Recommendation for Improvement over McCormack DNA-225

I currently have a McCormack DNA 225 mated with a VTL 2.5 and Line Magnetic 502 DAC powering my Salk Veracity HT3's. I think it sounds really nice but can definitely have some top end harshness, especially at the volumes I like to listen to.  I consider the Salk's are fairly power hungry in the low end (as confirmed with Jim Salk), can anyone recommend a SS amp with as much grunt as the McCormack in the range of 2K plus or minus.  Sure I would like a Pass or Ayre, but those are way above my price bracket.    I've tried Bel Canto Ref1000 mono's and Van Alstine.  The DNA had a better mid range presentation and better bottom end than both, no comparison.  Any other recommendations shy of the DNA 500, which again is over my price range.

There is a Coda CSX listed on US Audio Mart for $2600.  This is a detailed yet smooth musical amplifier 330 watts to 8 and 660 watts to 4.  Not sure if they would deal or not, but sure fits the bill. 

Good Luck,  Tim

Looking at your speakers shows they're relatively flat out to and beyond what you can hear. Not knowing your set up can some speaker placement or room treatment help?

I ask because I have a pair of Tonian Labs TL-D1s that have a ribbon super tweeter that was bright when listened to directly on axis but after trying speaker positions I found that it all had to do with the footers and what was placed beneath them. It took a lot of experimenting but I finally tamed those bright and harsh highs. Just a thought.

All the best,

I second the Coda suggestion. I'm a big Coda booster--I think they deserve more love than they get--and I think the CSX would deliver plenty of grunt in the bottom, yet give you transparent and sweet mids and highs.

BUT I also agree with Nonoise that, if you haven't already, you should possibly explore room treatments. It's amazing what the right treatment in the right spot can do to tame brightness and another anomalies.
I picked up an entry level Edge M4 SS amp to try out a while back and was quite impressed, it was a 70w per channel amp and it sounded quite good and I am a tube guy all the way. So I saw this

No affiliation with the seller but looks like a very good deal on what could be an excellent amp, plus 175wpc into 8 ohms should be plenty for your speakers.
I picked up a Pass X250 for $2500; drives my Aerial's no problem and they need power. Killer amp for $2500. What's your budget?
I should have mentioned that yes I have the room treated - corner traps, approx 10' linear of 4" absorbers on each wall at first reflections and panels behind the speakers.  Thick wool area rug on floor and going to treat ceiling this fall.  I've been thinking of CODA for a while, never heard one though and unfortunately they seem to be difficult to resell if its not my cuppa.  Maybe I'm wrong on that.  A Pass 250 at $2500 would be within budget, just not the .5 version which I understand is considerably more refined sounding.  Again, never heard one.  Wonder how either CODA or Pass would sound compared to the DNA.  Better or just a bit different.  Anyone ever hear both?
Have you tried different tubes in the VTL?  I use a McCormack DNA-0.5 Deluxe along with a BAT VK-3i and Merlin speakers.  I would not characterize the McCormack as bright in my system and my room but the tubes used in the BAT definitely make a difference.  The RAAL tweeter used by Salk is well-respected but it's known to be quite "transparent."  I suspect its interaction with your room is most of your problem.  It's also possible that the tweeter is revealing issues with the source material as it's not going to be very kind to bad recordings. Dick

Hi Dwolek,

    Remember the Coda boys came from Pass/Threshold,  they have a similar flavor and Coda oem's for Sanders & others with some highly touted amps. 

Not steering you from Pass, but don't be afraid of the Coda.  Went back and looked at the posting that I mentioned.  It was posted by Coda,  I'd call Doug Dale at Coda,  he is very honest and will tell you straight.

Good luck,  Tim

There is a Coda CSX listed on US Audio Mart for $2600.  

Went back and looked at the posting that I mentioned. It was posted by Coda,
@timlub , actually that one for $2600 was NOT posted by CODA.
CODA has two ads on US Audiomart. One for a 07X preamplifier for $3600 and one for a TSX amp for $5200.

