Naim CDS3/XPS2 vs Meridian 800 vs Linn Unidisk 1.1

I recently move to where there is no dealership that carries Naim or Meridian or Linn. Great town huh! Would you comment on the characteristic differences between the Naim CDS3/XPS2, Meridian 800 and Linn Unidisk 1.1 on redbook CD sound quality. My interesting is for a wide soundstage (like clear positioning of different instruments in a symphonic piece)yet with that engaging, fast and forward approach you would want in pop/rock. The rest of my system are Linn/Meridian controls and Infinity prelude MTS speakers. Thanks.
I've heard all three, though the Meridian and Linn I heard only in dealer systems. They all sound pretty good. I purchased the CDS3 after hearing it in several different systems. I have subsequently upgraded its power supply to the 555PS power supply (from their current flagship model).

The CDS3 is a terrific player. It manages to deliver on natural timbre and on a very natural sounding attack and decay of notes. I find that some players that seem very dynamic and detailed actually have an artificial sounding edge to the initial attack of the note that becomes annoyingly artificial and mechanical sounding in an extended listening session; it may seem impressive at first, but it becomes tiring. I like the way notes seem to bloom naturally into space, with CDS3, and then decay naturally versus the way some machines pump out notes almost as a hard, insistent assault. This is a bit surprising because other Naim players can be a bit edgy and artificially dynamic sounding to me. While Naim does not have a reputation for its soundstaging quality, the CDS3 actually delivers in this area -- the stage has good width and depth so the overall presentation is big and enveloping.

Although the sound is quite different from the CDS3 sound, I am also a fan of Audionote DACs (DAC4 and DAC5 models) hooked up to any good transport. The Audionote sound is as close to the rich, relaxed and natural sound of analogue as you will find anywhere.
It's too bad that I cannot conveniently hear these equipment for now. Yet from the purely financial angle, it seems to make sense that the CDS3 would have an edge. Both Linn and Meridian spend their effort not just on CD but the multichannel decoding. Whereas CDS3 is a dedicated CD player. On the other hand, how would you compare the CDS3 with the 800 and Unidisk 1.1 on soundstage performance? Do I guess correctly that the 1.1 performs the best when it comes to soundstage?

Regarding the natural sound decay, is it reasonable to parallel what you said to Chesky vs Linn classical recording. Chesky definitely keeps you interested, while Linn has the frothiness, open aire bloom.

Thirdly, Stereophile suggests that the 800 has more punch while the 1.1 has more aire. Would you agree with that assessment? Is this a serious or a subtle difference between the 2 pieces?

Finally how significantly different, sound-wise, between the XPS2 and the upgraded 555PS?

I have not done a direct comparison of the three models. In my system, the CDS3 does a terrific job with soundstage. The stage is both wide and different placement of instruments, in terms of depth is easily discernable. Compared to my Sony SCD-1, which the CDS3 replaced, the CDS3 had a more realistic presentation of soundstage, even when the SCD-1 was playing an SACD.

I heard the Meridian in a Meridian system and the Linn in a Linn system. Overall, I preferred the Linn sound even though I am not a fan of their speakers (auditioned with Komri). It had a clear, but not thin or strident sound, and a relaxed, but not dull, sound. But, I should say that the Meridian system also sounded pretty good.

The Linn dealer is also an Ayre dealer. I thought the Ayre player I heard was pretty good too, particularly for the price.

The much ballyhooed stuff that I did not particularly like, which I heard in a system I am familiar with, were the EML DAC6 and the X-01 Esoteric. It may again be a system compatibility issue, but the sound was a bit too analytical for me. The DCS stack I heard was reasonably nice, but I found the sound a bit unengaging and dull (again, prossibly a system issue because it was not a familiar system). The Reimyo player I heard was nice, in many respects, but a touch light in midbass weight for my taste and not as dynamic as the CDS3. Still, this is worth looking into. But, if you are someone looking for the kind of magic that analogue sound delivers, you have to audition an Audionote DAC.
To get the mentioned desirable sound, is it right that you must hook the CDS3 with an Audionote DAC? Basically the Naim provides that serious kick and fast rhythm. While the Audionote rounds off the rough edges with its natural timbre, sweetness, and a more intricate soundstage.

For pop/rock music would you rank between the 3 players (CD sound only), in the respective system that you heard, regarding how well they come out of their box and grab you? I am now switching gear toward about being fast, transparent and authoritative as if you are watching a live band.

Please by all means do comment on the XPS2 versus 555PS power supplier on sound performance if the performance difference is striking. Thanks.
I've heard the latest versions of the DAC-4 hooked up to an Audionote transport, and the DAC-5 signature hooked up to either an Audionote transport or the very strange 47 labs transport. I've never heard any Naim player being used as just a transport -- I am not sure if Naim gear even have digital outputs.

The 555PS provides a subtle improvement in the texture/detail of musical instruments, particularly lower range instruments like a string bass or bassoon. Also, the sense of space around an instrument is also better defined. The improvement is there, but not that substantial. Still, if you bet the XPS2 and decide to upgrade the power supply later, the XPS2 commands a decent price on the second hand market.

If fast, transparent and authoritative is what you prize most, I would say the Naim, then the Meridian and then the Linn. The cheaper CDX2 might also be to your liking. It is VERY dynamic and fast sounding without resorting to a tipped up treble to give the impression of speed. But, what that unit gives away to the CDS3 is that its soundstage is much flatter, it sounds a bit mechanical and less "organic" or natural, and it is a touch dry sounding for my taste.

At CES, I heard an MSB player that sounded very nimble and transparent, with a lot of "air" around the top notes. It reminded me of good SACD players in that respect. I don't recall the model, but I believe it was their flagship. That unit might be to your liking too.
I do listen to both classical and non-classical music. This does make it difficult to pick out stereo equipment. For pop/rock music, a number of people and now you also do seem to favor Naim for the liveliness, fast and forward presentation.

For classical music we are needing both very wide soundstage for the many instruments and the clarity to cover the entire frequency spectrum. So far we talked about Linn having that upper frequency and the effortless sound relative to Meridian. You talked about the CDS3 for its natural timbre and its surprise performance on soundstage. What would your ranking be for the 3 pieces in regarding to (1) natural and effortless sound for the entire frequency spectrum, and separately for (2) wide but non-colored soundstage. Oh I am sure for such high-performance pieces like these 3, the dealers did use their best or about the best peripheral equipment. Thus it's not a direct comparison but it has to do. When I manage somehow to audit these pieces, I am going to face the same handicap of mismatched peripheral equipment.

Would you agree that for those who listen to all kinds of music like myself, Meridian is a good promise for its not too tart not too sweet design on all the criteria discussed. Thanks.
"Would you agree that for those who listen to all kinds of music like myself, Meridian is a good promise for its not too tart not too sweet design on all the criteria discussed."