I've got a basic, directional decision to make.

I have a pair of excellent monitors, GMA Europas. They are fairly efficient at 89db. I have already made a decision concerning cables and interconnects (signal cable). The decision is whether to go with an amp/pre and a less expensive source, or to go with an integrated and a better source. All of the equipment I am considering would be used, from right here on the Gon.
Specifically, if I were to go the amp/pre route I would probably go with the McCormack DNA .5 and maybe a Sonic Frontiers pre. I really like the tube pre/ss amp concept. Then I would have to go with a less expensive source, maybe Cambridge, NAD, or Sony ES.
On the other hand, if I were to go the integrated route, I would probably go with the Audio Refinement Complete. For a source I would go with a higher quality source, I'm not sure what it would be right now. Jolida? Rega? Not sure.
So which direction would you go?
The bottom line is that I have about $1200-$1300 to spend, $1500 at the outside. Living in a dreamland for a moment, what I would like is the McCormack DNA .5 SS Amp, a Rogue 66 pre, and a high quality source. So maybe the key is to find a real giant killer of a cdp (as the GMA Europas are to monitors). I'm stumped.
Any input is much appreciated.
Take a look at the modified Philips 963 at Electronic Visionary Systems. While you are at it check out the volume control option if you just use a single source.

What amps does the Europa designer like? I would think he would know what works well with his own products.
I would definitely go with the DNA 0.5 amp. Supposedly a real classic and one of the best in the biz. That's in stock form.

If you should have Steve McCormack perform the Revision A upgrade, it's a whole nuther league still.

I'm not familiar with the GMA Europas. But if per chance the GMAs and the DNA 0.5 don't synergize well, I'd sell the GMAs.

But then I'm a firm believer that the right amp can make most any decent speaker sing beyond belief.

If it were me, and I was assembling the one-source system it sounds like you are contemplating, I would set aside the $200-$300 or so that is all it takes these days to get into one of the latest mass-market-maker multi-format digital players brand-new, and then devote the balance of my budget to finding the best used integrated with a passive 'preamp' control section that I could find on Audiogon. I can't prove it, but my suspicion is that this approach would give the best overall sound within your budget and system restraints for the time being, and the player could do double duty until you retire its CD chores with a used higher-end dedicated player or outboard DAC, at which point it could still serve for hi-rez-format disks (and/or HT use).
I think the difference between hi-end CD players and mass market ones is less significant than between hi-end amps and mass market receivers. I'd worry about the amps first, but I'd also not sink much money yet as you'll be wanting to replace it in a year or two with a digital design.
I agree regarding the source,,,everyone says garbage in/garbage out, but if wise, no reason to have the garbage CD player,,,

I would find a used Parasound CDP-1000...which later on you can add a good DAC as an upgrade, and definitely go with the McCormack...or a used Musical Design amp.
You folks have to provide more info if you want well thought out answers.

1) Will you be using sources other than your digital player ? If so, what other sources do you plan on using. The reason that i ask is that input switching versatility and system gain comes into play here.

2) Does versatility of the digital player matter i.e. do you want to be able to play dvd's, SACD's, DVD-A, etc... at all or is this strictly going to be a redbook player ? I know that you didn't mention these other formats, but it is something to consider now prior to purchasing rather than changing your mind later.

3) What kind of music do you listen to and how loud ? Obviously, higher spl's in a bigger room will require higher power levels. This may swing part of the budget one way more-so than the other.

Obviously, you are not against buying used or you wouldn't be here on Agon. If you shop carefully, you could easily put together a very nice sounding system for the budget that you have in mind. You don't have to spend big dollars to obtain a very nice sounding, enjoyable audio rig. 90% of the performance of most rigs can be had for 2 - 3K if buying used and one knows what to look for and set things up. The next 5 - 7% of performance brings the entry price up quite a bit from that point. Trying to achieve that last 3 - 5% of "musical resolution" can drive you into bankruptcy if your not careful. : ) Sean
This is a basic, single source, audio only system. My musical tastes are varied, and I don't listen at ridiculous levels or in a very large room (roughly 15x18).
Something else that proving to be a road block for me is remote control of the pre. I have found that it limits my choices to the point that I may just go without. The only thing that I want it for is volume control (with a single source, what else is there anyway?). What are your thoughts on this? This sytem will be in the main living room, and installed in what is now a closet. I know a lot of you guys do not have or want remote control. Do you find yourself getting up and down all the time when the wife calls you, or the phone rings, etc.?
Go with the Sony integrated amp. MOSFET output stage is smooth as butter. Great sounding, high quality amp. Big one is rated at 100 wpc. Also includes a great phono stage capaable of running an MC cartridge.
How about the ah! tjoeb cdp (w/ it's tubed output stage) run directly to an amp? The ah! has remote control volume. New, they're $800 (hard to find used). This setup would require careful matching with an amp. Call up Kevin at upscaleaudio and see what he recommends amp-wise. This way you could have it all--good source, good amp, tubes, and a remote.
Source. Period. Upgrade the amp at a later date. When you do the source, also make sure the interconnects are VERY good. Europa's will show off HUGE differences in I/C's quickly and easily. The guy that recomends dumping the Europa's has OBVIOUSLY never heard them. Again, do the source, with GOOD interconnects, then the amp. Signal Cable makes some very good cables cheap.
Have you considered going with a CDP that has variable output (volume control) so you can go right into the amp with it? This would allow you to get a better CDP and amp, in theory anyway.

One advantage with this setup is there is less signal loss. Remember, every connection is a loss of signal. Every step you can eliminate is a bonus to you.

Unless you are planning to add more sources later (i.e. LP or tuner, etc...) you will never really need a pre-amp.

The thing to keep in mind with a source/amplification question is that no amp will ever restore what the source did not get from the CD. It doesn't matter how good an amp is, it doesn't know what is missing, and if it did it would not know how to replace it.

There is something to be said for a minimalist approach.
I too have the Europa monitor and I am really happy with them. I pair them with Nad equipment--C370 amp and 521i cdp.
The Europas have me itching for the upgrade of my amp and source as I think they have much more to give then I can get out of the Nad stuff. The Nad system (deck and amp considered together) give a rather dry presentation that just doesn't quite grab me. Not bad but I'm not satisfied with it. What a surprise, an audiophile who's not satisfied huh?
Welfed brings up a good point and Roy reccomends Edge, Blue circle, Manley, and Vac amps and Birdland dac. Also if you want to play loud he likes 70 watts tubed and 125 SS. This from an earlier post on the 'Gon. Since I do like to play loud on occasion I know I will need one of the big amps
and that means big bucks. My budget is about the same as yours so I'll be Nad-ing it for a while.
In the meantime I am thinking of picking up a Birdland Odeon lite $500 used and have just bought a used Audio Magic Excalibur IC. I am using all Signal cable now.
So I will be working the source until I can get the big and refined amp I really want. Our systems seem to be developing along similar lines and I am going with the reccomedations Roy gave me. Why not? I like the sound of his speakers.
Hope that is some small help at least.