I did see that ad for the CSX on US Audiomart, and contacted Doug Dale to verify the age/condition. He actually had a newer, refurbished CSX that he sold me for only a couple hundred more, with a two year warranty.
I'm still waiting on delivery, but having owned a Model 10, 20, and 11 amps, and the FET01 and 02b preamps previously, I am very familiar with the CODA brand. One of the reasons I tend to gravitate back towards them. Great sound for a good price.

For the OP, Yes, resale can be difficult, because CODA does not market themselves well. People love to throw money at names like Krell, Levinson, Rowland, companies that throw big money at glossy rags.
This does make for easier resale, but realize that those advertising/marketing fees are passed along to the customer.
In other words, in my opinion, a $5K list price CODA competes very well with $8-$10K brand that pays  top dollar for the marketing/glossy rag coverage. 

Only you can decide if you want to pay the extra money needed to buy a piece of gear that is well marketed, so that resale is easier.

Thanks jmcgrogan2..... you bought the refurb?  That means the dwolek has to fend for himself....   Congrats,  this is a very nice sounding amp.

Maybe dwolek can get a few bucks off the previously enjoyed amp... really though.  I would expect this amp to last 40 years.  You both should be good. I agree that Coda typically compares to product just about double its cost.  Enjoy,  Tim

@dwolek  I have a DNA-1 Deluxe in my system.  I too thought it a bit harsh in the high end and contacted Steve McCormack at SMc Audio about having it modified.  That was quite a few years ago and I am listening to music through it as I type this message to you.  Steve will admit to you that some compromises had to be made with the stock amp to stay within a certain price point.  My modified amp has not a hint of harshness.  There is a richness in a true to life sense and amazing soundstage openness.  And yes, the speed that originally attracted me to the DNA design is still there. Rather than purchase an entirely new amp. at least talk to Steve.  You will have to invest some $ but far less than a comparable new amp.

Good luck!

My X250 is pretty darn good; not at all harsh and I've had a few tube amp lovers comment on its an amp they could live with and I don't see them ever going to SS. I'm sure the .5 is better and likely I'll jump over it to the .8 when and if I decide to make the move. The DNA amps in my opinion were a breakthrough amp when they came out and a lot of designers started looking at their designs and changing things after these amps first came out. Worked for a shop that sold plenty so I know them. I personally wouldn't trade out my Pass for one; just not in the same league.  I never felt the McCormack gear was bright though, but maybe not as full and refined as others... they never would fool anyone they're tubes either, but very good value. What are you using for a power cord and speaker cables? Might want to look at your cables.
I'm using cardas crosslink speaker and MAC power cables.  I do have a very competent tech who could upgrade the amp with parts consistent with what SMC does for much less money.  That is an option.  So is the consensus either a coda or X250 for smoothness if I choose to upgrade?  I'd love to hear of a couple other option.  Thanks. 
CODA and Pass Labs are very good SS amps.
Clayton Audio also makes very good, smooth SS amps. Hard to find on the used market. You may be able to find a pair of M-100's monoblocks in your price range.
I hope you will consider putting excellent audio grade fuses in your system. Especially the amp. Also audition audio grade wall A/C outlets.

There are several excellent fuse and outlets available. I personally like the sound using Synergistic Research Black fuses and their Black A/C wall outlets. They are sold with a 30 day return policy and so the cost of trying them in a system is very small - return postage.

I would try this approach before the more costly path of amplifier parts upgrading or auditioning and flipping amplifiers.

Good luck on your audio journey.

