You might try the MSB Link Dac III. Use your DVD player as transport with this D/A. Available at various places in your price range.
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Owning both the Sony SCD-C333ES and the Music Hall MMF-25, I can definitely say that for CD playback, the Music Hall is superior to the Sony.
Not that the Sony is bad. To the contrary, it is quite different than I expected. Instead of being harsh, shrill, thin, and constricted, it is rich, full bodied, and lush. Its bass response is perhaps the biggest surprise to me. I normally find all but very good CD players to be quite weak in the lower frequencies. Where it falls down compared to the Music Hall, is that its pace seems a bit slow, and it lacks the nth degree of resolution.
However, once you try SACD, the Sony leaps over the Music Hall, and most CD players. SACD restores to digital what I miss most from analog. The powerful low frequencies, giving the music a foundation I rarely come across in a CD player and restoring the music's flow. I find CD to often have the sense of chopping up the music. Still, I find vinyl superior to SACD at this point.
The Music Hall is an excellent player. Refined, with good detail, without ever sounding analytical, sterile, or bleached out. I find it to be the best CD in the sub $1000. Superior to the Jolida JD100. A close friend of mine owns both, and even after months of tube rolling, he still cannot get the Jolida to sound as good as the Music Hall.
That being said, another friend of ours is now of the opinion that the new Cambridge CD player, at $529 list price, with the Wolfson DAC trumps the Music Hall. I cannot really speak to this as of yet, since I have not heard it. But, I intend to soon.
I really appreciate your observations and your time to write. I have heard in a review, that the Music Hall has a somewhat smallish Vocal image size. Seems like when I went from my Rotel 971 to my DVD player my image size for vocals went small or recessed. Could you comment on the Sony and Music halls image size, presence or placement of vocals? At plane of speaker or recessed?
As a CD player, in general, the Music Hall is superior. I really can't think of any area Sony is superior - aside from bass.
The imaging of the Music Hall seems fine. Of course, my reference is probably thrown off kilter by the fact that I am using OTL monoblocks and satellite speakers having a pyramidal shape. Along with my preamp, the amps, and the speakers are masters at imaging. Put them together, and I am not sure how much the Music Hall is playing into that system.
My friend who owns the Music Hall and the Jolida could not get past how great he thought the imaging was in that system.
I apologize for not being very informative, but like I said, I cannot really gauge the Music Hall in such a system. I will say this, I have heard the player in many other systems, and it has always acquitted itself very well.
When my friend who I just mentioned was auditioning speakers over the summer, we were listening to a pair of JMlabs Chorus speakers, using a Cambridge D500SE player. The sound just lacked any slam or excitement. It was quite homogeneous. I asked the salesperson if we could switch to the Music Hall, as I felt that was a limiting factor here. He was an audiophile jumping big into the hobby, after a 20 year hiatus. He told me that he thought I was crazy to think a CD player could make a difference. But, lo and behold, the Music Hall opened up the sound a tremendous amount. The dynamics improved immeasurably.
As far as the Sony goes, it also seems to image well. However, I cannot say it is a champ. My Jadis amplifier and the Fried's MARS System also image extremely well.
Trelja, thanks for your input - I got the Shanling (Chinese Version of the Music Hall CD 25) It looks great, sounds great! Similar to my Rotel 971, but the pacing is a bit better and the HDCD seems to make a bigger difference than it did on the Rotel. Vocals are now Life Size and have presence. Overall my system is just about the way I like it! Sonus Faber supposedly warm, Classe supposedly warm - although when Stereophile rated the CAP 100 with a 'A' rating it said it was on the bright side. My CAP 80 definitely was warm. With the Music hall the system is transparent, detailed, rich, at times almost could be warmer. Cables are supposedly on the warm side: PS audio power for the Amp, Audio Power for the CDP, MIT for the Speakers. But maybe it's the Nordost on the interconnects....I suppose I should call it quits now.....