I think the problem is with your source. You should be looking at a much, much better CD player - up in the $2-3k range at least.
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CJ preamps also have theater bypass. The ACT 2 is very linear, less golden than Mcintosh as i understand. The newer generation ET5, ET3 are apparently close to the new flagship GAT which i have heard recently (and am blown away at how good it is.) Equally linear, but with just that touch of ultra natural tonality that is magical.
Agree that much comes with improving source...but your goal seems to be to upgrade both...preamps also make a big difference. have heard X-01SE...extremely good...quite linear, disciplined. a possibly good match with tube pre.
i'll share my own personal philosophy. i try my best to upgrade rarely...probably once/10 years if i can make it. Recently it has been a bit more often...but only because some once in a lifetime type opportunities came my way (twice actually)...;)
in which case, i have put a fair amount of money into my preamp...because i intend to keep it for years...and also into a DAC (but not the transport).
Many people would say i have sacrified by going on the cheap with the transport (they are right)...but i prefer to know i have a great DAC and pre which i intend to keep for years to come...and i can always upgrade Transports or Servers...whenever that technology stabilizes a bit or at least gets to a point where i make a quantum leap and leave it for a while.
in your case, i think the sources you have mentioned are all exceptional and should hold you for quite a while...Cary, Oppo 95 and Esoteric X-05. If you can allocate the rest to a pre...i would do it. I would even recommend the Oppo 95 (which gives you long-term sustainability because its got blu-ray and video capability for whenver you choose to upgrade your audio source)...and i think its cheaper...which again means more saved, or more into your pre.
just my own personal philosophy. good luck and pls keep us posted.
Your anthem processor is no slouch. I'd be inclined to go the source route alone. Whether you get a modern dac and a transport, or something like the Cary (which is a very nice piece) is up to you. Personally, I'd be inclined to go the Cary route just to keep things simple. If you add a 2 channel pre-amp your system is going to get much more complicated.
Agree a good pre-amp is a must, but I think in your situation you really need to spend a decent amount on the source first.
A classic solution is adding a tube preamp with a HT pass through. You hook it between the Surround Processor Amp and the Surround Amp. I have a Audio Research LS 16 tube preamp between my Sunfire HT processor and amps. The addition smooths out the digital harshness (AKA "glare") of my CD music sources and surprisingly adds a deeper and more realistic soundstage for DVD soundtracks. Many preamps with HT pass through features are available but I recommend a tube version because it's a big enough difference in sound to warrent the effort. Also, this might help your digital source situation (to a small degree) if you stay with the PS3. If you decide not to upgrade the PS3 try a new DAC (again tube) or, as the others suggested, a new digital source. Happy listening.
I will go with a decent cd player- 2nd hand Cary or Oppo 95 to keep the set up simple and see for any improvement from the 2 channel analogue first before I start adding a tube amp. Why do i need an extra DAC if the D2v already has one internally?
Hope this route should work for me and not having to spend more money!!! Missus has had enough of my constant HT / audio system expansion. All you advices have been very useful and helpful to my decision making process. Thank you!!