I'd be more likely to look for a used Pioneer Elite disk (CD or laserdisc) player as transport in the $200-300 range and spend $1000 on a DAC like Classe DAC1.
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If you're looking to use the Meridian as a transport, and then improve it's DAC by adding something external -- and I'm sure folks will offer different opinions -- but you might find it pleasantly difficult to improve on the Meridian's internal DAC cheaply. Perhaps biased, but I think it's a pretty fine DAC as it is. Certainly, you can make it sound different, though -- what exactly are you after? Put differently, if you're looking to continue spinning physical CDs, if it were up to me (which it certainly isn't), I'd stick with the Meridian. You could spend quite a bit of coin chasing an external DAC for the Meridian and -- among interconnects, multiplying power sources, synergy challenges, and all manner of other variables -- very easily end up not doing any better.
If you're looking to squeeze more out of the Meridian generally, I found that mine (yes, have one) was very sensitive to isolation. A very naturally smooth and organic CDP -- definitely with the potential to be too much so. Proper isolation made a world of difference, enabling it to preserve all of the organic warmth I fell for, while at the same time significantly improving the snap and engaging factor. Ended up with a Neuance shelf under mine, but more options than worth the trouble of counting. You mileage will certainly vary, but my experience for what it's worth.
If, however, you're ultimately looking for a piece of gear you could run any sort of computer-based transport into, then the Meridian definitely doesn't fit the bill. (Really wish it did have a digital in, I'd love to be able to try out the Meridian internal DAC with the computer as transport). If you think that may be in your future, then definitely worth looking for external DACs. I walked just that path, starting with a MHDT Havana (which is quite nice, but definitely not better than, or even equal to, the Meridian to my ears), and currently using an Ayre QB-9 (neither of which, admittedly, ever got plugged into the Meridian). In short, if you picked up the Meridian for ~$1k, consider it a bargain and I suspect you will have a a real challenge improving on it's sound with an external DAC for less than what you paid for it -- which kinda defeats the point. Me, ended up having to spend almost three times that for a comparable or better sound from an external DAC. If you're committed to walking that path and/or converting to a computer-based server/transport, then definitely worth it (and required). But if that's not the direction you are headed, wouldn't bother. Again, just my opinion -- having been through the same process -- for what it's worth.
Mezmo is right. You won't get a real improvement with an older, less expensive DAC at your price point. You'd have to spend more to get more but it can be done.
Case in point: I was at a showroom this past weekend and also in attendance was a well known recording engineer of a very famous, esoteric label (which will remain nameless) and we listened to some of his recordings through some speakers he had brought over. The CD player was a top of the line Ayon ( I didn't realize it was THAT big).
After hearing the selection, we inserted a Centrance DACmini ($795), using the coax out from the Ayon, playing the same recording, and within the first 3 notes the recording engineer simply said "impressive'. The sound was better, IMHO (all of us, actually).
Keep in mind, every CDP will sound different (not necessarily better) with any DAC but we happened to hit it just right with this one pairing. Simply serendipity or blind luck-who knew? You must also take into consideration that newer technology can be just that: newer and sometimes better. I even think the coax cable cost more than the DACmini.
If you're not prepared to spend more and experiment with various gear and go down that rabbit hole, sticking with the Meridian would be a wise choice.
From what I hear its a damn fine player.
Thanks Mezmo, very pleased to hear directly from a member who has the same unit.
...I found that mine (yes, have one) was very sensitive to isolation...Proper isolation made a world of difference...Yes, I agree, totally. I'm using an half inch metal floating balls isolation underneat the Meridian Cdp, and, although i have not tried the wood pieces from Cardas (too warmth for me?),I've tried diff types and i love this metal floating balls concept most.
No, I'm not quiet ready for PC-based transport just yet. I'm still torturing myself with 1 track or 1 disc per listening. :(
In short, if you picked up the Meridian for ~$1k, consider it a bargain and I suspect you will have a a real challenge improving on it's sound with an external DAC for less than what you paid for it... Me, ended up having to spend almost three times that...So in conclusion, mating this cdp 508.24 with a used $350 DAC isn't a very WISE move then.
Happy listening to all.