I've been looking for a CDP in about the same price range. There are many many many recommendations in the archives, I've spent the last week reading the archives, and my conclusion is.... (drum roll)
...lot's of different advice and the only consensus is that you MUST audition the different players, and it's best if you can audition in your system.
Look for a used Meridian 508-20 or 508-24. They better those players by large margins.
I would reccomend the Audio Aero Prima, it's in your price range and it crushes both the Rega Planet and Meridian 500,566.24 in my system. I feel that it is very close to as good as the 8800.00 Capitole Mk 2 CD player
This may be below your sights ... but you could try the Music Hall CD-25 ($500 range). If you listen to a lot of Grisman & Acoustic Disc music ... that is all HDCD encoded ... and the Music Hall is an HDCD unit. Old & In The Gray, (for example, Pet Sounds, is another) sounds absolutely superb. I have owned the MH for about a year now and it is a nice sounding, well put together machine. The marketing for the MH compares it to a $1000 machine. You could also try the Shanling CDT 100 (imported by Music Hall; same manufacturer as the Music Hall CD25) http://www.shanling.com/CD-T100.htm
I second the Audio Aero Prima. I love mine. It cannot be touched for the price; and will hold its' own with players costing more than twice the price. This baby is absolutely amazing. The Prima has a couple of tubes that keep the digital a little toasty, if you will...you can email me for info about where to purchase the Prima. I got it for a great price through a very reliable source. peace, warren
I've done A/B test with Rega Planet 2000 vs Marantz CD 17 MKII, CD 67SE and Meridian 508.24. Didn't like the SONYs because of thinner sound.
All the players are better than Rega 2000 except CD 67SE is less detail but more musical.
All of them are not harsh at all.
508.24 is warmer (very tube-like, detailed and excellent bass extension)than CD17 MKII (musical, lively, and detailed) and CD67SE ( musical, less detail than CD17 MKII.)
All test were done with home made 12 AWG CVH DIY shield power cord.
If acoustic music is your thing you MUST definitely audition a belt driven CD transport before purchasing anything. I just got myself a used Parasound (built by CEC) belt driven transport and my acoustic music just comes out sooo musically involving it's not funny. I never thought CDs could sound like that. The unit's electronics are wanting in bass slam, impact and dynamics when compared to my McCormack SST-1 transport but Dan Wright http://www.modwright.com
is going to take care of that soon. Dan Wright is a specialist on digital modifications, so you might want to check his website
A belt drive transport is an interesting choice, I know a couple of people who swear by them and the two I've heard (both made by CEC) were very musical. My own player falls at the top of your range: the Shanling CD-T100, but when you listen to it make sure the unit is well broken-in. This player sounds its best after at least 200 hours (and WE 396A tubes instead of the Chinese stock).
And I gree with Tonnesen. You have to let your ears choose. May I suggest an approach (and I apologize if you already use it)? When you listen, I feel it's important to relax and switch over to the left side of the brain. Let the analytical functions have a rest and let feeling take over while you listen. Try not to compare as you do this. I like to make a few brief notes so as not to forget what I hear, and I use these later to help me compare.
You could spend under $1000 on a fully modded Ah! Njoe Tjoeb 4000 or Jolida CDP, and spend the rest of the money upgrading other components, investing in isolation devices, tuning your room, or buying more music.
Save yourself money,honestly I am familiar with meridian
cd player 508.24.a very good cd player.The AH and the
Jolida are both excellent and musical, but with your
preference the ah 4000 might be your ticket, Kevin is
a very helpful dealer from upscaleaudio,com. Although
for my own preference, I like the jolida.Remember we
all have different taste, the AH with the siemens 7308
tube its very smooth.IMO The best way audition them.
There are two classes of players that are popular, those that are extremely expensive and those that roll-off the highs or at least limit the HF dynamics.
Frankly, if you want to get rid of the sibilance and harshness, you need a better DAC, which you will never get in any player except the ridiculously expensive ones (>$10K). You are better off to get your transport modified to reduce jitter and get a modified DAC, such as the Perpetual Technologies P-3A.
Before you change your CD player, may I suggest you consider upgrading your AC supply. Perhaps a dedicated circuit with a good receptacle and decent power cord. You mentioned the Rega as being "harsh". That may not be the fault of the player.
Try a few "cheap tweaks" before you turn your back on the Rega.
Try the Vecteur L4 or L4.2. These units are a real sleeper. They have tons of detail and are not bright if the rest of your system is up to the task. These units will hang with anything under 4k and won't be bested by much by anything out there.
I don't understand the benefit of the belt drive - but I also don't know how the CDP is designed...for a digital format, I would think the best solution would be to read an entire song (or the entire disc) into RAM and design the digital processing and output to be totaly separate from the input mechanism.
Or is there some reason that the input should be read and processed in real time?
I don't listen as much to digital as I do to vinyl, so I sold my CAL high-end CD player and bought a Philips 963SA SACD/CD/DVD player. It has built-in 192 kHz upsampling. I can tell you that it made my digital collection come alive with the upsampling. About half of my 500 CDs I only listened to on rarest of occasions due to their 'hard' digital edge. The upsampling has really improved this and moved the great majority into the 'good' listening regime. And SACD is truly a cut above CD. None is as good as vinyl, but I find that I listen to more than I did by quite a bit. And congratulations on your use of the Wasatch 104U. I really thought all this cable stuff was a bunch of BS until I discovered Wasatch. What a significant upgrade it made in my listening when it replaced the highly regarded Synergistic Research Alpha Sterling. Try the Philips. You can buy new for $499 at Music Direct. Gotta love those Wasatch interconnects, though.