Incredible CD sound for $1500??

I am having a hard time deciding which way to go on this issue, there are so many choices! I am trying to achieve the best CD sound for the money, I'm looking for a statement piece for my front end. I currently have a Phillips DVD 963SA for SACD & redbook. I plan on keeping this for at least DVD playback, my system consists of a McCormack DNA-1, CJ-PV10AL (soon to be replaced with Audible Illusions L1) & Tyler Reference Monitors & sub. I listen to clasic rock strictly & prefer detailed sound with a touch of brightness & wide soundstage.
My obvious choices are to keep the Phillips & add a DAC, plenty of choices there. If I did that I would prefer a newer DAC with 24/192 upsample options. Or I could purchase one of the popular one box players, i.e. Sony XA777ES although I have heard it's CD sound described as harsh at times? SACD doesn't really matter either way. I could also purchase a used transport such as one of the Theta's that are always available & add an "older" "higher quality" DAC. Plus now there are also plenty of "new" one box players on the market that are supposed to surpass the big dog players of the past, i.e. Jolida, AH, Music Hall, CEC, etc. The worst part of it all is that I plan on purchasing used so I can not hear it in my system first, which way do I go?
The Sony XA777ES is a long way away from being a 'statement' CD red book player. The SACD is obviously quite good, but the unit is easily beaten by many other players in CD playback. Try to find and listen to a used Cary 303/200 player. I bought one for a second system and ended up replacing my main systems transport and dac with it. Very musical.
Nothing off-the-shelf will compete with modded Transports and DAC's. I recommend you get your transport modded and then get a PT P-3A DAC modded.
Disclaimer: I will be selling one of the mentioned components in the near future.

Hey Fishwater, the Cary mentioned previously is likely a good suggestion. I have a Cary CD-308 that I feel is a very nice CD player at $1500 list/new. That said, I will be selling mine soon as I have moved on to the, more than 2X as expensive, Resolution Audio Opus 21.

Here is what I like about the Cary CD-308:

Very good sound
Nice Build Quality
Reputable Company
24bit/96K (defeatable) Upsampling-you get a choice
HDCD playback
Built-in volume control-try it, you may get rid of pre-amp
digital out puts out a full 24bit/96K (many don't)
Used price is under $900

I previously had the well regarded Theta Miles (balanced version) and kept the Cary CD-308 over the Miles. They were very close in sound, but I chose the Cary for a few reasons. It is newer. It has newer technology like the 24/96 upsampling (which I prefer). Its digital out actually puts out a 24/96 signal unlike many CD/DVD players. I did try the Cary as a transport using a couple of different 24/96K compatible DACs and I preferred the Cary over any other "transport" that I've used.

I have used my last 3 CD players connected directly to my amps. As I have a single source system, a pre-amp is redundant when you have a CD player w/variable output-volume control. Some people feel that a pre-amp is still preferred as it tends to add some dynamics, but, if you have plenty of dynamics already in your system, you may be able to get rid of the pre-amp and pocket the extra cash. Of course, if you have more than one source, it won't work without some form of switching/pre-amp.

If you do actually intend to spend $1500, you could buy a used Cary CD-308 AND get an outboard DAC. That way, you could really experiment. A used Cary CD-308 AND a Scott Nixon TubeDac or Chris Own's ACK dACK! would still be below your budget.

Ah, the flexibility of it all.........


Post removed 
Audioengr says:
"Nothing off-the-shelf will compete with modded Transports and DAC's.
Typical engineer thinking, "Nobody makes anything as good as I can make it or modify it".
What crap! I've seen a lot of modifications that screwed-up equipment and made it horrible, useless and/or impossible to sell.
SOME stuff can benefit from careful modification, but to make a general statement like that is ridiculous!
Fishwater, I have been doing alot of research for used players, in the same price range. I like these the most.
DAC: Birdland Odeon Ag
CD: Arcam FMJ 23, Meridian 508
CD: (with volume control) Resolution Audio CD50, or CD55,
Wadia 830, Theta Miles, Consonance CD 2.2
I am going with the Consonance. It is a NEW player, for the same price. Based on reviews, I don't think you could go wrong with any of these, unless there are synergy problems.
Good luck! Sonny
hi,guy if you have a ATOLL dealer in your town,go to try the CD100 this is from france and the sound is incredible..........................................................................................................................................................................
While i agree with Audioengr as a general rule, Golden Ears has a point. Some folks are nothing more than parts swappers and they aren't even good at doing that. As such, you better know who you are dealing with when having someone "gut" your baby.

