McCormack Power Drive DNA-1 power amplifier Page 2
I was immediately taken by the sound of the DNA-1; it was warm, sweet, punchy, and eminently musical. What really caught my attention, though, was its ability to throw a palpable soundstage in which instruments became distinct entities floating in three-dimensional space. This characteristic made the playback system seem to disappear, leaving only the music—the ultimate goal of any audio component. More on this later.
Specifically, the DNA-1 had remarkable bass agility and quickness. The bottom end was taut as a trampoline, with superb pitch definition and speed. Bass lines were clearly articulated; each note was distinct. Adding to the sense of tightness, the bass was very dynamic and "bouncy." The leading edge of kick drum was sharp and punchy, giving the music a more solid rhythmic foundation. Without a doubt, the DNA-1 is an amplifier that makes you tap your foot.
Low-frequency extension was excellent; the DNA-1 had the ability to deliver bass with authority and no sense of strain. Overall, the bass was a little bit like the Hales Signatures': tight and well-defined rather than big and "bloomy." The DNA-1 lacked the "center-of-the-earth" solidity and bass power of the Krell KSA-250, but was surprisingly close for an amplifier costing around one-third the price.
Overall, the bass tightness, speed, and agility contributed greatly to the DNA-1's ability to convey the music's energy and drive. Coupled with the DNA-1's superb sense of transient quickness throughout the spectrum, the bass speed better conveyed what the musicians were doing rhythmically. In fact, the DNA-1 is one of the most rhythmically satisfying amplifiers I've heard. Listen to the interesting interplay between the three musicians on the superb new AudioQuest Mokave LP (AudioQuest AQ-LP1006). Through the DNA-1, it had more vitality and intensity than through the other amplifiers on hand for comparison. There was a greater feeling of the musicians interacting, rather than just playing their parts (footnote 1).
The mids were among the most musical and natural I've heard from a solid-state amplifier. There was a liquidity and lushness to instrumental textures and voices reminiscent of the best tubed designs. The ubiquitous solid-state hardness was notably absent, replaced by a warmth and harmonic richness. Voices in particular were round, silky-smooth, and filled with subtle nuance. Listen to Robert Lucas's expressive vocals on Usin' Man Blues. There was just more fine detail and feeling to his voice than most amplifiers I've auditioned. The illusion of Robert sitting between the loudspeakers surrounded by an acoustic space was palpable. Again, the comparison with the Krell KSA-250 is appropriate; the DNA-1 shared a similar ease and lack of metallic textures with the Krell. The DNA-1, however, had a more forward and incisive presentation compared with the KSA-250.
The DNA-1's treble presentation successfully walked the line between a sense of life and sounding unnaturally etched. There was just the right amount of treble, giving the music air and vitality, yet without fatigue. In fact, the treble never called attention to itself, always a good sign. The etched treble that exaggerates detail through some solid-state amplifiers was absent in the DNA-1. Instead, there was an ease and naturalness to the treble that made it so easy to forget the amplifier and enjoy the music. In this regard, I preferred the DNA-1 to the otherwise excellent Boulder 500AE. The latter had remarkable transparency and clarity, but tended to sound forward and overly detailed in comparison to the DNA-1.
The DNA-1 also fostered the impression of dynamic effortlessness and ease, even at high playback levels. Many amplifiers sound compressed, weak, strained, and lose their punch when driven hard. Not the DNA-1; it retained its dynamics at playback spls far beyond normal listening levels. Further, there was no sense of confusion as level increased. The presentation never degenerated into a muddle, even during the most complex passages and high playback levels. I doubt that anyone will want more power than the DNA-1 can deliver.
I've been saving the DNA-1's best characteristic for last: its superb ability to replace two loudspeakers making sound with a palpable impression of instruments and voices floating in space. Clearly defined images hung between and behind the loudspeakers, each one separate and distinct from the others. The soundstage was the antithesis of flat, congested, or confused. In this regard, the DNA-1 is among the best amplifiers I've auditioned. After switching to the DNA-1, its ability to throw a sense of space and palpable images hanging in air was thrown into sharp relief from the very first note of music, especially on the Usin' Man Blues LP. The soundstage just opened up and bloomed around the images, giving a "you are there" quality. The presentation was open, airy, and transparent, characteristics that made me forget about the playback system and enjoy the music (footnote 2).
Footnote 1: During a particular manufacturer's visit, he saw me pull out an AudioQuest record and said, "Please, no audiophile records." I responded, "These are audiophile records for which you don't have to apologize for the music." After hearing Luke and the Locomotives, Robert Lucas's Usin' Man Blues, and Mokave, he had to agree with me. Keep 'em coming, AudioQuest.
Footnote 2: When JA came over to hear my system with the DNA-1 installed (after I'd written this description, but before discussing my impressions with him), he remarked how well the system seemed to suspend images in space, images that were totally detached from the loudspeaker positions. We weren't auditioning the DNA-1 specifically; this was just his general impression about the overall system performance in comparison with previous times he'd been in my listening room.