look into a naim 3.5 very musical with excellent prat price should be in your range.
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I have a great recommendation for you! Take a look at the Quad 99 CDP CD player. I've owned the Cary CD-308 and the balanced version (better than the single-ended version) of the Theta Miles and IMHO the Quad is better in every respect.
Some other things you might want to consider are the fact that the Quad has a very good built in remote volume control (so does the Cary 308 and Theta Miles), so you can use the remote to control the volume of your system. Also, the Quad has 6 digital inputs, so you could possibly connect your current Pioneer changer into one of the digital inputs of the Quad and use the Quad's 24bit/192Khz DACs which will probably be an improvement over the Pioneer. Even when using the Pioneer through the Quad's DACs, the remote volume control works, so you would have remote volume control for both units.
The Quad is usually $800-900 used, so it fits your price range. It is also realatively new, so it may have a longer useful life than either the Theta (manufactured since 1998?) or the Cary.
There are some great professional and user reviews available for the Quad. The Absolute Sound had a very good review of it.
Given your price range, I would choose the Quad.
I would vote for the Cairn Fog v.2. I own one and love it. It definitely has PRaT. I compared it with Naim - known for PRaT. The Cairn was just as good, but was more emotional at the same time. It just drew you into the music. I have not heard the other players you mentioned, but I have put the Cairn against many, and it always comes out on top IMO.
TIC - I have seen you on audio circle too, from what I have gathered you have tried a lot of gear. I was thinking about the quad, but some said it was kind of soft and not really a PRAT machine. Some mixed reviews there. The same problem I have found on reviews of the Linn Genki. It seems to be very finicky with cables to get it to sound good? TIC could you also explain more of the sonic character of the quad?
Jh2os - I have not heard anything but praise for this player, but it seems to also be the least well known. Could you elaborate on its characteristics, I heard it has kind of sparkling highs and is quite warm/dark and analouge sounding. Yet it still does PRAT well? Also do you have the upgraded HD 24/192 chip? Does this make a big difference?
It is true that I've owned a lot of equipment. I've owned about 10 different CD players or DACs and most of them had built-in volume control because it makes logical and economic sense in a single source system. Heck, with the money most people would save by not having to buy a pre-amp, they could get a much upgraded digital front end.
That said, I'm not really sure I can answer your question. Does the Quad have PRaT? I'm not sure, but I do know that my foot is tappin' away when listening to it and that doesn't happen with my other rig that uses a moderately priced DVD player for spinning CDs.
When I bought the Quad, I also owned the Musical Fidelity CD/Pre-24 and the Resolution Audio Opus 21. IMHO, the Quad killed the MF sonically, but gave away some features (that I didn't need), but it was not quite the equal of the Resolution Audio Opus 21. And it shouldn't be. The RA Opus 21 cost $3500 new. However, of the 3, I kept the Quad. It was easily the best value of the lot and it was really inexpensive used ($850).
What I really like about the Quad is that it is not at all fatiguing on the top end, it has wonderful midrange and the bass is very good. The Quad makes it very easy to follow bass lines that were obscured with some of my other players.
Really, for the used price of the Quad, you could buy it, try it and resell it at little or no loss if it is not your dream player. They typically sell for $800-900 and the cheapest I've ever seen one was $675 for one that was pretty obviously beat up.
Disclaimer: At some time in the future I may be selling my Quad CD player. I'm trying to build a house and my audio addiction is distracting me. However, I would certainly reconsider buying one in the future and I will be recommending the Quad even if I don't still own one in the future.
Greg, the Cairn seems to portray the music almost in a 'live' presentation - a you-are-there sort of way. It is a very exciting and emotional experience. It retrieves so much detail while going nowhere near sounding bright or harsh in the upper end. It has a 'warm' sound to it, but not overly tube-warm. It presents bass with a heft in lower octaves and human voices that makes them seem visceral. It does have PRaT, but it builds on that and adds Power to the Pace, Rightness to the Rythmn and will have you Toe-Tapping with the Timing. I've heard the upper 2% and lower 2% done better, but never something as right everywhere in between with the other 96% of the spectrum. In one word - Emotional, and for me that is the most important. You may be able to find more accurate, but you would be hard pressed to find something that draws you into the music as much as this player does at the price level. At least in my humble opinion and in my set-up.
I can only respond to the Creek CD43. I am one of those people looking for that unit too. Darn hard to find used, wonder why:) I had a Rega Planet 2000 and was going to upgrade. Some of the CDPs that I listened to were the Creek CD43, CD53, Arcam 73 and Rega Jupiter 2000. While I use to have a Creek 5350SE, I never bothered to listen to the Creek CDPs before I bought the Planet 2000. I was really surprised how much better the CD43 was compared to the Planet 2000 for the same price. Had I listened to it before buying the Planet, I don't think that I would have upgraded any time soon. Having said that, the CD43 and CD53 as well as the Arcam did not sound as good as the Rega Jupiter 2000 which I bought and still happily own. Just a quick plug for the Jupiter: Very musical, Fairly detailed, Great rhythm and pace, and Flat out fun to listen to for extended periods of time. I am still looking for a CD43 for around $500-600 for a bedroom system in case anyone has one for sale.
I can only comment on the Cairn.
For a month now I've been using the Cairn Fog v2.0 24/192.
It has replaced a Jolida JD 100A which has been in my system longer than anything else
( 1 1/2 years ).
The Fog is more detailed, yet smoother. Bass is quicker without rounding out the notes so much, which gives it a better sense of timing. I can hear the tone of the bass notes better also. Not a bad player at all and well worth the used price.
Only quibble is the way the remote opperates..sometimes I have to push it twice to turn the unit on and the numbers are backwards..