Cary gets my vote.
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Hawkeye, I happen to have both the A5 and 303/300 right now, and honestly, I would be happy with either player.
The Cary has the edge in resolution and extension; the A5 provides a bit more cohesive musical picture (if you have any idea of what that might mean!). Both are well built, nice pieces.
If you're obsessive compulsive, know that the Cary has enough flexibility to drive you crazy. Both tube and SS outputs and 5 levels of upsampling that work with both sides. I am a tube guy and am surprised that so far I like the SS side best (hate to admit that!), though I have a few pairs of NOS tubes coming so we'll see how those go. The A5 has no options, which can be a plus.
I am all over the place with this decision. Tonight I was wondering if a good DAC would do the trick? Something like the Benchmark or the PS Audio. Just a thought.
Still playing with the MAC MCD-201. Has good soundstaging and depth and is very smooth. But it doesn't seem to have the speed and detail of the Arcam. Would love the get the Cary in my system just to see how well it works with the rest of the gear. Also have always been into the Musical Fidelity gear. Have there tube buffer and its great. The search is on.
I didn't like the A5 amp very much but I do like the A5 CDP.
Buying a DAC could certainly be a smart choice, especially if you wanted to try PC-based audio at some point where it would be offer some flexibility. I have a Paradisea that I use in my bedroom set-up.
Like CDPs, different flavors of DAC appeal to different tastes, so no simple decision there either!
I you search BCD-1 you'll find an old thread where I compared CDPs from Arcam, Rega, Naim, Primaire, Cambridge and Bryston. I found the Arcam to be the most analytical of the bunch. The Primaire struck me as smooth and musical. Highly competent and listenable, but lacking that ultimate extra something. As always, given system synergy, YMMV.
I have a Cary 303/200 and two Cary 306/200's. I find they are much better than my Lavry DA10 DAC which is comparable to the Benchmark. The Cary 303/300 is meant to be even better sounding, but having a digital input is very important to me. I was very excited about the McIntosh MCD500 when I found out that it had digital inputs. I have not heard the MCD500 yet.
If I could make an unconventional recommendation, I'd suggest Onkyo DX-7555. Take a look at the stereophile measurement, and you'll realize that its performance is superior to most CD players mentioned in this thread. The best part is the $400 price tag from amazon.com. If you don't like the sound you can simply return it.
Looked into the Mac MCD500 but it's 6500.00 puts it out of the plan. Found a used Cary 303/300 for around 2k. Giving it some serious thought. It seems like the right piece of gear. But my heart is pulling me to the MF A5. Drivng me crazy!
Another suggestion to me was the Marnatz SA11-s1. Most of my music is redbook cd's not SACD so hope it would be equal on both formats.
I had the Cary 303/300 and it was sweet. I followed that with the Marantz SA11s1. But, the one that REALLY knocked-me-out, is the Primare CD31. Outstanding build and sound. Not just for the price either. Stereophile has it listed in there class "A" componets list. It's speacial. Read the review. I'm using it now and it replaced a Meridian G08 and it spanked it right out of the box. Give it a try if you can, it could'nt hurt. Peace and Good listening, Pat.
I should have said Onkyo's _measured_ performance is superior to most other CD players mentioned in this thread. In that respect it's pretty close to highly regarded Benchmark or Bel Canto DAC. I don't own Onkyo. I have a Linn Unidisk because I need a universal player. But I'm quite surprised that a $400 CD player today has better measured performance than my Unidisk, and other highly rated players of yesteryears. The digital technology has come a long way especially in the last couple of years. If I were to start over again today, I wouldn't recommended any digital front end designed more than a couple of years ago. IMHO.
I have been using a Primare cd31 for six days now and it sounds nice. It is a demo from a local dealer and it is completely run in. But, I'm not connecting with it. What amp, preamp and cables are you using with it?? Almost wonder if it is too laid back for my Mac gear. I have tried running it balanced into my preamp and running it through a Musical Fidelity tube buffer. Sounds better through the tube buffer. But still seems to lack dynamic punch. Any Thoughts?