A DAC to beat NAD C541i?

I've had NAD for about 6 years. It used to be a good one 6 years ago in my system, but now I think it is a bottle neck in my current system -- Tyler Taylo 7U, Linn AV5105 amp, Rogue Magnum 99 preamp.
My friend brought his Rega Apollo CD player and compared it with my NAD on my system, but I did not hear much difference, except Apollo sound a little bit more warm. But I liked NAD's more bright sound.
If Apollo is a real good one at $1000, I guess I need to spend over $2000 for a new CDP to for better sound.
Instead, if I want to go for DAC with NAD, which DAC (at $500~1000) would be best to beat both Apollo and NAD?
Which CD player (used at $500~1000) would be far better than Apollo or NAD?
Bel Canto DAC2 $600 or so used
Van Alstine?
MHDT Paradisio or Havana? They are both in your price range. Just a suggestion. Happy Listening,
The Apogee Mini-DAC.
Try the cambridge dacmagic -getting product of the year in HIFI choice magazine. Soundwise it sits between a 740c and 840c - it would beat a NAD C542. I had a NAD C542 and I bought a consonance cd-120 linear which is superior musically, more detailed and open too.
Thanks for all suggestion.
Looks like I have a plenty of choices.
How would Adcom GDA-700 par against those suggested models?
Apogee Mini-DAC in all probability far superior to GDA-700 but no HDCD.
You might consider the Benchmark DACs. They are selling for under $800 used here on AGon.
Thanks again.
I am leaning to Mhdt paradisio 3 (or used paradisio +) for budget wise and its USB support. Whatever I end up, I will get back and report how I feel. It will be compared with Marantz DR700 and NAD C541i.
I got mhdt Paradisea+.
After 3 days of continuous play (the seller said that he had used it for about 30 hours), it still sounds pretty much similar to C541i and DR700. Most jazz albums I tried, there is hardly any difference. Some orchestral music revealed tiny noticeable difference on C541i.
Using C541i as transport produces a little bit warmer sound with a bit less muddy in full orchestration. But the difference is still very subtle.
Using DR700 as transport reveals no audible difference at all. Maybe changing the digital cable (currently $40 IXOS cable) and upgrading the tube may help a little bit, but I am not quite sure. I'll wait a week and see if it would improve any bit.

Would TosLink cable be better than digital RCA cable if the price is the same?
Toslink won't be better except perhaps if you use a glass (not plastic) one.

How long is your IXOS? If your digital cable is not 1.5m long you are not hearing all the DAC can do. Try again if you have not been using a 1.5m length.

If cable length is not a factor, your Paradisea may simply not be a big enough upgrade from the 541i's internal DAC. The 541i is a pretty good player. You may need to look for a DAC that is better yet.
I'm guessing you're perhaps missing some dynamics and extension due to relatively high output impedance of the tubed Paradisea+ DAC. Do you have better dynamics using the solid state CD players? Solid state players usually have low output impedance.

I don't think changing the Toslink cable is going to make a bit of difference. A tube change will make a subtle difference, but it won't be dramatic.
PS- you might get better and more noticeable results from a solid state DAC due to the lower output impedance.
The cable is 1m. Any reason why it has to be 1.5m? I've been looking for a new digital cable and will try one with 1.5m.
C541i alone sounds a little bigger than C541i+Paradisea. Yes, I felt a tad bit more dynamics with C541i. But the bigger difference is the warmth -- with paradisea it sound a bit warmer. Same feeling I had when I compared C541i with Rega Apollo which sound a bit warmer than C541i.
C541i alone sound more bright, and at full orchestration it sound a tad bit more muddy than with paradisea.

Anyway I like DR700 better than C541i or C541i+Paradisea. I wanted to use DR700 exclusively as a CD recorder, but if the paradisea does not open up with cable change or tube change, I may stick to DR700 and forget about DAC for a while. I guess my tube preamp (Rogue Magnum 99) is doing an excellent job in pulling all strengths from SS CD player, so I may not feel much difference unless I go for much higher upgrade.

Many thanks for wonderful tips.
You're apparently dismissing the point of impedance match. You don't have to spend more than you did on the Paradisea+ to achieve a better impedance match, and thereby get better possible results (bigger sound, better bass and treble extension).
Any SS DAC would better impedance match with bigger sound, better bass and treble extension? Then probably I would give another shot. Any suggestion?
I would expect the similar amount of improvement from Grado gold to AT150mlx. LOL
I think most reviews on Paradisea+ are correct: provide warmer sound but lose some detail, except that I did not experience wider sound stage with Paradisea+. DR700 even provides better dynamics.

DR700+Paradisea is more pleasant to listen than C541i+Paradisea, but still DR700 alone is better for me. Paradisea may be different on ss preamp.

OK, enough for now. I will get back when I have a new digital cable (1.5m).
The extra half meter delays internal reflections just enough that they don't arrive at the DAC in time to cause jitter. Here's a quote from another thread to explain why.

[Almarg]If the input impedance of the dac and the impedance of the cable don't match precisely, a portion of the incident signal would be reflected back to the transport. A portion of that reflection would then re-reflect from the transport to the dac. The two-way reflection path, assuming propagation time of roughly 2 nanoseconds per foot, would be 12ns for the 1m cable, and 18ns for the 1.5m cable.

I don't know what the typical risetimes/edge rates are for transport outputs, but it does seem very conceivable that the extra 6ns could move the arrival time of the re-reflection sufficiently away from the middle area of the edge of the original incident waveform so that it would not be responded to by the digital receiver at the dac input.