Review: McCormack DNA-2 Amplifier
McCormack DNA-2 Deluxe Rev. A upgrade to Platinum
As a useful piece of background, I have been the owner of a McCormack DNA-2 Deluxe Revision A since early 2001. Sight unseen, this amp replaced a Rotel 991 amp and forever removed the myth that all amps are more or less on the same playing field.
My system as listed below has been a four year unplanned project to upgrade a system put together right after college (in the late 80’s) and it has been satisfying to the point that I had felt the journey complete with the addition of the Alvin Lloyd’s Grand Monaco four shelf stand. I felt this last piece of “education” on the benefits of true isolation had elevated the system performance beyond my hopes. With a second round of SACD mods by Richard Kern on my Sony SCD 777ES, I felt my system had extracted as much musical pleasure I could ask. I was wrong.
I had several chances to communicate with Steve McCormack of SMC Audio both before and during my DNA-2 ownership. He had been very gracious and answered questions even though we had not done business. When I emailed a question recently about some inconsistency on one set of binding posts, he phoned me concerned about the potential problem. We discussed the new internal wiring upgrade available for his amps and I stated no matter how great the upgrade, I was happy with the Rev. A and didn’t want to ship this 90 pound beast to California. But when it became clear that my problem needed hands on diagnosis, I decided to go ahead with the soft-recovery diodes and Cabon/Siltech Wire Transformation.
After the upgrade, attack, liquidity and decay went from excellent to phenomenal. But the mastery of the power and subtle delivery of the upgrade doesn’t end there. Branford Marsalis’ “Crazy People Music” touches a wide variety of lead piano, bass and of course sax. The authority and smooth delivery of the notes is so finely delineated, it is difficult to believe this is essentially the same amp.
An appropriate analogy of the improvement would be the smooth relaxed presentation evident in replacing the Rotel 991 with the first listen of the McCormack DNA-2 Deluxe Rev. A. That on the surface may seem farfetched, after all, the amp is basically the same as before the last upgrade, but the difference is that great. In terms of the soundstage and separation, the amp simply resolves detail that may have been present previously (more doubtful in reality), but the coherence and the pace of its presentation is simply outstanding. (In my month of analysis, there are new details heard on almost every CD that I played.) Everything is not just there, it is leaping out in front of the speakers by a good two feet. But that detail is not thrust in your face, it’s presented with great grace and dare I say majesty one would expect from a high-powered tube amp.
I had thought that my system had the capability to reveal the true intent of the artist.
But that was before this upgrade. The immediacy of the the complete spectrum of a recording is so overwhelming, so clearly present in every single note, counterpoint, breath of the artist makes this upgrade far and away worth the actual cost in dollars.
In addition to my heavily modded Sony SCD777ES, I also have a Sony 555ES 300 CD Changer. Another great benefit of the upgraded amp: the sonic across the board boost greatly benefits the changer, taking it from a convenient storage area to a vey satisfying jukebox. Believe it or not, the amp’s substantial gains may leave you not feeling much of loss from a high end CD player. SACD notwithstanding, this allows you to play a lot of music without feeling you are missing much sonically. Granted it took me two weeks to begin this test, but it certainly proved to be a more than pleasant surprise. Skeptics may ask how but I would say that the improvement across the board replaces some of the aspects people gain with better CD players such as bass, detail, etc.
Having listened to a wide variety of music over the last six weeks, numerous surprises continue to amaze. Whether listening to a familiar old piece of Sting or a flamenco guitar album to Vivaldi (SACD), there is unequivocal surprises in the singular muscularity of the amp to not only define a distinct instrument, but to do so with authority and an amazing grace. This muscular presentation may in fact be the most impressive aspect of the upgrade but I would be delinquent if I didn’t emphasize the impressive delicacy in the delivery of music. I think other listeners will be pleasantly surprised.
For those who have stock McCormack amps, I can’t fathom not getting this wiring upgrade. But I can’t compare this upgrade to the path others may consider. Since I went from a great amp with the full Revision A, the leap in performance is magnificent. You’ll have to contact SMC Audio to map out the best plan for your individual amp.
But for those that already have benefited from SMC Audio upgrades, you would do yourself a tremendous disservice if you didn’t take this “little” next step. It’s that impressive.
A neighbor commented on the clarity of the system. He said that he could hear every note, every word clearly. Problem was he made that comment from his apartment while downstairs from me. He recounted it more in humor a few days later when he was among several others listening while having a few beers. It’s indicative of the resolving power of the amp beyond anything I can convey.
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