Sorry about your luck.... Why not just bite the bullet, buy a Theta Miles for $700-$900 and have the volume control, and a CD player, that will tromp all over the one's you are mentioning for $500 and under?
You have a remote volume control on your amp, correct? It sounds like you just need some attenuation. Many players these days do have a little more than 2.0 volts output, particularly the cheap ones. You might do some research on older machines to see if you can find one with a lower than average output. Or you can get an analogue attenuation device on the line outs, rather than the horrible digital volume control.
I think there are a couple of ways to solve this problem without "frosting your arse".
A simple pair of Rothwell in-line attenuators will solve your problem of "too much gain". Here's a link to a pair for sale here on A-goN:
And, as stated by previous posters, a quality used CD player for a few more dollars will outperform the current crop of sub-$500 players.
I've owned Theta Miles, Cary CD-308, Quad 99-CDP and Quad 99-CDP2. I can highly recommend all of them if you find a good deal.
You are correct about the Oppo but when you attenuate with a digital volume control you chop off bits when turning it down. One way to get by without losing high resolution sound is to build the digital volume control with much more bits than are required. Accuphase made their CD players with a 24 bit volume control for this very reason. There are some companies that use analog volume controls but unless you run the CD player directly to the amp, you will end up with two volume controls in line which can also cause much consternation.
When I spoke with the tech folks at Oppo they suggested that their digital volume control implementation did not lose resolution with a decrease in volume. This would indicate that they had added bit width in order to overcome that issue. I can't verify that, but the Oppo may be a unit to try. Heck, the 970 is only $149 and in high demand. If he didn't love it, he could sell it for only a few dollars lost. It also plays SACD and DVD-A and provides very good video quality.
reubent, thanks for the tip on the rothwell's. i will check those out. i do not need a dvd player. call me skeptical on an oppo dvd player being a nice sounding stand-alone cd player, but i will at least check that out as well.
great input gang. i have some more options now to look into. has anyone used these rothwell or similar attenuators? any change in the sound good or bad?