgrades. Steve is absolutely wonderful to do buisness with. With all the upgrades there are very few amps that would compete. The only one I would consider is Atma-Sphere.
Pardon the pun, but Belles and McCormack are starting to sound like a broken record.

IMHO, you have VASTLY overblown the situation with respect to how often the McCormack and Belles amps are mentioned in this forum but, granted, these names (especially McCormack) are mentioned with some frequency. Wonder why the McCormack name fills the ayre so readily. :-)
To Ayre is human....:-)
I think that perhaps the name McCormack is just easy to pronounce. It falls off the edge of my lips easier than "Goldmund" or "Muse". Try saying "MUSE" 15 times in a row. You will have goat footed men running far and ye. The hills are alive with the sound of this stuff.

Not to divert the thread here, but does anyone (4yanx or Saygrr) know if the DNA-2 has the Plitron transformer? I am pretty sure it does, but not exactly. I have one coming tomorrow to replace my DNA-1 deluxe monoblocks. I am hoping this is a step up in regards to a warmer sound while retaining the power, finesse and transparency of the monoblocks.

Zaikesman, your review of the DNA-125 is spot-on. I (for one) wish that all reviews were this clear and to the point. The problem, of course, is that many readers do not share your experience with the DNA-500 or your tube monoblocks, and so have more difficulty understanding the context of your comments. Still, if people will read your comments carefully, they will wind-up with a better understanding of what the DNA-125 *actually sounds like* than they will get from any other review. The only thing better is to listen to it themselves ;-)

My thanks to all who took the time to comment on their experience with my amplifiers.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
Zaikesman, right on. I've owned the 125 and completely agree with you. A very accurate description of the amp.
It is a very neutral amp for the price.

I recently sold my DNA-125 and upgraded to DNA-225 due to the fact that the 225 is a better driving force for my B&W N803s, although I never felt the DNA-125 was lacking, I figured I'll go for the 225 then have it revised by Steve McCormack. I drove the speakers with a stock DNA-225 for about a month and in its stock form it's an awesome amp. I found it to be just a touch smoother and a bit more seductive sounding than the DNA-125. So I guess I have to disagree with some people saying that the 125 and 225 sound identical. But that's another topic.

But now my DNA-225 is in the SMc shop getting worked on - I'm getting the Gold Rev + ARC2 on it.
Can't wait to get it back.
Ozzy62 -

Yes, the stock DNA-2 comes with a very large Plitron toroid.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
Thanks for the input Mr.Steve--. My comments speak only to the Belles as I have never owned a Mc. amp. The hot rod is a great starter amp. Runs cool-- However my advice is to pick up a used 150a Reference. Still a pretty cheap price and IMO class A on the cheap. PS, I never see/read about David helping his end-users.
Will the DNA125 or the Belles 150 be sufficient to drive the Kappas? I might be wrong, but with the Kappas, the MKI and perhaps the MKIIs, more watts with a large and powerful hi current supply is a must with the amp to be used. The higher the number gets in the Kappa sequence, the worser it gets.

Once I wrote an email back and forth about the possible strength of the DNA 225 and according to my recollection, the 225 is capable of driving ANY speaker out there, but then there were questions about the possibility of my speakers, the Kappa 9s, that dip to 1 ohm, whether the DNA 225 can handle that sort of load.

I might be wrong, but I would look at the Hi current design of both of the amps in question and go for the one which has the most robust power supply.

The Passion 400 supposedly will supply you with gobs of power, but it is very expensive.

The DNA 2 seems much more capable, but it all comes to what sort of music you listen to as well as the loudness you would expect from the amp.
The DNA-125 will drive most difficult, low-impedance speakers very well in normal-size rooms. A friend of mine uses the DNA-125 to drive his Apogee Stage speakers and it does a fine job. It will also do a good job of driving the Kappas, although it may be argued that the DNA-225 would be a better choice if the room is very large. You are correct, of course, that the DNA-2 is "more capable." It is a much larger, more expensive amp (out of production for several years, now) that will deliver 300W per ch into 8 Ohms.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
"Sometimes" It is just not about "power. I had a good friend that used a DNA-1 (deluxe) with a pair of Scintilla's. Small room, not a real hard rocker. The amp that finally won out (for his tastes and need) was a N.E.W. DCA-33 ..... 'bout 30 watts (or so a side, on batteries). go figure.

I guess that I'm curious Steve; are you going to do a Arron Spelling commemorative piece of some sort (or has that era now truly passed away) ?

David, Steve and Audphile1: Nice to receive your seconds for my mini-review, and credit to Steve for being understanding about my concision regarding some contextual implications :-)
Hi, Steve McCormack, I have the RLD-1 preamp and I want to install the phono card. How much is it? Can I do it myself?
Phd: Clicking on a username provides a link to send email... ;^)
Zaikesman, thankyou for bringing this to my attention. It never occured to me at the time I made my post, although it should have. By the way, your review/thoughts on the 125 were very well written & clear. I did post a followup to the DNA 125 but in light of your accurate review thought it was completely unnecessary and deleted it.
Well now you've done it Phd -- gone and made me embarrassed for being a wise-ass :-)
Zaikseman, as one potential wise ass to another, it's all good.
Hi Phd -

The phono card (new and improved, by the way) lists for $425, and should be available for order through any McCormack Audio dealer. Please contact McCormack Audio in Virginia if you need specific dealer information.

