Upgrade McCormack or...


I have a McCormack DNA-1 Deluxe that I've been very happy with for the past two years, but I'd like to see if I can do better within a limited budget.  Steve McCormack's folks at SMC will upgrade it for ~$1850 (Gold upgrade), but is there a better amp I can find for less than $3000 used (the approximate value of my amp plus upgrade cost), that might make more sense; any suggestions? 
E1872213 a51d 4d9f be44 72898bf430e5cheeg
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ModWright KWA 100SE - used.

No doubt the Gold upgrade will be worth doing if you keep it but agree you’ll be doing good to get what the upgrade will cost if you ever go to sale your amp. Definitely a following for your amp with the upgrade though.

Don’t see them used much lately and maybe still a tad more than what you mentioned, but a Pass X250.5 would be a great choice if you need the extra power. 

Parasound A21+ is another amp worth looking into.
Agree if you really really love your DNA-1 but just want more, the upgrade makes sense if you're planning to keep it for the long run.  As an owner of an old DNA-0.5 Rev A I'm kinda facing the same decision.  But if you're open to exploring new pastures, there's a pair of Clayton Audio M70 monos that bring you into pure Class-A operation that would sorely tempt me -- especially at the $2100 asking price.  Just another potential option FWIW, and best of luck. 

https://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649542736-clayton-audio-m70-monoblock-amplifiers/
Steve and Patrick are currently upgrading a pair of DNA-1s for me.  I trust them enough to spend my money on the upgrades based on previous work they have done for me, including an outstanding TLC-1 linestage (the black one pictured on the SMc Audio website) that (after upgrades) beat out about 20 preamps I previously owned, most in the $5-$10K retail price range.  One thing about their current amplifier upgrades is that depending on how far you go, the upgrades represent almost an entirely new amplifier.  They use new/different circuit boards, larger Plitron low noise toroidal transformers, high-end Lundahl transformers on the inputs (to create balanced inputs while blocking DC and noise), new and better capacitors, and a host of strategic part and circuit upgrades taking advantage of both newer/better parts (such as Jupiter copper foil capacitors), and circuit enhancements they have found to make the amps sound better based on their 20+ years of improving those very amps.

BTW, my other current amps include Clayton M300 monos and a pair of Cary CAD 500MBs.  I chose the Claytons over Lamm M1.2 Reference amps and Acoustic Imagery Atsah (Ncore NC1200) monos, based on owning them at the same time and directly comparing them head-to-head.
Agree it's worth the $$ but only if you plan on keeping the modded amp for a long time. There's no question SMc does great work and the modded amp will sound better just ask yourself if you really are in love with it's current signature sound. IMHO it will become cleaner and more extended at both frequencies but the sonic signature should stay the same.
@rsf507 
"the sonic signature should stay the same"
Good point and true. I would add that in addition to extension and clarity, expect lower noise and (in the case of amplifiers) more drive due to the larger transformer.  Steve's upgraded amplifiers also tend to have good spatial qualities and he can do certain things to make the sound trend in one direction or another (i.e., warmer/fatter or more detailed....based on parts choices and bias) but, in general, the sonic signature of the upgraded amplifier will be in same family as the original amplifier.    IME, McCormack amplifiers are tonally musical with clarity, coherence, drive, and good  spatial qualities, but are not particularly warm sounding.  To me, there is a difference between a dense tonality and warmth, with the first adding to musicality and the second taking away from clarity.  I need my gear to have dense, colorful, tonal qualities but I generally tire of overtly warm-sounding gear over the long haul.

Good advice here from those who cautioned about resale value but on the flip side of that you may have a hard time finding something that sounds as good for anywhere near the price.  I know my Claytons sound very good so I will be comparing them directly with the upgraded DNA-1 monos.  The result will be more about sonic differences and my preferences than about one amp being objectively better than the other.

I could build you a nice stereo amplifier 6SN7 tube hybrid design with point to point wiring so no circuit boards and ship it to you for a trial period.  Plitron transformer and choke would increase the cost though.  See my stuff here on Agon.

Happy Listening.

