Need guidance on system

OK, my head is about to explode. Been doing a fair amount of reading and would appreciate your guidance to narrow things down: I need to decide which upgrade path to take regarding cd source/DAC/preamp.

I only do stereo and only use CD as a source. I have a tubed McIntosh MC275, B&W 804s, and a Rel Storm III, which are staying. I also have a Rotel pre and a Rotel CD player, which are eventually going.

These are the configuration options I see, to be connected to the amp:
a) CD player with built in volume, like a McIntosh MCD500 ($6500 new)
b) CD transport + DAC w/built-in volume, like an Esoteric P70 and D70 ($6000 used)
c) pre + CD player. Many options, but for example Rowland Capri ($2500 used) and Esoteric X03-SE ($5000 used)

Should I expect an older top of the line transport/DAC combo like to P70/D70 sound better than a newer CD player such as the X03-SE and even a recent player like MCD500? I read comments saying this technology has advanced a lot in the last few years...

Input from experienced users to help me bring this into perspective will be greatly appreciated. Where I live auditioning these options is out of the question, just like buying and trying...

Thank you!
AMR CD77 - used (in your budget)
One of the best IMO.
RWA ISABELLA PREAMP with build-in NOS DAC and headphone amp
-Modwright Transporter or Mac as the source

I have no specific listening experience relevant to your question, but my instinct would be to go with a recent high quality, well reviewed, cd player with built-in volume control.

Why add the complexity, cabling, etc., of a full-fledged preamp when all you need is a volume control?

And I think that the usual audiophile instinct that separates tend to be better than combo units is not necessarily applicable in the case of a cd transport and dac. Transmitting the digital signal cleanly and jitter-free between transport and dac is a considerable technical challenge, with lots of opportunity for performance degradation if the design of either unit or the cable in between is not done to perfection.

-- Al
Another option to at least be aware of is Roku Soundbridge (which has volume control) with separate DAC connected to CDs ripped to a music server via WiFi.
The issue of running direct or through a preamp is routinely debated. I believe you will know which you prefer only after you've heard both in your system.

As far as CD sources, there are a few outstanding used values presently: Modwright Sony 999ES Platinum Signature (<$1500), APL Denon 3910 w/DAC (<$2900), Audio Aero Capitole SE ($3500). Of the three, the APL will allow you to run direct. Frankly, I think this is almost a no-brainer if the seller can guarantee the Denon transport is trouble free. The Audio Aero may also have the direct feature, but I'm not certain.

You can also put together a really nice transport/DAC combo these days for <$2000.
Raysonic 168 is an outstanding player at any price, but when you use the XLR variable outs into a differentially balanced amp you have a world beater
Thanks for the input so far. I'll look into the Raysonic 168, CD-77, and Audio Aero Capitole SE, which I'm not familiar with.

However it's still puzzling that a $3500 current player would outperform a combo like the P70/D70 which were top of the line 4/5 years ago and still go used for about $6000. Are people paying $6k for these just unskilled spenders??
Performance and price do not necessarily correlate. IMO, judging performance
based on price is a mistake that many people make and later regret.

Whatever you decide, I suggest buying used. Nothing depreciates faster than CD
players (or CD/SACD or Universal players).