Best analog sounding cd player under 5K


Im looking for a new or used one box player mainly for redbook. My budget could go up to 5K.
I know and have read a lot of threads about cd players but none deals with the analog sounding issue. Also, not everyone like his cd player to sound like his analog set up.
I can define analog, as neutral(good tonal balance), organic, natural, with a lot of low level information retrieval, inmediacy,with very good 3d image, not forward sounding and not analytical. I think the extension at both ends is not a must. Obviously, It cant be dark or too bright sounding.

I have in my short list so far, resolution opus, bluenote sttibert, apl denon 3910, audio aero capitole mkII, ayre Cx5.
For the reviews and comments on several forums it seems that the most organic and natural sounding is the Stibbert. How does it compare with the others? And also what other should be included in this list?
Alan Brain
please listen to the BAT tubed CD player
Those are all great players you've listed. Two I own in the used category, simply because they are no linger made, are a Meridian 508.24 and a Conrad Johnson DV-2B, I highly recommend.
Consider an esoteric SA60 which I bought (i audiotioned the newest krell, ayre, dcs ) for $4500 list its an awesome piece-and is a universal disc player dvd sacd etc.
I also own a meridian 596 and a musical fidelity tri vista dac and cec transport .
hold the presses. there is a new cd player called melody hi m10. it uses one 5ar4 rectifier tube and 2 6sn7 tubes. think of the possibility of tube rolling 6sn7 tubes.

i heard it at ces. it weighs 75 pounds. it has 2 massive transformers. the company describes the sound as "vintage" tubes.

i should be getting one within a week or so.

i am looking for a cd player myself. i will not consider the ayre, bat (owned it and sold it), bluenote, resolution audio, meridian or sim audio products.
Musical Fidelity Trivista. Limited in quantity with great review.
I'd wait for a used MBL 1531 to pop up. It may not be their reference separates but still a great unit.
It can't hurt to call Steve at GNSC and talk to him about the Resolution Audio Opus21 with his reference mods, it's a solid player stock, made exceptional by Steve. Very natural sound with great dynamics and body, imaging and staging are exceptional as well.

My 2 cents and obviously I'm biased...happy hunting
Accuphase dp65v. Very musical. Not a current model though.
You might want to consider the Exemplar Denon 3910 as well.
I'm in the market for the same kind of peformance at a similar price. Looking at the Cary 306 SACD and the Ayre 5xe.
The new EMM 1 box player is the best digital I ever experienced. Even on redbook, it is supremely musical and very organic sounding player. I am basically an analog guy and I'm currently running a state of the art analog front end (new Grand Prix Monaco table / Dynavector 507II and XV1S arm cartridge combo). This is up there with the absolute best front ends available and sounds absolutely Magical. Although the EMM cannot compete, it gets very high praise because I can actually listen to and enjoy digital for the first time even after I play Lps. It has an analog like sound with superb sense of space, purity, presence and has wonderful dynamic shading which is very important in bringing the music to life. I just compared to the new $8500 Accuphase player and the EMM made the Accuphase sound like a common (very good) CD player. The EMM was in a whole other universe. Unfortunately, at $9,995, it is over your budget, but a true bargain and very analog sounding nonetheless.
Oppo Digital DV970HD. No kidding!
I have always been very happy with the Meridian players. They have a sonic profile very similiar to what you are looking for in your post.
Mrtennis has something that i'd be very interested in. Thought I'd never consider another player upgrade from my currect Cayin 17/modded. Very nice souunding player/hefty at 45 lbs. But this Melody may be something I'd be very interested in. I'm in the process of considering a Melody 1688 preamp (from Steve aka Jian/US dealer) at the moment. I'll have to ask him about this Melody cdp. Mrtennis please give us a review.
Just saw a photo of the Melody hi m10, WOW factor is very high. Drop dead gorgeous! Top load, but the best looking top load I've ever seen. Must own one of day. Like my cayin 17, has dual/high quality power supply, one for analogue, one for digital. uses Mundorf Silver/Gold caps.
I have not heard it but the EAR Acute CDP seems like it might be worth investigation. HP has written about it in TAS and Robert Levy gave it a great review in Positive Feedback (issue 27). Price is in upper range of your budget but as high end CDPs go seems reasonable.
Thanks for all the info.
That melody cd player sounds interesting. Where can I find a picture?
or What is the website adress? I cant find it.
Alan Brain
McIntosh MCD201.
hi alan:

the website is .

