EAD w/stable platter.
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I would second the Parasound recommendation above. Haven't heard the Meridian, but have heard a bunch of other transports and the Parasound is among the best I've heard. I am currently auditioning a DVD player as a transport and it is too early to tell for sure, but I think the Parasound, on an absolute basis, is better. The DVD player is much cheaper, of course. In regards to dacs, I have heard the MSB Link I (not III) and the Bel Canto Dac 1. I thought the Bel Canto was much better (smoother, richer, deeper bass).
The Parasound would only be available used, as it has been discontinued. Probably best source would be here at A'gon. Sorry I was half asleep last night and forgot to mention that I have also gotten decent results using a Sony SCD-C555ES as a transport. This is available new for $600. However, there is a model C222ES that supposedly uses the same transport mechanism that sells for $400. You might even find you like the sound of the Sony's as well as your dac.
I'd definitely go with the Bel Canto over the MSB. Don't recall if the 1.1 has jitter reduction, but if it does you may be able to get very good results using a cheap DVD player as a transport(you can always upgrade to a better transport later). Also, don't underestimate the importance of a good digital cable. I've found the Apogee Wyde Eye to be nicely detailed without brightness, and it only runs around $35 or so for a 1m coax cable. I got mine at Guitar Center(not many audio shops carry Apogee cables as their main business is in the pro area), and you may be able to buy it online from Guitar Center but I don't know for sure. Best of luck.
From the reviews I've read the Bel Canto is supposed to reclock the data signal, whereas MSB does not. That should mean that the Bel Canto is significantly less sensitive to the transport. Inexpensive CD players are often not very good transports (poor quality digital out, bad jitter) so I'm not sure the MSB would offer much improvement over say an Arcam CD72 on its own.
There's an audio note CDT-zero on Agon for $600 .... probably a better transport than any of the players you mention. Perhaps you could stretch to a Meridian 500.
Nobody has asked why you're set on going for a two-box player on your relatively limited budget. For the same money you could get a pretty nice one box player. (BTW I have a cheap 3 box setup mission CD-7000 - Monarchy DIP - Monarchy 22A, it cost $400 altogether and wipes the floor with my Marantz CD67SE ... so I'm not saying the multi-box approach is bad, just that it's only one option).
My opinion .. go one box and get an Arcam CD92 with the ring DAC.
Thanks Seandtaylor99. The thought often crosses my mind. Maybe its just a "bug" to experiment with 2 boxes. Like you many have extolled the virtues of their 2 box set ups and I am keen to try in my limited budget :) I believe the BC does reclock and IS less sensitive to a transport. I did see the Audio Note CDT Zero listing. $600 is perhaps a little too high for me.
BTW, The CD92T (which I have heard and found to sound superb) is about 2X the price of the CD72T! I guess the Ring DAC still commands a premium. I need a 230VAC version so that limits my AGon used choices.
Check with Arcam ... one of my friends moved from the UK to the US, and it was simply a matter of replacing jumpers and switching fuses to convert his Arcam amp and CD from 240V to 110V ... Arcam does a lot of trade both sides of the atlantic, so they might manufacture a single unit for both markets. Transatlantic shipping is another issue, though !