A headache of choice over CD player

For a budget of between US$5,000 and 7,000, what would you choose of these options - Wadia 381, McIntosh MCD500, Ayre C-5xeMP and Esoteric X-03? Any other suggestions?

I play CDs 99% of the time, not SACD. Just two-channel.

I currently use a Bluenote Stibbert 2007 (improved) and am looking to it step up. I like a big, bold, punchy and transparent sound (if that's not asking for too much!).

I use a McIntosh C220 pre and MC402 power amp, driving Magnepan 1.6 speakers. All cabling, balanced, is MIT CVT Terminator 2.

I'm getting the Wadia home for a demo next week, and can also arrange for the Ayre. The Esoteric will be avaible for home demo next month. But not the McIntosh, which I have to buy "blind", although Mac owners assure me it is the right choice ... :)
If you don't care about SACD the Audio Research cd reference 8 or 7 for that matter ...

Try to demo a Cary 306 Pro it has a very robust CD playback.
And, it also play SACD's fanatastic
Follow through with the auditions and then decide for yourself.

Personally, at this point in time, I'd be hesitant to pay retail for a CD player unless you absolutely must have the factory warranty for peace of mind. Both the Ayre and Esoteric players come up fairly often in the listings.
I have owned the MCD500 since June of '09 and it amazes me to this day! Each and every time I play a CD or SACD!
Check out GamuT CD-3 newest production model if possible. I liked it better in my system than the ARC CD7.
I demoed a Mark Levinson No. 360 about six months ago and this player sounded very nice, warm and spacious with an analog naturalness that was easy on the ear. I would have purchased except it was out of my budget at the time. You might also consider one of these.
go hi rez get the alpha dac and server with amarra and call it a day welcome to the 21st century.
It ain't mine and it is a tad over budget but there is a Meridian 808-i2 in the used ads. I would say it is probably a notch above most anything.--Except maybe the 75k Scarlatti stack.
PSA Perfect Wave DAC and Transport is an excellent option IMO. Very versatile too.
I'm running the PS Audio now ...

Two years ago, when I was auditioning CD players, I took a number home to try before almost settling for the Ayre CX-7e. Just as I was about to make up my mind, a dealer friend brought over the Bluenote and when we got it warmed up and running, I went "Wow!" ... Sent the Ayre back and settled for the Bluenote.

The Perfect Wave combo is good, but didn't elicit a similar response from me. So ...

Where I live, there are distributors for Ayre, Meridian, Wadia, Cary Audio, McIntosh, Audio Research, Krell, Esoteric, Pathos, Burmester, dCS, Nagra, Soulution, PS Audio and a few others. However, not all are in my budget ...

Thanks for all the feedback, though ...
Check out the MP upgrade of tha Ayre players. The Minimum Phase filters are a significant improvement, especially in the area of digital glare or listener fatigue.

All Ayre players are built as MP now, older players can be upgraded for $250 or so.

PS Audio Perfect Wave, Meridian .2 players and the Esoteric SA-50 have similar technology. Do a little research on Minimum Phase or apodising filters.
I that price range i would take a serious look at the Perfectwave.
Go for the McIntosh player. You have a Mac amp and preamp I don't need to tell you how great McIntosh is
I agree with Verneal. I doubt the Mac player would disappoint.
I just got back from Seattle after listening to CD players for 2 days. I listened to the Meridian 808.2, the McIntosh 301 and the MCD500, Audio Research CD8 and dac7, Ayre 5XE ad AyeQB9, Linn Klimax DS, new Naim dac, and Sim Audio 750D and Sim 300D digital to analog converter with various speakers. Surprising, I liked the Sim Audio 300D da converter best. Part of the appeal was that is is only $1600, a huge bargain when compared to the others, but I thought it also had one of the best sounds of all the players I listened to. It was hooked up to 2 different speaker systems, the Dynaudio DM 2/7 and then the Avalon Opus Ceramiques. The bass was deep without being overpowering, smooth, rich, full and detailed. I loved it in both systems. They had it connected to a Wadia 170i transport with an Ipod playing the music. I fully expected to like the McIntosh MCD500 or the Naim dac best, but this da converter completely held it's own. I didn't especially like the Naim dac, it was too thin, actually a tad bright, it just wasn't musical enough for me. This wasn't a controlled environment, I only had 2 days so I just used my ears. Sandra
of the four I would do the Wadia 381...uou could always add digital inputs as well.
Ok, I picked up the Wadia 381i a day ago, still needs to be run in, but here are initial impressions. I reset the internal switches to maximum gain, ie, 4V.

Plugged into my C220 preamp, it was a hard choice, I felt the Bluenote Stibbert was giving nothing away to the Wadia, that's how good the older player still is. Dynamics, detail, slam, it was toe-to-toe, eye-to-eye ... the Wadia did have a wider stage, though.

Then I plugged the Wadia directly into the MC402 power amp ... now that made a difference. Like it was a whole new system!

Need to do more listening in both configurations ...