Upgrading Frontend in 2009: Which way to go?

For reference, my system is located here:


One of the upgrades I'm looking to perform in 2009 is my source. I've enjoyed the Cary 303/300 as a standalone player, but it's time to move on (for reasons not relevant to the thread). I'm looking to spend $2k-$4k if I replace my CD player, and probably $1k-$2k if I simply add a DAC.

Sonically, I like the Cary presentation in that I can hear the recording venue, whether it is a studio, auditorium, amphitheater, or whatever. I suppose I'm a big fan of detail but not to the point that it sounds sterile. I won't be able to live with a player that doesn't allow me to hear everything on the disc, like breaths that are sometimes heard when listening to singers or wind players.

I've read some older posts about CD players, but I'm also wondering if newer DACs or newer-model CDPs with newer onboard DACs will be superior to the older models. I've read great things about the Resolution Audio Opus 21, for example, but I'm concerned that it might not be the best value anymore, given that it's 6 years old now.

One other limiting factor: I sold me preamp last year, so if I go the CDP route the new unit must have volume control onboard.

So I'm looking for the best bang for my buck in that price range. If it's a DAC, so be it. If it's a new CD player, that's great, too. Maybe even better, since I wouldn't have to buy another set of cables.

Any thoughts to help me compile a "short list" to audition would be much appreciated.

Merry Christmas and happy new year to all!
I own a Cary 303/300 as well as a server which runs through a Benchmark DAC-1 into the same system.

The Cary has lots of adjustability, but the DAC-1 sounds different to me than any of the combos available on the Cary. But ... different will not be better to all ears.
I've found 2 camps of DAC sound - "rounder" and "leaner" (speakers and cartridges, too).

If you prefer the rounder sound of the Cary's onboard DAC to the leaner, more revealing (IMHO) Benchmark, I'm not sure you'll find what you're after. The Cary is really good - of this type. It's plenty revealing, but warmer and will sound more "musical" to some.

OTOH, if you prefer the DAC-1, there's probably a bunch of good choices out there, the DAC-1 certainly among them.

Good Luck


Thanks for your thoughts, guys. It occurs to me there was a great price on a Resolution Audio Opus 21 with GNSC mods and RSAD umbilical just a few months ago. I didn't jump on it, and I don't think it sold (which is mind-boggling to me), but hasn't been relisted.

I've heard the GamuT player, and liked it, but the bass was very weak in that system. Don't know if it was the PS Audio gear downstream or what else may have caused that. The cabling was Cardas, so I think I can eliminate cabling as the cause. The speakers were Taylor Audio, and I know those speakers to be very balanced within their range.

I'm doing more research on these options to see which way I will go. Thanks again for your thoughts.

Your Cary should make a fine transport if you are going with CD's. Put your money into a DAC.
The only thing I did to my Gamut CD3 other than a after-market PC,has been in the vibration control area (pts,platform).I don't find it weak,as my speakers are no more than 3db>25Hz.YMMV.I do use different cabling/system,may be the difference???
Another alternative would be any of the John Tuckers Offerings. Exemplar 2900 and up
Excellent sonics and you could snag one used for relatively inexpensive 1700+