I think an Electocompaniet ECD-1 would be to your liking. Basic dac like you wanted,it upsamples everything to 24/192. Use the aes/ebu digital output from your Emotiva with a Kimber Orchid cable into the dac nets a very analog sound. Also has balanced outs into your preamp. Read the great reviews on this unit. One currently for sale here. I also am selling one on USA Audiomart that has been modded by Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio fame. His mods take the already excellent stock unit to a whole new level.
I've been out of the CD game for years, so I really have no skin in the game when it comes to CD players..or whether you should upgrade it. I will say, if you upgrade the DAC, if you opt to venture out towards other sources, you'll be able to use the DAC in those situations. Where as, just upgrading the CD player, that's all it would be leveraged for. Maybe that's what you want, but really nice DAC's can be had in your budget.
I have 2 DACs, the Ayre QB9 and the PS Audio Direct Stream Junior. The DSJ, I believe I've seen them used for around $2500ish, a little bit out of your price range. The upside with that DAC, not only does it put to shame some DACs that cost 2x as much, they're constantly fiddling/upgrading their code; which can be upgraded to or you're able to switch back to earlier versions. The Ayre QB9, I pick up for $1200 and it sounds incredible.
Going a little above and beyond what your original request was:
I sold off my entire vinyl collection about a year ago. I found myself reverting to hi res files for listening vs. listening to vinyl. If you ever want to step forward with your vinyl preamp, PS Audio's Nuwave phono preamp sounds majestic. It sounds even better when you connect it to the DSJ over I2S. I had always ran Moon phono preamps, the PS Audio setup was unbelievable sounding. It was like when you first heard a CD vs. tape.
Frankly, I would not waste any real money on a Transport, only on a CD player that you use the analog outs for DSD. I do think you should improve the transport jitter though, by adding a reclocker to the digital cable as well as a better digital cable. The soundstage/imaging problems you are describing are likely jitter related. To get the jitter levels you can get from a $599 Synchro-Mesh reclocker and a $499 Reference BNC cable (20psec), you would need to spend at least $20K on a new Transport IME. You can make the reclocker even better by upgrading the power supply. I would do this first before you consider a new DAC. 30-day money-back, less shipping.
As for the DAC, I can highly recommend changing to a DAC with balanced outputs if you don’t have that already. This will usually give you a lower noise floor and better soundstage as well.
First, just try the new cable and reclocker and see if this does not satisfy you. It also provides galvanic isolation, eliminating a ground-loop that you have now.
BTW, if you also have a home theater with SS processor, I can highly recommend the iFi SPDIF Purifier for $149 driving my Standard BNC S/PDIF cable to reduce jitter for Dolby Digital and DTS.
I own a Sony SCD777ES, and a DAC, and a couple of $40 used 5 disc changers I enjoy to the DAC.
(I also own a Audio Research SP-15 I use just for the great 3 tube PHONO section just mentioning it 'cuz the SP-20 n the op header)
Anyway, I would not buy a DAC as the first thing..
Do you (the op) use a powerline conditioner? or aftermarket powercords
I would do something with a conditioner before buying a DAC.
A DAC for the op is going to be a useless lateral move, Unless you are spending dCS money, not a few grand.
I find digital does benefit from power conditioning for HF clarity and smoothness.
Also the interconnects from the CD player.. How good are they?
I totally love a pair of Cardas Parsec XLR from my Sp-15. They have a great sound.
Well, yeah .... you got AR on the front end followed by Bryston, and an entry level CD Player. Dude, your world is going to change.
With $1500-2k, you have a host of high quality options that will allow the AR, Bryston, etc really sound their best. So far, the Emotiva has been the limiting factor for your Sound Quality. If the EMotiva is used as a transport, it will still be your limiting factor, b/c you will be feeding a lower sound quality signal to an expensive DAC.
To be honest R, I would replace the Emotiva altogether with a stand-alone CDPlayer that at the least has a digital SPDIF RCA out (will give you future options for other DACs). There are many great CD Players out there for under $2000.