Digital Source Comparison - An audible difference?

I'm trying to compare with my own ears the difference that people hear, or claim to hear, between digital sources. I realize that it's entirely possible that my system isn't quite to the level where difference are audible but it's pretty simple to do a comparison.

Source 1: Pioneer Elite PD-D6-J SACD Player (on Nordost Sort Kones)
Source 2: Integra CDC-3.4 CD Player (multi-disk)

My plan would be to use two Toslink cables since the Integra is already connected using one and it's fairly easy to obtain another one.

Considering the rest of my system includes an Integra 50.1 AVR, Focal Chorus 836v speakers, and DIY Cat5 speaker cables, would you predict that I will hear a difference?

There is a distinct difference between the two CD players using analog connections, but if they are reduced to being transports that rely on the DAC in the AVR will there still be a difference?
MC, I think you made the point that Tmsorosk was, that the Pioneer is designed with performance in mind within the limits of its price point. Which means it needs to be built for about 1/4 of its selling price to allow for the necessary mark-ups/profit.

Low-fi was probably not a fair term, I agree with you, but the closer two items are (CDPs especially) in price, typically the less likely you are to hear a difference. And I think that was his point. I think there are a lot of $1,000 CD players that few could hear a difference in comparing them to $400-$500 players (new prices of course).

You would expect to get more bang for your buck from a high volume manufacturer like Pioneer Elite than from a boutique company (Ayre, ARC, even Rotel, etc. . . ) when paying the same price for a CDP.

I think your approach may have some major flaws. I am not a fan of toslink. Regardless of my opinion it is a fact that toslink and S/PDIF outputs are different beasts and not treated equally by manufacturers. Sometimes toslink is not much more than an afterthought.

You need to find out if either CD player manufacturer or the DAC manufacturer recommend a preferred output/input. I doubt if the CDP manufacturers make any recommendation for digital out but the DAC manufacturer may make a recommendation for a preferred input.

If you want to compare sources you have to make sure everything else in the chain is up to the task. I think you are already in trouble with your choice of toslink. At least that is my experience with inexpensive toslink cables on equipment where S/PDIF or AES/EBU were designed to be the primary in/outs.
OK, Before someone jumps on me because TOSLINK is also classified as S/PDIF I need to clarify. I was trying to differentiate between optical and electrical inputs and outputs. Namely TOSLINK vs RCA and XLR (AES/EBU).
Ckoffend, Since when are Ayre, ARC and especially Rotel considered "boutique" companies. Ayre, for example, has an extensive dealer network not to mention distribution in nearly 50 other countries.

It is not likely you would get more for your money with Pioneer than the other companies you mentioned.
Rrog, my point is that these are all low volume product companies (in most industries, they would be considered specialized or boutique like companies that rely on high profit margin per sale versus lower margin compensated by high volume).

Pioneer probably sells as many single item component (take any model CD players of theirs) as these other companies sell between their entire product range. How many actual products do you think Ayre sold last year - between all the products they make? 2,000 - 3,000 - 5,000 - 10,000? I doubt 10,000, actually I doubt even 5,000 total products shipped from their facilities in 2010.

Now, how many individual products do you think Pioneer shipped?

Think about a $1,000 Pioneer Elite player, probably a total run of 10,000-25,000 pieces produced, if not way more. Now compare that to an Ayre CD player that sells for $1,000 (I don't think they could make one that cheap in reality). How much does Ayre pay for the case? The circuit boards, including their design/engineering, the connection sockets, heck, even the screws that hold the unit together. For Ayre to just get the same quality that Pioneer can deliver, they would spend more than twice as much to produce it! So, do they forego the profits or have to sell the similar product for a lot more?

That is why I say/suggest that these "small" companies cannot make a $1,000 CDP that is notably better than a Pioneer Elite CDP or other $400-500 big brand CDP. The finances just don't add up.

Now, when you start talking about a lot more money, that is where you see the real differences in performance vs. the more mass market stuff.

Just think about it from a business perspective first.

Don't get me wrong, when it comes to this hobby most of us ignore the business or logic aspects of it. We own $20,000 speakers that sound incrementally better than mass market speakers that could be had for a few hundred.

We have thousands of dollars in cables that in reality are only incrementally better than lamp wire (I say incremental because a passing by non-audiophile is very unlikely to immediately hear or note any difference).

But we spend the money trying to get every last drop of performance out of our systems for the discretionary money we each have available to do so. The variety of speakers I have in my house right now exceeds the value of the two cars I own (a BMW 5 station wagon and a Dodge Durango SUV). So I am not bashing the industry, just recognizing that at certain budget points there are two real logical options: get the best mass market stuff you can afford or buy higher priced items on the used market thar are heavily discounted vs. their original list price.