McCormack Audio of Virginia
2733 Merrilee Dr.
Fairfax, VA 22031
703-573-9665 voice
703-560-5360 fax

The phono card is a simple plug-in module that you can install yourself. Just unplug your RLD-1, remove the cover, locate the phono card connector and remove the jumper that is currently in place, and plug-in the phono card. Screw-down the 4 retaining nuts and select the proper gain setting, and add any input loading resistors you might want. Reattach the cover and plug everything back in, and you're set.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack


Why does Mccormack still use the EI transformers instead of Toroidal transformers? Are the EI transformers sonically better? Just wondering.
Hello there:

I have the fortune of owning a McCormack DNA-225 Stereo Power Amplifier, very happy with it during several years.

Then I sent it to Mr. Steve McCormack to be upgraded to their top "Platinum Edition" and what can I tell you my friends ? the improvement is so huge that I can't beleive is my same Amplifier.

I did the same Top Platinum Edition Level Upgrading to my McCormack RLD-1 Pre Amplifier and I couldn't be happier I did it. I plan to keep that winner combo during many years to come, except I get a second DNA-225, upgrade it to "Platinum" and go Mono-blocks.

Great components, magnificent sound. Best, Antonio Machado.
Well, I've said this before, and I don't mind saying it again... The use of toroid power transformers does not *guarantee* anything beyond a certain type of radiated field geometry and a relatively high price. Properly designed E-I core transformers are perfectly capable of exceptional performance and offer superior value. Don’t get me wrong - I do like toroids and I sometimes find their characteristics quite useful, but as a group, they do not deserve their over-inflated reputation. I design products for high performance and *value,* and E-I transformers are essential for this goal. I spec power toroids for those relatively rare times (at least for me) when cost is not an issue, and then I source them from Plitron, who make the best toroids I have found. And I pay…a LOT!

Best regards and a Happy July 4th!

Steve McCormack
Well Steve I'm glad you shared that comment one more time because it is the first time I saw it.Thanks for asking Mfb33. Steve if you happen to get on this thread again, any idea when the line stage will be in production?
Then I sent it to Mr. Steve McCormack to be upgraded to their top "Platinum Edition" and what can I tell you my friends ? the improvement is so huge that I can't beleive is my same Amplifier.

EXACTLY my experience, too!

I spec power toroids for those relatively rare times (at least for me) when cost is not an issue, and then I source them from Plitron, who make the best toroids I have found. And I pay…a LOT!

And well worth the dough in the right application. Not to mention the carbon wiring as another aspect of the upgrade I received!!!!!

Thanks everyone for your responses. I guess either amp in it's price range is a good deal.
I have stock DNA-125 which I enjoy very much. I really appreciate Zaikesman's assessment which I too feel is right on. For those of us who don't need excessive power and don't have a mega ton audio budget (and we are legion) but do want an amp that can deliver punch, dynamics and music; I think the 125 is a fine amp. There may be a few sins of ommission but few of commission. I feel no need to rush out and buy anything different. Like much in audio it takes a lot of bucks to get another 2 to 3% of the music. I can live happily with where I am (at least until I save up enough for Steve's upgrades, LOL).
Hoopster, you should hear what the DNA-125 Silver with Plitron transformer sounds like. It's a totally different amp, even after just the Silver SMc revision. I think it is more than 3% improvement over the stock amp, which is an achievement all by itself.
Agree with Audphile1 about the 'percentage improvement' judgement, subjective as that assessment may be. A/B-ing the DNA-125 directly against the DNA-500 (both stock) makes the 125 sound quite a bit less accomplished for the comparison than it actually seems just listening to music long-term. The 500 is about 4X more expensive, and by 'audiophile math' reckoning the degree of improvement does sound comensurate.
Audphile 1

I would love to hear the 125 Silver. However, I am confused. Reading about the revisions on Steve's website indicates you don't get the Piltron transformers until you step up to the Platinum upgrade. If someone in the Deep South/ Mid South or Ohio Valley has one I am open to an audition even if I had to drive some miles. As I bought my 125 used the sliver upgrade would essentially double what I have in my amp. Would it make it twice as good? Audiophile math, ouch Zaikesman!
You seem to have hit the topic upon it's pointed little head. Sometimes the bottom line depends upon the depth of the green valley we sit on. A quick glance at the McCormack amps for sale (here on Agon) shows a 4 to 1 or even 5 to 1 ratio (between the 125 and 500). I guess when you have the need for 4 or 5 real good amps and just can't miss another meal (or payment on your beemer), the 125 would just "have" to do. Lets see now, where did I put those Apogee Full Ranges ?
It all just boils down to ones tastes and budget (usually not in that order). I like McCormack equipment. I am now on my THIRD TLC (although my first was a "new" Mod Squad Line Drive). Today I am anxiously awaiting a Philips CDM 12.1 for my older, inoperable McCormack SST-1 Transport. I hope that it works. I hate to see the thing go.

Back to the thread, I think that if money is an issue, and the only choice is between the Belles and McCormack, I would pick the McCormack. The Belles has its strenghs, but the McCormack always leans on the side of music. It is the "pace" and finite quickness that shows through with the McCormacks. It's the little things (the McCormacks have) that make musicical nuances an individual fraction of the art as whole. I have always found that in McCormack equipment. I found it in Belles as well, but not to the degree that the Mac's have it.
Just my 2 cents.

Hi Hoopster -

You are correct that the Plitron toroid transformer is included as part of the Platinum upgrade, but the Plitron may also be added as an option to other upgrades. The cost has increased just recently, and is now $525 (as an added option). This Plitron provides a very large increase in current capability for the "smaller" amps (DNA-0.5 & DNA-125) as well as a nice improvement in overall sound quality.

Best regards,

Steve McCormack
Hoopster, I have a friend who had his DNA-125 upgraded to Silver and also added a Plitron as an option due to the speakers he has. Silver upgrade should be a very nice step up from the stock amp. You don't know it until you hear one.