i will getting this player later this week.

there seems to be a lot of interest in this player.

i'll keep you posted.
Alan google Melody hi m10, separate the words "hi" and "m10". You'll find the link to melody gear. ...For what its worth...I just got a PM from a member in HK who has heard the Melody cdp at the HK audio show and at his home. Good player for around $1500. However he did go on to say that the Melody has a "bigger sound stage, deeper bass, but the instruments are less well defined within the soundstage, and lacks the see through quality of the Cayin.....Melody has a rounded sound...the leading edge is not as well defined as the Cayin". This guy has a very fine articulation on his commenst, and seems to have a quick "audiophile ear". So what I gather is the Melody is "warmer" and is not what I'm looking for.My ideal is defining/separation of the fq's. A fine unit none the less, and should be considered by the author in his quest for a cdp. As some prefer the 'warmer"(forward) sound in their equipment.
hi bartokfan:

warmer is not forward. warmer refers to frequency response.

can i infer from your comment that you are no longer interested in a report from me after i have auditioned it for a few days ?

i should be getting the cd player in a few days.

by the way real music is rounded. i have heard many cayin cd players. they are not my cup of tea.
yes please posta review, which i failed to acknowledge your upcomming report. My apologies.
I was only quoting most of what one HK member heard at the show, and I assume in a home set up. From his highly attuned impressions of the Melody, its possible that it is 'not my cup of tea". btw he heard the hi m10 with a all Melody set up, the big 1688 pre. I feel no need to "upgrade" my modded cayin 17. Its a done deal. The story of my cdp search has ended...well I should refrain, as the HK member did say Cayin has some new cdp models out this yr.
Look forward to your report. At 75 lbs, its fair to say this one is not just built "like a tank, it is a tank. WOW!, 75 lbs!! Has a trans!!
And what about the UDP1 Deluxe?
has anyone heard this cd player?

One friend has replaced a clase cdp100 with the udp-1 deluxe and he says that the mccormack is the most analogue sounding cd player he has ever heard. I will go for a listening session and report back.
i wish someone would define "analogue sounding". at the very least, the sound of analogue depends upon the cartridge one uses. i can't see how there exists an "analogue sound", since the sound of turntable, arm and cartridge varies.

that said, i have auditioned the mccormack player several times, although not in my own system.

i find it an ordinary sounding player--nothing special.
listening to cds on that player did not create the illusion that i was listening to a record.
I have listened to the top of the line CD players from Wadia, ARC, Ayre, and a few others (and still do) but they all come up short when compared to my APL 3910. If you can find one with the latest upgrades, you will not look back.
I know the sound of turntable, arm and cartridge can alter the sound of an analog rig. But overall there is a sonic signature which differs greatly from the digital reproduction. So, "analogue sounding" is a sound that has the basic character of the vinyl reproduction. And that basics are:
- Warm
- Full bodied
- 3d stereo image
- big soundstage
- good low level information retrieval
- inmediacy
- not harsh at all treble
- envolving

If a cd player can produce a sound with that, then it is an analog sounding cd player.
I'm sure its been mentioned before, but why not divide the budget up between CD player (as the transport) and D/A Converter? Considering the CD player is digital in nature, IMO why not purchase a comparable D/A converter to match, instead of searching for a digital component that sounds analog?
Musical Fidelity KW DM System; very analogue sound, sounds more like a turntable and has valves in the stages.
Check the reviews at
hi alan:

many turntable, arm, cartridge combinations do not possess the characteristics you mention.

now i understand what you mean by analog. i'm afraid i am not aware of any digital source which displays all of the attributes you mention.

very few if any are sufficiently warm to adequate represent the sound of instruments.
I've had the Melody CD-M10 for about a month now. Got the first one that Mingus Chu shipped out at the end of December from his first shipment from Melody. I requested it back in September of last year when they were still in silver only. Mine is black, but not the piano gloss black that Melody is famous for with their amps and preamps. Stil, it is an impressive looking piece of equipment at 70+ pounds.

