CD Player/Transport Quandary

While I haven’t exactly been in the market for a disc player, from time to time I’ve thought it’d be nice to have one. A few days ago I spotted a Denon DVD-1940ci at a thrift store for $20, and although a fairly pedestrian unit, it does play SACD, and was fairly well received by both TAS and WhatHifi, so I snagged it.

I took the player home and hooked it up to my Black Ice Glass FX Dac via the coaxial output, and also connected the analog audio output to my preamp via another single-ended source input, so I could compare my outboard dac against the player’s internal dac by cycling back and forth between inputs.

This is where it gets weird, as when cycling between my dac and the player’s analog output, I found it EXTREMELY difficult to distinguish any substantial difference in SQ between the two. I drove myself crazy with this for a couple of hours before conceding that my dac had the slight edge in terms of spatial cues and high end sparkle, but these differences were extremely subtle. I’m fact I’m not entirely ruling out that these perceptions were psychological in nature.

This level of performance parity between my dac and a 13 year old player that retailed for $370 is unsettling, to say the least. I’m not sure what conclusions I should be drawing. That my dac sucks? My amp? My speakers? Or maybe it’s my ears that are trash?
Any thoughts would be appreciated.

My setup:

LSA-10 speakers

ARC LS25 mkii pre

CODA Stage 3 amp (rebadged by Legacy)

I have had the same experience between a JVC XVN310 DVD player and a Khadas KTB DAC. Subtle differences with the JVC by itself being perfectly enjoyable playing CDs and as a transport into the KTB! The cost: $26 for the JVC and $99 for the DAC. Plus the Monoprice 2-meter coax cable. 
Digital playback at the cheap end has reached such a high level that one must question the premise that spending more and more is necessary to attain the most "musical" sound quality.
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Honestly - it could be any of the items you mentioned.  Your equipment seems decent enough.  What did you use to feed the dac before the Denon?  Could be the recording.  If I were doing your test, I would probably start with a well-recorded piano or classical guitar to check the tonality of the instruments and the dynamics of the performer.  If you're using a heavily-processed rock CD, the differences may be smaller. 
It’s also possible the Denon isn’t a great transport for your DAC.  Not sure it’s worth the cost/effort, but something like a used Wyred4Sound Reclocker (if you can find one) might improve your DAC’s performance pretty significantly.  Also, digital cable and interconnects are a big variables as well.  But yeah, I understand your disappointment.  Maybe you should demo another DAC or two to see if that yields significant improvements?  Just spitballing here FWIW. 
Up til now my digital source has exclusively been an Auralic Aries Femto. Moving from the analog output on my laptop to the dac was a HUGE improvement. Moving from laptop’s usb output to the Aries again made substantial gains. Hence my current bewilderment.

Albums I was listening to:
Tracy Chapman New Beginning,
The Cardigans First Band on the Moon,
and The Harder They Come Soundtrack.


Part of why I bothered with the Denon is that I’ve seen Denon universal players used as the basis for some aftermarket modders online. When you say the transport could be wrong for my dac, could you elaborate on that? Still not sure where I sit in terms of the “bits are bits” or “transports matter” camps.

I’ll keep my eye out for a reclocker, and look into sourcing a digital interconnect. Should I concern myself with a power cable? I keep reading about “hash” coming from digital sources via power cable/connection.

I've had the same experience when playing a CD on my Apollo-R and switching to the Orchid DAC. It' very difficult to hear a difference. I will do what Chayro suggested. That said, streaming through the Orchid is wonderful. 
I would certainly match an ARC cd player to your ARC LS 25 MkII Pre-amp.Thank me later.
Happy Listening!