Right at around $500 you should be able to find a good Rega Planet 2000 used. Very musical player for the money IMO. Add a few $ more and look for a used Jolida to take off the hard edges even further. Sub $500 I might be tempted to look at some of the less expensive Sony SACD players, but don't know where to stear you there.
Cal Icon MkII. Warm sounding and built like a tank. Upgrade power cord and you're in business. Others have favored the NAD CDP's. I hope the new models are better than the older models because of the two older ones I've owned I was not impressed w/their sonic or mechanical performance. Bill
CAL Icon MkII.
Same remarks as Kotta. I have used one for 4 years now (sometimes with an outboard DAC) and even as a stand alone player it is still hard to beat.
cal ikon mk2 also gets my vote. have had one for years and am still more tha pleased.
Owned the Ikon MK2, and used to sell the Rega Planet from a retail store. Both good players for their perspective ranges overall. an older Panasonic DVDA310 dvd player floating around out there for around $200, it's absolutely musical, detailed, and more refined for a cheap investment! Also, it's got a volume control for passive set up should you chose!...and it plays DVD's!..and 24/96 DVD music to boot!
Still, for a more probable and practical and sound audiphile investment, if you're looking for "a real piece" or pieces, getting a good deal on a used Theta Basic transport, and one their Progenies or Pro Prime IIa's for few hundred bucks used would be a better sonic investment for CD playback! Then again you could use many transports that might prove "adequate", and spend more on the DAC. But if you want simple, you might find a used one of the above mentioned yes.
Another alternative, is one I hinted at, and you might be supprised! Some of the inexpensive DVD players out there, given they are using much better DAC's than were readily avialable even a few short years back, are very musical and detailed for CD playback! They compete and even surpass alot of the more expensive CD players from a few years ago! Digital keeps improving, while standard 16/44 cd's are still the main thing people listen to by-enlarge. Might be worth a listen before you invest in more expensive, if even outdated digital gear for standard CD listening.
Cambridge Audio CD6 and a decent power cord.
What about the Phillips 963. I've only heard "big happys" about it.
I like Sugarbrie's suggestion for a used CD6 and a power cord upgrade. The CD4-CD4a-CD6 series was good value for the money.
I also like the Shanling CD-S100 / Music Hall CD25 player. You can get it new for under $500 and it will sound better than a great many older players selling used at that price.
I'm not sure what sort of electronics you are going to use your CD player with; but would highly recommend the Music Hall MMF CD-25 CD player. Unlike a number of the other units mentiones above; this is a current model CD player. Has decent build quality, provides very smooth yet detailed sound (which improves with time) right out of the box, has HDCD decoding, and operates very quietly. With a little shopping here on Audiogon, you should be able to get a demo unit or a little used unit in your price range.
Also, when you get a chance - upgrade the stock power cord. It improves the already decent sound even a bit more. I did so a week ago and am delighted that I did so.
I agree with foreverhifi. I've been using an RCA5223P DVD player with a 24/96 DAC for the past few years after a serious comparison revealed it was better than my Arcam Alpha 8SE, which I sold. The RCA, from what I understand, is a re-badged Panasonic (has a headphone jack I've never used, volume control, etc.) and with some basic tweaks has been a very good performer.
The player I'd look at today is the Philips 963SA, available for under $400. I've had e-mail correspondence with someone who owns one who says it is substantially better than his Sony SCD 777ES on redbook and better (with the 192 upsampling on) than a Muse 296 DAC (rated Class A by Stereophile) that he also owns. Plus it does SACD and is a DVD player as well.
How about a NEW NAD C541i for $400?
HDM, would you recommend a DAC with the Philips, and, if so, what would you recommend?
Rich: I have no experience with outboard DACs at all so am in no position to recommend one. Just to clarify things, I'm using the RCA with its own 24/96 DAC, nothing outboard, and the guy using the 963SA was using it with its own DAC as well.
I just added a new NAD 541i to my system a couple of weeks ago, for about $410 US. It has 24/96 Burr-Brown D/A chip, HDCD, remote, digital out, etc. and sounds great IMHO.
I say the Music Hall CD25 has to be considered. Very good redbook playback and also has HDCD to boot (which sounds wonderful). Turn it up a notch with the addition of an aftermarket PC. Bamm!
I would get a CAL Delta Transport and either a Scott Nixon DAC or a Moddified ART DIO DAC!
Might cost alittle more ,but it will also give the performance of a $3000+ machine.