It has taken a long time to break in, but after about 300 hours so far and having rolled the stock Chinese tubes for Mullard Blackburn ECC33's and 5AR4, I am very satisfied with its' overall presentation. It has deep, tuneful bass, very extended and more articulate than my previous players, which included the C.E.C. TL51XR, Rega Apollo, Consonance CD120 Linear and Onix CD-2. I believe the overbuilt power supply, which utilizes two very massive C-core transformers, is a significant reason for this authoritative bass performance.

The midrange is very analog-like and harmoically rich - soundstage is deeper than previous players I've owned with good front to back placement and focus of instruments and voices. Soundstage width is excellent and very realistic in scope, unlike the Apollo which I felt sometimes had a phony DSP-sounding effect. I can say without reservation that the Melody CD-M10 does not sound 'digital' in any way.

The treble response took a long time to open up, and I credit the Mullard tubes for finally awakening the player. One must be patient with this unit, as the Mundorf Silver & Gold caps take a while to reach their potential. The Mundorf Silver & Gold caps are more expensive than their Silver & Oil caps, but many prefer the Silver & Oil caps as the S&G's are considered a little on the bright side. I think the S&G's were deliberately chosen for the CD-M10 to balance the tonal palette and to prevent the player from exhibiting too much of a "tubey" sound. Initially it is very tubey sounding but with some well chosen 6SN7 replacements and break-in time the details are unveiled and a full-bodied performer emerges.

The balanced output on this player does not sound as good as the single-ended output. It is somewhat congested compared to the RCA's. I believe that may be a result of the balanced section using op amps and the single-ended stage foregoing the use of them, somewhat like the Eastsound CD-E5, whose single ended outputs were much superior to its' balanced ones.

This is a bare bones player, I must point out. It does not do HDCD, SACD or DVD-Audio. None of this bothers me, but it is worth noting. It does not have program play, only repeat play. It does not offer any information on its' display beyond track number and elapsed time. No track or disc time remaining, and no dimmer on the display. The transport is from Sony, and its' access time is very quick. Typically 2-3 seconds for all discs. Also, you will hear a clicking sound from an output relay each time you press play on the unit. A mild distraction that does not bother me again, but some may find it a bit uncivilized and out of place on a $2500.00 unit.

For what it's worth, I am running the Melody CD-M10 into a Melody I880 tube integrated amp feeding Onix Strata Mini speakers. The Melody integrated has also undergone some major tube rolling exercises. I've swapped the stock 6SN7 preamp tubes with Tung-Sol 6SN7GT round plates, the driver 6SN7's with Sylvania 6SN7W short bottles, the Chinese 101D tube with a NOS Western Electric 101D, and the KT88's with New Production Genalex Gold Lion KT88's. I also have a quad of late 50's Tung-Sol 6550 blackplates that I just picked up, but so far I am really impressed with the new Gold Lion KT88's and the overall harmonically rich and dense sound that I am getting combined with the Melody player.

In addition to the Mullard ECC33 tubes, I've also tried Sylvania 6SN7WGTA's and VT-231's as well as CBS Hytron 5692's. The Sylvania WGTA's gave the CD-M10 a more forward sound that was airy and detailed but fatiguing after a while. The 5692's were very nice, super quiet and improved the PRAT of the player, but tonally less full-bodied and ultimately not as satisfying as the Mullards. The Mullards just seemed to belong in this player, although I believe the Tung-Sol round plates would be equally impressive. I need to get anther pair of them.

For under $2500.00, I think the Melody CD-M10 is a serious competitor in the high-end CDP market. I would not suggest that it is competitive with the very best players out there, but it is a very MUSICAL player that can be tuned via tube rolling to match up with many different systems. The 6SN7 tube I believe is a much better design choice than the more common 12AU7's and 12AX7 tubes utilized elsewhere. Build quality is in the same category as the Melody amps which have been well-received in audio circles, and pride of ownership is quite high too.

