NAD C656BEE and save some money for later if needed.
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Get the cheapest SACD capable player, and save money for it's replacement, when it fails. In the meantime you will have the peace of mind of knowing that it sounds as good as any other CD player, regardless of price. I would look at the Marantz SA8004 and the Denon 100th anniversary player. (currently discounted by $1000.) A lot of stuff used in your price range, but I would beware of buying anything used that has moving parts and or lasers. If sacd is not a priority, then Marantz CD 5004, or the NAD stuff.
I like the Marantz SA-8004 for $1K. It sounds great, plays both sacd and cd, has digital inputs for it's very good dac, and will also input computer usb. Read the review in the ABSOLUTE SOUND. One thing, one my sacd's it didn't want to read. Thats it though, only one. When i get home I think cleaning will help for that cd.
Have you considered a good DAC/Player combo? You could pick up a Rega or Centrance DAC and add a new or used player as transport. This would beat out many stand-alone players and give you greater flexibility down the road.
If you still prefer a stand alone player, the Rega Apollo is slick and the versatile Oppo 95 has most people pretty happy. You'll find it it pretty hard to find a "bad" player. I find the range to start at "excellent" and work it's way up, depending on system synergy.
Music Direct is blowing out the older model Rega Apollo for $700 with free shipping. The new Apollo is $1100. Considering your budget, I'm not sure you will really get any more performance until you reach the $3K range. Also, remember you're getting a brand new players with warranty, which is a nice thing if something goes wrong.
Yes, a dac takes the signal from your cd player (or computer) and improves the digital to analog conversion if the dac is better than the one in the cd player. The cd player must have digital inputs to be used as a dac. A standalone dac does of course have digital inputs but doesn't play cd's if it doesn't have a transport. Many mentioned DO not have digital inputs as the Marantz does. it doesn't matter if you don't want them.
When someone says a cd player or dac of the same or close to same price range slaughters others you should take that with a grain of salt. My experience is there is a difference but not that great of similar priced players. It comes down to the options available that you want and personal preference. A basic guide $1K better than $3-5 hundred, $2K somewhat better than that. $3K and up, usually another level of enhancement and then smaller improvement as you increase in price. Once you reach a certain price (over $5K)you are paying more for build quality and looks than sound improvement. IMO
For regular redbook get a Raysonic CD 128. Or as someone suggested a blow out Rega Apollo. For $1500 get the Rega and a 500-700 dollar DAC. The Rega's make a good transport and you will be set for computer audio.
Esoteric DV 50 is a good one. Sometimes they are had for under $1800. I agree the NAIM is always a good player.
I have used all and much more mentioned here.