David Pritchard

I have a dedicated 20A line with a PS Audio receptacle.  Yes I might consider upgrading the fuse.  Might be a cheap experiment.  
If you already have a dedicated line and a PS Audio outlet, I would talk to your tech guy about upgrading your amp.  It's amazing what thoughtful circuit modifications can do for the purity of your amp's sound.
I had the DNA-225 for many years and thought they were very good.  I moved to the Pass Labs XA60.5, XA100.5 and then XA100.8.  They are markedly better than the DNA-225, specially in imagining and purity of mid range.  With that said, if you have power hungry speakers, I wouldn't recommend the XA series unless you are willing to buy one of the big boys.  Even the XA100s with power hungry magnepans can be pressed.  They don't leave class A but don't produce high level SPLs.
I agree with hifiman5, give Steve a call and at least explore the upgrade path. I have several upgraded components from SMC and Steve and Pat are fantastic to work with.   I just got my .5 monoblock signatures and am loving them.  


I have PS Audio Premier outlets and I do think they are well made but can also sound bright compared to the Oyaide R1 and The Synergistic Research Black outlet. The Black outlet in my system has better sound   versus the Oyaide or PS Audio Outlet. I experienced the same effect installing the SR Black fuse- improved detail, soundstage with a more relaxed feel to the music. 

I have a strong feeling that combining these upgrades and Steve McCormack's upgrades to the amp will give you a very satisfying system.

David Pritchard
I do agree that a fuse and a new outlet can make a difference, but to send someone down this road which in net expense between an amp mod, new outlets and fuses vs getting a clearly better amp like the Coda or Pass makes no sense to me. You should be able to sell the DNA225 for $1200 to $1300

Your fighting the same thing I've been working on; Harshness in highs

I've done a bunch that helped: incrementally
Here is some of my travails!

A couple questions:
1) what sources are you listening to?
     Cd's? Or Ripped ones?
     I've found a lot of CD' s just plain nasty
     Try Tidal and compare?    Big difference in quality of recordings; especially 80-90's stuff
   (really eye opening).
2) cables DO make a good difference in the highs/hash.  ( I always though it was Hooey) Higher level ones were really noticeable
3) just converted from class d amp to pass labs xa series;  big change but crappy source still comes thru, but lots, lots better
4) if you have a parametric eq Like amarra
     Knock down 3-5?db at the cross over frequency with a high q filter and it keeps the tone right but helps with the digital brightness

you have a tough problem to track down, if your hearing is showing you brightness on raal drivers

good luck, you'll need it


All good suggestions.  Thank you so much.  My source is Tidal HiFi and HDTracks HiRez downloads streamed through a SB Touch using.  I agree perhaps to look at some reasonable fuses and try some different wire but I'm not going to drop a boatload of money on this to be sure.  I also had a dual core room correction a while back.  Didn't like it as I felt it robbed the sound of that natural resonant feel from bass and woodwind instruments.  
I do have a very competent tech who could upgrade the amp with parts consistent with what SMC does for much less money.
Hi dwolek,
Having experience with Steve's SMc Audio upgrades I can say that the quality of the result is far beyond just having a tech replace some parts.  Being the original designer (in most cases), and having spent years perfecting different levels of upgrades that include circuit changes as well as parts upgrades, Steve has a unique ability to get the most out of the already good-sounding stock McCormack gear.

I preferred the DNA-2 LAE that Steve upgraded for me over a pair of the much-heralded Ncore, NC1200 Acoustic Imagery Atsahs, and also kept the DNA-2 while selling another pair of highly rated Class A hybrid monos costing about 4 times as much.  I have experience with several well-regarded and expensive solid state amplifiers and I found the upgraded DNA-2 to be mostly competitive with all of them, with the choice of what I liked best coming down to personal preference rather than any sonic shortcomings. 

The preamp Steve rebuilt for me has bested every preamp (about 20) that I have owned and used in my system, including several units priced over $10K. 

My point is that the result of Steve's work can be very good indeed, both on an absolute scale and certainly for the money.  I have heard good things about CODA but I have also heard good things about the upgraded DNA 225.

After re-reading my previous post on this issue, I want to amend.  I mentioned "harshness" in the treble.  I should have said an "over-emphasis" in the treble with the stock DNA-1 amp.  Steve's circuit modifications evened out the frequency balance, opened up the soundstage and revealed a smoother, more life-like texture to instruments.  The difference is amazing.  If you have a specific budget to work within, it can't hurt to call and talk to Steve and see what he can do for you.

