CD player in the $2,500 to $5,000 range

I sold my old system (Bryston, MG 3.6r, Oracle Delphi, Parasound CD player) and have been working on putting together a simpler and smaller system. With advice from others on Audiogon, I bought a lovely pair of Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors, and a Cary SLI-80 Signature. Now I need to pick a CD player.

I listen to primarily piano music, opera, and chamber music (plus a smattering of jazz, from time-to-time). I don't give a darn about the "hi-fi experience." Grain free, no fatigue, timber accuracy, is what I value.

I'm thinking:

Ayre CX-7e
Meridian G08
Marantz SA 11s1

Any thoughts and advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

You could always buy a new Resolution Audio Opus 21 direct from the manufacturer. They have a 30 day trial period, so you could send it back if you don't love it.

I think the current list price is $3500. I owned one in the past and it was an excellent player. I've read plenty about it in reviews and on the audio forums and some folks feel it it one of the best CD players around, regardless of price. I don't know as I've never listened to any of the $4000+ players in my own system, but I can say that the Opus 21 is the best player I've personally ever heard.

Of course, Cary makes some very good players too, and they may have a synergy with your integrated amp since they are from the same manufacturer.


I second the opus 21 and have heard the $1500 GNC mod is worthwhile...the players performance is also improved when run straight out from it's DIN connector.
I have read some really good reviews of the audio aero both their prima and capitole model. They are available on audiogon for your price range. At least worth a look.

I have the Ayre CX-7e in my second system. If you want to be within the $3,000 range and you don't want to consider modded players, the 7e is the ticket.

However, if timber accuracy and grain free and fatigue free characteristics are very important to you, I would suggest, if possible, stretch your upper limit to about $6,000 and get a fully modded APL 3910. I have the APL 3910 in my primary system. It's performance is close to the no-holds-barred players currently available in the market for about one-third the cost! It's detailed, yet not analytic. It reproduces the sweet delicacy of music without smearing the fine and rich harmonic texture. It's ability to re-create the textural and dynamic nuances draws you in into the music. It is very involving. It's realism at times is jaw dropping. Extention in lows and highs is superb; as are the dynamics, both micro and macro. If you value balance and coherence, it delivers. Personally, I don't listen to music (mainly classical) for the soundstaging and imaging, but both are impressive on the APL. Find a source where you can listen to it and decide for yourself. After a brief listen I was hooked and stretched my budget to place the order. If you are not able to extend the upper limit of your budget, talk to Alex at APL HiFi, he can do a partial mod for less than $6,000. This player is in a much higher league than those you listed. A distant second to the APL 3910 is the Ayre CX-5e (retails for $6,000). It too is in a higher league than your listed units.

Great Listening,
Cary CD303/300 is excellent player at $4k and if you want something more cheaper check CEC TL51xz at just $1590-belive me it is very good player. Review is on
I agree with Reubent about the R.A. Opus 21.
It is a very, very good cdp.
(It has a built-in analog volume control, so no preamp is necessary.)
It is every bit as good as Reubent says it is.
(I own one.)
New they are $3,500, and used they go for $2,200-2,500.
(Btw, R.A. is incredible to work with. The owner, Jeff Kalt is very helpful and very nice. I can not say enough good things about him.)

If you don't mind buying used, you can get a slightly better cdp, the Audio Aero Capitole II. It does sound a bit better, but it goes for close to $5k used. (New it is about $9K.)

