Shubertmaniac: I think you should consider a Berning ZH270 tube amp (under $5k new) as the heart of your new system. Due to its unique design, it will drive a wide variety of speakers, including electrostats. In addition, it has an a/b input switch and volume knob so you won’t need a line level preamp – in my experience it sounds better going directly to the Berning anyway. It is really a fabulous amp – speed, air, plenty of bass, and you still get that wonderful tube midrange sound.
As for speakers, that is such a matter of personal taste you have to listen for yourself, but I have heard that the Merlin speakers are a good match with the Berning. In my experience, driver technology has come a long way in the last 10 years or so and the newest drivers are so clean and fast that electrostats don’t seem to have that much of an advantage anymore, and a properly designed box speaker should have better dispersion and imaging. But with the Berning you can go either way – it will drive even 2 ohm speaker loads without a problem.
As for a cdp, personally I put most of my resources into my analog set up, and have an inexpensive Pioneer dvd/cd player that was modified by Supermods, and the total cost was under $450. To me, this is good enough for red book cd’s. Going to one of the mod shops is a highly cost effective way to get the most out of regular cd’s. (One day, I’ll have to break down and get an sacd player.) Depending on the speaker (and cables) you choose, you might still be able to afford an Aesthetix phono preamp (I occasionally see them used), which in combination with a direct feed into the Berning would sound heavenly.
Good luck with your quest. Let us know what you finally decide to do.