Review: McCormack DNA-225 Gold Revision Amplifier

Category: Amplifiers

Many Audiogon members either own or have listened to McCormack amps that have been modfied by Steve McCormack at SMc Audio, and are familiar with their sound. Additionally, many have read reviews of the DNA-225 in The Absolute Sound, Stereophile, Audiophile Audition, Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity, and online at, as well as other sites and publications. These reviews are usually of stock amps. I am reviewing the SMc's Gold Revision of the DNA-225. Mine was the first 225 to be revised by SMc Audio.
I was able to listen to the amp for several months prior to the revision, as well as after revision, with Avalon Avatars, and after revision with Vandersteen Model 5's. See my Conventional Stereo posting in Virtual Systems if you are interested in components used in this review.
First, a brief rundown of the unmodified amp's sonic signature: "spectacular dimensionallity, soundstaging, and ability to present images as distinct entities within an acoustic"(TAS); "seemingly unlimited power"(Stereophile); great dynamics, transparency, with a sound that has been characterized as lean and lively rather than warm and romantic. Very good, if not top drawer bass.
I found these comments realsonably accurate characterizations of my DNA-225 before modification. Now, what I heard after the revision...
The Gold Revision results in a siginificantly improved sound along every meaningful dimension. The already noteworthy soundstaging is now more richly detailed both side-to-side, and in depth layers. Massed choirs sound as you hear them in a live performance--as individuals singing together, instead of as one big massed voice. You can almost count the number of levels of risers used by the choir, and soloists can be identified as singing either in front of or among the other singers. Orchestral dynamics are frighteningly viseral, vivid, and dynamic. Delicate microdynamics are reproduced with no loss of nuance. The expressive textures of the voices of singers like Eva Cassidy, Norah Jones, Karrin Allyson, and Lucia Popp are reproduced with beautiful clarity. The meanings they sought to communicate with their phrasing comes across much more clearly with the revisied amp. The bass performance of the Avatars was much improved after the revision. In fact, the Gold Revision made them sound so much better that, had I not already ordered the Vandersteens (to get a speaker without the limitations I thought were inherent in the Avatars design), I might have lived quite happily with the Avatars. That is not to say I'm sorry I got the Vandys! They are worldclass speakers, and a highly synergistic match with the amp. I'm just saying that the improvement made by the amp in the sound of the Avatars made my desire to make other system changes seem less pressing.
The midrange and midbass previously described by reviewers as "lean" now has a naturalness and bloom approaching that of a good tube amp. And yes, I have done extended listening to a tube amp (ARC VT100MkII, recently retubed and rebiased) to be able to make this comparison.
All in all, the improvements wrought by the Gold Revision have taken an already top tier amp and made it into one of the truly great amps at any price, and arguably the best 200+ w/ch amp under $10k available. Steve McCormack's reputatiuon as a true Hall of Fame audio engineer has been sealed with this modification. An unqualified triumph.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System
Good review, thank you.

I have never heard a McCormack amp in my system but I am very curious about them. They seem to have a reputation for being slightly forward-sounding. Do you agree?
Congratulations on the newly revised McCormack 225 amp. I heard rumor that McCormack would begin modifying his newer amps. So I guess the rumors are true.

It's amazing what Steve McCormack does with his amps in the aftermarket world. And worth every penny.

I went from the very highly rated McCormack DNA-2 LAE to a McCormack DNA-2 Revision A. The Revision A amp is beyond anything I've ever heard, especially when connected via XLR connections.

I didn't find either the unmodified or modified amp to be "forward" sounding, if by that you mean front rows in a concert hall (in this sense, B&W speakers are often referred to as forward sounding). The sound of the unmodified 225 has been described by several reviewers as "lean and lively", which I think is accurate. This is not the same as being "etched", bright, or analytical. As always, careful system matching is important, so I wouldn't match the unmodified 225 with speakers that have the same sonic signature unless you really can't get enough of that kind of sound. The reviews in the journals I mentioned in the review will give you a good feel for the amps sound. The sound of the Gold Revision is better described as "vivid", but no longer "lean".

Thanks, Bruce. Front row is what I take forward-sounding to mean, though one can never be sure what others mean. I like a farther back perspective, which I think some call a "laid-back" sound. Vivid is something entirely different in my vocabulary and could apply to either a forward sounding or laid back perspective. So I hope to hear a McCormack in my system someday.