Rrog, my point is that these are all low volume product companies (in most industries, they would be considered specialized or boutique like companies that rely on high profit margin per sale versus lower margin compensated by high volume).
Pioneer probably sells as many single item component (take any model CD players of theirs) as these other companies sell between their entire product range. How many actual products do you think Ayre sold last year - between all the products they make? 2,000 - 3,000 - 5,000 - 10,000? I doubt 10,000, actually I doubt even 5,000 total products shipped from their facilities in 2010.
Now, how many individual products do you think Pioneer shipped?
Think about a $1,000 Pioneer Elite player, probably a total run of 10,000-25,000 pieces produced, if not way more. Now compare that to an Ayre CD player that sells for $1,000 (I don't think they could make one that cheap in reality). How much does Ayre pay for the case? The circuit boards, including their design/engineering, the connection sockets, heck, even the screws that hold the unit together. For Ayre to just get the same quality that Pioneer can deliver, they would spend more than twice as much to produce it! So, do they forego the profits or have to sell the similar product for a lot more?
That is why I say/suggest that these "small" companies cannot make a $1,000 CDP that is notably better than a Pioneer Elite CDP or other $400-500 big brand CDP. The finances just don't add up.
Now, when you start talking about a lot more money, that is where you see the real differences in performance vs. the more mass market stuff.
Just think about it from a business perspective first.
Don't get me wrong, when it comes to this hobby most of us ignore the business or logic aspects of it. We own $20,000 speakers that sound incrementally better than mass market speakers that could be had for a few hundred.
We have thousands of dollars in cables that in reality are only incrementally better than lamp wire (I say incremental because a passing by non-audiophile is very unlikely to immediately hear or note any difference).
But we spend the money trying to get every last drop of performance out of our systems for the discretionary money we each have available to do so. The variety of speakers I have in my house right now exceeds the value of the two cars I own (a BMW 5 station wagon and a Dodge Durango SUV). So I am not bashing the industry, just recognizing that at certain budget points there are two real logical options: get the best mass market stuff you can afford or buy higher priced items on the used market thar are heavily discounted vs. their original list price.