All the best!


Dwilek; what at does that stand for?
where you at?

anyway, I second the power upgrades & forgot to mention it

VH Audio has some good stuff and good prices

I thought the outlet & power cable stuff was all " hooey" to......( engineer by trade)
bit it really does change stuff( almost like a new component)
i did the Furtech outlets and power distribution for $500 or so and it helped a boat load on the highs
( who would think outlet coating and wire would change the high end delicacy that much?)
it just cannot be!!!!

I would start on power as 1st choice, cheaper and easy

2nd, IC for amp to preamp was $300 or so & worked on delicacy and soundstage
allbthe other cables get real pricy

I tried the cableco on low cost stuff, naw
the cheaper stuff really doesn't do much

Kimber Hero is good, Best selling item for Kimber ( I hear)

see my comments on system


Actually I would recommend that everyone try a different outlet.  I've tried a few of the more affordable.  You can hear improvements in a $40 to $200 outlet,  So I don't call them snake oil....I also have power conditioning on my preamp and Dac, made a nice improvement.  For me,  My amps have sounded best plugged directly into the outlet.  I have also modified gear and have had terrific changes... If you are going to keep this amp for several years, that isn't a bad option IF you are convinced that this will give you the improvement that you seek.... My experience is that when you go to sell a piece of modded equipment, others just aren't willing to pay for the mods and you end up losing that money. 

If he buys a Pass or Coda.... or whatever on a decent used price,  dwolek won't risk losing much money, you can normally resell for about what you pay and the resale of the McCormack will help recoup a lot of what he pays for the purchase of the new amp.

I hope this all makes sense.  Tim

I recently worked with SMC to upgrade the fuses in my .5 signature mono's.  My goal was to enhance the midrange, which was achieved.  I also got a reduction in top end harshness.  I was quite surprised at the difference between the high end fuses vs stock.  They are not cheap so this is a clear example of getting what you pay for.  SMC will give you guidance on the make and spec for your McCormack amp.  Now that I've experienced the difference, it would be the first thing I would do, followed by modifications.  

@dwolek  Agree with audio717.  

The McCormack basic amp is a solid well laid out design.  Steve McCormack is easy to talk to.  If you call him and explain your sonic goals for your current amp I am confident he can come up with a reasonable course of action for a modification rather than selling your  current amp at a loss and buying a whole new piece of gear.

If for whatever reason you just want a new amp then this line of advice won't help.  I wish you the best in making what can be a challenging decision.
+1 hifiman.
I own the McC DNA-1, upgraded to Gold special this past spring. It is a pretty smooth amp. When I contacted SmC, they were very attentive and wanted to give me what I wanted for the price I wanted to spend.
Please do give them a call and discuss your needs and possible moves, they won't try to sell you on anything you don't want, and will help you in making your decisions. 
BTW- I dealt with Patrick- a super guy.
@audio717  What brand and quality level of fuses did Steve put in your amp?

There's a DNA 500 for sale here now for just under three grand.  Might be worth asking Steve what he thinks of the 500 versus a modded 225 given your speakers and priorities.  Best of luck. 

+1 on /everything hitman said. That's exactly what I did several years ago and I'm no longer looking for "the amp" I have in spades ! ! ! Also if you call SMC Steve answers his own phone, you talk directly to the man, quite interesting considering the times we live in.

Hifi tuning silver stars for the rails and Furutech's for the board.  I did them myself after getting the specs from SMC.  The silver stars have been on sale (discontinued) so the 6.3A small fast blows that was recommended were unavailable and I tried 5A instead and so far they have worked fine.  They only recommend the silver stars with hifi tuning, otherwise it's the much more expensive synergistic red's.  Those are the only fast blows for the rails that they recommend as best.  There are several lesser quality.