The fact that Steve aka "Audioengr" is in the business of doing mods may make some folks wonder think that he has something to gain by such recommendations ( and he does ), but that does not mean that his comments are not valid. I have nothing to gain by supporting his statements as i don't work on or repair audio gear for a living. At the same time, i do work on electronics and have yet to find a piece of gear ( mass produced or hand built ) that is not EASILY improved upon. As such, i would venture to say that Steve speaks the truth, even if he may have a vested interest in the comments being made.

Having said that, i would contact Ric at Electronic Visionary Systems aka "EVS" and see what he can do for you. He is BRUTALLY honest, sometimes too honest for his own financial good. He is both very familiar with the 963 and upsampling, as he has designed / built / marketed both standard and upsampling DAC's from scratch. Since he has already modified more than a few 963's and is VERY familiar with how the upsampling that this unit offers actually works, he's way ahead of most "parts swappers" aka "modification tech's". Not only will you retain the unit that you already have and are familiar with, you won't need the extra space, power cord and digital cable that an external DAC would bring with it. On top of that, jitter will be reduced via keeping everything in one box. The mass majority of shortcomings in this unit can be minimized through careful modifications and parts selection, making it your best alternative.

As a side note, if you were to go with another unit, it too would be built to a marketing price point. While you could buy a newer, more expensive unit, it too would benefit from using better parts and "fine tuning" of the mass produced circuitry. As such, going that route might be a step forward, but probably not as big of an improvement than what you can make with what you already have. Sean

PS... I have to be honest here and admit that the unit that the 963 that Ric has displayed on his website with mods looks like a cluster.... My guess is that this was a preliminary design and that he wanted to get something up on his website to display. If such is the case, he really should post some more current pictures of how things are being done. Neatness DOES count, especially when it comes to digital circuitry.

PPS... Audioengr is not a "uneducated parts swapper" as he is a legit engineer with full credentials and high tech work history. My recommending Ric is based on my past experiences with him and his products. If i had not already worked with Ric in the past, i would not have a problem recommending Steve in the least. Since Steve has worked with high frequency digital circuitry for most of his career, i have no doubt that he could make some very large improvements to such a product.
I don't really think I want to go the mod route, normally in all my other hobbies I would be interested but for some reason I can't explain (probably resale) I don't want to get into a mod unit. The Cary's look like nice players, although I have yet to hear one. Wadia is a definate contender in the race from what I have read. The Benchamark DAC look good & has good reviews but I can't seem to take it seriously? I think if I kept the 963 & added a DAC I would always wonder if I was "missing" something. There are a ton of choices that are not making this an easy choice, at least it's fun shopping!
Atoll CD100 is a great cd player for the price...

I beleive it's around $1000.

It's worth to audition.
Also, I have no intentions of getting rid of my pre-amp. Yes it would allow me to spend even more in my quest for the ultimate Red-Book player but it does not (at least at this time) seem like a practical idea.
Yet another vote for Atoll. I have their In100 (100w integrated) and a cd100. I have tried a lot of speaker and they can even match with far more expensive speakers without being shy (proac d15 is a very good match). Also the Canadian distibutor (Dimex) is a very good guy to deal with.
Sean writes:
My guess is that this was a preliminary design and that he wanted to get something up on his website to display. If such is the case, he really should post some more current pictures of how things are being done. Neatness DOES count, especially when it comes to digital circuitry.
My bet is it will look exactly like that. In fact, when I was up there last that's exactly what they looked like. Nothing wrong at all with it. There are Black Gates with the plastic cover removed, point-to-point wiring, unique custom-made litz wire low value caps, a great discrete analogue output stage of a proven design, damping material applied in crucial places etc.

I have a Ric Schultz modified Sony SCD-XA777ES with a fully-balanced output stage. The mods have a similar look to the Philips, and that's his style. It sounds fabulous.

Go for the Jolida and buy nice tsunami power cord, this
is a killer combination, I heard it.I have the Ah 4000
with upsampler, the sound are very close.It depends
on your preference,Jolida gives you a LIVE Sound
IN THE ROOM PRESENTATION.The AH is very musical,and
it has big soundstage and and sweet, Iam using tube
7308 siemens.It worth to try them both. Thanks
I have decided on a Benchmark DAC to go with my Phillips until I can figure out a transport thet will play CD, CDR & DVD-A