I might add the Gamut CD-3 to your list.Very musical and articulate,w/o sounding analytical.
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If you already have a decent CD/DVD player as a transport, save yourself a lot of money and get a Beresford DAC. The 7520 model is already advertised on this site, but for the top of the line Caiman model, you have ask Stan Beresford nicely and he may send you one. He can be reached at email@example.com. The Caiman is a VERY limited production model that is hand-built and tested, all for about a quarter the price the Benchmark USB DAC-1.
I had a Benchmark which I liked very much, but to be honest, the Beresford is better with a bigger and more natural soundstage, more detail, better vocals. It is simply more musical. My transport is an old Panasonic DVD player, but that makes no difference with this little miracle. You will probably have to wait to get one, but trust me, it's worth it!
Most any recent vintage, decent, jitter resistant vintage transport, CD or DVD player, or other digital source with digital output feeding an mhdt Constantine DAC could meet your requirements. I use a 4-5 year old Denon player/recorder that cost $600 originally with mine and have also used a 6 year old Marantz DVD (see my system listings). A used mhdt Constantine can be had for well under $500 used.
An mhdt Paradisea tube DAC might do it also but might be a tad warm for your requirements with the stock GE tube on many systems. Other model inexpensive replacement tubes can remedy that if needed.
if you all those things try an ilink from MSB you will get everything you want plus all you cd at your finger tips
and with the money you save put towards one of there DAC's
and the DAC with the new filter is as close to tubes its scary. I listen to CD's recorded in the 80's and they sound fantastic
There is another option:decent transport/Z-Systems RDP/RDQ/DAC.Have had good results using an Oppo (can be upgraded later) into RDP-1,then the Citypulse 7.2X (or similar/of your choice).With a little experience,this system is very rewarding and adaptable.
If completely digital based,the RDP can control volume.Allowing the DAC to drive the amps directly.
This will sound like a cop out, but it depends greatly on your other gear.
I have listened to Saturn with Rega amps, including the new Elicit, and various types of speakers and was underwhelmed. I have heard it with a VTL integrated and small Avalon floor standers and liked it very much.
The Naim CD5XS, I have only heard with Naim electronics and found it to sound fabulously musical under the right room and speaker conditions (medium large squarish room with Naim floor standing speakers). I generally prefer the Naim sound to other names, but not sure how well they play with other kids (electronic brands) in mixed company.
I have not listened to the Bryston but it certainly is getting a strong following as a detailed and neutral player.
I would also add the Simaudio Moon CD-1 to your list. Very natural presentation with very good detail and tonal textures. I have not heard the BCD-1 which I was originally hoping to get but came across my CD-1 at very good price. Some who have compared the BCD-1 to the CD-1 felt it was very close in their opinion.
I listened to an Oppo BluRay BD83 yesterday that was modified with the terra firma clock.
Had exceptional detail retrieval and speed. Would cost me around $1500 (I am in Australia).
It has the same DAC as in the BCD-1. I would say overall its probably an extremely similar sound to the BCD-1 which I heard 2 months ago. I have now compared both to my existing Audiolab 8000CD - new Audiolab series), and both are a significant step up in detail and neutral tonal balance. A head to head comparison would be the optimal but not possible where I live. It's possible the mod Oppo could even be better however I compared on very different systems.
Also compared the Modified Oppo to the Moon CD3.3 which is $3000. The Moon seemed slightly more full-bodied and you could argue more "refined", perhaps slightly better timbres. The Oppo had the quicker timing and resolution. The Oppo was probably the more accurate player, and perhaps the Moon was designed to cover up flawed CD recordings. The reality is its quite hard to know what the exact "sound" should be. But the differences between the Moon and the Oppo were overall a lot smaller than between my existing Audiolab and the Oppo.
The Moon, Oppo, and Bryston would all be a big step up and solve the tonal balance issues I have been having with the Audiolab (hump in the mid-upper bass, hump in the mid-treble, lack of high frequency extension, slightly recessed vocals). I would imagine the Moon CD3.3 is obviously better than the Moon CD1, probably a similar sound.
Well the Oppo is half the price of the Moon and Bryston...and the terra firma clock also applies to the SACD and BluRay sound components, and also has dual USB-inputs. Quite amazing value....
Anyone had a mod with the terra firma before, or owned an Oppo?