Best sounding CD player for under $500?

No, I'm not joking! :-) I'm about to have to lay out a fair amount of money to have my SOTA Sapphire turntable refurbished by SOTA, and I also need to plunk down some money for a new pair of loudspeakers to replace the Vandersteen's that are now much too big for my new, downsized listening room, which also has the double for a guest bedroom.

So I am looking for a CD player, even a mass-market one, that sounds as good as possible for the price. I am setting an absolute, upper limit for this of $500, maximum, and if it comes in at well under $500, so much the better. Since I have, or will have, a very nice analog front end with "miles" of vinyl to listen to once the system comes together, I don't see the CD player choice as being life-and-death at this point. It's just that I have a growing collection of CDs to play, of necessity. So, I don't care what the brand name is... for that matter, it can be a mass-market player that I can pick up at a big-box electronics store. So here's a different kind of challenge for you experts: what's the best sounding, currently available "cheapie" CD player you've heard? :-)
Sony SCD-CE595 SACD CD Changer. You won't believe the great sonics for < $125.00.
oppo, oppo, oppo. Try it and see. I have one and others, Sony Cal labs, and the oppo often puts them to shame. Buy and don't like? Easy, return it free if you order on the Big River.
Take a look at the Music Hall CD25.2. Very nice sounding CDP for around 440$ new. Seem them and the earlier version used for around 200-300 here.
Tiger, Robbyg and Grinnell,

Thanks so much for the replies. For about 12 hours there I thought nobody was going to reply... I was getting nervous about getting banned from Audiogon or something! ;-)

Are you using one of the Oppo DVD players for CD's only?
The Oppo is a great bargain for a multipurpose player, but does not compete head to head with newer dedicated entry level HiFi red book players. You are paying for video and multichannel audio DACs and design compromises that dedicated players don't have to make. I think there are other better choices unless you need to be able to play DVDs too.

For example,


Music Hall CD25.2
as stated above, very nice sounding - resolution plus neutrality

Cambridge Azur 540C v2 (do not recommend v1 if buying used)
resolution champ if that is your bag - forward

NAD C542
laid back and musical, but a little rougher around the edges than the other two


Cambridge Azur 640c v2 (v1 very similar to 540C v2)
lots of resolution but smoother and more musical presentation than the 540 v2 - 2 DACs

NAD C542 (or older NAD C54X)
C542 on sale on ebay, C522 for sale on Agon for cheap

Music Hall CD25.2 (or older better model)
same as above only cheaper

Rotel RCD-970 (or newer RCD-1072 if available)
a little forward but good resolution, also on Audiogon

Musical Fidelity A3.2 just sold on Agon for $490
smooth and musical player

Some places to start.
I have an Oppo.. it rules for Divx, standard DVDs.. and only $169. See if it is good enough as is, if not.. get a cheap DAC.

I haven't tried this particular one but a lot of people seem to like it at $250-300... the Paradisea DAC.. (i think it's tubed):

Then you can also experiment with a computer based music server system.. if you haven't already.

Or get a Sony Playstation SCPH 1001 off craigslist for $40 and see what you think...
If you are looking for a universal player you can't go wrong with OPPO for the price. If you are looking for player I would suggest the Cambridge Audio 640 V1 or a V2 (if you find one used it will be in your price range). Of course the NAD 541 and 542 are always safe choices. I agree you could go with a little money in an old rotel or a sony (most models solid players) and add a DAC (Adcom DGA-600 or a Channel Island VDA-1 would be two lower priced ones you could consider).
Get a Sony 9100es or the older 999es which to me sound better than most of the players mentioned above. Yes, I have used most of the ones mentioned, not heard the MF 3.2.
Rebbi: I bought the OPPO 983H simply based on all the hype, as they can be returned if you don't like it. And the hype is true. It has since replaced my
Sony ES 555 changer hooked up to an Adcom 600DAC.
You really can't lose.
Good luck!
I found that I can get the Music Hall CD 25.2 for $440. Do you folks think it's that far superior to the Oppo to justify the extra dollars?
I think that for $440 delivered, you should at least
try out the oppo. It dances around my old $1350 combo.
Sony SCD-C2000ES is a fantastic SACD/CD player. It retails for $400 and is worth every penny. It is similar to the SCD-CE595 recommended in a previous post. Although it is an ES model with a 5 year parts and labor warranty. It also has an aluminum face, gold plated outputs, headphone output with volume, two power transformers and upgraded caps that the 595 doesn't include. Both are excellent sounding players on SACD and redbook CD. Highly recommended.
Well, I went ahead and ordered the Music Hall CD 25.2 from Underwood. The reviews are fantastic, and as far as I can tell, the thing is built like a tank with a really good transport mechanism. I'll report back when I have it up and running in my system.

Many thanks to all of you for helping me out in this decision. I really appreciate it!

And while it's hardly "cheap," it seems like a good value.