I look forward to hearing from other owners of this player in the coming weeks to see if I am in the minority, or just one of the first to recognize it as a source to be reckoned with.

I have posted my impressions of this player, along with pics of my unit, over the last month on the AV123 Forum, in case anyone would like more info.

Bartokfan, it's important to note that the Melody CD-M10 (there's no 'hi' in it's name, BTW) that is imported into the US is different than the one sold in China. The model your contact in HK was able to listen to most likely utilizes the Jensen output caps instead of the Mundorf S&G's and the AD827JN op amps which are not part of the US or European versions of this fine player, if I am to believe the photos I've been given of the machine internals of the two versions.

Also the player takes a long time to break in and one cannot make a quick judgement as the Mundorf's go through a period where they sound somewhat harsh and congested before reaching their potential.

You mentioned that the Melody was a top loader. That is incorrect - it is a front loading player and the top of the player houses the tube compartment, with an elegant glass cover that may look like a top loading door, but is actually just an access cover.

Mrtennis I am looking forward to your impressions of this player as well as it appears your previous CDP lineup was a fairly well-regarded group. I expect you will also be patient with the player as it does require 250 hours minimum for everything to break in and I believe it is well worth the time involved.
For those with an interest in the Melody CD-M10, here are a few pics:

CD-M10 version with Jensen output caps and AD827JN and opa627 op amps

CD-M10 version with Mundorf S&G output caps and opa627 op amps only

Front view of my CD-M10

Top view of CD-M10

BTW, I am not affiliated with Melody HiFi in any way.
Hi everyone -

I hope I'm not missing something important here, but I haven't learn how to find an analogue sounding digital CD player. Especially a digital CD player that doesn't I know I don't have anywhere near the experience many of the contributes have, so I need to learn this.

Apparently, I have been misled in feeling that a digital CD player would sound analogue. I presumed a CDP/DAC combo would produce the best results. Can anyone help me out on this?
I personally think that a one box cd player is better than a dac- transport combo. But thats only my opinion, others may differ. As for the analogue, If a cd player has some of the flavor of the sound coming out of a vinyl rig then it has an analog-like sound. I just have return from a long listening session with a UDP1 deluxe. I will write some words and post tomorrow here.
A I said I own a Musical fidelity Kw DM System, transport + Dac. The connection between the two is digital balanced, and the two are available to be bought separately; however the KW Trans can only be used with the KW Dac. The Dac sports bouble single-ended output, one valve one solid state. To my ears is treble in particular is very defined and analogue-like, and fatigue is non-existant.
Better sounding CDP's may be around but ultimately I haven't heard any better as jet.
Not a cheap option at £4000 (I live in scotland).
I recently listened to the Copland CDA 823 (at exactly half the price of the KW), a nice little player that altough it hasn't got the kind of resolution of the MF KW it shared the same un-digital and free sound.
Indeed worth a look with budget in mind.
Another exellent player is the Meridian G08, very nice but musically leaves me a bit detached.
Hope this can help
mark levinson led the way in digital reproduction for a long time, 1st with some very good sounding proceed dacs/transports, and cdp's that were built like tanks. then they made the first ML-brand dac, the #30, which was considered the absolute best you could buy, along with their extraordinary reference transport(the 31.5). finally trickle down resulted in the #36, #36s, and the #360s dacs, which came so close to the #30 many dealers stopped carrying the "reference" gear. their final cdp, the 390s, is still made and incorporates many if not all of the features offered in all of those previous components. i feel the ML-390S digs almost as deep into the music as many players costing (as much as you care to spend). the HDCD filter is absolutely superb as well; if you like Reference Recordings you are in for a super treat. if they would only make sure the drawer would last for a good 10 years (or they'll fix it for free), imho this compact little black box is/would be very tough to beat.
Alanbrain - Very interested in reading your report about the UDP-1 Deluxe. What is different about the Deluxe versus the original version?
If you can find a lightly used Audio Aero Capitole, buy it. Especially if it is the latest version with the analog passthru.

