I am not technical expert, but since DVDs are harder to read than audio CDs, I can't see how a DVD player could do a bad job. Try a MSB Link DAC; right at your budget brand new.
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Even my Sony 9000ES has poor quality CD playback compared to the DVD playback. The spec numbers illustrate this difference. A DAC might help, especially if your DVD player has a good transport mechanism, but not sure what you'll find for $400, especially if you have to buy a digital coax cable. Not trying to dissuade you from the purchase, just wishing you good luck with the hunt. :-)
If you are referring to the Proceed model CDP, there is no contest. The Proceed CDP was taken off the market because of a software problem that Madrigal has not been able to fix. I had to send mine back to the factory to have it fixed, but now four months later, I am still having the same problem. Take my advice; stay away from the Proceed CDP.
One of my first upgrades was to add an MSB Link DAC to the Sony S300 DVD player. It was my first taste of "high-end" audio. From there I went through four more iterations of the digital front-end: MSB Link/McCormack transport, Roksan Caspian CD Player, MSB Link/Aiwa changer, and Sony C333ES SACD player. The SACD player is the most musically satisfiying player of all those I tried. You can find them for around $500. It's a little more than your budget. But having owned the same model DVD player and used it with an external DAC I think the SACD player is worth the extra $.
Sugarbrie, if it is just about reading smaller pits then I suppose 6 lb DVDs perhaps could sound good. I've tried two (pioneer and panasonic) that surely DON'T...even with a Bel Canto DAC.
Pretty clear to me that low jitter and clock timing issues are paramount to tickling our ear/brain successfully.
Hell, my 10 year old 12 lb Rotel 855 sounds better than these cheap DVDs. So much so that I had to get a 44 lb boat anchor (EMC-1) to get a quantum jump sufficient to please.
SACD's another story, of course....
I agree, that old Rotel makes a nice transport and is still quite good in its own right. The Pioneer and Onkyo DVD players have a very good Burr Brown DAC in them; the same one that comes in many very good CD players. The other budget DVD players are not very good. I have one of those Pioneer DVD players modified by Stan Warren in my home office system. It is amazing for the $450 I spent.