In the end I would go with the Ayre, although there are a few things that bother me about it:
1. The remote is extremely cheap
2. There is no fast forward function.
3. You can't enter the number of a song you want to hear.
4. The chasis (especially the top)is somewhat resonant.
5. Some hybrid cd's won't play. Check with Ayre.
6. The Ayre has a vibrant character but is not very dynamic. In other words, if you had just returned from a live blues or jazz concert you would probably prefer the Cary. Guitar notes, rim shots from drums, etc don't "startle" you on the Ayre like they could on the Cary.
I just seems to me that at this price point all of the above could have been addressed and eliminated. Now, the good points:
The size of the Cary soundstage is exaggerated while the Ayre's is more realistic. The images within the soundstage of the Ayre have more weight. The Ayre is extremely clean without being "bright". The detail/resolution is there without being overbearing. At first I thought it was bright but do use the Myrtle woodblocks that Ayre provides. They actually work. Also, Ayre recommends Cardas cables ( i.e Golden cross or reference) but I found the Nirvanna audio S-L's to be a perfect fit. Unbelieavbly quitet backgound eliminates some of the noise you referred to. I have never heard better bass definition and vocal clarity in any stand alone cd player. It's scary how good it does those two things. It is one of the most neutral players I have heard. No one frequency (mid's, bass or treble) is emphasized over the other. Reminds me of the Thiel 1.6's that excel in this same area. I agree with you that its a very refined, sophisticated sound but it is not musical. But I'd have to tell you that most "musical" players color the mid-range or roll off off some other frequency to obtain their "musicality". Comes down to do you want the musical truth or do you want musicality?
Finally, timing, pace and rythm is good, not on par with a Naim or Arcam but still very good.
I must prefice all of the above by saying that the Ayre CX-7 is at the top of the food chain for a stand alone cdp. However, you can achieve siginficantly better redbook playback by going to a transport with a dac. I'm currently using a Sony XA SCD-777ES with a musical fidelity Tri-Vista 21 dac and the sound is phenomenal..better clarity and detail with the dynamics that the Ayre is missing. And the Tri-Vista, while a very good dac, is not a great dac...nor is the Sony the best transport (not like a Theta, Forsell, etc). So, you could achieve better results by using components better than mine.
But the Ayre is nice and over time it gets better. Needs at least 100 hours break-in and that is not just a marketing line..it's true! By the way, check out the new Lector cd player that just got a rave review from The abosolute sound. It was introduced at the 2004 CES show and by all accounts its the real deal...all of the attributes of the Ayre but with the "musicality" you are looking for.