I own one and it always gets great reviews in audiogon circles. This unit will step aside on occasion whenever someone comes out with another 'wow' product, like EMM and then when the dust settles the Audio Aero comes bouncing back in favor.

This is not to say that the EMM is inferior, just that a used AA Capitole fits your budget and few would argue against it.
by the way what difference does it make what the best sounding cd player is under $5000, if there is a best sounding cd player under $5000, or if there is a "best" sounding cd player at any price ?

suppose someone doesn't like the best sounding cd player under $5000 ? such a quest is quixotic. it accomplishes nothing.

it's like asking for a recommendation for the best wife ?

there is no best wife and there is no best sounding cd player, or amp, or speaker. there is no best component and there is no best stereo system.

all there is is one's preferred component which may not be the best, but who cares.

what is important is trying to help someone find a cd player having the performance he or she desires.

i am going through this process right now, looking for a cd player and preamp, as i have indicated in previous posts.

i am not looking for the best cd player. i would not recognize it even if i heard it. all i want is a cd player that i like.

i have indicated my sonic preferences and have gotten some suggestions. i am thankful for the suggestions. i wish i could listen to 50 cd players in my own system. unfortuantely, some of the players i would like to hear are not yet available.

yes, i am listening to the melody and will be reviewing it.
i am reluctant to comment on it now, until i have submitted my review, ditto the lector .6 .

let's ignore the urge to use the word "better" or "best" and instead focus on what is satisfying to our ears.
Completely agree with Mr Tennis. The thread would have been called "Analog sounding cd player under 5k Advice".
Sometimes we use the word "best" when what we really are trying to say is "best for what I like".
The review of the UDP-1 deluxe is almost finished. I will post it here.

I will try to describe my experience with the UDP-1.
The rendezvous took place in my friend’s house, Mr Barrios.
His set up is
Mc Cormack UDP-1 Deluxe
Audioquest Panther IC
Conrad Johnson Premier 17LS preamplifier
Audioquest Cheetah IC
Conrad Johnson Premier 12 Monoblocks
Audioquest Sterling(biwired)
Von Schweikert VR4jr
Michael Green Room Tunes
Herbies Audio Lab Tube Dampers in the Powers.
BBC Spikes

To put things in perspective.
Mr Barrios, as me ,listen mostly to rock. Seventies rock of many kinds like Love,
PFM, Le Orme, The Band, The Who, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Elton John, John Lennon, Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Cat Stevens.
Ocassionally other genres could jump into the rig, Jazz a la Monk, Davis or Coltrane.
And very very few times classical music.
Ok. Lets go.

How is it for the sound?

The UDP1 Deluxe had roughly like 200 hours of break in. We start listening to redbooks cds. The first thing I noticed was the great ability of the player to reproduce tight and musical very low bass notes with a good decay, not dry at all. The bass was very detailed and present. The sound was very full bodied and a bit on the warm side of neutral.
This, the bass completeness and precision, is for me the most amazing trick the UDP-1 performed.

But thats not all.

The UDP-1 is a non-tubed machine. The overall sound coming of the Maccormack was very detailed, very articulate, with a good extension on both extremes of the frequency spectrum.

We listened to John Lennon "Plastic Ono Band" Mobile Fidelity redbook and the sound was really something.
The double voice of Lennon on "Hold on” coming from the two VR4s was very clear, actually. You can hear the two voices blending in the air between the speakers. The piano on "Isolation" was heavy with good weight but not the better I have heard.
The voice of Lennon on “Isolation” also had a very good low extension. The soundstage was big and open, and slightly forward with only a little depth.
That’s an issue.
I never had the feeling that the soundstage was very deep but I’m almost sure that it is caused by room acoustics.

We tried another redbook cds of different production years and the UDP1 always delivered a well controlled and accurate sound. The bass was always tight, never boomy and never dry.
Another thing that impress me about the UDP1 is its extraordinary ability to retrieve information.

