Building new system with 1 thorny problem - HELP

My aunt wants to upgrade her stereo system (Onkyo with cheap speakers); she listens to classical, jazz, some country, and a little lite pop - and not too loudly. I thought I had it all figured out - simple and cheap and good (nearly great): Linn Classic CD/tuner/integrated amp with Linn Ninka speakers. No interconnects necessary, Bi-Wire the speakers; pretty good sound for cheap (well, if you consider $3500 cheap and $10,000 expensive).

THE THORN: On the way home from listening to the Linn system my aunt introduced the thorn: she doesn't wish to give up her CD changer because she can load it for nights when she entertains and, at most, change the five CD's only one time. I think usually she just puts in five CD's and puts the player on random and forgets it for the rest of the night.

I've been worrying and researching for three days; my best idea so far:

1) Purchase another CD changer (hers doesn't have a digital output), a good one though. I understand it must output 96 KHz to derive maximum benefit from the better DAC's.

Question: If we want HDCD, would it have to be in the CD player, or the DAC? I assume the HDCD chip in a CD player would be bypassed when using the digital output so this chip would have to be in the DAC?

The only brand I trust that is inexpensive is NAD and they don't make a changer anymore. I read about Sony (no HDCD) and Marantz; does anyone make a good $500 or less changer with HDCD and a digital output?

2)I've kind of settled on the Birdland Odeon-ag DAC (version 1.1) because I can run it directly to a power amp. Of course, the Bel Cantro DAC 2.0 gets great reviews but requires a pre-amp.

Question: Neither of these DAC's have balanced outputs; should I be looking for a DAC with them or would that put me out of the $1500 price range? Do balanced outputs help that much?

4) (I know it's out of order, #3 follows) We've pretty much settled on the Magneplanar 1.6 speakers because they image so well and do well with the kind of music my aunt listens to. Detailed with a wonderful, involving soundstage. No subwoffer required to suit her tastes.

3) I haven't settled on an amplifier, but there are many good ones that would power the Maggies. The only requirement is that it be "quick" to bring out the best in the electrostatic speakers. It might need balanced inputs but I'm thinking I'm not going to get them with the DAC's in my (her) price range. Either way, it's easier and cheaper to find a great power amp than a great pre-amp or integrated amp.

5) We'll spend good money on interconnects and bi-wire the speakers.

Plan B: Do what I said above, but get a good single play NAD CD player for serious listening (NAD 541i comes to mind) and use her old Onkyo for dinner parties. Of course, that would require purchasing a pre-amp (or integrated amp) that I have heretofore eliminated, or using her old Onkyo receiver with the old Onkyo CD changer which leads to a lot of (usually redundant) components... you see how this is a sticky situation.

Plus, maybe no one would notice the poor sound but it grates on me to have real good system and not be able to use it while entertaining. Plus the Maggies would really show up the lesser quality CD changer...

It seems like a good changer (with a 96 KHz) digital output would work in all situations if there is such a CD player available), even if it had to be modified - since I read someone does that with Marantz and Sony and maybe other brands.


Jeffrey Young thanks you in advance,
The HDCD decoder must be in the DAC.
What if you still do you plan and then just plug the CD changer she has into the linn for entertaining. The she can also listen to the Linn when she wants better quality.
Whew!! It's your grandmother!! I've done this gig oft enough for the geriatric crowd and convenience rules over sound. Truly, a decent changer (Parasound, NAD 515) with a decent DAC (Assemblage, MSB) with Toslink will do quite nicely. A remote control integrated/receiver will do nicely, keep it simple. Then speaks. Do you really like the Ninka? Well okay, if you must.

I've owned the Linn Classik and it's respectable, however an NAD 515 with Assemblage 1.0 will dust it. Good luck.

Sorry. Your aunt.
Why not plug the 5-disc CDP into the Classic when she's
entertaining, the rest of the time she can use the Classic's built-in single disc player and tuner? I'd go with the Classic, the Maggies, and keep the current changer (with whatever cheap interconnect she already has). You can always upgrade the changer and interconnect later on if need be. The Linn K-10 speaker wire that comes with the Classic should do the trick. The KISS principle is important when dealing with audio neophytes. Jeff
Thanks guys, the KISS principle had kind of fell by the wayside. As it does when an audiophile gets to thinking how great "this" system would sound.

Great advice, I'll present the simple solution, Classic unit with Magnaplaners. Anyone know how the Maggies would do with the Linn Classic - only at low and medium volumes; we know the Maggies suck power and the Classic would struggle at loud volumes? Maybe it doesn't matter as it will be better than what she has now and she can always sell the Classic and get separates later.

If she wants to go hog wild, then we can buy a CD changer, a Digital Audio Converter, a tuner, a really good integrated amp, and Magneplanars.

Thanks again,