Those are the two that I recommend in your price range.
Good Luck in your search!
I'd say, don't ignore Cary CDP's. I have a Cary 303-200 that I love, & they're around $1500 used. Or, a 306-200 for around $2000 used, I think. Or, there are used Levinsons, Meridians, etc. to look into--I don't think you have to spend even $2500 to get what you're looking for (unless maybe you only want to buy new).
I would go with the Ayre.
Don't have a recommendation in your price range but I'm curious what you are listening to while you search.
Wadia 860 or an 861. It's right in your price range.
Find an 860 and send it to Steve Huntley at The Great Northern Sound Company and let him update it with his reference modification.
You won't regret it!
Blackest background and lowest noise floor of anything that I have ever heard.
Plus, you can run it directly into your amp, and by-pass a preamp if you don't need one.
APL 3910 for a stretch, or a Modwright DVP 9000ES with the BON MOD. Yes, I own both, and have owned over 35 sources in the past 2 years. These are my personnal favorite.
Audition a Linn Ikemi as well as an Esoteric DV 50 (a universal player). The Esoteric is a little out of your price range new, but on demo it should fall below 5k. Very different sounds, both excellent players. I love the Ikemi on redbook, and the sound you are describing as your preference is exactly what it delivers. The Esoteric on SACD is nothing short of awesome and its redbook is also excellent (very detailed, if that is to your liking, though not as smooth as the Ikemi). If you have either of these dealers in your area, be sure you go listen (given your preferences, especially to the Ikemi) before you buy anything else.
I owned the Resolution Audio and the Ayre. What made me leave both behind was an Exemplar 2900 I bought from the previous poster- 711Smilin (Steve).

What a great source. I know Steve likes the APL better, but Exemplar is no slouch. The 2900's pop up here from time to time for around $1700.

Have fun searchin'!
You are right, John Tucker and Exemplar are no slouch, in fact he does Fabulous mods. And for 1700, the 2900 is an absolute bargain. I have been thru so many digital sources over the past 2 years, I have personnaly decided what I want stated above. BTW, Glad you love the 2900....and just to let you know, he is modding the 5910, which is suppose to be unfrkinbelievable. I just do not feel, for the $$$$, anything could match the APL. Except of course, my next APL modded Esoteric UX-01. heh heh heh...but, this one is well over 10k
THANK YOU EVERYONE. I live in an area where there are no real high-end dealers, so I have little chance to audition anything. I must rely on the advice and recommendations I get on Audiogon or from TAS etc (or take long road trips, which never seem to happen). The Apl 3910 and the Resolution Audio units were not previously known to me. They sound like great units for much less money than I was prepared to spend. Ain't Audiogon great! MMC
Have a look/listen to the Consonance Droplet CDP as well. Here is the 6moons review:

Pick up a used MBL 1511 DAC. Or the 1531 CDP. They're listed on the 'Gon. I don't think you can do any better than these two.

Disclaimer: I am in no way related to these sellers or to MBL, I'm just an owner of a product of theirs. :)
If you don't want SACD I would seriously consider maximizing redbook with a redbook only player. Of the players you have listed I have heard the G08 and thought it great. Others have recommended some nice players as well. I agree with everyone who is suggesting to go with the companies who offer you the opportunity to demo players in your own system for 30 days. Lot more to gain than to lose with that.

If you decide you want SACD I would spend a lot of money on a really good DAC and buy a decent SACD player (used) as the transport.
"Yes, I ... have owned over 35 sources in the past 2 years. These are my personal favorites."

If you are so inclined, and haven't done so elsewhere, would you please list the 35 plus sources you have owned in the past two years, and if you feel like it, some brief comments about your impressions of them? Of course everyone has different tastes, but I think I (and others) could benefit greatly from your experience. I haven't been able to audition anything like this many, much less own them.
Based on my conversations with Steve, I'll bet he can't even REMEMBER all the sources he's had :)

I got one of his cast offs a year ago and I'm still in love with it!
If you choose to go with Pardales idea for SACD, I'd get the Sony XA777ES or most of the others. Right now you can get a deal on them. They all have tremendous SACD sound, and make great transports. Then just add a DAC for redbook and you'll have the best of both worlds. Otherwise Ayre, Opus 21, etc. listed above if you are just interested in RB.
I'm a classical and opera lover who found the Resolution Audio Opus 21 lacking in dynamics for large scale music (opera & symphonic). Sorry, RA lovers, IMO it's a decent player but I just didn't like it. As always, YMMV.
With your speakers and musical preference, I suggest you audition the Cary 303/300, the ARC CD3, Lector CD 7T, Ayre CX 7-e, Musical Fidelity A5, used Audio Aero Capiotle Mk II, used Cary 306/200 and a demo Cary 306/300 (which also plays SACD). The Linn Ikemi can be a fine player in the right system (it needs a lively preamp/combo) so audition it before you purchase. I don't think the Marantz holds up compared to the above players. While I haven't heard the G08, past experience with this manufacturer's digital gear tells me Meridian is always worth a listen.

