McCormack DNA-225 power amplifier Page 2

The DNA-225 is a bear. Not since the pricier Simaudio W-5 had I used a single-chassis amp of such seemingly unlimited power. I used the DNA-225 with the Revel Studios, and the combination was capable of clean sound at unconscionable, painful, downright unneighborly levels way beyond what I could tolerate with the original DNA-1. Large dynamic shifts could be enormous, as was apparent with Mahler's Symphony 6 (Glen Cortese/Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, Titanic Ti-257). If I listened to the piquant details in quiet sections at reasonable levels, the louder portions demanded—and achieved—huge SPLs without congestion. Microdynamic increments were quite distinct with all sources, and the DNA-225 invested the music with liveliness and bounce. This was almost always invigorating, but careful gain-setting was required with some smaller-scale recordings.

The DNA-225's tonal balance is evolved from the DNA-1's, but the new amp had none of the original's midbass warmth; it seemed somewhat lean in a direct comparison. Extended listening confirmed that the DNA-225 was definitely more accurate and did not lack anything in the midbass or slam departments. It was taut and powerful at the extreme bottom, sounding more like the estimable Bryston 7B-ST than the old DNA. The reduction of DC gain and use of a DC blocking cap seem not to have made an iota of compromise in the bass response.

One concomitant of this exemplary performance in the lower half of the spectrum was that the amp's upper range was laid bare. The DNA-225 provided quite fluid and clear renditions of voice, and was not caught out by any of the standard reference discs. I especially appreciated the DNA-225's mid- and high-frequency performance with the best high-resolution sources, although on some discs the amp's HF precision could veer into revealing some brightness. The DNA-225 would seem to have tamed the DNA-1's tizzy extreme top, which was so spicy through my old Apogees.

A new recording of Beethoven's Fidelio (Naxos 8.660070-71), conducted by Michael Halász, sounded absolutely riveting when rendered by the DNA-225. While you might recognize only a few of the names in the cast list, this Fidelio stands with my longtime favorites from Klemperer and Furtwängler—and, unlike those classics, the sound is first-rate. Orchestral weight and detail seemed optimal, with no unnatural spotlighting of voices in the vocal ensembles.

My ears quickly adapted to the small tonal differences between the DNA-225 and the Sonic Frontiers Power 3s, but less readily to their differences in imaging and soundstaging. The DNA-225's instrumental and voice placement was quite punctate, but its sound image was confined laterally by the speaker boxes and lacked depth. Replacing the DNA-225 with the DNA-1 broadened and deepened the soundstage at the notable expense of precision and detail. Alternatively, if I toed-in the Revel Studios less or moved my listening seat much closer (both ploys made the speaker axes cross well behind me), the DNA-225 projected an excitingly immediate sound, wide and deep. Many nearfield listeners will favor this type of presentation.

On "Too Proud," the voice of Mighty Sam McClain (Blues Quest, AudioQuest AQ-CD1052) had an in-my-face presence, and the backing combo was meticulously arrayed across my room's back wall. This was sonically thrilling but almost too intense. If I put the room back to normal and switched over to the Power 3s, I gave up nothing in the power, space, and smoothness departments, but gained a more relaxed presentation, one more conducive to long-term musical enjoyment.

As I've admitted before, these subtle perceptions depend heavily on speakers, speaker placement, and room acoustics; I felt that the DNA-225 might be more compatible with speakers other than the Revels. The Studios can be quite ruthless, especially in the top end, and at times make mountains of molehills, to the chagrin of associated equipment and sources. I had a brief opportunity to run the DNA-225 with the (suitably EQ'd) Kharma Ceramique 2.0s that I reviewed in October and thought that combination sounded much better. The Kharma's disarmingly silky mid and treble performance was the perfect complement to the DNA-225's vivacity. There were no soundstage or brightness issues, but oodles of detail and palpability.

In rigorous evaluations I often rely on piano recordings and the DNA-225/Kharma system got just right the percussive edges, the tonality, and the overtones of Marc-André Hamelin's breathtaking performance of Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated! (Hyperion CDA67077). It did as well with Rubén González's "Siboney" (Introducing Rubén Gonzá;lez, World Circuit/Nonesuch 79477-2). Of course, Hamelin's tone was brighter and had more concert-hall reverb than did González's piano, recorded in a dry studio, but both pianos were presented with just the appropriate ambience. In fact, this was an object lesson in component matching; the DNA-225/Kharma gave me an alternate way to arrive at excellent sound.

Final Assay
When I auditioned the original DNA-1, no one was looking over my shoulder. Now a bit more weight rides on my conclusion. There's no question that the DNA-225 is a better amp than the DNA-1, or that its improvements have kept up with advancing standards. The DNA-225 is one of the best big amps around. But it's also true that the DNA-225 costs nearly half again as much as the DNA-1's 1992 price, and there's no shortage of competition in this price category.

I can best commend the DNA-225 as the worthy successor to the DNA-1, which it improves on in almost every way: The power reserves seem limitless, the bass is tight and generous, the resolutions of tone and detail are excellent, and the harmonic balance is fat-free. Steve McCormack's done it again.

2733 Merrilee Drive
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 573-9665