I would definitely go with SMcAudio's upgrades.
Pat and Steve provide excellent service, and you can spend whatever you are comfortable spending- though their standard upgrades are probably the way to go.
The nice thing is that they will tailor the upgrade with the equipment you are using.
Though I would ask them for a time frame, if you need the amps upgraded quickly. Sometimes they get a backlog that can keep things from getting upgraded quickly.
BTW, they upgraded my DNA-1's to monoblocks as well as upgrading my Micro Power amps to monoblocks and Micro Line Drive.
All of which perform way beyond their original configuration.

Bob
@cheeg  I've had my DNA-1 Deluxe for 22 years.  I had it upgraded by SMc Audio 20 years ago and after realizing it had been that long, I contacted Steve to see what he might do to upgrade and update it.  As it turns out, he explained that over the last few years he has had some well-healed clients ask him to build them ne plus ultra amps.  In the process of meeting their desires he discovered new ways to improve the DNA line.  Suffice it to say that I sent my amp. to him and just about every component of the amp save the transformer and Nichicon Goldtune output capacitors was upgraded.  The amp I received back was entitled, "Gold Special".  The McCormack name badge was replaced with an SMc badge. 

If the originally modded amp was a diamond, the Gold Special is a finely polished diamond of nearly perfect color and no occlusions.  It passes every bit of the musical source with no added distortion.  The openness and clarity, the bass attack and woody resonance of a string bass are all there.  I will never part with this amplifier!
Steve, Patrick and the rest of the SMc crew execute their work with care and precision.  If you allow them the opportunity to work on your's you will not be disappointed.
I've owned about a dozen McCormack products over the last 25 years, both stock and modded. In agreeance with rsf507 you do want to keep them to get your money's worth, but high end audio is not an investment, you almost always lose $ down the road. Selling the DNA-1 and buying another amp may or not reach your "audio nirvana" then you'll probably lose twice. I can say with proven experience, having owned a stock DNA-1 and a gold upgrade at the same time, there was a huge difference in sound quality, clarity, soundstage, etc. SMc upgraded equipment does resell quite well as I have experience on multiple occasions. 

A couple years ago I sent my pair of DNA-225 amps to SMc to have converted to mono amps and have them upgraded along with my LD-2 preamp to silver status. It was during the holidays so it did take a few weeks longer but Patrick will call and/or email you as much as you like to give you play by play updates and recommendations. When completed, Steve with audition them for his final approval and he may call you himself or he may answer the phone when you call. Upon receiving the equipment back I can testify that both the $ and effort were well spent. Without even burn in time, these amps could hold their own against Pass, Rowland or Levinson, all whom I've had experience with. 

One more note, in my last conversation with Patrick I believe he told me that they now had the ability to upgrade and work on their faceplates, either etching or laser to redo the often problematic silk screen lettering on some of their older products, or maybe to just fancy them up a little. We all know that the DNA's never won any beauty pageants, but then neither did Mike Tyson.
over the last few years he has had some well-healed clients ask him to build them ne plus ultra amps. In the process of meeting their desires he discovered new ways to improve the DNA line.
@hifiman5
  and @joecollege  are correct, the SMc upgrades have significantly improved over the years due to Steve's work for clients seeking the best possible amplifier he can build.  I wouldn't be surprised to see him develop and bring to market a new amplifier independent of the McCormack upgrades, as with his VRE-1C preamplifier.

Currently, about the only things they reuse from the DNA amplifiers when performing upgrades (assuming the client chooses the higher/highest level of upgrades) are the chassis, heat sinks, and transistors. They can reuse the transformers but prefer to replace them with Plitron low-noise transformers.  They actually don't care whether you send them non-working DNA amplifiers since they can replace everything except the heat sinks and chassis.

The project they are currently working on for me will indeed include new custom engraved faceplates that will match the faceplate on my SMc preamp.  They offer a variety of colors and engraving options, to meet the desires of their clients.
Great responses -- I had no idea there were so many McCormack fans on Agon!  

@soix Thanks for your suggestion to check out the Clayton Audio M70 monos -- they do look like an interesting replacement, although I have to wonder why the owner is selling them so soon.  If you or anyone else on this thread has heard that amp and can offer a comparison with the DNA-1 Deluxe (either original or upgraded), I'd really appreciate it!