When we switched to SACDs, the sound became more non-fatiguing.
I doesn’t mean at all that the redbook sound was fatiguing but SACD was a lot more non-fatiguing. It seems like when I listened to the SACD my mind was working less, trying to fulfill the empty spaces between the 1s and the 0s.
SACD by the UDP1 was the most close vinyl like experience coming from a digital source.
It was very relaxing and real.

We listened to Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells SACD and I think it was very very similar to vinyl.

Next on the spot was Elton John, Madman across the water SACD. We listened to “Tiny Dancer” and "Levon” The voice of Elton John was scaring real and 3d. You could feel the subtle changes coming out of his throat. The guitars were well positioned in the soundstage with good separation.

At last we tried DVD audio. Here I will skip because I really can’t stand the loudness and spectacular flavor of the DVDAUDIO presentation. It is like a very digital experience with a lot of volume and all the instruments and voices attacking at once.
Like a relentless attack. I don’t like it at all. It the opposite of what I define as real sound. I havent heard DVDAUDIO in others hi end players, so I dont know if this is a Mccormack issue. I think is mostly the format being too digital for my taste.

I have to say that at anytime when we were listening to redbook cds, if someone would have told me that I was really listening to a SACD I would have believed. Because the performance of the UDP1 in redbook was so good that the differences between that and SACD were always very short, if any at all. Also, The UDP1 cant decode HDCD,so it reads the HDCDs as normal cds. We listened to 2 or 3 HDCDs we knew very well, and never miss something in the sound. The HDCDs sounded as well as when decoded.

You can’t say that the UDP1 has a tube sound, nor you cant say it has the solid state typical coldness. Is a very good mix of the best of the tube/warm sound and the best of the ss/accurate sound with a foot on the latter side.

During the session I didn’t at anytime feel any shortcoming in the performance of the UDP1. But, there is always a “but”, remember, is a good mix, it has a bit of every side and not a lot of neither.

Personally, I prefer my sound natural and real.
That’s my goal and that’s why I think the UDP1 is not my cup of tea.
I felt the lack of a more flowing, more liquid sound, and a more organic presentation of the event.
I think it lacks a bit of a more musical soul.

But, the UDP1 is an extremely accurate cd player that, as always, depending on your system and preferences may work for you or not.

For those of the analytical and detailed squad, the UDP1 could become his loyal digital friend.
For those on the relax, organic squad the UDP1 is worth a listen because it has a bit of that, but I don’t think it will be for a long time in their racks.

For the ones who want it all, even at the cost of having only a little of everything, the UDP1 is as near as perfect gets.

Finally, in a system like the one my friend Mr Barrios has, the accurate and dynamic UDP1 has the perfect partner, the Premier 12 with his big and mellow sound.
Like always, listen first, let your ears judge.
I have to clarify one thing. The differences between SACD and redbook on the UDP1 were indeed very short. But, SACD has a special characteristic in his way of represent sound that make its sound more analog like. Maybe a redbook could sound more detailed, clearer and with better bass than a SACD, but the SACD always will sound more natural.. Thats why SACD in the UDP1 is kind of a vinyl listening experience.
Wow, that was a long post. And a good review. Thanks for taking the time to write down your thoughts.

While this is long past the OP posting, many people review these threads to gleam information for their current day purchases, as such, I am offering my "limited value" two cents worth based on posters Qs and stated goals ("analog" sounding - or at least the description he specifies as analog sounding).

I have owned several of the units suggested in this posting and recognize the frequency that people often recommend the piece that they presently own, regardless of whether it meets the OP's goals - ie sort of analog sounding. So here it goes:

Resolution Audio Opus 21 with GNSC mods: This is a very nice CDP for the money and one I can recommend, but not for the goals of this poster. It hits much bigger than its price, but will not in my opinion sound "analogish".

Esoteric X-03SE and to a certain degree am bunching in the Esoteric sound here. Again, a phenom. player, but definately not to be confused with analog sounding. A unit I highly recommend but not for the OP goals.

EMM Labs is getting closer to the smoother sound (vs. above 2), but again is not likely to be confused with analog - but probably is taking him half way their.

