DAC woes - what to do

Oh Boy!!! Another "what should I buy" thread! Yippee!!!
Seriously though... looking for some personal experience and potential recommendations.
Ive been looking for a new CD player recently, preferably in the <$1000 range.
I recently ended up buying a Rega DAC. Actually, I bought an apollo-r at first, but it was possessed by demons and wouldnt play most of my CD's (even new, non-scratched ones.) So, I exchanged it for the DAC instead.
I was lured into the Rega by its very unique sound. Its beefy but articulate and with good definition...or so I thought upon initial comparisons (I compared it with 6 different players in my home system, as well as many others at the shop.)
But, as it breaks-in, the "beef" is turning to "bloat" and the enchantment is waning. Its too "soft" up top to balance the low-end emphasis. Not to mention that one of the toslink connector "shutters" broke off inside the receiver on first attempt to plug it up, and is unusable now. And, the automuting pops/hisses when the transport is powered on (the demo DAC didnt do this.) So, Im already waiting for the replacement to come in. So now is the time to return it, if Im going to.
Anway, back on track... I admit, I got "sucked in" by the so-called "analog" sound, and I did enjoy it for a while. There is something unique about this Rega. The individual instruments are quite articulate, and the soundstage is enormous. But what Ive noticed that that, while the instruments are individually defined, they tend to get "lost" in the vast stage. Its very difficult to place them in relation to each other.
For example, I listen to mostly choir/choral, chamber and full orchestral works. I was originally enchanted to actually hear additional voices from music Ive heard 1000x before. It was very cool. And, the noise floor is extremely low...the instruments seem to come out of a black hole. Its almost eery, especially with dark arrangements. But more and more, especially with "busy," intricate voices, they've begun to "smear," for lack of a better word.
For the "record" (another pun,) I have a halo p7 pre-amp, parasound hca 1500 amp and paradigm studio 20 v5's (with a hsu sub.) Not hi-fi for many, but its a very "honest" sounding system, which is my intent.
I keep thinking back to this peachtree DAC I auditioned. It had better definition and "air" than the Rega (yes, I A/B'd them,) but the Rega destroyed it in the lower frequency response, and was therefore more impressive at the time.
So, Im afraid the Rega has to go back. Not counting the sound, Im a bit concerned about long time reliability (Im 0 for 2 right now with their reliability... not great.)
Im also afraid Im going to have to admit that I like a "digital" sound, as much as people seem to be afraid to admit that. I dont like analog bloom and "laid back" presentation, although I realize a lot of people do, and thats great. And Im convinced there is something out there near my price range that combines the "beef" of the Rega with the "sweet" and definition/clarity of the peachtree.
I dont have any music fidelity dealers here in Atlanta, so Im considering buying an M1 on a hunch. I hate to judge by reviews, but it seems the might be the "ticket" in this price range. Or maybe the Benchmark DAC 1, but again, I dont have any dealers locally to easily hear one.
So, in summary... I want Rega soundstage width, but with a tighter, less accentuated mids and lows, and brighter, crisper highs. Does anyone have any recommendations in the $1k range?
BTW, Im open to single-box players, but Ive listened to a ton lately, and I dont think Im going to find one with as good of an analog output section as many of the DAC's. That seems to be the "ticket" to the magic of the external DAC.
And for the record, I did listen to one much more expensive model, the NAD M51. I only listed to it at the store, and it seemed too bright compared a/b with the Rega, but that might actually be the ticket, especially after break-in. Ill probably demo it at home to compare before I return the Rega.
Again, I might consider the NAD or something like a Bryston BDA-1 at around $2k, but Id prefer to stay around half that.
Anyway, thanks in advance for any input.
Check out an Oppo in that price range. It sounds to me like it may be just what you're looking for. I hated it, but I'm an Audio Note guy, so I'm on the other end of the spectrum, but seriously, in my time with it, it seemed to have the characteristics that you want.
I recently bought (and sold) a Rega dac. Wasn't for me either. For slightly more the Metrum Octave is much better. For quite a bit less, I replaced the Rega with a Schiit Bifrost uber and am very happy with it.
Lightspeed240, I cannot comment on the other DACc but I have Benchmark DAC1. It has a lot of resolution, nice extension and tight bass but it is not warm or sweet. According to technical director of Benchmark John Siau it was purposely designed not to be warm. It was a little too bright with metal dome tweeters in my old Paradigm Studio speakers but it is heaven with warm sounding Hyperions HPS-983.