As always, the more stuff you eliminate the better the sound. Go with the Wadia and the CJ.
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I have been down this path for the last 2 years. I had two cd players with volume control: Marantz CD63SE and CAL CL15 Balanced. If you only play cds forget the preamp. The Wadia is a good option but I found the SONY SCD-777ES SACD player running in custom mode (100K bandwidth) and using the EVS attenuator hooked right to the back of the amp the low cost best performance ticket. I paid $2725 for both. Much lower cost than the Wadia 860 or 850. SACD disks sound like nothing you have heard. Do your self a favor and power the cd player with the PS Audio P300 ac generator for another $990 and you will really blow away the Wadias.
Joe, I honestly wish you could hear my CD50 in my system, without a linestage, with the balanced interconnects. Ultimately, it is much better and more cost effective than separates (except for the dCS rig, coupled with a linestage like an ARC R2, CAT Ultimate, BAT VK-50se, CJ ART, etc). And that's about 10 to 15 times the cost of a used CD50. But...I would advise you NOT to go this route, if you don't already own more than 300 CD's, and might soon feel like you're being left behind by SACD or DVD-Audio (and do something like sell all your CD's). Personally, I enjoy vinyl very much, also. My linestage doesn't measure up to the rest of my system, and if I already had one of the very best linestages, I'd just try an upsampling DAC (Perpetual, Bel Canto, MSB, dCS). If you're made of money, just get the dCS, and a $20,000+ preamp...more power to ya. Hope you use ASC traps...the room is oh so important.
Hi Joe I just invested in Wadia 27i and a Cello Etude volume unit to replace my Altis reference 24/96 DAC and Goldumnd 27 preamp. Frankly speaking, the focus is not as good as my previous system (with the preamp), on the other hand the soundstage and details improve a little bit, with more transcient high freq. However, the downside is the pace/ speed seems to be too fast, slightly less involving than before. Anyway be aware that your CD source is having high gain output in order to drive a passive preamp/ volume unit. Happy listening!
I feel that the Resolution Audio CD50 would give the 777 a very tough time, when playing CD's. It only has op amps for the output stage, where the CD50 has bipolar output transistors, similar to what the best linestages have, and is designed to take full benefit of balanced operation, even when using only unbalanced connection (the SCD-1 doesn't do this, and I assume the 777 doesn't). The CD50's output devices run very hot, in class A. This thing is still knocking on the door of the performance of my analog rig, with a Benz Lo4 cartridge (which is in turn blowing away the Glider I used to have). The MIT balanced interconnects are key here, also...But I use even better MIT interconnects with the phono stage, so that doesn't explain why the CD50 is so close behind...
I own a Theta Digital Miles and Magnepan 1.6qr's. The trade-off here is not is the image better and more coherrent with or without a preamp. You've found the same thing I have, It is Better! To me the question is, "Is it worth the gain in soundstage and detail, to loose the dynamics and warmth of the tubes in your preamp." I've always heard a distinctive loss in signal when I have to attenuate (sp?) the level out of the CD Player. It was the same for my older Dennon dc360, my marantz CE67SE. I like the CD player through a preamp at lower and moderate listening levels. When I choose to open up the system and let it run, I prefer straight through.
That's partially the Maggies, IMHO. They don't "come alive" at lower playback like an esl. Those have other problems, though. My CD50 has no trouble with dynamics at any volume (has beefy output devices). Using it balanced has increased the output by 6 dB, so that helps too. You could try balanced operation with the Miles, couldn't you?
Carl, I was very curious about balanced outputs into my NAD amp, but at the last moment opted for the preamp (a cj pv10) and a second par of interconnects. May be a design consideration, but the Theta bypasses the volume control at full open and that was another consideration. Does the 6db refer to the total increase in volume, or the increase in signal to noise ratio?
As I've mentioned elsewhere, the new Boulder 1012 really does look like it might outperform the dCS gear (if it's even close to the claimed performance). TO PJPOLAND: The 6 dB is the overall level increase, but noise is helped quite a bit too, especially by lowering the interconnect's inherent noise. It's mostly a benefit from the common mode rejection of the circuitry itself (in the sending and receiving end), and has a tremendous effect on the noise content of the music while playing...and less of an effect (but still significant) of the "hiss" when music isn't playing (i.e., when you put yur ear right on the tweeter when nothing is playing, etc.).