Need advice! Do I upgrade DAC or buy a new player?

Hello all...I have been heavily back into analog for the past 3 years however I have come to cycle in my audiophilia that I am listening to a lot of CDs again.  I have about 300 mostly from '98 and back.  Don't get me wrong I am vinyl through and through but there are a lot of CDs I have that are shall we say casual listeners.  I have no desire to replace them with there vinyl brethren but I know many are very, very good and well recorded.  My dilemma is this I have a fairly decent system and a CD player that I think is "ok" but I want better sound and seeing as there are 10-30k CD players there must be a better option problem is I am not gonna spend that kind of money (even if I could).  So the question is do I upgrade my DAC and use my current CD Player or do I just get a "better" player?  Oh here are the system dynamics:  I use an Audio Research SP20 pre amp mated to a Bryston  14B SST2 speakers are Def Tec 7000sc's I don't think my vinyl preamps matter nor do the tables so I will omit them....
The CD player is an Emotiva ERC-3, I like the player but want a better soundstage a bit deeper and dare I say more analog sounding.  I am a huge soundstage freak so if a sacrifice were to be made it would not be there.  I am running balanced out of the Emotiva.  I don't need SACD but ok if it's there.  I don't have a problem with pre-owned I don't need a DAC that downloads FLAC or can be hooked up to any other sources other than the Emotiva being used as a transport.  As for budget I would say $1,500 to $2,000 if it makes sense.  Any advice would help thanks!  
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.
I too, am facing this exact dilemma. I am a born again VinylHead yet I have CDs 💿 that will never be converted to vinyl.

I adore my Acurus ACD11 which matches my Acurus A150 AMP & Acurus RL11 PREAMP however, it’s the Acurus ACD11’s 1997 1 Bit Burr Brown DAC that I found wanting. So I did the next best thing—-I slapped in an SMSL Sanskirt Anno 6 with its dedicated SMSL Linear P/S and it sounded Fantastic (Wolfson WD 8740 DAC was SOTA in 2014).

So should I run out and buy the new SMSL Sanskirt 10 anno, the Topper D30, the Chord or fill in yer blank here? 
Not necessarily!!!

Since Im using the Acurus ACD11 as a transport, the best I can achieve on its Digital Output is 24 bit/192KB—-which is what I have now. That means it’s pointless to do DSD 512 or upwards else 64/720KB PCM because, if I’m using the outboard DAC for the ACD11—I am throttled down to 24bit/192KB. Would a better (newer) DAC chip make my CDs sound better than I already have with the Wolfson WD 8740? I’m not inclined to think so.

CDs are an obsolete, 40 year old musical delivery system which most people do not buy new—-I stream mine on Apple iTunes/IMusic. My ACD11 Grandpa Box gives me sufficient audio pleasure (Because with COVID-19 you can’t get the oral kind anymore) when I’m too feeling rushed to do 180g LPs.

if I get a dedicated music streamer, yes, I will get into DSD 512++ but I can’t see my upgrading the SMSL to a better outboard DAC.

For a CD player look into the Sparkler Audio s503 ($1600) I have one and the NOS Dac sounds fantastic! I use it now as a transport and it rivals some of the best I’ve had! Been around this hobby for a loooong time and have had a lot of gear but this is a very good player. Be safe,


Consider an Audio Research cd player to match the SP20 pre-amp.

Happy Listening!
This is a very old thread, but since there are a few new posts, here's my recommendation buy a Oppo 105 (which has built in VVC) You can buy used 105s ~ $900. then upgrade

Im not a DIYer by nature, but the Asian company I purchased the following from has easy to follow photos on installing the upgrades

Go to eBay and select whichever Linear Power Module you can afford, also get the 110/220 jumper and replace your IEC with one that has a superior IEC (mine has Furutech with a silver jumper that connects to the LPM.

It's so good that I no longer use a preamp