Good used Music Hall CD25 or 25.2. I have one and love the sound.
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With his criteria, the 3 year warranty from Marantz would seem to give it an edge.
I like the Cambridge players. I use the 340C in my office; it replaced a D500SE that lost a channel after 5 years of daily use.
I second the Denon 3910 recommendation. Very nice player (mine is up for sale), but I'd stick with new to have the warranty.
I'm guessing your friend is more into buying a NEW affordable player, than a used player which one would find on Audiogon (although I think you CAN get the best "bang for the buck" by buying used on Audiogon). Now if that's the case, then perhaps people around here should be focusing on what NEW affordable "redbook" players that are out there that offer some "audiophile" qualities for those in the "affordable audio" camp. And in using the term "affordable" let's focus on what's available in the sub $500 catagory. Certainly Marantz, Cambridge Audo and NAD, and perhaps some others have units that might fit the bill, so be curious to have a little "compare and contrast" on what's out on the market nowadays. Truth be told, there are lot of people who enjoy good sounding units, that don't have "deep pockets".
Thanks for your thoughts. My friend will go with my recommendation and used is okay, but I want to be sure that it's going to last. The Denon 3910 gives *me* a bad feeling in that regard and, besides, I'd prefer to get a plain old CDP.
I offered him an Arcam FMJ23T that I recently picked up. $700. But he balked at the price, which is why I am exploring other options. I figure new is just easier, but I'm not bound to it. My frustration is that I have no idea how all of these players sound and if they'd be a good fit. I should have mentioned that he listens exclusively to jazz, mostly be-bop. So PRAT and energy are key. I think a "laid-back" sound, whatever that means, might not be ideal.
Just found a review of the Marantz CD5003 on the Postive Feedback website. It was mostly a postive review but it did say the following:
"Where the Marantz falls slightly short of competing with NAD and especially Cambridge Audio players is in terms of pace and high frequency extension. It just didn't get my toes tapping as convincingly, nor did it have as much sparkle."
Since you just stated that your friend like listening to be-bop jazz, and that PRAT and energy are important qualities to him. I would think the Cambridge player would more than likely suit his needs a bit better better than the Marantz.
I used to own the NAD C542 and it was to my ears, a warm, musical type of player. And it also did good in the PRAT dept. The only thing I didn't care about the player is occasionally I would put a disc in the drawer and it wouldn't play and wouldn't eject the disc. Which meant I had to take the player out of my system, and take the top off the unit to retrive the disc, and then tinker around with drawer mechanism till it started operating properly again. Now granted this only happen a couple or three times in the year that the player was in my system, but still.... (note: the unit was a refurbished unit). NAD are good sounding players especially for the price, but they do have a reputation of having occasional mechanical problems.
The best player that I had, and one that I think your friend would enjoy, especially with a little "tube rolling" to get the sonic qualities he wants is the Jolida JD-100. You can generally find an "unmodded" version on the Audiogon sale pages in the $500 range. To tell the truth, once I straighten out a few financial issues, chances are I'll get another one. Very enjoyable player and many great reviews (and deservely so).
I now use a NAD C545BEE in my main system, but I don't use its analog outputs. I picked it for two reasons -- transformer coupled digital output and a Repeat button on the front panel. I've only had it for a few months, but so far I couldn't be happier with it. Build seems to be good and it loads discs quickly.
I've owned a Cambridge, and for the money they are really hard to beat especially if you're looking for smooth, musical player. Another thing to consider in the used market is one of the Sony's like an NS999ES or NS9100ES or maybe some of the Rotel players. I know the Marantz players have a great reputation, but I've not had the opportunity to audition any of the newer models...
Drubin, I've never listened to the NAD 545BEE via its analog outputs -- sorry. Please don't take this the wrong way, but at this price point I think solid state players are going to sound way more alike than different. If it was me, I'd choose ergonomics and warranty first.
The first Cambridge player I owned (D500SE) sounded a little more detailed to me than a Rega Planet 2000 that I brought home to audition against it. I chose the Cambridge player at 1/2 the price of the Rega. My current Cambridge player (340C) sounds just as good to me as the previous Cambridge player. They all sounded different from my Arcam FMJ CD23T -- which seemed to have the warmth of the Rega and the detail of the Cambridge. Please note that none of these comparisons were done level matched.
Sorry I can't be of more help.