Linn Genki or The Rega Jupiter!!!
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I'm not sure if its "close" to the ML gear but the Arcam FMJ 23t is getting some good press as of late. Another one that is reportedly just around the corner is a new Cary cdp that I believe is tentatively priced below your budget. While on the subject of Cary's the 303-200 can be found near your budget target as well...
I would definitely consider the Sony or Marantz SACD players. The Sony XA777ES has gotten rave reviews for redbook and is available new under $2k. There are numerous upgrade mods available including tube output stage by Modwright so you can take it up as far as you want, plus you get great SACD playback and 5.1 along with the deal. I have the Sony DVP-S9000ES that I got used for $675, and it has redbook playback that is as good as any $1500 player I've heard. Albert and some others here have gone the 9000 route as well. It is a very good player, and with it you get CD, SACD and DVD too. It makes a great choice for a single source system. Just add a progressive scan TV and you have a great home theater as well as a great stereo.
Try the Audio Analogue Maestro MK-I, if you can find one on the used market. New about, $1,800; used about $1,200. The updated Maestro MK-II sells for about $2,500.
This CDP from Italy produces a natural, musical sound that you can listen to for hours and hours. Wonderful for classical, especially chamber music, and vocals.