Well, subtracting all the voodo and whether you want the sound accurate, or if you like colored, its funny but I will tell you this, a Merridian is like being 10 rows back, and sounds nice, but have found the Older Wadias to be superior as it is very full and you are like in the 2nd row... extremly dynamic and bass that will punch you thru the backwall, but this may not be desired, I love it, I like the juice and I use the Wadia on Horns... Beyond that Krell does not turn me on at all, very anylitical in comparison and so is Mark levinson to some extent but better. This is my experiance so don't kill me for it.. Absolutly agree that the 16 Bit machines far outshine most of the 24 bit machines in natural musicallity overall, why ?? who knows, maybe because the KISS theory comes to play(keep it simple stupid, I am a CD I understand one language, but you can throw a machine at me that can speak chinese too and it will not make a difference) again Just my experiance... Now the Upfront sound may be in-part to the fact WADIA uses a 4volt output even on the single ended which is I believe the pro audio standard vs. the 2volt home audio standard, so of course this will give a stronger volume at double the output, but most Balanced output machines put 4 volt out as well I think not just Wadia so this may not apply if you are using Balanced connections. Merridian I believe is a standard 2volt out at the single end jacks so this could be different results in the end from the gain in your pre-amp. Sorry for so much on this but in the end my vote is Wadia, and they are truly much harder to come by in the price you are looking for, but you will find many merridians for sale all the time and are quite a bit cheper in general, so maybe that means something, no offense to the merridian owners they are good machines.