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.
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.........


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.
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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!