DAC question -- Importance of good vibes

There's tons written about DACs here, but I have to ask my own DAC question with a very specific point.

I need to replace my Linn Karik, which I've enjoyed a lot. I'm looking for a DAC, or a player that also can take digital input, that has at least an RCA and an optical input to handle music from iTunes/Airport Express as well as CD.

I have been listening to a Quad 99 CDP in my system. I've found it enjoyable -- lively, articulate, dynamic, superior bass retrieval. But frankly, I enjoy my aging Karik more. Compared to the Quad, the Karik sounds somewhat whitish -- not necessarily a virtue. But the Karik conveys emotion better, and here's my attempt at explaining why.

Through the Karik, I am aware of the vibration at the core of the notes that I hear. All music is vibration, of course, but not all equipment conveys that. Equipment can be clear, articulate, tonally correct, detailed, have great soundstaging, etc., but produce notes that are too solid, too inert.

Sounds are made of air and are always moving and changing. The ability to convey this alive and ephemeral nature of sounds -- what do people call this? Inner detail? It is as if the notes were lit from within, and it makes the music sound very free in space. I was struck by this last night while listening to the Mahler Symphony 5 Adagietto, and this sense of the vibration of music probably is most noticeable in quiet or small-scale music. But it applies everywhere -- listening to Rickie Lee Jones singing, Stevie Ray Vaughan playing Little Wing, a horn section gettin' low-down.

Back to the CDPs. The Karik does this better. The Quad's sound is denser and less layered, with a flatter soundstage -- I think these are all related to my point. The Quad is superior in some ways, too, but I need to hear those good vibrations to be fully satisfied.

I also took the digital output of the Karik through a very cheap digital cable into the Quad's DAC and, interestingly, found out that much of what I like better about the Karik can be attributed to its transport. However, it is the transport section of the Karik that is showing its age and is not fixable, so I need to keep looking.

Given what I've written, does anyone have suggestions in the roughly $1000 used range? I'm looking for a DAC first--will think about transport later (unless there's another CDP-with-inputs solution). Need digital and optical inputs. I've read lots about the Benchmark, and it doesn't sound like it's for me. The old Museatex stuff with updates sounds interesting. Northstar?

I listen to lots of kinds of music. I use my Linn Majik as a preamp; amp is a Van Alstine Super 70i (EL34 tubes); Reference 3A DeCapo speakers. Other sound quality preferences: not dark, not warm, laid back rather than upfront presentation.
I still swear by my Birdland Odeon-Ag. Dollar for dollar still my best purchase in audio in terms of bang for buck. $1850 new, probably in your price range used, but I hardly ever see them for sale used, and I know why.

I was looking into the Benchmark also, but after reading it sounded like it was not for me also. I went with the Bel Canto DAC2. Compared to what I've read about the Benchmark, the Bel Canto is as detailed, but more analog like or more on the velvty side of smoothness. Based upon what I've read, the Benchmark seems to be more on the silky side. The nice thing about the Bel Canto also is that is doesn't seem to be transport dependent due to the built in dejitter so that could solve your issue about using the Quad as a transport.

From what I've heard from Perrotta Consultants, he highly recommends the Northstart over the Bel Canto and MF Trivista. He is also a dealer of the Birdland and didn't even mention it. I was interested with the Birdland because all I've read are good things also. I hope this helps.
I bought my Birdland from Perotta, who is a gentleman. Based loosely on another thread from several months ago, I am surmising that there might have been a falling out between Birdland and Perotta, which may explain why he didn't mention the Odeon-Ag. I haven't ever had a chance to hear the Bel Canto, but the Birdland is significantly better than the MF Trivista, in my opinion.
Thanks very much, Tfk and Jb, for your posts. Maybe my question was too specific to attract many responses. Maybe I should have just asked, "Dude, Which DAC really rocks?!!?" On the other hand, I've already read all the threads that asked that. ;->

I'll add the Birdland to my watch-list. Rb, the Bel Canto does not have an optical-in, does it?

I'll check back in a couple days--thanks again.
Jayboard, the Bel Canto has 1 optical and 1 coaxial.
Dear Jay, et al: I must say something here that is off the subject albeit related to Jay's "vibrations in the notes" theory. This may relate to, as well as help explain, why the sound of a pipe organ can never be 100% authentically duplicated by even the most advanced, expensive, custom, top-quality digital organ. Yes, one could build a million-dollar digital organ that came so close (to a pipe organ) that 99% of those hearing it would declare the difference irrelevant; but this is not the same thing as sounding exactly like a pipe organ. My apologies for the digression!