I haven't heard enough of the modded universal/SACD players to have a specific rec on them except someone whose ears I trust loves his Esoteric DV-50. I would caution that - except for the Cary 306 and megabuck options - RB on most unmodded SACD/universal players is not nearly as good as RB on the stand-alone CDPs mentioned above. (This includes the Sonys.) Modded players are another kettle of fish already. If you have mostly CDs, I'd suggest you not sacrifice RB quality for SACD capability.

If you win the lottery the Reimyo CD777 will deliver your heart's desire in spades ;-)

You have some very nice speakers. Don't go for flavor du jour digital. Take your time so you will hear what those SF's are famous for.
Thank you for the thoughtful thread, Rackon. And to everyone else for all the other insightful comments. My instincts tell me to start with the G08. Solid company. Good units are available on the Gon. And if I don't like it (doubtful), there is a market for such a player, and I can try some of the other suggestions.

And when I get this choice behind me, I can start working on a new record spinner. THAT will be fun.

stretch your budget to 6000$ and get the cary 306 SACD player(fyi there is no 306/300 model).Your upgrade journey will be finished.It's getting rave reviews on audio least listen to it before committing to another player.
Thanks senna - since my Dealer hasn't gotten one in yet (!!) I wasn't sure what the sesignation was - I think of the players in series since I started with the 303/100 and worked up.

All I know is, if it's better than the 303/300 and the old 306/200, then it's one heckuva player (and all the reports seem to agree that is is terrific).
No problem....hope you get a chance to audition the cary 306...:)
I recently purchased the Marantz SA11-S1 new and strongly discounted to the bottom of your price range, and have found it to be a very, very good redbook player as well as being excellent at SACD playback. Images are projected in a punpoint manner in front of the speakers and the sound is smooth and very detailed without being etched, and the soundstage is past wall to wall. Fopr me it also had the added advantage of balanced outputs. I have no regrets at all on this purchase and at several hundred hours now it continues to get better.
Based on the comments by others, I've decided to pass on the modded units. I've narrowed the decision to a Cary 303-300 or the 306 SACD. Based on other threads, the 306 SACD seems to be the clear winner, and has the SACD capability as a bonus. I'll let you know how I like it after it arrives. Thanks all. MMC
you made the right'll love the cary 306
Audio Aero Prima is the best I have heard under
$5000 !!! You will just love it I have spent a few hours auditioning one and nothing else comes close unless you spend more than 5k. The only reason I did not buy it is I could afford something better -Audio Research cd3mkll
but here in USA it retails for $5495!
A very accurate musical nondigital sounding CDP is the GamuT which is working out a US distribution problem, I believe. I have been listening to my GamuT for 3 years and my respect only has increased. Positive-Feedback just reviewd it and had many compliments for it. in a review comparing it with the Esoteric 50 said (the reviewer) he had not heard another CDP which significantly outperforms the GamuT. You can buy these gems used for about 1700 or new if available for about 3500. These are redbook only players. The GamuT over samples at 44,100Hz X128 which is twice that of SACD! This is an extremely smooth nonfatiguing sounding CDP which is truly balanced but sounds good also unbalanced.
Consonance Droplet can use without a preamp if you're so inclined.I've owned Wadia, Meridian and BAT..this is by far the best to my ears.
I second the APL 3910, but apparently too late for your decision. One of THE best values in high-end audio today - just blows away the competition!! Hard to get, but worth the wait - ALex Peychev is a genius, plus a nice guy (a rare combination)
The Blue Note Stibbert -Tube reference ,
is certainly in a class by itself , especially after getting rave reviews around the world. Even HP loves it in the new fed issue at TAS ,after getting a few upgrades gets a solid .2005 Golden Ear award! Will Compete with any
10 k player out there easily,.One of the most musically satisfying , and beautifull looking units on the market.
One of the best buys in all of audio ,I bought one.