Back in the listening room
On this day, the McCormack HT-5 is being compared head-to-head with my multichannel reference amplifier, the Rotel RMB-1095 - and the McCormack is making one heck of a case for itself. I've owned the Rotel for a few years and it's a good solid performer. Its biggest problem is that it performs best at full gallop. Until it's allowed to stretch its legs, it sounds a little subdued - a little lifeless. At 75 pounds, the 200wpc Rotel bests the McCormack by 10 pounds and an additional 75 watts per channel. But you wouldn't know it when hearing the McCormack. Into the Ohm's 4-ohm/87dB load, the McCormack sounds both powerful and lithe. It's full of life at any volume and it unveils a bit more bass detail than the Rotel can to belie its -- apparently conservative -- power rating.

In the two-channel room and using both the Thiel PCS and Acoustic Energy AE1 monitors, I confirmed that the McCormack is utterly neutral. Other than the fact that it seems determined to get the music right, it seems to have almost no personality at all.

Well, that's not quite true. But rather than jump up and down screaming "Look what I can do!", the DNA-HT5 goes about its business demonstrating what it doesn't do. It doesn't smear bass or lighten its impact. It's a very sturdy performer in the bass. It doesn't over-blow it either. Bass is tight, detailed and, again, utterly linear and neutral. Neither does it spotlight the treble. Cymbals are fully fleshed-out and crystal clear without ever sounding unnaturally etched or splashy. The DNA HT-5 doesn't sweeten the treble either. It's all there without rounding off - it's fully extended and (there I go again) linear.

Throughout the midrange, the McCormack is as clean and clear as a glass of spring water. No zigs, no zags, no embellishing, no understating. True, it lacks the "illuminated-from-within transparency" that low-powered SET tube amplifiers have but it makes up for it with large power reserves, complete linearity and its price. When you don't have money to burn and own speakers that require some juice, it's a natural trade-off and one that's easy to justify. Well, the HT-5 makes it easy, anyway.

While I enjoy the occasional movie at home as much as the next guy, the majority of my multichannel listening is via the DVD format. I love concert DVDs and as much as I love stereo, there's nothing like being placed in the middle of the concert mayhem. And I enjoy few more than Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' High Grass Dogs - Live From The Filmore DVD. As a matter of fact, I like it better than any of his studio recordings. Some bands just excel live, which is another reason why I so enjoy concert DVDs. Via the McCormack system, I can't say that the DVD presented me with many shocking revelations but, as they say, sometimes the devil is in the details. And when it came to small yet important matters of nuance, the McCormack system excelled. From the opening Howie Epstein bass riff on "Swingin' ", it was obvious that the McCormack gear was responsible for a tightening up of the bass lines. It was a touch drier which had the effect of bettering transient response - or maybe I have that backwards and the transient response was responsible for tightening up the bass.

Either way, while fairly subtle, it added substantially to the success of "Angel Dream" where the subtleties of the electric bass accompaniment to Petty's acoustic guitar worked - well, like a dream. On "Running Down A Dream", guitarist Mike Campbell holds a chord on his Gibson Firebird while shaking the guitar from its butt-end for a tremolo effect, which was slightly more pronounced and appreciated than ever before. "You Don't Know How It Feels" features Scott Thurston's harmonica stylings, which seemed a little more present and in the flesh than before. Ditto for Campbell's Telecaster which seemed to have a little more body. Subtle differences? You bet. But it is the ability to capture those subtleties that differentiates a good recording engineer from a great one and good electronics from excellent ones. Of course, the McCormack stack allowed me to hear the stick of gum trapped in Petty's fret board long before he did on "Even The Losers".

The McCormack UDP-1 Universal Player
Either by design or coincidence, the UDP-1 and the MAP-1 are a near perfect cosmetic match. Measuring 19" x 3.5" x 11.25" WxHxD, it weighs in at a healthy 22 lbs and is constructed from the same heavy brushed aluminum face plate and sturdy black powder-coated casework that is shared by the rest of the McCormack family. Feet are also
the same Sorbothane-like footers inscribed with the Mod-Squad stamp used on the preamp and power amp. Of course, the UDP-1 is a full-function CD, MP3, Super Audio CD, CDR, DVD-Audio and DVD-Video player and therefore comes replete with all the video trimmings including Component, S and Composite Video outputs. Says the McCormack website: "Images are treated with equal respect. A 54MHz, 10-bit video DAC assures high quality DVD picture quality. Composite, S-Video, and Component Video (interlaced or progressive scan) outputs allow you to fully utilize the capabilities of your video system."

The rebadged and full-function remote control looks familiar and is the first and only outward hint as to the Pioneer transport used inside the UDP-1 which has a very good reputation for reliability. McCormack specifies an A-weighted frequency response of 4Hz - 44 kHz (DVD fs: 96kHz), 4Hz to 88kHz and DVD-Audio fs of 192 kHz. Total harmonic distortion is an inconsequential .05%.

The UDP-1 sports a coaxial digital output allowing the use of outboard stereo DACs and surround processors as well as the usual 5.1 unbalanced analog outputs. Like the MAP-1, the UDP-1 sports very high-quality RCA connectors on all audio outputs as well as an IEC power receptacle. The only feature notably lacking is that of time management when playing SACDs (though it's available in all other modes), but in this the UDP-1 is hardly alone, particularly at this price level.

Once again, Mr. McCormack was happy to fill in some background on the UDP-1:

"I have been looking forward to designing the UDP-1 for a long time (in fact, it has been almost 10 years since I designed my last CD player). I felt it was essential to offer music lovers a great universal format player so they would not have to engage in the debate over which format is the best (a real waste of time in my estimation). I had to wait quite a while for the right core technology to become both available and affordable so that I could move ahead and build this piece. Pioneer has been a leader in the area of cross-format compatibility, so I chose their core parts as the basis for the UDP-1.

I suppose I should point out something that may seem obvious: My emphasis in designing the UDP-1 is first and foremost on high-performance sonics. The UDP-1 is a DVD playback system, so its video quality is certainly important as well. I believe that the video performance of the UDP-1 is excellent by any normal standard, but hard-core videophiles may still wish for more. This is a machine for music lovers, and it is designed to deliver on the promise of the new, high-resolution disc formats (DVD-A and SACD) as well as standard CDs at a level of performance that has not been seen anywhere near its price.

The UDP-1 follows my overall design philosophy by providing tonal neutrality with great transparency, transient speed and dynamic expression. It lets your music flow with the natural sense of pace and rhythm that is critical for true emotional involvement. The UDP-1 sounds great with your existing CDs, but really shows off the superior definition of the new SACD and DVD-A discs.

One of the keys to this level of performance is the advanced power supply I developed for the UDP-1. There are four independent MOSFET zero-feedback voltage regulators feeding the analog output stage and DACs. This supply is also provided with its own power transformer for maximum isolation. Another essential element are the DACs - all Burr-Brown 24-bit/192kHz units for superb digital-to-analog conversion, including native PCM and DSD decoding. Finally, the analog output stage is carefully designed using the latest op-amp technology and premium associated parts to deliver outstanding audio performance. This is something I have had a lot of practice at, you might say :-) It allows me to deliver outstanding performance at a very reasonable price.

The McCormack Audio UDP-1 is the heart of a superb multichannel (or 2-channel only for us traditionalists) music and home cinema system. It can potentially replace your existing CD player, DVD player and surround-sound decoder with a single high-performance playback machine."