Best Player or DAC: ceiling $3k

My primary system: Stax Omega Headphones with Stax 007 balanced tube headphone amp.I plan to use balanced interconnects. I listen to a wide variety of music. I am looking to buy a the best digital source without going much over $3000, though no need to go that high. I live in the hinterlands and cannot audition anything. Therefore, I am left to interpret the interpreters.I am unlikely to get into SACD,etc. My candidates on the used market:
-Kora Hermes II
-Balanced Audio Technology
-Audio Note Balanced 3.1
-Theta Gen V Balanced
-Meridian 508.24
-(New)- The Lector
I still really like the EMC-1 UP.
What is "The Lector"?
The Lector (sp.) is discussed here. Absolute sound gave it a very good review. Actually, I have started to narrow my search. I am desperately seeking a BAT CD player, but cannot find one. I would also like a fully balanced system, given that my Stax headphone amp is balanced (no pre involved).I have added to my list the new Accuphase 67, which looks like it may get redbook quality of the 75v. The good thing about the 67 is that it has slots for ease of upgrading to SACD or DVD-A. The 'Capitole II' is too much (runs 4500 used).I have taken the Meridian off my list, and have decided to go with a single box operation, which eliminates the Hermes and Audio Note. A number of you have recommended the EMC. The Lector is not fully balanced and I understand it takes months to get one. This leaves me with two options:
Accuphase 67 (perhaps used 75v)
Any opinions. My primary system is CD player, Stax Omega balanced tube amp and Stax Omega headphones. I only listen to 'heavy' music on my long runs. Imaging and warmth is very important. Into the likes of ECM jazz, minimalist classical and quality electronic (Steve Roach). Thanks
You're going to have to take a shot in the dark if auditioning is not
possible. At some point someone is going to make a comment that will
support purchasing the player toward which you're already leaning (you
know you are...). I own an EMC 1-UP and haven't found a player yet that
can compete in the area of soundstage and detail. You can further have
it modded by Steve Nugent at Empirical Audio for around $1700 if you
so choose.

Take the plunge. The decision won't get any easier, and you'll have a
player sooner rather than later.

Good choice to buy used because digital components lose their value
faster than Jaguar automobiles.
Resolution Audio Opus 21 (new). Suggest a demo. trial from the manufacturer. I believe the most you're out for 30-days is $150.00. I'm not familar with the other units, but the Opus 21 lives up to its "resolution" moniker, and it can directly drive an amp.

Wadia 861 Basic (used)
I second Mrmb's input on the Opus 21. Have had one now for 3 weeks in my system. Completely beautiful sounding. IMO, much better than anything I've heard for twice the price.
Only thing that could need improvement is the remote, but that's no biggy.

Best, Michael Wolff
Try MSB TECH their Gold link III is good but the platium series is world class but that will be over $3000 say $5000
these are S.S.
Simple one, Resolution Audio Opus 21. If you have no local dealer, please drop me a line.....
You may include the Chord DAC 64 in your list. audiogon-member ljgj has it, as well as the Kora Hermes, as far as I remember, but says the Chord is by far the better one
For stock DAC's, the Electro ECD-1. Great out of the box, but imaging and sibilance could be improved. For modded DAC's, the Perpetual Technologies P-3A.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
I'm sure the above recommendations are great, but I'll throw out another option.

I just heard the Ack Dac for only about $500 and was very impressed. You could spend more, but there's little guarantee you will get better performance, especially a stock piece under $3k. A modded piece may be a better option if you are determined to spend more.

Of the items you listed though, I think the Meridian would be my choice.
One thing to consider... pick up a used Wadia - 861 if you can afford it or an 830 or 301. They're all great players. Then consider a reference mod from Steve Huntley at Great Northern Sound. He does incredible work, is great to work with, and his mods will make any of these units (or others) a cornerstone piece. I picked up an 830 w/ref mod from Steve and just love it.

check out or just search here or AA for comments on GNSC and Steve.
I put my vote in for the Resolution Opus 21 as well. I've heard it quite a bit over the last month or so, and geez, it sounds great! It's the best thing I've heard under $10,000. But give the Electrocompaniet EMC-1up a fair shot too. It's also a great player.
GaMuT cd1 upsamples at 2x the speed of sacd very smooth sounding good value for money
My Gamut CD1R is amazing, my friends Meridian 508.24 (which I was going to get) has amazing slam control on the bass, but the Gamut is Liquid on top.. Both are super detailed but not thin like the Levinson units I've heard.
Go for the Audio Note if your taste runs toward non-upsampled sound. If you don't know if you like the sound of upsampling, you'll have to try a few and see. I do like the upsampled sound of many players that I've heard, but overall prefer the Audio Note.

One other nice aspect of the Audio Note is it's virtual extinction-proof topology. There may be improvements made, but the tech is old already and is realtively "mature" and the components which may be improved tend to be upgradeable by the manufacturer.

Good luck on your quest!
After owning many top shelf front ends...levinson ref, wadia 861, bat, denon, arc,...I have found SONY...yes, Sony to communicate music far more effectively then than any of listen all day and all night!! Maybe it's the Burr Brown DAC's that suck the life out of the music. The fact that it's single ended is also contributing to the fact that it sounds better...wonder why Conrad still goes RCA??