DCS (now I owned the Purcell and Delius and not their transport). I loved these pieces and feel their performance was exceptional in every regard. I would not categorize them as analog sounding, but pretty darn neutral. I think these units (and their newer and better units which I have heard but not owned) are exceptional and will deliver what most people claiming to want analog really want in a CDP (ie. avoidance of strident, analytical, "harsh" sound).

Audio Aero Capitole is going to deliver what most people who say they are looking for an analog sound are going to like. This is a "sweet" sounding CDP, a little bloomy, definately warm and takes the "digital" edge off. I call this a beautiful sounding CDP for the said reasons, but be careful, is this really what you want all of the time? For some yes, for me no. I wanted more detail too often for this CDP to be truly acceptable to me over the long term (but I like detail). I think those that really want that "analog" like sound will find this most rewarding. My final comment on the AA units is reliability. They are made in France, they are not made well, they break down A LOT and hence they do not hold their value at all. But they are beautiful sounding.

Wadia - no confusion with analog sounding (but I like them).

MF Trivista units - I own the Trivista DAC, no this won't do it for the OP goals. Good, very good for the money, but won't hit his goals. I am assuming the DAC and CD have a lot of similarities, but I may be wrong on this?

All of the above I have owned. These I have listened to:

BAT - won't do it for him, not bad, just not in the same league.

Cary - some are interesting, decent sounding, but in the long run I don't think will meet the long term goals of the OP.

Others I would consider based on 2010:

AMR 77 ($$$) or AMR 777 ($)
We have to remember the under $5000 bit of the question. I would certainly say my GNSC modded Opus 21 fits the bill. However, not dissing the product, just my own unit. I have had more trouble with it than any other product I have owned. It has been back to Steve at Great Northern Sounds, 3 times and that is across the Atlantic! Great credit to him, he has been unfailingly helpful, but I've had enough, I give up. It really did sound great though.
Someone else mentioned the Esoteric SA60 and I and a number of others were able to do an A/B comparison with the Opus and they were markedly different and the Esoteric was certainly in the detailed, cool digital camp, the Opus, warm, more analogue sounding. I took a straw pole at the show demo and everyone preferred the Opus, excellent though the Esoteric was.
David12, so sorry to hear of your troubles with the modded Opus 21. Knock on wood, I never had a single issue or hick-up with mine. I kept it a good while too and eventually contacted Steve before putting it up for sale to see if he had any lookers. He did and bought it back from me and sold it on.

Having owned the Esoteric and the Opus 21 at the same time, you are correct about the "flavor" of these two machines. While I would not call the esoteric cold, I think of it as pretty neutral, but very detailed. I don't consider the Opus warm or analogue, but certainly warmer than the Esoteric.

The differences as you point are, are not subtle. It doesn't take a fine tuned ear to hear the differences in the sound of the two companies/products.

Your comments are well presented.
Finally, on David's comment on the $5K level. All of the units I referenced in my prior posting were purchased by me for under $5K, some well under $5K. Of course, I generally purchase used and assume that is what the poster means, he has up to $5K to spend (vs. units that list for $5K new). But that is always a question as to how posters include pricing but not necessarily budget.
Ckoffend, you seem to know a lot about cd players, have you hear the Electrocompaniet emc up or the Ayon players or the Perfectwave dac? I am looking for a player with a lot of detail but also warm, musical, flowing. That makes a hard decision as I can't listen to many of them where I live. I also want to be able to hook it up to my computer. Thanks, Sandra
Where is it written that the AA units are poorly made and breakdown a lot? I've read about problems here on A'gon but certainly no more than other players. And many of the problems have been about the transport, which can hardly be attributable to AA. Then of course there is the problem about no current representation in the states and the fact that AA does not return emails. Legitimate problems, but I still think the rap AA has taken is a bit overblown. I've owned 2 AA players over the last 7-8 years (I still own my Capitol) and never had an ounce of trouble with either one. Bottom line is they are wonderful players IMHO, very musical, have as much detail as I need, and are about as close to analog as you will get with digital. And with the bad rap they have taken, very attractively priced these days. I have no affiliation with AA, I’m just a happy AA owner.