Marantz SA-1 hands down. Do a search keyword Marantz from the earlier forums to read about why.
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I agree with Abe. But, I just got the new Sony XA777ES multichannel SACD and its redbook FAR exceeds that of my SCD-1 + there's the mulichannel SACD, which is really captivating with the right recording. It's hard to admit ... but the newer technology (3 DAC and DSD filtering of Redbook) in the XA777ES overwhelms the SCD-1's legendary build quality. At $2K from oade.com, the XA777 is a steal. And you can't accuse me of owner's bias, I have (and will probably keep) both the SCD-1 and XA777ES.
If SACD isn't important (and it should be!) than the Cary, EMC-1 Mark II and definately the Audio Aero Capitole should be on your short list.
Finally, many members on this forum and AA have reported excellent results (we're talking Accuphase or DSC level of performance or even better) with a full Richard Kern (audiomod) modifications to the SCD-1. --Lorne
Lonecherry, very interesting comments about the XA777ES vs SCD-1. Since redbook is more important to me than SACD, any SACD player will have to pass the first hurdle of outstanding redbook CD playback. I haven't heard any that come close to the best redbook-only players. I'll have to find an XA777ES somewhere to have a listen. Maybe you can post a detailed comparison sometime (vs. SCD-1) here and on AA for redbook?? ;-)
Abe, I don't want to oversell the XA777ES (at least not till it's fully broken in). I'm going to provisionally put it on par with a Meridian 508.24 for Redbook (which can be had used for about the same $2K as a XA777ES). But I'm not sure about the Audio Aero, EMC-1 etc. I suspect that they may be better. As for the SCD-1, I don't think the Redbook is better on mine than any other player you can buy for $3K used -- and probably a touch worse. I bought the SCD-1 for SACD, and in that area it excels.
One member on AA has reported good success with the SCD-1 as a transport driving a Audio Note 3.1 DAC (and the horrendously expensive Audi Note Dac 5). This whole outboard DAC thing is really quite perplexing -- they are just too DAMM expensive for such a changing technology -- like spending $5K on a computer.
My ulitmate goal would be to have: my XA777ES and SCD-1 modified by Richard Kern AND an Audio Aero for Redbook. I would be real happy though if my XA777ES turned out to be 95% of the Audio Aero. And I've yet to see Accuphase or DCS demonstrate that their solutions are that much better sounding than a modded SCD-1.
At this point I just don't know what is best, so I'll keep an open mind. I do hope to listen to a lot of digital at the upcoming Toronto show. But Abe, don't sicount SACD, it is worth exploring and can achieve the same sort of satisfaction as top notch vinyl setup --Lorne
I compared Redbook playback of the Cary players and the RB playback of the Sony 777ES pretty seriously awhile back & second Abe's suggestion. For my money, I much preferred the Carys. SACD can sound very fine, but the vast (I mean VAST) majority of the actual music I listen to for pleasure in the real world is on regular CD. The Sonys will easily surpass any 10 year old front end on RB(except maybe a Bidat) but the Carys will sound much more musical on RB, especially on acoustic music, than the Sonys. Many people love their Sony's RB playback. It wasn't open or tonally full enough for me. You might like it just fine, however.
You might add Metronome to your short list of one box cdps also.
Go to digital forum at AA - many posts on this subject there.