My recommendation, and what I use in my megabuck system, is the EAD T-7000 transport.
I have briefly owned a Cal Delta and was not very happy with it. I have a Parasound CBD-2000 which I have been very happy with. Parasounds are no longer made but are available used for $5-700. In another system, I have recently bought a Sony SCD-e555es changer and found that for a changer, it also performs well as a cd transport. The Sony is available new for $600. It also will play SACD's but not thru it's digital output. While I have only compared the Parasound directly to the Cal; going from memory, I would also prefer the Sony over the Cal.
I would be looking at some of the used DVD players, I use a Pioneer DV 09 as both DVD player and transport, remarkable, IMHO. A lot of the big DVD/CD players of the last few years drop dramatically in price with the technology changing everyday, My Pioneer DV 09 was $2500 as recently as 18 months ago, I bought it last Thanksgiving for $300 because it did not have progressive scan, which the previous owner decided he had to have. Panasonic 1000 is another that comes to mind. These are large stable units weighing over 20+ pounds, which I believe helps. I have also used large laser disc players(CLD 52 comes to mind) as transports with excellent results, and for around $100 used they are a steal, just not sexy. For what is worth I have owned a # of CD players/DACS in the last few years, most do not sound as good as these later generation high end DVD players, again, thats in my opinion. Good luck
You could pick up a used CAL Icon MkII (the standard version) and use it as a transport. If eventually you go for a new one box unit, you will then have a good backup player and/or a source for a second system.
When used as a transport only, I prefer the Icon II over the Delta (fuller bass, but otherwise pretty much the same sound), though the bass may only be due to the heavier chassis.
The Theta Universal and the Pearl are tempting @ the top or slightly over your budget, but I have read that their drives can no longer be replaced/repaired.
I think that some of the old CAL EE's may still do repairs, but they would have to charge a lot less than CAL did towards the end. I inquired about the HDCD/Boss upgrade on my unit and for the price quoted I could have purchased a slightly used HDCD model for the same $ amount.
Also, what are the symtoms on the Delta as it may be something that you can repair yourself? I never took apart the Delta (as it was on loan), but the Icon looks fairly easy to work on.
Thanks for your feedback. It appears to me that the motor that spins the CD is starting to go. It has a hard time engaging and once it gets going, I dies in the middle of playing. It may play for as long as an entire CD but as little as 30 secs. In most cases it stops after 10 to 15 minutes. I've always used a green plastic disk that I would place on top of the CD to sweeten the sound and it seems that by continuing to do so makes the transport shut down sooner. I've used this green disk for years and never had a problem. I think that by adding the extra weight taxes the motor more resulting in shutdown. By eliminating the disk, I seem to get a few more minutes of play.
I *think* the guy at Great Northern Sound was once a tech or desinger for CAL. He does mods, and he could probably fix your transport. I would bet that a mod from him would sound better than a stck unit in that price range, but I have no idea what he'd charge. I use a Ric Schultz (from EVS) modded Sony CDP as a transport and it blew away anything I ever owned (CDPs from Denon, Rega, Revox, Studer, and a Pioneer DV-05). It was originally a $300-ish Sony player, so the mods made a huge difference.
I had a Cal Delta which quit reading the CD. It had been a Great Northern Sound mod which GREATLY improved it. I picked up a Ah Njoe Toeb for my transport and it works well, but not quite the Cal Delta-Mod. If you find anyone who works on them I would appreciate knwing. Peace, jim owens firstname.lastname@example.org