Cd player w/ digital input + volume control $2500


I'm looking for a CD player with digital input capability and also variable output (volume control). My goal would be to run directly into an amp as it will be the only source component in my system.

I have 1200 or so CD's so I need a player, but I also want to feed from a Sonos, hence the digital input.

I used to have a Cary 303/300 and really liked the sound from it, but it does not have the digital input unfortunately, if I recall correctly.

I figure if I can forego the preamp, I can justify going as high as $3000 for the unit. Used would be OK if it is a reliable product.

So, I'm looking for recommendations on a device in the same quality as the 303/300 or better that meets these requirements.

If there are none that will satisfy my preferences, I'll probably drop the variable output in favor of going to a preamp. The digital inputs must be available, however.

Any recommendations? It looks like none of the Current Cary products will meet these requirements. Darn, I wish the 303/300 had digital inputs.


Wadia, Audio Aero players will do that and should be available for the price you want to pay.
...Also, I suppose an alternate approach would be to get a really good DAC with volume control, and then a separate CD transport of some kind.

I have an EAD Ultra DVD player that has served me well as a transport in the past, and I could re-purpose it as a transport.

Suggestions of equipment to consider are much appreciated.

Thanks Ejlif, I'll check them out.
I think you would be better off to get a good DAC. I've owned both the Wadia 860x and Audio Areo Capitole Mk 2 as well as a few other great CD players by Ayre and Meridian and to me they were all bettered by a DAC and a mac mini playing back the files. you can always hook up a transport like you say. I have also found that I've never really been happy with digital devices with volume control there was always something lacking vs running through a great preamp. If it were my money to spend I would put 2500 towards a preamp and spend 500 on a DAC. This is just the conclusion I've come to over many years of trial and error.

That's a very good thought, and something I have considered, but without extensive testing, I didn't figure I would be able to answer it, so I appreciate the feedback.

That opens me up to a much less expensive DA and a really excellent preamp... which may be good for me, as I am generally partial to tube preamps.

If I were to aim for $500 to $1000 in a DAC, what would you recommend considering? My preferences tend to fall on a darker sound. If you have heard the Cary 303/300, you know what I like.

Rega DAC for $995 seems to fit the bill in terms of your sonic preference.
Look for a used Esoteric SA-50, as that will handle all your needs. It will serve as a preamp, play SACD & CD, and it also has a great built DAC that you can utilize with Sonos.
I haven't tried all the hot DACs of the moment but I've had a few and I would not hesitate to include the MHDT Paradisea + DAC into any sstem and be confident you are getting great sound. Very very big bang for the buck is that DAC and it's a tube unit so that's good news if you are a tube lover. Im no expert on great preamps Ive only had two that were great for me but the inclusion of those in my systems was major. I had a CJ 17 tube pre and when I switched to an Ayre k1x there was no comparison. I'm sure with some research a great sounding preamp and DAC can be had in your price range. I've also had great luck with integrated amps as well so that could be another route to consider.
Good recommendations all.

I'll look into all and see what I can find.

I understand the sonos has a lot of jitter. Should I be looking for a re locking DAC? I do coincidentally have a monarchy dip 24/96 here...

Sonos does have a lot of jitter. Nice thing about the Esoteric SA 50 is that it also reclocks, plus a lot of other nice features....and I've seen them sell here used for approx 3K. Check it out:
What is the amp and speakers you are using now and what type of sound are you looking for from a cdp? You may consider a Resolution Audio Opus 21 which has direct amp capability along with a digital input. I purchased a GNSC Opus 21 several years ago and been happy ever since. It is the closest to analog sound I've heard in my system from any cdp. My previous cdp was a Cary 303/100 which crapped out on me several years ago and the sound from what I remember was nice, but a very forward sounding cdp. Keep us up to date on what you decide.
Audiolab 8200CDQ even has analog inputs and digital out. With a new generation of dithered digital volume control, which many have said surpasses it's option of analog volume control. Even balanced (XLR) output. About $1400.
I've done a lot of research on all of this now, (but am no closer to an answer!).

I am heavily favoring a pair of Totem Fire speakers at the moment. The Earth speakers would be my preference, but I'm not sure about the cost of those. Anyway, for amplification, I am leaning toward a McIntosh MC275 or something similar. Not sure about a preamp yet.

What I don't like is the edginess of cheaper digital, I wold also prefer less detail in favor of listenability in general. I plan to use the system a lot at times, it will be in a room of the house where it will supply background music for my darkroom, and my darkroom sessions can go on for hours...

Because of this, I have been considering NOS DACs. The upsampling DACs seem to have better detail, but some people find them a bit strident, and edgy. That is exactly not what I want. The new Totem speakers could also be somewhat unforgiving in this respect as well, because the have more of an attack to them that their previous speakers.

All of this has me thinking of something like a MHDT Havana or possibly the Audio GD Reference 7.1 (although that one is really pushing my budget). Maybe the EE unit as well.

I think I am going to abandon idea of a CD player/DAC combo device. I have one I can use into the DAC, and I guess I'd rather not be putting money into that technology anymore.

Bradz, The Opus is one that I have considered. They get rave reviews for sure, and I guess I need to rethink that a bit.

Ngjockey, I've read some good things about the Audiolab gear, so I'll look into it a bit more.
I will econd the Audiolab 820CDQ. It is a terrific sounding unit, has several digital inputs (RCA & Tos), 24/96 USB input, reclocker and variabke outs.

In terms of sonics, it is somehow similar to RA Opus21 GNSC and offers listenability over ultimate resolution. It is a bargain at $1400.
I will econd the Audiolab 820CDQ. It is a terrific sounding unit, has several digital inputs (RCA & Tos), 24/96 USB input, reclocker and variabke outs.

In terms of sonics, it is somehow similar to RA Opus21 GNSC and offers listenability over ultimate resolution. It is a bargain at $1400.
I say rather than agonize just get something cheaper like the Havana just to see how good sub 1k DACs can sound. I would much rather put a bigger chunk of the budget towards amplification. In my experience the amp dollars do more than the DAC dollars. You won't get hurt to bad on trying a used DAC and if you get the Havana you'll prob just end up staying with it anyway or at least you'll find out for yourself that there is not to much difference between it and DACs costing a lot more if you do move up
I decided to purchase a Metrum Octave, as the current exchange rate is a little more favorable.

If I don't like it, I'll sell it, I guess, but by all accounts, it may match what I want/need in a DAC.

Thanks for the feedback everyone.

Now, on to preamp decisions...

Michael...congrats on your purchase of the Metrum Octave DAC. It certainly has gotten a lot of positive buzz at and various audio forums. Please let us know your impressions once it is settled in.